Tag Archives: Christmas

Top Toys for Creative Kids

By Tracey Dowdy

Back in February, over one thousand toy companies debuted innovative and imaginative toys at Toy Fair 2018. From this massive exhibition, a number of toys stood out for their creativity and pure fun for kids, and they’re proving to be a hit this holiday season.

If you’re looking for gifts that will spark imaginations and inspire your kids from STEM to fashion design, these toys should top your list.

If your kiddo is a Star Wars fan, Sphero’s R2-D2 App-Enabled Droid ($30 – Walmart) is going to be a big hit. Users can control R2-D2 via an app or a Force Band, with sounds and bright LEDs lights that mirror R2-D2’s onscreen personae. kids can use the Sphero Edu App to learn to program three different ways and complete STEM activities or explore a holographic environment like the Millennium Falcon to further immerse themselves in the Star Wars universe.

The smART sketcher Projector ($49.99 – Target) makes drawing, coloring, and writing fun through a simple-to-use app or preloaded SD cards. Kids simply upload any photo, and then the (free, downloadable) app automatically turns it into a sketch that they can then trace onto any write-on surface like paper, canvas, or wood. Kids can send photos from any smart device via Bluetooth. smART Sketcher comes with Colored Pencils, 20 Sheets of Bordered Paper & an AC Adapter.

Magformers are bright, colorful and educational 360-degree rotating magnets designed to attract the magnet encapsulated in the next shape allowing kids to construct in 3D. The Magformers 44-piece Sky Track Play Set  ($99.99 – Magformers.com) allows kids to build a space coaster then send the included sky-car speeding through its loops and hoops. As always, the Sky Track Play set is compatible with other Magformers sets, so the only limit is your child’s imagination.

Elenco Snap Circuits Bric: Structures takes ordinary bricks you have in your toy box – think Lego – and brings them to life. Kids can snap-together circuits to make their builds light up, move, or even make sounds. The set comes with 20 SNAP CIRCUITS® component parts, 75 Bric-2-Snap adapters, over 140 fully compatible building bricks, and a full-color, easy-to-read project manual so your kids can start creating from the moment they open the box.

Similarly, LittleBits Hall of Fame Kits ($27.95 and up) are designed so kids can use both their right and left brain so instead of STEM (science, tech, engineering, and math), it’s STEAM (science, tech, engineering, ARTS and math). Each LittleBits toy uses snap-together circuits so kids can create while learning STEM skills.  This years’ kits include a night light, a bubble bot, a crawly creature, and an arcade game.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Best Tech Gifts Under $50

By Tracey Dowdy

If you’re part of a Secret Santa gift exchange at work or even if you’ve got hard-to-buy-for family members, figuring out a gift that won’t be re-gifted can be tricky. These gadgets and gizmos – all under $50 – are sure to be a hit with even the trickiest and pickiest.

  • The Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote ($40) is one of the less expensive streamers out there. Though it lacks some of the features of pricier versions (4K HDR video or Dolby Atmos sound), it offers 1080p HD and a good amount of content. My favorite feature is the Alexa voice remote, which allows you to find, launch, and control content with the push of a single button.
  • The Anker Soundcore 2 Portable Bluetooth Speaker ($29) is one of the best Bluetooth speakers under $50. It’s water resistant, providing protection against rain, dust, snow, and spills, features 24-hour battery life, a 66-foot Bluetooth range, aux input, and solid sound quality, it’s a steal.
  • The Hamilton Beach Set and Forget Slow Coker ($49) is a dream come true for busy moms. Just program the slow cooker to cook your dish for a specified time, choose the appropriate internal food temperature, and the slow cooker automatically switches to WARM once that temperature is reached.
  • Shure’s SE112 earphones ($49) provide solid sound quality for the price point – these are at the low end of what Shure offers. Their design muffles some external noise and limits the amount of sound that escapes from the earpieces, though not.
  • Consumer Reports recommends the Hamilton Beach 46205 Programmable Coffee Maker ($39) as it can “brew a mean cup of joe at a fantastic price.” While there are more high-end coffee makers out there, this model is programmable, has an auto-shutoff feature, and makes a good cup of coffee in under 10 minutes. Plus, Consumer Reports gives it a Very Good rating for “predicted reliability.”
  • The Anker Wireless Qi Phone Charger ($22) allows you to charge your phone up to 2x faster than without plugging it in. No more hunting for cords – place your phone on the pad and voilá! A fully charged phone in no time. Its LED indicators, temperature control, surge protection, short-circuit prevention, non-slip pad, compact design, and worry-free 18-month warranty make it safe unobtrusive, and a steal at just $22.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.


How To Manage Holiday Stress

By Tracey Dowdy

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, unless spending time with family means days filled with conflict and tension. Or, your children have wish lists that read more like a ransom note. Or, you’re already well over-budget, and it’s not even December yet.

There are as many reasons the holidays can be stressful as there are reasons your great-aunt Esther needs to be reminded you can’t believe everything you read on Facebook. An American Psychological Association study found women experience more holiday stress than men. Just 25% of women say they get a chance to relax during the holidays, and 44 percent report higher stress levels between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And according to an online survey of 1000 adults by Pure Profile, men spend 53 hours preparing for the holidays, while women spend even more at a whopping 83 hours. “Holiday stress has a particular impact on women, who take charge of many of the holiday celebrations, particularly the tasks related to preparing meals and decorating the home. Women are more likely than men to report an increase of stress during the holiday season. In addition, they have a harder time relaxing during the holidays and are more likely to fall into bad habits to manage their stress, like comfort eating.”

Janet Hibbs, therapist and coauthor of  “Try to See It My Way: Being Fair in Love and Marriage” puts it this way, “Women’s holiday stress often represents the pressure of creating holiday magic for their children, partners, and the real and imagined audiences of their own parents,” says B.. “Childhood memories of gingerbread houses, decorations, wrapped presents, special foods, as well as familial and religious traditions pose unconscious expectations.”

So how do we avoid falling into this trap? Well, Dr. John A Call, psychologist and president of Crisis Management Consultants recommends that you start by determining what stresses you out. “Is it a certain situation, a particular person, or that long list of things to do? Realizing what gives you stress is the first step to managing it.”

The next step is to think about how you manage your stress. Be careful of unhealthy behaviors like turning to alcohol or stress-related eating and instead find healthier responses like exercise or talking with your partner or friends.

Should you determine that your coping mechanisms are unhealthy, don’t beat yourself up – you’re trying to reduce stress, remember? Instead, give yourself grace and make a better choice next time. One of the best things you can do for yourself is simply put yourself to bed. According to the American Psychological Association, “Sleep is so crucial that even slight sleep deprivation or poor sleep can affect memory, judgment and mood.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family and friends. Many are willing to help but don’t know how to ask or what to offer. Conversely, many of us want help but don’t know how to delegate. Be honest, be humble, and don’t be afraid to reach out.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, learn to say “No.” There’ll be a thousand demands placed on you in the coming weeks. Many of them will be good things, but learn to separate the good from the great. Determining where your priorities lie and determining to keep them first allows you the freedom to say no, even to family and friends. Whenever possible, use these magic words, “Let me get back to you,” if asked to take on another project, volunteer opportunity or accept an invitation. It’s like hitting the pause button – it gives you time to check your calendar, talk to your partner, and may prompt the person asking to look for alternatives in case you decline the request.

If you say no, you’re of course under no obligation to offer a reason, but having an honest answer as simple as, “It doesn’t work with my schedule this year,” softens your response. It’s also a softer answer than a hard, “No,” and like the proverb says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.