While many people have been awake for hours, fighting crowds for deals, I prefer sleeping in and surfing websites for good presents. The biggest challenge for me is not finding the best deal, but finding presents that have the quality, durability, and re-playability. Searching the top ten lists on most sites is a waste of time because they are inundated with things like Twilight and Zhu Zhu hamsters (?!?). Instead, I discovered this tip for finding great gift ideas.
Search for the things you already own and your kids love. Why? Because then you can take advantage of the “customer who bought this item also bought…” part of the site.
For example, one of our favorite games is Monza by HABA (a great game company). Looking halfway down the page I see suggestions for numerous games that also have 5 star rating and reasonable prices. Some by HABA and other by companies we haven’t tried yet. Some examples:
- Zeus on the Loose
- Animal Yahtzee – by HABA
- Knuckling Knights (4461) – by HABA
- Animal Upon Animal (another one we own and love)
- Enchanted Forest
By looking for the things you own you can take advantage of the wisdom of the crowd to find other great gift ideas. Just make sure to do price comparisons between online stores because as we get closer to Christmas you will start seeing unscrupulous merchants start price gouging popular items.
Netflix just sent us a new batch of coupon codes for a one month free trial. Enjoy!
Over the last few weeks I’ve been looking for tools to really take advantage of our iMac and try to get our life more organized. It’s so easy to get in a “digital rut” of using the same programs each day and miss out on all the new innovation. So when I heard Evernote mentioned on Macbreak Weekly I decided to try it out.
Evernote is simply a filing cabinet for all your digital stuff.
Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere.
Rather than go over it’s features and do a typical review, let me give examples of how I use it for our family.
- Taxes – I’ve been debating whether to fill out a Schedule C for our taxes in order to write off the expenses of our website. The first task for doing this is to gather all our receipts. Since every expense is online I went to these accounts, selected the text in the web browser, and then clicked the Evernote button on our Firefox plugin. This gives you a popup window where I put a title to the receipt and then tagged it “2008 taxes”. After a quick sync with our Evernote app on the iMac, all our expenses are easily accessible.
- Family Trip Ideas – Whenever I think of some place we might want to go when the weather gets warmer I got to their website and click that Evernote button again. I tag it “family” and “outings”. While bookmarking does the same thing, this allows me to search the content of the page itself for every outing idea I saved in Evernote.
- Email – I am always sending email to myself with ideas for blog posts or reminders for a DIY project, etc. When you signup for Evernote you get a unique Evernote email address. Whenever I send something to that address it gets stored in my filing cabinet.
- More Email – At work I receive a weekly newsletter. This is where I find out about company events or special group ticket offers to local sports. I forward these to Evernote so I can check them at home.
- Cell Phone – I put an Evernote contact in my phone and can now text myself notes or take photos of stuff like a price/item number of something we’re thinking of buying or a whiteboard diagram at work. If your cell phone has a good camera, Evernote will ‘read’ the text in a picture, making it searchable.
Everything that goes into Evernote is available anywhere. Stuff I file at work is available at home or from any computer where you can log into the Evernote website.
I keep finding more and more uses for Evernote, but the most valuable right now is savings receipts for our taxes and as a repository for family trip ideas. Now I can do some surfing during lunch at work and easily save the information in Evernote to make it available from home. In the past I always emailed this information to myself and found my mailbox was overflowing with emails from myself. While I could search this email, there was no easy way to scan it by title or tag.
The best part is that Evernote is free. Try it out, see if it fits, and keep going. There is a premium version that costs $5/month or $45 per year that supports more file types, larger storage capacity, and a few other benefits. The only problem I’ve had so far is that I can’t drag drop an email into Evernote using the basic version, but I am able to forward the email into my Evernote account.
I’d love to have more ideas for how to use Evernote and also other cool programs you are using. Please share your ideas in the comments.
This week the Parent Bloggers Network and FamilyAware.org are talking about ways that parents deal with the holiday craziness. We always seem to fall behind and have a late Christmas eve, but this year I made an effort to at least get my Christmas shopping done in a timely manner so I can avoid any last minute trips to the mall. There aren’t many stores near where I work so for most of my shopping I went to Amazon and took advantage of my Prime membership with its free 2 day shipping. A little bonus this year is that Christmas is on a Thursday so there is still time to order gifts and get them in time.
To help any other last minute shoppers here is a list of 12 of our favorite toys that are Amazon prime eligible and in stock. Make sure to check prices though, because some unscrupulous 3rd party vendors have been price gouging.
Here is our list of 12 last minute games and gadgets that we love:
- ThinkFun Zingo – This is a fun version of Bingo that uses pictures instead of numbers. Each player gets a card and the pieces are stacked into the dispenser. Slide the dispenser back and forth and 2 pieces will appear, each with a picture on it. The first one to call out the picture of one of the pieces they need will get it. Have a tie? Put the piece back in the stack. The boys love playing this game and the playing field is even between the parents and kids.
- Monza – We LOVE Haba games. They are all the perfect mix of fun and strategy. Monza is a car race where the track is broken into colored squares. Each player takes turns rolling the six dice and then choose the best path to take based on the colors that came up on their dice. The pieces are real cute and the game teaches kids to look ahead. I had to coach the boys the first few times we played, but now they’re beating me on a regular basis. Games are fast paced and last about 15 minutes.
- Tangram Puzzles – The boys discovered Tangrams this summer at grandma’s cabin. The game comes with different shaped pieces and cards that have silhouette pictures. The challenge is to use the blocks to create the picture. Heather and I would race using two sets and played this before we had the kids. What a pleasant surprise to find the kids so engaged by the challenge at a young age. There are many versions out there so shop around. I saw a magnetic one that looked great for in the car.
- Sequence for Kids – Another game we discovered at grandma’s. The boys absolutely loved this one during our visit. The board and cards have pictures of animals and each turn players match one of their cards to an animal on the board. They then put a chip on that animal. First one to get 4 chips in a row wins. Basically it is an advanced tic tac toe game for 2 to 4 players that is great for kids 4+ years old.
- TiVo HD Digital Video Recorder – Here is a big ticket item for the parents, but is also a must have for TV watching with the kids. We recently dropped our satellite service and went to using a rooftop antenna with this Tivo. It has a digital tuner and the picture quality is amazing. Although our channel selection is limited we supplement it with Amazon Video on Demand and just added this month, Netflix streaming downloads. The Netflix selection available for streaming is limited, but we have found some real gems like the complete original series of Inspector Gadget. The best part is that the Netflix streaming comes free and unlimited with any Netflix account $8.99 or over.
- Legos – Legos are huge in our house right now. I’m not surprised since Legos were my favorite toy as a kid too. The Star Wars sets and Bionicles are the most popular with the Ethan and Ben, but they love anything that gives them more pieces to add to their creations. Another great gift idea is the Lego Brickmasters magazine. There are 6 issues a year and each comes with a special edition Lego set.
- Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 – So we haven’t tried Snap Circuits yet since they are technically still in Santa’s bag, but I can’t wait to try it out. This is a simple electronics project set for kids that has won a bunch of awards. Ethan and Ben love building things on my work bench and I thought this would be a great activity for us to share. If you’ve got a builder in your family, give these a try. I think the burglar alarm project will be a hit.
- Big Box of Boynton – I love Sandra Boynton books and this is a boxed set of 3 board books. Great for bedtime reading. Fun to read and great illustrations.
- Hyper Jump and Animal Scramble – We’ve become big fans of Wild Planet games. These are 2 great indoor games that our kids love. Hyper Jump times how fast you can hit the correct color or number. There are different levels of difficulty with the harder ones using math and memory to figure out the right one to hit. Animal Scramble times how fast you can find the correct animal. This one is great if the parent sets them up in a room while the kids are in another room. Have them take turns and see who can have the fastest time. Great way for the kids to burn off energy on a rainy day.
- Rapelli – This is a great green game, made from bamboo. The challenge is to keep your caterpillar in the burrow the longest. The game pieces are adorable and the games are quick and fun.
- Feed the Kitty – This is a great beginners dice game that is based on luck rather than strategy. A fun game that teaches taking turns and rolling the dice. The object is to be the last one with mice remaining. Another good one that puts parents on equal footing with the kids.
- Bristle Blocks – When the kids first got these I wasn’t all that impressed. A lot of these construction toys seem pretty limited compared to Legos, but the kids proved me wrong. These are great because they are easy for the little ones to build with, but the older kids can build amazingly creative things. This has become our favorite rotational toy. We put them away and whenever the kids are looking for something to do we bring them out again and they come up with a different theme to build on. Ethan and Ben have built everything from dinosaurs and families of ducks to Star Wars blasters and Spore creatures. There are many versions of bristle blocks under many names so shop around. A set that comes with wheels is great for kids that love cars and trucks.
Amazon has made this mallophobic dad love Christmas shopping and makes last minute shopping a breeze. Avoiding the malls removes an amazing amount of stress.
Shop around on other websites too since many others are offering express shipping at reasonable prices this year. A good place to start is right at the source. I needed to order a set of K’Nex that was no longer available at Amazon and found them on the K’Nex site at a cheaper price. We also fell in love with RideMakerz remote controlled cars and they are offering 2 day shipping for $9.50.
Before you head to mall and make those panic impulse purchases just to escape the madness, grab a drink and sit down at the computer to shop around. There’s still plenty of shipping days left for your packages to arrive.
I’ve had good success posting my Netflix referral links on the site whenever they offer the 1 month free trial. People get the extra 2 weeks of free service and I get 5 bonus rentals. Lately we’ve been getting so many people using my links that I max out my bonus rentals the first day. To take advantage of the traffic we’re getting, I invite any other Netflix users to post their referral codes and/or links in the comments of my Netflix post. If we get a lot of comments, I will add all the codes to the main post and mix them up occasionally to try and get bonus rentals for everyone.
If you received codes in the mail or a link in an email from Netflix, go to my post and add them in a comment.
At the start of the school year I became increasingly involved with Facebook. Going to Ethan’s open house before the start of kindergarten brought back a flood of memories from elementary school and I hit facebook where I found many of my former classmates. For the past 2 weeks we’ve been retelling stories from our days in school and I have uploaded scans of my class pictures from K-8th grade. We’ve been having a blast reconnecting and remembering our times together.
I have to admit that I actually joined facebook over a year ago, but I didn’t get it. I connected with a few people, but didn’t see the point of all the silly features. That has all changed now. I have found it an amazingly useful tool for finding and staying in touch with old friends. We’ve setup a group for the class of 91 at my school and other people are adding their own photos. A lot of memories that I had forgotten are coming back to me and I am also hearing new stories for the first time.
At the same time, Ethan is coming home with his own stories from school and is so excited about his classmates and his teacher. I had always remembered school being a lot of fun, but I’d forgotten the details and the individual stories until now. It is also fascinating to hear a story from someone elses perspective now that we’re adults.
If you haven’t already, try joining Facebook and see if you can find some old friends. It can be tough to find people by name so searching by school is often the best bet. Once you find that first person you can usually find a lot more people who they are already linked to. Once you’ve got the gang back together online, start scanning and uploading the old photos. It’s worth it just for the hair and the outfits. I’m in the backrow, 4th from the left wearing the yellow shirt and stylish plaid pants.
A few nights ago I took the boys to football practice and we listened to Crazy Dave’s Star Wars episode in the car. When we returned home we still had 15 minutes of the show left so I decided to try something new. When I put the boys to bed I asked if they wanted to listed to the end of the show while they went to sleep and they, of course, gave me an enthusiastic yes. So I got an old pair of Walkman speakers out of the garage and setup the iPod on their desk and turned it on after they were tucked in.
When I was a kid I used to love listening to the radio when I went to bed. Being a geeky kid, I didn’t listen to the music, but to PBS programs, reruns of old radio shows, and Dr Demento. With all the great content available for free on the internet I’ve decided that the occasional iPod night will be something fun for the boys, but my concern was how to limit the length. A normal Crazy Dave’s Kid Show episode is almost 90 minutes. Thank goodness for Google.
Did you know your iPod has a Sleep Timer? You can set it to turn off automatically in intervals of 15, 30, 60, 90, or 120 minutes. The directions couldn’t be easier.
To set the interval before iPod turns off, select Extras > Clock > Sleep Timer. Then select the time you want.
When you set the sleep timer, a clock icon and the number of minutes left until iPod turns off appear near the top of the Now Playing screen.
This should curtail any Crazy Dave all nighters and also save some juice in the battery so I can listen to my geek podcasts during the morning commute.
If you’re thinking of buying a new iPod, hold off until after Tuesday. Apple is announcing changes to the iPod product line and the prediction is the iPod Touch will have its price reduced.
This week’s blog blast is sponsored by the Parent Bloggers Network and its on The First Day of School. Its obviously fitting for lots of people this time of year but especially me since I’m sort of half excited and half dreading the start of the school year right now!
Ethan will be starting K and I am nervous that he might not like it at first and I fear its a big change that I’ll then follow up with adding another sibling to his life the month after! He went to orientation on Wed for 2 1/2 hours without us and it went well. He has one friend in the same class and so that is a great thing. I am having a tougher time with it than he is but I still worry that he might come home that first day and say he hates it! His school is just finishing up a huge new playground that will be open for the start of school and that has been fun for him to watch. He seems fine with it when I bring K up (but I try not to talk about it too much so I don’t freak him out or annoy him). He got a letter in the mail from his teacher but we won’t meet her until the night before school starts. I am making John take the day off so that he can go with me to drive Ethan on the first day. He can be the calm one while I can try not to cry too much and take a few pictures.To make the day a bit special I plan to take Ethan’s picture holding a sign that says “my first day of kindergarten”, I already have some cookie dough frozen for him to have as his snack with lunch and we’ll probably go to Friendly’s for dinner that night. I know Ethan and I will adjust to school and by the time Ben starts K in another year I’ll be a pro at it (and Ben loves school so I won’t have as many fears for him) BUT until we get past that first day, week, month of school I will be a bit on edge worrying. I also will be a mess waiting for the bus in the afternoon that first day! I really didn’t want to have him ride the bus at all but picking him up in the afternoon would be too hard with Jamie (and soon the new baby) napping when school gets out. Plus I am driving him at 8:30, then Ben to preschool at 9 and then I pick Ben up at 11:30 so that is enough in and out of the car time with the kids 5 days a week for me already. Can you tell I am a mess! Come Thursday September 5th life will change a lot around here and I wish summer could last longer to delay that first day of school!
*Stay tuned to find out how the start of the year goes and hopefully I can post about how silly I was to worry so much! Oh and I can’t post without a picture (okay so I came back already and added 3 at the top of the post) so here is Ethan on his first day of preschool 2 years ago, I was a mess before that day too but it all worked out well!
Does anyone here use twitter? I’ve been hearing about it for a long time on the podcasts I listen to, but never tried. I finally broke down and signed up, but didn’t bother going back to check the feeds I was following. Today, while upgrading to Firefox 3 (awesome!) I discovered TwitterFox, a Firefox plugin for following and posting on Twitter. Works great, but now the question is…who to follow? I added a few of the tech podcasters I listen to and the feeds are pretty interesting so far. Do you have any recommendations?
For those less geeky than me, twitter is like text messaging on the internet. The idea is to tell your followers what you’re doing in 140 letters or less. People in the tech industry are using it pretty heavily. For more information check out the Twitter FAQ.
I’ve been listening to a lot of podiobooks and audible books lately and find myself saying “the kids will love this…when they’re older”. Since some of our readers have older kids or are themselves young at heart I decided to post a list of some of my favorites. These are all for the Harry Potter crowd and are stories I really enjoyed.
Free stories from Podiobooks
- Ender’s Game
- The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
- The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials Book 1
Here are some other great podiobooks suitable for mom or dad
- Quarter Share, Half Share, and Full Share
- Brave Men Run
- The Immortals
- One Among the Sleepless
- The 7th Son Trilogy (Descent, Deceit, Destruction)
- Anything by Scott Sigler (Ancestor, Infected, Earthcore, The Rookie, Nocturnal)
I’m sure there are others I have forgotten, but this is a great list to get you over 100 hours of audiobooks, most of it free. If you have an ipod and spend any time in the car, train, or are taking a long summer trip, please download a few of these and try them out. Podiobooks.com is a great site for getting audiobooks and it is important to support these authors so they keep giving us more great content.
I find it funny looking at this list. The majority of these I listened to in the last year, but if someone asked me what I’m reading I would tell them that with 3 kids and too many home improvement projects in progress, I don’t have time to read. Yet here is a list of novels that I’ve enjoyed while driving back and forth to work.
Do you have any favorite audiobooks that aren’t on my list? I am always looking for more.