But here are a few awesome things I've found along the way recently, from other mommy bloggers or my own search and shop missions:
It's made by a Scandinavian company and distributed in N. America by ModernMini (though you can get it on sale sometimes via Zulily). Ergonomic, kid-friendly design for plates, bowls, cups and cutlery (including a knife that is sharp enough to cut a piece of melon, but not sharp enough to cut Little L). Everything is toddler-sized and BPA/phthalate/PVC-free and microwave/dishwasher safe. Materials are solid quality, Little L can use the fork and spoon on her own and not find the arm "too long" (read: unwieldy) on the utensils. She's still working on cup-drinking but the small size of the cup makes me think that it will be easier for her to learn, than on a regular-sized cup. Prices aren't cheap, however, so if you're not able to buy the whole set, I recommend the cutlery and the cup.
Tiny Hands Sorting App (for iPads)
Categorizing and sorting are skills that every child needs to eventually learn, and classification is one of those ongoing learning outcomes that appears on every grade's curriculum from Kindergarten onwards. This app is a fantastic intro to "sorting" up to 3 groups, by colour, size, shape, season, and type. Every app from Tiny Hands has a recommended age level, and they target audiences from 18 months onwards. Little L loves her sorting app, and although she isn't quite 24 months, she has pretty much nailed it when it comes to the 2-year-old sorting app, so we are upgrading her to the 2.5 year old app right away. Only $2.99, so totally worth it (plus you can play along with your little one so that it's an interactive experience).
BeBop Blox (and all the Originator apps, really)
Little L is really good with matching images to silhouettes. I'm not sure where she gets it from, but the image (or the silhouette) can be turned 90, 180, 270 degrees and she will still be able to match the picture with the shadow. Anyway, this app is a musical matching game that uses singing "blox" to create shapes (like a train or a boat), and provides visual "hints" so that even novice players can eventually create these tangram-esque shapes. Graphics are super high-quality and the music is catchy. Totally fun, and Little L will actually sing, "BeBop Blox!" whenever she goes to load it on her iPad.
Rainbow Steps shoes
We are Pediped loyalists, but our wallets are not bottomless, so when I saw a Zulily sale for Rainbow Steps shoes, I gave 'em a go. The shoes are leather, rubber-soled, and seem to be thick-soled enough to offer good support. When Little L recently outgrew her Pedipeds (and then proceeded to lose one of the shoes - great), I pulled out her Rainbow Steps. Let me tell ya: she *loves* these shoes. Sometimes she will ask me to help her put them on so she can stomp around the house and do some "dancing" in her orange-and-pink polka-dot footwear. She doesn't seem to have any problems with walking in the shoes, and they are wide enough for her feet to slip in and out without a lot of difficulty. Though we will probably get her more of our usual Pedipeds, I'm glad that there is an alternative out there for Little L in the event that we don't want to drop $60 for a pair of shoes that only lasts her a few weeks.
Binchotan Charcoal Sticks
I'll admit it - I'm crunchier than I thought I'd be. But I am also somewhat of a water snob. I love water that tastes good, and I can actually notice a difference in tap water vs. Dasani vs. Fiji (my favourite) vs the stuff in those giant blue bottles. Anyway, in my mind I find it difficult to justify purchasing litres of Fiji every week, so I needed an alternative that wasn't a Brita (since I don't love the taste of Brita water either).
Enter binchotan charcoal sticks, a totally green alternative that is super easy to use and makes water taste awesome. Though it's hard to find them in Canada (in Van, you can get them at the Soap Dispensary), you can order them in the US quite easily. The charcoal sticks are made from oak branches, and you use them by boiling them for 10 minutes, cooling them down, and then throwing them in a glass water jug with your tap water. In a few hours, the water is "filtered" of any nasty chemicals, remineralized, and it tastes really good (softer water, which I think goes down more smoothly). You continue to refill the water jug for a week or two, then you fish out the stick, reboil it for 10 minutes, cool it down, and use it again! Each stick lasts up to 6 months, costs hardly anything (mine were $12/stick but on Amazon.com you can get them for cheaper), and then the green thumbs you know can ground the stick up and put it in their plant soil when you are done with them. Minimal carbon footprint, and your water tastes yummy again!
Bikini Body Mommy
As seen on Dr. Oz (who I never watch, so I didn't know this!), a mommy of three from Toronto lost 100 pounds and went from plump to model-sized by doing bodyweight exercises at home and eating clean. She recently put out a 90-day challenge (not her first) that anyone can follow along with, and videotaped herself doing her workouts each day. The workouts are intense but relatively short (less than 30 for sure, usually between 10-20 minutes long), don't require any fancy gym equipment, and can be done while you have kiddies playing nearby. Brianne Christine has posted these videos for free on YouTube, so it's affordable for all! Her profits come from purchasing her meal plans, which she offers as a monthly subscription. She's into Paleo, so I didn't buy the plan, but I am following along (for the most part) with her videos and trying to stay consistent in my workouts.
I'm not doing any measuring or weighing in this time 'round, but I figure that in 90 days, I should feel stronger and more energized, and I should probably notice some difference in my clothes. I will likely do a second 90-day challenge leading up to our Maui trip in the late fall. Anyway, this is a perfect opportunity for any of you mommies who don't want to pay, do want to work out, and feel like you have 20-30 minutes a day to spare.
Sesame Street Point and Play Library
One of Little L's Christmas gifts was this set of books and a mysterious green pen that knows how to "read" the stuff on the page. Seriously, I haven't figured out how it works yet, and how it can differentiate between the words and images on each page. Anyhoo, she loves to turn on the pen and have it "read" to her as she points it at different things on the page. Usually she will point to stuff that she already knows how to say, but the sound effects are cute and I am hoping that the exposure to text will help her with her pre-reading skills. The books in this set include colours and shapes, letters, numbers, animals, neighborhoods, fairy tales... there are several books in the set, and each book has about 10 pages of colourful, labeled images.
Anyway, we scored ours at Costco, but I'm sure it can be found elsewhere online. I think we paid around $30 for ours. Guaranteed a few minutes of fun for your little monkey!
That's it for now! What great things have you discovered recently?