Straight from the Heart

Looking for the perfect gift for your kids and spouse this Valentine’s Day? We’ve put together a little list to make your shopping that much easier. Check out some of our picks, and see what strikes your fancy.

Love-a-Saurus Techno Plush (Hallmark)

hallmark lova-a-saurusPush his button, and this bright red cutie roars, dances, and breaks it down to MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.” The young ‘uns will groove while ma and pa wax nostalgic. It’s $33, or $18 when you buy three Hallmark cards. You can also find an assortment of adorable itty bittys—sweet toys that fit in the palm of your hand, including the new Thing 1 and Thing 2 (your favorite troublemakers from Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat). They’re available for $7 each. You can pick up these items or any of Hallmark’s classic cards at www.hallmark.com  and Hallmark Gold Crown stores.

Customizable Valentine’s Jewelry (Origami Owl)

origami owl customizable jewelryFor tweens, teens, spouses, and other ladies in your life, we love the lovely gifts from Oragami Owl. Not only is the jewelry beautiful, but you can customize it for the one you love. Choose the color, size, shape, the charms that go inside and/or outside, the length and type of chain used, and all the other details. You can even add Swarovski crystals for a bit more color and sparkle. Origami Owl lets you pick out items that highlight special memories about your Valentine, and will be a truly cherished reminder of the special bond you two share. Choose from necklaces, bracelets, wrap bracelets (a hot trend right now), lockets, and more. Prices vary. Visit www.OrigamiOwl.com

Nail Polish (Duri)

Duri non toxic nail polishAnother option for the girls and women in your life is Duri’s environmentally-friendly, non-toxic nail polish collection, that’s free from DBP, formaldehyde, and other nasty stuff. You can buy individual bottles or a cute Valentine’s Day set of four. While there are more than 250 shades of Duri, the Valentine’s Day collection includes “every-day-is-Valentine’s-Day” red, “cupid-rules” pink, pastel “iced roses,” “unexpected kiss” (a light purple-pink), and “sweetheart.” (a bright orangey-red) A great gift anyone—male or female—who loves a mani-pedi. Singles are $6 each; the gift is $24 at www.duri.com

iPhone Heart Charging Cable (ThinkGeek)

thinkGeek iPhone Heart Charging CableFor the nerdy love in your life, ThinkGeek has a few fun options that are perfect for those with a taste for tech, comic books, sci-fi, and, of course, Star Wars. For a fun twist on classic Valentine’s Day gifts, we love the charging cable for the iPhone 5/6 (it also works with your iPad). The 46” cable has eight tiny, plastic LED red hearts that light up when it’s plugged in and charging. For just $14.99, you can show how strong and bright your love is, and that it’s endlessly renewable.

Star Wars Bouquet (ThinkGeek)

ThinkGeek Star Wars BouquetsTired of giving people the same old, same old floral arrangements? Wouldn’t they rather get a bouquet of long-stemmed Star Wars characters? These arrangements come in three styles: The “Assortment” (Boba Fett, Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2, two Ewoks, and three Stormtroopers), the “Darth Vader” (Darth Vader and eight Stormtroopers), and the “Droid” (three each of R2-D2, R2-Q5, and R2-D9). These clever gifts are sure to be a conversation piece, and something that’ll make all the other geeks jealous. Who has the best spouse? Yeah, you know it. Bouquets are $60 each at http://www.thinkgeek.com/gifts/.

She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Sister

Dear Mr. Dad: This may seem like a very basic question, but what can I do to help my overweight 13-year-old twin daughters lose weight? It’s not that they eat a lot of junk food—they actually eat pretty well. The problem is that they consume huge portions and then have seconds and thirds. I’ve talked to them about how many calories and how much fat are in each serving, but they don’t seem to be paying any attention. Is there some other way I can get them to see what they’re doing?

As you’ve discovered, despite all the talk about the “epidemic of obesity” and the constant barrage of information about calories and fat, most people have no clue how much of either they should be eating, and, more important, how much is too much.

Just so you know, depending on their age and how active they are, teen girls and adult women need 1,600-2,200 calories per day; teen boys and adult men should get 1,800-3,100 per day. But rather than talk about fat and calories, I suggest you do two other things, both of which will help your daughters eat less.

First, un-supersize everything. Brian Wansink and his colleagues at Cornell University just did a study and found that we eat 92% of what’s on our plate. In theory, that’s not a bad thing. The problem is that that percentage stays the same regardless of the size of the plate. A number of studies have found that people eat more when they’re serving themselves (or being served) from larger serving containers, putting that food onto large plates or bowls, or eating with large utensils. The larger those items, the more we eat. As Wansink puts it, “If you put it on your plate, it’s going in your stomach.”

Getting smaller platters, plates, and silverware will definitely help your daughters. But it won’t be easy. Over the last 20 years, “normal” serving sizes have ballooned. For example, back then, a typical bagel was about three inches in diameter, today it’s six inches; a blueberry muffin weighed about 1.5 ounces, today it’s four ounces; an order of fries at a fast food restaurant weighed 2.4 ounces, today it’s 6.9 ounces.

The same thing is happening in our homes. Twenty years ago, the average dinner plate was about 10 inches in diameter; today it’s about 12. That may not sound like much, but it’s actually an increase of 44 percent.

Second, stop talking about fat and calories. Instead, put things in terms of how much exercise you’d have to do to burn off what you just ate. For example, if your daughters take a second helping of spaghetti and meatballs, they’ll have to spend an hour running at a 9-minute-mile pace to burn that off. Swimming backstroke for 80 minutes would offset an order of fries. And an hour of Zumba would take care of that piece of cheesecake.

This approach can be extremely successful. A few years ago, researchers at the University of North Carolina randomly gave 800 people one of four nearly identical menus. One menu had just the names of the food; one had the food plus calorie info; one had calories plus the number of minutes the customer would have to walk to burn off the food; and the last had calories plus how far the customer would have to walk to burn those calories. The differences were eye-opening.

As you might expect, the people with the regular menu ordered the most food. Those with calorie info ordered about five percent less. But those with the minutes-of-walking and miles-of-walking information ordered 15-20 percent less.

 

Photo credit: unsplash.com/Ali Inay

What You Can and Can’t Do to Counsel a Friend

Joe Gurkoff, coauthor of How Can I Help?
Topic:
How to help others; what you can (and can’t) do to counsel a friend, colleague, or family member with a problem
Issues: Learning to listen, clarify and define the problem, map a realistic path to success, improve accountability, and regain your independence.

The Dad’s Side of Assisted Reproduction + Raising Athletes + How to Help Others

Matthew Miller, author of Maybe Baby
Topic:
The story of assisted reproduction and attempted parenthood—from the dad’s perspective
Issues: The anguish of infertility; the anger, frustration, humor, and heartbreak that dads (and moms) experience.

Karen Ronney, author of Proud Parents Guide to Raising Athletic, Balanced, and Coordinated Kids
Topic:
A lifetime of benefit in just 10 minutes a day
Issues: How to jump-start your child’s developmental skills; creating a lifestyle of family fitness; maximizing your child’s learning style while enjoying positive, consistent playtime.


Joe Gurkoff, coauthor of How Can I Help?
Topic:
What you can (and can’t) do to counsel a friend, colleague, or family member with a problem
Issues: Learning to listen, clarify and define the problem, map a realistic path to success, improve accountability, and regain your independence.

Some Assembly Required

Some games are ready to go right out of the box. Others require a little more work. Here are four interactive kits that we know will keep you and your kids entertained for hours.

Light It and Shake It (lectrify)

lectrify itLectrify is a new company whose mission is to “make it easy and accessible for makers of all ages to build mechanical and electronic projects.” And after trying two of their kits, we can assure you that the company is achieving that goal. The core of each kit is a fully-functional circuit board. Light It includes a battery, two LEDs, an on/off switch, and a momentary switch (like an on/off switch but it only works when you press and hold it). Shake It includes a battery, on/off switch, vibrating motor, and more. Young makers (and their parents) can experiment with the board. Then, when they’re feeling confident, they can snap the components out of the board and embed them in any project they’d like. One especially cool feature is that the circuit components are compatible with LEGO and other systems, so it’s easy to add some special features to your LEGO creations. The possibilities are unlimited, but if you want some suggestions, there are plenty on the website. For ages 5 and up (with adult supervision). Prices vary. http://www.lectrify.it/

Totally Irresponsible Science Kit (Sean Connolly)

totally irresponsible scienceSean Connolly has done a great service for science and math, making both subjects a lot more interesting and engaging. The titles of two of his previous books should give you an idea of his strategy: “The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists” and “The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math: 24 Death-Defying Challenges for Young Mathematicians.” The experiments in this book/kit combo aren’t terribly new, but it’s the approach that counts. For example, learning how to make bubbles out of soap or generate static electricity is okay (yawn). But when you put it in terms of encasing your little brother in a giant bubble or shooting a bolt of lightning from your fingertip, now you’ve got something fun. Includes the book, a beaker, a test tube, and a measuring spoon. The rest of the ingredients you probably have around the house. For ages 7 and up.  $15 on www.amazon.com

Build a Knight’s Castle: Paper Toy Archaeology (Annalie Seaman)

build a kinght's castleWhat a great way to spark in interest in archeology. You and your child start by reading about how people in medieval times lived, built their castles, and defended them. Along the way, Annalie Seaman, an archeologist and educator, shows you how to pull clues from medieval documents, paintings, maps, burial sites, scraps of metal, and more. Then, you use that knowledge to build a 3D castle using pieces that pop out of the book—knights and weapons included. For ages 5 and up. Under $11 on www.amazon.com

Malia’s Beach House Building Kit (Build & Imagine)

malia's beach houseAimed mostly at girls (although plenty of boys will enjoy it too), this constructible dollhouse helps bring out those all-important STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) skills, including building, spatial reasoning, and problem solving. Build & Imagine has a number of kits, all of which use magnetic panels and pieces and are 100% compatible with each other. This one includes Malia and Skyler dolls, 17 dual-sided, illustrated panels, and a few dozen accessories. Kids design and build their own indoor- or outdoor world. Once that’s done, they can incorporate the dolls, clothes, and other accessories and props to create any scene they’d like. For age 4 and up $60. https://www.buildandimagine.com/