Kiddie Koncierge: Holiday Gift Update
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Holiday Gift Update
Published November 2009

Welcome to the Kiddie Koncierge™ Holiday Gift Update!  ‘Tis the
season to be thinking about gifts for the kids.  While we try to
deemphasize the material aspect of the season, you might as well
find different things if you have to do it.  There are a lot of places that
have oodles of gift ideas for children (big box retailers, museum
stores, online, etc.).  But, if you are like us, K-Mart, Toys-R-Us,
Amazon, etc. are a bit too plastic. Besides, it is nice to browse the
merchandise on your own.  In an effort to provide interesting
alternatives, we offer a few of our local favorites.  These stores all
have unique offerings and good prices.  It really comes down to
convenience or if you have a specific item that you are looking for.  
Feel free to offer your favorites too!

Bricks and Mortar
Here are a few of our favorites.  For more ideas, visit our Toy Store
page.  If you go Bricks and Mortar, visit
www.dealnews.com in
advance.

Mr. Mopps, 1405 Martin Luther King Way at Rose, Berkeley, (510)
525-9633.  Mr. Mopps is a Berkeley institution with a number of
unique toys, games, kits, and books for all ages.  This place also
has a bunch of smaller things for goodie bags or to round out a gift
idea.  Mr. Mopps’ selection runs the gamut from dress-up to
activities, educational toys, kits, to collectibles.  But this is a true toy
store with a very good selection of quality toys.  Gift wrapping is
available.  

Jeffrey’s Toys, 685 Market Street @ Third, San Francisco (415) 243-
8697. If you work downtown and even if you don’t, this place is
magical.  Lots of hard-to-find toys and good pricing.  Excellent
selection with a pretty broad age range.  But unlike a Toys R Us, the
selection goes a bit deeper and has a lot of surprises that are sure
to engage your child.  Games, kits, activities, collectibles, and
more.  Not much in the way of books.  Free gift wrapping.  

The Wooden Horse, 796 Blossom Hill Road | Los Gatos, CA 95032
| (888) 356-8821 and online at www.woodenhorsetoys.com.  
Excellent selection with a pretty broad age range. Games, kits,
activities, collectibles, and more.

Double Punch 1821 Powell Street, San Francisco, (415)399-9785.  
If you just HAVE to have the coolest and most unique toys and gifts
and don’t mind paying for it, then go here.  They feature toys and
other merchandise from designers worldwide but with a particular
focus on Japan.  Check out some of the stuff they carry at
www.
doublepunch.com and http://www.ningyoushi.com/?Click=4373

Ambassador Toys, multiple locations 186 W. Portal Ave., San
Francisco, (415) 759-8697 and also online at www.
ambassadortoys.com.  This place is another store that aims to
provide the unique and the popular as well.  Games, dolls, unique
and handmade toys, educational and discovery toy, and books as
well.  Definitely not a mass-produced toy store.

Online Stores
Here are a few of our favorites.  If you wish to find more, visit our
Online Toy Store Page.

Books
Bank Street Books  http://www.bankstreetbooks.com/ This is the
online arm of a New York institution.  This famous store of children’
s’ books now has a great online store also devoted to children’s’
literature for all ages.  It is well organized and has a wide range of
topics to browse through.  The search features are also very helpful
and powerful.

Hedgehog Books  http://www.hedgehogbooks.com.  Hedgehog
books is unique in that it has teacher recommended book
selections and lists.  The recommendations are searchable and
have a couple of intuitive navigation methods to direct you to
interesting titles.  Recommendations are also divided by grade and
reading level and, most importantly, have some commentary about
the books and the authors.  This is a nice resource and store.

Storyopolis, http://www.storyopolis.com/ If you are ever in Los
Angeles, you must visit this kids bookstore across the street from
the famed Ivy Restaurant.  Don’t let the proliferation of Bentleys
deter you, this is a special place that specializes in kids’ books and
original kids’ book art.  Much of what they sell can be found online.  
It isn’t cheap, but it IS unique.  

Toys
Barclaywoods  http://www.barclaywoods.com/ This store is
devoted to fine maple building blocks.  Not just boxes of blocks, but
very nicely finished sets with a cool range of shapes and sizes.  
Highly recommended.  Another equally good block store is http:
//www.oldfashionedblocks.com/  They not only have maple offerings
but offerings in sustainable woods.

euroToyShop.com, http://www.eurotoyshop.com/  With all the
concern over toys from certain parts of the world, we came across a
website that only sources toys from another part of the world.  
These toys are high quality and reasonably priced.  In fact, once you
factor in tax vs. shipping, the prices are even better.  Their selection
is pretty impressive for boys and girls.  

Fat Brain Toys  www.fatbraintoys.com Fat Brain has one of the
best selection of educational and scientific toys on the web (and
catalog in case you prefer that) .  The site is well organized and
appeals to a wide range of age groups.  The site also has a helpful
set of recommendations by age and gender
http://www.
fatbraintoys.com/toys/toys_by_ages/ages.cfm

Kazoo Toys  www.kazootoys.com  This site has a wide range of
interesting and unique toys.  They are creative and appear to be
well made.  Their strength is in creative, imagination and
exploration toys.  

Lego.com  Boys (and increasingly girls) love this stuff.  And, if your
child is a Lego Maniac, you may find that the stores are starting to
run low on ideas or you may find yourself in danger of having about
4 different building standards (Duplo, Lego, Bionicle, etc. etc.) in
your home.  This is the place to go for ideas on other directions to
go in, hard-to-find sets, printable instructions in case you lost yours
or want to find new ideas for things to do with the thousands of
pieces lying around your play area (what?  Improvise?), and
replacement pieces for lost pieces or those that the dog ate.  They
also occasionally have specials and sales that beat the stores.  If
you are insane and have way too much time on your hands, you can
actually DESIGN your own Lego creation set with special free
software and then order all the pieces (the software keeps track)
and instructions!  
www.Lego.com  Another worthwhile site for older
children and hard core Lego engineers is the
Lego Education
website
http://www.legoeducation.us/store/?domainalert=1.  Lego
Education
has less flashy packaging and is geared towards
educators who use Lego in teaching about computers, machines,
and other concepts.  The important thing about the site is that it
gives you more ideas on things you can do with the sets.  

Live and Learn Toys www.liveandlearn.com/contents.html  Their
website, while not particularly well designed, does have a good
selection of educational toys and also has a useful tool that offers
recommendations by age.  

Other Cool Gift Ideas
We have more cool gift ideas on our Cool Gift Idea page.

Personalized Books - Photo albums, cookbooks, etc.
Why send snapshots or weblinks to someone who doesn't use the
Internet?  Half of our relatives don't or won't use the web. Our
solution?  There are a plethora of sites around offering great
looking photo books from your digital photos at a reasonable price
(from $10 on up depending on number of pages and cover styles).  
We have been doing this for gifts for a couple of years now and they
come out great.  We have regularly used
Shutterfly.  While some
like
Blurb, we have not been as pleased with their templates and
product. Yes, you do have some more degrees of freedom with
Blurb, the end result still looks and feels better with Shutterfly in our
opinion.   Also, Blurb makes you download and app and uploading
pictures can be cumbersome.

Make a cool, professional yearbook on what the family has been
doing all year.  At around $30, it isn't cheap but it is highly personal
and you can create your own look and feel. It takes a couple of
hours of work to select your favorite pix, upload, and organize them,
but once you are done, it is easy to send them direct or send them
to yourself for distribution.  It is also easy to save different versions
of the same book (just copy the book add a page or two and call it
something else).  Shutterfly has special offers including free
shipping and discounts off additional orders of your book (So, order
one.  Ship.  Get the discount on all the rest of your books).
 www.
shutterfly.com

Custom Christmas Tree Ornaments We have been doing this for
as long as our child has been able to pick up a brush.  We now
have a new ornament every year for our tree!  The glass balls are
very inexpensive at Michaels or some other craft store and glass
paints or pens are also inexpensive.  After all is said and done, the
per unit cost is probably less than $5, but the sentimental value
return far exceeds the market (not saying much nowadays!).

Experiential Gifts After a while, there is just so much stuff that one
can have.  Either there is just not enough room or you just don't
want to add another layer to the landfill.  We know that a lot of our
grandparents just don't want anymore stuff, so one year, we gave
them a cool experience.  One idea was to take them on a Safari.  
No, we didn't fly them to Tanzania.  Rather, we drove them to Santa
Rosa and took them to
Safari West.  You ride around a vast
expanse of hillside in jeeps and get upfront and personal with all
manner of grazing beasts.  Once your ride is over, you can visit their
beautiful aviary, their other animal exhibits and have a nice lunch or
spend the night!  Other animal-oriented experiences that are off the
beaten path include the
Shambala Preserve near L.A..  Shambala
is actress Tippi Hedren's (yes, from the Birds) labor of love to save
exotic pets, circus, and zoo animals from neglect or someother
fate.  It is a truly special place.  Once a month, they open their facility
to tours.  For 3 hours you can visit their little Eden.  Unfortunately, it
is only for adults (18 and older) but it is a great gift for that relative or
friend who has everything.  For tour information, visit
http://www.
shambala.org/ and click on the "Tour" button.

Personalized Stationery for Children, What? WRITE a note??  Yes,
amazingly enough, there are occasions like thank you notes, a pen-
pal, and relatives love the personal touch that an email cannot
achieve.  We found fun stationery that can be personalized with your
child’s name.  Sure, you can go to
Cranes  www.cranes.com and
search for “kids stationery”, but $100 for a set of cards can be a bit
pricey.  Instead, we found
Amy Adele, a great online store that has
a wide range of personalized stationery options at reasonable
prices (you also can choose from a wide range of quantities),  
http:
//www.amyadele.com/stationery/?gclid=CI71t-
OOmZACFRsTawodBSXQ7g  We highly recommend them.  These
make great gifts for far away relatives to give or receive since they
are compact and usable throughout the year.

Resources
Coupons  http://coupons.surfnetkids.com/shopping.php?
gccdisplay=1  Surfnetkids is an interesting website.  Not only does
it purport to review websites for appropriateness, it also has cool
features such as a page of online coupons that you can browse
through to help in your shopping and also a neat feature where
teens can subscribe to an email feed of book recommendations
with excerpts from the books.  
http://www.surfnetkids.
com/bookclubs.htm

Kiddie Koncierge Die-Cast Toy Thoughts  As an aside, I have a five
year-old boy and have spent more time than is healthy with die-cast
cars since my own childhood.  If your child likes die cast vehicles
and is starting to amass a fleet of them, feel free to contact me for
suggestions and questions.

Toy Reviews, There are a couple of sites that claim to offer safety
and usability reviews.  The two sites that get the most traffic,
Dr.
Toy
 http://www.drtoy.org/main/index.html  and Oppenheimer Toy
Portfolio
 http://www.toyportfolio.com/ are behemoths.  Dr. Toy
has horrible navigation and the content is of questionable
usefulness.  Oppenheimer is more friendly and has better insight.  
Bottom line:  would the average parent use this?  Probably not
since you can generally preview all toys at a store.

We also liked this toy blog by a toy store (for full disclosure), called
http://www.koboldsblog.com/.  They provide thoughtful reviews of
cool toys on the market and you can find some nifty creative items
instead of the media tie-in crazed stuff at Toys-R-Us.

Buying a Skateboard
We are thinking of buying our kid a skateboard.  It is a lot different
from when we grew up and spent all our time in shop class making
decks and then saving all of our paper route money to invest in
sealed bearings and urethanes instead of clay wheels or, worse
yet, steel wheels.  There are a dizzying array or decks, components,
and, of course, apparel.  One quick way for us neophytes to get in
on the action is to buy a "complete".  For those of you who buy
bikes, it is the same thing as buying a bike off the floor vs. building
your own bike - most people are fine off the floor.  It is only those
people in the lycra spandex who might think about spending $2000
to start with a frame and lavish all sorts of money on components.  
But I digress.  One very good write up on buying a kids' skateboard
can be found here:  
http://skateboard.about.
com/od/skateboardparts/tp/Beginners_Skateboards_BG.htm

Video Reviews, http://www.kids-in-mind.com/ Videos are a
different story.  You have no idea short of previewing every release
whether there is anything that your child might have an issue with.  
When we went to see Ratatouille, it was nice to know that there
would be a crazy, gun-wielding farmer and a flood of rats in the first
20 minutes.  Kids-in-Mind does exactly that.  This is not a store, but
rather a great online resource that we have shared in the past.  
While we recommended it as a way to evaluate current film
releases for content and appropriateness for your child, it also has
a section devoted to video releases so that you can check things
out before you rent, buy or order.  The editors have spent a LOT of
time to review every film and rate it in terms of Sex/nudity;
violence/gore, and profanity.  They don’t just give you the rating, they
go shot by shot to describe possible problem areas.  You can also
buy videos through the site to save time.

Video Game Reviews
What They Play
www.whattheyplay.com – OK, you gave in and
bought that game console.  Now what to play on it?  You hear all the
horror stories about the content of these games.  Pretty daunting?  
Not any
more.  Two gamer dads who used to write and edit for a gamer
website decided to put together a website full of game reviews that
include age appropriateness, feedback from the parents, most
popular games by age level, reviews divided by platform, etc.  This
is a must.  Not only can you pretend like you can talk like a gamer,
but you can offer alternatives when your five year-old comes up to
you asking to play Halo.  The site also has a good search feature to
help you search by platform, type of game, age level, and rating

Common Sense Media www.commonsensemedia.org
Common Sense Media is a great organization that spreads the
word on responsible media consumption.  Besides community
outreach (they speak at schools and perform other community
services, they also (and most relevant to this site) post film, video
game, book, music, and website reviews on their site.  Like Kids-In-
Mind above, they review current media on a number or different
criteria, provide ratings (both by their reviews and the readers), and
recommendations by age group (appropriate, with caution, and not
appropriate).  A great resource!

Discounts
Let's face it, the holidays are costly.  The economy isn't helping.  We
just discovered a couple of things that can ease the pain.  You get
the greatest savings if you are willing to do a little work.  It is
definitely worth it.
  1. If you set yourself up for Live Search Cash Back, you can
    save up to 20% off a purchase when you go through  
    Microsoft Live Search (http://search.live.com/cashback).  
    Just enter the product you want to buy in the search field and
    it will return participating vendors and the discounts they will
    offer for buying.  You will then get a cash back refund for
    every purchase you make that way.  Reality is that most
    discounts are in the 10% range.  Still, a discount is a
    discount.
  2. The City of San Francisco is offering all sorts of deals at
    hotels, museums, restaurants, shops, etc. as part of their
    Shop SF stimulus program.  There are some amazing deals
    such as $179 rooms at the Fairmont for a little Parent's night
    out!  You have to at least look!  http://www.
    onlyinsanfrancisco.com/shopsf/show-your-zip.asp?
    cat_id=1
  3. The following is not exactly a way to save money, but a way
    to have your school or favorite charity benefit from your
    purchases.  Two sites, eScrip and Onecause are worth
    checking out.  A lot of schools use them as a form of fund
    raising, so if yours doesn't, it may be worth checking out.
    eScrip works by registering your credit cards and your
    designated charity.  eScrip will then donate a portion of
    every purchase you make at a participating store using that
    credit card to your designated charity.  OneCause works a
    little differently:  you register your credit card and you then
    use their site or toolbar as a portal to a vast array of
    participating vendors (including Amazon and United Airlines)
    that will kick back some serious money to your designated
    charity.  The key is that you MUST go through the OneCause
    website to access Amazon, for example, in order for your
    organization to get any benefit from your purchases.
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