Daily bargains in the Target dollar bins

I just stocked up on kitchen towels, craft kits, stickers, and paper clips.

Whether you’re putting together a cheery basket for a sick kiddo, a care package for a college student, or just in need of a cute seasonal kitchen towel, Target’s weekly dollar bins are where it’s at. I know because I’m there nearly every week, grabbing cheap things for my co-op classes or kitchen. This week I picked up about $6 worth of valentine craft materials and now have plenty to teach my valentine craft class this Thursday.

My daughter always picks things from the dollar bins when she gets a chance to choose a toy as well. There’s always something really cute to find. She bought an owl purse with her money from Grandma for $1, and she has previously bought erasers, stuffed animals, and books. I’ve also filled her stocking—and sometimes even purchased Christmas or Easter gifts—from these very bins. In fact, last year’s musical and game items for her birthday—two different categories of gifts we always try to include—were both from the deal aisle.

You can even put together entire gift baskets without going to any other area of the store. There are always baskets or bins for sale, as well as snacks, self-care items, and fun household goodies, sometimes even including home décor. Throw together a box for your birthday party this weekend, or go to the checkout lane and add an iTunes card for your high school grad.

If I had a complaint, it would be that lately there are a bunch of $3 deals in the aisle that seem quite overpriced. Once in a while there are $2.50 deals that are worth it—my daughter got an owl rug for her room for this much—but these $3 deals of late are silly cheap things, like rubber scrapers for the kitchen that you could get for $1 elsewhere. I think Target’s trying to capitalize on people shopping in the bins and not realizing how much these things are—or realizing it and just believing they are getting a decent deal when they aren’t.

Even so, we always check the bins when we head over to Target. Combined with our regular Red Card discounts and coupons, we usually walk out of the store not having spent much, making me  happy—and toting some trinket or stickers, making my kiddo happy. Who am I kidding—last night I bought myself some Valentine stickers for my journal, too. And why not? They were two sheets for a buck.

Get well toys for kids

Select the best toy for children when they're under the weather

Finding the perfect get well toy for a sick child can be more of a challenge than you may anticipate. This is when you may want to have some ideas on some inexpensive get well toys that can help children of all ages start to feel better, no matter how sick they are. Children, be it your own or someone else's kids, will always enjoy a get well toy, but here are some tips to find the best toy for the best price. 

For girls of almost any age, they will enjoy the innocence and beauty that a doll can provide. This innocence can allow the younger children a toy to play with, but for the really sick and older girls, it can provide them with a flashback to the memory they have when they were not sick. They will feel like a normal girl again and not one who is suffering with an illness.
Boys are a little bit easier to please since they will enjoy anything with wheels or that makes loud banging noises. However, since this is a get well toy, you should opt for the one with wheels since they are more likely allowed to have this in their hospital room. So you should make sure you look at this to guarantee you select the right kind of toy car for boys.
Finding the perfect get well toy for a sick child can make them feel much better. If you know that something as simple as a doll or car can help your kids feel great. Use these tips to find the perfect get well toy for sick children. 

Crazy Favor Traditions

The plague of a children's party.

The change happened slowly. The first real birthday party my son went to for a friend was when he was five. Naturally, the kids were each given a favor bag. I don't remember exactly what was in it, but it was the usual tripe from my own childhood – candy, stickers, a noisemaker. Maybe a small plastic parachute man. For the ten kids invited, it was unlikely that the momma had spent more than $3- to 5-dollars to stock them all. Just as it should be.

Fast forward a few years and the bags my youngest gets probably cost more than what I spent on the birthday child's present. Small Lego sets, action figures, involved craft kits... plus the candy, noisemakers and plastic junk.


I'm not sure what brought on the change, but my guess is that each momma feels like she has to keep up or outdo the one before her. It's the same mindset that has taken the kid's party out of the backyard and to hotels featuring indoor swim parks or pizza party palaces that charge several hundred for a one hour party.


I refuse to get on this bandwagon. Our backyard parties, or parties at the local city park that features a free water splash play area and picnic tables, are a favorite with both the kids and their friends. No expensive party favor toys either. To get around this requirement, I've taken to making simple balloon pinatas and stuffing them with candy and a few choice but cheap toys, such as balsa wood gliders. No complaints, and if anyone is calling me cheap behind my back so be it. A party is about celebrating not buying your guests expensive toys.


You Get What You Pay For

Or, how to crush your child's dreams.

My tenth birthday coincided with the appearance of Halley's comet in 1986. With my then aspirations of one day becoming an astronomer (before the writing bug bit me), it was one of the most exciting events of the year. I was gifted with a beautiful deep blue telescope so I could ring in my birthday in style with my parents and closest friends.

After my dad fumbled and cursed for a bit, we were finally able to focus on the comet, if you can call what we did focusing. My 10 year old self was suitably impressed that night, and on a few subsequent nights of moon viewing. But the thrill eventually wore off, not because I lost interest in the stars, but because of junky equipment.


The telescope was shaky on its mount, for one. The legs would collapse under the lightest touch, or the entire scope body would shudder if I twitched a muscle. The dew shield cracked the second time I had it out. I eventually gave up on it and it gathered dust until it finally ended up in a garage sale.


Discount store telescopes are nothing more than overpriced toys. They are cheaply made and often give poor views. Kids become frustrated with them and usually move on to other pursuits. To make matters worse, the manufacturer's cash in on the fact that most people think bigger is better by throwing in impossibly strong eye pieces for a scope that would perform better with lower strength viewing.


Take my advice. Get your star-happy kid a great pair of 8x42 binoculars instead (skip the ruby coating, though) or spend at least a couple hundred on a quality scope. Do some research first and your little one may grow up to someday work amongst those stars she holds so dear now.

Night of the Living Gamers

Toys for big boys and girls.

When my parent's generation thinks of toys, they usually think of kids. My generation, a group of slowly approaching middle age gen-Xers, doesn't just think toys are for kids. My husband has an entire wall of shelves featuring action figures from video games, comic books, and mangas. He gets just as excited over a Star Wars lightsaber as my kids do. Nope, toys just aren't for kids.

What cracks me up as the wife of a gamer is the seriousness of a video game release. Mass Effect 3, one of the most anticipated games ever, came out this week. My husband reserved his copy well over a year ago. Not just a plain jane copy, oh no. He reserved the special edition boxed set that came with a patch, comic, collector's tin and other stuff.


The funny thing about game reservations is they never seem to come out on time. When you first make the reservation, the game is usually expected within a few months. That date always gets extended. Back in the Game Cube days, we once had a reserved game release date extended out by two years. (Zelda, anyone?)


Even with a reservation, you don't just stroll into the game store on release day after work. Nope, you show up at the store at least an hour before midnight. Yes, the store is open. You then stand around with other gamers guzzling Mountain Dew and Energy drinks until the moment to form the line comes. These places are madhouses on a release night.


Once you have your game, you make a beeline home and to your console. You've already been up half the night to pick up the game, why not spend the rest of the evening actually playing it. It's a good thing my husband works from home, otherwise I'd be calling in to work for him after every game release during the year.


Old School Building Toys

My youngest son is addicted to building toys. He can turn out nearly anything with scrap wood, Legos, Lincoln Logs or toilet paper tubes. A couple of weeks ago I saw a blast from the past at a book store – of all place – and had to buy it for him. That's right, the Erector set is making a come back.

First, I had forgotten how many pieces even a small set contains, and this was the smallest set available. If you invest in one of these for your kids give them a selection of small bowls to contain the metal brackets, screws and nuts. But really, this is the only issue with these toys.


It took some practice for his chubby six year old fingers to master the screwing and tightening of the bolts. He did quickly become bored with building and rebuilding the boat the kit was designed for. It would be awesome if Erector included instructions for multiple constructions in each kit.


No mind though. Within a few hours he was designing his own structures and building them. He's a pretty methodical kid, so he would draw out a blueprint before he set to work. Something tells me there will be more sets on his birthday wishlist next month. I don't mind, though. I prefer to give toys such as this that encourage creativity and hone manual skills.


It's easy to overlook Erector sets and similar old school, non-tech toys. But these are some of the best choices for our children. In fact, I prefer these over the brightly colored plastic building sets that are now the norm in most of our homes.

Activity Mats

Quiet play for hours.

A favorite toy in our house is a giant carpet I bought for the boys when they were younger. Right now it sits in my youngest son's room, where it sees almost daily play. This isn't your normal carpet. It features train tracks, roads, buildings, ponds and even an airport. It forms the landscape for toy cars, Legos and action figures. Even my oldest sometimes uses it when he's building a Lego city or similar.

These rugs are readily available at most home stores and toy stores. Unlike buying a bunch of train and car tracks, they leave something up to the imagination. They also result in much less clutter, which as any parent knows is an ongoing battle when it comes to toys. The rugs can stay on the floor all the time, serving the dual purpose of play mat and floor covering. We have hardwood floors, so a carpet is appreciated by the kids on a cold day.


My one gripe is that the rugs are one-dimensional, but my boys solve this by building over the painted buildings on the rug with blocks, cardboard boxes and play sets. The additions they come up with are awe inspiring, to say the least.


I've made simple travel play rugs for use at grandma's house or on vacation with good success. I went simple and used felt and fabric paint, but you could sew or applique a quilted version if you like. These roll up and tie closed so they don't take up much room. They use these for the intended travel purposes as well as add-ons to their large bedroom rug.













The Trouble With Legos

Like many a house that contains children, ours contains its fair share of Legos. We have Lego Harry Potter, Lego Star Wars, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, Lego Indiana Jones – you get the idea. And like any mom knows, Legos have their own distinct sound as they are sucked into the vacuum cleaner. The make loud clack-clack-clack followed my a squeeling “Moooooom! You just sucked up Indy's holy grail!” followed by cursing as the vacuum bag is ripped open and a real life search for the holy grail begins.

As a kid, I had a box of Legos under my bed. Back then the movie tie-ins didn't yet exist and a Lego person was just a Lego person, mini-figures weren't the rage. I had a couple of the big sets for building houses or airports, and a space police set. This still resulted in hundreds if not thousands of little pieces, but they were all I needed to build just what I wanted.


The shame with Legos today is they are so tied into movies and cartoons that each box contains primarily “special pieces” that are really only useful for that particular set. If I wanted to build a boat as a kid, I'd be painstakingly putting together the hold from standard blocks. My son just whips out the all-in-one hull piece from his Pirates set. Sometimes the boys want a particular $100 set for just one special piece it contains that you can get nowhere else, such as a snake, Lego fruit, or “rare” mini-figure.


While I still advocate that Legos are one of the more creative toys that also guarantee hours of playtime, I'll admit the movie tie-ins seem to have taken some of the heart and soul out of them. I miss the days when Lego blocks were for a kid to bring their imagination to life, instead of just something to recreate a scene out of a movie.



Personalized Books

Give a book they will really enjoy.

Not too long ago my oldest son was bedridden for a week with a severe case of strep throat, one of those persistent infections it seems every kid has to get at least once. It took him another week or so to really start feeling like himself again. Friends and family, knowing our no TV rule, kindly brought him plenty of books to keep him occupied between naps.

By far the most common item was activity books. He's getting a bit old for the regular coloring book and most of the activity books seemed a little juvenile, with simple connect the dots, word search and number games. Then inspiration struck. How about I make him a personalized book to pass the time?


You can make the book with pages from assorted activity books you have lying around or you can print some pages online. There are even sites that let you make your own word searches, mazes and crossword puzzles. The simple templates let you input your own words, so you can hide little messages to the child in the puzzle.


I sent the rest of the family on a mission to find just the right items to finish off the book. We gathered everything we could find in the primary color groups – red, blue and yellow. Then we heaped them together and took some pictures. These made excellent hidden objects pictures. We even printed some onto heavy paper and cut out our own puzzles.


After we had the pages gathered, I punched them and put them into a binder. The pages were easy to turn and the hard back of the binder made a handy writing surface. We can even add more pages in the future so the book can keep growing.





















Is It a Pillow, a Pet, or Junk?

Pillow Pets hit the market a couple of years ago. While they weren't something I planned on buying, I could see the appeal for the younger set. You could lay on it, sleep on it, or cuddle it. I could even see why parents could fall prey to the marketing scheme. Stuffed animals, a plague common to most homes, that actually had a dual purpose beyond burying the family alive.

Then came the spin-offs. Okay, smaller versions of the original Pillow Pets were okay. But key chain versions? What purpose do these serve? My keys don't have a pillow and my children don't even have keys. A bit ridiculous, but I assumed the makers just wanted a stocking stuffer size, lower price point item to up their sales a bit.


This last year saw the airwaves filled with commercials for Blanket Pets. At first I laughed. This is by no means a new idea. My aunt made a couple of these for my sister and I when we were kids, except ours were giant beach towels for lounging on at the lake. My kids began to beg, but they stopped once I offered to take the head of their favorite stuffed animal and sew it to a blanket. A little mean, maybe, but you have to stop the corporate machine somehow. Also, keep in mind my kids don't watch TV yet they were still exposed to this over saturated marketing campaign.


I will admit, if you are attempted to get a stuffed animal for an ill child, these pillow and blanket dolls are a better choice than nurse teddy bear. They have a purpose other than sitting on a nightstand looking cute, and they can offer true comfort to a miserable little one. I think what irks me most is the over the top marketing and the fact these have been around forever, only handmade by loved ones or from craft fairs.