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Books that


November 2017




Ali, 3, of Minneapolis

The magic of GARBAGE BREAD PAGE 30

! S Y O T RE! PAGE 33





THE BEST NEW TOYS! Kid-tested and parent-approved, these are the toys we’re putting on our gift lists this year!



Game on, kid

Get crafty

Move over, Candyland. These games are fun for parents and kids!


November 2017 •

Art projects, science experiments and more will keep your kids busy this winter!


Own it, Mom and Dad Who are you buying those toys for? Hopefully, yourself!


Couple’s therapy Here’s how to reconnect with your partner amid the chaos.


Signs of the times A Waconia family of five is making handmade hooks.



Sexting, tattoos and more 14 BUMP, BIRTH AND BABY

Soft blocks

Our resident doula shares her top baby toy ideas! 16 THE UNCENSORED TODDLER

Potty party

Can you really toilet train your kid in three days?

The AAP says: Talk to your teens about tough stuff. 26 ON BEHAVIOR

Special needs

Fathers are the super stars of these children’s stories. One even features Darth Vader. 30 IN THE KITCHEN

Garbage bread Yes: It tastes way better than it sounds! And it’s a great way to use up veggies from your fridge.

Make a Plan A — and B and C — when traveling. 58 FROM OUR READERS

Awesome autumn

Kids plus pumpkins equals cute, cute, cute.


Finding joy Making time for hobbies is my secret to a happier life. 20 TEENS AND TWEENS


Sometimes enlisting another adult is the answer in parenting.


November 2017 •

About our cover kid Name: Ali

Age: 3

City: Minneapolis Parents: Reggie Hunter and Prudy Nilchaikovit Sibling: Lachel, 31, and Za’Asia, 22 Personality: Outgoing and silly Favorite toys: Anything superhero Favorite book: Bugs Favorite activities: Dancing Favorite foods: White rice with soy sauce Photos by Tracy Walsh / Want to see your kid on the cover? Find out how at coverkid.

& About 52 Out Calendar Minnetonka Public Schools MNP 1117 S3.indd 1

10/20/17 11:42 AM • November 2017



PUBLISHER Janis Hall SALES MANAGER AND CO-PUBLISHER Terry Gahan EDITOR Sarah Jackson 612-436-4385 • CONTRIBUTORS Dr. Gigi Chawla, Megan Devine Shannon Keough, Laura Malm Michele St. Martin, PACER Center Laura Ramsborg, Kaitlin Ungs, Tracy Walsh Jen Wittes, Jennifer Wizbowski CREATIVE DIRECTOR Valerie Moe GRAPHIC DESIGNERS Dani Cunningham Kaitlin Ungs CLIENT SERVICES Delaney Patterson 612-436-5070 • CIRCULATION Marlo Johnson 612-436-4388 • ADVERTISING 612-436-4360 • 50,000 copies of Minnesota Parent are printed monthly, available at news stands statewide. Get Minnesota Parent mailed to your home for just $12 a year. Call 612-825-9205 for more information.

Minnesota Parent (ISSN 0740 3437) is published monthly by Minnesota Premier Publications. POSTMASTER send address changes to: MINNESOTA PARENT, 1115 Hennepin Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55403. Minnesota Parent is copyright 2017 by Minnesota Premier Publications. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without written permission is prohibited. Address all material to address above.

Toy joy! W

hat does it take to put on Minnesota Parent’s annual Toy Test? All you need is two hours, 125 toys, 15 kids and two dozen critical parents and grandparents! You mix them all together and it’s easy to see what stands out and what fizzles. Parents fill out questionnaires with their gut reactions, listing pros, cons and whether they’d be interested in buying said toys — or not. (Then they spend the next four hours cleaning up!) After the big shebang (which includes snacks and hydration for all), we then send home some of the toys — and games and crafts — for more thoughtful, less frenzied inspection to see what really entertains for hours (versus minutes) and what can withstand Photo by Tracy Walsh / wear and tear. That’s what we did this year — all made possible by local and national vendors. Thank you, toy stores! And, oh man, was it fun to see what manufacturers have come up with in the past year for engaging not just children, but also parents and grandparents. (One adult tester wore out the batteries on one toy before the test even started because it was so awesome!) During our research, we found super-engaging, cute, educational items for all ages designed to encourage development, creative play, critical thinking, physical activity, learning (STEM and STEAM toys galore) and even silliness. Even though families really don’t need that many toys (certainly not as many as we buy), I take toys very seriously for two reasons: • Parent/child connections: I’m not a natural imaginative player. At all. I remember watching a fellow parent as she “played dinosaurs” with her son. She trotted out all sorts of make-believe story lines and could reportedly go “for hours.” That isn’t me. I need something that’s fun for the kid in me — LEGOs, puzzles, games of skills and chance! And, indeed, toys that do things and teach things have helped my son and me connect and get silly. If you’re truly excited about a toy, follow that bliss! • Wonder: Toys, especially during the holidays, inspire such a sense of excitement and wonder for kids. Just the anticipation of getting a new toy can be incredibly exhilarating for a child. I just adore watching little ones’ eyes light up when they’ve just learned they’ll be opening a present. They can’t help but guess: Mom, is it this? Oooh, is it that? Are you going to tell me? And what will Santa put under the tree and in the stockings this year? It’s almost too much to bear! Of course, you really don’t have to spend a lot on toys. It’s a known fact that a parent — or even a set of parents — is always, always, always the best toy ever. But check out our top picks. We hope they’ll bring you joy! Sarah Jackson, Editor


November 2017 •

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Made in Minnesota Looking for holiday gift ideas or perhaps

metal and wood signs as well as wall-

even a way to warm up your home — or

mounted hooks and holders, including a line

cabin — decor for the winter?

designed for your kids’ many sports medals,

Check out the creations from Campfire Bay, the Waconia-based side-hustle of

products or to find a list of local retailers.

all starting at a relatively affordable $18. They also make stainless steel campfire

Brent and Heidi Johnson and their three

rings and fire pokers, plus Minnesota-

young daughters.

inspired hockey signs, featuring rustic wood

The Johnsons produce Minnesota-themed

See to purchase the

and metal.

Brent and Heidi Johnson and their daughters are the family behind Campfire Bay, based in Waconia. Photo by Dana Young / Forever Young Photography


November 2017 •

Miraculous work! Birth is a universal experience among mothers. But not all women enjoy the same positive outcomes when it comes to maternal health. That’s according to the Minneapolisbased nonprofit known as Everyday Miracles, which has been working since 2003 to change that fact by providing doula care, childbirth education, breastfeeding support and more, in cooperation with Medicaid insurance plans. It’s not an easy task. In fact, a recent Minnesota Public Radio piece about maternal health in Minnesota showed glaring disparities between white women and women of color, specifically African American women.   But here’s some good news: Everyday Miracles appears to be making a difference. Not only does the organization boast a low C-section rate among its clients — 17 percent, far below the 2010 national rate of 32.8 percent — a 2016 study from the University of Minnesota showed that the organization’s clients (who are typically eligible for Medicaid) experienced lower rates of preterm birth and Cesarean births, when compared to other Medicaid patients in the region. Now here’s where you might come in: Every Miracles’ Karma Program — which is available to anyone — allows families to hire doulas, take classes and use other Everyday Miracles services. Revenue raised from the Karma Program helps families who wouldn’t otherwise have access. Everyday Miracles today has 45 doulas who reflect the diversity of local families, including immigrants, people of color and of different gender identities. They also support every kind of birth, ranging from planned surgical births to home births in birthing tubs. 
 Visit Everyday Miracles at 1121 Jackson St. NE, Suite 119, Minneapolis, and MacPhail Center for Music MNP 1117 2-3page_#2.indd 1

10/19/17 10:28 AM • November 2017


Jen Wittes


Do babies need toys? M

y sad, deprived baby. When my daughter was a newborn, a family member came to visit and asked, “Where are all her toys?” She was about 2 months old and I — perhaps appropriately — thought it was kind of a crazy question. ALL her toys? She just got here! She sleeps, eats and poops. Aren’t my two boobs fun enough? She seems to think so! And actually, we had some toys. A stuffed dog. A caterpillar rattle. Baby shower extras. Odds and ends. Things she either spit up on or ignored.

and learns to grasp. During quiet alert time, Baby loves to reach for objects. She loves to hold them, bang them and mouth them.

Why? When? Which ones?

OK. Let’s go shopping!

Of course, babies don’t NEED toys; and of course, babies don’t even really WANT toys. They don’t know toys exist! That said, I like having a few toys around for babies 3 months and older. The main reason I feel this way is simple: Baby toys were made for babies. They were made with a baby’s developmental interests in mind and — most important — they were made for safety. Baby toys should be soft, easy-to-handle and free of choking hazards. Most are. Toys are also a fun way for babies and caregivers to interact. As Baby becomes more alert, new parents often wonder, “What does my baby want to see? What does my baby want to do?” While the big, wide, wonderful world — every inch of it — is of interest to an infant, it’s nice to have some cool things to explore and chill with on the living room floor. Why do I use 3 months as a starting point? Baby is more alert at this age. It’s also the age at which Baby develops a grip

My mom/doula recommendations for your baby toy chest include:


November 2017 •

Bright Starts Grab & Stack Blocks, $9.99

⊲⊲A floor gym. For cooing on the kitchen floor while you cook, for tummy time, for parent-baby interaction. My favorite is anything by Baby Einstein. ⊲⊲Stackers. Great for 4 to 8 months and beyond. Blocks, birds … they come in all shapes and sizes. I prefer them soft, but you can’t go wrong with the classic Fisher Price rainbow rings on the peg. (Yes, the same ones YOU played with as a kid.)

⊲⊲Teethers. At 3 months and on, Baby is a pile of drool and wants everything in her mouth. Teeth can work through those little gums for MONTHS, often leaving Baby pretty cranky. For real relief, a cold washcloth is my go-to trick, but for something that doubles as a cute toy, everyone loves Sophie the Giraffe. (Worried about that story — gh-sophie — from Good Housekeeping? Don’t use her as a bath toy and don’t immerse her in water and she’ll stay mold free.) ⊲⊲Soft books. Babies love touching the pages and looking at the colors, especially if the pages make crinkle or rattle sounds. My faves are Peeka-Boo Forest by Lamaze and Wild Animals by Melissa & Doug.

Baby Einstein Play Gym, Nautical Friends, $69.99

As Baby becomes more alert, new parents often wonder, ‘What does my baby want to see? What does my baby want to do?’ ⊲⊲Mirror. If your soft book or floor gym has a soft mirror, this will become Baby’s favorite toy. Babies are most interested in pictures and toys with faces. Their own faces provide endless entertainment and — dare I say — existential speculation.

Of course, measuring cups and pots and pans are ideal for baby play, too. But you’ll want to be careful with household items not designed for play, no matter how seemingly benign. I’d also stay away from too many bells and whistles or gadgets. In our evertechier modern world, Baby will be inundated with electronics enough as it is. Babies can better strengthen their cognitive development — and also have more fun — with toys they can handle, manipulate and explore. Jen Wittes is a certified postpartum doula and writer who now works in marketing and communications. She lives in St. Paul with her two kids, two cats and husband. Send questions or comments to

EXERCISE PREGNANCY STUDY The University of Minnesota is seeking women who are currently less than 20 weeks pregnant to participate in a research study examining the effect of exercise and wellness on mood following childbirth. DETAILS: • Program delivered to you via the mail and phone

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• Must not currently exercise regularly

-Enrollment in any government assisted program (e.g., WIC, SNAP) AND/OR

• Must not take antidepressants • You will receive $100 & a FitBit for your time (you will be allowed to keep the FitBit after the study is over)

-Annual income that is considered low (less than $45,510 for a family of four, less than $30,044 for a family of two, and less than $22,311 if single).

Call 612-625-9753, send the word ‘TEXT’ to 612-345-0325, or email to see if you qualify for this research study. Peek-a-Boo Forest by Lamaze, $14.99 U of M - Kinesiology Dept MNP 1017 S3.indd 3

9/21/17 3:38 PM • November 2017


Shannon Keough


Let’s talk about toilets W

hen it comes to toilet training (or as some prefer to call it, “toilet learning”), people have strong opinions. Judge-y comments are sometimes made: “Oh, Hugo is still in diapers?” observes an acquaintance. “Lennon was all done with that before his first birthday!” She was no doubt referring to her success with “elimination communication.” This early approach to toilet training relies on a parent’s ability to read and recognize the signs that a child needs to eliminate. (This method is actually embraced in at least 75 countries, including India, Kenya and Greenland.) As with all things parenting, elimination communication has its advocates and its detractors. I can see both sides here, and I’m planning to devote a future column to a more objective review of the various approaches to toilet training. But for this month’s purposes, I’m more interested in how this stuff plays out in the real world. For example, a friend of mine described how she once shared an office with a woman who was practicing the elimination-communication method with her child — on-site in their shared space. While my friend typed away on her laptop, her space-mate trailed her child, trying to prevent him from using the office floor as his diaper.

There’s no right age to toilet train, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Though every child is different, starting before age 2 isn’t recommended because the readiness skills and physical development needed for the task typically occur between 18 months and 2.5 years.

Clear your calendar Today’s trendy toilet-training methods all seem to share a common theme: They require a significant investment of time and effort. Take, for example, the threeday potty training approach that’s been all the rage in my peer group. Variations of this program abound, but the gist of it is this: You clear your schedule completely for three days, during which you stay home the entire time, potty


Lunch containers

Toddler lunches don’t need to be huge. That’s why we love these personalized Bitty Bites Good Lunch Boxes, featuring three compartments in an 8.5-by-5.5-by-2.5-inch footprint. They’re available in owl, robot, hedgehog, fox, garden and ocean designs. Handwashing is recommended to preserve the personalized markings. $19.99 •


November 2017 •

chairs stationed in every room while your child capers about, pants-free. Meanwhile, various “experts” are happy to advise you on ways to support your child’s toilet-training success during this intense time. Julie Fellom, creator of the Californiabased Diaper Free Toddlers program — a three-day method “which waits until a peak time of toddler readiness/interest” — advises parents to make up a “potty dance” to celebrate their own toilet successes. “If the parents do the potty dance for each other,” says Fellom, “the child understands that it’s fun and sort of a ‘family event’ when a family member uses the potty.” The jury is still out on how motivating a potty dance will be for your child. I suspect potty dancing for your partner could become a high-risk activity for extinguishing the fires of love, but that’s just me.

The no-method method My husband and I are too disorganized to implement any of these programs. Therefore, our approach to toilet training our daughter was what you might politely call “relaxed.” My philosophy was that toilet training was kind of like language immersion: If

My philosophy was that toilet training was kind of like language immersion: If your kid spends enough time around ‘bathroom culture,’ surely she’ll just pick it up naturally.

your kid spends enough time around “bathroom culture,” surely she’ll just pick it up naturally. When this didn’t work, we dialed it up a bit, suggesting she “at least try” to sit on her potty chair before leaving to go on a long drive. She was having none of it. “I’d rather die than use the potty,” she declared. I ran this scene past our pediatrician, who suggested that the whole endeavor had turned into a power struggle. She pointed out that learning to use the toilet was one of the few things a small child could actually control, and she advised we back off for at least a couple weeks. We followed her advice. No more helpful suggestions to “just try.” When it came to toilets, our lips were sealed. And what do you know? Within all of three days, our daughter ditched her diapers and started using the toilet independently, as if she’d been doing it for months. It had nothing to do with our efforts; in fact, our efforts ultimately proved to be counter-productive. What I’m trying to say is this: Sometimes parenting success lies in following the path of least resistance. Shannon Keough lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@

Choosing your path A

couple of days ago, I made a successful batch of lavender-honey-oatmeal soap. And it turned out great. I’m not writing this to boast; instead I’m telling you this because I’m actually pretty amazed. I make soap. I’m a soap-maker. I’m also a mother, kindergarten teacher, assistant cross-country coach, beekeeper, gardener, writer and, somehow, I’ve also become a go-to person in our community for advice on raising chickens. People ask me all the time, “How do you do all this all with four kids?” I know sometimes people may think I have it all together — all of the time — or that my days flow seamlessly as I craft my utopian life with happy children in tow, effortlessly producing homegrown meals, making soap and knitting my children underwear. Some may feel judged or inadequate, just as I sometimes do, looking at other people’s Instagram and Facebook feeds — oh so many sugar-coated snapshots of our lives. However, I want to remind you of a little secret: No one is perfect. No one. There may be the illusion that perfection is a reachable goal, with social media propagating the highlight reels of our friends, families and total strangers. But we all have our ups and downs. And yet, at the same time, I’m happy and proud to admit that my life is rich and full. I like to think I live a life grounded in simplicity, balanced with purpose and joy. How do I do it? Here are my tips:

Make time The truth is I just really want to do all this stuff. Whether it’s tending to bees or


November 2017 •

chickens, making soap, writing, getting outdoors with my kids or volunteering two days a week with the cross-country team. Whatever I have a strong desire to do, I take action to make it happen. I work to make mindful choices about how I use my time so that I have time for these enrichment activities. Making time often involves some compromise. For example, when I’m volunteering with my daughter’s crosscountry team, my three boys are in after-school care for a couple of hours. I could beat myself up about spending time with her and not them, but instead I focus on the example I’m setting by being active and strong.

Don’t focus on mistakes I’ve baked many bricks of bread and failed at lots of recipes. Many of my many well-thought-out lessons and activities — both at home and at school — have absolutely flopped. I’ve received several hard rejections with my writing. And as a parent, I admit I lose my patience and yell and cry. But I work through these struggles, and I

don’t give up. I also work hard to learn from my mistakes. If there’s something I really want to do, I work hard to stick with it. I’ve found that, more often than not, from every failed attempt, there’s something of value to take away. In the world of education, we call this a growth mindset. I hope to model resilience for my children and for my students with my efforts to persevere.

Work hard We’ve been very lucky and blessed as a family. But my husband and I have also worked our tails off in the process. We strive to set goals and make mindful choices about how we spend our money. For example, we save money by not having cable TV, and we rarely go out to eat, which frees up money for other things like family vacations and recreational equipment. We also both have small side jobs that complement our careers and offset expenses for our family.

Do what brings you joy If you really know me, you know I have no super powers. This lifestyle and all of these extra-curriculars are healthy creative


Education crates

You can play outside — in the cold — for only so many hours this fall, winter and spring. What else are you going to do? Check out Kiwi Co., offering monthly STEAM-themed crates focused on science, technology, engineering, art and math. Different lines cater to various age brackets — 0–2 (Cricket), 3–4 (Koala); 4–8 (Kiwi); and 9–16-plus (Doodle and Tinker). There’s also a gift option! $16.95–$19.95/month •

outlets for me. There are many unfortunate examples of adults who navigate life’s inevitable stressors by taking part in unhealthy behaviors. I choose to make soap. Most everything I do helps me stay balanced and connected — and also brings me joy. My husband and I work to incorporate elements of simplicity into the life of our family. But we also buy and eat store-bought cookies and Kraft macaroni and cheese. And I do not knit my children underwear. One thing I know for sure is that I love to learn. The more I learn, the more I want to know, and the more I know, the more I to want to learn. And that’s how I got to the place I am right now in my life — a soap-maker, mama, beekeeper, pumpkin-grower, chicken-tender, kindergarten teacher with high hopes of inspiring others to live their best lives. I welcome you to tag along on this journey. Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives with her husband and four school-age children in Northeastern Minnesota. She blogs at • November 2017


When your way isn’t ‘right’


efore I birthed my first child, my internal pledge to my future offspring and myself was to let them be who they were meant to be. As guardian of their early years, I still hold to the conviction that the greatest service I can do for them is to discover them. I want to understand how they communicate, what their strengths are and what makes them tick. My natural next step is to then, somehow, encourage them in the directions their natural wiring takes them. My hope is that this encouragement will be there for them, like a small string to grab for, when they’re feeling their way through life and making big decisions.


As I’ve grown as a parent, I’ve become aware that it’s equally important for me to understand who I am: How do I communicate? Where do my strengths lie? What makes me tick? How is my wiring and communication style perceived by my children as I guide them? The back-and-forth of this intrapersonal understanding makes the dance of parenting more like a waltz than a ’90s mosh-pit romp.

When you’re different This kind of self-awareness has helped me in parenting. For example, I recently discovered that I tend to accept my circumstances. And this isn’t always a good thing.

A book for introverted kids

There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. In fact, there’s a certain power in it, according to Susan Cain, the best-selling author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and the founder of Quiet Revolution, a company focused on the success of introverts in the workplace. But what if you’re a kid? Cain’s got you — and your parents — covered with Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids, geared toward ages 10 and older who want to “use their quiet nature to their advantage.” $9.99 •


November 2017 •

My daughter had soccer tryouts this past summer. She wasn’t happy with the results of her team placement. My natural response was to tell her that this is just the way it worked out this time. “Maybe there’s a reason you’re on this team,” I said. “You might be surprised and find some enjoyment.” She wasn’t satisfied with my response. I knew, as I was trying to offer her comfort, my words weren’t as effective as I intended them to be. I often wonder: Am I saying the right thing? Is it enough? Do I go the way of encouragement and acceptance, or do I push her to do something that seems uncomfortable to me because, it seems her convictions won’t be satisfied any other way?

My approach My husband is my opposite. He doesn’t take no for an answer. When he’s given a circumstance he’s not happy with, he pushes back. His approach is: If we truly believe there was an error, let’s figure out how we make it right. He isn’t afraid to confront and to revel in the discomfort — if he strongly feels an injustice needs to be challenged. My daughter has his oomph. As we talked — for a few weeks — about

It’s OK if I don’t have the right answers. I have people around me who can offer the things I can’t.


my idea of making the most of it, I realized those weren’t the words my daughter needed to hear. She wanted to be pushed. She wanted to be told to go get what she wanted — and what she felt she deserved. So I asked my husband to talk to her in the way I didn’t feel equipped to.

Dad’s approach My husband listened to her frustration and told her about all the times he was told no when he was growing up. He encouraged her to work hard and keep at it. He offered her practical advice about talking to the coach about what she could work on and do differently. He encouraged her to be the leader she felt she was on the field. I loved seeing how they connected during that talk, and how she knew she was understood. Someone respected and understood her drive and determination. He didn’t ask her to pull back when her tendency was to push forward. I’m so thankful I have a teammate in parenthood to help find balance. This whole experience made me realize: It’s OK if I don’t have the right answers. I have people around me who can offer the things I can’t. Perhaps a spouse, grandparent, trusted friend or neighbor has that little missing something you can’t seem to find. Will you have the courage to let them help? Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband and her daughter and son, ages 14 and 17, respectively. Send comments, questions and story ideas to

Gifts for Seniors provides donated gifts and life-affirming personal contact during the winter holidays and year round to isolated seniors in the Twin Cities metro area with the critical support of volunteers, donors, and community partners – people like you.

HOW TO HELP Host a Gift Barrel • Organize a Gift Drive Individual Shopping • Find us on AmazonSmile

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9/22/17 10:29 AM • November 2017


Laura Ramsborg


Staying connected amid kid chaos W

ith the craziness that is parenting — rushed mornings, constantly interrupted conversations and evenings packed with activities — even the strongest relationships can start feeling more like business partnerships than love connections. After our second daughter (who seemed to be an insomniac) was born, my husband and I suddenly realized we weren’t really in tune with each other anymore. It was a shocking realization that required immediate action.   Like many parents, we devoted most of our energy and attention to our children. Yet, taking the time to cultivate and model a strong, healthy relationship for our daughters was important to us. So we decided to revisit what we learned in marriage and relationship workshops. Now that we’ve welcomed a third daughter to our family, we’ll be practicing these tried-and-true pointers again. Here’s our crib sheet for staying connected in the midst of kiddos, chaos and everyday life:


Practice gratitude. Notice and appreciate what your partner does. Even the little stuff. Even the stuff that is “his/her job” to do around the house. Acknowledging the effort with a sincere thank you helps the other person feel noticed, valued and loved. My husband gathers the household garbage, bags the trash and rolls the garbage carts to and from the curb every week. This week, I made sure to thank him for it.


November 2017 •



Get out and play.

Check in.

Go places and have fun without the kids. No, really. Make a list of the activities you enjoyed together while dating and go do it. Or, better yet, surprise each other by taking turns planning mystery dates with new-to-you-both activities. We’ve tried cross-country skiing, mini golf, a brewery tour, outdoor concerts and more. If you can get away for a weekend alone together, that’s even better. Acting like you’re dating again will remind you both of how much you enjoy each other’s company.

Schedule regular relationship talks, which can be like state-of-the-union meetings for your relationship. Take turns discussing what’s going well, what you’d like to change, and plans for the future. Air any grievances, but keep it constructive. Set a date for your talk in advance, so each person can think about what they’d like to share. (And don’t do it on date night.) For us, long car rides work well for relationship talks, but only if the kids aren’t listening.


Make time for each other. Yes, we’re all busy, and, yes, we’re tired at the end of the day. But don’t treat your partner like another item on your “to-do list.” Ask: What was the best/most challenging part of your day? Focus on really paying attention. During these conversations, often I learn something about my husband I didn’t know or he will offer a solution I hadn’t thought of for a difficult situation. Resist the urge to jump right into advice giving and solving. Sometimes we need to vent — and don’t want to hear unsolicited solutions.


Encourage and support. Everyone needs time away from the routines and responsibilities of parenting. Ensure your partner continues enjoying hobbies and maintaining friendships. Support him/her by picking up the kids or tackling bedtime and/or bath time solo. Getting out of the house and away from the daily routine is good for everyone. You or your partner will return happier, more energetic and appreciative, maybe even recharged. Laura Ramsborg, a freelance writer from Bloomington, adapted this relationship advice from workshops by Karen Stevensen, a private-practice therapist in the Twin Cities. Learn more at

A COUCH DATE Reconnect with your parenting partner (on the couch with dinner, treat or drinks) by asking each other some of these questions, otherwise known as your partner’s “love maps,” adapted from ⊲ Who are my two closest friends? ⊲ What’s one of my favorite hobbies? ⊲ What stresses am facing right now? ⊲ What’s my fondest unrealized dream? ⊲ What’s one of my greatest fears or disaster scenarios? ⊲ What’s my favorite way to spend an evening? ⊲ What’s one of my favorite ways to be soothed? ⊲ What’s my favorite getaway place? ⊲ What are some of the important events coming up in my life? How do I feel about them? ⊲ Who is one of my major rivals or “enemies”? ⊲ What would I consider my ideal job? ⊲ What do I worry about? ⊲ What’s my most embarrassing moment?

TWIN CITIES ACADEMY Here’s Why: • 100% of our students graduate • More than 95% of our students go on to college • The University of St. Thomas selected us as 1 of 10 schools to authorize • Newsweek ranked us the #1 high school in the state of Minnesota and 42nd in the nation in 2014 • Recognized as a Minnesota Reward School for five consecutive years

A H I G H E R S TA N D A R D O F A C A D E M I C E X C E L L E N C E 690 Birmingham Street, St. Paul, MN 55106 | 651-205-4797 |

Twin Cities Academy MNP 1017 H6.indd 1

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⊲ What is one of my favorite novels/movies? ⊲ What’s my favorite restaurant? ⊲ What’s one of your fondest memories of us? ⊲ What’s your favorite thing to do with me for fun? ⊲ How do you envision our family’s future in the next five years? • November 2017


Dr. Gigi Chawla


Teen health concerns I

was one of thousands of pediatricians in attendance at the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) national conference in September. We spent our days in learning sessions, discussing research and new recommendations from the pediatric health-care organization that sets the stage for more than 66,000 pediatricians. Among all the best-practices topics discussed, teenage health was a prominent subject. While many people associate pediatricians with young children, teens make up a large portion of our patients who can benefit from pediatrician expertise. Here are some of the most important messages from the conference:

Tattoos and piercings While the acceptance of tattoos and piercings in society has increased, there are still repercussions to getting them. In a 2014 survey of 2,700 people interviewing for a job, more than 75 percent said they believe a tattoo or piercing hurt their chances of getting the position. The AAP recommends parents discuss with their teens the implications of a tattoo or piercing. That includes topics such as the infections spread through contaminated equipment, the chipped teeth and gum problems associated with barbell type tongue jewelry and the expense of getting, maintaining and removing a tattoo. If your teen is considering a tattoo, it’s

The AAP recommends parents communicate openly about sexting — defined as sending nude or semi-nude images or sexually explicit messages via cell phone. important to make sure immunizations are up to date and that your teen isn’t taking any medications that suppress the immune response. Before getting a tattoo or piercing, teens should make sure the facility is clean and reputable — and regulated by the state. Facilities should provide clients with information on how to care for tattooed or pierced areas, and should practice infection prevention with sterile equipment, similar to a medical clinic. In Minnesota, tattooing of anyone under 18 is prohibited, regardless of parental consent. Minors seeking piercings need parental/guardian consent — and a parent/guardian also must be present during the procedure. Scarification, which involves cutting or branding words into the skin, isn’t as highly regulated as tattooing or piercing, but it is also illegal for anyone younger than 18. Read the up on the laws and find details about licensed facilities in Minnesota at

Cell phones While cell phones are necessary to remain connected with teens, the technology also


November 2017 •

poses many risks. Parents should talk with their teens about distracted driving and consider using certain phone apps that prevent cell phone use while a vehicle is in motion. The AAP recommends parents communicate openly about sexting — defined as sending nude or semi-nude images or sexually explicit messages via cell phone — emphasizing that such actions are irreversible, may be displayed publicly, and could follow them into their adult life. Finally, parents should set boundaries for cell phone use before bed, as studies have shown that exposure to the blue-and-white light given off by phones, laptops and other electronics can prevent the brain from releasing melatonin, a hormone that sets the circadian rhythms that drive sleep.

Contraception Experts highlighted the importance of parents discussing safe sex and navigating birth control options with teens. There are many available methods of birth control pediatricians can present to their patients to determine what’s best for them. Pills, implants, injections and different types of IUDs are among the options. Because birth control pills need to be taken once a day at the same time every day, teenagers often don’t maintain enough consistency to make this a highly effective option. Implantable and injectable birthcontrol methods are therefore more reliable, but may have some unwanted side effects such as menstrual spotting. An IUD — a long-acting, T-shaped contraceptive that’s placed in the uterus — causes minimal side effects, offers years of uninterrupted contraceptive protection, and is safe for teens. However, none of these methods protect against sexually transmitted illnesses; thus condoms should always be used with any of the above birth-control options. Dr. Gigi Chawla is chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota. • November 2017


PACER Center

Invisible disabilities T

he holiday season can be a magical time: Our kids get their first real break from school, and the days are filled with fun activities and traditions — and even trips to see far-flung relatives. But for families with children who have disabilities — a mental health or emotional or behavioral disorder, for example — a long holiday trip (not easy in the best of situations) can spell disaster, particularly if there’s an airport involved. Things can get even more complicated when a child has a disability that is largely invisible to others. Jade’s 7-year-old son, Anthony, has autism, and he functions best when there’s plenty of structure built into his day. During school, a regular routine makes things easier, but unstructured time during the holidays is always challenging for Anthony. Last December, Jade decided to go to Colorado to visit her sister. Even though Anthony was excited to see his cousins, Jade knew it could be a challenging situation. She did her best to prepare her son for the journey and packed a few of his favorite foods and toys in her carry-on bag. They arrived at the airport early and made it through security without a hitch. But when they reached the crowded gate area, Jade could see her son was struggling to stay calm. To most of the people waiting for the plane, Jade’s little blonde-haired boy with the deep blue eyes probably appeared to be positively angelic, at first glance. While Anthony does display certain tell-tale signs of autism — the way he flexes his hands awkwardly when excited, his rigid posture, his darting eyes that


November 2017 •

The other passengers waiting for the flight to Denver had no idea that Anthony could erupt at a moment’s notice. never quite look at you — in a crowd, he looks quite “normal.” On that day, the other passengers waiting for the flight to Denver had no idea that Anthony could erupt at a moment’s notice. After a long delay, the announcement finally came: “Attention in the gate area. We’re now ready to board all passengers with disabilities and anyone needing extra time or special assistance.” This was Jade’s cue. But just as she was about to hand the gate agent their boarding passes, Jade suddenly heard a loud mock-whisper coming from behind her. “There isn’t a thing wrong with that child,” huffed a middle-aged woman in the red dress. Jade was mortified. It felt like every eye at the gate was on her. As much as she wanted to offer the woman a few choice words, Jade turned away and quietly walked down the jetway with Anthony. As the parent of a child with an invisible disability, Jade was accustomed to being judged for her parenting skills and her child’s often unruly behavior. If you’re the parent of a child with an invisible disability, here are some ideas to help you cope in situations like this:

Be proactive (Plan A) If a situation is likely to be sensory overload for your child, plan ahead to help him or her cope. Smart phones, iPads and other electronic devices can work well as a

distraction, especially if the child uses earbuds to block out other noise. Games, music and movies can keep your child busy and minimize potential triggers.

Come up with a Plan B Just because a particular technique helped keep your child calm last week doesn’t mean it will work today. Even when you do careful planning, your child can surprise you with unexpected behavior, so a Plan B is important. Some families use a technique called “instant amnesia” where the parent offers the child an unexpected and welcome surprise — a special snack, for example — that quickly redirects the child’s attention.

And a Plan C Be prepared and develop a crisis plan. It might be a “hold” or hug for your child, or perhaps a quick escape into a quiet bathroom. Having a plan can prevent an overreaction on your part and help you slip away from onlookers.

Always be positive We know it’s not easy parenting a special needs child in the heat of the moment. Onlookers can cause severe embarrassment, even among veteran parents. However, many parents, find that being positive makes a big difference in helping to diffuse difficult situations and calm their children. Praise and rewards can work particularly well.

A ‘just in case’ speech There are many things Jade could’ve said to the woman in the airport. She would have loved to have offered a snappy comeback. But it probably would’ve escalated the situation instead of defusing it. Most parents ignore the critics, but it helps to have a ready response just in case: “Our child is wonderful,” you could say, “but as a result of his disability, he has a lot of needs that aren’t always obvious. Thanks for your patience.” If you’re a bystander waiting in a crowded airport and a scene like this unfolds in the vicinity, please don’t jump to conclusions. Appearances can be deceiving. Just because a child looks “normal” doesn’t mean that’s always the case. Support and compassion go a long way in helping children and families who may be facing challenges the rest of us know nothing about. © Disney. Reprinted with permission from Disney Online. All Rights Reserved. A version of this article originally appeared on Babble. com and was published in partnership with The PACER Center, a nonprofit organization based in the Twin Cities that helps families with children with disabilities and also runs the National Bullying Prevention Center. Learn more at

ATTENTION WOMEN 21-33: Would You Consider Being an Egg Donor?

The Center for Reproductive Medicine is seeking women between 21 and 33 years of age to donate eggs for couples who cannot otherwise achieve pregnancy. You will be compensated for your time and dedication.

2828 Chicago Ave #400 Minneapolis

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For more information: 612-863-5390 or fill out an application online Accredited by: Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies, American College of OB/GYNs and American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).

Center for Reproductive Medicine MNP 0514 S3.indd 1

4/14/14 12:50 PM • November 2017


Kaitlin Ungs


Father figures Dads are often overlooked in children’s story books. So this month, we’re focusing on dads — their loving nature, how they can make it all better and how they share their wisdom in their own special ways.

Daddy Honk Honk! A fox finds an abandoned goose egg in a field … and the egg soon turns into a baby! The baby calls him Daddy right away. But the fox doesn’t know how to take care of a baby! After trying in vain to find a new family for the baby goose, the fox decides maybe, just maybe, he might have what it takes to parent the little goose. In celebration, the fox’s arctic friends come together to welcome the child with gifts and a new name — Aurora. Ages 3–6 • $16.99

Darth Vader and Son Life lessons from Dad look a little different when the dad in question is Darth Vader. This hilarious, fan-friendly hardcover explores what fatherhood would have looked like — from lightsaber lessons to using The Force — if Luke had stayed with his dad. Ages 3 and up • $14.95

My Father Knows the Names of Things Every dad seems to have a special way of sharing knowledge and life skills. The dad in this gorgeous, rhyme-packed story — a memorial to the author’s late husband — loves to share his wisdom by calling out the nomenclature for just about everything imaginable as he and his mop-headed child go on a series of adventures. “He knows which mosses are the fuzziest. He knows which insects are the buzziest. And when we’re sailing on the sea. He tells the names of fish to me.” Ages 4–8 • $17.99


November 2017 •

Lily’s Cat Mask Lily’s father knows she’s shy sometimes, so when she finds a su-purrrr awesome mask, he decides to buy it for her. She wears it when she doesn’t want to be noticed — and sometimes when she does! Ages 3–5 • $17.99


This full-day workshop, led by one of the world’s foremost experts in this field, is designed to give parents insight and inspiration for post-divorce parenting when they need it the most. Register online at

Psychologist Constance Ahrons has three decades of experience helping couples and families cope with divorce and its aftermath.

DATE Sat, Nov 11th, 2017 from 9am-4pm LOCATION Eagan Community Center 1501 Central Parkway, Eagan, MN 55121

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COST $99 {Includes lunch} 10/4/17 1:49 PM

Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too This sweet board book follows a daughter and father through their favorite activities together. They build a play house, take a big adventure to the store, paint, read and more. Nelly gets lost in the store for a second, but Daddy quickly saves the day. The Gnu pair’s night ends with Nelly falling asleep in her new play house and Daddy saying goodnight. Ages 3–6 • $10.99

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10/11/17 3:28 PM • November 2017





UP Recipe and photos by Aleksandra Till

What is garbage bread? It’s a super delicious, crazy-adaptable burrito-sized pizza roll. You stretch out pizza dough, sprinkle it with toppings, roll up it and bake (or grill) the whole shebang. Then slice it up for a tasty weeknight dinner (or weekend party platter). Garbage bread tastes delicious whether it’s filled with veggies, pepperoni or just cheese — whatever you have on hand and whatever your family likes!


November 2017 •

VEGGIE GARBAGE BREAD 1 ball pizza dough (about 12 ounces) 4 ounces cheese, such as shredded mozzarella ½ cup thinly sliced zucchini* ½ cup chopped carrot, chopped ½ cup chopped broccoli 1 small shallot, minced Olive oil Parmesan cheese and basil, for garnish (optional) Marinara sauce and pesto, for dipping (optional)

Preheat the oven to its highest temperature, typically 550 degrees. Divide the dough into two balls and set it on a lightly floured surface. Dust the tops with flour and cover with plastic. Let rest for about 15 minutes. Stretch or roll the dough into two rectangles, each about the size of a sheet of paper, as thin as you can get them. Sprinkle the dough rectangles with mozzarella. Layer on the zucchini, carrots, broccoli and shallot. Roll into logs, tuck the ends under and set on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with olive oil. Turn the oven down to 425 degrees and bake until a crust forms, about 15 minutes. (When you can hear or see the cheese bubbling, that’s a good indication it’s done.) Cool for 10 minutes. Slice the logs in half, dust with parmesan cheese and basil and serve with warmed marinara sauce and pesto. *You can easily customize the fillings with your family’s favorites. Feel free to replace the veggies with ¾ cup chopped pepperoni and 4 additional ounces of cheese (or to taste). Aleksandra Till is a mother of three and owner of Homegrown Foods, a local organic meal-kit service, delivering in the Twin Cities. Learn more at

Face painting, crafts, magic, pizza party, fireworks, live music Kitty & Jack 12/16 • Teddy Bear Band 1/20 • The Bazillions 2/3 • Koo Koo Kanga Roo 3/31




TOYS! Check out all the

FAVORITES from our annual toy test!

Xavier, 4, of St. Paul

Photo by Tracy Walsh


GYMOTION ROBO PLAYLAND $74.95 | birth and up

Why we love it: Lots of floor gyms for babies are supposed to fold up and store easily. But this one actually does — with no twisting or acrobatics on the parents’ part. We liked the totally mod color scheme and patterns as well as the high-quality, drool-resistant toys with crinkle-fabric accents, plus an adorable large dog, mirror toy and an awesome rattle-teether. Toys can be attached to the gym’s motorized motion track, which can hang upside down from the arches or laid flat for tummy time to put on a show of side-to-side movement. Of note: Multiple online reviewers said the car isn’t built to last. We recommend you don’t buy this gym just for that feature. Where to buy:

FOLLOW-BEE CRAWL TOY $25 | 5 months and up

Why we love it: This award-winning motorized gadget from Skip Hop is designed to encourage crawling. It includes a removable rattle-teether-wobbler and a Roomba-like cloud-shaped device that can be set to move in circular or random patterns to encourage chasing. It’s a bit blinky and noisy with its colorful lights, songs and buzzing sounds, but our test kids liked it anyway. Where to buy:

JUBALLEES $14.99 | 6 months and up

Why we love it: These magnetic little fidgets from Mirari encourage babies to engage in mixing, matching, clicking, stacking and rolling. Each ball breaks in half to create three sets of maracas that even the adults in our toy test couldn’t put down. Where to buy:


November 2017 •



$19.99 | 9 months and up

$29.95 | 1 and up

Why we love it: This little cutie pie is the latest sensory delight for infants from Mirari, the makers of the beloved Pop Pop Piano. Drop the balls into Shellby’s shell and watch them pop out of his mouth when you tap his tail or roll him along the floor.

Why we love it: This toy made such a huge splash when it hit the market in 2016, we just had to include it in this year’s test. Six gear shapes spin — rather than slide straight down — a corkscrew spiral pole. It comes with a reversible base that can be set flat for stability or rounded for a wobbly challenge.

Of note: Our testers found it takes a bit of trial and error to make the balls consistently shoot out of Shellby, but that’s part of the fun.

Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone

Of note: When you turn it upside down, the pieces can spin off rather quickly and clatter to the floor if you don’t catch them.

Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone

ZOOKEEPER SORTING BOX $34.95 | 1 and up

Why we love it: This wooden treasure goes beyond the typical sorting box. Each hole includes a slide: If the slide is pushed down, only the half-shapes fit through the openings. If the slide is pushed up, the openings become large enough for the full-size shapes. Where to buy:

Photo by Tracy Walsh • November 2017



TOW ‘N GO TUFF TRUCK $34.99 | 1 and up

Why we love it: This tough Tonka Mighty Builders construction play set was a big draw for our testers, who seemed to enjoy pushing and pulling it even more than using the building blocks. Parents liked that its 23 blocks could be stored inside the truck’s lockable lid, which is also a buildable surface. Of note: Because it rolls, it may require supervision for early walkers. Where to buy: Target

DRIP DRIP BATH TOY $24.95 | 18 months and up

WADDLE BOBBERS $19.95 | 3 and up

Why we love it: Even though we didn’t have a bath tub on hand during our test, kids were immediately drawn to this set of suction cups, funnels and lids, designed to teach basic engineering concepts. During home trials, one 2-year-old tester — an extremely reluctant bather — fell in love with this set and has started to actually ask for baths.

Why we love it: These penguins got us with their total cuteness and their ability to sink (if filled with water) or float (when not) and their knack for wobbling, spinning and stacking on land. During homebathing testing, this set also scored points for its waterslide, which also works with ping pong balls, super balls and other bath toys, including action figures. And there are no holes in the pieces — so there’s no need to worry about mold.

Of note: Getting the propeller to spin is actually a challenge, but that’s not a dealbreaker.

Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone

Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone


November 2017 •

Bonus: A mesh bag is included for easy clean up.

ROBOT Q $16.99 | 2 and up

Why we love it: This posable clicky little cutie makes adorable retro robot noises with a press of a button on his chest. Little ones can change his eyes — from awake to sleeping to winking — with the press of a button or a turn of a knob. Rollable rattles on his feet are hidden until he sits down. Where to buy: Creative Kidstuff

MY FIRST COOKIN’ KITCHEN  $29.99 | 2 and up

Why we love it: Our test parents were attracted to the price point. And the kids were won over by the toy’s microwave, stove, oven and sink, plus built-in storage for all the kitchen essentials — forks, knives, spoons, tea cups and plates, as well as a spatula, ladle, frying pan, pot, lid and oven rack. The microwave and oven doors swing open, and the stove makes clicking sounds when knobs are turned. It’s also available in pink. Of note: It’s shorter than the typical play kitchen, just 2½ feet tall, so it’s defenitely geared toward toddler-seize kids. Where to buy: Walmart

 $19.99 | 2 and up

Why we love it: Perfectly sized for little hands, these cute mama/dada and baby turtles encourage kids to learn shapes, numbers, colors and more. But hiding the baby turtles under their parents’ shells is the best part. Where to buy: • November 2017



CLASSIC TRAIN SET $29.99 | 3 and up

Why we love it: You can’t beat the price of this 40-piece gift set. Our kid testers played with it almost continuously for two hours, despite real problems with keeping the trains on the track. One parent said she planned to buy it just to put it under the Christmas tree for decoration, thanks to its 25 feet of track and old-timey look. Of note: You’ll have to be ready to adjust the track and the trains to ensure a functional railroad. Where to buy: Hub Hobby


Why we love it: What a novelty! These magnetic toys aren’t made with plastic or wood. They’re just plain metal — 35 pieces in five different shapes — that become magnetized only when connected to the magnetic base. A 16-page design book provides construction ideas — a rocket, helicopter, peacock, crocodile and more. Our kids couldn’t resist the shiny metallic pieces and the chance to craft their own structures. Of note: Be sure to keep mobile phones and credit cards away from the magnetic base. Where to buy: Lakeshore Learning


Why we love it: Most kids graduate from high school far behind in money smarts. Get your kids started early by practicing making change as well as learning how to withdraw, deposit and save money with this play bank, which recognizes the provided plastic money as well as real coins. Our testers needed help with this little machine, but they couldn’t get enough of it. (Yes: Parent involvement is recommended if you want your kids to actually learn about personal finance.) Of note: You must manually enter the amount to compute paper money deposits because the mechanical bill feeder can’t “read” fake or real money. Where to buy:


November 2017 •



$39.99 | 3 and up

$20 | 3 and up

Why we love it: We thought our testers would be tired of fairies by now! But they fell for this set of poseable fairies (four in all) and their 9-inch-tall house with a swing-open door, a leaf-shaped lounger, a wishing well, a table, two mushroom stools and a footbridge.

Why we love it: This totally affordable awesome flexible race track from Mindscope was easily one of the top toys across all ages in our toy test. Kids can bend and curve the 11 feet of track into any shape or pattern, and the speedy little green car follows the path regardless. You can even create a circular hamster-wheel track to make the car travel around the room, taking the track with it.

Where to buy: Lakeshore Learning

Bonus: The car’s LED lights enable the track to glow in the dark. Where to buy: Kiddywampus

PERFECT PASTA PLAYSET $29.99 | 3 and up

Why we love it: Pasta is an entire food group for most tots, so it makes sense that our testers were drawn to this 58-piece play cooking set from Melissa & Doug, including a pot with a strainer and lid. Our kids adored the felt pasta shapes, including penne, linguini, bow ties and stuffable ravioli (veggies and cheese discs included). Cans of sauce and parmesan, a pat of butter, a salt shaker, a reusable menu card and a Velcro-enabled pasta fork complete this precious package.

Serenity, 3 of Chaska

Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone

Photo by Tracy Walsh • November 2017



KABLOCKS $39.95 | 3 and up

Why we love it: One of the best parts of building is knocking down what you create. And that’s what this toy is all about: Stack the foam blocks into tall, teetering towers on the special building platform. Then jump on the Stomp Rocket-style pad to blast the blocks into the air (or at least into a pile of rubble onto the floor). Of note: You need a really big, brave stomp to get the blocks to explode! Where to buy:

MAGIC IN A SNAP $14.99 | 4 and up

Why we love it: Melissa & Doug’s latest box in this series — the Abracadabra Collection — was a hit with our testers, who enjoyed the optical illusions made easy with the right props. And the price was right for parents, too. This is the just thing to kick off your kid’s speaking and presentation skills. Fun! Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone

Analiese, 4, of Farmington

PLAY & EXPLORE ROCKET $29.99 | 3 and up

Photo by Tracy Walsh


November 2017 •

Why we love it: Kids fought over this three-level, 16-inch-tall space ship rocket during our test (always the mark of a great toy). It has a control room that holds two astronauts; a living space with a shower, kitchen and computer; and a garage for a little rover (included). At night, the garage turns into a bedroom for the astronauts. Just flip down the bed when it’s time to rest. Time to fly? Snap the hatches tightly and take off. Where to buy: Lakeshore Learning

AUTOMOBLOX $29.99–$39.99 | 4 and up

Why we love it: If you’re interested in heirloom-quality toys that you can leave sitting out on a mantel or bookshelf, check out these show pieces, made of European beech wood. Our kids loved the interchangeable parts of these vehicles, including rims, tires, brakes, roofs and front, middle and back body pieces, plus LEGO-esque action figures. Of note: Though we loved the large-size cars ($34.99–$39.99), you’d have to buy more than one to enjoy the interchangeable aspect of this toy. If you’re on a budget, a three-pack of smaller cars might be your best bet at $29.99–$39.99. Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone

KEVA CONNECT BUILDER SET $24.95 | 4 and up

Why we love it: The simple stacking fun of KEVA blocks takes on a new dimension with special connectors that lock the planks into place, allowing kids to create more complex structures and practice STEAM concepts (science, technology, engineering, art and math). Our test kids were attracted to the colors, ease of use and open-endedness of this 60-piece set. Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone


Why we love it: Chimes! We adored hearing the ringing of the chimes as the marbles made their way through the runs. And we like the high-quality components of this 119-piece set. They’re more complicated to assemble than the kind you might use when building a typical marble run, but they’re also more sturdy as well as more beautiful because they’re made with bamboo. Adults and kids alike were drawn to this toy’s towers and tracks and, of course, its spiraling vortex. Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone • November 2017




Why we love it: Though it looks like just another scooter, this stand-up toy was a hit during our test, thanks to more than 100 LED lights on the handlebar stem, wheels and deck. We liked its extendable aluminum handlebar stem that adjusts to various heights. The lights, which are visible even during the day, turn into a safety feature at dusk. Where to buy: Target

GROOVY BLOCKS $24.95 | 4 and up

Why we love it: These colorful panels interlock using five types of small plastic linking pieces, allowing kids to create a variety of projects, using pictorial suggestions or just their imaginations. Hinges let kids add working doors, window shutters, fish tails and more. During home testing, our 9-year-old tester came back to these day after day to make unique projects. Groovy, man. Where to buy:

MAGNAFLEX $34.99–$49.99 | 4 and up

Why we love it: It’s hard to go wrong with anything magnetic when it comes to kids and building toys. And these strong bendy magnets from WowWee prove that rule. They’re fun for free play and fidgeting, or kids can create suggested designs such as animals, vehicles and more. Of note: If baby spit-up got into the tiny, flexy grooves of these toys, it would be very hard to get out. Where to buy: Toys R Us


November 2017 •

XTREM BOTS SMART BOT $49.99 | 5 and up

Why we love it: Our testers were immediately drawn to this 10-inch-tall remote control robot, who seemed more like a buddy than yet another gadget. He moves in all directions, makes R2D2-like noises, dances, displays 20 different electronic facial expressions (using 18 LED lights for eyes), offers 50 programmable actions and can even be controlled with simple hand signals. Of note: Though the infrared controller is intuitive, the manual is extremely helpful. Where to buy: Hub Hobby

ZIPES SPEED PIPES $59.99 | 5 and up

Why we love it: We would like to officially declare this Oppenheim-award-winning “starter set” Toy of the Year. It’s like all the joy of a remote-control car, a marble run and a Hot Wheels track rolled into one. The electric car can climb vertically as well as speed around horizontally (in both forward and reverse). All the tubing can even be moved — or even put on like some sort of tube jacket — while the car is in operation. A flashing strobe ball adds an extra dash of sparkle. Of note: You have to use a special type of port to keep the car charged via USB, so don’t lose it! Also, the car doesn’t operate outside of the tubes.


Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone

$59.99 | 6 and up

Why we love it: We didn’t expect the sound quality of this portable, 49-key piano to be all that great. But it was delightfully realistic and vibrant! Kids were immediately drawn to it during the test, and older children were even inspired to use the included colorcoded songbook. Audio features include a headphone jack and the option of using external speakers. Where to buy: Kiddywampus

ULTRA DASH $24.99 | 6 and up

Why we love it: We love toys that inspire physical activity. This racing game includes a tagger baton and five color-coded targets you can place anywhere to create a challenge course in one of three game modes — beat the clock, target tally and relay race. When the tagging baton flashes red, kids must run to the red target and tag it quickly, followed by the other colors. Of note: There’s a bit of a learning curve with this toy, so you’ll have to study the directions before playing. Also, the lights aren’t bright enough for daytime use outdoors. Where to buy: Target • November 2017



LASER X $49.99 | 6 and up

Why we love it: This Real Life Laser Gaming Experience includes two laser blasters (offering “pinpoint accuracy up to 200 feet”) and receiving vests that count your hits. You can add an unlimited number of gaming sets to play in teams, indoors or out. Our kids liked suiting up in the vests and watching their stamina go from green to yellow to, finally, red. Where to buy: Target

FAUX BOW PRO $39.99 | 10 and up

Why we love it: We kept this toy away from the kids during the test because when the adults pretested it — indoors — it was extremely effective at shooting long distances. One test mom was bruised in the kerfuffle. One dad proclaimed it the ideal toy for a kid who wants a real archery set, but who might not be ready for the full power of a real bow or the sharp arrows. Of note: Adult supervision is definitely recommended. Eye protection and arm guards are sold separately. “This isn’t a Nerf gun,” said one dad tester. “You can’t shoot someone from 10 yards away. It’s going to hurt.” Where to buy: Hub Hobby


November 2017 •



$20 | 8 and up

Why we love it: One of the Twin Cities’ most renowned artists (famed muralist Adam Turman) and one of the area’s coolest companies (PuzzleTwist) have partnered to create this Minnesota-themed 500-piece jigsaw puzzle. Of note: What set apart the local company’s puzzles — branded as PuzzleTwist, Mixed Up!, Something’s Amiss! and 4 More! — is that each box cover image is different from the puzzles you actually assemble, adding to the challenge and excitement of completion. Where to buy:

ABC & Toy Zone, Chanhassen and Rochester, Air Traffic Kites and Games, MOA and Minnetonka, Autism Shop, BuyBuy Baby, Woodbury, Choo Choo Bob’s Train Store, St. Paul, Creative Kidstuff, seven Twin Cities locations, including MOA, Doodletown Toys, Big Lake, online and craft shows only, Electric Fetus, Minneapolis, Games by James, seven locations, including MOA, Hub Hobby, Richfield and Little Canada, Kiddywampus, Hopkins, Lakeshore Learning Store, St. Louis Park and Maplewood, Lark Toys, Kellogg,

INVEZO RTF STUNT DRONE $44.99 | 14 and up

Why we love it: This lightweight micro drone isn’t just easy to fly, it’s positively acrobatic. It ideal for novice flyers, including drone-rookie parents. It can perform full 360-degree flips or 180 half-flips — and then continue to fly in an inverted position. It can even land upside down. Control modes include Easy, Pro and 3D, so there’s room to grow with this gadget. Of note: We recommend you stick to the age range or offer close adult supervision ­­— and keep your fingers away from the blades during operation. This drone, (which the manufacturer describes as “not a toy”) cut one of our mom tester’s fingers while she was trying to capture the wayward drone when it became stuck on top of a cabinet.

Mall of America, Bloomington: Specialty toy stores include The LEGO Store, American Girl, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Nickelodeon Store, Disney Store, Marbles: The Brain Store, and JM Cremp’s Adventure Store. MindWare, Roseville, Moss Envy, Minneapolis, Pacifier, four Twin Cities locations, PuzzleTwist, Mischief Toys & Gifts, St. Paul, Something Safari, Excelsior, Teeny Bee Boutique, St. Paul,

Where to buy: Hub Hobby Sarah Jackson is the editor of Minnesota Parent magazine. In addition to running the annual toy test, she tests new-to-market toys year-round at home with her 9-year-old son, Sam.

Don’t see your favorite local store here? Tell us about it: Write us at • November 2017


Get your

game on!

We can almost promise you’ll have a blast with these inventive, playful board games. Move over, Candyland and Monopoly! BY SARAH JACKSON

LEAPS AND LEDGES $29.95 | 8 and up

Why we love it: Setting up this game — a nearly 3-foot-tall tower of 15 colorful pieces — was almost as fun as playing it. Game play was basically Trouble without a popper. And instead of moving your pawns around in a circle, you race to the top of the tower (and can send players back down based on the cards you draw). Of note: We think kids as young as 3 could enjoy this game. Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone

THINGS I KNOW $15.99 | 3 and up

Why we love it: Toys from eeBoo are always gorgeous, and this high-quality matching game is no different, featuring animals, objects and treats, vibrantly illustrated by London-based, Swedish-born illustrator Monika Forsberg. Where to buy:

MONKEY AROUND $16 | 2 and up

Why we love it: Not in the mood to play creatively with your toddler? Turn off the electronics and break out this game, which includes a bean bag banana (win-win) and circular challenge cards that encourage parents and kids to do activities (sometimes solo, sometimes together): “Pretend to eat the banana.” “Wiggle your toes.” “Freeze like a statue.” “Make silly faces at each other.” Best of all? “Give a big hug.” Where to buy: Kiddywampus


November 2017 •


Why we love it: No toy in our test had a higher cute factor than this little cottage filled with pointy-hatted gnome-like dwarves. Kids try to figure out: “Where is Snow White?” by placing the characters (including Wicked Queen and Snow White figures) in the cottage as pictured. Kids can start with basic interior challenges and then move onto tougher exterior challenges that involve opening and closing the cottage shutters to reveal if they’ve found the correct solution. Bonus: A small graphic novel, which tells the story of Snow White, is included to complement the game. Of note: Kids age 3 and up (or maybe even younger) would love this toy and could probably play the game, too.


Where to buy: Creative Kidstuff

$29.99 | 6 and up

Why we love it: During home testing, this 77-piece “building game” — and its little red marble-bottomed coaster car — occupied our 9-year-old tester for hours. Though it looks and works a bit like a marble-run toy, we filed it under games because the roller coaster routes work best when you follow the preset designs on the 40 challenge cards (versus free building). Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone

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Stocking stuffers! BABY’S FIRST PHONE $9.99 | 18 months and up

Why we love it: We can’t promise Baby won’t still want to hold your phone, but this wooden creation from HABA includes a jingle bell, three push buttons and a screen that rotates — with a cute bear face on one side and a mirror on the other. #babyselfies Where to buy:

COGGY HOT WHEELS PLAYTAPE $4.99–$5.99 | 3 and up

Why we love it: InRoad Toys is now offering Hot Wheels-branded painter’s tape, along with curved pieces. We thought it was just a gimmick, but our testers were totally into it.

$14.95 | 6 and up

Why we love it: During home testing, this brain-teasing, 16-gear toy was a hit. Though it was used primarily as fidget (and even a makebelieve laser gun), we expect it will have lasting power, thanks to the many challenge cards. Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone

Where to buy:

MY KAWAII SQUISHIES $14.99 | 3 and up

Why we love it: These lightly scented foam toys from Kiibru — designed to look like animals and, more commonly, food items — are poised to take over fidget spinners as the next big thing. Squish them down to nothing; then watch them magically inflate over and over! Where to buy: Hub Hobby


November 2017 •

PAINT STICKS $7.99–$12.99 | 3 and up

Why we love it: Kids can paint without brushes or water with sticks that twist up and down like a glue sticks. You can use them not just on paper, canvas, wood and transparent sheets, but also on windows, where the color dries in 60 seconds or less and can be wiped off easily. Where to buy: Creative Kidstuff

Serving people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, HOBT collaborates with SCHOOLS and COMMUNITIES on unique, interactive ART RESIDENCIES that nurture the creative spirit and encourage a sense of joy and wonder.

OFFBITS $14.95 | 6 and up

Why we love it: If you have a kid who likes to tinker with your toolkit, take a gander at these sets of nuts, bolts, and springs, packed in kits to help kids create robot-like characters. Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone

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Why we love it: Fairies and their woodland friends work together to decorate their woodland hollow for Christmas in this darling 20-piece jigsaw. Where to buy: • November 2017



craft y These creative — and, in many cases, classic toys — would all make excellent gifts as well as snow-day diversions for kids and parents.

By Sarah Jackson


Why we love it: It’s not every day you find a model-building toy that includes laser-cut birch wood parts, metal marbles and axles AND a graphic novel to guide you through assembly. Our 9-year-old tester was excited and engaged for the entire two-hour assembly, which included lessons in projectile motion and centripetal force. Of note: Key components of the structure require gluing, so a bit of a crafting mindset is required. Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone

LIGHT-UP JOURNAL $19.99 | 8 and up

Why we love it: Does your child need a new notebook or dairy? Let him or her customize a brand new one with this kit, which also teaches kids how to create a simple electrical circuit that turns on a light. Of note: Our home tester, who didn’t read the directions closely at first, learned lessons in troubleshooting — and also had a ball decorating with the stickers, decorative pieces and markers. Where to buy:


November 2017 •

FASHION PRESS $34.9 | 3 and up

Why we love it: Our testers found this Fashion Plates set to be surprisingly fun, easy to use and full of options, including eight punch plates, 50 sheet pattern papers, five model sheets and a design guide (all with no tracing or cutting required). One mom said: “We loved this! She designed two different girls.” Of note: Younger kids might need help punching out the shapes.


Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone

$24.95 | 4 and up

Why we love it: Makers of this kit describe it as a “spellbinding” excavation activity — and that was absolutely true for five testers, age 2 to 7, who spent over an hour of our toy test engaged in unearthing magic fairies hidden in the eggs of this kit. Simply soak the eggs in water for three minutes, chisel away the clay and, viola, you have a variety of characters, all described in whimsical detail in the included booklet. We love the idea of using this set of 12 fairies for a birthday-party activity. Of note: It’s messy, but definitely worth it. Where to buy:


Why we love it: You can find DIY bath bomb tutorials online, but this gift set from Klutz offers all the things kids need to create fun shapes and colors, including five cute soap molds, glycerin, citric acid, strawberry-kiwi-scented oil, blue, red and yellow baking soda and a gorgeous 36-page instruction/ inspiration book. Where to buy: Kiddywampus

SPIROGRAPH JUNIOR $24.95 | 3 and up

Why we love it: Testers age 2 and older enjoyed this preschooler spin on a classic toy, redesigned with jumbosized gears to make spiraling easier for smaller hands. Where to buy: ABC & Toy Zone

Out & About NOVEMBER

Cirque du Soleil Crystal ⊲ It’s the world’s favorite circus troupe on ice, telling the story of Crystal and her quest to fulfill her destiny. Specifically created for arenas, this state-of-the-art production combines topnotch skating and sliding, acrobatic feats and remarkable costumes, lighting and music. When: Nov. 9–12 Where: Target Center, Minneapolis Cost: $57–$111 Info: and

When: Through March 1 Where: Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul Cost: Film admission is $8.95–$9.95 for ages 4 and older (free for ages 3 and younger). Info:

NOV. 4


Rocky Mountain Express ⊲ Through a rugged, untamed wilderness, a courageous crew took on a seemingly impossible task — building a railway that would connect remote towns across the Canadian continent. Viewers of this film take a virtual seat aboard an early 20thcentury steam engine and explore one of the greatest engineering feats in modern history, including aerial footage of the breathtaking Canadian Rockies.


November 2017 •

Twin Cities Birth and Baby Expo ⊲ Expert speakers, educational events and numerous exhibitors will share what’s new for families, along with freebies, activities for kids, live entertainment, face painting and concessions. When: 9:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Nov. 4 Where: Capitol Hill, St. Paul Cost: FREE Info:

The Velveteen Rabbit ⊲ Margery Williams’ classic tale of a well-worn stuffed rabbit is brought to life through music, dance and narration. When: 1:30 p.m. Nov. 4 Where: Northrup, Minneapolis Cost: Tickets start at $30. Info:

NOV. 4–FEB. 24

Night Trains

⊲ See dozens of model railroads dusted with snow and decorated with holiday lights. When: 6–9 p.m. Saturdays Nov. 4–Feb. 24 Where: Twin City Model Railroad Museum, St. Paul Cost: $15 for ages 5 and older with discounts for groups of three or more. Info:

NOV. 7–JAN. 7

Ballet Tuesdays

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

⊲ Take in a ballet performance on the second Tuesday of each month,* courtesy of Saint Paul Ballet students and company members, offering excerpts from productions such as The Nutcracker and the company’s diverse repertoire. Children are invited to wear their dance shoes and tutus and to practice techniques demonstrated by the dancers. Bring a lunch to eat during the show or stop by Anita’s Café at Landmark Center.

⊲ Whoville is experiencing a seemingly unstoppable crime wave! Who will save Christmas? Find out the answer in this alltime audience favorite filled with songs, spirited storytelling and fanciful rhymes. When: Nov. 7–Jan. 7 Where: Children’s Theatre Company, Minneapolis Cost: Tickets start at $15. Info:

NOV. 17

When: Noon Nov. 14, Dec. 12, Jan. 9, Feb. 13, March 13, April 10 and May 1 (This is the first Tuesday of May.*) Where: Landmark Center, St. Paul Cost: FREE Info: or

PJ Masks Live ⊲ Based on the animated TV series from Disney Junior, this immersive, all-ages stage show features original music, acrobatics and interactivity.



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Out & About

Santa and Albert

⊲⊲Celebrate the season with Santa and Albert with a new holiday play, Albert’s Super Power. Guests are encouraged to participate in a sing-a-long of holiday carols at the end of the performance, which lasts about 20 minutes. Stay to take pictures with Santa and Albert. Bring your own camera. Seating is first come, first serve. When: Saturdays and Sundays Nov. 18–Dec. 17. Saturday show times: 10 and 11:30 a.m., and 1 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday show times: 11:30 a.m. and 1 and 2:30 p.m. Santa will arrive on a reindeer-drawn sleigh at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 18. Where: Bachman's Floral, Gift & Garden, 6010 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis Cost: FREE Info: or 612-861-7663 Photo by Tracy Walsh

When: 6:30 p.m. Nov. 17 Where: State Theatre, Minneapolis Cost: $43.50–$53.50 Info:

NOV. 17–DEC. 28

Beauty and the Beast Jr. ⊲⊲Disney’s beloved production, based on the original Tony-award nominated Broadway production, comes alive for an all-ages audience. When: Nov. 17–Dec. 28 Where: Stages Theatre Company, Hopkins Cost: $18–$30 Info:

NOV. 18

Green Gifts Fair ⊲⊲Shop from 80-plus local, eco-friendly artists and businesses at Do It Green Minnesota’s 12th-annual gifts fair. When: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Nov. 18 Where: Midtown Global Market, Minneapolis Cost: FREE; $1 donations will be accepted at the door. Info:

NOV. 21–JAN. 7

Gingerbread Wonderland

⊲⊲This third-annual multi-generational exhibit features elaborately decorated


November 2017 •

gingerbread houses, including iconic Twin Cities buildings, created by community members and professional bakers — and judged by local food critics. Wanna bake? Pick up a free gingerbread house kit from Norway House. Kits are first come, first serve and are available starting Oct. 24. Drop off your contributions between Nov. 7–17. When: Nov. 21–Jan. 7 Where: Norway House, Minneapolis Cost: Free for participating bakers (and ages 12 and younger) and $5 for ages 13 and older. Info: More details, gingerbread recipes and patterns are available at

NOV. 24–DEC. 23


⊲ Join the city’s annual holiday celebration to Loring Park. Enjoy food, drinks, movie nights, carriage rides, shopping, fireworks and visits from Santa. When: Thursdays–Sundays, Nov. 24– Dec. 23. See fireworks at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 24, Dec. 2, 9, 16, 23. Where: Loring Park, Minneapolis Cost: FREE Info:

NOV. 25–26

The Little Mermaid ⊲ Dive under the sea into Disney’s 1989 full-length film, complete with spirited musical numbers, a delightful young mermaid named Ariel and the Academy award-winning score performed live by the Minnesota Orchestra. When: 2 p.m. Nov. 25–26 Where: Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis Cost: Tickets start at $27.50. Info:

DEC. 1–3, 8–10

European Christmas Market

featuring the work of local crafters and artisans, along with performances by carolers, dancers, musicians, plus visits from Santa and his reindeer. When: Dec. 1–3, 8–10 Where: Union Depot, St. Paul Cost: FREE Info:

DEC. 7–31


⊲ It’s a hard-knock life for Annie and the other orphans of Depression-era New York City, under the patronage of the wretched and scheming Miss Hannigan at the Hudson Street Orphanage. One day, Annie’s life is changed forever when Grace, the beautiful assistant of the enigmatic millionaire Oscar (Daddy) Warbucks comes to ask for an orphan to stay at his mansion for the Christmas holidays. When: Dec. 7–31 Where: Orpheum Theatre, St. Paul Cost: Tickets start at $47 (for partial view). For a 15 percent discount on any Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 7:30 p.m. shows, or Saturday and Sunday 2 p.m. shows, use the discount GRP15OFF (courtesy of Info:

⊲ Meander through decorated booths modeled after German Christkindlmarkts,

Monster Jam ⊲ Adrenaline-charged, high-flying, fourwheel excitement returns to the Twin Cities with a special Wonder Woman truck, making its Minneapolis debut with driver Linsey Read.

When: Dec. 2 Where: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis Cost: Tickets start at $15. Info: • November 2017


preschooler-friendly play follows the adventures of a single man and a mysterious, playful red balloon.

DEC. 9

Star of Wonder

When: Through Nov. 12 Where: Children Theatre Company, Minneapolis Cost: Tickets start at $15. Info:

⊲ Clap, wiggle and sing along to your favorite carols at a 45-minute holiday concert. Pillows, baby bottles and teddy bears welcome. When: 9:30 and 11 a.m. Dec. 9 Where: Plymouth Congregational Church, Minneapolis Cost: Free for ages 3 and younger, $8 for ages 4 to 17 and $12 adults Info:

Mazes ⊲ Visitors can maneuver their way through a collection of mind-bending adventures, 3D puzzles and full-body games in this new exhibit that encourages problem-solving and creativity.



When: Through Jan. 7 Where: Science Museum of

⊲ Back by popular demand, this

Minnesota, St. Paul Cost: This exhibit is included in regular museum admission of $18.95 for adults and $12.95 for ages 4–12 and 60 and older. Info:

Tinkertoy ⊲ This interactive exhibit features Tinkertoys as well as giant replicas of the classic construction sets to provide educational activities. When: Through Jan. 15 Where: Minnesota Children’s Museum, St. Paul Cost: Regular admission is $12.95 for ages 1 to 101. Info:


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Awesome autumn!

Just what is it about fall — and pumpkins, corn stalks, leaves and apples — that brings out the cute in our kids?

↑↑Arth and Garv, ages 6 and 5, of Plymouth

↑↑Lucas, Joshua, and Lillian, ages 31/2, 2, and 9 months, of Ham Lake

↑↑Finn and Cole, ages 3 and 10, of Waconia

↑↑Dylan, 2½, of Apple Valley

↑↑Grayson, 4½, of Plymouth

↑↑Seth and Skylar, 4 and 21/2, of Apple Valley

Want to see your kid on this page? Send photos with your child’s first name, age and city to


November 2017 •

November 2017  
November 2017