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Archive for November, 2007

FIND OUT how Santa flies a sleigh

santa-sleigh-3It’s the time of year when the kids start asking the tough questions about the big jolly guy. My daughter recently questioned how Santa could fit into the chimney. When I lamely suggested “magic,” she said rather emphatically, “Mommy, there’s no such thing as magic. He uses pretend magic.”

The cool Web site has a Christmas Channel all ready for your child’s holiday-related questions: How does Santa actually fly a sleigh? How do elves really make presents?

Whether you’re a parent looking to explain the holidays to your kids, a teacher looking for a lesson plan or just a Christmas enthusiast looking for some tips, check out this fun holiday online tool.

— Kari Hulac

Posted on Wednesday, November 28th, 2007
Under: Family Entertainment | No Comments »

MISS SCHOOL MANNERS & More Gifts for Teachers

teacher Last week, Miss School Manners – our advice columnist on all things school and family-related – got a question about appropriate gifts for teachers. Now we’re revisiting the topic, because we’ve run across these darling, practical, kid-crafted gifts that should be a hit with cookie-lovers of any age, especially busy teachers trying to juggle late night paper-grading with their own family holiday prep. They’re Cookies in a Jar. And the instructions hail from Spattulata, the pint-sized cooking duo who won a James Beard Award last year at the tender ages of 10 and 8.

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Posted on Wednesday, November 28th, 2007
Under: Miss School Manners | No Comments »

“TOYS FOR TOTS” time again!

The Livermore Pleasanton Fire Department and the US Marines are teaming up once more to
celebrate the 60th annual national “Toys for Tots” drive this Saturday, Dec. 1. Drop off your new, unwrapped toy at Livermore’s “Home for the Holidays” celebration from noon to 4 p.m. by the Lizzie Fountain in Flag Pole Plaza at First St. and Livermore Ave., then stick around for the fun – free horse-drawn carriage rides, music and real snow.

Or venture over to Pleasanton’s Hometown Holiday Parade at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Marines will be walking alongside an antique fire engine in the parade, collecting toys. (Or you can drop the prezzies directly into the bins located by the four parade stages on the west side of Main Street.)

Got a Toys for Tots drop-off spot in your city? Click “comments” and add the details there.
Jackie Burrell

Posted on Wednesday, November 28th, 2007
Under: Other | No Comments »

DISTRACTED TEACHER spells t-r-o-u-b-l-e for first-graders

My daughter’s first-grade teacher seems to be having a difficult year. I really, really want to be sympathetic, but it is an uncomfortable situation. These kids only get to go through first-grade once. Toy school bus

I know teaching is tough. I’ve done a little of it. My mother has done it her whole life, as have my grandparents. Teachers are overworked and underpaid.

But now that I’m officially a PTA-card carrying member of the elementary school world of reading, writing, math, etc.,, I’m realizing how stressful it really is to have a role in building a child’s whole educational future, one addition problem at a time.

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Posted on Tuesday, November 27th, 2007
Under: Parenting Issues, Schools | No Comments »


Toy safetyToxic toys are the stuff of parental nightmares, so one would think that toy shop owners would endure some sleepless nights too… or at least a few arduous days of shelf-clearing. So we took notice when Martinez mom Yvonne Mills called to say she’d spotted AquaDots, the craft beads whose coating metabolizes into a date rape drug when ingested, on the shelves at Pleasant Hill’s Toys ‘R’ Us long after the dangerous toy had been recalled.

Mills said the store clerk’s response to her outraged complaint was “What recall?” And she got nowhere when she tried calling the corporate offices, the mayor and so on. The mayor’s response: not my problem.

Folks, this is everybody’s problem, and state Attorney General Jerry Brown agrees.

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Posted on Tuesday, November 27th, 2007
Under: Toy Recalls | No Comments »

NETFLIX for College Textbooks

Stacked booksA textbook rental company? How financially fabulous is that? These days, when a single college textbook can easily top $100, and some price out at $180 or more, paying for books can be seriously painful. Buy new and you’ll add $900 or more to that annual tuition bill. So we were thrilled to spot this story about a Netflix-type textbook rental company based in Santa Clara. Colleague Lisa Krieger at the SJ Merc says textbook rental Web sites such as and Book Renter offer students cheaper alternatives. After the quarter ends, you simply mail the books back in a prepaid package, a la Netflix. And yes, you can highlight them – within reason.
Jackie Burrell

Posted on Tuesday, November 27th, 2007
Under: College Apps & Angst | No Comments »

Tots, teens and parent talks

KidsHere’s what ahead on the parent ed talk circuit:

“More Fun with Madeline”
Nov. 27 at 6:30 p.m. Bananas, Oakland
A workshop with play expert Madeline Meyer Riley, who specializes in games and activities for babies and preschoolers. Sponsored by Bananas, free, but registration required.

“Living with Threes and Fours”
Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. Bananas, Oakland
Speaker: Meg Zwieback, nurse practitioner and expert on life with preschoolers
Sponsored by Bananas, free, but registration required.

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Posted on Monday, November 26th, 2007
Under: Parenting Issues | No Comments »

SF Union Square a holiday treat for kids

Cable Car Holiday TourIf you want to get the kids out of the house this month, San Francisco’s Union Square offers a fun holiday-themed family outing. We took BART from the East Bay to San Francisco over Thanksgiving break, and it’s always so fun to see how much kids just love to ride BART, no matter where it’s headed. One tip: Kids under 4 ride free. For older kids (5-12), you can buy heavily discounted red tickets, but not AT all stations. Go figure. Visit for details.

We saw plenty of other families with the same idea, and it was so cute to see the fresh faces pressed up against the windows for a unique view of the scenery that they wouldn’t see from their cars.

Powell is always a good stop if you’re with kids, as it’s all about the food and bathroom locations when you’re on foot in the city. While the BART restrooms were unfortunately closed the day we were there, the food court in the new San Francisco Center upstairs has regular restrooms and a separate family lounge, where dads are welcome, with lots of toys, private nursing areas, plenty of changing areas, a microwave and couches. Bad side: Family room only has one actual restroom (with two stools inside).

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Posted on Monday, November 26th, 2007
Under: Family Outings | No Comments »

Mop Boys Boogie at St. Mary’s Basketball Game

Too cute for words – St. Mary’s College’s mop boys, six Lamorinda middle schoolers who swab the basketball courts during college games broke into a hip-swiveling, choreographed dance during a time-out in Tuesday’s upset win over the 11th ranked Oregon Ducks, much to the delight of 3,500 screaming fans. Enjoy!

Jackie Burrell

Posted on Sunday, November 25th, 2007
Under: Kids & Tweens | No Comments »

FAMILY TRAVEL: Vancouver with the Kids

Ah, Vancouver – 800 miles north and a whole different world, says the Neumann family in today’s Times travel section, and what a fantastic place for outdoorsy families. Here’s the scoop on where to stay, what to do and how to do it…plus links.

THE TRAVELERS: Bruce, a mechanical engineer, Julie, finance director for BDA Sports, and their kids Kayla, age 7, and Cody, 4.

THE TREK IN A SEC: This San Ramon family spent five days in Vancouver, British Columbia – plenty of time to get the flavor of the city and explore the beautiful area.

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Posted on Sunday, November 25th, 2007
Under: Family Travel | No Comments »