7 Unusual Gift Ideas for Children (By Guest Blogger, Luke Douglas of Ripped.me)

Are both you and your kids bored of the same old gifts, such as teddy bears, plastic robots or car models? If the answer is yes, then this year get them something a little bit more unique and creative. There are so many different things in toy stores and it can be quite hard to make a choice, so we made a little guide to make your decision easier. Take a look.  

Cool night lights

No matter how old your kid is, a cool night light will always come in handy, whether it’s used to scare away the monsters or simply to provide them with some soft light to show them the way to the bathroom. Your kid will sleep safely knowing that the force from a lightsaber night light is there to protect them or illuminate their way through the house.

Memberships

If your kid loves going to the zoo, aquarium, museum, theatre or music concerts in your city, why not give them a membership card as a present so they can visit it as much as they like. This gift will not only give you something you can regularly do together, but it will also allow them to get interested in something more serious. Do you have a big family? Not a problem!  These places usually offer a “family rate” with a discount.

A piggy bank

If you want to teach your kid a valuable lesson in life, but want to do it discretely, you can use a gift such as a piggy bank to help them learn how to manage their finances. Help your kids learn budgeting and saving skills and teach them about responsibility and ownership. There are piggy banks in all shapes and sizes, but the ones that stand out are those with separate compartments. One can be reserved for spending, one for saving and one for pocket money. You can even put some money in the bank just for starters.

Musical instruments

Music has such an important role in every human’s life. Even though listening to music is essential, creating and reproducing sounds, melodies and rhythms is even more important. You can go as little or big as you like, from some small maracas and recorders to a larger guitar or keyboards. Playing an instrument is not only super fun, but it also inspires creativity and shapes both mind and spirit.  

Something to track time

Not only does wearing a watch make your kid look super stylish, it also helps them develop their sense of time and gives them more independence. Knowing when something will happen or knowing what it means to have an hour to complete a task can be quite an empowering and encouraging feeling. Another great time-tracking gift is a calendar. No matter the design or print, it will help them keep track of birthdays and important events. It’s a great gift for kids in the 6-9-year-old range who are still developing a sense of longer time periods and who want to know exactly how many days there are until the end of school, when someone’s birthday is or how long it is until that family trip.

A skateboard

Kids love skateboards. They do not only provide them with some physical activity while spending time in the sun and fresh air, but also have other health benefits. They will keep your kids fit and strong; help them build confidence and new friendships. Get your kid a board like this fun Bart Simpson skateboard that’s light and perfect for their little feet. They’ll love to show it off to their friends and cruise through the neighbourhood and around the skate parks. Get them some protective gear to match and let them sk8 on.

A digital camera

This amazing gift will give you a chance to see the world through your child’s eyes and give them one of the greatest gifts in the world: the gift of discovery. If you’re worried about the price, you’ll be happy to hear that there are brand new digital cameras for as little as $60, but you can also look for some used ones for an even lower price. There are also cameras specially designed for kids, but if you get them a “regular” model, you’ll actually get a better and longer-lasting product. You can maybe even throw in some photography classes as well.

As you can see, there is more to gifts than simple toys and money. Get your kids one of these unique presents and watch their faces light up while they unwrap their surprise.

Author: Luke Douglas of Ripped.me.

Images are taken from pexels.com and pixabay.com.

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Vintage Family Portraits are Like Sitcoms with Laugh Tracks

The term “picture perfect” is becoming less relevant these days.

Last week I was in Dallas on a work trip and the week before that I was northern California on vacation spending a lot of time with my wife’s side of the family, which explains the extremely low number of posts for the last couple of weeks.  (I’m not the kind of guy who announces “I’m on vacation on the other side of the country!” as my facebook status- I don’t think it’s a good idea to announce to the world when I’m not at home.  Maybe that’s just me.) While in Sacramento, I saw a studio portrait of my wife’s family, circa 1985.  Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best, wearing big smiles (for the most part), all looking at the photographer (for the most part), and best of all, a fake forest backdrop was used as the background.

Granted, this was the mid ‘80’s, so anything that happened during that time was bound to be excessively cheesy compared to now.  But here’s the thing- even today, many professional family portraits are still, at best, hokey.  Because they represent a family at a perceived idea of their best, not what is normal or natural.  In the past decade as reality shows have begun dominated prime time, sitcoms have become more sophisticated and life-like; by being more satirical and less slapstick, and also by removing the laugh tracks.  Yet it can be a difficult thing to make studio family portraits less fake and more real.

And that’s why I’m a snapshot kind of guy.

Just as every family has a “family tree enthusiast”, every family also has a default photographer- and in some family circles, I’m it.  I always have my camera with me anywhere I go, ready to snap some shots of whatever unique, random, or funny situation I find family or friends in.  That means that a lot of times, not everyone is looking at the camera.  But a snapshot can often tell such an interesting story- even if the picture isn’t “picture perfect”.

I am so into snapshots, that it’s part of the name of this website.  Last week in Dallas, I met a person who after I told them the name of Scenic Route Snapshots, said to me, “I get it”.  I thought that was pretty cool, since a lot of people when they hear the name and try to repeat it, ask me, “Seen a cloudy slapshot?” But in case it needs explanation, the concept of my site is that I tend to write about things that most people wouldn’t think to question on their own.  I take an alternative, more laid-back approach to things (the scenic route) and take plenty of snapshots to remember them by (memoirs and journal entries).

But do professional photographers exist that take family portraits that don’t run the danger of being as corny as the opening theme song montage of Full House?  Is it possible for a family in the 2010’s to have a portrait made which represents them in a realistic and relevant way?  Yes, I’m seeing more and more begin to pop up- often following the “on locale and in character” formula of high school senior portraits and engagement photos, by placing the family in an environment which is familiar and natural for them.

When I think of a professional photographer who perfectly captures the realness and believability of snapshots in his professional work, I think of “Photo Joe” Hendricks who I’ve been friends with since I first moved to Nashville five years ago.  As I was trying to conjure an image of what the modern family portrait should look like, I immediately thought of his work, which I’ve included in this post as examples (minus the one at the very top of my wife’s family in 1985). These pictures are the equivalent of a sitcom without laugh tracks- more sophisticated, more natural, and more original.

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

Classic Home Videos

Where were you on Labor Day of 1990?Before there were reality shows starring idiots for us to pity/make fun of every week, or a phenomenon called YouTube where any fool can upload their tomfoolery for the entire world to see, there were two decades (the ‘80’s and ‘90’s) where we filmed opportune moments of our own lives and kept them to ourselves to laugh at.  And they became classic VHS gold, forever saved in our memories; ready material for reminiscing with those involved, in an instant’s notice.

The most honored tape of cherished memories still at my parents’ house is labeled “Labor Day ‘90”.  It had just been a few months earlier that my parents finally sacrificed a thousand dollars for the behemoth black-and-white-view-finder-equipped video recorder.  On that lazy afternoon at my Italian grandfather’s house with the whole family there, our lazy vacation day became a personal collection of gems. 

So maybe those moments aren’t funny to the rest of the world (not YouTube material), but to our family, the tape is hilarious every time we throw it in the now antique VHS player.  These moments include, but are not limited to the following:

“Is this thing gonna be that thang?”- My sister holds up to the camera in one hand a dandelion in which the wind had blown off the seeds, and in the other hand, a dandelion still with all its seeds in tact.  Then in her (at the time) Southern-fried accent asked the camera operator (my mom), “Is this thing gonna be that thang?”

“Can you figure it out?”-Sitting sideways on a plastic ribbon braided lawn chair with my arms behind my back, I faced the camera while my dad hid behind me, putting his arms out as my own.  As my mom asked me basic questions, none of which I seemed to know the answer, my dad used his arms to make motions to indicate it (he used his arms to scratch my head like I was thinking, etc.). 

It was pretty obvious he was behind me, not only for the fact that his arms were much bigger and darker than mine, but also because his mullet was showing in the shot.  Finally my mom (as the cameraman) asks the viewers at home, “Can you figure it out?”

“Nick and Dana… back up now!”-  My grandfather lived on five acres which he was very proud of and which was prone to appearances of wildlife.  In the front yard that day, he found a baby bird in nest in a small tree (only about five feet tall).  My mom walked the camera over to the tree, attempting to zoom in on the bird.  In the meantime, my sister and I (respectively ages 6 and 9) ran over to see if we could get a closer look at the bird. 

For fear of us scaring the bird away (like a baby bird is going to fly way…), my mom warned us, through clenched teeth (to keeping from scaring the baby bird away) “Nick and Dana… back up now!”  The hilarious part is that the whole time the camera was on the tree, the bird was barely visible up in the top corner of the shot. 

“I’m a winner!”- My dad, who a year later won 2nd place in the Northeast Alabama karate sparring tournament, was “play fighting” me.  Doing my best to ward off his slow-motion kicks and punches, he finally got me in a headlock.  He growled to me, “Say ‘I’m a winner’!  Say it!  Say it!”  I struggled to escape as he took me to the ground.  I gave in, with a clever twist.  I declared, “I’m a winner!” in a wimpy, Southern, nine year-old voice that in no way indicated what I was saying was true. 

We were the original comedians of comedy in our own worlds.  And even if we never get around to converting those video clips from VHS to digital format and eventually to YouTube, those classic hilarious moments in our minds are still better than any reality TV shows we’ll ever know.

Movie Guy, at Your Service: My Top Ten Favorites

With great power comes great responsibility.

I have accepted the fact that I am a “movie guy”.  Sure, everyone loves movies.  Just like everyone loves music, and food, and oxygen.  But some people are so intuitive (extremely picky) when it comes to movies, that casual movie watchers learn to go to these “movie guys” to ask about how good a certain movie is that just came out.

I have literally heard this sentence more times than I can remember in recent years: “Hey, you’re a big movie guy.  What did you think of (names a movie)?”

Of course I am always happy to help out a friend or family member in choosing how to spend 90 minutes of their time.  But part of being a Movie Guy is knowing which movies not to watch in the first place. 

Basic “Do Not Watch” Criteria:

1)     The movie is rated G or PG but is not a cartoon.

2)     The word “heartwarming” has been used to describe this movie.  Or the word “movie” is part of the title of the movie.

3)     Stars of the movie include, but are not limited to, any Country Music star, Dane Cook, Jessica Simpson, or Larry the Cable Guy.

4)     In the trailer for the movie, the last scene shows a muscular man with an angry and serious look on his face, walking away from a building or car that blows up, while the man just keeps walking towards the camera, unaffected and unconcerned.

5)     Simply by watching the trailer for the movie, you fully understand the plot and possibly the resolution.

However, there is the other side of the token:

Basic “Do Watch” Criteria:

1)     The movie is rated “PG-13” or “R”.

2)     The words “clever”, “groundbreaking”, and “genre defying”, have been used to describe this movie.

3)     Stars of the movie include, but are not limited to, Paul Giamatti, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, or any Jewish comedian (besides Gilbert Gottfried or Pauly Shore).

4)     In the trailer of the movie, the words “Rolling Stone”, “4 stars”, “brilliant”,  and “Peter Traverse” are all flashed on the screen.

5)     After watching the trailer for the movie which includes a song clip by Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, Simon and Garfunkel, Tom Petty, or Pete Yorn, you don’t fully understand what the movie is about, but are still intrigued.

Of course, no basic formula can absolutely predict whether a movie will be good, or even more importantly, whether or not I will like the movie.  Because who cares what Siskel and Roper say.  The question is, how worth my time was the movie?  Time I’ll never get back.

I know I was supposed to like it, but The Blind Side just really didn’t do it for me.  The previews showed everything that happened in the movie.  It didn’t make me feel all warm inside.  The movie was predictable, familiar, and too long.  The kid annoyed me.  And both the acting (except for Sandra Bullock) and the writing came across to me like a straight-to-DVD Christian movie.  Sorry, rest of the world, The Blind Side wasn’t for me.

It would be an overwhelming, intimidating, and daunting task to officially conjure up which movies are truly my top 10 favorite movies of all time.  And most likely, only a few of them would match most other peoples’ favorites.  But just off the top of my head, just because I’m curious,  I’m surprisingly going to give it a shot…

#1) I Love You, Man

#2) Trains, Planes, and Automobiles

#3) Garden State

#4) Sideways

#5) Vanilla Sky

#6) Fight Club

#7) 500 Days of Summer

#8) Forrest Gump

#9) Castaway

#10) Rocky 3

Yes, it’s true.  In the likeness of how a connoisseur often is with wine, I am a movie snob.  For what it’s worth, I can help others by giving them my self-proclaimed professional opinion about any movie I’ve seen.  But what if I’ve never seen the movie before?

Then, chances are, it’s probably not worth my time to watch it.  Or it hasn’t arrived yet from Netflix.

People Watching 101: Wedding Rings, Shoes, and Accessories

It’s not something a person really learns to do- it’s more of an instinct.  Whether it’s the majority or minority of people in this world who are “people watchers”, all I know is that I am one of them.  And I’m proud to be.

Why?  Because like a housecat, I find creative ways to entertain myself with the most ordinary things in life.  I can’t stand to be bored.  So when I’m in a situation where there’s nothing to do, I think.  And if I’m in a room full of strangers, I “people watch”.

That means as I pretend not to directly look at them, I try to figure out their story.  Because I’ve got clues and hints to go on:

1)     Wedding ring.  Is this guy sitting 8 feet across me a married man?  Does he go home everyday to a wife, just like I do?  If not, why not?  Is he too young, not ready?  Wants to be but just hasn’t met the right girl yet?  If  he is old enough to be a grandfather but doesn’t wear a wedding ring, is he widowed?  That’s sad.

2)     Shoes.  Leather loafers with tassels means the guy is a banker or investor.  Polished black leather shoes means he’s a lawyer.  Cowboy boots means he’s a songwriter.  Chuck Taylors means he’s artistic in some way.

3)     Accessories.  Book?  What is it?  Cell phone?  What is he doing with it?  Is he talking on it?  Am I having to listen to his conversation?  Is his phone attached to his belt?  Is it on the table?  Is he writing in a journal?  Listening to an i-pod?  What music he listening to?  Journey?  Chicago? Is that a Rubik’s Cube I see there?

I could go through the entire endless list: hairstyle, voice, attitude, clothing, accent, etc.  But really those first three paint enough of the picture to imagine a good story to entertain myself for a few minutes.  Then it’s time to move on to the next character.

And of course, I carry around my camera with me.  Because I never when I have stumbled into my next website post: People Watching in Nashville Traffic

Swiss Army SUV (Nick Shell’s Turtle Shell): 2004 Honda Element

If I was an action figure, what would my accessories be?

My wife always goes to sleep before me.  Sometimes, when she’s lucky, I sing her a lullaby to help her transition into dream mode, to coax her into visions of happy clouds and riding unicorns.  Of course, I only serenade her with original songs that I sing as I compose them, on the spot.  Last week, with Avatar fresh on my mind, I sang to her in my finest Styx performing Mr. Roboto voice:

“Nothing can prepare you for the unicorn ride of your life

So put on your purple jump suit and watch a pterodactyl fly by

Because nothing can prepare you for the unicorn ride of your life”

Pause.

Then she asked, “How can I prepare for the unicorn ride when you just said nothing could ever prepare me?”

She made a good point.  The only disadvantage of having the ability to make up and sing Grammy award winning songs on the spot, is that sometimes I forget the lyrics I’ve already sang earlier in the same song.

Ironically, I was the one who wasn’t prepared.  As for the rest of the time, in everyday life, I am prepared.  Because from 1st grade to 5th grade, I was in Cub Scouts and one of our main mottos was Be Prepared”.  Evidently, that has become a law of life for me.

Take my car, for example:

Honda Elements have been compared to a lot of things: a boot, a shoe, a toaster, a box.  And I’m okay with that, because after 4 ½ years of owning one, I am still in love.  And when the day comes to get a new vehicle, my plan is to simply buy another Honda Element.

I have transformed my already versatile duckbill-platypus-like SUV into the vehicular equivalent of a Swiss army knife.  It’s time to take a tour of my Honda Element and see what I keep on hand at all times, just in case I need it…

Typically I keep one backseat always folded up so I can have my mountain bike with me.  It stays secured between the wall and other seat.  The blue t-shirt helps prevent scuff marks on my seat from the bike and doubles as an emergency back-up shirt.

The way I got that shirt was way back in the summer of 1998 when I went on a mission trip to Ecuador.  One of the old t-shirts I had packed for the trip was one that I got from a church youth conference from the summer of 1993.  It was a white t-shirt with the phrase “JESUS IS FOR NOW” on it.  And that’s all it said.  (In Junior High, my classmate Scott Rothell joked with me: “Jesus is for now; Satan is for later”.  He was a funny guy.)

So when I was in Ecuador, a guy my age (17 at the time) saw me wearing the “Jesus is for now” t-shirt and said he liked it so much that he wanted it.  Because I have developed a friendship with him that week doing skits in city squares and painting schools, I negotiated a t-shirt trade.

He let me look through the old t-shirts he brought along, and the blue one was the one I chose: “Con Amor de Tennessee a Temuco, Chile” (With love from Tennessee to Temuco, Chile”.  Which was the official t-shirt my friend got from a previous mission trip.  It remains a comfortable t-shirt after the 12 years of me owning it.

Behind my passenger seats is where I keep my helmet.  In the cubbies on the sides, I have an old atlas I stole from work, a bandana (for days I don’t feel like wearing a hat but want to cover my head- works well in sweaty or rainy situations).

This is also where I keep my bike maintenance tools and restaurant coupons (which I’ve made several copies of on a color copier so I can reuse them).  As well as flyers for selling my house.  And an atlas in case my GPS stops working.  And windshield defroster spray.  Plus a back-up t-shirt just in case…

In the backseat that is not folded up I keep a black fedora.  Because this kind of hat will instantly make me look classier if need be, even if I’m wearing a t-shirt and jeans.  Plus an old baseball cap I got in 11th grade (1997), as well as a new stylish hat that my mother-in-law mailed me on my birthday.  The right hat for the right situation is key to being a model citizen.

Underneath the seat I keep my Birkenstocks (Christmas present from my parents in 1999).  They make the perfect back-up shoes in case I’m wearing nice shoes and it starts to rain.  In the rear side doors, I keep two books at all times.  Just in case I need to kill some time.  One is about speed reading, the other is about “reading people”.

In between the two front seats, I keep some musk incense I bought at an Indian grocery store, to help keeping my Element smelling like a forest.  I received the toothpaste and toothbrush from my most recent dentist visit- always good to keep around.  And of course it is vital to always have nail clippers handy.

The plastic cup remains empty.  Maybe I’ll end up in a place where there’s water but nothing to put it in.  Then the cup saves the day.

I put Velcro on the back of my iPod (with an FM radio receiver so I can listen to it through my stereo speakers) and my steering wheel so it’s always right in front of me.

In the hidden cubby next to my steering wheel, I keep a few spare wedding rings (made out of hemp) just in case I ever forget to wear my actual one.  Next to some papaya supplements to aid indigestion (for my pregnant wife).

Up in the front passenger dashboard caddy, I keep sugar-free gum, business cards (mainly so I can write my website on them to give to people I meet who after talking to me, are curious about my website).  And a bendable Pink Panther- just because he is awesome.  He is my animal cartoon role model.

There are also some pictures from my wife and I from exactly a year ago when we met her aunt in Chattanooga.  The felt letters say “amp” but they used to say “camp”.  But the “c” fell off and I never found it.  I just wanted to enhance the “camp” theme of my car.

Lastly, in the passenger seat of my Element, I keep my Gap one-strap bookbag.  Inside are my laptop, earphones, camera, Bible, and whatever the main current book is that I’m reading at the time.  I usually bring the bookbag with me when I take my mountain bike for a ride so I can be prepared to entertain myself if I need a break.

With the exception of my TV and my Wii and guitar and my clothes which are in the house, the things I keep in my Element are my earthly possessions.  My Element is like an overnight bag.  Like a turtle’s shell.  My action figure’s accessories.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on Honda Elements, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

Party Like It’s 1999: My Ten Year Class Reunion (Fort Payne, AL)


Last week as I mentioned to people here in Nashville that my 10 Year High School Reunion was coming up on Saturday, I was surprised to hear more than a few respond with, “Well I’m not going to mine. Everybody I want to see or talk to from high school, I already do. Most of those people I didn’t like then, and so I know I won’t like ‘em now.” Not one tiny part of me can relate to that statement.

On the same token, there have been times when I have hyped up an upcoming event in my mind for weeks or months, only to find my high expectations were not met. Again, this was not at all the case.

Ultimately it comes down to the fact that the Fort Payne Class of ’99 is a special group of people. Yes, I am being bias.

If the definition of a true friend is someone you can be apart from for years and the next time you see them, you can just pick up where you left off last time, then I have more friends than I realized. Because that was the case with everyone that was there.

I saw how warmly my wife was accepted by everyone there. (It actually reminded me of when I introduced her to my family a few years ago.) How often an official introduction wasn’t even necessary. Just straight to conversation like an old friend. That sort of instant familiarity with a large group of strangers is rare.

Ten years can definitely change people in a way I hadn’t considered; by bringing them to a more similar place in life than they were in before. Kristin Bailey Gardner works in journalism, whereas I am jealous that she is. Kim Thomas Clowers married my 2nd cousin, meaning we’re related now related and see each other at family reunions. And the should-be action movie star Morten Maaegard, the foreign exchange student from Denmark our senior year, was in the same parts of Thailand as I was in 2004. (He actually flew in from Europe for our class reunion- that is impressive.)

When an event this big goes so right, I have to take a look at why. Aside from a bunch of cool 28 year-olds all truly wanting to be there, a lot of it had to do with the planning. Tabitha Thomas Greenwood found and followed a formula that was flawless. First, during the day, we met at the new city park. That was a way that those with children could bring them and have something for them to do as the adults caught up on life.

Then that night just us adults met at an old yet restored hotel and restaurant in the crafty/artsy neighboring town of Mentone. Our senior yearbook was placed on a table along with a memorial of the four we’ve lost since graduation: Grant Dobbs, Derek Hood, Brooke Craig, and Joey Kean.

It was like a big house where after dinner we could just walk around and hang out as the band played. That was the ideal casual environment that kept everyone comfortable and in good spirits.

I have heard of class reunions where people had to pay $100 just to get in. Ours was affordable, practical, fun, and perfectly planned. We could have met in the Santa Fe room at Western Sizzlin’ (or The Sizzler as it’s known in the rest of the country). But no, the Fort Payne class of ’99 does things right. We knew not to play around with something as monumental as our one and only 10 year reunion.

There definitely is a dream-like quality about seeing so many old friends again after so long. Like a blurry Vaseline-on-the-camera-lens kind of feel. And because so many truly looked the exact same as they did in high school, it was kinda like a dream where we all just appeared in the same place and the only thing that really changed was the time in between the last time we were all together.

Eleven year reunion, anyone?