Gift ideas for teachers and other helpful people?

November 22, 2013

Gloves and USB Drives

GREAT GIFTS! And SUPER USEFUL!

I struggle with this every year, and in theory, I believe cash is usually the best gift there is for anyone, anytime, anywhere, but I feel really awkward when I give it to certain people.  So, that being said, here are some gifts I’ve bought for myself and given out to teachers and other really helpful special people that you really can’t spend a fortune on (not that they don’t deserve it)…

  • Aglove texting gloves – I use these ALL THE TIME!  Seriously. They keep your hands warm, they’re comfortable, they work on an iPhone or touch screen, and they’re thin enough for me to keep them on AND get a MetroCard out of my wallet.  If you know me, look at my hands in any kind of chilly weather.  You have seen me wear these gloves.  And, if you’re actually interested in the accuracy of using an iPhone in them, these are the best of the bunch.  The link I gave is for Small to Medium gloves (I have these, they are stretchy).  Here is a link to the Medium to Large ones.  In general, I would get the Small to Medium for women and the Medium to Large ones for men.  At under $10 a pair, they are a nice, useful, relatively inexpensive gift.
  • Toshiba 16 GB USB Drive – There are a bazillion USB drives out there, people.  This is the specific one I like best.  It’s around $16.  Here’s a link to an 8GB one for around half the price.  I like these for a bunch of different reasons.  One, I own two of the 16GB ones and they’ve never let me down.  I like the way they feel in my hand.  I like the little covers, but they’re not attached, so they are easy to lose, if you’re prone to such things.  Also, there is downloadable security software, if you choose to use it (but NO onboard software, which I HATE in a USB drive).  Tell me this, what teacher couldn’t use a USB drive, even if they already had a bunch?  In fact, what computer-using person couldn’t use one of these.  I am all about the useful.
  • Especially for teachers… Quantum Thera Zinc spray!  I mean, come on!  They are exposed to gross kid germs all day long, in closed rooms.  If they attack a cold or flu right at the outset with some zinc, there’s a chance they won’t get sick, or at least not AS sick.  That’s what I’ve heard on good authority, anyway.  Look, it’s under $10 a bottle, and here’s a link to a 3 pack, which brings down the price even more.  Get some for yourself.  I’ve blogged about this particular zinc spray before (follow the link for a picture), because it’s my favorite.  It’s strong!  It helps with sore throats, too.  It’s a gift that says “I acknowledge your selflessness in remaining in proximity to my little snot machine.  Thank you.”  This could be an awkward gift though, so if you do feel awkward about it, just think “well, it’s not as weirdly awkward as cash.”  Hope that helps.
  • If your teacher/helpful person likes tea, this Trendglas Tea for Two set is the best tea mug I’ve found (unfortunately, it’s currently out of stock, but it’s worth waiting for – here’s a similar one for just under $20).  Regarding the Trendglas mugs, I have bought three so far, and I truly love it and so does everyone else who ever comes to my house, plus, it can double as a gravy boat in an emergency!  WHAT?!If you’re going to go this route, make sure this person loves tea.  With a glass infuser, four things are important, IMHO —
    • 1. some of the tea will come through the infuser – not much, but some, but you’re avoiding toxic tea bags (just google that to become scared out of your mind).  You’re welcome!
    • 2. it’s important to have a flat top, not a decorative ball top or rounded top because the top is important as the thing you rest the wet infuser in when you’re actually drinking the tea.
    • 3. The infuser should reach to almost the bottom of the vessel it’s in, for a full brew.
    • 4. In sets like these, the infuser is the most likely thing to break, so make sure there are replacements available.  Here’s a good replacement for the Trendglas mug infuser, though it comes with the not-as-useful ball-top (see sub point 2, above).
  • Lastly, when I really don’t know what to buy and I need something *nice* (you know what I’m saying), I buy a box of  chocolates from Le Maison du Chocolate.  They are expensive, so I tend to keep the boxes small, but they’re really good, high quality, beautiful chocolates.  They have a little-known and little-advertised “frequent buyer” program, so if you tend to buy a lot of these types of gifts, you can get a tiny box of free chocolates for yourself after spending an ungodly amount on other people (story of my life).

If you decide to buy any of these, can you please buy them from the links in this post?  After four years of blogging, I’m finally starting to try affiliate links (though some of the links above are not affiliate links – like the Trendglas one).  I would be recommending these products nonetheless, since I own all of them, and LOVE them and honestly believe they’d be great gifts (even for yourself).

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How can I learn Mandarin?

August 29, 2013

Another blog post in my back-to-school special!  If you’re trying to learn Mandarin, try McGraw Hill’s Chinese Pronunciation with CD-ROM.  In my experience as a non-native speaker of Mandarin, the hardest thing is the different tones.  Chinese is a tonal language, so it’s really important to get the tones right, and this book is wonderful for that.

I’ve also found The First 100 Chinese Characters by Alison Laurence Matthews (and the follow up The Second 100 Chinese Characters) to be extremely helpful in learning to write Chinese characters.  These books are great, because they are indexed well (in Chinese and in English), and they show stroke order stroke by stroke with directional arrows (instead of just a character with numbers next to it, which I’m not that crazy about).  There is one character per page, and several common words made from each one.  I love these books, and I refer to them ALL THE TIME.  I love them.  Seriously.

100 Chinese Character Books

I love these books for learning characters

Sample

This is how the first book deals with the polite form of “you,” which has 4 more strokes than the common form.

You can’t beat actually using the language in terms of trying to learn it.  I am shameless in my attempts to speak Mandarin (as bad as my accent is, and as limited as my vocabulary and understanding is).  Just talking to people is great, as is checking out youtube videos of people who speak Mandarin wonderfully, as well as people who are just learning.  Also, most Chinese television (that I’ve seen, anyway) is subtitled, and I love to watch it to see if I can pick out characters and actually match them with speech (quite challenging!).

Another great book to get more of a broad overview of the language from the personal anecdotes of a non-native learner is Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows.  It’s a short little book that I found very quick and easy (and enjoyable) to read.

Lastly, a great way to learn any language is to actually take a class and/or visit a country that uses it, but you didn’t expect me to start out with something that obvious, right?


Reference books for back to school?

August 28, 2013

Is it back to school time ALREADY?  (I’m trying to pretend I wasn’t counting the days.)  Here are my suggestions for dictionaries for students.

For children younger than fourth grade, I recommend The Scholastic Dictionary of Spelling.  There are no definitions, and it’s a smallish book (the paperback version is 272 pages / 15.25 oz) which is less intimidating than some of the bigger reference books out there and gets children used to looking up words.  There are wonderful sections on “How to look up a word if you don’t know how to spell it,” “A dozen and one spelling rules,” “Memory tricks,” and more.  I highly recommend it.

Scholastic Spelling Dictionary

I recommend this for children younger than fourth grade.

For children fourth grade and older, I recommend Webster’s Student’s Dictionary.  It says on the cover that it’s “written for ages 10-14,” and that it’s for “Middle School Students,” but I actually like using this dictionary myself!  It’s very well organized, has a lot of extra information (such as word histories, idiomatic phrases, biographical info on important people, and more), provides context for word usage, and the pages are (thankfully) less crowded and hard-to-read than a regular adult dictionary.  It’s a hardcover book just over 1000 pages and weighs about 4.5 lbs, so it’s a chore for smaller kids to get out and use (make sure it’s already on a desk for easy access).  I highly recommend this dictionary as well.  My son is not the kind of child to even want to use a dictionary, let alone look up words unprompted (uncoerced), but even he read a few of the extra side notes on certain words!  (A great example is on page 299 – the word history of the word “Eureka.”  Fascinating!)

Webster's Student Dictionary

This is a great dictionary for middle schoolers, but I think fourth graders can benefit from it, too. I even like to use it myself!

Student dictionary

You can kind of see how the information is organized.


My kid doesn’t stay asleep anymore. What can I do?

July 10, 2013

Talk to your doctor.  There can be all sorts of reasons why and a blog can’t answer that.  HOWEVER, if nothing is obviously wrong, ask your doctor if you can try a children’s multivitamin with iron.  Don’t play around with vitamins or your child’s health.  Ask your doctor.  If your child’s doctor won’t respond to a quick email or phone call on a simple question like this, think about getting a new doctor.  Seriously.

A friend of mine just told me that within 3 days of taking a daily children’s multivitamin with iron, her four year old was sleeping through the night for the first time in YEARS.  When she asked some friends who were pediatricians about it, they all said something to the effect of “Oh yeah, that usually works,” and she thought “YOU KNOW I HAVE BEEN SUFFERING AND YOU DID NOT TELL ME?!”

My friend told me this in the midst of a month-or-so-long issue of my 9 year old waking up in the night more often than he ever has before.  I decided to try a basic children’s multivitamin I found in Whole Foods (see picture below), and bam!  He was sleeping through the night again.  I waited more than a week to write this post to see how it would work.  Also, there was one day he forgot to take it, and he was restless during the night and got up once (but went right back to sleep).  I know it’s not hard science or anything, but that was my experience (and that of a friend) and if your doctor thinks it is okay, it’s worth a try.

Multivitamin with Iron

This was the least-offensive children’s multivitamin with iron that I could find during a quick and casual search at Whole Foods.


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