Wednesday, August 5, 2009

'Tis The Season

I was listening to one of my favorite radio talk programs today. The topic of the hour was “do you feel burdened by Christmas?” Much to my amazement the host, and the majority of his guests, spent the better part of an hour whining and moaning about the burdensome nature of the holiday season. “I hate being with my relatives.” “Why do I have to spend all this money on presents for people I don’t like?” “There’s too much pressure!” “The traffic in the stores is ridiculous.” It went on and on and on!

It’s a well known fact that people tend to be more depressed during the holiday season. It can be distressing if you live far away from your family. Some people actually become depressed because of the decrease in their exposure to sunlight during the winter months. However, what I heard today was different. People were just whining! They sounded like young children who were being forced to do their chores. Then, it hit me. Those people were suffering from PHLOP!

What is PHLOP (pronounced “flop”)? Pre-Holiday Lack of Planning! It is my own term for describing what causes successful people turn into grinches during the holiday season. Anyone who suffers from PHLOP will experience a range of symptoms that include: anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, overeating (particularly of chocolate), anger, and irrationality. All of these symptoms cause them to miss out on the true joy that should be experienced during the holiday season.

People who suffer from PHLOP get their first dose of anxiety when they begin to consider the enormous list of things to do between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. There are cards to be sent, gifts to be bought and wrapped, parties to be planned, activities to be enjoyed, and thank you notes to be written. It’s enough to give a person indigestion! Then, add all of the subtasks (e.g., everything that is involved in planning a party) to the list. By then, that person has a major case of indigestion and the beginning symptoms of a migraine. Of course, the only reason that the person experiences anxiety is because he or she is not organized.

Do you suffer from PHLOP? It’s not too late to change things – even for this holiday season! Consider the consequences of not planning out how you will get everything done before January 31. Your tasks will get done at the last minute. They will not be done well. Worst of all, you may not finish them at all! Let’s face it, there is nothing worse than looking at a stack of holidays cards that were signed, sealed, and addressed, but just didn’t make it to the post office. If you would like some help organizing your holiday schedule for this and future Christmas seasons, you should get a copy UnCommon Courtesy & Coaching’s PHLOP busting holiday organizer by visiting our Christmas Corner at: .

Let me also take a moment to suggest some things that will help you to enjoy this holiday season. First, consider making some of your gifts. People generally think about making gifts only when they are very young, super organized, or short on cash. You need not begin crocheting purses for your friends in August in order to make presents. Think about baking a few batches of bar cookies and then dividing them up onto colorful Christmas plates. Wrap them in cellophane and tie them with colorful ribbon. It’s easy, cheap, and all your friends will love it. After all, have you ever had anyone tell you that they did not like a plate full of cookies? How about buying a number of inexpensive items and putting them in a basket. The presentation will impress the heck out of the recipient. Whatever you decide to make, constructing the gift yourself will make it more meaningful to both you and the person who receives it.

Another suggestion to make your holiday bright and joyous is to act like a kid. Often people will suggest that you view the holidays “through the eyes of a child.” To that I say: “you are missing half of the fun.” Yes, it is a good idea to view things as if you were a child, but remember that actions are just as important as thoughts. For example, consider all those holiday television shows and videos you loved to watch as a child. Somehow, you have not found the time to watch them for years. Well, this is the year to start that tradition once again. If you can, watch them with a child. However, it doesn’t matter if a child is watching the program with you. The important thing is to remember to be child-like. How will you ensure that you take on a juvenile persona for the evening? Stock up on all those fun things that a child likes to have available while watching a video. For example, you should dress in your most comfortable pajamas, grab a cup of cocoa, and fill up a bowl with popcorn. Then, settle into your most comfortable chair with all the goodies and enjoy watching Snoopy decorate his dog house. Now, apply that same principle to all of your holiday related activities. It’s all those little extras that will really add joy to the Christmas season.

I realize that there may be some readers who feel that they should have begun their holiday planning and organization months ago. To those people I say: “now is the time to be industrious!” For example, shopping that has been delayed to the last minute can be remedied in several ways. Try going to the mall at the very beginning or end of the shopping day. Consider purchasing an unusual gift that can be found somewhere other than a mall. For goodness sake, do your shopping online! No matter how chaotic and stressful it seems, this holiday season should serve as a life lesson. Make notes for yourself about what went well, what could have been done better, and what was an absolute disaster. Then, form an action plan for next year. It’s never too soon to get organized!

The bottom line is: this is the season to be jolly, make merry, and recall the joy that can fill your life. The holiday season is the time to be child-like. It is a time to overlook life’s little irritations and be grateful for all the wonderful aspects of what has been given to you. I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, and a joyous time no matter what holiday you will be celebrating in the upcoming weeks!

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Safest Stuffed Toys for the Kids on your Gift List

Although it's hard to say when the first stuffed dogs appeared, I would guess that it was soon after dogs were domesticated. We do know that as long as there have been children, there have been dolls, rattles, miniature weapons, and hand-made animals. Anthropologists have found evidence of toys dating back to the earliest records of human life.

Play is universal and cross-cultural. Though it may vary among cultures and generations, it's clearly instinctive and a key part of our development. A child's play is his way of learning about himself and his world. Play opens the door to a child's imagination. Some of our fondest memories from childhood are recollections of time spent playing with special people and favorite toys.

A classic among childhood toys is the Teddy Bear, who made his appearance in 1903 and is still popular today. Although the Teddy Bear may be famous because of his political affiliation (he was named after Theodore Roosevelt), just about any stuffed toy can become a child's favorite. Especially for infants and toddlers, there's great comfort and reassurance in having soft, cuddly companions like stuffed dogs to snuggle up with.

As surely as children play with toys, their needs and interests change as they grow and mature. As a child matures, a stuffed toy may come to represent a favorite animal in nature. Toy stuffed dogs might be huggable versions of media characters like a cartoon or comic strip dog ("Snoopy", "Scooby Doo", "Blues Clues", etc.). Finally, stuffed dogs can play the role of imaginary family pets.

When shopping for stuffed dogs for small children, keep in mind the child's age, interests, and abilities. Be especially careful when selecting toys for children under age 3. Labels help consumers narrow down which toys are right for a child, but here are some general guidelines regarding stuffed toys for children from birth to three years of age:

For children in the one to three year age range, avoid toys with small parts that could be swallowed, aspirated (inhaled into the air passages or lungs) or inserted into the nose or ears. The eyes and noses of stuffed dogs should be securely fastened and the seams well sewn. Avoid stuffed dogs with any sharp corners, rough edges, or strings.

Here are some specific guidelines to keep in mind according to a child's age:

Birth to 6 months


For the first few months babies can't grasp with their hands, so choose toys that stimulate with sight and sound. High contrast, black-and-white or brightly colored toys and toys that make noise (like a squeeker toy) will get baby 's attention. Puppets can be used by adults to entertain baby.

Once the baby has learned to grasp, look for textured toys that are safe for mouthing. Choose stuffed dogs with short pile fabric.

Never hand a toy from the crib, stroller, playpen, etc., or around babies neck.

6 months to 1 year


Infants become more mobile at this age and interact more with their toys. This is also the age when they love to drop things, so nice soft stuffed dogs will earn points with Mom for the absence of loud crashing sounds as they hit the floor!! Of course, your peace and quiet could be spoiled by the fact that toys that squeak when squeezed are popular at this age. Puppets are still a great way for parents to hold a child's attention, and there's even one popular brand that doubles as a washcloth at bath time.

The stuffed dogs you choose should still have a short pile fabric. Babies start teething at 6 months, and will definitely chew on their toys, so make sure you buy toys that you can throw in the washing machine

1 to 2 years


During their second year of like, children love to explore. Their play is more physical and involves experimentation and imitation of adults. At this stage, stuffed dogs might be seen as "pretend pets" to befriend and care for. This could be a good rehearsal for the real thing. Children are not instinctively gentle with animals. Interactive play between parent and child, using stuffed dogs as props, can be a fun way to introduce them to the idea that a pet should be handled with gentle loving care.
At this stage, objects still get mouthed, so stuffed dogs should still have short pile fabric.

2 to 3 years


Finally, you can graduate to nice, furry stuffed dogs! The long pile isn't considered a hazard--mainly because children age 2 to 3 no longer place everything in their mouths.* Kids this age have developed good hand coordination and like to put it to work with arts and crafts and simple puzzles. Plain stuffed dogs make use of a creative imagination. You might also consider a doggie hand or finger puppet. These work the mind as well as hands and fingers!

*No more thumbs or pacifiers at this age!! It will affect your child's oral and dental development.

3 to 6 years


After age three, make-believe is a favorite pastime and children interact with each other, using toys as props. It's common at this age to develop strong attachments to favorite toys, and express feelings towards a particular doll, teddy bear, or stuffed dog. Toys representing favorite cartoon or TV characters might be the objects of affection. Puppets are also lot of fun for games of make-believe.

6 to 9 years


By now, more sophisticated games and toys are likely to have replaced stuffed toys. The exception is young collectors, looking for stuffed dogs to add to their menageries. Collectors defy age categories; the "beanie baby" craze is a great example of this. Personally, I never played with dolls as a kid but had an enviable collection of stuffed animals, and am still a sucker for a cute stuffed toy. Puppets are still appealing, as well as some of the nontraditional forms of stuffed dogs. These might include a pair of slippers in the form of a favorite dog breed, or bookmarks made to look like stuffed dogs.

9 years and up


Especially as they approach their teens, children want to impress their peers and leave "childish" toys behind. Stuffed dogs, and stuffed toys in general, are only for young collectors in this age group. There are variations on stuffed dogs you might do better with. For example, a pair of dog slippers, a dog backpack or purse, or stuffed dogs suspended from key chains. Young (and old1) golfers would love a plush golf head cover in the shape of their favorite dog.

Finally, since your household (or the one you're shopping for) may have children of different ages, here are some general rules you can follow for fun and safe play:


1. When shopping for toys, keep in mind the child's age, interests and abilities.

2. Read toy or packaging labels for age ranges and safety warnings.

3. Be especially careful when choosing toys for children under three. Select toys that are free of small pieces (or pieces that separate or can be broken off), are lightweight, have no sharp edges or points and are non-toxic.

4. At home, read instructions for assembly and use. Keep product literature in case of future questions and complete warranty cards.

5. Remove and discard all packaging from a toy before giving it to a baby or small child.

6. Consider the home environment in which a child will play with a toy and younger children who may be there. A toy intended for an older child may be dangerous in the hands of a younger one.

7. Always provide toys in conjunction with sensible supervision. Supervise children when they play and set good examples of safe play.

8. Remind caregivers, including grandparents, of play-related safety concerns

9. Do not leave toys on stairs. Choose a safe storage place for toys. ( Anything large enough for a child to climb inside should have a cover that's easily removed).

10. Check toys at least every three months to determine their safety. Make any repairs immediately or throw away damaged toys.

* Source:

© 2004, Carolyn Schweitzer. Lifelong dog-lover, power-shopper, and former family dentist Carolyn Schweitzer is owner and editor of " " . If you need inspiration for stuffed dogs, pay her a visit. The site offers a wide range of choices for dog gift shoppers, plus shopping and gift-giving tips. (Also advice on dog care and feeding.) She's always looking for new dog gift ideas and dog stories to share with her readers. You can reach her by email at