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Green Holiday Gifts

Dear EarthTalk: Dear EarthTalk: Can you recommend some sources for toys and other holiday gifts that are both safe and not harmful to the environment?
--Tracy Gately, Marblehead, MA

Given the massive recall of toys contaminated with lead last year, let alone all the other bad news about chemicals seeping out of just about every other conceivable type of consumer item, it’s no wonder that people are nervous about what might be inside the wrapping paper this next holiday season. Luckily, growing environmental concerns—-and consumer demand—-means that plenty of safe and green-friendly items are available for those willing to do a little more than just walk around the closest shopping mall.

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How to Prepare for a Natural Disaster

There's no need to just hope for the best when you can plan for the worst. Don't wait until disaster strikes to figure out how to respond. Here's how to prep today so your family will be ready for tomorrow.

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Escape to Witch Mountain

The most cutest film that I have seen Walt Disney make. I adore it!

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Online Scrapbooking

A new generation of parents is bringing the family scrapbook into the 21st century with a fresh, decidedly modern twist: The photo blog. These wildly popular online journals allow parents to record and share their everyday lives through images instead of words.

"This is a great way for families and friends to stay in touch and boost their bonds," says Adam Seifer, the co-founder and CEO of, the world's largest photo blogging community. "Photo blogs have become an intriguing, real-time window into everyday life."

Once you create your own photo blog, friends and family members will no longer cringe when you jam their in-boxes with dozens of photos of your latest birthday party or amusement park excursion. "I used to get about two or three e-mails a week from my sister with tons of .jpeg attachments of pictures of my one-year-old niece," says Jamie Frazier, 36, of St. Louis, Missouri. "The files were always huge and I felt nervous about downloading them at work. But now I can just go to one site and check them all out at my convenience. It's like one-stop shopping!"

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MUST We Be Friends?

Whether it's your husband's best friend or the parent of your kid's playmate, sometimes you just have to hang out with someone who, like a bad masseuse, never fails to rub you the wrong way. Here, marriage and family therapist David Schreiber, MA, of Westwood, California offers six ways to cope when you're forced to associate with some of your not-so-favorite people.

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Throw a Harry Potter Party

Harry Potter--nothing's hotter. If you're reading these books by J. K. Rowlings aloud to your children, you know about Harry's adventures at the Hogwarts School, World Quidditch matches, and all the magic in the stories. Bring some of the magic into your own home with a Harry Potter party--a perfect way to bring the books to life.

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It's a beautiful day and you want to get outside...Try planning a scavenger hunt. With a little bit of advance planning you can design an exquisite afternoon of family challenge and fun.

Start by dividing your gang into two teams. Each team receives a clue collection bag containing a Polaroid instant camera, film, hunt instructions, a challenge sheet, and various supplies.

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Simple Secrets That Create Happy Family Memories

Did you know that research has found that doing simple rituals enhances our feelings of togetherness and family belonging by almost 20 percent? Whats more, those home traditions and customs also increase our kids social skills and development. Here are nine simple, no-cost secrets moms are using to create happy memories. What are you doing to preserve memories of your times together?

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The American Frugal Housewife eBook

Written in 1832, "The American Frugal Housewife" is remarkably current. While you probably won't be needing to restore kid gloves to their former whiteness, there is still much to be gained from reading the advice Lydia Maria Francis Child gave her readers, including a great number of recipes that I intend to sift through and update in a later publication. Her ideas on thrift, "keeping up with the Joneses," and profiting from the misery of others are as necessary today as they were more than 150 years ago, and probably 150 years hence.

Also available in wirebound paperback.

Spirited Away

Almost heart-stopping in its beauty, "Spirited Away" is a film you can watch over and over. It's so intricately layered, so full of detail, and so full of heart that it never wears.

Chihiro is an average modern child. She's slightly spoiled, a little petulant, and sad/angry/frightened that she's having to move to a new town and leave her friends behind. Her impetuous father leads them by accident into the spirit world, where her parents' bad choices turn them into pigs and Chihiro into the servant of an evil witch who steals her name. Chihiro must find a way to regain her name, save her parents and return to the human world--all on her own. Is she strong enough and brave enough to do it?

Like all Miyazaki films featuring young heroines, Chihiro is a completely believable girl. The bad guys are never completely bad, and the good guys are never completely good. The world is a mysterious place to Miyazaki-san, and aren't we lucky to have him guide us through the spirit worlds!

Highly, highly recommended.

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Howl's Moving Castle

Hayao Miyazaki seems to take as his theme over and over again the coming-of-age of young girls. More than most directors, he understands girls deeply. And while anyone of any age or gender can watch his films and enjoy them, there is something special about them for girls.

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My Neighbor Totoro

This is my favorite movie of all time, bar none. It's very much a film that anyone, of any age, can love. We have worn out a video and a CD of this film, that's how popular it is at our house, and Louisa's middle name is "Mei," after the little sister of the film.

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Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations

R.C. Bell's exhaustive look at games from all over the world and throughout time is more for the scholarly enthusiast than for someone who actually wants to play a game. But if you're interested in the historic and cultural roots of human games, this is the source.

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New Games Treasury

Out of print, but worth digging up, this is a reference book no family should be without. It contains hundreds of games for all ages and skill levels, both indoor and outdoor: All kinds of card games; various domino games; rules for classic board games like Monopoly (in case you lose the lid); historical games; ball games; dart games; dice games. Basically, if humans have played it, it's in here.

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Elizabeth Doll, Precious Day Collection, Gotz

These Gotz dolls are high quality dolls with beautiful hair, sweet expressions, and loads of fun accessories. They are made by the company that used to make the American Girl dolls so their clothes are interchangable. Actually the Gotz dolls are a little bit better quality because the hair is planted, not a wig.

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