I will pay someone to go through my 2 kids 10+ years of art work and label it, and organize it in nice, neat scrap books. Accuracy is optional.
- A woman with her priorities in order

Afraid your kids will grow up soft? Here’s a toy that will help.

Rube Goldberg ImageI’m  convinced  Rube Goldberg machines and toys that mimic them are game changers. They teach kids about perseverance, reacting to unexpected outcomes, and pivoting to achieve a goal – whether it’s turning a light on, tripping a mousetrap, or launching a flying pig (more on that, below).

You’ve probably seen a Rube Goldberg machine – an over-engineered machine with tons of parts, designed to perform a simple task in a complex way. And they usually involve a chain reaction. (Thank you, Wikipedia).

What’s the point of  complexity? (You may ask) When was the last time you did something you really had to think through and that took several iterations? How about your kids? I’ll be honest– mine, not so much. Even when my child has the chance to face a challenge, there’s almost never time to work through it vs the time we need to get through the day. For many years I’ve been VERY guilty of tackling a lot of stuff on her behalf.

Suddenly I was slapped with a scary glimpse of my future. It was a quiet morning: my daughter traipsed into her (private) bathroom, climbed into the shower after running the water a few minutes and screamed bloody murder BECAUSE THE WATER TOOK LONGER TO WARM UP AND IT WAS COLD.

The sound abruptly woke me out of an awesome sleep and simultaneously jolted me into a harsh reality: my kid has it easy. My kid is SOFT. I had a sudden vision of her years down the road at college complaining how her hot water hadn’t come on fast enough while her dorm mates looked on in disgust or worse, AGREED .

Immediately I set out to unravel  years of damage I’d done (hoping it would take no more than 45 minutes or less). After we tackled a few chores around the house, I decided it might be time for a lesson that was less boring – for me. What? Have you ever watched a 7-year-old sweep, or vacuum? Sure, they can DO it but….yeesh was it dull.

A mental challenge seemed in order: something to develop creativity and intuition. Or at the very least, ensure that the kid took a moment before taking stepping in the shower. And waking me up.

As someone in the toy business, I see a lot of pretty cool contraptions and here are my top 3 picks. A quick note – most toys in this category are for kids age 6 and up. They involve relatively sophisticated concepts, manual dexterity, extreme patience, and small pieces. They can be awesome for kids that can sit and focus on a task and like to do something more than once, experimenting with variations.


Pick #1: The Wacky & Wild Contraption Lab The word “contraption” drew me to this toy, and it didn’t let me down. I first saw it at a Toy Fair where it was on a list of top toy finalists. It captured best toy awards from Creative Child Magazine, Good housekeeping, and the Association of Specialty Toy Resellers in 2012 and 2013. Designed for kids 8 and up, I watched a 13-year-old play with it for 25 minutes. Seeing no end in sight, I finally interrupted him to find out what had him hooked.

“There are so many things I could do to change things around – and each tool .”

Did I mention that one of the tasks a kid can set up is launching a flying pig?

Goldiblox-and-Spinning-MachinePick #2: Goldiblox & The Spinning Machine Even though it’s marketed as a toy for girls, it’s a fun toy for both sexes. I’ve played with it and the concepts are pretty clever. Also, it’s got interesting characters and a story that explores construction in a way that is appealing to kids (not just girls, all kids). There are axels, cranks, wheels, and washers. While it may not appear super sophisticated, it’s a great start to educate kids about building tools. Do you realize how little the average kid knows about that stuff? Here’s a challenge: Try showing a kid 8 or younger a can opener and asking them what they think it does.

My 7 year old found Goldiblox challenging and I know a few 9 year olds who had fun playing with it.

Q-Ba-Maze-2.0Pick #3: Q Ba Maze Warning, this gets controversial (for hardcore engineering types – if that’s not you, it doesn’t). A marble run like Q Ba Maze is not TECHNICALLY a Rube Goldberg machine; it doesn’t have a variety of components and it isn’t constructed to achieve a specific goal (no mouse trapped, light bulb lit, pig launched), so let’s call it the entry point into Rube Goldberg machines.

Because it does share some aspects of Rube Goldberg machines. You can use Q Ba Maze to build different structures and with each change the marble’s path will be radically altered. It’s much easier to build than most Rube Goldberg machines so kids can start as young as 5 with simple structures (even 4 if they are just watching the marble go through the maze).

What toys have you found to make kids smarter? I bet it wasn’t an iPad!

Or was it? Let me know!

Cristina Sierra_14






Juice Cleanses : evil and a threat to your sanity


Don’t let the happy colors fool you: evil looms!

This post can save you roughly $160, intense hunger pangs, a roller coaster of emotions, and possibly your sanity.

Recently I failed miserably tried to do a juice cleanse. Not because I’m overweight, not because I eat badly or felt a burning need to detoxify, but because I’m lacking in self-awareness.

I had no idea how much I loved food or how batsh@# crazy I could become without it. Until July 20th, 2013.

Good news: I am now fully aware of how much I love and appreciate food. Also, being rich doesn’t make you smart, but most of all, food is good and  deprivation can drive you nuts.

As a side note, hunger is an effective means of torture should you need to use it ( I hope you don’t).

Here’s my “day in the life” (well, half day)  of a failed attempt to cleanse; may you avoid my mistakes*.

7:30 AM I woke up hating life because I knew this was the day I was going to give up coffee (and food of course but first, coffee). My heart began to beat wildly, “whose stupid idea WAS this?!?!?” (mine).

Unfortunately, even more than I detest skipping my ONE essential morning cup of coffee (really, is that so bad???) I detest wasting money more. Also, failing at a challenge. The knowledge of the money I’d spent + my pride (I mentioned it on my FB timeline) propelled me forward.

I began drinking water, hating it for not being a comforting, hot, tasty cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee with milk & sugar.

aka rat urine

aka rat urine

8:00 AM I drank my first juice beverage, appropriately called Green Juice. I’d recently seen an episode of Below Deck where  guests asked Ben (the hot chef) to make them Green Juice which led me to conclude, “how bad can it be – people with near limitless financial resources request it.”

After my first sip I realized something: sometimes rich people are f@#$ed up. Seriously, someone is loaded and they choose to drink THAT?

I promise you, the taste was awful – reminiscent of the urine of a rat with a penchant for cucumbers, celery, and kale. Oh, and ginger. Musn’t forget that.

(shuddering at the memory).

8:15 post gag. More water, as directed. Boy ,was I NOT thirsty. I was hungry though!

10:00 AM second beverage, carrot-ginger juice. The cleanse guideline I’d been given cheerfully noted, “carrots are a natural diuretic and will act to remove excess fluids from your body.”

Loose translation: you will spend what little energy you have making continuous trips to the bathroom to pee. Awesome.

Drank more water, wishing it were solid and tasted like something.

12 noon third beverage, beet juice. According to my handy cleanse guide, beets help detoxify the blood and flush out floating body fats!

Right; except I googled “floating body fats” and there were NO results. Think about the last time you got no hits on Google. Never, right? All that appeared were articles on floating and the benefit of body fat. Which made me further regret being on this path to hell: the next time I jumped into a pool I would sink that much faster.

Drank more water – the hunger headache started kicking in nicely.

Along with questions:

  1. Why do those strawberries sitting next to my juices in the refrigerator look so good? Have they always looked that good?
  2. Is eating the toast crumbs off my daughter’s breakfast plate really cheating?
  3. Isn’t it ethically wrong to starve myself when there are so many hungry people in the world?

These thoughts were interrupted by yawns. I felt like one of the lethargarians from The Phantom Tollbooth (acknowledged: my thoughts got pretty random). I was  going to be killing time until this cleanse was over, in 3 days. A depressing thought.

2:00 PM fourth beverage, spicy lemonade.

This one almost put me over the edge. I can only describe this as “peppery bile” or possibly “bile with a dash of pepper” or “a drink strong enough to put hair on your 6 year old niece’s chest”. It contained 2 ingredients – pure lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Pure juiced evil.

Which explains why it evoked this emotion: rage.

My friends and family know I have a temper to start with – no one willingly pokes at me when I’m in a pissy mood but this juice didn’t give a shit. As I drank, it poked away at the empty feeling in my gut, burning nicely as it went down. It was like drinking fumes. It was the equivalent of an attack by an army of Texas fire ants– annoying, burning, lingering, yet ephemeral.

And yes, I know that “lingering” and “ephemeral” are contradictory but so is “spicy” and “lemonade” so deal with that.

The thought of 2 and a half more days seemed like pure torture.

And all that anger and hunger made me so tired I lay down and took a nap.

4:00 PM I woke up hungrier and with more head pain and a new emotion, despair. Despair at what I had gotten myself into, what I’d gotten my husband into, sadness that I couldn’t eat with my daughter and all the opportunities in life that I’d squandered.

Why didn’t I go to my friend’s wedding in Madrid in 2000? Why did I pass  on spending the summer  after sophomore year in college with friends on The Cape? Why didn’t I major in computer science so I could hit the e-commerce lottery just a few years after graduation?

I wept alone as I contemplated the sadness of life. I wasn’t sure I had the will to go on. I missed food…it had once given me so much joy.

4:10 PM Fifth beverage, green juice again. And this is where it got a little scary.

My mind started spinning from the arguments fighting to make themselves heard – oh, did I forget to mention the voices in my head?

Voice 1: All your life as a swimmer, you were told to eat a healthy variety of foods. What the f@#$ is this? Where are the carbs?

Voice 2: Why are you doing this? How much can you really detox /improve in 3 days?

Voice 3: Is your pride and a few bucks really worth it?

Voice 4: You know this is probably less than what a baby eats?

Voice 5: Isn’t all that food in the refrigerator in danger of going bad if you don’t eat for 3 days?

Voice 6: WE’RE HUNGRY!!!!!

Voices 1-5 – YEAH -WHAT VOICE #6 SAID!!! FEED US!!!!

MeanwhileI looked at my computer screen and saw I had mindlessly filled up a page with this…

This is when it gets raw

This is when it gets raw






No, that didn’t really happen – where would I get the energy to type?

But all kidding aside, that stuff wasn’t what finally made me cave. It was preparing dinner for my daughter an hour later (still  hungry, tried, and listless). As I served  our family favorite meal: turkey pesto meatballs with healthy whole-wheat pasta  while hearing my stomach growl, I knew I was missing more than food. I was missing the pleasure and ritual of a meal with my family. And I wasn’t really insane, I was just hungry and tired. Well, maybe a little nutty. But aren’t we all?

I could end this suffering by following the best course of action for me.

Turkey Pesto Meatballs, aka nectar of the Gods

I turned to my husband – “You want to ditch this cleanse?”

He nodded, “absolutely”. (Which caused me to thank my stars for marrying such a great guy).

We served ourselves and sat down to eat together. And you know what? They were the best-damned meatballs I’ve ever had in my life.

Post a comment below if you want the recipe. Or, let me know if you’ve tried a cleanse and how it went. I have friends who swear by it so I’m sure it can work. But I suspect it wasn’t as easy?

In the meantime, Mangia!

Cristina Sierra_14






*ps the owners of the place where I bought the cleanse could not have been nicer upon hearing about my failure – they let me use the remaining days as a credit and I am enjoying fruit based frozen yogurt smoothies, accompanied by plenty of solid food   :-)