The Infinite Possibilities of Disney’s Infinity

Guest post by Robert Morgan

First off I want to say that I had been looking forward to the arrival of Disney Infinity ever since I heard it was coming out. My son and I have been playing Skylanders for the last year and this is somewhat like it — but it’s Disney!

If you like Disney (and who doesn’t with their catalog), you will find more than a few new friends in this collection. You have live action hits like Pirates of the Caribbean as well as Pixar, Marvel and as of late Star Wars (hopefully) and that is what makes it so awesome.

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For those of you who are unfamiliar with this type of game it’s available for all the best known gaming platforms (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii).  You place character figurines onto a USB-connected portal, and when you do you will see the character of your choice in the game.

You are the character in the game, controlling, making and creating. You have two main options with the game. The franchise-specific adventure in which you can unfortunately only use the characters of that franchise within the adventure. Meaning you can’t take Jack Sparrow into Monsters Inc. or Dash into Radiator Springs.

In the Toy Box option you can build worlds that you can fill with whatever you want, and this part of the game is my favorite.  Not only can you build anything, you can do it with any of the characters and even mix franchises. How does an Aladdin and Mr. Incredible team-up sound?

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I suppose my biggest complaints are that it doesn’t matter how many characters you own, you really only need one per franchise to complete that character’s franchise adventure, as all the characters have the same capabilities.

With Disney Infinity you just need your favorite character from each franchise and you are all set unless of course you desire extra variety in the Toy Box.

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Overall I’d say it’s a great set for younger players age 6-10 who want to go crazy with their favorite Disney characters without being over encumbered with complicated gameplay. The actual character game pieces are really nicely done and look fantastic.

As Disney Infinity and the latest Skylanders starter set are fairly close in price, about $75.00, the question you have to ask yourself is are you more interested in a tame fighting experience (Skylanders) or an even tamer fighting experience that also allows for more creativity and world building.Image

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Everything is Coming Up Sweet Sprouts for New Online Consignment Boutique

Mom Entrepreneur Molly O’Kane and Best Friend Molly Mundy See a Growing Business by Buying and Selling Gently Owned Children’s Clothing and Gear Online

Getting ready for her second child, San Francisco mom Molly O’Kane cleaned out her two-year-old son’s closet.  She found new clothes with tags on, and others worn only once or twice before they were outgrown.  What a shame, she thought, that those adorable clothes – many of them cherished gifts – sat stored away.

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O’Kane talked with other moms who faced the same dilemma.  They wanted their children’s precious clothing to go someplace special, to a family that appreciated them – not in the bottom of a thrift shop bin.  Likewise, they wanted to find new homes for their hardly used strollers, bassinets and other gear.  That’s when O’Kane got the idea for Sweet Sprouts.

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She took her concept of an online children’s consignment boutique to the Keiretsu Forum, a competition similar to TV’s Shark Tank, hosted by her Alma matter, Saint Mary’s School of Economics and Business Administration of California.  With only three minutes to pitch her idea using no visual aids, and five minutes to field judges’ questions, O’Kane wowed the panel, winning mentorship to start her venture.

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“Through Kiretsu I was able to receive mentorship and gain a true understanding of venture capitalist funding and angel funding,” said O’Kane, who took the reigns as Sweet Sprouts CEO.  “The best advice I received was to bring the idea to fruition without taking venture capital funding or angel funding. This way I could really make the business my own, instead of answering to funding requirements.”

With confidence in her idea, which entrepreneur experts believed had the potential to be a $30 million business in five to 10 years, O’Kane got the financial support of family and friends to begin building Sweet Sprouts.  Along with her MBA education, O’Kane found her background as a registered dietician and former school nutritionist was helpful and inspirational in during Sweet Sprouts’ start-up phase.

“I was used to being creative to stretch lean budgets when I had to devise healthy menus for school children,” said O’Kane.

During the time O’Kane was developing her new business, similar sites sprang up, but O’Kane set Sweet Sprouts apart from the competition by offering sellers a much higher profit margin for their sales.  To avoid the pitfalls that her competition faced, O’Kane put strict quality controls in place regarding what could be sold on the site and guidelines for interactions between users, so high-rated sellers would attract more buyers, and low-rated members would be removed from the community.

O’Kane’s philosophy was that families came first.  The site was designed to save families up to 75 percent of what they would pay for clothes and gear at a retail store, and it offered families an easy and safe way to sell their goods.  There would be no need for an appointment or a trip to a consignment store, and sellers would not have to invite strangers from sites like Craigslist to their home for transactions.

O’Kane offers several ways for sellers to be involved on the site.  They can sell items for themselves and earn up to 80 percent of the sale price.  They can become a local Sweet Sprouts boutique owner and sell items for other families and earn up to 50  percente on sales, or they can ship items to Sweet Sprouts for Personal Seller Service and net up to 75 percent of the sales. For moms like herself, O’Kane wanted to offer users the opportunity to be part of the Sweets Sprouts enterprise and work from home with a flexible schedule.

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To help her realize her vision, O’Kane enlisted the help of best friend and former college roommate Molly Mundy, a former social worker and now stay-at-home mom.  The two shared many things in common, besides their first names.  Both had a dedication to social service, both had a young child at home, and both were seeking a way to stay home with their children while supplementing their family incomes.  Mundy also had specialized skills in social media as a proficient user of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social networks.

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Together the Mollys came up with a Sweet Sprouts site that gave back to the community by donating a portion of every sale to local charities.  They created a user interface that was intuitive and simple-to-use, so users could easily upload photos and descriptions of their items to sell.  They also loaded the site with rich social and interactive features.  The Sweet Sprouts that grew aimed to help other moms “make money, make connections, and make a difference.”

“We, like many moms, want to contribute to the household income but still have the flexibility to choose our own schedule, allowing us to be present for our children when they needed us.  Sweet Sprouts offers us the opportunity to do that,” said Mundy.

O’Kane and Mundy work on Sweet Sprouts several hours a day, in between their children’s nap times and other breaks in their day.  The experience has been rewarding financially and otherwise.  Particularly gratifying for both women has been their ability to help non-profit organizations fundraise, giving them an alternative to ubiquitous candy selling fundraisers, which former nutritionist O’Kane believed promoted kids eating unhealthy, sugary candy.

“I figured that an exchange of clothes, like an online swap meet, would be a much better way to support schools, churches, sports teams and other non-profits.  They wouldn’t have to do candy sales, and they could sell the clothes year round,” said O’Kane.

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Another way O’Kane and Mundy feel Sweet Sprouts can make a difference is by helping moms meet each other, virtually and in person.  Through local Sweet Sprouts boutiques, moms can get together for sales events, and online they can share stories, challenges and triumphs of motherhood.  As a first-time mom and former social worker, Mundy appreciates the value of these online and personal relationships and the power of the Internet as a resource for support.  She regularly updates the Sweet Sprouts blog, Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages with helpful information for other mothers.

“We wanted to give other moms the ability to use the site to connect to each other.  During the first year with a new baby, many moms struggle to find one-on-one time with their friends.  Being able to share their stories and give each other support and advice can help them feel they are not alone,” said Mundy. “Sweet Sprouts provides a place for moms to grow together.”

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Kids enjoy crafts at the Sweet Sprouts launch party at All Good Pizza in San Francisco on June 2, 2013.

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A couple of little Sweet Sprouts fans enjoy the festivities at the site’s launch event.

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The two Mollys are all smiles as their venture takes off.

One-a-Day Hostess Gifts and Cool Stocking Stuffers for 12 Days of Christmas

Give thanks to party hostesses and brighten up the season with these 12 hostess gift ideas and fun-sized stocking stuffers that will come in handy for the holidays, New Years and beyond.

Put a Cork in It

Give a hostess a little something to help her chill out, in her favorite wine — the Corkcicle, a non-toxic, reusable ice tube attached to a cork that in inserted in a bottle to maintain the perfect temperature or to bring reds down to a suitable cellar temperature.  Comes in party-inspired pink, orange, blue, green, yellow and white colors.  $24.95 at corkcicle.com.

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On a Pedestal

 

Your hostess or host will make an impressive display of holiday treats and appetizers on the Williams-Sonoma Victorian-inspired cake and dessert stand.  The pristine white-glazed stoneware stand features a fanciful edgework that will bring a sophisticated accent to a buffet table.  Available in three sizes, $24 to $34 at Williams-Sonoma.

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Pop Couture

Your hostess is such a sweetie, so return the favor with a Zoku Quick Pop Maker, an ingenious pop mold that you pre-chill in your freezer to create customized frozen treats in as little as seven minutes.  The Single ($24.95) is perfect for gifting, or for your favorite couple make it a Duo ($36.95) or for a family the signature Zuko Pop Maker makes up to nine pops at a time before refreezing is required.  The kits include a base, pop remover tool, reusable pop sticks and reusable drip guards for tidy eating.  Accessories include a Character Tool Kit ($14.95) to make funny-faced pops and the decadent Zoku Chocolate Station ($19.95) for dipping Zoku pops in melted chocolate to create a yummy coating or drizzling and sprinkling with dessert sauces, nuts or candies.  Available at Williams-Sonoma.

What a Case

For the cell phone addict whose smartphone is their most prized possession, the rugged and stylish Otterbox Defender Series Studio Collection of cases will ensure their device doesn’t become the next Angry Bird casualty when the kids play rough with it or it takes a tumble.  Available in plain colors at national retailers or AT&T, Verizon and Sprint stores.  Designs and create-your-own-color-combination cases for iPhone 4/4S are available for a limited time at Otterbox.com.  $49.95 to $59.95.

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Band on the Run

If holiday road trips or air travel makes you or your kids a little queasy, slip on PsiBands to calm the motion sickness.  These FDA-cleared acupressure wrist bands, available in cute kiddie designs, apply gentle pressure to relevant wrist pressure points as a drug-free way to relieve nausea.  Also great for nausea related to pregnancy, chemo or medicine side effects. Water proof, adjustable, reusable and made of eco-friendly materials.  $15 for set of two.  Available at CVS, Rite Aid, REI, Babies “R” Us, and Whole Foods.

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Chocolate Karma

For those who believe chocolate is a spiritual experience, give them a treat for body and soul.  Delicious artisanal Sushumna Chocolats are crafted with seven flavors that honor each chakra point.  Stimulate your Root, Sacracl, Solor Plexus, Heart, Throat, Third Eye and Crown with spiritually inspiring and beautifully packaged chocolate treats.  Available in mini 5 oz. bars, 1 oz. cameos, and large bars.  $3 to $7.50, at Sushumnachocolat.com.

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Ranch Hands

Give the worker bee on your list soft winter hands with a skin care product made to hydrate even the roughest hands.  O’Keefe’s Working Hands, the utilitarian salve formulated by pharmacist Tara O’Keefe in her kitchen more than 25 years ago for ranchers and other hard working hands, comes in a non-nonsense flat tub for easy carrying.  Its companion, O’Keefe’s Healthy Feet, is formulated as a foot balm.  $7.99. Available at Bed Bath and Beyond, Home Depot, Target, hardware stores and pharmacies.

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Soy to the World

Forget the sugary candy canes.  Treat kids to SOYJOY snacks in their stockings, in flavors like cranberry and dark chocolate cherry that will satisfy their sweet tooth while energizing them with real fruit ingredients, protein, fiber and soybean goodness.  Also great for moms and dads with coffee or as a work pick-me-up.  $13.57 for 12 bars at http://www.soyjoy.com. Also available at Target, Rite Aid, and grocers nationwide. $1.27 for single bars; $3.99 to $4.79 for five packs.

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Dog Watcher

 

Cozy up with a fun holiday family movie while you take a trip down memory lane with 80s icons Shelley Long (Cheers) and Michael Gross (Family Ties) and Dean Cain (Superman) starring in The Dog Who Saved the Holidays, from Anchor Bay Entertainment.  Set in Malibu, the story revolves around an old Golden Lab named Zeus and Eve, a new puppy, who have to save their family’s prized Christmas tree star from a couple of bumbling burglars.  $14.  Available on Amazon.

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Wrap it Up

Make wrapping gifts, school projects and other tape tasks more fun with the deliciously adorable pink Cupcake Tape Dispenser.  It’s sure to add a tasteful accent to a kid’s activity table or desk.  $8.99 at Staples.

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Make if Briefs

For the lady who thinks those cotton granny panties are the only option for serious underwear that hold up to washing and wearing, give her a pair of Exofficio’s Give-N-Go Lacy Bikinis.  These sexy performance underwear are lightweight and can wash and air dry in a couple hours.  Perfect for travel.  $22.  Available at REI or Exofficio.com.

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Hot Chick

It may be winter, but if the woman-of-a-certain-age on your list is having her own private summer, give her relief with Coldfront, a discreet long-lasting ice pack kit in an insulated carry-along case that fits in a purse or backpack for quick cooling on the go.   $49.95.  Available at mycoldfront.com.

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The Dangerous and Daring Gift Guide for Boys and Girls

Holiday Gift Ideas for Awesomely Adventurous Kids

When The Dangerous Book for Boys became a bestseller in 2007, many parents were upset – not because the book promoted sling shots and other potentially perilous play things, but because girls were left out of the fun.  That was soon remedied with The Daring Book for Girls, because we all know girls love adventure too.  For those independent and exploring young minds on your holiday shopping list, give them gifts that will stimulate their desire to discover for years to come.

Downhill from Here

Grab your little luger and head for the hills for awesome sledding on the Stiga Snowracer Curve Royal Snow Sled, featuring a twin-tip front ski and rear skis that allow riders to remain stable and ride backwards down the hill. The durable steel sled includes a high tensile braking system with a two-component steering wheel for navigation. Ages 3 and up. Sale price $142.10 at www.afterschool.com.

 

I Scream, You Scream for Snow Screamer

 

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Cruise down the hill at breakneck speeds with the Flexible Flyer Snow Screamer. Made of lightweight foam, the Snow Screamer includes a slick bottom surface that encourages high speeds, along with two sets of sturdy handles.  The 47-by-21.5-inch sled can accommodate two riders at once. Ages 5 and up.  $35.97 at www.afterschool.com.

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Angler Management

They never forget snagging their first fish, or their first pole.  Bass Pro Shop’s entry-level Stampede Spinning Reel ($25.99) sports light-but-strong fiberglass two-piece construction, a forged aluminum spool and a foam grip for all-day comfort.  Other features include anti-tangling technology and fast-cast trigger system for easy one-handed casting.

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Cast-Away

For the youngest fisher-folk, Shakespeare’s Mickey Mouse Lighted Fishing Rod and Reel Kit for Kids ($14.99) is the perfect starter reel.  The pre-spooled 2’6”rod features a spincast reel that flashes lights when the thumb button is pushed. The kit includes a fish-shaped practice casting plug so your little one can hone their casting technique. Reel is pre-spooled with line. Available at www.basspro.com

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Cave Dweller

The Coleman MAX Ultra High Power LED Aluminum Flashlight is a little spelunker’s best friend, featuring a lifetime bulb, 500 lumens output and eight and a half hours of run time on high and 28 hours on low.  Its water resistant, aerospace grade aluminum body is durable and weighty, just in case it’s needed to bat a bat.  Available at Wal-Mart.  $59.99.

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Lock and Load

Aspiring Sons and Daughters of Anarchy know that a bike is a kid’s kingdom, so keep bikes secure with a family pack of three colorful 8127TRI MasterLock 6-foot cable locks ($18.29), all keyed the same for ease of use when the family rides together. 8127TRI

Or chain up bikes, or a school or gym locker, with super cool a MasterLock 1500iD Speed Dial padlock ($13.39) that operates by movement (up, down, right, left) in a pattern that you set.  Available at retailers nationwide.

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Fly Guys and Gals

Forget origami!  With “Making Paper Airplanes,” by David Woodroffe (Sky Pony Press, November 2012), kids can turn a stack of paper into their own elaborate private air force. Packed with diagrams, 250 full-color graphics, this easy-to-follow activity book for all ages offers instructions for making a Stealth Bomber, Dragon Desk Kite, Firefly Space Shuttle, Swallow Glider, Flashdance Stunt Flyer, Golden Flame Racing Plane and many more paper aircraft. $12.95 at www.skyponypress.com

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A Parents and Kids Guide for the Best Ever Winter Break

Be Prepared this Holiday Break with Toys and Games for Fun Indoor Play, Whatever the Weather

No School + Math = Fun

Just because school is closed doesn’t mean learning has to take a break.  Prep your little genius to be the next math whiz with Wooky Entertainment’s Mathable the board game that reinforces useful math skills in a fun and engaging way for kids.  Designed for 2 to 4 players, the game challenges players to score by using basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division equations.  Mathable Classic ($17.99) is for Ages 9 and up, and Mathable Junior ($14.99) provides an introduction to math for ages 5 to 9. Available at national toy and game retailers. iPad app available on iTunes.





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Give them the Birds

A day indoors doesn’t mean a day of video games, but if Angry Birds is your child’s fave app, take the game a step up with the K’nex Angry Birds inspired building sets, including “Ice Bird Breakdown,” “Crater Crash,” and “Breakin’ Bacon.”  The sets feature K’nex snap-together building system and characters from Angry Birds including Super Red Bird, Lazer Bird and Frozen Pig.  Each includes a functional launcher for use with all K’NEX Angry Birds sets. Ages 5 and up.  Sets and accessories $4.99 to $39.99.  Available exclusively at Toys “R” Us.

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Puzzle This

If cabin fever has your kids seeing double, take things up a notch, to triple.  The top name in puzzles adds a new dimension to favorite snow day pastime with the Ravensburger collection of Chromadepth Puzzles with 3D Glasses.  The vividly-colored 100-piece themed puzzles, Fascinating Underwater World and Wild Jungle, are perfect for young puzzlers’ little hands with durable and easily interlocking pieces for ages 6 and up. $12.99.  Available at national retailers or ravensburger.com.

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Trace Amounts to Fun

Crazy making, or making art?  You choose.  Keep kids occupied while they stretch their creative muscles making beautiful illustrations on paper with Ravensburger’s Xoomy  activity toy.  The carry case doubles as a light box which projects images from a variety of provided screens onto a see-through plate on which the pictures are traced onto paper and then colored.  $24.99.  Available at national retailers or ravensburger.com.

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Easy Listening

Kids can enjoy an afternoon indoors or outdoors sans boredom with the Sansa Zip Clipa, a clip-on MP3 player that that can go anywhere with them.  The tiny 1 ½ x 2-inch player packs a ton of features, like a microphone, stopwatch a voice recorder and built-in microphone, a color screen for album art, and an FM receiver for playing and recording stations. With the included Rhapsody trial membership kids can download (with parents’ permission) from a vast library of DRM-free iTunes music or audiobooks. Add capacity to the 8 GB memory with an optional SanDisk microSD/microSDHC card. $69.99.  Available at Amazon or SanDisk.com.

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The Active Kid’s Holiday Gift Guide

Get kids outdoors this year with some great gifts that will keep them going all year round

A long winter break means lots of time for play this holiday season, so give on-the-go kids holiday gifts that will keep them busy and having fun ‘til next year, and beyond.

Classic Ride

You never forget the sound of a Big Wheel rumbling down the sidewalk, and now kids can make their own fond memories on the updated version of this 40-year-old iconic ride-on toy.  The oversized trike for big kids is back in several new styles by Kids Only, including the 9″ My First Big Wheel, the 11″ Big Wheel Sidewalk Screamer and the 16″ Big Wheel Spin Out Racer.   $59.99 at toy retailers nationwide.

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Kick It Good

Not all soccer balls are created equally.  Senda soccer balls are made with fair trade labor, so your our child can play with pride, and you can feel good about supporting the craftspeople who made them.  The hand-stitched ball features a high-quality, water resistant synthetic leather cover over a cotton-polyester liner for optimal bounce, durability and shape retention.  Senda’s premiere competitive balls are available with latex bladders for better touch and flight.  For kids, the Valor Training ball is perfectly sized and weighted.  $21.99.  Available at SendaAthletics.com, on Amazon, and on Ebay.

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Let’s Roll

Kids can roll in style with the latest line of Heelys wheel-in-the-heel skates, now in lighter styles resembling athletic shoes for active and sporty kids.  Other new styles look like street shoes, and the new lifestyle fashion-forward line is designed for girls.   As with all Heely’s, the wheel can be removed and replaced with an included heel plug for walking.  $47 and up.  Available a sporting goods and specialty stores nationwide.

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Fun Pack

Every kid needs a backpack – for school, playdates, overnights and other outings. So get them a versatile backpack made to last from the pros at Kelty, like the lightweight Minnow ($29.95) for little ones who need to pack a lunch and blankie for preschool, the sporty Grommet ($34.95) for kids 5-10 to carry their notebooks, school supplies and a water bottle for school or a day on the trail, or the comfy Captain ($80) for the high schooler or college-bound kid, or even mom or dad, for carrying all you need for classes, a day about town or a weekender.  Available at REI or kelty.com.

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Water Balloons, Water Balloons Everywhere

Nothing spells fun like a water balloon exploding on your back.  Kids will love to build their arsenal for the equivalent of a warm-weather snowball fight with the Kaos Tie-Not Battle Pump.  The portable one-gallon filling station features a carry handle and an easy-to-use nozzle with a notched tool for quick and easy knot tying, and the pump comes with 250 water balloons to get the party started. Watch a fun video about the pump at vat19.com.  $14.99.  Available at vat19.com.

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