The Best Toys of 2018

It’s that time of the year again; the time for which children all over the world (and more than a few adults, too) have been waiting: the gift-giving season! In particular, as an adult and parent, you are well aware of the months’ approach, given how often the little one clamor about your feet asking questions about the toy budget this year. Instead of having to conduct hour-long searches on Google, we’ve compiled here a selection of the best toys of 2018 – with a wide range of costs so as to be inclusive of most peoples’ budgets.

Not surprisingly, some of the toys from last year crept on to this list, because of the simple fact that the craze for them has yet to die out. Fingerlings are one of them, and stores constantly complain of being out of stock when new requests come in, despite the feverish pace of manufacturers in keeping up with their end of the supply and demand curve. With that set, let’s jump right into the top toys.

The Fingerlings As Advertised

These little monsters and cute, adorable creatures are still near the very top of any kid’s list of toys this year. The Raptors Untamed is the latest incarnation in the line of finger-attached action figures, which successfully combines dinosaurs with the caricatures that have been thus far reserved for sloths, monkeys and other relatively cute critters. Fingerlings are recommended for ages 5 and up.

Plush Toys With a Twist

It’s not surprising that plush toys would be a big hit with kids within a certain age range; even many adults appreciate their large, plush and furry nature. The thing about the new brand of plush toys known as Grumblies – which are making waves across the nation – is that they’re losing a bit of their cuteness and gaining a rougher edge. For some reason, though, kids are taking to them as a replacement for the unrelentingly cute furries of yesteryear. Just wait until you get a look at their faces! Things sure have changed since you were a kid.

Dinosaurs Are Taking Over – Imaginext Jurassic

Not surprisingly, the reemergence of Jurassic Park on the Big Screen has spawned a resurgence of toys related to the franchise. The Imaginext Jurassic World Jurassic Park, for example, is a definitively hot ticket item that’s certain to fly off the shelves for months to come. It’s large and substantial, which means that it will take up lots of play time as your little loved one cycles through all the permutations and makes his little slice of Jurassic Park come to life.

Pet Vet Play – The Examine and Treat Play Set

For your fledgling veterinarian; this adorable playset starts him on the road to becoming a doctor for the sick animal someday. It’s no wonder that this is one of the best toy sets of the year – toy maker team Melissa and Doug has stocked the bag full of all the little elements that real pet docs use. You even get a pet toy dog and cat in the bag, on which to carefully run your health examinations. With two dozen pieces in all, your little one won’t want for examples of what to do. It comes with a diagram and a checklist, too.

Make Mine Marvel With The Avengers Training Kit

There hasn’t been a comic book franchise as successful on the Big Screen as Marvel’s recent movies, with characters like Spiderman, Iron Man, Thor and Black Panther capturing the imaginations of fans of all ages – especially the young. This toy set lets them use various odds and ends from their super-powered heroes and pretend to shoot repulsor blasts from the lifelike Iron Man gauntlet, or snake through the advanced jungles of Wakanda with the Black Panther mask.

Nerf N-Strike Elite Gun

Never to be confused for a real gun, this colorful projectile toy carries quite the punch – and it’s all in fun, guaranteed to provide the children with hours and hours of fun in any moderately expansive space. Nerf guns tend to dominate the Christmas season among a certain age group, and the company has responded with advancements that will have your boys (and some girls) clamoring for upgrades like the speed-load tech that automatically loads the next foam clip and lays waste to the opponent’s dreams of escaping untouched. Always be sure to get extra darts – they are inexpensive since it’s just colored foam.

We could of course go on and on with the toys that are available this year, but the above are definitely some of the very best.

This post is a collaborative effort by St. Louis Dad.

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Guide on Converting SWF Video Files to MP4

Small web format (SWF) is a flash file originally created by Macromedia for use in creating animation. SWF files can frequently be downloaded online and opened in a SWF file player. This type of file cannot be played on Apple devices, Android phones or Windows Media Player. You will have to convert the file to a MP4 if you want to play it on your devices. MP4 is smaller and more suitable for sharing on YouTube. It is also supported in more video players.

There are several ways to convert SWF to MP4. The first method is to use the free online converter. If you search on Google for online file converter, you will see a long list of sites that offer this service in the search result. The downside of using an online converter is that you have to wait for a long time for the file to be converted. There is a file size limitation, for example, 100 MB, which means you have to divide your files into smaller file size. Besides, you cannot convert a lot of files at one time.

If you use the online converter, you will have to upload your video to its server. If you do this, they will have a copy of your video on their server permanently. Uploading your video is also going to take up a lot of internet bandwidth. So, if you have a weak internet connection, using the free online converter will not be the best method for converting your videos.

Depending on your connection speed, it can take a long time to upload. If the connection breaks, you will have to re-upload it. After you upload the video, you will have to wait for some more time for it to be converted. After that, you have to wait again for the file to be downloaded to your computer. If you are not patient, using the online converter will not be the best route.

The second method is to buy a video converter software like Movavi Video Converter. The video converter software is desktop based so you don’t need to have an internet connection to use it. Paid video converter software can convert your videos faster with zero wait time and no size limit. It also supports more video formats and allows you to convert batch video files at one time. There is also no risk of your computer getting infected with the virus when you use the paid video converter software.

Usually, the software will offer a free trial that allows you to try out yourself to convert your files. Most video converters support a drag and drop interface where files can be dragged to open. Next, you just have to select the destination file format and press the convert button to convert it.

You can choose from a lot of resolutions, for example, a smaller resolution so that your converted video will have smaller resolution without you having to crop it yourself. If you choose bigger resolution, the output video will appear blur. When the file is converted, the folder will pop up and you can play back the video to check it.  

You have the option of overwriting the original video or saving it as a separate file in another folder. As a rule of thumb, you should always back-up the original video format in case you make mistakes and need to access the original video file again. Many video converters come with built-in video editing tool that allows you to edit the video before converting it. This video editing tool is included for free so that you don’t have to waste money to buy a third-party video editing program.

Almost all video converters include a crop tool. With this tool, you can crop off the edges of the video so that those areas are not shown when you play the video. This, in turn, reduces the video resolution and file size. The Crop tool is especially effective for removing black bars, and put more emphasize on the main subject. Cropping a vertical video can also change its orientation to horizontal.

The rotate tool is handy when you need a rotate a video that is recorded in the wrong orientation on your phone. Usually, it is a basic rotate tool that can rotate by 90 degrees at one time. Now that it is rotated in the right orientation, you can delete the unwanted part by using the trim tool. As the video is being played back, you must look for the points where the unwanted clip starts and ends. Then, you can use the red marker tool to select it and press the trim tool button to delete it.

You can also add subtitles to video by uploading the .srt subtitle file. Subtitles can also be added with the ready-made text animation template in the text tab. Adding subtitles can increase the accessibility of the video to people who have a hearing impairment. It makes it easier for your audience to follow up on what the speaker in the video is talking about. It is also an alternative for adding the soundtrack in the background.

Without the soundtrack, your video will be smaller in size. Adding subtitles also give you the ability to add the translation to another language on the video.  If you want a text to run across the video, you can go to the text animation library and add a ready-made text template to the video. You will be able to customize the font, color, and alignment of the text you input in the ready-made text template.

This post is a collaborative effort by St. Louis Dad.

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The Polar Express Returns to Union Station 2018

Today is the day! The Polar Express Returns to St. Louis Union Station! As usual the folks at The Polar Express have showed that this event is worth checking out year after year. Each character has their own style and entertaining ways of keeping kids AND adults having fun during your entire visit. Whether it’s the Hobo cracking jokes, or the chefs passing out some hot chocolate, there is always something going on that will keep your attention. Check out my social media pages to see some exclusive photos from our ride on The Polar Express this year.

THE POLAR EXPRESS TRAIN RIDE
AT ST. LOUIS UNION STATION
KICKS OFF THE HOLIDAY SEASON TONIGHT
WITH TRAINS TO THE “NORTH POLE”
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2018
3:30 P.M. TO 8:30 P.M.

 

WHAT: The Polar Express Train Ride at St. Louis Union Station begins the 2018 season tonight. Kids and their families — dressed in their Christmas pajamas — meet with Santa and his elves, sing with the Polar Express chefs and learn the story of The Polar Express on their journey to the North Pole.

WHEN: Tonight, Friday, November 16. Riders begin arriving as early as 3:30 p.m. to take part in a variety of holiday activities and pre-boarding fun. The first train departs for the North Pole at 4:30 p.m. Trains also depart at 6, 7:15 and 8:30 p.m.

WHERE: St. Louis Union Station. Enter the parking lot from 18th St. south of Clark.

ABOUT THE POLAR EXPRESS TRAIN RIDE AT ST. LOUIS UNION STATION:

The Polar Express Train Ride at St. Louis Union Station is returning for the 2018 holiday season. Trains begin running from St. Louis Union Station to the North Pole tonight — Friday, November 16 — and continue on selected dates through December 30, 2018.

Tickets are on sale at www.STLPolarExpressRide.com.

The Polar Express Train Ride’s magical story of a boy’s search for the meaning of Christmas comes to life when real trains departs St. Louis Union Station for a round-trip journey to the North Pole.

Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, passengers will relive the magic of the story as they are whisked away on The Polar Express. Once on board, passengers are served hot chocolate and cookies by the Polar Express chefs as they read along with the classic children’s book, The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg.

Santa and his helpers greet passengers at the North Pole and then board the train. Santa interacts with each child and gives them the first gift of Christmas — a silver sleigh bell. Chefs and Santa’s elves lead passengers in singing Christmas carols on the ride back to St. Louis Union Station.

Trains depart St. Louis Union Station at 4:30, 6:00, and 7:15 p.m. Trains also will run at 8:30 p.m. on selected dates. Passengers are encouraged to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure to enjoy holiday activities and photo opportunities in the boarding area.

Riders may choose from two classes of service on The Polar Express — Coach and First-Class. Coach tickets start at $39. First-class ticket holders will receive a Polar Ex- press mug and will be seated at four-top tables on the train.

Guests can save 20 per- cent on The Polar Express Train Ride when they purchase their tickets along with a hotel package at the St. Louis Union Station Hotel, a Curio Collection by Hilton. Hotel rooms decorated with Christmas trees are available for a special holiday treat.

More information about dates, fares and excursion times is available by calling 314-942- 6942, or by visiting www.STLPolarExpressRide.com. Families are encouraged to wear their holiday pajamas for the ride.

In addition to the train ride, St. Louis Union Station will continue its popular holiday fire and light show set to Christmas music on the train shed lake each evening during the holiday season.

St. Louis Union Station also will host a series of Magical Meals — holiday character dinners in the beautiful Grand Hall of the historic train station during the Polar Express season. Featuring 3-D light shows projected on the ceiling and visits with Santa’s elves chefs and The Polar Express Conductor, the dinner sessions are available on selected days when the Polar Express Train Ride is in operation. Dinners are served buffet style with separate adult and children’s selections priced between $20 and $25. Children ages two and under are complimentary. An elaborate holiday dessert buffet accompanies the dinners. Reservations for the 5:45 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. dinners may be purchased online at www.STLPolarExpressRide.com. Tip: Select dates for the Magical Meal first, then purchase train tickets for the same date.

This year, a Build-A-Bear pop up shop will be located in the activities tent for the first time. An event-themed bear will be available for children to create on site. For more in- formation, visit buildabear.com.

St. Louis Union Station is located at 1820 Market Street in downtown St. Louis. Parking is available in the Union Station lot at 18th and Clark for just $5 for all Polar Express ticket holders.

St. Louis Dad was compensated tickets to ride The Polar Express in exchange for an honest review.

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Great Tips For New Freelancers & Small Business Owners

As a freelancer or home business owner, you are in charge of absolutely everything. It can feel like you have been gifted with the most freedom you’ve ever had – but with great freedom comes great organization. Having the freedom to create your working week is a great thing. But, you need to have systems in place that allow you to enjoy that freedom and stay as productive as possible.

There are of course going to be plenty of days where the system doesn’t feel like it’s working, or that you just don’t feel like working – and that is fine too. But, to help you have less of those days, and more ultra-productive smooth ones, here are a few tips.

Photo by MARVIN TOLENTINO on Unsplash

Work With How You Work

Some people are night owls, some people are early birds, and others work in dribs and drabs throughout the day. If you can see a pattern in how you work, use that as the basis for your schedule. There is little point in putting a working routine together that starts at 6am if you aren’t functioning at your best till 12. By choosing to work in the times, you are most productive you won’t waste any time getting things done. If you have any staff or work with other freelancers, you’ll also want to implement a system to schedule your employees with ease too. As well as time routine, you could think about what times your breaks would work best, could you prep your lunch the night before?

It is all about making your day run as smoothly as possible and maximizing your working time.

Set Timers

Have you ever heard of Parkinson’s Law? “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” – does that sound familiar? Probably. Most freelancers are guilty of letting their days run long because they don’t set solid time limits on their work. It might sound counterproductive – getting all of this freedom then tying yourself into timetables and timers, but by maximizing your working time, you’re going to getting a lot more free time. A few great options are:

  • Be Focused: Allows you to set up a task list with a time to complete it and a work interval in between each. Typically it sits in 15-minute slots with 5-minute intervals until the long interval of 30 minutes. You tick each task as you complete and it moves on to the next one.
  • Office Time: This one has expense tracking, Apple calendar syncing ability, summary graphs, and a simple invoicing system. Perfect for keeping track of hourly contracts.
  • Time Panther: This has a brilliant break down of projects and clients. So you can tally up how much time you have spent on each, making invoicing for hours spent super easy. It has timers to keep track of all of the activity, and it can even tell you when you were working productively or when you were surfing facebook.

Lists Are Your Friend

Each and every morning, you should make a checklist. You might like to tie this moment into when you have your morning coffee (or shake if that is what you do), think about what you need to achieve. Be specific too. Rather than just write ‘deal with emails’ write something closer to ‘respond to XYZ, contact ABC and unsubscribe from X newsletter’. Setting actionable goals will help you feel accomplished. Transfer that written list into your digital time tracking app, set your timers up and away you go.

Goals are Goals

The lists are part of you setting daily goals. As well as daily, you should think about setting goals for the next 3/6/9/12 months. Think about what it is that you would like to achieve. Want to create some downloads? How about complete an eBook? Learn a new skill? You’d be wise to write down a financial goal too. Visualizing your goals, and keeping them somewhere as a visible reminder will help you stay on track. Once you have written down your goals, think about the actionable steps that you’ll need to take. If you don’t already have one, then you should put together a business plan or at the very least a vision for your venture. For two reasons, every business should have an idea of the very long-term goals, and the purpose which they serve. And, on the very hard days, the vision is a nice reminder of why you started this in the first place.

Don’t Get Bogged Down

When you are implementing new working systems, it can be all too easy to pile on too much work and not manage to finish any of it to the standard you want. Or, in your excitement, you take on more clients than you had room for. Be sensible with what you have the time to do without exhausting yourself. Overwhelm is a real thing and can hit particularly hard when you are the only person who can be held accountable.

End of The Day

When you send that last email or put the final period at the end of the sentence, and is time to switch from work to personal take stock of the day. Have a look at your to-do list from the day, what did you accomplish, what needed more time than you had thought? Where there any tasks that you keep putting off? By taking a moment to talk about what you didn’t get done, you will begin to streamline your process even more.

Now is a good time to check things that track your productivity vs procrastination, like the Time Panther app mentioned above. How can you eliminate those distractions?

If you haven’t been able to find a system that works for you, now might be a good time to head to Google and check out some productivity planners. You might just find the one that makes a serious impact.

Keep it Neat

Having a neat filing system that works is very important. The earlier on you have a system for your files the better. As a freelancer or small business owner, you need to be able to access things quickly and easily. If a client were to call and ask for some specific information, but you couldn’t find the file – either on your computer or a paper file, it doesn’t look great. These are some of the documents that you should make sure are within easy reach and in good order.

  • Receipts (although you might like to get an app to manage these)
  • Invoices (have a paper and digital copy of all of them)
  • Tax Forms
  • VAT documents
  • Legal Business Documents
  • Client Project Files
  • Accounts

To be extra organized, use color coding for all of you files, and have the corresponding folders and email markers for that client on your emails. Anything over a year old that you no longer need to refer to, place in an archive folder. Remember to keep any financial details or sensitive information in a safe filing cabinet with a lock.

Make Friends

The joy of the internet is that even if you are really pushed for time to meet in person, there will be numerous online message boards or groups that have the same interest as you. If you work in marketing or PR for example, search for groups that meet your needs. You can use them to socialize, to chat with others, ask for advice and maybe even pick up some work. Building a community of people with similar goals is great for motivation.

This post is a collaborative effort by St. Louis Dad.

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