March 19, 2014

Maleficent Movie in May

I cannot express fully how excited I am for Disney's Maleficent on May 30, 2014. This trailer has gotten me even more eager than before:

February 3, 2014

Multilingual Let it Go [Frozen]

I love Frozen's Let it Go (don't we all!?) but this version makes me even happier:

January 23, 2014

Gearing up for Galileo Innovation Camps

I know it is very hard to believe, but it is almost time to sign up for Galileo Innovation Camps! In the next couple months, there will be various discounts for early-registration, for recommending the camp to a friend, and more!

Galileo Innovation Camps

I have been very vocal about my love of the Galileo Innovation approach. I feel that my kids are entertained by the camp, but also learn valuable life lessons like it is OK (and even preferred!) to make mistakes. My kids have learned how to approach problems and solve them in a methodical way. And yet, they think they're just having fun! 

Galileo_Logo.jpgCamp G's 2014 themes include "Adventures Down Under," "Galileo Road Trip (along Route 66)," "The Incredible Human Body," and Leonardo's Apprentice." I'd have a tough time choosing between these, but would have even a more difficult time trying to narrow down a Summer Quest major. This year, there are 18 different areas of concentration, including brand-new offerings "Illuminated Art Studio," "Music Producers," "Chefology: International Eats," "3D Design and Printing," "Cool Chemistry, "DIY Screen Printing," "Minecraft Universe," and "Theater Troupe." Wow! 
- keep your eye on Galileo's Facebook page for registration discount promotions and for photos of past years of camp

Disclaimer: Galileo provided my sons one week of summer camp in exchange for my promotion of their program. (I will receive no further compensation or commission should any of my readers sign up.) Back in 2011 I had already paid for Camp G before they approached me, so it was a natural fit. Since then, I've paid for additional weeks of camp on my own dime, since I'm such a fan of the program!

January 21, 2014

Looking Ahead: Bandworks Summer Camp

bandworks-school-of-rock.jpgNow that the winter holiday season is over, it is time to think about summer camp! I know, I know, it seems too early. But, it is time to get summer activities in line.

Last year, my son had an amazing time at Bandworks camp. His enthusiasm was stronger than I could have ever imagined! I knew it would be a fun experience to try out being in a "rock band" but I had no idea just how rewarding the experience would end up being.

He had absolutely no experience going into camp, and yet he was perfectly in his element and learned a tremendous amount by the end of the week. On the flip side, I met families last year whose teenagers were very accomplished musicians who gushed that only Bandworks School of Rock had advanced-enough options to promote and satisfy their kids' accomplishments.

Bandworks really is for everyone from the very very beginner to the musician who is ready to record his or her own CD. Bandworks has after-school programs and also some special vacation camps. (Spring break, anyone?)

Registration for Summer 2014 is now open, so go check it out!

Disclaimer: My son received a week of Bandworks camp in 2013 in exchange for my review. (I will not receive further compensation or commission should any of you fabulous readers decide to rock.)

November 20, 2013

The Owner's Manual for Driving Your Adolescent Brain

The Owner's Manual for Driving Your Adolescent Brain: Review from A Spectrum of ReviewsAs we were driving from one errand to the next, my older son smirked at his brother, "Bet you can't name all the lobes in the brain!"

My ears perked up. After all, although I am a chauffeur extraordinaire to my boys and do a bunch of computer-related gigs in my "spare" time these days, I am a former neuroscientist.

My younger son quickly said, "Well, frontal - duh." But then stumbled a bit as he tried to recall the others.

My older son filled him in with an eye-roll, "Occipital - that's how you SEE, Doofus! And temporal, and parietal." He then went into further detail about each lobe, as I sat stunned in the driver's seat.

And then they started talking about drugs and the various affects of different substances on the brain. I figured out their information came from Red Ribbon Week assemblies at their respective schools. 

I was amazed at how much detail my seventh-grader and fourth-grader had absorbed. All I remember from my "drug education" days was a police officer with a very visible gun, handcuffs, and his huge club as he showed us a metal suitcase full of pills as if it were a spy hand-off. And, of course, I remember that stereotypical egg dropping into the sizzling pan.

The Owner's Manual for Driving Your Adolescent Brain: Review from A Spectrum of Reviews
Not soon after, Little Pickle Press approached me about reviewing their book The Owner's Manual for Driving Your Adolescent Brain. The timing was perfect! Not only do I have a son who is right in the midst of adolescence, but I have a very inquisitive younger son who likes to shake his head and sigh, "Teenagers!" whenever his older brother is surly.

Plus, it appeared both my kids already have had an introduction to brain science and enjoyed it enough to banter about it after school hours. So, why not continue to explore these interests?

Sure, there are plenty of "growing up" books out there, but this book's concept of framing adolescence in neuroscience terms shows the young men and women that they are capable of handling what is considered an "adult" science, and, it allows for discussion of puberty in a way that makes sense. This sets The Owner's Manual for Driving Your Adolescent Brain apart from the myriad of other "learn about your body" books, especially since this particular one doesn't rehash the "common" medically-related topics that kids blush over during health ed, but instead goes straight to the command center: the brain. The title and introduction of an "owner's manual" and the "driving" concept is clever, since many kids are eager to get their driver's licenses!

Continue reading "The Owner's Manual for Driving Your Adolescent Brain" »

November 5, 2013

A word about Tiny Prints

I had been a very loyal customer to a previously small, previously local greeting card company called Tiny Prints. (In the past, it was tiny*prints, then TinyPrints.) Unfortunately, it was purchased by a larger corporation, and as such, their procedures and formerly excellent customer service changed.

Originally, the company was generous with bloggers, recognizing our influence and the amount of time and energy it takes to thoroughly and thoughtfully review a product. Unfortunately, as it changed hands, the compensation for reviews became smaller. But, because I still "believed in" them, I agreed to review their holiday greeting cards last year. Our cards turned out fine, but I remember being disappointed that the designer review no longer exists (unless the customer pays a fee) and thus, the "personal touch" that made Tiny Prints so attractive was gone. 

Many years ago, a designer actually phoned me to double-check the spelling of my oldest son's name, since it is unusual. And then the designer personally emailed me the proof. That doesn't happen anymore. And so, last year my enthusiasm for Tiny Prints went markedly down.

I was sad then, but I'm even more so now.

I received an email today from one of the marketing people at Tiny Prints requesting that I remove links to their site "ASAP" because my support of them was hurting their Google ranking. They offered no compensation to do something that would benefit them, but harm me. 

I've inserted the "nofollow" attribute to my past links to save their precious ranking, but maintain my own online integrity; however, I've posted a disclaimer so that anyone looking at those past posts will note my disappointment with the company. 

The irony -of course- is that because I had been so prolific with my praise and support of them, the task of updating these posts was very time-consuming. I was punished for being enthusiastic about this company.

Alas, Tiny Prints has lost a customer. And, I know other bloggers who are taking their business elsewhere as well. Tiny Prints could have handled their request much better. It is a shame.



Apparently, some bloggers have received a follow-up email saying to disregard the previous request. I did not receive that email or any other communication after the first email. 

To be clear, I understand that sometimes companies will request updates of bloggers who have posted about their products in the past, but this usually comes with a familiarity of the client-blogger relationship. But, in this case, the marketing person wrote "Our team may have worked with you in the past which resulted in links back to our site." 

"..may have"?

I've wrote about their company multiple times since 2008. Some posts were compensated in the form of free product, other mentions were completely out of the kindness of my own heart. So yes, I feel slapped in the face.

Updated #2:

Some bloggers received yet another follow-up, this one offering a small sum of money to change the links. This is insulting TWO ways: 1) That only some people received an offer of monetary incentive and 2) that said incentive is so small.

Tiny Prints' treatment of this really belittles the work that bloggers do, and is turning their backs on the dedication/loyalty we had to the company.

September 4, 2013

The Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate movie opens October 18th. Since I'm a Benedict Cumberbatch fan, I'll of course have to go see this film, especially as we're still waiting for Sherlock, third series.

The Fifth Estate Movie

I did not receive compensation for putting up this movie banner.

August 27, 2013

Another Year of Camp Galileo Over?

Galileo_Logo.jpg Today the boys begin yet another year of academics. But, of course they weren't without education these last few months.

You regular readers know by now that I'm a huge fan of Galileo Innovation Camps, so it is no surprise that my kids returned for a fabulous week of camp this summer.

I've always been impressed with the staff's enthusiasm, and how welcoming they are of the kids. I'm thrilled with the creativity in the activities and the thoroughness of every single aspect of camp life, from basic logistics to the actual nature of the camp experience.

But, this year presented an interesting challenge because the location's parking lot and adjacent streets were undergoing repaving. Ordinarily, this sort of situation would cause chaos and delays, but the Camp Galileo staff handled the unexpected change in construction schedule with fantastic communication and impressive organization. Both drop-off and pick-up went surprisingly smoothly. The staff had bright smiles on their faces, and so did the parents who were relieved to not be stuck in a massive traffic jam!

(And, bonus points to the camp counselor who sprinted across the street as I was driving away so he could return my son's iPod to me. The drop-off was so unexpectedly organized and quick that my son was still holding his iPod when he exited the van!)

This year's themes and majors didn't disappoint:

My youngest studied "amusement parks," so created a spinning contraption that treated a LEGO guy to quite a thrilling ride, as indicated below:

He also adored water day, the various team-building activities, and plenty of art. He was glad to have the same counselor as last year, a young man that shares his name! 

My oldest selected "digital photography" for his third year of Galileo Summer Quest. He was a bit nervous, since in years' past he's focused on video game design, advanced video game design, and comic book art, all subject with which he's very familiar. But, although he's enjoyed taking photos on his small camera in the past, actually learning about photography was something he was nervous to do. 

But, he had a fabulous time! One of his photos was selected by his instructor on the first day as being a great example of one of the lessons they were learning. He put together an impressive portfolio, and learned some Photoshop skills that I know will be useful in his designing life as well as any photography he does in the future.

Galileo Summer Quest Digital Photography

My fingers are crossed that Galileo Summer Quest will have an app development course next year. They were polling the parents, and I gave two thumbs up! My oldest would definitely be game for that major.

My youngest will actually be eligible for Summer Quest next year, so is already excited about selecting his major. I anticipate that we'll be back for more than just a single week in 2014, since my [at that point] rising-5th-grader will want to attend both Camp Galileo as a graduating member, and Summer Quest to take on a specific major! 

But - I don't want to think about 2014 just quite yet! In the meantime, I'll hang on to the 2013 memories and be thankful that my sons had a fabulous experience.

- keep your eye on Galileo's Facebook page for registration discount promotions when 2014 hits us (it will be sooner than you think!) and for photos of this past year of camp

Disclaimer: Galileo provided my sons one week of summer camp in exchange for my promotion of their program. (I will receive no further compensation or commission should any of my readers sign up.) Back in 2011 I had already paid for Camp G before they approached me, so it was a natural fit. Since then, I've paid for additional weeks of camp on my own dime, since I'm such a fan of the program!

August 26, 2013

Hammerhead Folio Case for iPad

Hammerhead Folio for iPad: A Spectrum of Reviews
I love my iPad. 

Last year when my husband was asking me what I wanted for my birthday, he was certain I would want an iPad mini. I surprised him when I insisted on the full-size. Although he figured I'd want a smaller, more portable device, I knew that having a larger screen would be important for me. But, of course, with a larger screen comes more worry about preventing scratches, and finding a case that doesn't add considerable weight to the tablet.

My son is a competitive gymnast, and as a result, the gymnastics training center is my second home. Although I adore watching my son at workout, the reality is that I often have work I need to complete. In the past, I had lugged a laptop around. But, that's pretty darn heavy.

And so, the iPad seemed like a great option. And I haven't been disappointed!

Of course, I want my iPad protected, but not so much that it becomes overly heavy or difficult to use. Because of the work I do, I quickly got a case with a built-in keyboard. That has absolutely worked for the times I've needed a keyboard, but it is a heavy contraption, and its plain exterior is pretty boring. I was therefore really excited when Hammerhead contacted me to review their Folio case.

The Folio is a lightweight cover that protects my precious iPad screen while the case is shut, but then while open provides support to orient the screen a variety of different ways. I was really happy that the sample they sent me is a nice textured blue-grey: classy! (The official color name is "Suede Grey." The fabric is soft, and my son immediately remarked that it smells good. (That wasn't a criteria I was going to judge, but upon further reflection, it is pretty important that our belongings smell nice!)

Hammerhead Folio for iPad: A Spectrum of Reviews

It is pretty obvious, but device covers need to both cover the object and keep the various buttons uncovered. Some of the products I've tried in the past don't quite match up. I'm happy to report that the Folio's cutouts are exactly where they need to be for easy access to the various buttons, the speaker, and the camera on my iPad.

I really love that the Folio is lightweight, and its spine looks like a book, so it is easy to disguise my iPad in in a stack of magazines, books, and mail if I'm leaving it in the car. 

The Folio has worked perfectly as I read in bed, prop my iPad on my lap while watching my son do gymnastics, or set it up on a table to watch streaming videos. The Folio works well in both portrait and landscape modes. It is soft, stylish, and remember that it smells good too!

Hammerhead has other fun iPad, iPad mini, iPhone, and Laptop accessories and cases, too!

Disclaimer: I received a Hammerhead Folio to review. I will not receive further compensation or commission should you fabulous readers purchase one for yourself.

August 23, 2013

Bandworks After-School Programs

It is hard to believe that my boys start school next week, but that's how it goes! (And the fun isn't over: Bandworks has after-school workshops!)

bandworks-school-of-rock.jpgLooking back on the activities we did this summer, they were primarily in line with "the usual." We had gymnastics, we had various educational experiences, we had time in the swimming pool, and then the fabulous "just hanging around" time. Of course, these were all fantastic things, but an unexpected highlight of the summer for my youngest was his experience at Bandworks School of Rock.

As I mentioned before, my son has an interest in musical instruments, but until this summer, no practical experience, other than the general music education received a couple times a week in school. Many "music camps" assume a level of proficiency before admission, and so I was thrilled to learn about Bandworks, where the aspiring rock musician can have absolutely no prior knowledge.

Interestingly enough, as I sat chatting with some other parents while our children jammed in the rehearsal space, I discovered that the parents of advanced musicians had the exact opposite worry I did: They reported that many "band camps" gear too young and too inexperienced. For them, they felt that many camps were fine for musicians who had a little bit of experience, but not "too much." But, they reported that Bandworks was different.

Two separate families explained that Bandworks came highly recommended by their teens' musical mentors. The certification process that Bandworks instructors go through is extensive and thorough. These families told me that Bandworks was really the only place that they trusted to continue their children's music education through the summer. The advanced options for musicians are pretty amazing, and if my son gets to that level, I'll know he's in good hands. (I heard the sound coming from the classrooms of the advanced musicians, and was very impressed!)

Indeed, I could tell that my son's instructor was top-notch. During the "end of camp performance," he was able to successfully provide vocals for these budding musicians. I know it is tough to follow along when there are unintended key modifications and an uneven tempo from inexperienced performers. But, the instructor is absolutely a pro, so was able to sing along, seamlessly putting together all the instruments into a beautiful performance. For other songs, the kids --including my son-- provided vocals, and they rotated on the various instruments so that everyone could get a chance to play a different instrument. 

Bandworks Music Camp

Honestly, my son was petrified the first day. He was excited, because he really wanted to be in a rock band, but he was very worried that he wouldn't know enough to succeed. But, at the end of that first day, he was beaming. He was eager to go back to camp, and gushed about how wonderful a time he had learning various songs. He snuck into his brother's room to use his keyboard to show me what he had learned. He hummed the tune of the songs he'd perform at the end of the week. He told me about the other kids in his band, and which instruments were their favorites. (While we originally thought each child would learn a single instrument, it turns out that the band members rotated through various instruments and vocals to get a feel for everything!)

He awakened every day early in the morning to make sure we wouldn't be late. And he kept telling me that we had to do this again next year. He was sad every afternoon when he had to go home, but excited about the next day and the upcoming performance.

Indeed, Performance Day was magical. He played keyboard for two songs, drums for one song, and vocals for one song. He was so proud of his accomplishments, and really enjoyed how playing music made him feel. I was pleased and surprised that so much happened in just a week.

Bandworks Music Camp

Well, it turns out that Bandworks School of Rock has eight-week workshops during the school year, as well as some special-event clinics. The first workshop begins just in a couple weeks on the week starting September 9th (with an early registration deadline -earning a $20 discount- of September 2nd) but there are sessions that begin in November, February, and April as well.

So, if you are in the Bay Area, your child can rock out anytime throughout the year - not just summer break! I know my son is already begging me to sign him up for another Bandworks experience.

Disclaimer: My son received a week of Bandworks camp in exchange for my review. (I will not receive further compensation or commission should any of you fabulous readers decide to rock.)