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February 15, 2007

BabyProofing Your Marriage

You walk along a path that you’ve smoothed to your specifications. Suddenly, little dirt clumps start flying upwards while little mounds appear: you’ve gotten married! ‘Tis fine, and you smooth your path again, avoiding little divots and appreciating the new views after you trudge up some difficult hills.

Then you have a baby. You are thrown into a deep hole and your spouse is deposited into another. Like a cartoon, if you move your legs too quickly in panic while trying to exit the hole, you’ll just succeed in digging yourself deeper...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

April 13, 2007

Let's Get Ready for First Grade!

We’ve been attempting to get ready for first grade in a myriad of ways lately, but our emphasis has been primarily towards location rather than academics. The Cat definitely has academic strengths, but there are some topics that he needs to learn more about so that he is comfortable entering his new school...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

May 7, 2007

The Dangerous Book for Boys

When I think of “dangerous boys” I think of the thugs who stole Husband’s cell phone yesterday. But of course, "The Dangerous Book for Boys” that I received free-for-review from the Parent Bloggers Network is exactly the opposite: an opportunity to jump back into a time when the boys played stickball outside homes with stoops, or constructed batteries and go-carts with their own hands...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

June 20, 2007

Vaccinated: A mother of an autistic son and former scientific researcher weighs in

As many of my readers know, I have a six year old son who was diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder at the age of four. What some of you also know is that prior to being a parent, I did neuroscience research. Neuropharmacology was one of my favorite classes in graduate school, followed close behind by things like biochemistry and oncology.

It is not surprising that I would jump at the chance to review Vaccinated. My scientific background is curious for the history and fascinating puzzles to be solved, and my parent-of-a-child-with-autism viewpoint wonders how the “vaccine controversy” will be presented in a pro-vaccine book...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

August 8, 2007

ImagiTales Personalized Books

When I was young, my mom bought me a set of personalized books. At that time, the magical waiting period was “6-8 weeks.” When they arrived, I was thrilled to be included in a story, along with the names of my family members...

ImagiTales provides personalized books where the child is actually integrated in the book with a real photograph. Since the story is typeset using the personalized information, the fonts and spacing are as though the book were created just for that child. I learned of ImagiTales through the Parent Bloggers Network...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

August 24, 2007

The Bilingual Edge

Parent Bloggers NetworkWhen I was younger, I thought I’d grow up to speak many languages. The concept of communicating in different ways intrigued me. Unfortunately, my fear of making mistakes got in the way, plus I had some rather high-stress foreign-language teachers. Had I been involved in a comfortable situation with a trusted individual (or multiple people) teaching me a second (or third) language, perhaps I would have succeeded.

Indeed, The Bilingual Edge, which I acquired free-for-review via the Parent Bloggers Network, debunks several myths (what? I am not over-the-hill language-learning wise?), and reinforces some of my suspicions (high pressure is not a good situation in which to acquire a language.)

Certainly, I hope that my sons can be bilingual, or even trilingual, but the authors point out that it isn’t just “school language” that leads to the cognitive and career benefits of learning multiple languages; true fluency must be reached to really impact one’s life. (Of course, appreciation for another language, ethnicity, and culture is all wonderful for those who like to “dabble,” but the focus here is on actual comprehension of a new tongue.)

As I learned about the commitment and ways that subsequent languages (and even primary languages) are learned, I thought it akin to an exercise program. It isn’t as though you can strap on those little electrical sensors to “jolt” your abs into shape, or connect your stomach to a jiggle machine and expect the fat to melt away. Rather, you must begin an active program and stick with it. Likewise, the passive and sporadic learning from watching a DVD or occasionally using a series of flash cards isn’t going to create an environment in which a different way of communicating can be internalized.

Continue reading "The Bilingual Edge" »

August 29, 2007

Girlology: Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups, and Holding Out

Parent Bloggers NetworkJunior high is a tough time. I don’t think anyone would deny that. The implications of the awkward onset of puberty and the questions of sexuality, changing bodies, and raging hormones continue onto high-school and college.

A few years before I got my period, my mom gave me a book by a rather conservative author. I don’t think she really recognized it for what it was: a condemnation of the female body and emphasis that sex was something done only when the husband wanted it done. I didn’t finish the book because I was in tears during the first couple chapters. My mom took it away, figured out what it really said, and threw it in the trash.

Alas, there was no replacement. I learned things only via the rather dry biological descriptions in sex-ed, but didn’t get the real scoop on what “everyone else” was doing. What is really normal for a teenager: in looks, in function, in level of “experience” in the sexual arena?

Twenty years later, I received a free-for-review copy of Girlology: Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups, and Holding Out via the Parent Bloggers Network.

Continue reading "Girlology: Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups, and Holding Out" »

September 26, 2007

Nina Garcia's The Little Black Book of Style

BlackBookStyle.gifThe Little Black Book of Style by Nina Garcia (of Project Runway and Elle fame) in a nutshell: Confidence is key, but a tailor is a must. Exude confidence, but not while wearing a sweatsuit!

I find this book more inspirational than “practical.” It is a pep-talk. And WOW, what a talk it was. I read the book in full twice, and skipped around to favorite sections a number of other times. The quotes are fabulous, and give me motivation to dress carefully and confidently. The little pieces of history educate me, and encourage me to believe that I know more about fashion than I do.

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm meant that I purchased more “trendy” items than the good-quality basics that Nina would have insisted I buy first. Yes, I was tempted by a sale, a big no-no (I got a designer skirt for less than $30!) but I am thrilled with what I received. One pair of pants is currently out being altered, because I wanted to do it “right” this time instead of slogging around in too-long jeans. The other pieces are more “special occasion” than everyday staples, but I am excited for those events to arrive, and have plans to put them in a more casual rotation after their big debuts.

Or perhaps I have mistaken “fashionable statements” for “trendy” and Nina wouldn’t chew me out after all: I’ve usually been of the “better just get it in a neutral color” mentality, so getting a bright red and white bold print skirt and a crazy-wild geometrical dress seem outrageous. I am excited to enable myself that “freedom.”

Continue reading "Nina Garcia's The Little Black Book of Style" »

September 30, 2007

Win Me a Roomba: Free Things from VocalPoint!

noodlenet.gifThe familiar orange-pink swirled envelope came in the mail last week. This time, enclosed within was a DVD offering a free trial of NoodleNet, a safe way for kids to browse the internet. Sometimes it will be a fabric softener sample, or a DVD of a new television show, such as when "Meerkat Manor" came out.

I still have fond memories of the show "Cover Shot," for which I voted on a "final shot" as one of the original VocalPoint members. I was in "the Club" so early in the game that I actually voted on the design of the envelopes in which VocalPoint sends their product samples, coupons, and announcements!

Why did I become a member?

Continue reading "Win Me a Roomba: Free Things from VocalPoint!" »

October 17, 2007

"Deceptively Delicious" is What it Says

Thumbs Up!My kids are pretty good at eating their veggies. The Cat loves to dip carrots (and sometimes celery) in ranch dressing. While the boys were big "Wonder Pets" fans, they ate celery pretty often. The Cat adores butternut squash and peas. Spliggle is less vegetable-happy, but will eat the plethora of meats the Cat shuns. There are definite holes in each of these kids' diets, though.

Meanwhile, I like vegetables provided they are prepared well. In restaurants, I eagerly eat them up. But at home, the produce that looks beautiful in the store ends up rotting in my fridge as I run out of time to create something with them or they end up prepared rather blandly. I tend to get grand ideas about cooking something delicious, but then end up ordering pizza instead.

Husband and I have our favorite "fall back" meals, which are fine, but on repeat do not provide the nutritional range our family should have.

"Deceptively Delicious," by Jessica Seinfeld, is a how-to in kitchen organization, meal planning, and - most famously - sneaking healthful ingredients into yummy food. I received this valuable resource free-for-review via the Parent Bloggers Network.

I'll admit, I usually make two or perhaps three recipes from any given cookbook before I get bored and move to the next. Sure, recipes catch my eye, but then I forget, or I think it will be too hard, or I get lazy. Amazingly, I've made many recipes from Deceptively Delicious. And I know I'll make more.

Continue reading ""Deceptively Delicious" is What it Says" »

October 23, 2007

Bill on Rights: “Kids are Americans Too!” Says Bill O’ Reilly

billoreillykidsamericanstoo.gifI didn’t take Con Law in high school. I didn’t really enjoy history, government, or current events discussions in high school, either. Con Law, though, was a tempting title. It implied a serious student, ready for some serious business. I was curious. (And serious.)

The glassy-eyed, robust, seemingly dazed teacher who oversaw the proceedings liked to talk a lot, I had been told, and yet I only heard him speak a few times, and couldn’t understand him. I was a bit nervous for what might happen behind his classroom’s closed door. A student-driven class can be brilliant, or it can be a let-down. Amongst lots of bright and socially-conscious, politically-minded students, I decided perhaps I wasn’t up for the challenge. I elected “Brain and Behavior” as my elective; but in hindsight, perhaps the subjects aren’t too far off!

Nonetheless, Bill O’Reilly would probably have classified me as a “moron,” since he explains in the introduction to his new book “Kids are Americans Too,” that “many American kids are complete morons.” He goes on to explain that these morons are “too lazy to figure out what their country is all about.”

Continue reading "Bill on Rights: “Kids are Americans Too!” Says Bill O’ Reilly" »

October 28, 2007

The Other Mother

OtherMother.jpgI had the pleasure of receiving a complimentary copy of Gwendolen Gross’ new book, The Other Mother. I dove into it enthusiastically for two reasons:

First, I am “in the middle” on the “Working Mom” versus “Stay at Home” mom battle: as a work-from-home-part-time gal, I can understand many of the benefits and drawbacks of each “type” of mother. I have plenty to say about how ridiculous this whole division is, and was curious to see how it played out in Gross’ fictional world.

Second, Gross is a friendly woman. We had a fun email exchange since she agreed to participate in the Chicago Moms Blog Book Club (sister blog of the Silicon Valley Moms Blog, where I am a contributor.) She sent me a copy of The Other Mother with a personal note and a bunch of cards promoting the book. Personal contact is so refreshing, and whenever an author takes the time to respond to his or her readers in this fashion, it pays dividends. If I feel valued, I will value that author’s book!

So what did I think?

Continue reading "The Other Mother" »

November 8, 2007

Look Me in the Eye: I finally read it, Mr. Robison!

I have also posted this review on the Karianna Spectrum; however, it seemed appropriate to stick it here as well.

Lookmeintheeyeaspergers Nearly two months ago I mentioned John Elder Robison's book, Look Me in the Eye. I then posted a clarification regarding my thoughts on the media portrayal of autism and/or spectrum disorders. Of course, since I hadn't yet read the book, I couldn't talk about it in specific.

Well, I've now read the book! (Funny how going away for a few days without kids suddenly opens up time for reading.)

It was a fairly quick read because it caught my attention. I couldn't put it down.

Yes, I saw parts of the Cat in it, but I also saw myself, and surprisingly, I saw my father. There were plenty of things in there that didn't resonate with my family, but that is true because we're all different people, regardless of what quirks we may possess.

My speech used to be more robotic than the Cat's is, for example. In fact, hearing the Cat read books aloud is adorable because he puts in beautiful inflection. Is that learned? Yes, but also no. When he speaks to us, I don't hear an "Aspergian" voice.

Continue reading "Look Me in the Eye: I finally read it, Mr. Robison!" »

November 27, 2007

The Daring Book for Girls

daringbookgirls.gifI loved the Dangerous Book for Boys. As such, while I was eager to review the The Daring Book for Girls, I was also a bit nervous that perhaps it wouldn’t live up to its inspiration. I knew it could either be a worthy match, or a weak attempt dressed in pink. While The Daring Book for Girls indeed has sparkles on its cover, they are welcome, for the content inside definitely sparkles. (And, the cover is not pink!)

Like The Dangerous Book for Boys, this “companion” is full of exciting facts, “how-to”s, and plenty of nostalgia.

I received The Daring Book for Girls free-for-review via the Parent Bloggers Network.

Continue reading "The Daring Book for Girls" »

December 9, 2007

The Middle Place

MiddlePlaceKellyCorrigan.jpgGayle Weiswasser is hosting an online book club discussion of The Middle Place, by Kelly Corrigan. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of the book so that I could join in. If any of you wish to ask the author your questions, please visit Gayle's place to submit them.

I have read "cancer books" (and blogs) before, but I have been lucky enough not to understand what it feels like to go through what Corrigan has. Sure, I have had a friend with cancer to whom I brought meals, and I've had abnormal moles removed in the name of preventing cancer. But my frame of reference is very different than people who have lived it.

But this isn't really a "cancer book." It is a memoir. It is a spirit-lifting, page-turning, comfort-inducing memoir. Did I just say "comfort" and "cancer" in the same paragraph?

Continue reading "The Middle Place" »

December 11, 2007

Piper Reed Navy Brat: Autographed Copy Contest!

PiperReedNavyBrat.JPGWhen I was a child, I loved having pen-pals. Most were around my own age, and from all different parts of the country (and even a couple from different parts of the world.) During social storms in school, I took comfort in the treasures I would find in the mailbox when I got home. I've mentioned before how I loved to dance, and how I wrote to Karen Strickler Dean, who had written young adult fiction books about dance. When Ms. Strickler Dean wrote me back, I was thrilled. Authors are heroes to me. Ms. Strickler Dean and I had a pen-pal relationship for quite awhile.

In today's age, pals with pens have been replaced by various online communities. But the thrill of paper books still gets to me, and I hope to emphasize the love of books to my kids. Authors are still heroes to me, especially children's authors.

I am lucky to have received Piper Reed: Navy Brat from the Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. And I am even luckier to be hosting an interview with the author, Kimberly Willis Holt. Her stop at my blog is next Tuesday, December 18th. Of course I am thrilled, and told the Cat how we could ask her questions. I pointed to the book and told him that she wrote it, and that we could talk to her!

Keep reading to find out how you can receive your own autographed copy of Piper Reed: Navy Brat!

Continue reading "Piper Reed Navy Brat: Autographed Copy Contest!" »

December 18, 2007

Interview with Kimberly Willis Holt, Author of Piper Reed Navy Brat

PiperReedNavyBrat.JPGAs promised, here is my interview with Kimberly Willis Holt, author of Piper Reed: Navy Brat

I am pleased to be part of her Piper Reed Blog Tour, and am happy that she was able to provide our lucky winner Robin with an autographed copy of Piper Reed: Navy Brat!

Please read my brief review of the book if you haven't already. And please visit Kimberly Willis Holt at her website: www.kimberlywillisholt.com for more information about her and her books.

Without further ado, the interview...

My 6.5 year old son and I both enjoyed “Piper Reed Navy Brat,” so we are happy to ask you some questions. This is our first interview, so we are very excited:

Continue reading "Interview with Kimberly Willis Holt, Author of Piper Reed Navy Brat" »

February 29, 2008

The Million Dollar Putt

milliondollarputt.jpg The Cat's monthly book report was due today. He selected The Million Dollar Putt, which isn't surprising given that he loves golf!

Perhaps I should be a bit ashamed to admit that I purchased the supplies for his project before he even came home from school. I had an idea about what he'd put on the posterboard, so got some paints, felt, and golf-related stickers. I got sticky numbers (to number the flag,) and some various landscaping things.

He surprised me by deciding to go a different direction with his poster. (I forgot to snap a photo of it - but will once he brings it home again.) He used the felt for the putting area, but chose to create the entire hole instead of focusing on the final putt: he alternated colors of paint for the fairway to create that "groomed" look. He placed a marker at the start of the hole to be the tee. Why not use the sticker of a tee? Because in relation to his course, it was off-scale. ("Mommy, this is WAY TOO big!") I got the same story on the golf cart sticker: "Mommy, the golf cart can't take up this whole section of the fairway!"

Continue reading "The Million Dollar Putt" »

March 5, 2008

Passions Will Nourish Your Child

no, not the soap opera...

YourChildsStrengths.jpeg
When my brother was in high school, he pretty much ignored math. His grades slipped. It wasn't that he wasn't intelligent; rather, he had better things to do than mathematics. He spent most of his time after school tinkering around on the family computer.

My parents could have taken the computer away as punishment for not doing his homework or for poor grades. Instead, they recognized that his passion would become his livelihood. Amazingly, they allowed him to switch from public high school to a more flexible private school that enabled him to develop his talents.

Eventually, he built his own computer in his room. He started an electronics consulting business. He then started an internet company. He attended high school in the morning and ran his company in the afternoon and into the night.

I bet you can guess the rest: he is a very successful businessman who owns two computer companies. He's taken some college courses, usually online, simply for his own edification, but his career is solid. He could probably retire and he isn't even 30. But he doesn't want to retire, because computer science is his life.

Meanwhile, as readers of the Karianna Spectrum know, I have a seven year old son who has plenty of quirks, but plenty of talents, too.

Throughout the years, I've been criticized on my parenting and he's been chastised doubly-so. While I love my son, I've seen teachers, medical professionals, and the public at large look down on his quirky and sometimes disruptive behavior. He was asked to leave a preschool and then expelled from his first kindergarten, a private school that I thought would be flexible in the same way that my brother's high school had been so many years ago.

We've had many ups and downs in his short educational career. I see qualities that will make him go far when he is older, but it is difficult for him to conform to societal expectations of who a first-grader should be. The exact qualities that make "spirited" children such a "burden" to their teachers are the same qualities that will help them think outside the box and be true innovators in adulthood.

Knowing that I must keep in mind my son's strengths as others are more concerned about his weaknesses I was eager to read Your Child's Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them by Jenifer Fox. I received this book free-for-review from the Parent Bloggers Network.

Continue reading "Passions Will Nourish Your Child" »

April 14, 2008

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and the Plethora of Betsys

The Cat has been calling Spiggle "Mr. Piggle Wiggle." Indeed, the "Piggle Wiggle" name is so satisfying to say. (And hey, it rhymes with "Spliggle" anyway!)

The Cat did his last book report on the first Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book, but there are many others, such as Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm, Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

When I was a child, I read them all. I also read all the Betsy-Tacy books, which is why I love that Mothergoosemouse has a Tacy, as does my best friend from elementary school. (In our old neighborhood, a black Saab has the personalized plate "Tacy." I smiled every time I saw it.) The first hardback book (other than picture books) that I ever borrowed from the library was "B" Is for Betsy, not to be confused with the "Betsy" of the aforementioned Betsy-Tacy and Tib.

But yes, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is right there in my memory, even though her name is not Betsy.

Continue reading "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and the Plethora of Betsys" »

April 30, 2008

Rock Mama's Rules and Your Kids Will Be Fantastic

MamaRocksRules.jpgI was one of those first-time parents who stocked up on the parenting books and magazine subscriptions only to quickly become bitter. The preachy tone of the books and the unrealistic up-beat nature of the magazine articles soured my taste, especially when the advice didn't ring true to my particular situation.

But when the Parent Bloggers Network asked me if I wanted to read Mama Rock's Rules, I was game. Sure, Rose Rock happens to be the mother of comedian Chris Rock, but what intrigued me the most about this mother extraordinaire is that she has raised ten children, plus "more than" seventeen foster children have gone through her home. Her house was "the place" to gather and after reading her book, I can see why.

Rose Rock is an educator specializing in preschool and special education. With that kind of training, plus the real-life training of being the mother to so many types of kids, she surely knows what she is talking about. Her co-author Valerie Graham is part of the on-air and production team of The Mom Show with Rose Rock (at WWXM-FM.) She is a mother of three and a grandmother of four, so she's got experience, too!

Continue reading "Rock Mama's Rules and Your Kids Will Be Fantastic" »

May 20, 2008

The Older Sister I Never Had

RaisedByWolves.jpgWhen I was younger, my mom taught me the "circle sweep" method of cleaning a room. From her older sister, she provided me a list of "how to be a good guest." It would seem then that I wouldn't need Were You Raised by Wolves by Christie Mellor, but when the Parent Bloggers Network asked if I'd be interested in perusing Ms. Mellor's advice, I was eager.

After all, while I understood the need to keep things clean and to be respectful, I didn't necessarily know the best methods to do so. Time spent perfecting a little whorl on an appetizer may not be the best spent. Also, advice that comes via parental lips isn't as revered as that which comes from your best friend, so I may not have listened to all of the wisdom my mom tried to impart. Thankfully, Mellor can be simultaneously a best friend and a mentor. She may be older than her target audience, but she is still hip enough to not create a stodgy new adult. Her tone is friendly and casual, but she is also direct. She can give advice, but she can also shrug and say, "more martini for me" which is something I would never expect to hear from my mother.

And about those martinis:

Continue reading "The Older Sister I Never Had" »

June 17, 2008

Writing Motherhood: Writing Yourself

writingmotherhood.JPGI was one of the lucky folks who received a copy of Writing Motherhood in anticipation of a book club discussion of the book on the NJ Moms Blog.

Unlike traditional book clubs, this one came with a writing prompt. Writing Motherhood at its core is a soul-seeking experience, not a "how to write the Great American Novel." The "Mother's Notebook," the handwritten book the consumer creates, is meant to be private, a "safe place" to let the words flow.

My challenge in writing is not necessarily finding time (I make time to write to the exclusion of things I should be doing, like folding the laundry and handling client requests) but as I learned from my struggles with the writing prompt, it is more that I have become used to writing for an audience, and not necessarily for myself. Although I love the idea of a "Mother Notebook," I haven't yet actually purchased mine yet.

Continue reading "Writing Motherhood: Writing Yourself" »

July 23, 2008

Paint a Picture or Read a Book: Savvy Source and LeapFrog TAG

savvysource.gifSee that large quiz-link in my sidebar? Take the quiz. Really.

Everyone knows I am not much for developmental-stages quizzes; after all, it is deviance from such things that ends up with those pesky labels and what-not about which I write on The Karianna Spectrum. Every kid develops at a different pace, and I dislike anything that causes panic about "delays." But this quiz isn't about trying to measure developmental stages; rather, it is designed to suggest activities based on the particular point your child happens to be. It isn't a "tsk tsk" task, but rather a suggestion, a personalization. If your child knows "a" but doesn't yet know "b," Savvy Source will suggest activities to build on "a" to help develop "b." No judgment on whether your child is "behind," just ideas about fun things that might be appropriate for your kid while trying to develop things he or she hasn't yet mastered.

The quiz is from The Savvy Source, sponsored by LeapFrog's TAG system. Of course it doesn't surprise you that this all comes via The Parent Bloggers Network.

I took the quiz using Spliggle's abilities and then created some activities based on their list, such as listening to a song while using makeshift "rhythm sticks" and playing a simple rhyming game. Although some activities may seem "obvious," I frequently can't think in creative ways when faced with the dreaded "Mommy! What can we do?" question, so suggestions are very welcome. The graphic above-left is a screen-shot of Splig's links. It shows the various categories for which Savvy Source will recommend activities. Inside each category, specific activities are tagged with your child's name as a particular interest.

Savvy Source is more than just the quiz: members can access preschool ratings and descriptions of camps and classes. The quiz data is stored along with the suggested activities, so it isn't necessary to complete the entire quiz in one sitting or to memorize all the suggested activities. The activities are free, by the way. Although there are recommended products to buy, the real benefit of the quiz is finding out what parents can do at home to enrich their child without joining the flashing-lights and loud-sounds bandwagon.

So what about the LeapFrog TAG? That is a plastic "gizmo," yes? Yes. But it is worth it.

I've got to admit that while I was a fan of LeapFrog's earlier reading systems in theory I was less a fan in practice because those plastic book-holder thingies were a bit heavy and the kids couldn't snap-in the books without assistance. Storage was an issue, too, since the rigid plastic thing was larger than what typically fits in a bookcase, and the book cartridges inevitably ended up lost. Still, I was impressed with the work that LeapFrog has been doing.

leapfrogTAG.gifBut the TAG is such a fabulous improvement. The "reader" is a single wand that serves as a "remote" for the books as well as a storage device (no lost cartridges!) The wand can read the entire book, specific words, or create a little quiz based on the book. There are many titles of popular books available in TAG format. Splig loved the "Ozzie & Mack" book that came with the TAG, but has been reading "Pirates! The Treasure of Turtle Island" over and over and over again. (See his selection of books in the graphic at right)

The Cat knows how to read, but he still appreciates having the TAG wand available to properly pronounce a word about which he may be uncertain. Both boys enjoy having the books and wand in the van, a place where Mommy certainly can't read a book but would like to encourage her kids to do so. The wand is so portable that it is easy to bring along in the "busy bag" with a few of the TAG books.

The TAG reader wand holds five books at a time. The child's library online holds all the books, so it is easy to upload whichever books desired into the wand. The wand also reports back via the child's "Learning Path" to show the parent what skills the child has worked on, what activities the child enjoys doing, and how their learning is progressing. (To use this properly, I should ban the Cat from picking up his brother's wand, since that would skew the data - Ooops!) Readers can collect rewards for finishing various activities.

The LeapFrog TAG is a truly interactive and personalized system. Both it and the Savvy Source quiz are good opportunities to learn more about our kids' interests, learning styles, and progress, all while having lots of fun.

July 31, 2008

The Tales of Beedle the Bard (by J.K. Rowling)

beedlebardcollector.jpgNo doubt you Harry Potter fans have heard about Ms. Rowling's handwritten Tales of Beedle the Bard. Only seven were created.

Not surprisingly, Amazon is now publishing the stories contained within, to be released December 4, 2008, just in time for the holidays (heh.) Both a "Standard Edition" and a "Collector's Edition" are available for presale. The "Collector's Edition" includes ten additional illustrations (not in the Standard Edition,) a velvet bag, and other fancy trappings to make it appear as close to the original handwritten version as possible.

If anything, check out the Collector's Edition page to also see photographs of one of the original books: it looks like quite a treat!

Try as I might, you know I'll be preordering it. I must. And if you are a Rowling fan, you must, too.

Net proceeds from both the Standard Edition and the Collector's Edition support of the Children's High Level Group, a charity co-founded in 2005 by J K Rowling and Emma Nicholson MEP.

The Beach House is Much More than a Beach

beachhouse.JPGLast night I finished reading The Beach House, a fun and thought-provoking novel by New York Times bestselling author Jane Green. This afternoon, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Green on a conference call with other bloggers.

I admit that I first thought The Beach House would be a light, quick read, something someone might read at - say - a beach house, resting on an Adirondack, toes buried in the sand. I was correct about the "quick" part, particularly because I didn't want to put it down, but "light" isn't a good descriptor. Rather, Ms. Green creates a complex situation that at its core is about simplifying. The take-home message is one of finding oneself or reinventing oneself, and essentially about coming "home" in many senses of the word.

During the conference call, Ms. Green notes The Beach House is a character-driven book, whereas her next novel (due out next year) is more a plot-driven novel. Indeed, the characters in The Beach House are richly developed. Instead of hearing a tale from a single perspective, the reader is delighted by learning the other sides as well.

I remarked that it was as if there were no true "villains" in the book. Indeed, there is only one person who seems completely corrupted. Other characters have flaws, some of them very serious, but we also see why. A fellow blogger challenged me to explain how a particular female character wasn't evil. Although I choked a bit with my response on the call, I can say with certainty that I can understand where she was coming from. I shall not reveal any plot points, but while this woman does some rather unfortunate things, it comes out of needy vulnerability.

I identified with many of the characters simultaneously. I also recognized many ways in which I was distanced from the characters. This is important, for anything that hits "too close to home" becomes more about therapy and less about entertainment. Nonetheless, reading The Beach House made me think a great deal about the portions of the book that made my gut turn because of my own vulnerabilities.

As I slept last night, I had a funny dream about junior prom. I was surrounded by friends from many years ago, people with whom I could just be "myself." Indeed, my friends told me I could just wear jeans to the dance, because it was all about being comfortable. They had arrived rather unexpectedly, and I felt awkward despite seeing friendly faces. I searched through my wardrobe to discover what I would feel best about wearing. Meanwhile, the friends sat in the limo, waiting for my decision. Alas, my alarm clock went off before I could find out what I would have chosen. I suspect the dream was motivated by the themes in The Beach House. So, you could say I was touched by this novel.

I enjoyed the call this afternoon since it is fun to hear the author's thoughts about her own book as well as some of the "back story" in developing this and her other novels. Thank you to Beth Feldman of RoleMommy and BeyondPR for arranging the call, and to Jane Green for answering our questions and chatting with us about The Beach House and beyond.

August 11, 2008

Embrace Your White Trash and Find Yourself

WhiteTrashMom.jpgLast autumn, I volunteered to bring the pumpkin pie to the First Grade Thanksgiving Feast. The pies needed to be cut into uniform pieces to serve four classes worth of students. Since most store-bought pumpkin pies contain cloves - which the Cat is allergic to - I was going to make homemade pumpkin bars. They cut easily into squares (easier to serve than pie slices!) and would no doubt adhere to the school's "Wellness Policy" because I knew I wasn't going to use additional sugar, and I use real vanilla, no artificial flavors, and no funky preservatives. It seemed like a winning situation.

But I made a tragic mistake: Instead of just showing up with 13,284 pumpkin bars, I emailed the woman in charge of the volunteers to let her know of my plans. She had said to buy "four Costco pies and cut into bite-sized pieces." I figured the mention of Costco was an attempt to let people relax about not having to bake themselves, so didn't think there would be any reason to object to someone who wanted to take on that responsibility. So, when I volunteered, I said I'd happily bake bars.

Her response was, "The committee decided to serve Costco's pumpkin pies," but that I was "welcome to bake a special pie for [the Cat.]"

In Michelle Lamar and Molly Wendland's The White Trash Mom Handbook they refer to such committees as "The Muffia," a term they lovingly lifted from I Don't Know How She Does It. Indeed, this particular lady is leader of our school's Muffia, but unlike White Trash Mom's assertion that the Muffia wishes to condemn those who aren't perfect, this particular "you must only bring store-bought goods," was a twist on that. It is almost as though this particular woman wanted to make sure that I didn't get credit for being capable enough to bake enough pumpkin bars for around eighty First Graders. (And, in this cruel twist, this meant that my son would be singled out as not having what the other kids had - and I had to foot the bill for all that nasty artificial crud, the leftovers which were returned to me, of course.)

Later, a fellow non-Muffia-Mom (who White Trash Mom would simply call a Fellow White Trash Mom - but I view this particular friend more as a Hippie-Free-Spirit more than straight from the trailer park) ran into the aforementioned woman shouting out directions to her volunteers. My very strong, unflappable friend whispered nervously, "I am SCARED of her!" Indeed, upon speaking to other moms, I learned there was no "committee" that decided on the Costco pies. The "committee" was just Muffy.

I received The White Trash Mom Handbook via the Parent Bloggers Network. It is written by the same gal behind [a now-defunct blog] plus with "inside-information" from her former-Muffia Friend "Tacky Princess."

While I don't listen to "Country and Western" or quite feel comfortable wearing tie-dye, I got some great tips from this book. Part of the White Mom Trash Philosophy (thankfully spelled out quickly at the start of the book) involves not worrying so much about what other people think. Indeed, I am very guilty of that: I am an approval-seeker, which means those "Muffia" folks definitely have a victim in me. (I have plenty of juicy anecdotes like the pumpkin pie one.) But if I learn to "take a chill pill," I should be able to accomplish much more than if I am trying to live up to an unattainable standard of perfection.

Indeed, White Trash Mom talks about how the perfect people must have help. And in my neighborhood, they do: nannies, housekeepers, personal chefs, and personal trainers. I do not. And yes, I am sure there are plenty of folks in our school who don't either, but the most visible folks are also the most pampered.

Being "White Trash" is not about bucking all expectations and rebelling loudly, because as is mentioned many times in the book, your kids will suffer. On one hand, being "White Trash" is "still holding on to the flicker of light [you] had before having kids," but on the other hand, "you need to be involved in some manner because the school needs you," so "think of yourself last and put your child first."

"White Trash Mom" and "Tacky Princess" give a run-down on school volunteer opportunities with their unique cost-benefit analysis (ROI: Return on Investment.) They mention ways short-cuts can be taken without anyone getting truly hurt. It is essentially all about balance: not trying to be Superwoman, but also not being a complete slacker.

I admit that I found a few contradictions in the book, but that is because there are many contradictions in real life. For example, the book disapproves of the Muffia's over-scheduling of kids' activities, particularly sports activities where the child is unlikely to ever play professionally or even in college or high school. But one of the pieces of advice (that I cheered!) was to sign up kids for activities outside of school. That way, if a bully at school is making life miserable, the kid has friends from outside of school.

Indeed, my kids' activities are primarily with kids who don't attend their school. (And yes, the Cat's soccer team is a "club sport," where he had to try out. But I think everyone made the team. Shhhh! Don't tell him!). My own tumultuous social life in elementary school was balanced by the many hours I spent dancing with kids who didn't know my in-school social status. Having that outlet physically and socially was valuable for me, and I hope it is for my kids as well.

But I do agree with White Trash Mom that it isn't productive for the kids to be pushed in multiple sports if it is all about the parents' benefit instead of for the kids' enjoyment. Knowing when it is about the kid and when it is about the parent is hard.

The White Trash Mom Handbook begins with a dose of social philosophy and psychology, and then continues on to actual "tips" to hopefully decrease stress while still supporting teachers in the "unwritten curriculum." It is about keeping up with expectations and appearances in a way that benefit, instead of hurt, the kids. Tips about handling work, cleaning, and cooking are all in here. I'll happily contribute to The White Trash Mom Cookbook (yes, I see a companion book in the future) because while the recipes in that section indeed look yummy and easy, I have a bunch of easy recipes that don't rely so heavily on the processed foods. Being healthy need not be a Muffia-trait.

Even if you don't like the term "White Trash Mom" - put away your biases or I'll accuse you of being part of the Muffia -- The White Trash Mom Handbook is worth a read. (pick it up at Amazon) It challenges us to be true to ourselves and our instincts while still accepting responsibility for our kids and household. The book is humorous, practical, and surprisingly thought-provoking. It is going to take some effort to wean me from my wanting-to-please-everyone ways, but at least I know there are others struggling with the same tendencies.

August 18, 2008

Piper Reed: The Great Gypsy

PiperReedGypsy2.jpgLast December I had the pleasure of interviewing Kimberly Willis Holt regarding her book Piper Reed: Navy Brat.

I am pleased to announce that Piper is back for a new adventure!

Piper Reed: The Great Gypsy is available starting tomorrow, August 19th! (Of course it is available for pre-order at Amazon, but it will be tomorrow soon enough.)

Remember that Tales of Beedle the Bard is also available for pre-order, but that is more for the older set. Meanwhile, the Cat's favorite book right now is A Snake Mistake. He's also a big Henry & Mudge and Turtle & Snake fan.

The Cat enjoyed Piper Reed: Navy Brat, and especially enjoyed coming up with questions to ask Ms. Willis Holt. As I explained last year,

Piper Reed: Navy Brat resonated with my son's experiences because he has moved five times in his six years of life. As he is younger than Piper, he didn't have the same perceptions of social impact, but a story in which the heroine can adjust to a new situation is especially relevant to him, as he started a brand new school this year.


We'll read Piper Reed: The Great Gypsy so we can see what happens next in Piper's exciting and ever-changing life. I am intrigued by mention of a "spaceship beach house," so am eager to find out more about that, since I seem to be drawn to the concept of beach houses. And while I am more of a cat person than a dog person, our family did attend a dog show once, although I am willing to bet Piper's version is much more chaotic, adventurous, and fun!

September 15, 2008

Writing Motherhood: Part Deux

writingmotherhood.JPGIn June I wrote a no-edit stream-of-consciousness post on The Karianna Spectrum based on a writing prompt from Writing Motherhood, which I subsequently reviewed right here.

I am pleased to announce that I will be doing another writing-prompt, this time on "First Words and Other Firsts." As part of that exercise, I'll be hosting a giveaway.

When: Tuesday, September 23 I will write a post on the "First Words and Other Firsts." prompt.

Your Task: Write a post based on the same prompt. Put the link to your post in the comment section of my September 23rd post. It will be cross-posted both here and The Karianna Spectrum. A comment on either cross-post (not both) will get you one entry. If you do not have your own blog, feel free to respond to the prompt right in the comments section - that will get you an entry. Lisa Garrigues, the author of Writing Motherhood, will respond to your posts and comments!

The Prompt: First Words and Other Firsts: Open any baby diary and you will find whole pages devoted to firsts: first smile, first words, first friends, first birthday. Why are firsts so significant? Because they represent a beginning. Because they push us beyond what is familiar and comfortable. Because they jolt us out of the numbness or everyday life and bring us back to our primitive selves when we saw a world through a child's eyes. Keeping in mind that first experiences do not end with babyhood, write about a first: the first day of kindergarten, the first day of college, the first grandchild. Or simply begin with the writing start "the first time" and write down the first thing that comes to mind.

What Can You Win? Why, your own copy of Writing Motherhood, of course! On September 24th, I'll pick a winner randomly from the submitted comments.

I look forward to reading your posts, and for virtually hosting Lisa Garrigues!

September 23, 2008

The First

Developmental milestones were never my thing. When I think of "first words" or "first sentence" my mind draws a blank. I remember "first steps" because my mom told me I walked at 9 months, so I wanted to make sure I knew when my son did. He ended up walking at 10 months. My second son was a good 13-14 months before he walked, although he is quite the adventurous gymnast now.

My first son walked, but he was fearful of climbing. My second son climbed, but didn't bother walking. Aside from that "important" walking milestone, my second son met his physical and social "milestones" well before my first.

When I write out those annoyingly long surveys of "medical history" I cringe at the developmental milestone blanks because they remain blank. I was of the "just relax, since kids develop at their own pace" mindset.

But you know where that got me.

Yes, doctors frowned their disapproval when I could not write down the exact date my son uttered his first word. It didn't help that he was on all fours meowing like a cat or ignoring them completely.

When it was apparent that the Cat wasn't meeting the "traditional" milestones, I was concerned, but couldn't help being hurt when the doctors and teachers would chime "Why didn't you get him help earlier!?" especially as the red tape piled up such that I had tried to get help many months or years before.

On one hand, I wanted to let my child develop at his own pace.

On the other hand, I saw the panic. Other moms didn't approve of my son's behavior. His preschool teachers didn't approve of his behavior. The doctors said he must be severely disabled and would continue to be, especially since obviously we hadn't done anything yet. (And what is "anything" given that the insurance wouldn't pay for therapy anyway?) I didn't feel comfortable leaving him with babysitters or at something like a generic daycare in a store, gym, or public event.

Now? He is a second grader. He has quirks, but he is a second grader. He plays soccer on a "normal" team where none of the coaches know he has a "diagnosis." He reads at (or above) grade-level. His mathematical abilities are above grade-level. His language, enunciation, and facial expressions are all fine. He is not an ax murderer.

And then my second son. Oh, my second son. He is a social butterfly who believes he is a teenager. Nay, he is taking over the world. He is independent in ways that my first son is definitely not. When the Cat is hesitant, Splig jumps right in to "save" his older brother. "See, I can do it!"

But even my second son hasn't escaped the designation of "developmental delays." In his case, it is his speech. He enjoys his speech classes and doesn't see himself as "different" in any way. Even so, I don't remember many of his "firsts," probably because I was so consumed with trying to get things to work well with the Cat.

I wish I could say that the first time I felt "this is the school!" was when I stepped on the Cat's current campus. Yes, I get happy butterflies when I go there because the teachers have been so supportive, but I was exceptionally excited about the private school that later expelled him, too. When I stepped on that campus, I felt like it was a special community. It turned out that community was singular, just not in a way that meshed with the Cat. That experience hurt more than I can explain, but I am glad that for now we have a happy resolution.

The Cat's current school is excellent. I must hold my breath, though, because this week is "conference week," and with it our first "official" view into how the Cat has been doing in the second grade. We've already gotten the not-so-favorable report from the Spanish teacher, so my heart is tense in my chest.

I hope that filling out forms of developmental milestones is over for us, but if either boy ends up having more severe problems in the future, those blanks will need to be filled. And again, my mind will be empty, and I'll have to give gross estimates, all the while signaling to the evaluator that I must not have been attentive, or didn't care.

And in a way I don't care. Early diagnosis can help sometimes, but it can hurt other times. I am very worried about jumping at each little deviance, and comparisons of "firsts" are just that.

But finally finding a school and extra-curricular activities that mesh with the Cat? It is worth it that it wasn't our "first" try, because so far, it is the "first" time he's really been like a "normal" kid.

------------------------------

In June I wrote a no-edit stream-of-consciousness post based on a writing prompt from Writing Motherhood, which I subsequently reviewed here at Reviews from the Couch.

The above post was based on another writing-prompt, this time on "First Words and Other Firsts."

I am pleased to announce that YOU can write your own post on this topic and win a copy of Writing Motherhood!

When: RIGHT NOW, September 23

Your Task: Write a post based on the same prompt as i did above (see below for the whole prompt). Put the link to your post in the comment section of this post. I have also cross-posted this on The Karianna Spectrum. A comment on either cross-post (not both) will get you one entry. If you do not have your own blog, feel free to respond to the prompt right in the comments section - that will get you an entry. Lisa Garrigues, the author of Writing Motherhood, will respond to your posts and comments!

The Prompt: First Words and Other Firsts: Open any baby diary and you will find whole pages devoted to firsts: first smile, first words, first friends, first birthday. Why are firsts so significant? Because they represent a beginning. Because they push us beyond what is familiar and comfortable. Because they jolt us out of the numbness or everyday life and bring us back to our primitive selves when we saw a world through a child's eyes. Keeping in mind that first experiences do not end with babyhood, write about a first: the first day of kindergarten, the first day of college, the first grandchild. Or simply begin with the writing start "the first time" and write down the first thing that comes to mind.

What Can You Win? Why, your own copy of Writing Motherhood, of course! Tomorrow, September 24th, I'll pick a winner randomly from the submitted comments.

I look forward to reading your posts, and for virtually hosting Lisa Garrigues!

---

Congratulations RebekahC - you've won!

September 25, 2008

Not Just Maybe: Pick up this Baby Today.

MaybeBabyMiller.JPGWhen the Parent Bloggers Network asked me to review Maybe Baby: An Infertile Love Story, I agreed because I was curious. The early reviews sounded fabulous and the cover shot looked perky and inviting. Yet I didn’t think I would be so engaged by a novel about infertility.

First, I don’t have any experience in the subject. Sure, it took a few more months to conceive my second son than my first. And yes, I felt disappointed and annoyed when it didn’t “work” month after month, but “month after month” was probably less than eight. I have no frame of reference other than recalling how desperately I wanted each of my kids, and watching the struggles of friends who haven’t been as lucky.

Second, the subject of infertility is a “downer.” But Maybe Baby is anything but. In a way, I feel bad for laughing at some points; and yet my chuckles are testament to Matthew Miller’s amazing ability to entertain and engage his readers. We forget at times that this novel has a heartbreaking longing at its core, and yet we cannot forget because Miller’s personality is such that we can’t help thinking “This guy would make such an excellent dad!”

He is the guy you want to be your best friend. He is an entertainer. He is resilient, yet sensitive. And most importantly, he is honest. His descriptions, manners, desires and temperament show he is an excellent fit for fatherhood.

The memoir is not the same story page after page; each new adventure of Matthew and Constance may have the same ultimate goal each month, but the journey and twists are different. The obstacles they face include flat tires and “no semen after noon” rules at the hospital. And of course there is the financial aspect: “We keep paying to have wands shoved in your hoo-ha, for me to masturbate at the hospital, and for us to be criminally disappointed every month,” Miller writes a conversation with Constance on pg. 206.

This book is educational and entertaining all in one. New to me, but Miller describes on pg. 222 the bizarre-yet-logical “cum courier” role: “… the endocrinologist conductor shouted, ‘Last Call!’ for the express brassiere train for which my semen now held a one-way ticket…” A dry description of how the woman should carry her partner’s semen to the hospital in her bra to maintain optimum temperature wouldn’t have been nearly so entertaining. I can’t help laughing at his descriptions of procedures that should be embarrassing, like huddling in a bathroom that smells of “poop in a peach patch” to unromantically create the seed from which his maybe baby might occur. But I feel mortified on his behalf, too.

Miller is not a “victim” despite his position. His voice is strong. His character, solid. And yet he and his wife have been denied month after month after month. There is no condescension as I desperately wish for a happy resolution. “They deserve it,” I think, as I turn each page hoping for that “Hey! We won the conception lottery!” declaration. Throughout the book, each pregnancy announcement is someone else in their family.

Maybe Baby is definitely worth your while. The story is compelling and romantic without being sappy. Sounds cliché, but I laughed and I cried. Further adventures of Matthew M.F. Miller are at maybebabyblog.com.

October 5, 2008

Sleep is for the Weak: But These Gals are Strong



Last night I hung out with a bunch of the authors of Sleep Is for the Weak: The Best of the Mommybloggers Including Amalah, Finslippy, Fussy, Woulda Coulda Shoulda, Mom-101, and More! (Blogher Book).

I love these peeps. Truly, I do. Sure, I got a bunch of their autographs during BlogHer's closing party at Macy's, but somehow I had forgotten to get Lisa's signature, and dear Grace Davis I hadn't seen in two years. Last night, I got their two Hancocks, plus got a chance to hang out with some of my favorite people, some of whom are in the book, and some of whom will be in the sequel. (There WILL be a sequel, right Rita?)

I could gush all day about how adorably cute Mrs. Kennedy was in her jumper. Or how I enjoyed nuzzling up to Stefania. I am always excited to see Squid's red -do and who can resist the charms of Jenijen and Jenny? Of course I worshiped at Rita's feet, and although I see Maggie everywhere, last night was the first time we actually shook hands and exchanged names. I love seeing Glennia, particularly as she always has stories to tell about the Big Name Political People she sees; that girl is devoted her Momocrat-ness.

But you don't want all the name-dropping, do you? You just want me to say BUY THE BOOK. These are fabulous writers, and the company they keep are amazing folks as well. I got to meet various husbands, too, which is frequently a window into the soul.

So... BUY THE BOOK. And feel jealous that I got to hang out with some of the wonderful women who are fellow bloggers, regardless of whether they are in the book or not!

December 9, 2008

Poingo: Point, and Go! You Can Read!

Poingo Starter SetThe upside of having an older brother is that things like homework suddenly seem very "cool," because it is something new! exciting! and most of all, something your older brother does. I certainly appreciate my youngest's desire to have homework and hopes he keeps that positive spirit into next year when he actually does have homework. The downside of having an older brother is that many of those "cool" things are still out of reach.

My youngest doesn't know how to read yet. He's four, and definitely Kindergarten-ready. He can identify all his letters, knows most letter sounds, and will be pleased to tell you that he can spell "cat," as well as his name and the names of his family members and friends. But no, he doesn't have the word-skills to play "Word Mole" on my phone like his older brother does. And he definitely can't do the same reading comprehension homework that his older brother does.

But thanks to Poingo, he can pretend pretty well. While my eldest son reads a book and answers questions using his pencil and paper, my younger son can "read" using the Poingo wand, and play comprehension games right on the page, using the same wand.

Poingo is an easy plug-and-play: just turn on the wand and go! In fact, my four year old was so excited he just started without any instruction from me. The actions are intuitive and are easy to figure out simply by exploring. This fosters independence in kids - they figure it out themselves and are happy to have done it "all by myself."

My youngest can choose to just "read" the book by letting the wand read the book aloud or he can touch characters or illustrations on the page to hear sound effects or learn more information. Playing games is intuitive, too.

Red-highlighted words can be defined by clicking on them. Touching little photos within the text will replay the sound effect. It is great to have this additional definition, but the downside is that the entire text starts from the beginning, rather than enabling the child to continue where he or she left off.

Poingo Starter SetFor example, in the book Cars, one sentence reads "In the lead is The King, followed by top competitor Chick Hicks." The word "competitor" is red-highlighted, so my son tapped it to learn the definition. But instead of returning to the sentence where it was defined, the wand began at the beginning of the page. This can be disorienting for kids, since they want to continue the story after the word definition, not listen to the entire page over again. The sound effect boxes should be used only after the entire text on the page has been read, for the same reason.

The technology behind Poingo is amazing. In similar systems, the user must touch the wand to each page to start. (Upon examination of these books, it is apparent that a different location of each "dot" signals a different page. Not so with this product.) For Poingo, once the wand knows which book is being used, it automatically senses the page or activity. For example, I touched the title page of Finding Nemo to orient the wand, but then jumped to page 22 and clicked on "Whale Tales," a box with four different whale graphics. The wand immediately defined whichever whale I touched. Other pages have illustrations, words, or graphics in that exact same location on the page, so it is amazing that the wand is able to distinguish between page 22 and any other page.

Given this amazing technology, there has got to be a way for the wand to resume the storytelling after a red-highlighted word if the user clicks the word immediately after. It is so important given kids' attention-spans to have the ability to pick up the story mid-sentence, or at least to the nearest sentence, without having to go back to the beginning of the page.

When the wand reads the book, the words are clear and spoken slowly. It is easy to understand, and thus easy for the child to follow along, viewing the written word as it is spoken aloud. This is so important so that the child can match what he is seeing with what he is hearing. Of course, this also means the child can read a book independently, just like his big brother.

Poingo can be connected to the computer to unlock additional content, such as music. There is no CD to lose; the device driver is embedded in the wand. Unfortunately, my particular wand was broken in this capacity. After I plugged it in, my computer declared that it was corrupted.

Fortunately, I was able to download the content management system at mypoingo.com after registering my device. Unfortunately, the download takes awhile, and the digital signature cannot be verified. Once I received the content management system, I attempted to log on using the credentials for which I registered, but it failed. The Poingo User Guide is a great step-by-step process for loading the content manager, but alas it doesn't mention the need to "log in" to the manager, so clearly something is wrong with my particular wand.

If everything had worked properly, it is the content management system that I would use to load new books onto my wand after purchase of those books.

Aside from this glitch, and my concern about the need to read the entire page's text all at once, Poingo is on its way to being a good product. It is still new, having come out just this autumn, so perhaps some kinks will be ironed out and some renovations made for further upgrades.

No mention of Poingo would be complete without acknowledging its similarity to LeapFrog's TAG system, which I reviewed this summer. TAG has more books, plus the "Learning Path," in which parents see what skills a child is working on, but Poingo will likely add more titles to their library as time continues. And let's be honest, as cool as "the Learning Path" sounds, I haven't been interested in analyzing my children's skills since I trust that they are developing at the right pace. And so, this particular feature is definitely optional, depending on your preference.

Both systems are educational. Both systems are fun. I urge you to take a look at both websites (MyPoingo.com and TAG headquarters) to see what product might be right for your family. TAG's product is $49.99, whereas Poingo's is $34.99. Additional books for both systems are $9.99 apiece.

It is a fun concept, and definitely a great idea for young kids who are on the verge of reading. The independence and extra emphasis on matching sight to sound are really wonderful.

Thank you to Poingo for giving my son such a fun toy!

December 16, 2008

Books in Honor of Autism Twitter Day

Autism Twitter DayToday is Autism Twitter Day: look for #ASD on Twitter, pointing to blog posts about a multitude of topics relating to the spectrum. RSVP and learn more by visiting Autism Family Adventures.

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Over on The Karianna Spectrum I've posted a "catch - [nearly] - all" of some of my archival autism posts representative of some of the "big topics" as well as a few (okay, more than a few) more thoughts on the issues swirling around public perception of autistic spectrum disorders: Autism is Not What You Think.

But then today seems like a good day to profile some books that might be of interest to the spectrum-interested person.

First up is Can I Sit With You, Too. This is the sequel to Can I Sit With You, naturally. Both books' proceeds go directly to SEPTAR, the Special Education PTA of Redwood City (SEPTAR.) People that I am "pos-autive" you know are included in both these books. In fact, I am in Can I Sit With You, Too.

There you have it. I have been published someplace other than a scientific journal. Yay Me! So buy Can I Sit With You, Too because I am in it. And because it is for a good cause. Yay, good causes!

Today the Cat's teacher emailed me the titles of two books she recommends: A Regular Guy: Growing up with Autism by Laura Shumaker and Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew (see also: Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew, by the same author - Ellen Notbohm)

She writes "I have recommended these books to all of the teachers I know!"

A book that I would recommend to teachers is Your Child's Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them. I reviewed it here earlier this year. The concept of playing to kids' strengths is one that is true for students with learning differences, but also for "regular kids" too.

Along those same lines, I was given a free-for-review copy of When the Labels Don't Fit: A New Approach to Raising a Challenging Child. It took me awhile to read because as I've noted before, I have a hard time spending my "free time" focusing on ASD-related matters (my blogs the exception, of course!)

But I felt this was a book I needed to read.

I was drawn to it because I am definitely against label bias and concern about using labels as a limiter or an excuse. This book isn't a philosophical discussion of this or a public plea to look at the child not the label, though. Rather, it is more of a parenting textbook, the type that unfortunately makes me feel a little ill because it ends up so overwhelming. That isn't to say the book doesn't have good ideas - it definitely does - but any parenting manual is going to have sections that don't "fit" with me.

This book is geared towards parents, but I would hope that educators would consider it as well. Many of the techniques within might already be used at home, but likely aren't being used at school. Some things won't work because by definition, the kids in question are pretty unique.

While the subtitle of the book is "A New Approach to Raising a Challenging Child," the temperament discussions contained within aren't "new." (And temperament categories are essentially yet another way of "labeling") Still, for someone not familiar with this approach, the book does a great job of explaining ways of adjusting our thinking to see things in relation to temperament. Alas, the Cat is one of those kids who exhibits different temperamental traits depending on the situation, so it is difficult to pinpoint the underlying "driving force."

What I wish would be that teachers and other parents and the public could adjust their thinking to consider that each child (ASD or not) has different strengths, different approaches to learning, and different ways of "coping" when things aren't presented in a comfortable way. Of course, that is selfish. But the truth is that there are so many different variables involved in a child's personality that it is limiting to consider that all kids must process information a certain way, such that deviance from that is necessarily wrong.

People tend to categorize. It is how we make sense of information. But that means that anything that doesn't quite fit in a category can be multiply confounding.

We need to support our kids: encourage their strengths, and find ways to introduce challenges in such a way that resonates with their talents.

One absolutely beautiful book that celebrates a variety of families who include people on the spectrum is Autism Heroes: Portraits of Families Meeting the Challenge by Barbara Firestone, with forwards by Teddi and Gary Cole. Husband brought this book home (autographed!) after a meeting he attended in which representatives from The Help Group were present.

I haven't read all the stories within its pages, but Autism Heroes has gorgeous photographs. I like seeing these families, children, and young adults portrayed in this artful manner. It makes them "celebrities" almost, because their faces comprise what we admire.

And certainly we can find plenty to admire about our friends and family members on the spectrum.

December 23, 2008

Last Minute Gifts

bigpresent.gifHusband and I typically end up with multiples of the same gift, like the year we both got each other America. Typically the duplicates end up because Husband will talk about how much he wants something, so I'll buy it for him. But days before Christmas, he'll go out and purchase whatever is already wrapped under the tree.

So I stopped listening to his first choice, figuring he'd get it for himself. I focused more on the "lower down" priority items.

Last year he kept talking about a slingbox. But I thought I knew better. I wasn't going to purchase something he'd no doubt buy on his own during Thanksgiving sales or Pre-Christmas sales or Friday Fry's sales.

The day before Christmas, Husband mentioned how excited he was that he'd be getting a slingbox for Christmas. He assumed that is what I had already bought. He was ecstatic.

Except I hadn't bought one, of course.

Not wanting to disappoint him, I quickly went online to Best Buy and did an in-store pickup order. While the store itself had long lines and packed aisles, the in-store pickup line was small. We were out of the store - coveted present in hand - in less time that it took us to find parking.

And so, my first tip to those of you who have waited too long to shop for Christmas (or the latter half of Hanukkah) is to see which big stores have in-store pickup. It is easy to browse online for that perfect gift, and typically is pretty easy to pick it up since most stores have separate lines for their online sales.

(The one exception I found to this was when I bought a camera at Circuit City - the closest store was sold out, so I purchased it at a store a half hour away. Guess what happened? That store didn't have it when I arrived, but discovered that my local store did! In the end I got my camera, but that particular excursion took a lot of driving and involved confusion.)

Another idea is the dreaded overnight shipping - yet for stores like zappos.com that already ship overnight, you're golden. Still, most overnight shipping options are pretty pricey, so you might want to brave the malls.

Or, you could buy something that is electronically fulfilled, such as an iTunes gift certificate or an Amazon.com gift certificate delivered via email.

Plenty of websites offer extended content for a fee. No, I am not suggesting purchasing "adult materials" for your preteen cousin. Rather, for kids there are sites like Club Penguin, a favorite of my boys. While the basic experience is plenty of fun, being a member allows the little penguins to accumulate coins to purchase pet puffles, buy snazzy new outfits, and deck out their igloo like budding interior designers would. In the Cat's case, that means purchasing as many toy trains as possible to create a "rug."

For older folks, there is Happy Neuron. I learned about this brain fitness website shortly after I had realized that I wasn't very good at the Brain Age DS game. (And don't even talk to me about Big Brain Academy.) "Mommy brain" is no myth: my brain is so filled with details of appointments, tasks, and managing other folks' lives that I don't have time to read or do puzzles to expand the other parts of my brain.

As we age, our brain "sags" just like our bodies do. Those who keep mentally fit by exercising their brain end up faring much better than those who don't. Plus, it is fun (until the computer tells you that you are mentally weak, that is!)

Happy Neuron is offering a 20%-off holiday special on a year's membership to the website. Members have access to 35 games (plus 5 beta Wii games.) The games fit in five categories: visual-spacial, attention, executive function, memory, and language. Each game has several difficulty levels, plus the program itself will recommend games based on the user's weaknesses.



I tried using the "coach" function whereby the computer is supposed to take me through an optimum combination of games based on my preferences, time available to "work out," and my past performance. Unfortunately, this feature didn't work for me (I was given a login free for the purposes of review, but perhaps this is a feature only available to full members, not reviewers.) And so, I tried out the five free games.

Does it surprise you that on the "split words" game that I was able to do the one about football but did horrifically on the "agriculture" one? (I can still hear my grandmother's tsk-tsk from many years ago when she learned I couldn't tell the difference between different types of cows. Sorry, I don't know anything about farming.) I thought I would do fantastically on "Catch the Ladybug" because after college I was a research assistant in a visual psychophysics lab. We did lots of "search" experiments, and since I had to program and test such things, I became very good at visual search. But my downfall in this Happy Neuron game was my trackball skills. I saw the ladybug immediately, but had a hard time rolling my way over. Perhaps a traditional mouse would be better in this instance.

There are other games that rely on time where an individual's ability to move the mouse becomes a limiting factor. This concerns me for the grandparent-set who might otherwise benefit from these mind-enhancing games. For these folks, those games without a time limit (but which will still record time) would be more accurate: as their time decreases with practice, the improvement can be attributed more to mental performance and less to mousing-ability. But for games that stop if the user fails to provide the answer, the individual wouldn't be able to practice the actual task unless the time required could be increased.

I love that there are a variety of games to "train" the user so the "workouts" are not boring. The site has a section on brain fitness science, plus has recommendations for other (sometimes offline) products. In addition to the aforementioned Wii games in beta, there is also a "Happy Neuron Junior" program in development. The Cat loves various games, particularly online. Although some of the games I've played through Happy Neuron are perfectly appropriate for him, I imagine the "junior" version will have aspects (such as in the "language" category) that will better fit his grade level.

Consider Happy Neuron for that otherwise difficult-to-buy-for adult. Grandmothers have enough perfume, bath oil, and lotion. And does Granddad really need another tie? Young(er) adults would like these games, too, so don't think your recipient needs to have grey hair. (I think my parents are sharper than I am at this point, anyway.)

Or maybe spend some time on the site yourself; it certainly wouldn't hurt! After all, the present I am getting for Husband is one that I hope to get myself at some point. This is one year where I'm actually hoping for a duplicate (but not expecting it.)

The Middle Place : Paperback Version Released Today!

I loved The Middle Place. It hit me in ways I hadn't anticipated. Today, the paperback version hits shelves.

Kelly Corrigan's publisher made the below video in honor of the paperback release. It features an essay included in the book about women's capacity to support each other:

Be sure to check out other Kelly Corrigan You-Tube pieces. The book is meaningful and moving all on its own, but seeing Kelly read the words is powerful.

January 10, 2009

Lose Weight, Sharpen Your Brain, Feel Good.

Did you make any New Year's Resolutions to get fit in 2009? We're ten days in, and I imagine that already there are folks crashing on their sofa instead of pounding the treadmill. It isn't too late to get back on the bike. And it isn't too late to resolve to do better this year than last.

Last year, I reviewed the Ultimate Tea Diet. I lost some weight on it - both from eating less because my tummy felt nice and full and warm with the tea, and because I was making a conscious choice to try to eat better, so was also more consistent in my exercise routine. Alas, the whole situation didn't "stick," and once the Cat had his annual regression (which I'm hoping doesn't happen this year,) things slid downhill. I can point to several different stress points in 2008, and embarrassed to say I couldn't recover from them, so gained instead of lost.

WiiFit.jpgI was one of the lucky folks who preordered a Wii Fit, so received mine immediately after they were released in May. I took to it immediately. Yes, the Wii Fit called me "overweight," and it was humbling to see my Mii balloon up, but from May to the end of June, I worked out every single day. (I only stopped at the end of June because our family took a trip, and I couldn't see bringing the Wii.)

I was enthusiastic about Wii Fit, and figured I'd review it... I just wanted to lose weight so I could declare it a success... which didn't happen that summer.

Continue reading "Lose Weight, Sharpen Your Brain, Feel Good." »

January 13, 2009

Reading with Superheroes.

MoJo.gifEvery week, the Cat has to list four books that he's read, or break down chapter books into the four "chunks" he's read. Technically, he's supposed to read Monday-Thursday, but all too often it is in separate little chunks, and usually involve the weekend. He reads National Geographic Kids, Highlights magazine, picture books that are way too easy for him but he loves 'em, and a variety of chapter books (like Flat Stanley and Nate the Great.) He's particularly a fan of Captain Underpants, although I admit being a little nervous that I'm encouraging the grossness. But, as I told to his teacher (and she enthusiastically agreed) anything that encourages reading and isn't horrifically lewd is fine. The Underpants books have some great vocabulary, believe it or not.

The one book that the Cat reads all the time, but can't put on his list every single time (because I have this fear that if he repeats books it his homework won't be considered "valid") is the Toon Book "Mo and Jo: Fighting Together Forever." When I learned about Toon Books I thought the book "Stinky" would be the one that spoke to the Cat the most, but surprisingly, he was more interested in the red and green-clad brother-and-sister team Mo-Jo. He giggles as he proclaims, "I'll turn you into spaghetti!" like the character Joey does on the cover. The book itself is about sharing, but it is also about crime-fighting, always a revered theme in the lives of little boys. I've never been a comics fan, but the Cat loves this style. After he enjoyed Mo and Jo, he ate up Stinky and Jack in the Box.

He then went back to Mo and Jo, and keeps it by his bed so he can read it nearly every day.

Continue reading "Reading with Superheroes." »

March 16, 2009

Read Across America and WIN with Leapfrog TAG.

I admit my kids aren't the readers that I was when I was a child. No, Wii and DS weren't around back then. Although my grandparents had an Atari that I enjoyed playing when I was at their house, my parents' house didn't have games. Eventually we had some for our computer, and we got a PlayStation at some point, but really, all that happened way past elementary school: my grammar-school education was through books.

My favorites included the Betsy-Tacy series, and B is for Betsy. (Okay, I guess it is a miracle I don't have a child named Betsy - although I have two friends who have daughters named "Tacy.") I wasn't a big Nancy Drew fan, although I read a couple Hardy Boys and Bobbsey Twins. I was huge into Encyclopedia Brown and of course all the Judy Blume books (mainly Ramona ones.) I also liked the "A Very Young..." series (A Very Young Dancer was my favorite, followed close behind was A Very Young Gymnast) Then it is with a nostalgic tear in my eye that I recall how I loved Maggie Adams, Dancer, and struck up a pen-pal relationship with the now-late author Karen Strickler Dean.

NationalReadingMonth.gif

Fortunately, even in the electronic age, there are ways to promote reading. I reviewed the LeapFrog TAG, and am a big fan of game-based educational products in general; they appeal to my boys, are "with the times" and do teach plenty of important skills.

Leapfrog is sponsoring a One Million Reading Hours Pledge in support of the National Education Association's Read Across America for "National Reading Month." By pledging to set aside at least 10 minutes a day, parents can contribute to the national goal of 1 million reading hours committed. Plus, Leapfrog is offering special offers; for example, check out the coupon on the upper righthand side of the reading pledge sign-up: $10 off a TAG LeapFrog system or $4 off any book in the TAG library. Plus, they are offering prizes, such as the one they are offering to my readers!


What Can You Win?

* One (green) Tag reader + 5 books (chosen by LeapFrog) for personal use

* An expanded-memory LeapFrog School Tag reader + 10 books (chosen by LeapFrog) to donate to the winner's local library.


HOW Can You Win?

FIRST, Make a Pledge. THEN:

* Leave a comment here telling me how much time you have pledged in the LeapFrog 1 Million Reading Hours Campaign

* Earn an extra entry by tweeting this contest (send me the link to your tweet so I know you did it!)


A winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month.

Get Reading!

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Comments are now closed -- thank you all for your reading pledges and tweets about Read Across America! The winner will be announced shortly...

June 18, 2009

Father's Day Grand Slam

Did you know Sunday is Father's Day? Yeah, somehow it came mighty quickly. This first week out-of-school has been simultaneously the slowest and the fastest in a very long time. It is amazing that the 20th is mere days away.

Fortunately, we have the internet and overnight shipping to take care of us. Even if you place an order on Friday, you could have in-hand on Saturday, and wrapped and ready to go for Sunday.

Of course there is that old-fashioned go to the store thing, but plugging online products is more fun.

So here are four things that I think are pretty cool:
(If you are my father or the father of my children, please don't read ahead! And YES I ordered your stuff long ago.)

Continue reading "Father's Day Grand Slam" »

July 17, 2009

Feingold Diet Cookbook!

You readers notice I have a "Feingold" category in the sidebar. I don't talk about it much, per se, but on occasion I like to do a little shout-out.

In short, the Feingold Program is an elimination diet I tried at age 5. I went from having "F"s in behavior (with my name on the board day after day) to getting "A"s. No joke. I was a hyper kid who settled down markedly after going on Feingold. Since it worked for me, we put my oldest son on the diet once it was clear he is also a "live wire." It has made a big difference for him, although he is definitely still a high-energy, quirky kid.

Feingold.jpgI know elimination diets and other "alternative" treatments for autism, hyperactivity, ADD, and the like are considered "controversial" but I'd implore you to consider how dietary changes in Celiac disease and diabetes are considered completely "acceptable." Likewise, there are various food allergies that cause physical problems (hives, anaphylactic shock) why not behavioral problems?

And so, every so often I like to plead my case while also insisting that I don't claim this is a "cure all" situation.

With that in mind, I just learned of two things that I really want to share:

1) Feingold has a little intro (split into two parts) on YouTube. For those of you who don't like wading through the written word (such as on the Feingold website) you might appreciate the videos I embedded below. Just listen in the background if you like. (I find this progression into YouTube funny because in my shed I have a bunch of old-time cassette tapes bound together with multiple rubber bands: these are the old Feingold materials from the 70's that my mom got from the Association back when she tried the diet with me.)

2) A Feingold Cookbook: People making dietary changes worry that cooking will be hard or that they'll have to make everything from scratch. They are worried that the process of eliminating various foods from their diet will be "too difficult."

Well, the Feingold Association list tells you which foods are safe for "Stage One" and "Stage Two." These companies fill out an ingredient list for the Association so that they can be included as being "safe." There are definitely convenience foods that are both kid-friendly and Feingold-safe: hot dogs, oreo-like cookies, and string cheese, to name a few. There is even a fast food list that includes items like McDonalds hamburgers and Noah's bagels. (Of course, I am not advocating fast food all the time, but it is nice to know there are all-natural convenience food options out there.)

With membership, subscribers are given a little recipe list with things like tomato-less ketchup and other things that can be used as substitutions in recipes. Well - now there is a whole cookbook. "Feingold Family Favorites" is a collection of the best recipes from members, family and friends of the Feingold Association. Apparently it contains 300 recipes including appetizers, main dishes, desserts and more. Each recipe is marked Stage One or Stage Two.

I'm ordering mine right now (and perhaps will report on it later) but I thought I'd pass on the news now in case some of you are interested. Just go to the Feingold shopping page, select your country, and scroll down for the cookbook. While you're at it, purchasing the membership materials won't hurt if you are curious - information is power.

As I watched these videos, here are the thoughts that come to mind:

- The "foodless foods" concept is similar to what Jillian Michaels (and probably many other fitness experts and physicians) discusses in Master Your Metabolism (You DID read my review of Master Your Metabolism on the Shredheads site, right?)

- Additives may save money upfront, but cost much more down the line both economically and psychologically: gym memberships, medications, tutors, time spent disciplining, and so forth. (This is assuming both weight and behavior issues from these sorts of food.)

- Obesity is increasing and behavioral problems are increasing in the United States. Similarly, consumption of these cheap "non-foods" is on the rise. Coincidence?

Just like with the vaccine issue, I don't claim that food additives "cause" autism. Rather, if a child is sensitive to such things (be it petroleum, salycilates, other substances) then exposure to those things in increasing numbers can create problems.

Many kids have had astonishing behavioral transformations once they've eliminated the foods on Feingold. Other kids have found success with gluten-free/casein-free diets (particularly those who have celiac in addition to an autistic spectrum disorder; the existence of both together is common - coincidence?)

Please listen to or watch the below videos. One thing that is great is that Feingold Association National Director Jane Hersey does a direct comparison of foods not acceptable on Feingold with those that are, but she uses the exact same brands. For example, Duncan Hines' "Devil's Food" cake mix is not Feingold-safe, but Duncan Hines' "Dark Chocolate Fudge" cake mix is Feingold-safe. Kraft's regular "Mac N' Cheese" is artificial, but their "Premium White Cheddar" is not. Even Cheetos has a Feingold-safe option! (Pretty-please do a natural option, Crystal Light?)

Behold, the videos:

Disclaimer: The Feingold Association did not pay me to write about their program. They didn't send me the information about the videos or the cookbook because they thought I was going to publicize it. Rather, I received the email from them because I am a Feingold Member. My mom learned about the diet from Kaiser - ironically enough, since they are now such a poor advocate for autism treatment aside from "just medicate them into oblivion. (If Kaiser would again recommend trying dietary change, they might save a lot of money down the road in regards treatment relating to both behavioral and obesity related conditions.) I blog about Feingold from time to time because it is something that helped me, and now my son. I will be happy to answer any questions about our particular experience - my email address is in my header.

November 20, 2009

Silicon Valley Moms Holiday Party: Generosity to the Gazillionth Power


Unfortunately, TinyPrints was purchased by a larger corporation. The way they operate is different than when I wrote the below review.

I had been a very loyal customer, and a big promoter of their company; however, they asked me to remove all links to them "ASAP" (without any compensation) as it was affecting their Google ranking. I am disappointed at their treatment of me and of other bloggers who had been so supportive of their company.

As it would hurt my own online integrity to unpublish my many posts about Tiny Prints, I am keeping them up, but with this warning attached.

More of my reaction to Tiny Prints




SV_Holiday_Coupon_Guide.jpgLast Sunday was my son's end-of-year soccer party. I was the "team photographer" and had lovingly created Blurb books of each player. I really wanted to see the families' reactions to my books, as well as to enjoy a slide show of the team. Plus, I welcomed a chance to socialize instead of just scurrying away post-game to another commitment.

But Jill Asher told me that the Silicon Valley Moms Holiday Party - sponsored by Chevy - was a not-to-miss event. Fellow SV Moms told me it would be worth it to skip the soccer party.

blurb_soccer_book.gifAnd oh yes, it was worth it.

Now, I'd like to think I'm not a completely greedy person, but let's just say my calm approach to the event turned into a surprised excitement along with that ooooh, I wonder if I can get me some of that.

And there was a lot of that to be had:

Continue reading "Silicon Valley Moms Holiday Party: Generosity to the Gazillionth Power" »

January 13, 2010

One Short (Night) in the Emerald City


Wicked: Behind the Emerald Curtain Wicked: Behind the Emerald Curtain Wicked: Behind the Emerald Curtain

Wicked: Behind the Emerald Curtain Wicked: Behind the Emerald Curtain

From left top: Kristin Chenoweth's "Glinda Bubble Dress", Elphaba baby prop, Madame Morrible dress. From left bottom: Nicolas Dromard (Fiyero), Jonathan Ritter (Swing) wearing Dr. Dillamond's mask)

Not really a Wordless Wednesday, since I could gush about it for hours... At the start of the holiday break, Husband and I went to see a behind-the-scenes presentation of the fabulous musical pictured above. Last night we actually saw the show. I had seen it before, a few years back - and had read the book (Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West ), the sequel (Son of a Witch), and have the fancy collector's book about the musical, "The Grimmerie." It was nice to see it again - and this time bring my husband. He was thrilled it actually had a plot (whereas he says Phantom does not, but he does love Rent) and he is actually interested in reading the book now. Go figure!

I love musical theater. It is just so magical to me, particularly as I remember what a thrill it was to be on a stage while I was a dancer. For awhile Phantom was my favorite. Then Rent. And sure I had that obsession with Cats many years ago, as the rest of the country did. (And yes, my dance company did a version.) But Wicked takes things to a whole new level. (I still have heavy allegiance towards Rent, which is a different animal, and moving in its own way.) I should probably admit that I've read Kristin Chenowith's biography, too, shouldn't I? (A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages)

After it was all over last night, I was really sad. It is such a treat to go to a show like this, and then such a letdown that we must leave all the glitter and song behind to go about our regular lives. It was a fabulous escape!

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Disclaimer: the Amazon links give me a few cents if you happen to purchase something on Amazon after clicking on one of them. The books I mention I purchased with my own money years ago. The kind folks from Wicked gave me the tickets gratis, with no obligation to post, nor further compensation for doing so.

April 7, 2010

The Woman Behind HeLa Cells

Immortal_Life_Henrietta_Lacks_HeLa_Cells_Book_Cover.gifToday we held a virtual science fair for WhyMommy, who had (hopefully successful!) surgery to remove more tumors for inflammatory breast cancer.

During one of her pre-surgery posts, Susan wrote, "As the six tumors are removed from my body, they will be flash frozen in vials designed to keep them usable by scientists and medical researchers. The doctors will use what they need for me, and then the rest will be sent to the IBC Biobank for future research or out for the Target Now Complete testing, one of the first to look at molecular markers that may indicate additional options for my treatment. "

Ironically enough, one of my favorite recent reads surrounds a woman whose "destiny" came from having pieces of tumor taken from her.

For those science-y types out there, you no doubt recognize "HeLa cells." We used HeLa in high school bio. We used HeLa in college bio and genetics. We used HeLa in grad school for a multitude of different courses and reasons.

I was intimately acquainted with HeLa cells. But until about a month ago, I had no idea who was truly behind HeLa. Her name was Henrietta Lacks, and her story is phenomenal.

Continue reading "The Woman Behind HeLa Cells" »

April 30, 2010

Autism and Animals: Stories Exploring the Bond

theCatintro.GIFToday is the last day of April, and thus the last day of "Autism Awareness Month." Honestly, I don't know what to think of autism "awareness" since it doesn't really make people "aware" so much as it frequently spreads unhelpful stereotypes.

Each child is different, regardless of whether he or she has a "diagnosis" and as such, their strengths and weaknesses differ.

I'm tired of the tragic stories of autism: those that focus on hardship, despair, and lost dreams. Although there are definitely aspects of a spectrum diagnosis that fall into those categories, it is much more useful to acknowledge these children's (and adult's) strengths.

Fortunately, I've had the opportunity to review two different stories about children on the spectrum, both of which acknowledge challenges, but also celebrate their subjects for who they are as people beyond the diagnosis. Both the book Cowboy and Wills and the independent lens film The Horse Boy have animals in their title. ("Cowboy" is the name of Wills' golden retriever.) This is no coincidence.

Continue reading "Autism and Animals: Stories Exploring the Bond" »

August 24, 2010

Short. The Book.

short_walking_tall.jpgAround the seventh grade, my doctor had some sobering news for me. Or at least, she thought it was sobering. She was a stout, portly woman who I admired. She kept telling me how smart I was, or complimenting me on the size of my thigh muscles (really, I think she meant it as a compliment.)

So when she came in that afternoon with a worried look on her face, I was all ears.

"I'm so sorry. It appears you have stopped growing." And then she smiled a little, eyes crinkling in sympathy. She patted her own belly as she talked about how difficult it would be for me to keep a slender figure with my stature.

But I wasn't really listening. After all, the little girls were the cute ones! If I were truly going to end up petite, then wouldn't I have a better chance at being a perky cheerleader?

Continue reading "Short. The Book." »

August 29, 2011

I am Number Four: Power of Six

Power_of_Six.jpgI finished Power of Six on Saturday and can't wait until the next Pitticus Lore book. On one hand, I love delving into adventures like this, which continue; but on the other hand, waiting for that "continue" part is pretty difficult.

My e-book library is pretty much filled with science-fiction type things, although I hate the whole stereotype about science-fiction. If someone told me that I'd love a book involving alien races and war, I'd laugh in horror.

And yet I'm completely wrapped up in the whole Lorien Legacies series. I love the adventure. I love the mystery. I love experimenting with the themes of growing up and fitting in. (Hey, 37-year-old women can remember "growing up," too!)

Although the women are definitely attractive, I don't feel they are over-sexualized like so many of those other science-fiction books traditionally aimed at men. Neither are the men described in overly promiscuous terms. While it is clear that certain characters are very capable and easy on the eyes, the focus is on the mission at hand and the relationships that develop based on substance, not sex. There is definitely an innocence in these young characters, even if their intelligence, combat skills and sense of responsibility are mature.

I've read the first three books, and am looking forward to "number four."

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Disclaimer: I bought the three e-books with my own money. I saw a press release with the above trailer for the book released last week and decided to post it since this series is one that I've been enjoying. I will receive no compensation or commission for this post or any resulting sales of any of the Lorien Legacies books.

April 7, 2012

Wicked as They Come

wicked_as_they_come_blud_steampunk_delilah_dawson.jpgThe last couple months I've had several medical tests (ultrasound, CT, MRI, sigmoidoscopy, and X-ray, plus the usual things involving bodily fluids.) it seems we've finally discovered that some things that were originally deemed just "female issues" can be attributed to a majorly screwed-up back. During this time, I've been stressed both about my personal business and about getting my various work done. But during my downtime this past week, I was thrilled to read Delilah S Dawson's captivating first novel, Wicked as They Come. I had been counting down the days until its March 27th release, and so when my tablet was dead that day, I read the first few chapters on my phone. I read it in the waiting room at the doctor's office. I read it before bed. I read it while watching my son's gymnastics workout.

And now I have to start the loooooong process of awaiting the next book in the Blud series, Wicked as She Wants, which won't come out until 2013. How am I supposed to hang on until 2013, hmmm?

I knew this book would be fabulous because I'm familiar with Dawson's writing already through our mutual employment at Cool Mom Picks. Plus, I'm a sucker for vampire books, even though I'm scared of actual blood. You can imagine the irony: I'm sitting in the doctor's office freaking out because I'm about to have blood drawn, and I'm reading about bludbunnies. But this isn't your traditional stud-with-a-bite novel. For me, the adventurous turns of the plot meant more than the fangs (or for the steampunk aficionados: more than the existence of clockworks.) The protagonist's dual-world existence is exciting, and definitely meaningful for someone like me who wishes for a little escape time and again.

Of course in the name of not ruining anything, I'll stay mum on the specific parts of Wicked as They Come that I enjoyed, but I'll gladly say it is the best book I've read this year. I was drawn into the story and appreciated Dawson's fluid writing. Her descriptions aren't overly heavy, so the story itself is free to shine. Often times I'll enjoy a plot but roll my eyes at repetitive language or when the author tries too hard to set a scene. Not so of this book: the writing enhanced the book, and allowed me to escape into the story.

I'm impressed with this debut novel, and definitely anticipating more of the Blud Series.

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Disclaimer: I purchased this book on my own. I am an Amazon affiliate.

April 24, 2012

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Lets_Pretend_This_Never_Happened_Jenny_Lawson_The_Bloggess_first_novel.jpgThe first time I met Jenny Lawson it was in a hotel room in Chicago. A small group of us decided to take the party upstairs, and enjoyed just lounging around on the beds telling stories. She told us the serial killer story (which is in Let's Pretend this Never Happened) and several other stories which I won't relate because they will probably be in her second... or third... novel. I told her I thought she looks like Amanda Seyfried. At the time, I kept saying, "You know, that chick Lilly from Veronica Mars?" because I couldn't remember Amanda's name until we googled it. (Because of course - given this was BlogHer - we had computers all over the room in addition to the wine bottles and other room-service remnants.)

Back then, Jenny was just one of the gals. Now she's HUGE. I mean, anyone who can get celebrities to send her photos of themselves holding random objects, such as Matthew Broderick holding a spoon, is big in my book. Luckily, she wrote her own book. And I read it this past weekend.

Of course she's funny, and of course her story is just wacky enough to make you laugh instead of cry, but you probably wouldn't wish her childhood on anyone. My comparatively sheltered life would make a pretty boring book, although I'll save the exceptions for when I finally get off my duff and pen something. But in the meantime, I'm thankful for Jenny, who may be socially anxious, but who is comfortable with making her life a comedy in front of the world.

She will go far, and she already has. Can't wait for Book Two!

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Disclaimer: I bought this book with my own money; I am an Amazon affiliate. I am "reviewing" it because I appreciate Jenny wanted to spread the word.

September 24, 2012

Rahoola's Song

rahoola_song_book_robert_anke.jpegTwo years ago, my oldest son had a teacher who rides to school on a motorcycle, greeting the kids with a smile and high-fives. Robert Anke's classroom is the "fun" one with the disco ball, where learning is disguised in games of Jeopardy (with real clickers.) Mr. Anke drew fun comics and created cool songs to educate the kids without boring them. My son really enjoyed his fourth-grade year, and I appreciated Mr. Anke's style of teaching.

When I found out that Robert Anke had written a children's book, I was thrilled.

Rahoola's Song doesn't come out until October 20th, but I'm already excited. According to the publisher, this is a book about greed, loss, and self-discovery. The storyline finds a content raccoon, Rahoola, suddenly coming into a great deal of material possessions after a stranger tells him his cousin has been eaten by bears. Rahoola becomes addicted to the pursuit of treasure, until a turn of events reveals something unexpected.

I'm definitely eager to read the story for myself, and of course my son will be tickled that his teacher authored a book to share his art, humor, and storytelling ability with the world.

If you pre-order Rahoola's Song through Cupola Press, Mr. Anke will sign the book to the name(s) of your choice. This might be a great holiday gift, especially as that season is filled with the accumulation of "stuff!"

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Disclaimer: I did not receive compensation for this post. I just wanted to help out my son's former teacher by spreading the word about what is bound to be an excellent book!

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Spectrum of Reviews in the Books category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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