Kids Archives

January 15, 2007

Baby Loves Disco

Saturday, my family had the pleasure of attending Baby Loves Disco San Francisco, courtesy of The Parent Bloggers Network. I had heard of this phenomenon first a few months ago when some friends attended an event, bragging about how cool, innovative, and exciting their experience had been. Baby Loves Disco childproofs popular nightclubs, turning them into hip, family-friendly events with music, lights, food, and fun. I was intrigued, so pleased when The Parent Bloggers Network sent me to this month’s party...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

March 6, 2007

Clean Well

My kids get into everything: Dirt! Sand! Grime! They pick up everything: “Look Mommy, what is this perfectly good toy doing here lying in a muddy gutter?” They make Sundaes of Doom that necessitate trips to the E.R. where very sick people cough all over the chairs and handle the Marie Claire magazine that suddenly interests my two-year old son.

I am not a complete germophobe, but when people nearby are hacking away or my kids’ hands are covered in slime, I worry...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

March 8, 2007

Do You Believe Your Baby Can Read?

Every parent wants the best for their child. They want to give their new baby all the educational opportunities possible without overwhelming them.

Certainly, stereotypes abound about those who put their imagined progeny on waiting lists for exclusive preschools prior to their conception, or those who spend hours with their one month old using flash cards.

Well, the Your Baby Can Read! Learning System does have flashcards, but I don’t think the creators would want parents to obsessively worry...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

March 27, 2007

Brain Quest DVD Game: The Cat’s Newest Hobby

The Cat is competitive. He loves to test his knowledge, especially when he gets the answer correct.

When Brighter Mind Media's Brain Quest DVD game arrived free-for-review via the Parent Bloggers Network, the Cat was intrigued.

“500 questions? That is the best!” he exclaimed...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

April 5, 2007

Huggies Overnights

“Want dat-one di-pah?” Spliggle tells me as he points to which diaper or pull-up he wishes to use. (And then the other day, we found him in big-boy underwear, much to our surprise. Sadly, that didn’t last long.) He tells me when he wants to be changed, and runs away when he doesn’t.

He eats a lot. He drinks a lot. And thus, we go through lots of diapers!

Spliggle is opinionated. He is independent. He is on the brink of being toilet-trained, but when he isn’t interested, he is stubborn. And when he isn’t thinking “potty,” then he certainly won’t do anything about it. And so, overnight is a critical point. He doesn’t have “potty” on the mind as he sleeps...

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

July 2, 2007

Nozin: The Orange Germ-Killer

Husband used to be addicted to Diet Coke. Around the same time, he was also very enamored with “Emergen-C” and “Airborne.” He has since moved on to Propel vitamin-enhanced flavored water.

And so, when the Parent Bloggers Network gave me a free-for-review batch of Nozin, I had to laugh, since this is the sort of thing in which Husband would be very interested...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

July 20, 2007

Noah's Pals

I received tons of Noah-themed toys when the Cat was born. They ranged from the more subtle plush cuddly animals to the board books that used words like “evil,” “lazy,” and “kill.” I was frustrated by the latter of course, since although I want my kids to know the Noah parable, I don’t think scare-tactics at newborn-hood is a good route.

The Parent Bloggers Network allowed me to receive free-for-review several pairs of animals from Caboodle! Toys LLC’s “Noah’s Pals” collection. These are not hastily put-together figurines...

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 14, 2007

Your Baby Can Read! Learning System: Volume Two

Five months ago, I did a review of the Your Baby Can Read! Learning System. For that review, I had the starter DVD, Volume 1, and some sliding flash cards.

I am glad that I now have Volume 2 (again, via the Parent Bloggers Network,) more sliding flash cards (including another blank one with an erasable pen,) and a thick stack of solid static flash cards. The first two DVDs haven't lost their appeal, but my kids were definitely thrilled to receive a third DVD...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

August 16, 2007

KINeSYS Spray Sunscreen Review

Surely by now you realize the sun-scorched look is out, right? People blessed with rich hues in their skin are beautiful, but those of us with pasty white thighs should rejoice in their ghost-attracting abilities, too, right?

Always wear sunscreen. It doesn’t matter your natural color. Protect your skin...Via the Parent Bloggers Network, I received a variety of products free-for-review from KINeSYS...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

August 20, 2007

Time to Build a Word with Word World

Via the Parent Bloggers Network, I received a free DVD with an introduction and two episodes of PBS Kids’ new series Word World. I am already a fan of Between the Lions, which is a pro-reading show for a slightly older set, so seeing a reading show targeted at the younger tykes (ages 3-5) intrigued me...

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" »

September 4, 2007

Can Wii Boogie?

Parent Bloggers NetworkI have confidence in my ability to dance. After all, I took lessons for 15 years, was part of a performing division, won awards, and represented the USA in Australia during the World Expo.

Likewise, I am not a shabby singer. Or at least I wasn’t in my youth. I got the solos in church choir, I was a Chamber Singer in high school, and I don’t do too horribly at my husband’s staff retreat when everyone does karaoke. (I still tear up a little when I think of my husband’s VIP boss sitting in a corner singing karaoke alone when the rest of us had moved on to other things. He stopped when we brought him a birthday cake.)

When the Parent Bloggers Network asked me to review Wii Boogie, I completely did a dance and whoop of joy. “This will be fabulous!” I thought, envisioning myself busting serious moves and singing the night away. I am already a Wii addict, so why not add another title to my obsession?

Well, here’s the deal: I am not good at Boogie. At least not yet.

Continue reading "Can Wii Boogie?" »

September 13, 2007

It’s Fun to Learn With the Zula Patrol

zulapatrol.jpgThe Cat and Spliggle have been interested in space for a long time, and not just because of Buzz Lightyear. One of their favorite videos as young toddlers (and even older) was Baby Galileo. Even adult shows capture their attention.

In preschool, the Cat enjoyed the unit on planets and asked plenty of questions. In Kindergarten, the Cat brought a star chart to share with the class. His teacher taught the class fun songs about space, which he sang at home frequently. He owns a glow-in-the-dark constellation shirt which he loves.

The Parent Bloggers Network provided the opportunity for my family to review the Zula Patrol, a television show aimed at children to increase their curiosity for science.

I put the DVD in our van for the first time during a roadtrip. I don’t recall the kids asking, “Are we there yet?” but I do remember hearing, “Could you press play again, Mommy?” They loved going “way up where the planets do the hula - spin and shout, ‘til you find yourself on Zula”

Continue reading "It’s Fun to Learn With the Zula Patrol" »

September 17, 2007

We Love "Kids Love Spanish"

kidslovespanish.gifThe Cat came home one day last school year announcing, “I know how to count to three in Spanish! Pedro knows the rest!”

“What?” I hadn’t recalled any boys in his Kindergarten class named “Pedro,” but I did know that there were many Hispanic kids at the school.

“Pedro knows the rest.” He insisted.

I finally realized he was mispronouncing “Uno! Dos! Tres!” by creating an English sentence that made sense to him. After a lot of coaching, I was able to separate the words for him. Then he wanted to go up to ten. And then up to twenty. And then to one-hundred.

Later, he started running around announcing “Wii!” the way the Wii sounds when jumping over hurdles in the scarecrow-tipping game: high pitched and abrupt.

“It means ‘yes’ in French,” he explained to me.

I had to counter that “oui” is pronounced without the raised eyebrows, crazy eyes, and super-screechy register. Still, I was glad that he was learning little bits of another language.

And so, when the Parent Bloggers Network asked if I might be interested in receiving the Kids Love Spanish DVD set, I was thrilled! I knew the Cat would love to learn more Spanish than during his brief introduction in Kindergarten. Plus, I want to get Spliggle started on the concept of bilingualism.

Continue reading "We Love "Kids Love Spanish"" »

September 18, 2007

Books are Moo-velous with Wilbur

wilbur.gifGimme a “Wilbur Wiggle:” it must be time to read a book!

I definitely agree that instilling interest in books early in a child’s life is critical. Of course, the irony is that there are several television shows on the air to promote this. While it is imperative that parents, caregivers, siblings, and so forth take the time to read one-one-one with their children, television shows can become “friends” that can teach children through storytelling. A parent telling a child to share doesn’t necessarily get the same response as a cheerful puppet peer.

To this end, I was happy to review the Discovery Kids Channel’s “Wilbur” through the Parent Bloggers Network. The show revolves around a calf named Wilbur who teaches his friends through reading books. His catch-phrase is “Books are Moo-velous” Wilbur is performed in shadowmation.

At the start of each episode, Wilbur’s puppet barnyard friends have a dilemma. Wilbur gets a little tickle, starts to wiggle, and exclaims “Moo! Moo! Moo! What should we do?” His friends respond, “Moo! Moo! Moo! Read a book with you!”

Continue reading "Books are Moo-velous with Wilbur" »

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 18, 2007

Truth in Advertising

One of my favorite mini-courses in elementary school was on advertising tricks. For example, saying "Four out of Five Dentists Agree!" can really mean that of 100 dentists, any four of them agreed on something, and then there was a random fifth. "I choose dentists 31, 45, 72, and 89: That is my four that agree! And dentist 33 disagreed. So four of five agree!"

I love how people misuse statistics. Like that old, "Most accidents happen close to home!" Well duh. The majority of the times one is away from home, they travel the portion of road close to home. Going to the store? That's close to home! Of course it is more likely that an accident will occur "close" to home. That certainly doesn't mean that if you travel three hours away from home that you can relax...

And so, I should have known better when I bought this package of little gems. But I was tricked, as I am sure most are:


Looks like a nice package filled with gems! Plenty to play with!

But really:

Only 30, Indeed

Like it says on the package, there are only 30. All of them are visible from the window on the packaging. They didn't lie. But the arrangement of packaging certainly tricked me.

And so, "Premium Quality Crafts," I give you a thumbs-down for wasting packaging. (I should put the cereal companies and potato chip folks on notice for the same reason, right?)

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" »

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 12, 2007

Jump Start World

Playing Jump Start World: First GradeI left this morning at around 10:30am. The Cat was playing Jump Start World: First Grade.

I returned home around 3:15pm. The Cat was playing Jump Start World: First Grade.

Sure, I know there was some time in there where he and Husband ran a couple errands and got lunch, but the time he was home he was glued to the computer, earning "gems."

Reward for good work is a huge motivator for the Cat. Jump Start World's gem reward system has gotten the Cat very excited about mastering levels and clearing units. We received Jump Start World: First Grade through the Parent Bloggers Network.

The Cat has tried some educational video games before, but they haven't been nearly as sophisticated.

Continue reading "Jump Start World" »

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 4, 2007

That Baby CD and DVD: Creative and Fun!

ThatBabyCDandDVD.pngAs a parent determining what CDs are appropriate for your children, you don’t want to encourage repetitive jingles that stick in your head and drive you insane. But nor do you want obscene or too-sophisticated lyrics for the young-uns. Adult music can be appreciated by kids, but especially if it is introduced in a kid-friendly and “safe” way.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to review That Baby CD and That Baby DVD, two products from Rob and Lisi Wolf of OyBaby LLC. The company’s first venture into the world of children’s music was to create the first and only DVDs and CDs made for Jewish babies and kids, OyBaby.

Through the Parent Bloggers Network, I received That Baby CD and That Baby DVD, two non-religious, sway-inducing, smile-producing products. Should I admit that I’ve probably listened to the music more than my kids?

Continue reading "That Baby CD and DVD: Creative and Fun!" »

December 10, 2007

Discovery Kids' Talking Telescope

TalkingTelescope.jpgThe Parent Bloggers Network is at it again, bringing me fun and educational toys that end up being life-savers!

This latest find is the Talking Telescope from Discovery Kids. The Cat adores astronomy, so this is perfect for him.

I still have a little "planets" song in my head from the Cat's Kindergarten class last year. They bopped up and down as they sang. And in preschool, the Cat made a beautiful large green planet. One of his favorite DVDs for quite awhile was "Baby Galileo." He has a glow-in-the-dark T-shirt of constellations and printed out a star chart for extra credit to bring to school. One of the books in his "store" at home (for reward for accumulating enough chore/behavior points) is a very, very heavy book on space.

Convinced that he'd love a telescope?

Continue reading "Discovery Kids' Talking Telescope" »

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: 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" »

January 9, 2008

CleanWell All-Natural Antibacterial Foaming Hand Wash

cleanwellhandsoap.jpgAwhile ago I wrote a review of Clean Well. Since then, I have continued to be an enthusiastic consumer of their antibacterial spray (and hand sanitizer wipe.) Splig is even pictured on their website (Look for “Chalk and Cheese”.) As you can imagine, I was ecstatic to try out their new line of products via the Parent Bloggers Network.

Their All-Natural Antibacterial Foaming Hand Wash is not like the traditional soap found on supermarket shelves. Like their hand sanitizer, the soap is made with Ingenium, a patented formulation of essential plant oils proven to kill 99.99% of harmful germs. Unlike those supermarket brands, CleanWell is the first all-natural Triclosan-free antibacterial hand soap.

Do you remember those horrible stories about alcohol poisoning from hand sanitizers? CleanWell jumped in with their alcohol-free variety. Similarly, most antibacterial liquid hand soaps contain the active ingredient Triclosan, a carcinogenic chemical which has been shown to act as an estrogen and androgen hormone disrupter. Why kill the bacteria but end up with cancer or hormone problems?

Well, CleanWell doesn’t have Triclosan.

Continue reading "CleanWell All-Natural Antibacterial Foaming Hand Wash" »

January 11, 2008

America's Giving Challenge

Parade Magazine is sponsoring "The America's Giving Challenge." The object of the challenge is to get as many people to donate to a specific cause as possible. It's not important how much is donated, just how many people actually donate. All donations are tax deductible.

The eight charities that receive the most donations (in number of contributions, not monetary amount) will receive a prize of $50,000 for their organization.

If you are interested in participating in this challenge, my cause of choice is The Find a Way/Habitot campaign to create an interactive museum for children of all abilities. I wrote about Find a Way when they were one of the top fifty finalists in the American Express Members' Project and when I created an iBakeSale for them.

In order for your donation to count towards the total, it must be through their Parade entry.

So why does the Find a Way / Habitot Campaign need money? Well, before they can proceed with further work on the museum itself, they need to pay $25,000 for a feasibility study as required by the city in which the museum is to be built.

When making a donation, it is important to specify it is for the "East County Museum Campaign" in the space provided. (This is because the organization sponsoring the entry is a broader one than just the museum for all-abilities as proposed by Find a Way.) The minimum donation is only $10, so even if Find a Way doesn't win the contest, if we can get 2500 people to donate just $10, we will have paid for the feasibility study!

January 17, 2008

Watching Wheels on the Bus as We Drive in Our Van

wheelsonthebus.jpgWhen we receive a new DVD, it usually ends up in the minivan's player first, rather than the DVD player in our family room. This is somewhat out of habit, as we used to commute quite a long while in the van, plus our "regular" DVD player was out of commission for awhile. Still, the kids usually spend "at home" time doing other activities while "van-time" is frequently "movie-time."

I received "The Wheels on the Bus: Mango's Big Dog Parade" free-for-review via the Parent Bloggers Network. I didn't notice the little subtitle "The Early Socialization Series: Taking Turns & Getting Along," so I didn't realize this would be an educational video. Honestly, I thought it would be just the song "The Wheels on the Bus," which would have kept me and my kids happy!

But, it turned out to be much, much more.

Continue reading "Watching Wheels on the Bus as We Drive in Our Van" »

January 22, 2008

Celebrating Around the World with our Big Purple Friend, Barney

barney.jpgOne of the only pieces of parenting advice I can remember from my cousins who had kids before me was, "Watch out for Barney!" They said something about "annoying" and "songs that stick in your head."

Well, the Cat wasn't into Barney, but when Spliggle accidentally saw an episode, he was hooked. He loves Barney. When the Parent Bloggers asked me to review Barney: Celebrating Around the World, I knew Splig would love it.

My cousins may have been concerned about "songs that stick on your head," but that is exactly why Barney episodes are so intriguing to kids.

But more than that is the concept of friendship, no matter how much adults may mock the "sap." I have two boys for whom friendship is very important, and for different reasons. I'll be reviewing some social skills DVDs in a bit, but I added the category of "educational: social skills" to this blog's category lists right after I watched "Celebrating Around the World," because more than "multiculturalism," this DVD is about compromise, getting along, trying new things, and valuing others, even when opinions (traditions, cultures) differ. These are huge skills to master; and having a child for whom social skills isn't easy, I recognize how valuable this instruction is.

Before Splig, I didn't realize that the whole concept of Barney is about imagination.

Continue reading "Celebrating Around the World with our Big Purple Friend, Barney" »

January 28, 2008

Pingu: He May Be On Thin Ice, but He's Solid to My Kids

pinguthinice.jpgSome time ago, Husband found the show Pingu, and the Cat thought the titular character's funny-speak was funny, indeed. For awhile, the Cat would exclaim, "Nert-nert!", an imitation of Pingu, when he was excited or otherwise interested in attracting attention. Pingu's antics have kept the Cat' laughing with glee. Although he's had other favorite shows, only Pingu has endured.

Of course I jumped at the chance to receive Pingu's first DVD, On Thin Ice, free-for-review from the Parent Bloggers Network.

The DVD contains eight episodes and runs about an hour. Having all those back-to-back episodes is amazing since on television the seven-minute blocks are typically between other shows rather than next to each other. And so the fun is over quickly and the show must be replayed (and replayed, and replayed.) The Cat and Splig are great with the TiVo remote, so I don't bear the brunt of the "again, again!" that some parents may have with such short episodes, but I remember it wasn't long ago that I had to restart favorite shows.

With an hour's worth of Pingu, life is good in the Karianna Household.

Continue reading "Pingu: He May Be On Thin Ice, but He's Solid to My Kids" »

February 15, 2008

Bob, We DIG You!

bobthebuilderdvd.jpgBob the Builder underwear in sizes 2T-6 sit in my boys' dressers. The Let's Count! with Bob the Builder board book has been lovingly read by both boys (and decorated by Mr. Splig.)

For awhile we had Bob the Builder in our Season Pass for the TiVo, but the Cat only watched one episode over and over and over again, which was the one in which Mrs Barbara Bentley creates a train room for her husband, the building inspector Mr. Bernard Bentley. The Cat loved the electric trains depicted (and of course Bob's cat Pilchard,) but I was a bit annoyed with Mrs. Bentley's submissive comments like, "Oh, I don't know, Bernard doesn't let me touch the trains..." But as Bob's business partner is Wendy, a woman, I guess I cannot delve into a whole gender-issue thing here. Besides, that isn't the point of this post...

Everyone seems to know about Bob. When the Cat was a toddler, my teenager cousins asked him if he was into Bob. "Can we fix it?" they asked, and answered with a smile, "Yes, we can!"

Spliggle may have watched a couple episodes, but he became addicted to other shows instead.

Both boys haven't been into Bob recently.

I wondered if that would change upon review of Bob the Builder: On-Site - Roads and Bridges, received via the Parent Bloggers Network.

Continue reading "Bob, We DIG You!" »

February 27, 2008

Gimme a "High Five!"

HighFivePremiere.jpgRelatives gave the Cat a subscription to "Highlights" a few months ago as a gift. I have fond memories of Highlights, and then those not-so-fond memories of association in that if I was reading a copy, I was probably about to get my teeth cleaned or have to endure an eye-exam or a shot. Still, it was a good way to pass the time, and so I chuckled when I saw the unexpected copy in our mailbox. "They still publish Highlights?" I thought. Indeed, it is their 60th year!

Along with the "Highlights" addressed to the Cat, there was another magazine in the mailbox, but this one was addressed to Spliggle. "High Five" read the cover. I was confused. I knew my parents had gotten both boys a subscription to a different magazine, but the "Highlights" and "High Five" were a surprise. It turns out that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law had sent the magazines to the boys.

The Parent Bloggers Network is reviewing "High Five," so I thought I'd jump in with my own experiences.

Continue reading "Gimme a "High Five!"" »

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...

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" »

March 10, 2008

It is Going to Rain, Mom!

Because those are nimbus clouds

ZulaWeather.gifThe Cat has been educating me about clouds ever since the Parent Bloggers Network gave me The Zula Patrol Explore Weather. The DVD contains four episodes, but "Treasure in the Clouds," stuck as the Cat's favorite.

Every morning and afternoon, the Cat quizzes me about what is in the sky. He tells me what he thinks, and then asks if he is correct. Ummmmm. I am not sure. I trust that he is right, because he quotes what he has learned from those peppy Zula Patrol folk. Fortunately, we've had a myriad of weather the last few weeks, so we've had different types of clouds available for firsthand study.

The Explore Weather DVD was not the first my boys had seen of The Zula Patrol. I reviewed the Zula DVD about volcanoes and rocks back in September. The boys absolutely adored learning about science, and as I mentioned in my 2007 recap, they - particularly volcano-loving Spliggle - continue to ask for the Zula DVD.

Continue reading "It is Going to Rain, Mom!" »

April 3, 2008

Take it to the Hip, to the Hop - It's Harry!

HipHopHarry.jpgWhen I got to college, I met a young woman whose name was what my parents were going to name me - Tara. But I think my parents were going to pronounce it "Tair-a" not "Tar-a." Ironically enough, she quizzed me about the pronunciation of my name. Many people say "Car-E" but it is really "Care-E." But then she asked me, "Care-E" or "K-aH-Re" The latter is a sound we don't really use in California, a kind of nasally short "A" like the infamous "pahk the cahr at hahvahd yahd"

Well, I was reacquainted with that sound when I put in "Hip Hop Harry: Move Those Feet," received free-for-review from the Parent Bloggers Network. "Harry" is not "Hair-E." He is "H-aH-Re" and has a laugh "ha HA!" that matches that nasal tone.

But rather than start with annoying, I'll emphasize the positive. Hip Hop Harry is meant to get kids off the couch. I was eager to review it because I figured that my lovin-to-groove kids would appreciate Harry's enthusiasm.

Continue reading "Take it to the Hip, to the Hop - It's Harry!" »

April 10, 2008

Seriously, the Coolest:

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

The Cool Mom Picks Mother's Day Guide is out!

No, CMP does not employ me*, nor do they give me anything (other than satisfaction) for kissing their behinds; but the truth is that CMP has led me towards unique, earth-conscious, well-made, and attractive products time after time.

It was through CMP that I found out about tiny*prints, which ended up being "THE" place from which to get Holiday Cards. During a New Year's party, one otherwise trendy woman was aghast that she had used another company. She hadn't heard of tiny*prints until their spectacular cards ended up in her mailbox from people who were clearly more fashion-forward than she. We discussed the issue at length.

As I noted in my New Year's Post, the majority of the gifts I bought for Christmas were from stores I found through the Cool Mom Pick's Holiday Guide, such as Modern Tots.

I trust The Cool Moms. And once you check out the listed products, so will you.

Yes, now. Go see The Cool Mom Picks Mother's Day Guide now!

* = Edited to add: I later became an employee of CMP, but was not when this post was written!

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 21, 2008

Changing it Up Without the Whine: Skill Building Buddies

SkillBuildingBuddies.gifNearly two years ago, the Cat was asked to leave a private kindergarten. Among the unacceptable behaviors they cited, the most problematic was that he was pinching his classmates. When his teacher asked why, he couldn't answer. She asked me, but I didn't know either. The Cat hadn't pinched anyone before attending this school. I tried to get information about what was happing just prior to the pinch. Finally, we determined that the pinches occurred during times of transition.

One particularly problematic afternoon started because the other K-1 class came over to visit. When they left, the Cat pinched a classmate instead of saying "goodbye." This snowballed into a situation where the Cat couldn't explain his actions, so became more distraught when the teacher continually asked him "why." He didn't know why, and he was upset. The more upset he became, the more he acted-out, and the greater he was punished.

That day involved both a change in routine (that the other K-1 was invading "his" classroom) and then an unwanted transition (that his friend left the class to go back to his own.)

Although the Cat has matured a great deal since then, I was intrigued when the Parent Bloggers Network asked me to review Skill Building Buddies: Handling Transitions and Change.

Continue reading "Changing it Up Without the Whine: Skill Building Buddies" »

April 25, 2008

Rockin' with Kibbles While Rolling with the Punches

KibblesRockinClubhouse.gifThe Cat's very first preschool experience ended in tears.


I cried and cried the morning that the preschool director called to tell us not to come in. I was still crying when she came to pick up the fax machine she had lent me so that I could do the bookings for the preschool. (That's right, I lost my job in addition to losing a place for the Cat to go to school.) The Cat ran away, playing, oblivious at how deeply I was hurting - and completely clueless that the reason for my tears was directly connected to his behavior.

The Cat didn't know how to interact with his peers. He'd go up to a child, grin, and push them over. It wasn't meant to be malicious; it was his way of saying "Hey, let's play!" But he didn't know how to say "hello."

Kibbles Rockin' Clubhouse from Notabilities begins with a lesson and song about greeting words.

I wish I had that DVD when the Cat was going through his first attempts at socialization.

Continue reading "Rockin' with Kibbles While Rolling with the Punches" »

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 6, 2008

Are Your Kids Safe?

safekids.jpgWhile I was at Camp Baby, I learned of two impressive programs that I would like to mention here.

Today I will profile Safe Kids USA. National "Safe Kids Week" was actually last week, so I missed the boat in announcing it week-of; however, the Safe Kids USA website has plenty of valuable material for parents.

Although some hospitals have carseat checks before the new parents are allowed out of the parking lot, and many police departments offer free carseat checks, many parents don't take them up on their offer. I remember traveling down the freeway when Splig's infant seat tipped over, despite being installed by several people who should have known what they were doing.

And then there is water-safety. (Pictured are Oscar winner actress Marcia Gay Harden and Charisse Nurnberg, mother of Matt, who drowned at the age of 3 - photo from Safe Kids USA) Unfortunately, I have a scary story to tell:

Continue reading "Are Your Kids Safe?" »

May 12, 2008

A Few Kinks, but Kinzin is On Its Way

kinzin.gifI have several blogs. I am an avid Flickr user. But family and friends deserve a more personal glimpse into the lives of my boys, so I happily agreed to try out Kinzin via the Parent Bloggers Network.

The site touts itself as a "free private family website," but I found it to be more of a combination of Flickr and Twitter or Facebook than a place to have comprehensive information about the children. For example, "Favourites" (yes, the British spelling) only allows four lines, as does "Wish List." The "status updates" only take about seven entries, and once they are gone, they are gone. I would have wanted a bit more space for user-driven content and an archive of the status updates. While having a huge page of status updates isn't practical, a "back" button with previous updates would be appreciated. "In the now" is literally current, but I like to have a history, too.

Continue reading "A Few Kinks, but Kinzin is On Its Way" »

May 28, 2008

Observe Bugs or Capture Cardboard

netgungun.jpgI have two boys. It is therefore not surprising that the word "bug" has been part of their vocabulary since very early on.

While Husband is a self-proposed 'fraidy-cat when it comes to insects and spiders, my son the Cat is a bit more bold. Interestingly, it is only more recently that he has become more hesitant around bugs, although encourages "fairy flies" to stick around, even in odd places such as the car.

Spliggle has never been afraid. In his preschool class two years ago, he used to pull the bugs off the low windows. Last summer it was tough to get all the way around the lake because every few feet Splig had to pick up a ladybug. He adopts bugs and cries when they fly, scoot, or crawl away seconds later.

I knew the Discovery Channel Store's Bug Net Launcher would be for them. I figured the Cat could observe bugs from a safe distance and Splig could capture them without crushing them. I received this product free-for-review from the Parent Bloggers Network:

Continue reading "Observe Bugs or Capture Cardboard" »

June 1, 2008

A Model Child: Yours Could Be with CompanyKids!

companykidslogo.gifWhen the Cat was around 18 months, I took him to one of those mall picture studios. He was a real ham, and we got some fabulous portraits. One in particular reminded me of what I'd expect to see as an advertisement for preppy kids' clothes.

Ironically enough, a major retailer held a contest to find kid models. I couldn't submit the Cat's professional photo because it was against the contest rules, but I sent a snapshot that I felt best captured the Cat's personality.

He wasn't selected, but I remember being so excited to enter, because after all, we mothers think our kids are just the most precious, adorable, and photogenic little beings on the planet.

If you agree with me, then I've got a contest for you! CompanyKids is having a model search. It is easy to enter: just send in your best photograph of your kid. Sure, it may be hard to pick out the best, what with all you Flickr-files who have tons of material, but I am sure you can rise to the challenge.

The winner may be featured in the print and online Spring 2009 CompanyKids Catalog. Now that is cool! Hey, I used to tear out photographs of models who looked sorta like me and claim I was a real model; your kid really could be one.

Two Grand Prize Winners will receive a trip to New York for the photo shoot, as well as a $500 Company Kids gift card. 10 First Prize Winners will receive a $100 Company Kids gift card. The child(ren) in photos submitted must be at least 3 years of age but must not have had his or her 7th birthday as of July 30, 2008. For official rules and to enter please visit the CompanyKids Model Contest page.

The Cat is too old for the contest, but Spliggle isn't, and he's got quite a personality, so I may have to enter him in the contest. But the competition would be even better if you all entered too.

I'm still envious of a former classmate who got to be in a print-ad for Esprit, and of another friend who was randomly picked off the streets of New York to be in a billboard for milk. Let your kid be that kid who gets a touch of fame.

Enter the contest, and then maybe I can get your kid's autograph when the catalog comes out next year.

June 3, 2008

Sleeping on Softness: Lands' End Pure Loft Mattress Topper

mattresstopper.jpegThe Cat is very sensitive.

He is sensitive to noise, pressure, smells, and food. When he feels just a little "off" it can translate into a big "off" in terms of behavior. Sometimes seasonal allergies will get him in a moody state, or a typical cold will turn off his impulse-control. Even happiness can become more like a mania, so "too much fun" is just too exhausting. (And yes, Spliggle is on the wired-up with glee train too, as many children are at times.)

The Cat is especially sensitive to sleep. Like most kids, he needs just the right amount. This can be tricky for someone who wants to stay up late and get up early in the morning. He has too much fun to do during the day than to sleep! And then there are those days when it is tough to awaken him. Right then, I can pretty much guarantee we'll have a Cranky Cat on our hands.

It is imperative that the Cat find comfort in his bed so that he can get to sleep quickly, stay asleep, and awake refreshed. Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to receive a Lands' End PureLoft Mattress Topper.

Continue reading "Sleeping on Softness: Lands' End Pure Loft Mattress Topper" »

June 9, 2008

Ink Up Your Fruit - Win Some to Personalize!

When I was young, every very time we went into a drugstore, I'd scan the personalized-item area. Of course, "Kari" was never an option. Well, it was an option once: a tiny CA license plate in the now retired yellow and blue. I bought several. Still, I wished I could have my very own "Kari" pencils, or a magnet, or something else cheap and plastic that just happened to have my name.

These days, personalization is relatively easy. There are plenty of online and specialty stores that will create fun things with your name in it. But Fruit Roll-Ups? This was a new one. When the Parent Bloggers Network asked me if I wanted to create my own design using My Fruit Roll-Ups, I jumped at the chance.

Continue reading "Ink Up Your Fruit - Win Some to Personalize!" »

June 11, 2008

New Episodes of The Bill Engvall Show and My Boys Premiere Tomorrow

billengvallshow.jpgThe wonderful folks at TBS sent me several DVDs worth of preview shows along with a comfy pair of pajamas (my first pajamagram!) I am glad to announce that one of these shows, The Bill Engvall Show, premieres new episodes tomorrow night.

Truthfully it has been awhile since I’ve watched an “old-fashioned” style sitcom with the laugh track . Those types of show were the staples of my viewing back when I was younger. The Bill Engvall Show is an updated version of these shows I used to watch religiously.

It was fun to watch the sitcom family in action: patient wife, goofy husband, the three kids with the requisite know-it-all, dunce and beauty, plus an annoying-with-a-soft-spot neighbor, naturally. Of course they have a family dog - who ends up being the subject of one of the episodes I previewed. The jokes were sometimes predictable, as is the formula for such shows, but I found myself chuckling along nonetheless. The plot lines are definitely lighter and more entertaining in a “kick-back-after-a-long-day” sort of way than some of the heavier “drama-dy type” shows I typically watch.

Continue reading "New Episodes of The Bill Engvall Show and My Boys Premiere Tomorrow" »

June 30, 2008

Preserve-Recycline Toothbrush

preserve_toothbrush.jpgWhile I started shopping at Whole Foods and other "organic-health-conscious" stores to find Feingold-safe food, I've started to notice and purchase environmentally-conscious products from pine-pellet cat litter to natural pest control solutions. After all, being healthful isn't just in things one eats, it is also what one breathes, uses on the skin, or on one's teeth. And being "green" in ways other than buying local produce or all-natural, organic products is important.

My kids are into the eco-conscious action, too: the Cat remarked the other day after I filled up my gas tank, "Mom, you're hating on the world because you drive this van instead of a part-electric car like Daddy!" But I digress...

In the household product aisle, I've been drawn to the brightly-colored Preserve plastic cutlery. I bought a whole bunch of lime ones since the Cat's favorite color is green.

Well, it turns out that Preserve makes more than just tableware. Thanks to Mom Central, I had the opportunity to receive two free Preserve toothbrushes.

There are many things about this toothbrush that warrant mention:

1) The bristles are WHITE. This may not seem like a huge deal at first glance, but the majority of the brushes found in drugstores and major-chain grocery stores have dyes on the bristles. Some brands market this as an indicator that when the dye fades it is time to replace the brush. But of course, the dye is going into your mouth or the mouths of your children.

After I received a rare white-bristled child-sized brush from my dentist, I begged him to let me snag a few more. He gave me his final two, and told me that the other brushes he had were dyed. I copied down the manufacturer's information and purchased an enormous package of the white-bristled ones direct from the supplier. Thereafter, I received mail about "my dental practice."

preservetoothbrushes.jpgFortunately, I found some white-bristled toothbrushes at health-food stores, but I am very relieved to know that Preserve toothbrushes are available. Preserve Jr. has some models that include dye, but they also have some all-white bristled ones as well.

2) Preserve toothbrushes are made from recycled material, namely yogurt lids. The Sundance Channel published a video about this process. [edited 2/2009: The website has been revamped; below is a quote that appeared on the original site.]

"Since 2001, Preserve and Stonyfield Farm have partnered to keep (literally) tons of plastic out of landfills. We collect cups and scrap plastic from Stonyfield's manufacturing facility in nearby New Hampshire, as well as the used cups that people who have enjoyed Stonyfield Farm yogurt return to them. Then we turn these cups into Preserve Toothbrushes, Tongue Cleaners and Razors."

3) Preserve toothbrushes are themselves recyclable. Their website includes a postage-paid label that can be affixed to a package of used toothbrushes, razor handles, and tongue-cleaners.

4) It turns out that Preserve products are not just sold at expensive health-stores. Preserve toothbrushes are available at Target stores nationwide for only $2.04! Plus, here is a printable coupon! [no longer available.]

Thank you Mom Central for letting me know about this fantastic company, and thank you Preserve for creating products out of old plastic that we can use and then recycle yet again!

July 1, 2008

Raggs Kids Club Band: Rocking in Your Area?

It has been awhile since we've sat down to watch a DVD. Sure, the kids have their old TiVo'ed favorites on the television, but I haven't introduced any new shows to them other than those they have found on their own (curses that the Cat discovered Sponge-Bob!) We've been busy with end-of-school things and grandparent-visits and other away-from-the-TV things.

raggs.JPGLast week when we drove to Santa Cruz I finally had the opportunity to stick in a new DVD. With the kids captive in the back seat, it was a perfect chance to introduce them to something new. In this case, it was the Raggs Kids' Club Band. Although Raggs has been a live-action show for awhile, it didn't launch as a TV show in the US until recently. (It is from Australia.) The distribution of the show increased in February 2008 and it is shown on PBS. The Raggs Live Dance Party is also on tour, a safe-bet for a fun afternoon, although unfortunately they aren't coming my way. Their 2001 Raggs Kids Club Band "Pawsuuup!" Tour DVD, apparently won several awards according to Wikipedia.

At the moment, the Raggs website is going through a revision; I've found a few funny mistakes that will no doubt be corrected prior to the official re-launch this September. But the show itself is polished.

I recognize the characters and know I've seen pieces of the show here and there, but until recently it wasn't a show for which we've seen full episodes.

The kids enjoyed the stuffed animals that the Raggs-folks sent us along with the DVD and Dance Party CD. (Thanks Lindsey!) They played with the animals in the "way-back" of the van while they watched the DVD, occasionally telling their grandparents in the row ahead of them "Bend to the side, please!" At the next stop, the kids asked to switch places with their grandparents. Suddenly the appeal of the "way-back" was trumped by their desire to see Raggs clearly.

I ended up having to replay the DVD several times, and now What's The Dealio has been stuck in my head for days. The target-audience for the show is 3-6, but the Cat - who is 7 - really enjoyed it. Although he is called "the Cat," he has a real thing for dogs as well, so a troupe of singing dogs is right up his alley.

The show includes clubhouse-scenes (where a problem-solving topic is introduced) as well as concert scenes (in front of an actual audience) and clips of real kids: both q&a and action-shots set to music.

Initially I was a bit surprised by the format since the topic jumps around a bit. For example, in the episode "Who Am I?" Razzles' friends try to pick out an appropriate birthday present for her. The characters chose things that were special to them, but B. Maxx explained to each that while their selections were very nice, they weren't appropriate for who Razzles is. This is a very important social-skills lesson, one that the Cat still has to learn, so I smiled when I saw this topic unfold. But then after B. Maxx explains that they must discover who Razzles is, the show jumps to the live-action song (which has no direct connection to the problem that needs to be solved.) I understand the idea of keeping the youngsters' attention, but will they remember the first segment after the song?

Fortunately, the characters reiterate the problem, and do so again after a live-action-kids segment. As it turns out, the various segments end up being fun because there are so many things that will appeal to different kids. The real kids' answers are wacky and are bound to resonate with viewers. Spliggle, for example, is in agreement with one little boy "Sam," who declares that he is going to be a pirate when he grows up. "Aaaarrrr!" says Splig. Dumpster the cat, who provides questions to the real kids, is hilarious with his comments.

The varied interests and talents of each member of the Raggs Kids Club Band emphasizes that each kid is similarly free to have different interests than another kid, and that their talents will differ, too.

Raggs is definitely a fun show, and I imagine the in-person concert would be high-energy. If they will be in your area, check it out; otherwise, check your local PBS listings to see Raggs on television!

PS: Shortly after returning home, the boys caught an episode of Raggs on television. They have since asked to add it to their TiVoed shows.

July 3, 2008

Anamalz: Animalz: Animals

anamalzpolarregion.jpgAwhile back, I reviewed Noah's Pals. They have been a big hit in our household. The kids love them. Spliggle has become quite the zookeeper. In fact, he pulls up the couch cushions to create his "doctor house," which is really a veterinary clinic. The animals we received back then, as well as some additional figurines that Santa brought last Christmas, have stood up to my boys' rigorous play-acting.

Recently Spliggle acquired some other figurines for his collection. While on a trip to Target to purchase who-knows-what, Splig made a beeline for a display of Anamalz (such as this tiger and the polar region set pictured above) conveniently displaying Target's orange "clearance" stickers, boasting prices of around $2 per pack.


Anamalz are wooden animal figurines touted as being "environmentally friendly." They are made of organic maple wood and textile (ie, the legs are rope.) They are water-based (ie, no crazy lead or oil paints,) created in a sustainable environment, and are handmade. The felt of the crocodile's back or the lion's mane is created from recycled materials. These toys are safe for children to play with, and through discussion of how they are made and what they represent, quite educational as well.

The product and concept was created in Australia, a country for which I have a great deal of fond memories; in less than a month it will have been twenty years since I went there to perform at the World Expo in Brisbane. But I digress...

Like Noah's Pals, Anamalz also contributes a portion of its proceeds to environmentally-friendly groups in the hope of saving real-life animals through the purchase of their handmade ones. I hope that since Splig plays with so many animal figurines that he will be compassionate to real-life ones.

When I visited the Anamalz website, I was delighted to discover that they do music as well.

These are truly great toys, and the company seems to be doing much more than just "toying around." I am glad Splig happened upon these; they are frequent patients in his "doctor house," although they are in perfect condition!


Anamalz has not sent me any free samples, paid me to say anything nice about the product, or otherwise encouraged me to write about their product. We simply happened upon the product by complete luck. I was impressed enough with the product and the company to create this post.

July 22, 2008


lilscholars.jpgSplig (age 4) had a playdate recently. He took out a Kubit2Me cube and immediately his friend's eyes opened wide, "What is that?" He thew the cube at her and she stroked the fur on the side. They ended up playing the Lil Scholars ABC's game. While Splig is still learning his letters, his nearly-age-5 year old friend was able to identify nearly all of them. Meanwhile, the Cat (age 7) wanted to play, so I told him he had to give an example of a word that started with that letter, and it couldn't be the item pictured on the card, since that would be too easy. If they had done the 123's version, I would have had the Cat do a multiplication exercise, while Splig and his friend would have only had to identify the number and/or a simple addition problem. All three kids were essentially playing the same game, but it was adjustable to their particular academic levels.

The basic tools of Kubit2Me are a large fuzzy cube and a set of cards. The user places several cards in each of the cube's pockets. What happens next varies depending on the game played. Although the "official instructions" recommend the players choose to whom to throw the cube, I modified it: I had the kids throw the cube to specific people. The reason for this was two-fold: First, so nobody was left out; Second, so the kids were not confused or conflicted (ie, Will I hurt his feelings if I toss it to her?)

The person who catches the cube pulls out a card from the pocket that is facing upwards on the cube (or any other direction agreed upon by the group.) In our case, I had the kids yell out the color that it landed on so they could also practice their colors (of course all three kids found this easy.) The player then either identifies what is on the card (letter, number) gives an example of what is on the card (what is the letter's sound, what is that number multiplied by 3), or if the card contains a question, answers the question.

Some of the games for older kids include "Truth or Dare," and "Now You're Talkin'." A related exercise is the downloadable-for-free "Free to Be Me Icebreaker" All games use the same cube, so simply get a deck of the question-cards to play a new version of the game.

While the "Lil Scholars" games are more "basic preschool education" in focus, the question-related cards are more social-skills related. These cards contain basic questions like "If you could live under the ocean or on the moon, which would you choose?" A variation of the game ("How Well Do You Know Your Friend?") has the other players guess the cube-holding player's answer before he or she answers.

The variations of Kubit2Me are numerous, so it is definitely important to establish the ground rules before playing the game. The Cat likes to invent rules as he goes for any game, so while the game is flexible, it is important to stay consistent.

Lil Scholars was too easy for the Cat (unless I added more challenging requirements for him,) but was definitely a good exercise for Spliggle. The social-skills oriented aspects of the game are great for the Cat, though. In fact, it was through one of my posts about the Cat's social difficulties that Kubit2Me's creator decided to contact me about her game. She describes it as "a line of self expression games that are all about getting kids to open up." Indeed, Creative Child Magazine recently named the game its 2008 Creative Child “Game of the Year” Award - although this distinction does not appear to be on the website (which reads 2007) yet - From the press release:

"A unique interactive, relationship-building game called Kubit2me Lil’ Scholars Edition has earned the 2008 Creative Child “Game of the Year” award in the preschool educational games category. Two other Kubit2me games, Truth or Dare and Now You’re Talkin’ Editions, also received a 2008 Preferred Choice Award."

The game provides the questions which is half the struggle when making conversation. This way, kids can appreciate the opportunity to answer (it is their turn to talk!) and learn to listen (rules are rules, when another player has the cube, it is their turn!) In this way, kids like the Cat who have difficulty with social convention can learn these rules in a non-threatening way. Logical thinkers can literally "play by the rules" to practice listening to others and taking turns. One possible variation of the game is for the player holding the cube to select the question and ask it to the next player in the rotation. This way, the player gets the practice in asking questions as well as in answering questions.

According to its creator, Kubit2Me is regularly being used in therapeutic settings. I can definitely see how this social game can be used as a tool for conversation and taking turns. For kids who do not yet know their body parts, 123's, or ABC's, these quizzes can be useful as well. An "emotions" deck also presents a challenge to kids for whom reading emotions is difficult. For kids with sensory needs, the cube is soft and quite fun to touch. (I would like one in a pillow shape!) Likewise, it is large enough and soft enough so those kids with low muscle-tone (as some kids on the spectrum have) would be able to catch it without a problem.

My kids enjoy Kubit2Me. Splig's playdate was definitely intrigued, so perhaps her mother will go purchase it as well. I need to get some of the Cat's classmates over so they can play the Free to Be Me Icebreaker - that is, unless they go play soccer first.


My one concern about the game is that it does seem a bit "girly." The cube has cute denim pockets and comes with little stickers and glittery bracelets (which Splig loves.) I can see groups of young girls playing the game for fun, but my gut reaction is that boys would only play it if they were in an educational setting or in a mixed-gender gathering. Since Splig is rather "girly" for being a boy, and since the Cat doesn't seem to notice gender roles, the game is definitely fun for them, but there are certainly some of the Cat's classmates who I wouldn't want to suggest play the game. That said, there are a few young men who I think would enjoy the game.

All in all, this game can be used for many different reasons in many different settings. The kids love the cube and the questions provide fun icebreakers. Check out the Kubit2Me website to learn more

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.

August 8, 2008

Hanes Underwear: Your Foundation for a Great School-Year

Plaid Hanes BoxersBelieve it or not, school starts in about two weeks. And we all know what comes with school: new clothes!

Underwear is a very important piece of the equation. Sure, it may be more important for a sagging woman such as myself to have the proper foundation garment, but the boys can't very well go commando when no doubt there is "peeking" in those school washrooms. (Do they have mini-urinals in the boys' restrooms like they have mini-toilets in the girls'?)

My older son has very specific requirements for his underwear. He doesn't like tags. He doesn't like seams. He wants everything without "bubbles" (gaps and bunching.) And my younger son - who doesn't seem so worried about fit - wants flowers, plaid, or a cartoon character.

Via the Parent Bloggers Network we had an opportunity to try some Hanes Comfort-Fit Underwear for Kids. We received white No Ride-Up Briefs, plaid No Gap Fly Boxers, and white Shaped to Fit Crew Socks.

Of course my youngest son grabbed the boxers, declared them "shorts," and has attempted to leave the house with just them and a T-shirt on. Indeed, when I picked him up at preschool yesterday afternoon after their "Luau Party," I was only slightly surprised to see him shirtless, wearing just a lei and his Hanes Hawaiian Print boxers. (We received the plaid ones specifically for this campaign, but he already had other Hanes boxers.) He loves plaid (as do I) so he is excited about his new boxers. The No Gap Fly promise is good: had I not known there was an actual fly, I would have thought it was sewn shut.

My oldest son initially was skeptical about the white briefs. He dug around for his familiar "Cars," "Madagascar," and "Spiderman" varieties. He isn't in to change, so this didn't surprise me. But, with help from the Laundry Fairy, the next time he looked for underwear, only the new white Hanes were available. He scowled as he put them on, but got dressed without further hassle. Meanwhile, I thought about where I might purchase some green dye so they could be more appealing to my son's verdant dreams.

In the end, I didn't have to risk dyeing the new one-year-old carpet or my favorite pair of jeans while trying to wrangle boys' briefs. When the Laundry Fairy returned his usual underwear alongside the stack of new Hanes, my son actually selected a pair of Hanes each morning. On one hand, I am surprised, since I figured as soon as his beloved cartoon characters were back, he'd prefer those. But on the other hand, I'm not surprised, because the Hanes are soft and comfortable, whereas several of the cartoon ones are stiff with paint and - yes - dye. My son is exceptionally sensitive to texture, so I suppose in this case comfort trumped both familiarity and wearing his television preferences on his... um... bum.

Although we received Shaped to Fit Crew Socks, both boys have been going sockless in honor of summer vacation. They live in their sandals and refused to put on socks for me. "These are so very soft," said my youngest, though, and I concur. They seem like fantastically thick, extra-comfy socks. The real test will be when my oldest finally has to wear sneakers for "Club Fit" (we old-folks know it as "P.E.") once school starts. Fortunately, from reading the other reviews, I anticipate they'll be a hit.

Hanes Comfort-Fit Promise guarantees better-fitting and more comfortable basic essentials for boys and girls or your money back. But I seriously doubt you'll ask for your money back. Specially-marked packages have the opportunity to earn additional underwear, so you can still save money in the end. Also, keep an eye on the Parent Bloggers Network Blog for a Blog Blast coming up August 22nd where you can win some Hanes Comfort-Fit Underwear for your own kids.

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 13, 2008

Get the Penguins Out of the Ice-Cream Shop

Bob the Builder has been a staple of our household since the Cat was a toddler. One of his first toys was a counting hammer, and his first underwear had images from the series. His bath toys were Bob-themed (even a shampoo that had a Scoop toy as its lid.) Oddly, neither boy has watched the series itself with any regularity, although they very much enjoyed the DVD I reviewed for PBN earlier this year. Still, Bob the Builder is recognizable and comfortable to my kids, and so when I learned of Bob the Builder's Can-Do Zoo via the Parent Bloggers Network, I expected we'd have two very happy boys in our house.

Indeed, this educational computer game combines both the "tool and construction" fun that many young kids are apt to enjoy, plus the universally desirable animal theme. The story itself is fun: Bob must construct the Bobland Bay Zoo to house all the animals currently making their home in unexpected places. The monkeys are on the monkey-bars at school, of course, and the alligators are in the swimming pool. This topsy-turvy situation brought giggles to the boys.

bobzoo The player must escort Bob through the planning and construction process of the zoo by mastering several tasks. Each activity brings the zoo closer to completion and earns the player a sticker that can be used to construct scenes in a "sticker book" portion of the game. The activities involve memory, sequencing, matching, color and shape recognition, and pattern completion. Each activity can be done in "easy," "medium," or "hard" modes.

Splig started on the easy mode, but soon started trying the "medium." The Cat started on "hard" but decided to go to "easy" to get the hang of it before going back to "medium" and "hard." Can-Do Zoo is aimed at 3-6 year olds. Spliggle is four and definitely in that target ability level. The Cat is seven (and a half) and found most tasks pretty easy, although there are still some activities in the "hard" level that provide a challenge for him.

Both boys enjoyed the "free play" section of the game where they could skip over the story (along with its little video interludes) so they could play a particular game over and over again, both to become better at it and to earn lots of stickers. The boys spent an entire afternoon doing the exercises repeatedly so they could earn the stickers. This reward-based system works so well with the boys that they remembered another educational reward-based game I reviewed for PBN and have been playing that game religiously alongside Bob for the last couple weeks.

Since there are only five different games, the capacity to become bored is greater than with more complex computer games; however, this also means that younger players won't be overwhelmed with too much detail. Since there are only five habitats to complete, even the very beginning players can reach the game's completion, which isn't always the case with story-based games. I know the Cat wanted new challenges, but he's also a year and a half above the suggested age-range for the game. Spliggle seemed satisfied with the Can-Do Zoo's scope and definitely enjoyed giggling at the animals.


Download a free trial of Bob the Builder's Can-Do Zoo.

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!

August 19, 2008

Jane and the Dragon: On DVD Today!

Although my boys tend to have their "regularly watched" shows, from time to time another show creeps into the lineup. Typically, it is because a favorite show ends up having a preview for another; or because the TiVo'ed show ends, revealing whatever happens to be on the television live. During one such happenchance, the boys landed on Jane and the Dragon. Since then, both boys enjoy watching it when it is on, and we've TiVo'ed some of the episodes.

The boys are drawn to the dragon. I am drawn to the idea that Jane, instead of being a lady-in-waiting, decides to be a knight's apprentice. She scowls at wearing party dresses, much preferring to spar with the other apprentices or fly around on Dragon's back as she solves the problem of the day (usually getting into trouble before undoing a mistake.) I am also intrigued by the very realistic, yet fanciful CGI animation. Jane isn't some glamorous gal: her frizzy hair and gangly legs aren't the typical "ideal" of young women, but her adventurous spirit is certainly to be prized.

I was delighted to learn that Jane and the Dragon: A Dragon's Tale is now available on DVD, starting today. This DVD has five episodes, plus some enchanting extras, such as information about the art of Jane and the Dragon, character profiles, and a printable coloring page. The art section is fabulous, explaining how the initial challenge of bringing Jane's hair to life resulted in all the characters having realistic and unique hairstyles. Similarly, the costumes flow and respond to the character's actions just as real garments would.

Apparently, the Jane and the Dragon story is originally a book by Martin Baynton. The series includes other titles, such as Jane and the Magician and Three's a Crowd. Now that the kids have enjoyed watching the DVD, perhaps I can convince the Cat to read some of the books himself for "free reading" time when school starts. In the "Art of Jane" section of the DVD I learned that the amazing animation was patterned after Baynton's beautiful illustrations. I have not seen one of the books up close to compare, but plan to purchase some for the Cat. Baynton himself is listed as one of the executive producers of the DVD.

We were lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Jane and the Dragon: A Dragon's Tale. The boys enjoyed the episodes, and as mentioned before, I really enjoyed the extras. The art is spectacular and makes the program very enjoyable to watch. Our one criticism about the DVD was that even if we select "play all episodes," they cycle through in such a way that the opening theme plays before each episode. It would have been nice to have gotten the theme at the start, but then had all five episodes play in succession with only a single title slide announcing the next episode. The upside of hearing the theme song several times was that I was able to listen to the lyrics - which contain the back-story.

The boys sat still for the entire two hours worth of the show. Ordinarily I wouldn't have them watch so much in one sitting, but I just recently received the DVD and wanted a chance to review it for today's release. Also, the show itself is high quality, so I didn't feel guilty about having them watch it.

During the episode entitled "Tooth Fairy," I held my breath a little bit because my boys are both "believers." The Cat is skeptical, so he listened as Jane explained there was no such thing as a Tooth Fairy, but I think he was sufficiently confused by the twist-ending that he didn't ask me about it. Earlier in the summer, he asked about "magic" versus what is "real," but the jolly old red-suited guy, the egg-hiding rabbit, and the giver of goods in exchange for teeth didn't come into suspicion during that discussion. The Cat is about to be in second grade, and that was when "all was revealed" for me (around the same time that I asked what the "F" word really meant, since a classmate had been sent to the office for writing it on the chalkboard,) so it wouldn't surprise me if we have "the talk" soon - I just hope he doesn't ruin it for his younger brother!

Jane and the Dragon: A Dragon's Tale is a quality production, and I am thankful to the Shout Factory for giving me my copy. The boys are happy, and I'm definitely impressed with the production aspect and eager to learn more about the books upon which this series is based.

The DVD is in both regular and widescreen formats, with both English and Spanish audio.

September 2, 2008

Noodleboro Fun Park Game

Noodleboro Fun ParkI'm always on the lookout for fun games that can double as a conversation starter or other sneaky educational thing. Via Mom Central, I had the opportunity to receive the Noodleboro Fun Park Sharing Game. This game is appropriate for the whole family, although older kids may find it simple. The focus is on turn-taking and collaboration. While each individual competes in theme park activities, the resulting prizes and stars are shared amongst all players. The ultimate object of the game is a group effort, trying to obtain as many sharing stars as possible before the theme park "closes."

The initial set-up of the game took awhile: each theme park ride must be constructed and the cards must be placed by the appropriate activity. I think my kids punched out the cards all in one big lump, so that created some extra effort to sort them, but this could be a game in itself for preschool kids eager to show off their matching skills. I ended up putting each type of prize (and the sharing stars) in individual small bowls, the plastic type traditionally used for toddler food. Spliggle the eating-machine never needed such a small portion dish, so I was glad to discover a new use for these.

Noodleboro Fun ParkOnce I figured out what went where and how the game was supposed to be played, the kids enjoyed playing. There are four stations: their favorite was the "log flume," probably because in real life this is a favorite activity. In this case, the player balances a little boulder on a log, carefully maneuvering it through the vertical course. The "roller coaster" involves trying to catch a disk that goes through the coaster course. The "ferris wheel" is a game of luck: pick a color and hope the wheel lands on your color. "Tent show" is a shell game; no cheating! Success at these stations produces prizes; if a player already has that prize, he or she shares with another player, thus earning a "sharing star" for the group.

The die determines the activity: one of the four stations, player's choice, or to advance the "sun" closer to "park closing time" on the game board. Once the sun gaming piece reaches the end, the park closes. The players count up the number of sharing stars accumulated, and try to beat it the next round! In other words, you "win" every time.

For super-competitive kids such as mine, keep in mind that the goal of the game won't just be sharing stars in their eyes. It is hard to encourage a collaborative effort for kids who absolutely need to know who is "in front." (I earned five sharing stars for the pool! Well I earned seven!) Of course, it is the sharing that this game is meant to teach. I hope that with repeated playing I can emphasize that this isn't about accumulating all the prizes, because the ultimate result is that everyone in the game will have all four prizes, and then everyone will be working together to accumulate "sharing stars."

Noodleboro Fun ParkMy boys created new scenarios for the Noodleboro Fun Park Game: they added a hockey scrimmage to the activities, for example, since I had set up the game close to our rod hockey game. The puck took a trip down the roller coaster and the log flume, too. Soon the theme park had visitors in the form of plastic pirates, little koosh balls, and pulled-off-the-game hockey players. While I can't say for certain that the boys got the intended "sharing message" of the game, they certainly had fun, and the game provided a great launch pad for their creativity.


* Hasbro's Noodleboro Page

* Buy the Fun Park Sharing Game at! (Check out Pizza Palace Listening Game and Picnic Basket Manners Game, too)

September 19, 2008

Libby's Says Get Back to the Table

Libby%27s%20logo.jpgTypically I talk about all the things out of the house that we're doing, from soccer to gymnastics. More and more, families are scattered about after-school. The reasons are "good:" the kids are attending religious youth group organizations, taking music lessons, or participating in team-building, obesity-fighting sports. But so much research has said that a strong family unit is the key to success, and that sitting down at the table as a family is a must.

I admit this is very difficult. Usually Husband has meetings, so I know that at the least I should sit down with my kids to eat. But we end up grabbing something on the way home from gymnastics, or on the way to soccer. I end up snowed-under in work and fail to make dinner, so tell the kids to go grab a Balance bar (which is a fabulous snack) or I quickly make pasta (yes, I use the Bertolli pasta sauce I received when I met Rocco.)

All too often, Husband comes home to a hungry family and will end up either bringing us takeout or cooking us something (yes, he's the chef in our house.) But by then, we're so tired and otherwise occupied that we might be in the same room, but aren't really "eating together."

Via Mom Central, I received some Libby's canned vegetables and information about their Get Back to the Table resources. Check out their "CANvenient" Recipe Section, with gems such as "$10 Meals in 10 Minutes."

I need meals that are:
- quick
- inexpensive
- healthful

Fortunately, Libby's recipes and products deliver on all three. Of course, the Cat has some dietary concerns in that we follow the Feingold Diet, so that is always a concern with recipes, but we can alter where necessary. For example, the tasty "Kicked Up Mac & Cheese" doesn't specify the brand of Mac N' Cheese, so I can easily insert in some of the organic non-artificial stuff like 365 or Annie's. And Ian's makes great panko bread crumbs. I can omit the pimentos for the Cat since he is allergic, but can add-in later for other family members if they are interested. Meanwhile, the Libby's corn and peas remain the same. Since canned veggies have such a fantastic shelf-life without those petroleum-based preservatives to which the Cat is allergic, it is a great option for "stocking up" the panty and then grabbing when needed to make dinner in a flash.

Some people have a negative association to canned products. But the truth is that different recipes do better with canned, fresh, or frozen. The different consistencies of these vegetables can aid in various recipes. So while I admit that I like to buy fresh, the truth is that it often wilts on the counter or rots in the fridge, whereas if I have some frozen or canned vegetables around, they'll be handy for when I finally try out whatever recipe I've been meaning to prepare. (And those canned and frozen veggies end up having more nutritional value than old soggy "fresh" ones.) Meanwhile, although the Cat is very picky about food in general, "mixed vegetables" is an amazing fall-back for him. Having cans of mixed vegetables in the pantry or bags in the freezer is imperative for us.

Convenience foods need-not be unhealthy. Using canned vegetables, such as Libby's, along with other easily-stored things like pasta and canned chicken broth, can be very easy and economical. Many recipes can also incorporate fresh ingredients and allow flexibility for personal preference.

Check out Libby's Get Back to the Table tips, and print out a coupon for 50 cents off a can of Libby's!

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!

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!

Kari’s Kitchen Kooks Norwegian Pancakes

This is not a cooking blog. But for today, humor me.

Friday October 10th is World Egg Day, and in honor of this, I will share with you one of my favorite egg recipes.

For the sake of completeness, I have posted a Flickr set of our adventures, plus have created little videos throughout the process. (Husband remarked “What’s with the multi-media extravaganza?”)

Usually folks only consider omelets, quiche, deviled eggs, and other very “eggy” tasting dishes to be made from eggs. But there are plenty of other dishes that have eggs as a major component. Egg sushi, for example, is super-yummy, and not necessarily what one considers first when thinking about egg dishes, especially if you up your wasabi factor.

Well as much as I love sushi, today I will make Norwegian pancakes.

Most people think of flour, and probably sugar, when they consider pancakes. But my favorite pancakes are primarily egg. Sure, the flour is there, as is milk, but the only sugar is whatever you put on top or inside, like syrup. And so, today I share with you my grandmother’s recipe for Norwegian Pancakes. This pancake is not quite a crepe, but is thin and versatile. Using a variety of fillings or toppings, this recipe can take on many forms.

First we had to go to the store because we realized we didn’t have enough milk:

The Cat told me he was happy to play video games instead of helping me and Splig cook the pancakes:

Before we made the actual pancakes, I prepared the fillings. One such filling/topping was (surprise!) eggs! I hard-boiled them to use later:

Our science-lesson break: how to tell the difference between the fresh-out-of-the-fridge eggs that I’d need for the pancakes proper versus the hardboiled eggs we’ll use as a filling?

Splig helped me slice the hard-boiled ones nice n’ purdy:

And then we were off to make the actual pancakes:

The three basic ingredients are eggs (6 of them!) milk (2 ¾ cups) and four (1 ½ cups.) Even these primary ingredients can be altered to taste, such as using gluten-free flour. Or you may want to use soy or rice milk to avoid casein. If you like chocolate, use chocolate milk. I wonder if using coconut milk would create a fun variation of this recipe, especially with chocolate chips as a filling?

The ingredients:


6 eggs

1 ½ cups flour

2 ¾ cups milk

Once the ingredients are all set, it is time to actually create the batter. The method is pretty simple: add the eggs and flour together, and then slowly pour the milk in the mix. Don’t stir too quickly or the batter will have too much air in it and won’t cook well. Certainly my grandma and those before her used a wooden spoon and a bowl for the mixing, but we use an electric mixer at its lowest speed. (Don’t forget to scrape the sides with a rubber spatula!)

Splig shows the process:

(Yes, I said “6 cups eggs” but really I meant “six eggs.”)

Once the batter is ready, fry up the pancakes! I use an electric frying pan set to a click under 350 degrees. Husband mocks me for my electric frying pan, but I’ve never been able to make Norwegian pancakes properly without it.

Set to a hair under 350 degrees, butter it up (yes, I use actual butter) and pour in the batter. As soon as the pancakes are solid enough to flip (they switch from shiny to matte,) flip ‘em. Less than a minute on the second side will do.

Here’s my how-to:

The next part is the creative part: either slap it on a plate or roll it up with or without fillings. Growing up I had my mom create a little roll with syrup inside. My kids love chocolate chips and marshmallows the best. I line up the toppings in a little line, and then roll the pancake around it. Of course it melts into a gooey yumminess. No syrup necessary for pancakes that are already filled with sugar!

The fillings need not be candy: fruit will do too, or more savory tastes like onion, peppers, or bacon. This pancake can act as a crepe or as an omelet. Ham, cream-cheese, and more eggs would be tasty. (I think the eggs as a garnish is great.) Add some caviar if you so desire. There are plenty of possibilities.

(Embarrassingly I say “sour cream” when I meant to say “cream cheese.” Indeed, sour cream would also be a great filling/topping, as would something like whipped cream, ricotta cheese, marzipan… whatever taste you are after.)

Here is the pictorial process involved in the green onion – cream cheese – egg variety:

Cooked PancakeLining up the Toppings

Rolling in the ToppingsAll Rolled Up

Egg N' Onion GarnishAll Gone!


- put the cooked pancake flat on a plate
- lay the toppings in a line
- fold over one side
- fold over the other side : now you have a roll!
- garnish if desired
- eat it up

And here is the finished product of the chocolate-chip-filled ones:

Chocolate Garnish I'll Eat These

Yummy Mid-Section View

Do the kids like ‘em? Well sure:

But then Splig wanted to let me know that my version (onion, cream cheese, and extra eggs) wasn’t his cup of tea:

So there you have it. If anything, you’ve learned that Splig has a very unusual fashion sense and likes to be a complete goofball. You’ve also learned that Kari’s Kitchen is not ready for prime-time. But I also hope you can take my Norwegian Pancake recipe and modify it to your family’s tastes and needs. Happy World Egg Day (on the 10th!)

Pleezy Cheezy Make More! Yup, these are Yummy

Thank you to the Egg Board and the Parent Bloggers Network for letting me know about this excellent holiday.

October 10, 2008

Blue Hair, Zebras, and Giraffes

BillyBlueHair.jpgThe Cat loves animals. After all, his nickname is from how he decided to become a cat as a toddler. His actual name is rather unusual in its spelling, and so much like me - it is rare to find something personalized.

Take his love of animals plus his desire to have something personalized, and you've got Billy Blue Hair. Their "Billy and Me" category contains a personalized educational DVD entitled "Why Do Giraffes Have Long Necks?" Through The Parent Bloggers Network, the Cat received his own personalized DVD.

The cover of the DVD has his name, spelled properly. Then within the video, his name crops up as Billy addresses him throughout the adventure.

Initially, the Cat was a bit skeptical. He loved the DVD cover since it has his name on it, but when he read the title, he remarked, "Well giraffes have long necks because they need to be able to reach the leaves on the trees." I nodded, but told him the DVD would be more than just that.

Indeed, the Cat was captivated by the show. He giggled at Billy and was clearly excited that Billy spoke directly at him. The show itself begins in a cartoon universe, but then switches to a live-action nature filmy-type thing. While the footage is what you might expect on the Nature Channel: beautiful and high-quality, but usually accompanied by either a too-sophisticated scientist's analysis or that preachy drone of those old school filmstrips, Billy's narration is upbeat and fun. He appears as his cartooned-self at the bottom of the live action. He talks about what the viewer is seeing. He poses questions to the viewer to keep them engaged. And of course, when he uses the child's name, they'll no doubt pay attention. Billy also adds some little cartoon elements to the show, like putting a hat on a lion.

The Cat's attention didn't waver. He was fascinated by the animals and definitely glad that Billy kept saying his name. He watched the whole thing several times over before moving to a new activity. My guess is that younger kids would be similarly captivated because Billy makes the education fun. The nature tidbits are broken up by Billy's storyline, which helps maintain interest. Billy talks to the kids, so keeps them involved in the learning process. I certainly learned new things about some of the animals, too. It is a nice painless way of learning something.

Spliggle wishes he could have a personalized DVD. Ironically enough, Splig's name is more common than the Cat's, and yet it is not part of Billy Blue Hair's database of over 400 names. Fortunately, the Cat's name sounds like a more common name, so it was included. Billy Blue Hair can customize the spelling of the name: the DVD comes with a personalized cover and a personalized title screen on the actual program. As long as a name in the database sounds like your child's name, you can purchase the personalized DVD with any spelling.

In that regard, some of the "over 400" names in the database are actually alternative spellings. (But even if your particular alternative spelling isn't listed, you can order it.) Honestly, some of the names in the database seemed very unusual, while some of the more "common" names I would have thought would be included, aren't. Thankfully there is a "request form" on their website so perhaps they will add more names to the possibilities.

Billy Blue Hair also has a "standard edition" which is non-personalized. As much fun as the personalization is for the packaging and the seven times Billy pronounces the child's name throughout the show, it isn't vital. When Billy poses questions to the audience without using a name, the interaction is still there.

Check out the Billy Blue Hair website to see if your child's name is listed. If not, request it - or get the standard version.

October 16, 2008

Leapster2: Leap into Educational Fun

Typically people don't think of video games as being educational, but there are plenty on the market these days. The quality and method differs, but the idea is the same: get the kids involved in fun and they will forget they are learning. Jump Start World is one example of a game that is incredibly educational while still fun. (The Cat kept playing it long after I reviewed it; and continues to play from time to time.)

Leapfrog has been a real leader in the field of educational-yet-fun products. Not long ago, I reviewed the Leapfrog TAG system for reading. Splig loved it, and so did I. As I explained in my review: "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... Readers can collect rewards for finishing various activities."

leapster.jpgWell, the Leapster2 hand-held educational video game has that same ability: report back to the parents on progression of skills and earn "rewards."

The Cat was instantly smitten. After all, his favorite color is green and the system happens to be green (and blue.) Both kids loved the games "Dragon Kingdom" (the default on the system) and "Outwit!" (another cartridge included in my review package.) Spliggle's favorite television show is "Dragon Tales," so of course he liked "Dragon Kingdom." He enjoyed doing activities in the "creativity castle" whereas the Cat was interested in "Dragons to the Rescue," which tests math and reading skills

Although my boys are 3.5 years apart, they both found something to love about the Leapster2. The activities are varied enough and there are enough "levels" of play that activities are not too simple for the Cat or too challenging for Spliggle. Both boys have their own profile on the Leapster2. That way, their particular rewards and progression down their "Learning Path" is kept separate. Plus, it is fun for them to click on their name when they begin: even though they share the game, it is "theirs" for the duration of their session.

One feature I didn't initially notice is that there is a little headphone jack in the console. This will be very useful the next time we take a road trip. Although the games are cute, the repetitive sounds get a little distracting to parents in the front seat trying to listen to news or music.

There are plenty of different game cartridges available for the Leapster2; it also plays all Leapster cartridges. The themes are such that my boys think they are just playing "video games," but they are also reinforcing important skills.

I've been impressed with Leapfrog educational toys since their inception (and even participated in a focus group about five years ago,) but have been particularly enthusiastic with the invention of the interactive Learning Path system and the portable devices that all merge into this system. Thank you to Leapfrog for generously providing me with a Leapster2!


Up next: I report on a similar system from a competitor! Oooooooohhhhh!

October 17, 2008

Keep 'em Smiling (and Learning) with the VSmile Cyber Pocket

PlayingVSmile.jpgAlright, so I had already received a competitor's product for review, but when the Parent Bloggers Network asked if I'd be interested in reviewing the V. Smile Cyber Pocket from VTech, I instantly said "Yes!" After all, both my boys have non-educational "just for fun" handheld video game consoles, but until the V.Smile showed up on our doorstep, we only had one educational hand-held video game.

Yes, boo-hoo!, but don't you want both kids learning in the backseat of the van?

Yup, I thought so. Two educational handheld games it is!

The Cyber Pocket has a different "look" than what the kids are used to: this looks like a mini-laptop computer, with a little flip-up screen. Of course both boys were very interested, especially when they saw the game that came with it is called "Zayzoo: An Earth Adventure" and sports a photo of a cute alien.

Zayzoo includes several different components including singing songs (great for the preschool set) or practicing filling in missing letters of common words (excellent to reinforce those early reading skills.) The Cyber Pocket system itself is recommended for kids age five and older. It is therefore not a surprise that four-year-old Splig found some of the games too challenging; however, he still loved them. The Cat is seven, and enjoyed playing "Math Mining," "Alien Beat," and "Language Learner" the most, but has yet to explore several of the games available.

When we first turned on the system, it took some time to figure out what to do. The stylus on the lower screen corresponds to the cursor on the LCD upper screen. This is rather tricky to co-ordinate, so I was relieved that finger-joystick controls were available instead. There are both right-joystick and left-joystick positions for the console. This is the first time in a video-game situation where I've seen particular attention to whether a person might favor right or left hand.

Still, I wish the stylus were easier to use. Although the "write on one surface, see the result on another" might help hand-eye coordination in the youngsters, for this nearly-35-year old it was too tricky. I like to write directly on the screen. One advantage of not writing directly on the LCD screen, though, is that the screen life will be much longer. Many of these "write on the media" products have the potential of getting scratched and worn over time.

When the Cat tried out the system, he was frustrated by trying to use the stylus to play the game. He didn't have any trouble working the navigational screens, but when he had to actually control the character, the finger joystick made much more sense. Still, the game prompts, "Use the pen to move Zayzoo!"

I don't know whether the stylus is used exclusively in some games. If so, this would require an initial adjustment period.

What I was most intrigued by, though, was how many skills this single game covers: spelling, synonyms, antonyms, 3D puzzle building, logic, arithmetic, vocabulary, sentence structure, reading comprehension, beat and rhythm, and more. With such a wide variety of skills emphasized, kids can be both confident in the skills they've already mastered (earning lots of coins!) and challenged by those things that they are still working on, but having fun in the process.

One especially fun feature of the Cyber Pocket is that it can be plugged into the television screen via the included cable. Sure, there are plenty of TV screen video-game consoles out there, but none that you can then take with you in the van on a road trip. While at home, the kids can choose to play the Cyber Pocket with a large screen; but then on the road, in a comfy arm chair, or in their rooms, they can relish in the portability of the system. I like that there is a headphone jack so I don't necessarily have to listen to their games. I must listen to their laughter and squeals of delight, though.

The Cyber Pocket comes with a "V.Link," a little device that is a USB-port on one end and a connector to the VTech on the other end. A smiling glittery piece of toast serves as the slider between the "connect to VTech" and "expose USB port" configurations. Okay, he isn't a piece of toast, but the smiling computer screen logo looks very much like that tasty breakfast staple.

Kids can connect the V.Link to their console to download their scores; they then connect to the computer to record those scores. In the case of "Zayzoo: An Earth Adventure," kids can earn gold coins during console play that can be used on the V.Smile website to unlock special bonus games. The Cat hasn't earned enough coins to unlock anything yet, but I am certain he'll enthusiastically try, then reveal in the accomplishment.

Both boys love this system. Although we are just getting to know it, I have a feeling it will be used quite frequently at our house.


Up Tuesday: A side-by-side comparison of Leapfrog's Leapster2 and VTech's VSmile Cyber Pocket, a Smackdown! if you will. Stay tuned...

October 21, 2008

Smackdown! VTech CyberPocket versus Leapster2

We have had the good fortune of receiving both a Leapster2 from LeapFrog (check out their new Leapfrog online community!) and a V.Smile CyberPocket from VTech, via the Parent Bloggers Network. I've written reviews on both, but below is a summary of some of the features both unique to each and shared between these two educational hand-held learning systems. Some of the information in the below table is objective, while other information is our impression of the systems.

Leap Frog: Leapster2VTechKids: V.Smile Cyber Pocket
Manufacturer's Suggested Age 4 to 8 5yrs +, but there are "smartridges" with games aimed at kids as young as 3
Our Experience with Age Both 4 year old and 7 year old give thumbs up Both give thumbs up, but 4 year old was frustrated at times. (We should try the "smartridges" aimed at his age.)
Price $69.99 $69.99
Extra Games $19.99-24.99 $19.99
Game Selection within Product Family Compatable with (original) Leapster games Compatible with VSmile games
Pen Stylus YES - connected and tucks into game YES - connected and snaps in the back
Navigation with pen stylus EXCELLENT NOT GOOD - a real learning curve required
Finger Joystick joystick on left joystick can switch from right to left
Navigation with joystick GOOD (fluid right off the bat.) GOOD (a bit "stiff" initially, but kids warm it up quickly.)
Screen Single screen LCD: high resolution: stylus writes directly on the screen (easier navigation) Flip Up screen (protects high resolution screen) Separate area for stylus/navigation prevents writing on (damaging) LCD
Brightness Control Buttons (up/down) Dial (possibly more precise control, though hard to tell)
Volume Control Buttons (up/down) Dial (possibly more precise control, though hard to tell)
Headphone jack (peace for parents) YES! (headphones not included) YES! (headphones not included)
Weight Medium Heavy
Play on TV no YES!
Plug in computer to report back to personalized online profile YES - via USB cable - shows "Learning Path" to parents, earn rewards for progress YES - via "V.Link" - can unlock many online games for earning coins during handheld play
Online Profiles Can create different users; thus different reports, rewards, etc. for individual players (Kids can share handheld, but have distinct accounts.) One account is linked to the machine. (Would need multiple machines to have children maintain separate profiles.)
Online Games YES YES

Who wins the Smackdown? Well that depends on your needs. My kids love both gaming systems and both make learning FUN! Since they both cost the same, emphasize similar skills, report on those skills online, and have a variety of different games available, there is no clear winner. It is up to YOU to decide which features you prefer. For example, the Leapster2 is lighter with better stylus control than the CyberPocket, whereas the CyberPocket has the the ability to plug into the T.V. for big screen play, but the Leapster cannot. Of course my chart above is not comprehensive; there may be a feature I didn't cover that is particularly poignant for you - but the above is what my kids and I discovered as we tried out these cool gadgets.

For more information:
- VTechKids: V.Smile Cyber Pocket
- Leap Frog: Leapster2

October 27, 2008

Wall-E: Out on DVD and BluRay for the Holidays

My kids learned about Wall-E through the magic of the internet. My eldest found the preview online and watched it a zillion times before the movie ever came out in the theater. My youngest received a Wall-E toy for his birthday. He was smitten even before the movie came out.

Both boys were excited and well-behaved when we took them to see the film. They sat still the entire time: quite a feat for very active boys! Afterwards they cuddled up to the plastic robot imitating his voice and my youngest cheerfully wore Wall-E pajamas to bed.

During the outside take, my video ran out of batteries, so although you can hear my youngest’s description of Wall-E, both sons’ more poignant thoughts are missed. During the inside take, both voices are difficult to hear: My youngest explains how Wall-E makes boxes out of trash. My eldest explains this is to get rid of waste. When asked what they liked best about Wall-E, my youngest simply answers in the affirmative “good,” then when further questioned, says “’cause I love him.”

LoveWallE.jpg The boys are ecstatic that Wall-E will be out on DVD this holiday season. I’m pretty excited, too, since I know several family members for whom this movie would be much appreciated.

Sure, the kids love the robot. Anything that beeps and is personified is instantly a hit. But what isn’t typical about Wall-E is that the first big chunk of the movie is without English dialogue. My kids were captivated. Wall-E’s actions: from gathering garbage to sorting his treasure, induced giggles and sustained attention. They didn’t shift in their seat or look away, because they knew they’d miss something. How often do stories unfolding on screen actually enhance attention?

With Eve’s arrival, the kids became wide-eyed. What could possibly happen? Eve, although technically not “female” still plays the female role here. In this case, the robot portrays an exceptionally strong, sophisticated and deadly female. I’m all for shows that reinforce powerful women, even if Eve isn’t really a woman.

As the plot unfolds, the animation delights. The kids squealed with excitement. My oldest held his ice-cream bar instead of eating it. It melted into a puddle, thankfully in the wrapper since he had been so enraptured by the movie that he didn’t open the bar in the first place. It is a strong endorsement that Wall-E was more important to my son than ice-cream.

Husband and I exchanged glances as we understood the underlying message of the film. We nodded as we saw what could indeed become a realistic future for us should we continue on the overindulgent convenience-laden, planet-sucking path that we’re on. But Wall-E delivers this message in a humorous way. Both boys chuckled as the obese humans tried to walk for the first time. I chuckled at various parts that should have also elicited a groan. (Yes, I’m on a diet, people, although Husband is not on a “let’s pick up the trash around [his] messy desk” project. But he is responsible environmentally in other ways, such as driving his beloved Prius.)

The wastefulness and reliance on modern conveniences related morals weren’t the only ones though. Good thing, for they probably were lost on my boys, at least for the time being. Certainly the relationship between Wall-E and Eve was something the boys could appreciate: friendship (or more) with basic phrases, but mainly actions and gestures.

Wall-E is a movie that parents can enjoy for the “deeper meaning” and cultural references. Kids enjoy the animation, the interaction amongst characters, and the action. There is always an anticipatory feeling of “what will happen next?” yet it is the type of show that isn’t stale or “ruined” after the first showing. The kids will want to watch it again and again, and the adults probably won’t mind, since there is enough going on that they can pick out new bits the second (and subsequent) time around. Of course, any movie worth getting on DVD must have this quality: if the disc is available, it will be played, so it better be a repetition-friendly movie.

We look forward to having Wall-E at our home for the holidays. I hope he can make his way to your home as well.

-Buy Now on DVD
-Buy Now on Blu Ray


This is a Paid Review: Disney Pixar and BlogHer have asked me for my thoughts on why Wall-E is a good choice for the whole family – thank you for letting me convince you. (Check out BlogHer's Wall-E Giveaway!)

November 12, 2008

Trick Tracks Trick-Up the Parents But Treat the Kids

Both boys were ecstatic when Trick Tracks from Hot Wheels arrived thanks to the Parent Bloggers Network. They received two separate packages on different days, so the enthusiasm was doubly-exciting.

First they got the Triple Stunt Starter Set. A few days later, they received the Power Loop.


Both package-arrival days, the boys crowded around me as I opened the box. They tried sticking things together before I had a chance to unfold the instructions. But as it turns out, I should have just let my eldest go at it on his own. My attempts to set up the stunts ended up incorrect; but my seven-year old figured it out fine. It was like a bad movie where the lead character keeps repeating the same error:

- The first Hot Wheels package arrives and I was ready to cry because I didn't get it right. Eldest saves the day.

- The second Hot Wheels package arrives and I was ready to cry because I didn't get it right. Eldest saves the day.

Why I was incapable of sticking together the little plastic bits? I don't know. I stuck something in slot A that should have been slot B, but I swear I couldn't tell from the illustrations. I think my son was doing it in a logical fashion, which makes more sense than trying to decipher drawings. (Of course, my son's version matched the drawings exactly.)

The track is plastic, as are the various connectors. The track is pretty slick, which means it can be difficult to snap together some of the junctions, especially since the little plastic buttons have the potential to have a little "spillover" from the mold from which they were created. I would have appreciated metal snaps or something else a bit more secure than plastic-on-plastic for some of the pieces; but, the truth is that even with one loose side (we couldn't "snap" it in,) the trick still worked well.

Similarly, I didn't quite understand how everything was supposed to work. The instructions read, "All green buttons are launch buttons. Red buttons are reset buttons."

There are no red buttons. Or at least I don't know what the red buttons are.

There are some green buttons (which means "a dual-lever on which there is a green circle," not an actual button,) but from what my boys figured out, the surest way to launch is to slam a car into a blue-gray cone-shaped thing that serves as the end of one stunt and the beginning of another. If done properly, the car ending one stunt will trigger the next. This means you must have more than just the single car that comes with the Trick Tracks.

I was also a bit confused about the enclosed rubber-bands. While I figured out the most obvious one (which triggers a loop-d-loop,) there was another one that I simply couldn't figure out from the drawings. I think the other bands were extras in case of snapping.

My boys were able to get the majority of the stunts to work properly, no thanks to my confusion. Even though I think there are some other actions that can be performed with the set-up we have, the boys are extremely happy with the combinations they've devised.

View the video below to see the glee:

Once the Trick Tracks are set up, one must either have a very large storage space, or one must dismantle the various loops. I used a large storage container so that we could store both the Triple Stunt Starter Set and the Power Loop together along with the instruction sheets, extra rubber bands, and the cars.

As I find them, I'll add the boys' existing Hot Wheels cars to the box so that everything will be organized. It is unlikely that customers will want to dismantle the whole set to the point where it may fit back in its original box, but sticking the Trick Track in an existing train-table or large bin with toy cars works.

The boys continue to take out the box of Trick Tracks even though they weren't big car-guys before these Hot Wheels products arrived. They've added in their own little touches, like paper canopies that go over the track, or elephants onto which the cars can leap when released from the Power Loop. These toys certainly have the potential for creative combinations and additions.

Both both the Triple Stunt Starter Set and the Power Loop can be found at Amazon - plus I'd recommend getting a bunch of cars so the stunts can continue domino-style or when the cars get shot into the air, over an elephant, and slide under the couch.

November 24, 2008

We Have Over Twenty Pets.

I'm going to outright say it:
1) I didn't think I'd be the kind of mom to give her kids video games
2) I've been very, very lucky in the "free video games" department

What I'm going to talk about today is not in that shoot-'em-up, let's totally zombie-out-your-kids category. (Most of the games we have are exceptionally tame and have changed my mind about "video games.") Thanks to the Parent Bloggers Network, the Littlest Pet Shop : Jungle game for Nintendo DS made its way to our home, and thank goodness it did.

LittlestPetShop.jpgBefore Littlest Pet Shop arrived, my boys were fighting over Mario Kart. Sure, we have Mario Kart for the Wii and Mario Kart for the DS, but in the car, only the DS will do. "I need it for my tiny 'puter!" one boy would exclaim as the other gleefully drove his kart around. (Yes, there is somehow a way for them both to play at once using a single cartridge, but I haven't figured it out yet.)

I knew Littlest Pet Shop would appeal to my youngest (age 4) because he loves our cat, our fish, and recently raised some little caterpillars to become butterflies. I knew Littlest Pet Shop would appeal to my oldest (age 7) because he desperately wants a dog, used to pretend to be a cat, and likes snuggly things. Both are boys, but I wasn't concerned with the stereotype that Littlest Pet Shop is only for girls because it isn't. Deer and zebras are manly, yes? (Okay, they have wide adorable eyes, but my boys love 'em all the same.)

I figured my oldest would keep playing Mario Kart, and then my youngest would be happy to take on Littlest Pet Shop. What I didn't anticipate was that Littlest Pet Shop would end up being the preferred game, so much so that the Mario Kart cartridge is actually lost somewhere because one boy took it out of his "tiny 'puter" to put in Littlest Pet Shop instead.

They love this game.

I am happy because the "Hey, let's go buy a dog" talk has diminished considerably. Although, my youngest thinks it would be cool to go get a zebra, because apparently he owns one on his game.

I am happier, though, that the games contained within Littlest Pet Shop have translated to real life. Sure, many people would find this unlikely, but take a look at the evidence. One of the games to earn coins (for care of the pet and purchase of new pets) is a color-in-the-lines game.

Well, Splig has brought home lots of drawings like the below-left from preschool recently:

ColoringIndian.jpgHonestly, I wouldn't have thought a four year old could color in the lines so well, but he's done it at home, too. Littlest Pet Shop requires precision to earn coins. My son has thus learned to be precise (losing a couple styluses in the process) generalizing this to "real life."

If your kids like the idea of a pet, but might not be ready for the real-life responsibility of taking care of one, Littlest Pet Shop might be a good option. It combines the pride of ownership (and ability to name each pet) with things - like dressing up your pet - that probably wouldn't occur in real life, unless you're a Paris Hilton type with doggie sweaters. Add to it some skill games and you've got a well-rounded, entertaining, non-violent game that is worth the "screen time."

Don't tell the kids, but Santa might bring Littlest Pet Shop: Winter Edition to our house this Christmas. (There is also a Garden version.)


Check out what other PBN bloggers think about Littlest Pet Shop!

December 8, 2008

We Like to Move it, Move it... to play Madagascar 2 Wii

Although December brings with it lots of hectic holiday chaos, our family has been fortunate to have some pockets of time together to do fun things. Thanks to Mom Central, the four of us sat down to watch "Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa" at our local theater. Then fresh off the movie enthusiasm with catchy tunes in our heads, we unwrapped the "Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa" Wii game.

My kids love Wii, and they especially love playing games that relate to things they've experienced in other media, such as with seeing the sequel to Madagascar before actually playing the game. The game itself has different modes: the story mode relates to the movie itself, whereas the "Africa Arcade" provides various quick games that are fun on their own or as part of a multiplayer tournament. Players can collect "monkeys" which they then use at the "Duty Free Shop" to purchase items.

My sons (aged 7 and 4) initially went through the story mode, but then decided they enjoyed the ability to pick and choose mini-games through the "Africa Arcade." My eldest son has probably played the soccer game at least fifty times. Both boys choose Marty the zebra. Watching zebras play soccer is quite a funny sight!

The movie is entertaining, certainly, but it also provides a great springboard to talk about environmental conservation. Since the game parallels the movie, it too can be a good starting point for discussion. The first scene of the movie shows hunters all too eager to lure animals off the protection of their reserve. The first movie depicts zoo animals escaping from New York to Madagascar. In the sequel, the animals leave Madagascar, crash land in Africa, and discover animals from their own species.

Initially they are awed to see the beautiful savannah, but soon the characters discover that a human-made dam cuts off water supply to the reservation. Of course the friends save the day by blowing up the dam, but in "real life," such simple solutions to man-created problems are not so easily accomplished.

Fortunately, the movie and game are entertaining, even if at the core they deal with serious subject matter. My boys laugh at the funny parts, love playing the game, but they are both aware of environmental issues. My eldest loves to scold me at the gas pump (my husband drives a Prius, so he applauds him.) My youngest likes to tell me to turn off lights when we aren't in the room anymore.

And both of them love to play soccer with zebras.


Learn more about the "Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa" video game

Purchase Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa for the Wii at Amazon

Purchase Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa for the Nintendo DS at Amazon


Read on for some kid-friendly tips from Conservation International:

Continue reading "We Like to Move it, Move it... to play Madagascar 2 Wii" »

December 7, 2008

Turner Classic Movies Presents: The Family Classics

Over the summer, Turner Classic Movies aired fabulous family-friendly movies every Sunday night, such as Meet Me in St. Louis, The Music Box, and National Velvet. I was lucky enough to receive - from TCM - The Best Old Movies for Families: A Guide to Watching Together , a wonderful book filled with suggestions for those great movies that many of us have forgotten, but that are still relevant and appropriate for kids. The book gives age recommendations, plot summary, modern-day tie-in, and a discussion of why it is a great choice for family fun.

Well, the fun didn't end in the summer, that is for sure. Today, December 7th, TCM Presents The Family Classics. The festivities will include Sunday movie showcases featuring more than 25 Disney live-action classics, plus an all-new original documentary entitled The Age of Beliving: The Disney Live-Action Classics, narrated by Tony® winner and three-time Oscar® nominee Angela Lansbury.

Today's line-up includes some of my favorites like Swiss Family Robinson and the original Parent Trap - show your kids the original so they aren't thinking about Lindsey Lohan's drinking and other current behaviors while they watch what is supposed to be a wholesome show. I remember fondly filling up my parents' VCR with all the Hayley Mills movies I could. Now I can fill up my TiVo with the same!

Tonight at 10:15pm Eastern (7:15pm Pacific) is Pollyanna. You know I'm going to watch that one. After all, I can't sing America the Beautiful without hearing Mills' cherubic warble and picturing her hot-dog-style in that fabric as a piece of the American flag. (But hey, isn't Mills British?)

Every Sunday starting today through December 28th, TCM will air Disney live-action classics from noon until after midnight. Please visit for the complete schedule, as well as for their gift-giving guide for movie buffs of all ages. I won't blame you if you shed a nostalgic tear as I did reading through the list of my past-favorites like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Escape to Witch Mountain, and Freaky Friday [the original, of course.]

The Age of Beliving: The Disney Live-Action Classics, narrated by Tony® winner and three-time Oscar® nominee Angela Lansbury will premiere next Sunday, on December 14th at 7pm Eastern (4pm Pacific.) This special will follow the studio's history as it ventured beyond its animation legacy to develop non-animated family fare. I am eager to see it!

If you fear that your kids are bored with the recent releases, perhaps it is time to take a look backward to remember all those fabulous movies that we loved as kids. Check out and your local listings. Or just set your TiVo to record from noon 'til a little past midnight on every Sunday in December.

Pass the popcorn!

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 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 ( 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!

Newsflash: Homemade Toys Will Be Illegal Says CPSIA


It seems that something entitled the "Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act" will go into effect in two months.

I learned of this unfortunate piece of news via Cool Mom Picks' announcement of the issue. I look towards Cool Mom Picks for fun and unique toys and gift ideas. As they note in their post about the CPSIA, most of these cool finds are from smaller shops or parent-run businesses which simply won't be able to afford the licensing required under the new guidelines.

The gist of it is that in an effort to prevent unsafe chemicals (ie, lead, psychotropic drugs, and other things) that have been in the news as being unwanted components of [mass-marketed, cheap-o, usually imported] toys, the CPSIA will require thorough testing of products before they are allowed on the shelf. While the idea behind it is "good," the result is that only the large manufacturers will be able to comply with the law.

Ironic, since it is large manufacturers cutting corners that have created the unsafe environment in the first place. It is the independent and smaller businesses that take the time to use natural methods and high-quality components -- check out CMP's Safer Toy Guide to see some of those excellent companies that we may find missing in a couple months.

Will this cause a domino effect: small local businesses must shut doors, so communities lose sales tax revenue, so money that could have gone towards road safety, schools, and other community-bettering facilities will be less? My town doesn't have a Walmart. And I sure don't want us to have one!

Continue reading "Newsflash: Homemade Toys Will Be Illegal Says CPSIA" »

December 14, 2008

Do You Believe? The Age of Believing is on TCM Tonight

Last week, I was pleased to announce that Turner Classic Movies launched their The Family Classics series. As a reminder, every Sunday through December 28th, TCM will air Disney live-action classics from noon until after midnight.

The Age of Believing: The Disney Live-Action Classics, narrated by Tony® winner and three-time Oscar® nominee Angela Lansbury, debuts at 7pm Eastern (4pm Pacific) tonight. This special will follow the studio's history as it ventured beyond its animation legacy to develop non-animated family fare.

While I received a press screener for this special, it did not arrive until late last night; as such, I must be honest and report that I haven't yet had the opportunity to view it. I am very much looking forward to sitting down for this trip down memory lane. Many of the movies on the The Family Classics series bring back terrific memories, so to get some "insider" information about the evolution and production of these movies is a real treat.

Tonight after the special, The Apple Dumpling Gang and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again both air. Next week, look out for favorite titles like Escape to Witch Mountain and Freaky Friday. (Please visit for the complete schedule.) In case you miss it tonight, The Age of Believing: The Disney Live-Action Classics will play again at 11:45pm Eastern (8:45pm Pacific) next Sunday, December 21st.

December 17, 2008

Stocking Stuffer Solutions

If you belong to my family, stop reading right now. I'm serious. Stop. It. Otherwise, spoilers ahead!

A few weeks back, I was in Target shopping for the Cat's class adopt-a-family. While I was purchasing gifts for the kids in our family, I also started throwing things in my cart for my own kids. Most of my shopping is done online because otherwise what happened that day will happen every day: I see something I know my kids will love, and in to the basket it goes! (And we go broke!)

Target's dollar aisle is pretty good for finding stocking stuffers: little slinkies (always a favorite!) tiny plush toys, stickers, magnets, those annoying little capsules that turn into foam creatures in water but somehow are incredibly entertaining to kids, and cool things like reindeer antlers.

Simple things like a deck of cards, (or Uno!) some dice, or some golf balls can provide endless hours of entertainment, yet cost very little. My kids are getting green (the Cat) and blue (Splig) racquetballs, plus Sponge-Bob golf balls.

I have a bazillion cousins with a million kids apiece, so this year I'm doing family gifts. Yes, some of you heard about how I had $200 worth of gourmet chocolate in my living room. While some thought this was rather disgusting, I assure you that s'mores kits are anything but disgusting. Paired with some of Rudoph's favorite hot chocolate* and some peppermint spoons, and you've got a pretty good collection for a cozy family night together.

But I wanted each kid to have a little sumthin'-sumthin' too, so was pleased to find mini venus flytrap kits from Solutions. Alas, I see they are sold out. (See another venus flytrap kit from EcoWise.) Probably it is my fault, because of the aforementioned bazillion cousins, thus, a bazillion gifts. (And yes, the Rudolph's hot chocolate appears to be suddenly-missing, too!) Sorry folks, seems my tastes were popular, eh? My cousins' kids will get the flytraps as little individual gifts. My kids will get them in their stockings.

Here are a couple other things from Solutions that aren't sold out: Micro-Eggs are fun: hard-boil an egg in your microwave in 45 seconds. While I've shown I know how to hard-boil an egg pretty well the conventional way, the quick way works nicely with my schedule. And then for the Cat's monkey-loving teacher, we bought a monkey bread mold. (I added some monkey bread mixes from Lollipop Tree, a great resource for organic, all-natural food products.

OK, so the mold and bread mixes aren't stocking stuffers -- I'll get back on track. In fact, why not get a set of bamboo kids' utensils from Branch? While "eating utensils" isn't the first thing folks think of when they hear "stocking stuffer," these are fun, and kids love things all their own, sized to fit.

You can't go wrong with Hot Wheels cars: simple, inexpensive, and universally-loved. My kids would probably like some Littlest Pet Shop Pets, too. (Sure, they are boys, but they love them all the same.)

Earlier this year, Crayola sent me a basket of products. Of course, with all the back-to-school craziness, I didn't have a chance to really mention their generosity until now. Along with my favorite 64-crayon box, they also sent Mix-Ems markers and Paint Brush Pens.

The Mix-Ems are pretty cool: The child decides how much to "mix" (how long to press) to create a dual-colored line of marker. Kids attempt this on their own using regular markers, but end up with messy results. Conversely, the Mix-Ems provide a clean line. If the pen is "mixed" briefly, the main color has just a small line of the secondary color. If the pen is mixed longer, the width of the secondary color is greater. A see-through "mixing chamber" shows the action as the secondary color is pressed against the marker-tip of the primary marker.

I am a big fan of the Paint Brush Pens. Splig is four and would love to play with paint all the time, but we all know the sum of the equation kids + paint. Thankfully, "mess" is not part of the Paint Brush Pens' equation. These brushes have the paint already inside: no glopping, dropping, and mopping involved. Splig loves his new pens and has created many masterpieces with them on paper, not on the carpet.

Both the Mix-Ems and Paint Brush Pens would make fun stocking stuffers or as part of an art gift basket. And both are washable. Yes, they will come out of your kids' clothing. Crayons themselves are also fun as stocking-stuffers. Some of those themed crayon packs from other crayon companies may look cute, but the quality is horrific. So no, I didn't get little holiday-themed crayon packs at the aforementioned Target $1 aisle because I knew the quality couldn't compare to Crayola.

Consider sticking a whole slew of Crayola crayons in a little pail - that fits into a stocking nicely! (We used these buckets as favors for the Cat's second birthday, so long ago.)

Good luck as you find your own little trinkets to fill up those stockings!

* Point of Information: Chasing Fireflies' URL is If you forget the hyphen, you'll find yourself in nudie territory... which is not indicative of a festive, kid-friendly site, yes? We got some fabulous personalized sleepwear for our kids at Chasing Fireflies - the kid version.

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 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 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.)

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." »

February 12, 2009

Dreambox: Computer-Use You Can Admit to Your Doctor

UPDATE: I reviewed Dreambox's K-3 content April 2010. The below review is from February 2009 when Dreambox was K-2 - Please read ahead to learn more about the program, and then check out my K-3 post!


dreambox_logo_dl.gifI took my eldest son for his eight-year-old checkup today. On the standard questionnaire about whether he lives with someone who smokes, or if we have guns in the house, there was a question about screen-time. I had to check a box if my child spends more than an hour per day watching television, playing video games, or engaging in activities on the computer. I'm an honest gal, so I checked the box, even though I knew the underlying question.

As expected, the doctor asked me about my admission. I explained that yes, he spends quite a lot of time on his computer, but for mathematics enrichment.

The doctor beamed, "Well, of course, any educational content is absolutely fine."

We then got into a discussion about how plenty of homework assignments need the resources on the internet, and how differentiated education is important.

Every parent thinks his or her child is brilliant, but let me tell you about my second-grader: he loves math. He thinks math is fun, and yet I know he is bored during regular class instruction time. I therefore jumped at the chance to review Dreambox via the Parent Bloggers Network. I want to capture and preserve his love for math, build on it, and prevent him from lagging behind later because he isn't stimulated enough now. Combining his love for computer games with mathematical instruction is a perfect marriage of interests.

Continue reading "Dreambox: Computer-Use You Can Admit to Your Doctor" »

March 4, 2009

A Lighted Ladybug Pal in PalPODzzz

palpodzzzladybug.gifWe have many flashlights around the house, but the batteries are all dead because the boys play "pirates" from under couch cushions and bean bags. The flashlights roll under the furniture, out of sight, and clicked in the "ON" position. Or the flashlights will be exactly as I left them: one by each bedside and one in the hallway, but yes, the batteries will be nonfunctional even though I swore I put in fresh ones just the other day.

It was with great enthusiasm that I accepted the Parent Bloggers Network's query to review Sylvania's PalPODzzz, a combination night-light/flashlight.

Splig was thrilled to receive a little ladybug PalPODzzz; the product also has a rocket ship version.

PalPODzzz plugs into the wall, so the "pod" base doesn't get lost, and the issue of dead batteries is moot. (The landfills rejoice!) The removable flashlight portion is automatically charged when it is plugged into the base; again, no dead batteries.

The idea is that during the night, the PalPODzzz functions as a nightlight; but then the flashlight can be removed as needed (and will illuminate automatically.) No fumbling around to find it when necessary. This also means that if the power goes out, the ladybug (or rocket) will remain lit since it has already been charged.

I love this idea - but Splig loved the ladybug too much to let it rest on its green leaf base. The ladybug went on the same adventures that our standard flashlights did: in the couch pillows, under blankets, between bean bags, and under beds. The little ladybug had so much fun that it wore out its charge.

Alas, the ladybug hasn't found her way back to the pod. I'd gladly purchase some extra bugs to rest on the leaf, or perhaps I'd get a second PalPODzzz. Once we find the little ladybug, I'll have to explain to her that she is to return back to her leafy home at the end of each adventure; I hope my boys will back me up on this.

Sylvania's PalPODzzz is a great idea - but it may be too fun to serve its purpose completely.

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.


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!


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

March 20, 2009

Become a Dunkin' Donuts Decorator

DunkinDonutsDecoratingContest.gifI live in California, but went to college and graduate school on the east coast. During the nine years I spent back east, I was a big Dunkin' Donuts consumer.

There was one down the street from me every place that I lived. Oh, how I can nearly taste those maple-covered ones now! Alas, there are no locations near me right now, but from time to time we'll smuggle back donuts when we travel to those pink-and-orange states.

Between college and graduate school, I worked in a lab in Boston. My lab-mate and I went to Dunkin' Donuts every day as our mid-morning break. It was an excellent excuse to get away from the lab to get a tasty treat. Most of the time she got coffee and I got a bagel or an iced beverage. Once in awhile, we'd splurge and actually get a donut.

Imagine my surprise when a large Dunkin Donuts box arrived on my door this week. Inside the familiar pink and orange wrapping, I found a sprinkle-spinkler (how else to describe? It sprinkles the sprinkles!) along with a mini decorating kit and an apron.

It appears that Dunkin' Donuts is putting the decorating into the customer's hands.

Indeed, from now until April 7th, the public has the opportunity to "Create Dunkin's Next Donut" and win $12,000. While the initial stage of the contest is virtual, a dozen finalists (get it? a dozen) will be flown to Dunkin' Donuts' Canton, MA Headquarters for a bake-off. The grand prize winner will win $12,000 - to be revealed on National Donut Day - June 5th. (Nope, I didn't know there was a National Donut Day either.) The winning creation will be sold in Dunkin' Donut stores across the country.

49centdonut.gifMy youngest son is estatic that we can dress up a donut both online and with our little decorating kit. My oldest son is allergic to the sprinkles, but fortunately the online version can be fun for anyone regardless of food sensitivities. My husband doesn't know it yet, but apparently there is a "blueberry cake" option for the dough. I bet that will be the base for the donut he creates.

I've shown my creation at top left: just a simple yeast dough with maple frosting, pink/orange sprinkles, and some Heath bar pieces.

Get out there and design your donut! Plus, if you happen to be near a Dunkin' Donuts location, check out their latest promotion: if you purchase a medium or large coffee, get a donut for 49 cents.

April 1, 2009

Social Skills Help Via Virtual Community

The Cat is quite intelligent, at least in academic matters. He's creative, curious, and can make connections very well. But somehow, if the intended connections, schemas, rules, and intuition is in regards social skills, he stumbles. He's one of those "quirky kids" who was diagnosed with pdd-nos, a "catch-all" diagnosis on the autistic spectrum.

autismsocialskills.gifAs part of his IEP, he receives pragmatic speech and social skills group pull-outs at school. Truthfully, I haven't seen results. He's laughed at social skills DVDs and seems to enjoy them (particularly when the kids act goofy as part of the "how not to behave") but hasn't really put the information to use. One year we sent him to a social-skills camp, but while that may have helped him pay attention to his behavior, I actually wonder if being so analytical about it actually created an artificial situation: he ended up being hyper-sensitive to each mistake, which then created panic and an inability to remember the "correct" response. And then there is the matter of positive role models: he was with some kids who really had some odd social behaviors.

It is embarrassing to admit, but there are certainly times when I want to just throw my arms up because he's done something inappropriate, seemingly without "common sense." And then there are those days that he seems totally "normal" waving good-bye as he says brightly, "Bye Katie! See you tomorrow!"

Continue reading "Social Skills Help Via Virtual Community" »

April 6, 2009

A Treasure with Wubbzy's Pirate Treasure DVD

WubbzyPirateTreasureDVD.gifWow-Wow Everyone! Or perhaps I should say, "Arrrrgh, Matey-Matey!" All hands on deck, Wubbzy's Pirate Treasure is available on DVD!

Of course to my pirate-loving boys, the arrival of the Wow! Wow! Wubbzy Pirate Treasure DVD via Mom Central was a time for heavy celebration. They love Wubbzy, and I've mentioned before that I think Wubbzy is pretty awesomey-awesome, too.

They've fought me for control of the DVD player. In the morning, it plays Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred. Then in the afternoon and evening, it is time to visit Wuzzleburg. Of course, given a title like "Pirate Treasure," I am sure it isn't surprising that the gang doesn't stay still in Wuzzleburg. Nope, they go on an adventure after treasure. Wubbzy (er, "Long-Tailed Wubbzy" is his pirate-nickname) is convinced that there is treasure to be found, but his friends are more skeptical. Ever-academic Walden is particularly concerned that there couldn't possibly be pirates in Wuzzleburg.

Is there treasure to be found? I'll let you use your imagination, but I bet you can guess. Of course, it wouldn't be Wubbzy without some awesome songs, and the one after the pirate episode contains lyrics such as "Life is filled with treasure - everywhere you look!"

Other episodes on the DVD include one where Walden learns to overcome his fear of the water. This is followed by a song that emphasizes that things need to be learned one step at a time (lest someone run into the ocean and expect to be able to surf right away!) This is definitely something that can be called on during times of hesitation, "Hey, remember how Walden was afraid to swim, but once he overcame his fear he realized that he really enjoyed the water? Let's try..."

Having a familiar and enjoyable character as a role model is much easier than talking in the abstract.

One of my favorite episodes involves a trip to "Plaidville." As many of you know, I'm mad about plaid. The lesson behind the trip was how everyone is different, how these differences can be appreciated, and then how our own "sameness" can be appreciated too. (In other words, don't wish you were someone else, but respect that someone else for their unique self.)

Wubbzy is fun, educational, and cheery. My kids love the characters, so much so that Spliggle wanted to record his own impressions. And so, I'll leave you with his thoughts:

* Purchase Wubbzy "Pirate Treasure" at (There are some sample clips on the Amazon listing for this product.)
* Read my review of Wubbzy's "A Little Help from My Friends"
* Purchase Wubbzy "A Little Help from My Friends" at
* Visit Wubbzy's Official Website for games, activities, and information.
* Visit Wubbzy at Nick Jr.
* follow WubbzyJen on Twitter

April 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Johnson's + Enter "Big Bubblin' Stars!"

barbie50.gifI'm feeling pretty old at 35 years of age, but 2009 marks the fiftieth (Five! Oh!) anniversaries of both Barbie and Johnson's Baby. For the former, I've enjoyed giggling over the cougar Barbie concept. (I hear that gals my age are now called "pumas?" Oh great.) Although I wasn't a big Barbie-gal in my youth, there are several barbies in my youngest son's room right now that I acquired during college "for fun." Then I have a bunch of "Sleeping Beauty" Barbies that I collected new-in-the-box during the whole craze where everyone started purchasing things solely for the point of collecting them. Alas, these treasures are in the shed. When I win the lottery I'll set up a whole room of my "special things" including a glass case of Barbies. Wait, that sounds really creepy.


Anyway... so Barbie turned fifty, and I didn't really think about it. But Johnson & Johnson Baby's birthday has meant a little more to me. Of course I remember No-More-Tears® shampoo from when I was small, and plenty of baby oil when I was in junior high during those not-so-skin-cancer-friendly trips to the swim club.

50yearsNoMoreTears.gifIn honor of their birthday, JOHNSON'S® unleashed two new products, Head-to-Toe® Foaming Wash, and Baby Bubble Bath & Wash. Both products are No-More-Tears® formula. I had the opportunity to try both products.

I must confess two things:

1) We don't have a bathtub in our house

2) I've been using female shaving cream to lather up my boys during their shower since it makes them giggle.

And so, because of #1- I couldn't actually try out the baby bubble bath & wash until we took a recent trip to a hotel that has a bathtub. Of course the boys loved having a bubble bath, and it was terrific that I had the sweetly-smelling (but not overpowering) Johnson's on hand. (save $1 with a printable coupon)

FoamingWash.gifAnd because of #2, I was very excited to have the head-to-toe foaming wash available to soap up my boys without using up that expensive shaving cream. When my boys were babies, I used the Johnson's washcloths with the soap inside, and as I mentioned late last year, my youngest son loves the lavender bedtime body bar. The foaming wash is a great addition to our shower caddy. The irony? As I ran out of shaving cream before the foaming wash arrived, I have now been using the foaming wash to shave!

Johnson's has also launched a few products aimed at adult women, although I love the smell of the baby products I have already, so haven't tried the adult ones yet.

BabyBath.gifA company at 50 must constantly reinvent itself and take into consideration modern technology to remain current. Johnson's is doing just that with their JOHNSON'S® YouTube Baby Channel. Johnson's has launched an online search for real-life parents to serve as the host of this channel.

The "Big Bubblin' Stars!" contest allows parents to "sell their expertise" online, by providing an opportunity to earn money (top prizes are $10K, $3K and $1K and a year supply of Johnson's Baby product) Videos will be featured on the Channel where visitors can vote for their favorites. The top three winners will then have the opportunity to host additional episodes on the site, while competing for the official paid host spot!

BigBubblinStarsJohnsonsBabyContest.gifJohnson's "Big Bubblin' Stars!" contest is open parents of children between the ages of six months and three years. To enter, parents must submit an under-three minute online video showcasing tips and ideas surrounding bath time. The bath time theme coincides with the 50th Anniversary of the iconic Johnson's NO MORE TEARS® trademark formula and the introduction of Johnson's new Bubble Bath & Wash product.

Johnson's will be accepting video submissions through 4/26/09 (at 11:59PM Eastern) so please get your videos in now - you have a little more than a week left. (I am sure you have them already filmed - you just need to upload them!) read the official rules

Visit the Baby Channel starting 5/52009 to vote on the finalists of the contest. Voting closes 5/24/09 at 11:59PM Eastern.

April 17, 2009

Take Five and Enjoy Pure Delicious Haagen-Dazs Ice-Cream

Ice-cream unplugged. Sounds kind of dangerous, doesn't it? But that is the tagline for Haagen-Dazs' new five-ingredient ice-cream, titled five.

When Mom Central told me about five, I seriously could not contain my excitement. You see, Haagen-Dazs and I go way back...

As many loyal readers know, I was on the Feingold Diet when I was younger. It helped with impulse-control. Since my oldest son has similar impulse-control problems with hyperactivity, we put him on Feingold and have seen success.

Dry Ice - and Ice Cream Haagen-Dazs is one of the few widely-available ice-cream brands that is Feingold-safe. Certainly people can make their own, but the convenience of being able to pop over to the local grocery store is truly priceless. Haagen-Dazs is at the corner market, not only sold in high-end specialty stores. Their product, however, tastes as though it would be in only exclusive upscale markets.

One of the number one concerns people admit when they question me about hyperactivity elimination diets is the worry that with the "elimination" all the convenience and fun will be taken out of eating. Fortunately, there are plenty of all-natural brands that are completely fine. Haagen-Dazs is one of these brands, and with the addition of the five line, the number of acceptable ice-creams has gotten larger.

Let's face it: the "creative" ice-cream flavors typically aren't the ones that are all-natural. To obtain those exotic flavors, most companies use artificial flavoring (along with artificial coloring.)

five is plenty creative, but maintains its purity.

The concept behind Haggen-Dazs five, is that it has only five ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and then one "hero" ingredient. These flavors are: vanilla bean, milk chocolate, mint, ginger, coffee, passion fruit, and brown sugar.

My first motivation for trying five was that it is all-natural, as I was eager to give my son some additional dessert options. But I soon learned that using just five pure and simple ingredients naturally lends itself to an ice cream with one-third less fat. Less fat is certainly something I can get behind. And then the flavors themselves are not common. I would have thought "strawberry" would be a shoo-in, but instead the five fruit is passion fruit. Flavors like brown sugar and ginger are quite unique, and exceptionally tasty.

I was very excited when the package arrived = dry ice!

Haagen_Dazs_Five_Brown_Sugar.jpgI was even more excited when my boys and I got to sit down to taste the ice-cream contained within. I am not a food blogger, so forgive the clumsy language, but here are my impressions of the four flavors I received:

Passion Fruit: This reminds me of a dragonfruit soda that I really enjoy. It is definitely a unique flavor, both spicy and fruity at the same time. It is smooth, as all of the five flavors are, and the passion fruit is subtle enough so that it doesn't overwhelm. This sort of exotic flavor is great to entice kids to try new foods. Haagen-Dazs recommends serving this flavor with pieces of tropical fruit on top - yum! [clicking link downloads a PDF]

Ginger: Of course this reminded me of Chinese food, so no doubt this ice-cream would be great paired with a fortune cookie or other vanilla-orange type cookie or cake. Ginger typically is associated with heat, but this ice-cream is refreshing. It is spicy and soothing all in one.

Mint: Most people think "mint chocolate chip" when they hear "mint ice-cream" and of course most people picture that neon green color. Haagen-Dazs is definitely not green: instead it is a natural white. The texture is completely smooth without chunks of chocolate. Although chocolate is certainly a great pair for mint (so this ice-cream would be fabulous over a rich chocolate cake) the mint on its own is so pure and subtly sweet that it doesn't need a companion. This is a sweet mint, not the biting mint of a mojito. Haagen-Dazs recommends pairing the ginger ice-cream with cardamom-honey roasted peaches. [clicking link downloads a PDF] I think pear would also work well.

Brown Sugar: My sons love milkshakes. Traditionally they have vanilla or mint chocolate-chip, but they have since had several brown sugar shakes. This flavor was absolutely my favorite. It calls to mind gingerbread men and a cozy gathering. I suppose now we can have our holiday memories during the summer, thanks to this spicy-yet-cool ice-cream. Recipe: Häagen-Dazs Five™ Brown Sugar Ice Cream with Warm Apple Cinnamon Blossoms [downloads a PDF]

I will definitely be purchasing five for my family in the future - tastes good, less fat, all natural. It is truly a fantastic five.

Fittingly, I have FIVE coupons for free ice-cream to give away to you loyal readers. Simply post a comment telling me what flavor five you are most interested in trying. (Check out the Haagen-Dazs five website to find all the five flavors - and yes, there are more than 5 flavors...) I'll give you until April 30th to enter. Good Luck! If you don't win, consider picking up five at your local store: you won't regret it.


Wooo! You all won! Send me your mailing address to karianna at this domain name (see my header) and I'll get the coupons out to you!

May 14, 2009

Stylish UPF 50+ Clothing

May is Skin-Cancer Awareness Month!

While I haven't actually had skin cancer, I have several scars to show that I've had irregular moles removed. Perhaps you all remember the Code Blue in Dermatology drama?

Several years ago I had two moles on my leg removed. I haven't worn shorts since, because they left huge bruise-like gashes. But having those is better than being dead.

Of course I don't want my kids to get skin cancer, nor do I want them to get nasty looking scars. With that in mind, I bought them a bunch of UV Skinz (who I found out about through Cool Mom Picks.) I also bought several for myself: a black jacket that I can simply zip over any tank top, plus two long-sleeved swim-shirts (that I am going to use as wear-while-at-the-boardwalk rather than for swimming.)

UVSkinz.gifWhen the UV Skinz arrived, an additional product was put in my bag: a Baby Skinz to donate to someone else. All UV Skinz customers completing an order in the month of May will receive a free Baby Skinz. They request that these Baby Skinz be donated to a needy cause of their customers' choosing. Customers can then share their donation location - good karma points!

They write, "Protecting our children from becoming the one in five Americans who will be diagnosed with skin cancer within their lifetimes starts from day one! Teaching safe sun habits to every child is imperative to help eradicate a disease that is almost entirely preventable. Every child deserves to live safe under the sun!" UV Skinz have a UPF rating of 50+, which blocks out over 98% of the sun's harmful rays. In addition to the free Baby Skinz, they offer free shipping on orders over $50.

Sounds great - but do the products deliver?

Well, my youngest son adores his new Skinz. He's worn them around "just because" (even to his preschool art show!) and also in the swimming pool. I've worn mine too - I wore the black jacket as I hiked around the reservoir. I wondered if I would overheat, but the material was thin and breathable, so I wasn't uncomfortable at all. I felt glad that my arms, neck, and chest were all protected. (Now I have to get a cute-looking hat...)

I'm also eyeing some UPF 50+ clothes from Athleta, but haven't yet taken the plunge (they are expensive.) The Athleta clothes are more "regular clothes" whereas the UV Skinz definitely have the "water" vibe. If I give Athleta a try, I'll report back here. But for now, I'm pretty excited about my UV Skinz - and plan to wear those shirts on what I imagine will be our many trips to Splig's Favorite Destination Ever - the beach boardwalk.
My posts about the whole forehead mole situation:
- I am not Smurfette
- Code Blue in Dermatology
- Decisions and Delays
- Not Again
- Where Everybody Knows Your Name
- Blocking Pesky Betas
- En Route to a Harry Potter Scar

Disclaimer: UV Skinz did not contact me in any way to promote their product. I did not receive any special treatment in exchange for mentioning them. I learned of the company on Cool Mom Picks and decided it would be a good match for our family. I then learned of their May promotion and wished to spread the word as it is generous and important!

May 31, 2009

New York Times: Obama - The Historic Journey

I wouldn't call myself a "scrapbooker" although I do have several albums of collages, photographs, playbills, and ticket stubs from my pre-parent days. After that, the collages became computerized, and then they just became a Flickr link.

ObamaHistoricJourneyNewYorkTimes.jpgBut I still save a bunch of my boys' work, plus little things here and there that might mean something to me later. After 9/11, I saved a lot of newspaper articles and other freebies. I reasoned that it was an important enough event that having "original" articles and documentation would be wise. (And then there is that "what if someday my kid needs to write an article about it?" rationale, although these days I guess folks pull the facts online. Still, having a copy taken directly from the original newspaper would be nice.)

It is no surprise, then, that with the campaign and eventual election of our nation's first African-American President, that I would be a pack-rat about the memorabilia. I have newspaper articles, buttons, bumper stickers, and the faded lawn-signs we displayed at our house. I may even have my ballot stub - or at the least my sample ballot.

I was therefore thrilled that Mom Central gave me the opportunity to receive The New York Times' "Obama: The Historic Journey." I received the young reader's edition to share with my boys.

Frankly, I like the "young reader's edition" because it is easy-to-understand and highlights the most pertinent points. I'm honestly not a history or politics buff (although my husband is) so I'd rather get the "gist" of something than a drawn-out explanation. That said, the "young reader's edition" is definitely not dumbed-down. It gives lots of detail, presented in an interesting way.

The book has gorgeous pictures. Being a visual person, I appreciate the vibrancy and the symbolism. I love looking at pictures from the past, like Barack playing baseball as a child, or his Senior school picture. From the same visual orientation, I appreciate seeing President Obama's family tree, especially as it is superimposed over a world map to show his origins.

Definitions for common terms appear in colored boxes above and to the side of the main text during the sections on the campaign and election. These "extras" help kids unfamiliar with the vocabulary of politics and government to understand better the story depicted in the main text. Quotes from President Obama also fill colored boxes.

These side-boxes also break down the issues for both Obama and McCain. Although the positions are greatly simplified, this side-by-side glance is useful for kids just learning about the candidates. Other information at-a-glance includes a double-page statistics page listing information on Obama such as shoe size (11) and favorite food (chili.)

Sections on Obama's past, the campaign, the election, the victory, Michelle Obama, and his daughters are all very well-done. Something unique about this particular compilation of history is a section entitled "Inside the Times" that talks about planning the election issue of the New York Times. This behind-the-scenes glance is fun. A "Presidential Advice" section shows school children's letters to President Obama, along with some very cute hand drawings of the President from thirteen kids.

While some of the book is light-hearted and celebratory, there are also sections on the financial crisis and on the Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. controversy, plus a section on Barack, Sr. as an "absent" father. And so, this book is not intended to shy away from the negative.

"Obama: The Historic Journey" is a beautiful and comprehensive book. It isn't too heavy, nor is it too simplistic. I am pleased to add it to my collection about this historic election, and glad to share it with my boys to introduce them to our President.

Thank you Mom Central and the New York Times!


Purchase The New York Times' "Obama: The Historic Journey." on Amazon:

- Young Readers Edition
- Adult Edition

May 29, 2009

Don't Forget the Sunscreen!

As May comes to a close, so does "Skin Cancer Awareness Month," but that is no reason to forget about the sunscreen. Whether you wear UV protective clothes or slather on the lotion, make sure you are doing something to protect yourself outside.

SunglassesSunscreenSwimsuit.jpgSure, it may not quite feel like summer yet for some of you, but with school's dismissal, suddenly we're all going to be spending a lot more time outdoors.

Here's a secret: I've already gotten burned this year. I had my UPF 50+ protective jacket unzipped a bit in the neck area for the stylish look of it all (V-neck is so much more flattering for my body type) but didn't apply enough sunscreen in that area. (The neck area is frequently forgotten, and it is delicate, so important to remember!) The good news of this burn (and it isn't bad, really - just a tiny bit red) is that it showed me that the UPF 50+ protective wear from UVSkinz totally worked -- because the areas that were covered with the clothing weren't even a tad tanned or pink.

Luckily, I sprayed a bunch of sunscreen on my boys, so they were doubly-protected: they wore UV Skinz and had sunscreen on. We use both Neutrogena and KINeSYS sunscreen sprays. I also use the Neutrogena lotion (slathered it on my neck as soon as I realized I had damage: sunscreen provides healing, too.)

I know everyone knows this, but sunglasses don't just make you look cool. Sure, they help you see better in bright light (and help with fatigue in bright cloudy light) but their most important role is to protect against UV exposure. Many of those cheap-o sunglasses don't block both UV-A and UV-B light, so be sure to look on the label.

The one sun protection item I am lacking is a hat. I haven't found a "cute" one that I like just yet. Yes, I spray my head to avoid a sunburn in the part of my hair, but I know I need to be better protected. (And sunscreened-up hair is not so pretty, anyway.)

So, consider this brief "service announcement" a reminder to put your sunscreen out on your bathroom counter so you remember to put it on -- stash one in your car, at your desk at the office, in your diaper bag, and by the front door. Get a hat (yes, I need to take my own advice) and some great sunglasses (my dad has pairs littered all around, as does Husband - better to have a bunch in different places than to squint-n-burn because you can't find your sole pair.)

I received no compensation for this post -- just highlighting products I've reviewed in the past. I purchased the swimsuit pictured from dELiA*s (and got a beautiful one from Victoria's Secret as well. I learned last season that it is important to have more than one swimsuit, least my boys require that I put on a cold wet one when they want to go back in the hotel pool and hour later...) The sunglasses pictured are Fendi - but you can get UV-A + UV-B protection from less expensive brands (just not totally cheap-o.)

July 3, 2009

Rock out with Guitar Hero for the DS

I attempt to walk the lineI cannot play the guitar, as evidenced by this photo in which I am holding the thing upside down (apparently.) And then there is my son, who was so obsessed with a pink ukulele that when he randomly found a $20 bill mere feet from a store selling pink ukuleles - right after I told him I wouldn't use my money to buy him one - he purchased it himself. (I mean, how could he not given that the gods were apparently smiling down on him?)

So when Mom Central put out a call to try Guitar Hero for the DS, of course I responded. Not because I think I'm a rock-star, but because I clearly need the help. More so, I wanted to try out these games because I knew my boys would be interested. After all, they spent a good portion of Thanksgiving watching my brother play Guitar Hero on his Playstation.

I figured, if my brother can do it, so can I! (But, um, apparently he's the one who got the guitar talent.)

Continue reading "Rock out with Guitar Hero for the DS" »

July 6, 2009

A-flutter for the Butterflies

Last week, Splig celebrated his fifth birthday (has it really been five years?) Today, he's having his party. So, his birthday has been drawn out a bit, only bisected by the Fourth of July holiday. He wishes his birthday could go on and on and on...

Butterfly_Garden.jpgLast year, his birthday actually did go on, in that a relative sent him a present in the autumn. In many ways, I'm glad for the delay - because of course it gave him something to open up several months after the fact. But then on the flip side, I guess he thinks he can have "birthday presents" anytime during the year.

But I digress.

The present he received last autumn was an Insect Lore Live-Butterfly Garden. Ironically enough, he received a Live-Butterfly Treehouse as a prize during our Activeion meeting with Bill Nye the Science Guy - so next go around we'll double our fun! There are also Butterfly Pavillions available if you want larger numbers of butterflies at one time.

I'll admit I was skeptical at first. My first and only experience of "send away for live animals" was with one of those traditional green plastic sand Ant Farms.

Continue reading "A-flutter for the Butterflies" »

July 1, 2009

The Circus is Coming to Town!

UPDATE: We saw the circus! It was tons of fun -- please read on to find out how you can see the circus at a discount.


I saw the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus when I was young. I don't remember my brother being there, which means I was probably younger than five.

Zing_Zang_Zoom.gifI remember I was nervous. It was my first time in a large arena, there were animals I had never seen before in person, and I worried that I was the one who would have to perform. But I also remember once my nerves were calmed it made quite an impression.

Yes, I'm one of those folks who is freaked out by clowns, but I love the trapeze, high-wire acts, and all the animal acts. I have fond memories of being able to meet an elephant at Ringling Brothers when I was young, and some baby tigers when I was in the eighth grade. Getting close to animals I thought would be inaccessible was a real thrill.

I took "ownership" of my Ringling Brothers experience enough so that when a competitor came to town I scoffed, saying they were just "impostors." Surely they couldn't be as talented as the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Baily troupe!

Ringling_Bros_Barnum_Bailey.gifMy first circus experience was at "The Oakland Coliseum" which has since gone through several renamings to become "The Oracle Arena."

Now MY kids can experience their first circus experience in the exact same place with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, just as I did. Their latest show, Zing Zang Zoom, is coming to Northern California in August. And my family will be there!

Lucky me, I have a coupon code for fellow Bay Area residents to use when purchasing tickets for these shows, thanks to Mom Central:

Continue reading "The Circus is Coming to Town!" »

August 6, 2009

Coupon Codes

For those of you who attended BlogHer, you have cards upon brochures worth of "coupon codes" and other such promotional things. These can be great when you actually need 'em, but a hassle to sort through if they are products for which you don't have any interest.

But... I have several little referral-things that I can share with you readers that I thought I'd pass along, just in case. These were things I was interested in - and if you aren't, at least they aren't cluttering up your e-mail box or business cards floating around your desk:

You already know about the circus: Purchase a 4-pack of tickets for only $44 by logging onto and entering the coupon code: MOM. My family is going to the circus this week - hope it will be fun!
Gilt Group - yes, one of those "give an invitation to your friends and you get a credit to use towards purchase of designer duds:" But - even without the whole "pass on the word" part of it, there really are some amazing finds on here. And no, it isn't restricted to tiny sizes, either. I've found excellent stuff in my size that is well-priced. (Others like this include "Top Secret" and "HauteLook")
Pocketville_B9GX8NUDYS.gifMy kids will try out Pocketville shortly, but I wanted to pass on my little code before I publish the "official" review. Just enter B9GX8NUDYS for 250 tokens that can be used to purchase items for your virtual pet at the Pocketville Pet Supplies Store. I hope it is fun! (Certainly less expensive than a real pet...)
Back to School Shopping Guide I love Cool Mom Picks. I can't visit there without opening my wallet, or at least bookmarking sites to which I'll later return to purchase gifts. Several times in the last month I've bought CMP-suggested baby shower gifts as perfect presents for my recently-pregnant friends. Now their back to school guide is here, so I'm drooling about the new fun things we can buy for autumn. Both guides have a whole slew of discount codes, so not only do you get an excellent product, but you get it at a fine price.

August 13, 2009

Zing, Zang, Zoomed!

Me, Splig, and the ZINGMaster!Woooo.... check me out with Alex the ZINGMaster. Oh, and Splig, too. The Cat was too afraid to approach. Oh well. We had a blast at the circus (except for some initial hesitation from the Cat and then some interesting wardrobe malfunctions from that same son.)

Thank you to Mom Central, Feld Entertainment, and Ringling Bros. for the opportunity! it was through their generosity that my family received tickets to the show - plus a pre-show meet-n-greet with a few of the performers. No other compensation will arrive because I chose to post about this event. The thoughts/opinions above and on my main blog circus experience post are my own and representations of my boys' opinions.

As I announced earlier, YOU can go to the circus, too. Purchase a 4-pack of tickets for only $44 by logging onto and entering the coupon code: MOM. Please see my original post for details regarding the coupon code and dates.

November 3, 2009

Toys 'R Us Holiday Hot List is HOT with Us: Zhu Zhu Pet Hamsters

Matchy-MatchyHalloween is over, which means tomorrow is Christmas.

Or, at least that is what it seems like.

Not so long ago (and yes, before all the Halloween candy) Toys 'R US released its "Holiday Hot List." You remember Cabbage Patch Kid Mania in the 80's, Tickle-Me-Elmo craziness a decade and a half later, and then the Tickle Me TMX a few years later? There is always an "IT" toy that causes grown men and women to push and shove like a preschooler... to get a toy for a preschooler.

It is best to avoid the juvenile theatrics and just get the toy now, before the holiday shuffle. (Or, figure out another cool toy.)

zhuzhupets.gifWell, surprise, surprise, my kids already own some of the items on that list - like Bakugan and Wii Sports Resort (oh, how the adults love Wii Sports Resort, too!) And my kids also have Zhu-Zhu Pets.

A couple months ago, Mom Select got me in touch with the folks creating Zhu-Zhu Pets. After all, I already have a cat and a fish (and occasionally butterflies and ants) - I can't add a real hamster to the list. My kids saw the little promo and were hooked. I agreed to host a Hamster Party. Yes indeed, I cleaned my house to open it up to hamsters. Well, and the kids for whom the hamsters would come to life.

Continue reading "Toys 'R Us Holiday Hot List is HOT with Us: Zhu Zhu Pet Hamsters" »

October 12, 2009

Halloween Around the Web!

halloween_from_nick_jr.jpgMy kids have had their Halloween costumes for a couple months now. I figured I'd get 'em before the hustle - but of course at least one of my kids has changed his mind: rather than a ninja, he now wants to be R2-D2. Sorry kid, I can't make an R2-D2 costume right now, so ninja it is! Meanwhile, my eldest "the Cat" wants to be a ghost this year. (Yes, he's been a cat several years, too.) I lucked out - last year I made a King Boo in a Mario Kart costume.

Now it seems like Halloween is just around the corner, so in case your house hasn't already been decked-out, here are some fun things to get you in the mood. All of these sites are ones with which I've either had a relationship in the past (like Wubbzy, whose videos I've reviewed - hey Wubbzy's pirate DVD would work for Halloween!) or ones I hope to in the future. I received no compensation for mentioning these sites - I'm only doing so out of interest, because my kids like 'em!

Continue reading "Halloween Around the Web!" »

October 7, 2009

My Son Loves His Princesses

Disney_Princess_Classics_on_Ice.jpgA week from now our family will be going to see Disney's Princesses on Ice (officially "Princess Classics," but "Princesses on Ice" sounds kinda rad) thanks to Mom Central. This is a Very Good Thing, since Spliggle absolutely adores princesses and has been yelping, "Can we go!?" every time the Disney on Ice commercial comes on T.V. For "proof" see how he looks adoringly into Cinderella's eyes when she signed his autograph book during a Disney event two years ago.

Lucky me, I have a coupon code for fellow Bay Area residents to use when purchasing tickets for Disney on Ice: Princess Classics. Purchase a 4-pack of tickets for only $44 by logging onto and entering the coupon code: MOM.** If you'll recall, this is the exact same deal as when Zing Zang Zoom came to town. Lucky us!

Continue reading "My Son Loves His Princesses" »

October 15, 2009

Princess Classics on Ice: Disney Debrief

(If you want to see this show - head on over to my other post for a Disney on Ice coupon code!)

Our Adventures: Disney on Ice Princess ClassicsLast night our family went to see Disney on Ice: Princess Classics. I knew my youngest would have a blast -- he's totally into sparkles, pink, purple, aqua, and pretty princesses. But I expected my oldest would roll his eyes the whole time. Surprisingly, he got into it - the Cat loved the more physical comedy portions whereas Splig loved the more sappy, glide-y, sparkle-y parts. Meanwhile, I felt nostalgic and realized that while I own many Disney movies, most are on VHS - curses!

The show catered to a great mix of ages. The little kids were scared a bit during some of the sections, but there were no hugely frightening parts. The audience really got into the spirit, such as screaming at Snow White not to bite the poisoned apple. And of course they swooned and clapped at the various "true love's kiss" moments.

Continue reading "Princess Classics on Ice: Disney Debrief" »

Sonicare: Getting My Sensitive Kid to Brush His Teeth

This is a compensated review from BlogHer and Sonicare for Kids

SonicareForKids 001.jpgI was twelve when I got my first cavity. Until then, I boasted loudly, "I Have No Cavities!" and so it was a real let-down when I finally got one. And then there was the time that I simply didn't go to the dentist for a few years. I blame graduate school. Surprisingly, my teeth were in terrific shape - I think it was because I was using an electric toothbrush. In fact, when I went through another dental appointment drought after having my second child, the hygienist was shocked that it had been so long since I had a professional cleaning since my teeth didn't have the tartar buildup or inflamed gums she would have expected. When I mentioned I use a Sonicare, she nodded and finally believed me.

It was with glee that I accepted BlogHer's invitation to try out Sonicare For Kids. After all, since I had success with an adult electric toothbrush, I figured my kids would enjoy it as well.

Continue reading "Sonicare: Getting My Sensitive Kid to Brush His Teeth" »

October 16, 2009

So, a Leapfrog Tag Junior and Luke Skywalker Walk into a Bar...

Star Wars Sweepstakes from LeapfrogYesterday I got a pretty awesome email from LeapFrog. Turns out, they are holding a most-excellent contest: a $3,500 Star Wars Sweepstakes! The prize is an All-Out Star Wars Party Kit for the kids, plus a Merry Maids gift card for the winning parent so that party clean-up is a breeze. (NICE TOUCH, LeapFrog!)

What is included in this spectacular, galaxicical, fantastical party?

- Costumes and light saber toys
- Deluxe party kit, with life-sized wall graphic and R2-D2 trash can
- Amazon gift card
- A LeapFrog Tag, Leapster2 or Didj system with Star Wars game or book
- Merry Maids gift certificate to clean up the mess
- ...and more!

Just head on over to the LeapFrog Star Wars contest page and enter. You can enter EVERY DAY. So, do it. Plus, once you enter, you'll get a landing page that touts free shipping on any of the Star Wars products Leap Frog carries. For example, there is a Limited Edition Leapster 2 Star Wars gift pack.

Continue reading "So, a Leapfrog Tag Junior and Luke Skywalker Walk into a Bar..." »

October 26, 2009

Oroweat Bread: Win a Prize Pack of Bread!

This is a compensated review from BlogHer and Oroweat

I am a bread person. (Yes, you anti-carbs people better duck.) I can go days where I just eat sandwiches. I eat grilled cheese sandwiches or toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, slices of bread with peanut butter or cheese for a snack, and gobble up plenty of bread with my dinner (or hey, I'll just have a sandwich for dinner!) My family is pretty much the same. My husband makes cinnamon-sugar toast as a snack (which my kids will then steal) or will fold a slice of bread over a chunk of chicken. Believe it or not, we sometimes slather bread with chocolate frosting for dessert. It was therefore an easy choice to agree to review Oroweat Dutch Country bread.

Much to my surprise, Oroweat sent not one loaf, but eight to my house. Although I was a bit concerned about how a family of four might get through eight loaves of bread without them getting stale, I need not have been concerned. First off, we have used quite a lot of the bread already - from tasty French toast to a great hamburger-bun alternative. Secondly, the bread has remained fresh and soft since when it arrived. (And no, it doesn't have BHA, BHT, or TBHQ as preservatives; however, it does have other preservatives.)

Continue reading "Oroweat Bread: Win a Prize Pack of Bread!" »

November 2, 2009

Internet Safety with LeapFrog and Larry Magid

connect_safely_internet_safety_logo.gifLast night LeapFrog sponsored a talk with Larry Magid on internet safety. (We also had some excellent food at the Four Seasons Hotel, including a to-DIE-for mashed potato bar - YUM!) Mr. Magid is the co-director of and founder of

Surprisingly, the talk meshed well with my own beliefs about risk (not nearly as high as my parents or many others would believe) and how to approach privacy. I had been expecting a scare-fest, but instead the advice was realistic and practical.

The Cat (age 8) has an email address, but he knows I see what is on it (and I delete SPAM off it.) He knows not to give out personal information, although I admit I worry if he is anyway. Spliggle doesn't yet have an email address and doesn't yet really know his own information well enough to give it out. But, of course we will talk to them both as the need arises.

We've considered putting a filter on the Cat's computer because he's pretty Google-savvy, but Mr. Magid explained a filter is mere "training wheels" since the real world isn't filtered. We all know that an overprotective parent actually ends up hurting a child because he cannot fend for himself. But then of course a too-permissive parent ends up putting their child at risk. As with parenting in general, internet safety is about striking a balance.

Continue reading "Internet Safety with LeapFrog and Larry Magid" »

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" »

December 15, 2009

Tom's of Maine All-Natural Toothpaste Creates Silly Smiles

This is a compensated review by BlogHer and Tom's of Maine.

When I was in Kindergarten, I was put on the Feingold Program, a diet that eliminated artificial flavors and artificial colors, as well as other food additives that can cause behavioral problems in sensitive children. One of the first substitutions my parents made was to get rid of that brightly colored, highly flavored toothpaste that most kids use. Instead, they gave me Tom's of Maine natural toothpaste. Cinnamint became my favorite flavor.

When my son went on the Feingold Program, I was surprised and happy to see that Tom's of Maine had expanded its line to include more flavors and types than those selections available when I was young. (They even have natural mouthwash that doesn't taste like some of those other all-natural products out there.) I was especially excited when BlogHer contacted me recently to ask if my kids might want to try Silly Strawberry Children's Toothpaste.

Silly Strawberry. The name makes me think of kids' toothpaste, definitely. It makes me think of bright red color and artificial flavor. It makes me think of something that kids would think was great, but might not be great for them. But since it comes from Tom's of Maine, I know that it is NOT bright red. It is NOT artificial. Tom's of Maine's Silly Strawberry toothbrush uses calcium and silica to strengthen and polish teeth.Tom's has made a toothpaste that sounds kid-like, but without those crazy things that usually attract kids.

But what matters is what the kids think:

Continue reading "Tom's of Maine All-Natural Toothpaste Creates Silly Smiles" »

January 21, 2010

Tasty Baker: A Cute Way to Serve Up Treats

PIC 006.jpgI had heard of Pop Art Toaster before, but was curious when I learned of the Pop Art 5-in-1 Tasty Baker, another product from the Pop Art Toaster team. They provided me a "media sample" of the Tasty Baker in the hopes that I might have some insight into how their product might benefit those on the autistic spectrum.

I must admit that it took awhile to get my head around the concept that a baking product could also be therapeutic. But, I can see how non-verbal or pre-verbal children (whether autistic or not) might benefit from having cakes or brownies in recognizable shapes, therefore reinforcing the various objects. The fun shapes can also be a way to entice a picky eater to try an unfamiliar food.

Tasty Baker is similar to a waffle-maker, but it can be used for breads, cakes, and brownies (or any other baked good, like muffins) I used it for a variety of different things - vanilla cake, chocolate cake, brownies, and banana bread. I must admit that it takes some trial and error to discover both the right baking time and the correct amount to put in the mold, but let's back up a second to talk about the appeal of the product:

Continue reading "Tasty Baker: A Cute Way to Serve Up Treats" »

January 26, 2010

DiGiorno 200 Calorie Portions Pizza

This is a compensated review by BlogHer and DiGiorno.

As readers of the Karianna Spectrum know, I've been trying to treat my body better. Starting last Spring, I embarked on an exercise program that has taken me literally from the couch to a 5K to several 5Ks, to two (and counting!) 10Ks, to two weeks away from doing a half-marathon. (Eep! Two weeks?!) But all my efforts with exercise would be lost if I stuffed my piehole with... pie. Okay, so I eat pie, but just a slice, not the whole thing.

DiGiorno_200_Calorie_Portions_Pepperoni_Pizza.GIFJokes aside, portion control is a big deal. We all know the "secret" to losing weight is "eat less, exercise more," but that is easier said than done. Some "experts" recommend using smaller dishes to create the psychological satisfaction of filling up one's plate without truly packing in the calories. The plates that we typically use for a regular meal are several inches bigger than they were in leaner times. (That's "leaner" both financially and physically.) And portion control isn't just about losing weight; it is about maintaining a healthy weight as well.

"Yeah, that's great, Kari," you say, "You can do that plate-trick when making meals at home, but I'm super-duper busy and can't always take the time to cook from scratch." Yeah, I hear you.

Convenience food is typically one of those categories for which portion control is a challenge. Back when "fast food" originated, a hamburger and fries were the size of what is now considered the smallest of meals. Now, such a meal looks puny. Bottled drinks have 2.5 servings-worth of liquid packed inside. And "personalized size" pizza typically has at least three-servings worth of calories.

But not anymore.

Continue reading "DiGiorno 200 Calorie Portions Pizza" »

February 17, 2010

Disney on Ice: Worlds of Fantasy - Discount Code!

Disney_on_ice_logo.gifToday I might be co-Chairing the Science Fair, but my mind is on Fantasy. For the Fair, my youngest son did a project on "freezing and melting." He carefully tested different liquids' freezing and melting points (in a non-precise, Kindergarten-way, naturally.) A week from Saturday, we'll watch a show on ice -- and of course, ice-skating is possible because the blade melts the ice as the skater glides across the slick surface. But at that point, all my son will care about will be his favorite "cutey-cuties," glitter, and sparkles.

We had a blast when Mom Central and Feld Entertainment sent us to the Circus. And then my youngest son was completely smitten by Princesses on Ice. (My eldest son thought it was pretty cool, too, but he won't admit it.) And so, we are thrilled that we've now been invited to Disney on Ice presents Worlds of Fantasy.

This show includes scenes from Cars (wooo! cars on ice!), Little Mermaid, Lion King, Tinkerbell, and more!

Of course, like with the other shows, I'll report back after I have seen it. But, in the meantime, I have a special offer for YOU, my super-awesome readers:

Continue reading "Disney on Ice: Worlds of Fantasy - Discount Code!" »

February 26, 2010

Wubbzy the Olympian: Go for Gold!

Wubbzy_Go_for_Gold.jpgI am a big fan of the Olympics. I cry during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and proudly point out the countries of my ancestry with pride, even though I have been to none of them. I turn on sports that I wouldn't watch unless it was the Olympics. I have it on in the background when I work or workout. When we come home, I eagerly snap on the TV.

Except my kids routinely ask to put on Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! Seriously, without fail, I click on the TV for some curling, and the chants of "Wubbzy! Wubbzy!" begin. Thankfully, we can now have both simultaneously.

Sort of.

You see, Wubbzy has put out a new DVD, Wubbzy: Go For Gold.

Continue reading "Wubbzy the Olympian: Go for Gold!" »

March 12, 2010

March (Disney) Magic

tinkerbell_ice.gifOn Wednesday, March 3rd I took my boys to see Disney Worlds of Fantasy, courtesy of Feld Entertainment and Mom Central. Then a day later, I was on a plane to Orlando, FL where on Sunday, March 7th I successfully completed the "Tiarathon," otherwise known as the Disney Princess Half-Marathon. (I'll pause to brag that on February 7th I ran a half-marathon, too!)

As I sat watching the ice show, I couldn't help but become emotional because I knew what I was about to do just a few days later. After months of looking forward to running like a princess, it was almost here! Of course the show was magic - from the revved-up Cars, to my youngest son's favorite princess Ariel, to Tinkerbell's antics - and the kids loved their time. And then I was definitely caught up in it all, knowing that although Mickey and Minnie were on the ice, soon I'd be running right next to them.

Continue reading "March (Disney) Magic" »

April 9, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon Right at Home

How_to_Train_Your_Dragon_Nintendo_DS.jpgBoth my boys have gone completely "bonkers for Berk" so to speak. How to Train Your Dragon has replaced Star Wars as being "the" thing to talk about, play with, and wear. My sons have begged to go to the "M-Place" to get Happy Meals so they can hopefully get a plastic dragon that they don't already have. Of course, said dragons lose their wings pretty quickly because they are Happy Meal toys, so I think I've injured my fingers from all the re-attaching I've done of late.


But the important thing is that my kids are smitten with Astrid, Hiccup, and the rest of the gang. They haven't seen the How to Train Your Dragon movie yet, but I anticipate it will be one of the things we do as spring break wraps up. What they have done, though, is play the How to Train Your Dragon Wii Game and the How to Train Your Dragon Nintendo DS Game.

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April 14, 2010

Dreambox Math is now for Kindergarten through 3rd Grade!

dreambox_logo_dl.gifLast year my boys were very excited when I introduced them to Dreambox as part of a review of their excellent online K-2 math program.

I was impressed with how the program evaluated both boys such that their adventures were tailored to their ability level. At the time, my youngest son was still in preschool, so having him do a Kindergarten math program had the potential to be a stretch, but Dreambox accurately assessed his knowledge and instructed him accordingly.

Meanwhile, my then-second-grader was assessed at a higher level. He is gifted in math, so immediately went to some of the more advanced concepts. Although both boys were playing the same game, Dreambox individualized the lessons so they were at the appropriate level for each.

My boys loved Dreambox, so I paid for a subscription for several months after my free-for-review trial had ended.

Although my oldest son enjoyed the game, I could tell that towards the end of his second-grade year he wasn't really challenged by it. Since I wanted to give him access to more advanced concepts, I enrolled him in a free trial of another online math program that went into more challenging material.

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April 29, 2010

Light Up Their Lives with Marble Racers

Marble_Light_Logo.jpgMy boys had a very pleasant surprise when they came home from school today. Thanks to Mom Select and LightUp Racers, they had six different marble cars waiting to be decorated, raced, and admired.

Of course when I opened up the package there was a collective "Ooooooh, cool!" as they divvied up which three they each would claim. My eldest chose "volcano," "cat's eye," and "confetti." My youngest chose "fire chief," "police chief," and "cyclone." All six cars are identical; it is the accompanying stickers which determine which identity the racer will assume.

light_up_marble_racers_cars.gif light_up_marble_racers_cars_2.gif

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May 13, 2010

Making Sports Safer + XProTex Protective Batting Gloves

stop_youth_sports_injuries.gifThe local newspaper ran a photograph of a smiling young boy, bat slung over his shoulder. The accompanying headline was the sort that takes the breath away. Words like accident, medically-induced coma, and head trauma jumped out of the sobering article. But it wasn't an auto accident that caused this boy's injury - it was baseball.

In his particular case, it was that aluminum bats with their large "sweet spot" can create stunningly fast and hard hits. He was struck by one such powerful hit. While batters might wear helmets and gloves, the outfielders are wearing only a flimsy baseball cap. Should the pitcher wear a cage like the catcher does?

XProTex_protective_batting_gloves.gifI had the opportunity to try out amazing batter's gloves from XProTex. My kindergartner was thrilled to get them, because of course it made him look "cool" and like a "serious athlete." Fortunately, I'm not so worried about his head or hands getting hurt from the pitcher, since in Kindergarten a dad "pitches" with a very slow arc in the hopes that the player will actually connect with the ball.

But if the kids are playing around by throwing as fast as they can, or if a pitcher wanted to actually strike out my son, it is certainly likely that a ball could hit his head, or smash his hand instead of contacting with the bat. But with the XProTex protective batting gloves his hands and wrists are protected.

For now, though, we're told that baseball is all about "fun" only.

Of course, this non-competitive spirit won't last long.

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June 3, 2010

Shrek the Video Game!

Shrek_Forever_After_Wii.jpgWe haven't seen Shrek 3 yet, but since the Shrek Forever After: The Final Chapter video game arrived on our doorstep, my two boys have been smitten. In other words, I expect we'll hit the theater soon.

It used to be that I'd read a book or watch a movie and then gobble up the various themed merchandise. Interestingly for my sons, the experience has been the opposite. From getting The Gingerbread Boy in their Happy Meals to playing a little Wii as Shrek, Fiona, Puss in Boots, and Donkey, they experience the characters and story setting before knowing the actual story. This makes following the movie much easier, and a richer experience.

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June 8, 2010

Ronzoni: Tastes Good and is Smarter than Plain Pasta

My youngest son - like most red, white, and blue blooded young American kids - can't get enough of that beige vehicle for cheese, occasionally red sauce, and definitely meatballs. I'd be willing to bet that most parents will nod in agreement that "pasta" is on their children's preferred menu. Many picky kids will at least eat pasta.


There is definitely concern over the "just pasta" diet, I know. And so it was with glee that I agreed to try out Ronzoni Smart Taste pasta through Mom Central. I'll admit, I pass over many food reviews because they are for products that I don't really think are healthful. But Ronzoni Smart Taste pasta is enriched with vitamin D, calcium, and fiber.

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June 16, 2010

Summer Nightastic: A World of Color, Fantasmic, and Pure Magical Fun!

Spectrum_of_Reviews_Disney_World_of_Color_Fireworks.gifLast week I had the unbelievable, amazing opportunity to attend the premiere of Disney California Adventure's World of Color. Just from the preview video I knew I'd be captivated by this new attraction.

Many years ago, my brother and his friends entertained our family in the backyard with light shows. They strung lights everywhere and carefully synced the lights with music. Sometimes one of his friends would play the piano live while my brother made the lights dance to the music. Lights are magical, as is music. World of Color has both, plus fire, water, lasers, unique projection screens, and unexpected other features, such as a hidden bubble machine and synchronization of the show with lights on other attractions and the park street lamps.

Spectrum_of_Reviews_Disney_World_of_Color_Rainbow_Water_Ripple.gifIt is impossible to use mere words to describe World of Color because it is definitely more than a light show, or a water show. Just as when the black and white Disney cartoons burst into a new dimension once color was introduced, World of Color has created a new dimension in entertainment.

Both Disney parks participate in what has been dubbed "Summer Nightastic" the catch-all term to describe how the night lights up with color, music, fire, and water. CA Adventure has "Glow Fest" and "World of Color" while Disneyland has "Fantasmic" and of course the fireworks spectacular "Magical". "Pixie Hollow Enchantment" and "TLT Dance Club" also light up the nightlife at Disneyland.

Spectrum_of_Reviews_Disney_World_of_Color_Red_Glow_Lasers.gifPeople who have seen "Fantasmic" have been introduced in part to what "World of Color" entails. In "Fantasmic," for example, high-pressure water curtains create a projection screen for scenes from popular Disney films. But "World of Color" is even bigger. (Fantasmic has its own unique elements, such as Mickey vanquishing a large dragon, and some excellent entertainment on boats. The on-board stunts for Peter Pan are especially impressive.)

The colors in World of Color - of course, are spectacular. But it is the way the water bends and flows that creates even more magic. It is mind-blowing to consider how much effort was involved in choreographing the water to match the music to match what is being projected on the water.

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June 20, 2010

A Picture of Pasta

My pasta-loving son tried and loved Ronzoni Smart Taste pasta. He had high compliments for it, even choosing to eat it plain because it tastes so good!

As part of Ronzoni's campaign, they asked the review bloggers to submit a photo to their Ronzoni Smart Taste Photo Contest, depicting how our kids enjoyed the pasta.

My entry is below:
pics 038.jpg

While Splig had some more "photogenic" shots, this one caught my eye because the pasta is suspended in mid-air, dancing towards his mouth. Indeed, he was shoveling it in, and the pasta seemed pretty happy to join the party in his tummy.

So, if the pasta moves you, please vote for Splig. You might win a $25 gift card for your vote! (And I could win some pasta - yum!)

Disclaimer: I wrote a review and submitted this photo while participating in a campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Ronzoni. I received products necessary to facilitate my candid review and photo contest entry. In addition, I will receive a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate. Neither Mom Central nor Ronzoni previewed this piece prior to publication; the words are my own. Both Mom Central and Ronzoni previewed my photo prior to publication on the photo contest website to ensure my pic was family-friendly and so forth; they did not edit my photo in any way.

June 23, 2010

My Tiny Planets is More than "Tiny" Fun

My_Tiny_Planets_Ship.gifThe Cat tells me that he loves being in his tiny ship. He also says that it rains on his planet, and that he loves it when the volcanoes erupt. He talks to me about "getting stars" and wonders how much water he collected from the rain. He tells his younger brother, Splig, how to "fix" his planet. Splig is all about the volcanoes, especially since he saw The Bachelorette on Monday, and was slack-jawed as Ali and her suitors got superclose to an Icelandic eruption. (No, he didn't catch any double entendre involving that whole experience, and yes, I let him watch shows like that only because he thinks the roses are pretty.)

Both of my boys are guarding and nurturing their planets. And thankfully, these planets have nothing to do with spray paint, a hot glue gun, or styrofoam circles (that are harder to cut than one would think, and make quite a mess on the floor!) No, their planets are thankfully virtual, found via My Tiny Planets, a space exploration universe set up for kids to enjoy. My "space cadets" can simply explore their planets, or take on missions. These missions can unlock various rewards, some free, and some requiring real dollars. True to the notion of "unlocking" things, the currency on Tiny Planets is KEYs. Kids can save their KEYs from month to month, so they can save up for a really snazzy new rocket ship or other coveted reward.

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June 29, 2010

Kung Zhu - In the House!

kung_zhu_logo.gifLast autumn I had the pleasure (and chaos!) of hosting a Zhu Zhu Pets party in my home. We were definitely curious about hamsters that didn't involve food or poop, and my kids' friends agreed. Apparently, the rest of the nation did as well, as Zhu Zhu Pets ended up on the "must have" lists of many kids during the holiday season. It was certainly thrilling to have been part of the start of a Zhu-volution!

It is no surprise, then, that my kids and I were excited to learn about Kung Zhu. I immediately jumped at the chance Mom Select sent my way to put on another party, this one with Special Forces and Ninja Warriors!

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July 11, 2010

Stylin' Threads

Akademiks_black_glitter_tee_shirt.gifMy kids wear out their jeans constantly, so I'm always buying new pants. And then somehow - their shirts end up with holes in them, or irreversibly stained by random unknown reagents. So, I'm not going to turn down a chance to get some free clothes - unless they are poor quality, have some sort of horrendous slogan on them, or are otherwise dangerous. (Exploding clothes, ahoy!)

Seriously, when Mom Select asked me if I'd be willing to review a Parigi outfit - as well as to provide an outfit for giveaway - I snapped up the chance.

I hadn't heard of the Parigi Group, but I'm glad I have now. They represent recognizable brands such as PUMA, Baby Phat, Apple Bottoms, DKNY, Akademiks, and LRG.

Well, we were introduced to Akademics, and I have an outfit from Apple Bottoms to give away. It is your lucky day!

Continue reading "Stylin' Threads" »

July 20, 2010

Discount on the Greatest Show on Earth.

Ringling_Bros_Barnum_Baily_Fundundrum.JPGI have been very lucky as it comes to entertainment of late. Last year my boys and I enjoyed Zing Zang Zoom!, and I was later thrilled to see the "Zingmaster" in an episode of Biggest Loser. Then we struck gold again when Feld provided us tickets to see Disney Princesses on Ice last autumn, and Disney Fantasy on Ice at the end of this winter.

Well, we're off to the circus again - and this time it is Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Barnum's FUNundrum! This show definitely looks FUN - and is a tribute to P.T. Barnum, who was born 200 years ago. The performance involves motorcycles in a spherical cage, trapeze artists, cowboys, mermaids, and even a strong man - "Mighty Meetal." From balancing to flipping to jumping through fire, these performers are likely to keep my jaw dropped. Apologies if I have to look away a few times from the contortionists!

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July 22, 2010

Fly Away to Neverland

Peter_Pan_Show.gifMy family and I had the thrilling experience of witnessing the Peter Pan stage show yesterday afternoon. Sure, we had seen various movies based on JM Barrie's tale, experienced themed rides and such at amusement parks, and of course we have various toys, especially thanks to spin-offs like the various Tinkerbell shows. But, until yesterday, we hadn't experienced the magic live as a theater production.

Several months ago as my family drove through San Francisco, I saw the white tent taking form, and wondered what it was. A few weeks ago when Peter Pan PR emailed me about the show, I saw the now-familiar white tent on their website. Not only was the mystery solved, but I also became very excited!

After all, who hasn't wanted to fly?

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July 29, 2010

Oxy Clinical Acne Solutions

Win a Treatment Pack for Yourself or Your Teen!

oxy_clinical_pimple_zit_acne_treatment.gifZits. Pimples. Poppers. Blemishes. Spots. Acne.

Whatever you call 'em, they are a fact of life for most teens, and for many adults as well. What started out as almost an exciting rite-of-passage quickly became a complete horror for me. (I wanted braces, too, go figure. But of course once they were on I wanted them off.) We all have stories of the perfect date-face gone wrong at the last minute because of a horrid inflamed red bump. Or how those darn blemishes showed up on Picture Day and during the school play.

When I was a teen, I had a lot of "white-heads" and of course a bunch of "black-heads" as well. I even had plenty of bumps on my face that weren't discolored in any way, but were just not smooth. And everyone knows your skin has to be smooth to be beautiful. And you have to be beautiful to be popular or accepted in any fashion.

My mom took me to a fancy dermatologist who poked and prodded my face, and then prescribed various creams that burned my skin or otherwise didn't do the trick. I had the most consistent results simply using those familiar Oxy circular slightly-abrasive face-wipes on a daily basis. And honestly, I still use them to this day.

It isn't surprising, then, that I was happy to try out Oxy Clinical Solutions thanks to Mom Central. After all, Oxy has been a winner for me for decades. This new Acne Solutions Pack is an over-the-counter trio of treatments that deliver prescription-strength results - or at least, that is their claim!

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August 2, 2010

Breyer's Smooth and Dreamy IS Dreamy!

breyers_all_natural_ice_cream_logo.gifI love Breyers. I was introduced to them in my youth when my mom sought out all-natural, no-preservatives food for me. Many of the ice-creams and various frozen products contained varying degrees of "artificial." (Check it out - most "vanilla" products have "vanillan" instead - what a villain!) Breyers did not.

Breyer's has been a staple in my freezer from childhood up through when I started my own family. In fact, I think I only had Breyer's in my freezer and maybe some Diet Coke in my fridge when I was a grad student. (I only needed to attend nightime "special lectures" to chow down on free pizza - though the fabulous convenience and plethora of options for New York City delivery meant I had some pretty exotic take-out boxes spending time in that studio apartment as well.) These days, we purchase three or four cartons of Breyer's all at once. We use it in shakes, smoothies, and of course for sundaes or a plain ol' bowl of ice-cream.

Imagine my glee when I learned about Breyer's Smooth and Dreamy ice-cream bars and sandwiches! Oh, the excitement!

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August 13, 2010

Circus for Me, Circus for You

Funundrum_2.jpgWe had the pleasure of attending Barnum's FUNundrum, a "retro-inspired" tribute to PT Barnum. As expected, the kids had a blast. We did the requisite "oooh!s" and "ahhhh!s" and my youngest son has determined that he'll join the circus someday.

If you are interested in bringing your family, I have a Fundundrum discount code for you.

Last year we saw Zing Zang Zoom. I wondered if our experience this year would be different.

It was.

[above left: my older son can't help but create chip-smiles out of his nachos. I swear my boys have decent table manners... at the table.]

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August 20, 2010

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty_and_the_Beast_embrace_small.jpgWhen I was in college I straddled the worlds of "Be a strong woman!" and "OMG, I really want to find a husband and have kids!" As part of my whole fantasy life, I joined a Disney movie-of-the-month club in order to gather up some of those old and new favorites in which princesses got their prince. These cartoons provided fun breaks amidst all the studying.

I don't know exactly when I purchased Beauty and the Beast or even if I owned it before I played it over and over again for my charges when I babysat. (I know I owned it in grad school as I had to bide the time between harvesting cell culture.) But I can say with certainty that the movie and its accompanying songs are engraved in my brain.

My husband and I had the fabulous opportunity to have a date night in which we attended the opening night of SHN SF's Beauty and the Beast, playing now through August 29th at the Golden Gate Theater. I am grateful to SHN SF for providing me press tickets for this event.

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August 22, 2010

BlogHer Swag

It can be overwhelming and exciting to get so much free stuff.

miraclebody_slimming_designer_jeans.gifBlogHer didn't used to be such a swaggy experience, but it has certainly morphed into a legitimate place for companies to distribute information about their products. In some cases, it is simply a brochure; in other cases, it can be something huge like a pair of slimming designer jeans, an expensive curling iron and flat-iron, or a Powermat. (All three of these were at the fabulous Getting Gorgeous event.)

I'm not going to debate the whole whore-i-ness that can accompany an experience like this other than to say that I started out as a blogger first, and a reviewer second. I decline "swag" that I know will not fit me or my audience, unless it is something that I know will benefit someone else, such as diapers (I received one this year from PlaySkool) or infant clothing (I received a sleep sack from the Mom Central suite.) I have a favorite family shelter who will happily pass on such items, including the formula I received from Similac a few weeks ago, to families who need them.

It is unrealistic that I can review all the products that I received from this year's event. Just as in years past, the effects from "swag" tend ripple rather than gush. While I might not immediately mention a product here, I may several months down the line. Plus, my purchasing habits may change based on the products I see, or the brands with which I interact. Finally, people in real life learn and see about the things that I use on a regular basis.

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August 26, 2010

EXTRA Dessert Delights Sugar-Free Gum

Extra_Dessert_Delights_Mint_Chocolate_Chip_Ice_Cream_Sugarfree_gum.gifI like gum. It is good stuff. I have several favorite brands, but for the most part, I can pick up nearly any brand and be satisfied. For me, it is more the flavor that matters than the name on the label. Most out there have similar flavor and similar consistency, so my choice is a matter of price and availability.

I never thought I'd say this, but I'm eagerly awaiting a specific gum's release to the general public in October.

That's right, I'm excited about gum.

During the hoopla that was the BlogHer convention, I got my hands some packs of Extra Dessert Delights. I have both "Mint Chocolate Chip" and "Key Lime Pie." There is also a "Strawberry Shortcake" flavor that I have yet to try.

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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?

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August 25, 2010

Just Eyewear is More than "Just" Simple and Stylish

Just_Eyewear.gifOne of my kids stepped on my glasses. Or maybe they sat on them. Or perhaps it was a space alien who stretched them out with his enormous bulbous head. Whatever the cause, my poor eyeglasses were bent out of shape. But, because they were fancy ($400) and my insurance only covers one pair per year, I kept wearing them, cursing each time they'd slip off my face as I bent to pick up the newspaper.

Fortunately, I was contacted by Just Eyewear to review the process and resulting product of ordering eyeglasses online. This no-risk proposition was definitely too good to pass up, especially because I love trying on new looks, and thought it would be fun to purchase something I wouldn't ordinarily, knowing that I can always buy something else through my insurance later this year.

Well, Just Eyewear didn't disappoint.

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August 31, 2010

Hexbug Nanos

hexbug_nano.gifWe've got bugs. Thankfully (hopefully? knock on wood) not the bed-bugs everyone's been talking about. (Yes, I've already purchased some diatomaceous earth and various sprays just in case. )

No, I'm talking about a different kind of bug I brought home from New York City - the Hexbug Nano. I was fortunate to grab the last "Hexbug Nano Starter Pack" from the MomCentral suite. My boys loved the tiny set so much that we soon got a full "Hexbug Nano Habitat Set", plus of course another couple Hexbug Nanos. (In fact, my youngest son was thrilled to find some pink and aqua ones while we were purchasing a birthday present for his friend a couple days ago. Of course I gave in, because I think the little bugs are pretty cute, too.)

Essentially, the hard plastic bugs run around, jittering on their soft plastic fringed legs the way a real bug would. It almost appears that they "sniff out" where to turn in their little environment. This effect is a result of their vibrating motion. The Hexbug Nano website has more information about what makes this particular toy realistic, but my kids just love it because it is fun.

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September 2, 2010

CheeseburgHers + McDonalds Angus Snack Wraps

McDonalds_Angus_Snack_Wraps.gifFor the past three years, one of my favorite parts of the BlogHer conference is the CheeseburgHer party. What started out as a stuff-the-suite-with-cheeseburgers event turned into a full-fledged ballroom filled with hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and McDonalds new Angus Snack Wraps. Of course there was a large cheeseburger bed in there, too. And sure, the photo booth was a great touch for my friends and I to show just how delectable we found the food.

I was intrigued by the new Angus Snack Wraps. I love the Chipotle BBQ grilled chicken wrap, so was definitely in favor of new wraps. The Angus Snack wraps come in three flavors: deluxe, mushroom & swiss, and bacon & cheese.

I tried the mushroom & swiss.

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September 7, 2010

Johnson's Naturals

Johnsons_Natural_Kids_Bath_Body_Shampoo_Wash.gifWhen I went to Johnson's Camp Baby I arrived with the perspective of someone who enjoyed their products as a child, but who had gravitated elsewhere, especially after having a son sensitive to various dyes and fragrances. Other Camp Baby attendees had similar concerns - sure, J&J's smell and look was iconic, but many moms today are looking more towards the "natural" products, and are willing to pay a premium for them.

Well, much to my delight, Johnson's came out with their fragrance-free baby lotion last year, and have just launched entire "Johnson's Natural" and "Johnson's Natural Kids" lines that are 98-99% natural, plant & fruit-derived ingredients, with "ALLERFREE" fragrance. And, every Johnson's Natural cleanser contains their gentle NO MORE TEARS® formula.

Thanks to Mom Central, I had the opportunity to test several products from their new lines: 2-in-1 hand and face wash, 3-in-1 shampoo, conditioner & body wash, head-to-toe foaming baby wash, baby lotion, and baby shampoo.

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September 14, 2010

Animal Mastermind Towers

Pressman_Animal_Mastermind_Towers.jpgBack in the old days, my brother and I had plenty of fun board games. (Well, okay, once we learned of Atari, and later Nintendo, we had our share of screen time as well.) We enjoyed the traditional favorites, including classic Mastermind. When my kids were old enough, I giddily bought both the full-size and travel-size versions. I think I even got a "challenge" version that includes some additional colors and/or extra pegs for an even more difficult code to crack.

When I saw a representative advertising Mastermind at BlogHer, I saddled right on up with a smile. Since I already had the regular game, I was interested in what else was on the horizon. Her answer: Animal Mastermind Towers.

She and I played a portion of a trial game right there on the Expo floor, but I was most excited when she said she'd send me one for my family to review.

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September 17, 2010

SOYJOY Second Chances: Win $1000!

soy_joy_natural_fruit_soy_nutrition_bar.gifDuring BlogHer I was introduced to SOYJOY. I was fortunate to attend a breakfast talk with some fabulous food (some of which was indeed made with soy) and excellent speakers who explained some of the ways we could eat healthfully with our family. And, of course, they let us know the benefits of soy, while also speaking to some of the concerns we've heard in the media about soy products. It was a great event, and I was happy to come away with a sample of their new and improved SOYJOY bars. I received banana.

Well, when I heard that Mom Central was looking for folks to spread the word about the new SOYJOY flavors and encourage entry into their Second Chances Contest, I jumped at what would be my second chance to try SOYJOY.


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September 29, 2010

Mad Science KNOW Magazine

know_magazine_curious_kids.gifI used to be a scientist. Sometimes I say I stopped once I had children because of the whole work-family balance. Other times I simply say I "retired" since that sounds fancy coming from the mouth of someone who people sometimes ask "how old are you?" because they think I'm fresh out of high school. (Okay, this phenomena is dropping off rather quickly. Stay tuned because I'm going to review a wrinkle cream soon. Seriously.)

But all jokes aside, science is still a part of my life. I'm Co-chair of the Science Fair at my children's elementary school, and I sent them to Science Camp this past summer. I definitely want to pique their interest in "how things work" and to foster critical and curious minds.

With that in mind, when Mom Central asked for interested bloggers to learn more about Mad Science's KNOW: The Science Magazine for Curious Kids, I jumped in line. KNOW is intended for kids aged 6-9, and mine are exactly 6 and 9 - perfect!

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October 1, 2010

Family Recipes: Muppets Kitchen with Cat Cora!

cat_cora_and_muppets.gifI have tried to be a good mom when it comes to feeding my family healthful food, but something always gets in the way. Either it is a time-crunch situation, so I order pizza; or, I compose everything beautifully, but the kids won't try it. Of course over at Grandma's house, they'll eat whatever she gives them. And their friends can get them to try new foods, too.

The times we've cooked together, my kids have been more likely to try at least a spoonful of their creation. With this in mind, I was extremely excited to learn about Disney's Muppet Kitchen with Cat Cora. In specific, I was excited I was invited with my children to the Professional Culinary Institute to try out some recipes from the site. Free food and cooking instruction with my kids? Sign me up!

My younger son was particularly excited about this excursion because he adores reality-show-style cooking programs. He loves to get on his apron and expects to be a contestant when he is old enough. My older son, on the other hand, was skeptical, but I could tell he was a bit intrigued too: Muppets?

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October 11, 2010

My Ultimate Family Vacation

Sponsored By

Cheerios® is giving you the chance to win a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, your ultimate family vacation. As part of a paid promotion for their "Do What You Love" Sweepstakes, Cheerios® is sponsoring my post today about what my ultimate family vacation would be. Read mine, and then Enter the Sweepstakes for a chance to actually win your own fantasy family trip or one of a bunch of other great prizes.


My Ultimate Family Vacation would be part-private, part-people-watching. I'd want comfort, but then a little chaos. I'd want beautiful scenery, but also an opportunity to just sit in one place.

iStock_000004701539XSmall.jpgI'd love to have a luxurious pool all to myself and my family. The pool would have a swim-up bar, naturally. And of course it would need a waterfall and waterslide to entertain the kids. Yes, as much as it would be fun to have a "date vacation" with my hubby, I can't help but think my kids would adore time away from home as well. Perhaps the pool would have a little cave inside, but with a lifeguard carefully watching "just in case." Sure, we'd need a hot tub, although the regular pool temperature would already be warm. I'd love to have such an experience available to us at night. The pool would have plenty of tiny lights and other visual features.

Our hotel suite would include both sleeping quarters and a relaxation area. The reading nook would be far enough away from those asleep that lights or the sound of a computer beeping wouldn't be a distraction. In a truly "ultimate vacation" I'd be allowed to have a night (or five) without work; but knowing that such a thing is unlikely, I'd wish for reliable wireless internet that would enable me to get the deeds done as quickly as possible. No tiny circle table can contain the massive electronic needs of my family, so a booth-style long table or bar-type countertop easily accessible to an outlet (or power strip) would be a bonus. No uncomfortable chairs, please; we'd want cushions, preferably leather. (Mmm, I love the smell of leather...)

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October 14, 2010

Disney on Ice: Mickey and Minnie's Magical Adventure

Are you hoping to go to Mickey and Minnie's Magical Adventure in Northern CA while they are in town? I've got a Disney on Ice discount for you!

disney_on_ice_peter_pan_shadow.jpgWe got to see the Opening Night performance! My kids were pleased they were getting a mid-week treat. All their homework was done Tuesday night in anticipation of Wednesday's adventure. I was ready for a break, too. Both Monday and Tuesday had been pretty stressful, but Wednesday was productive in the morning and afternoon in anticipation of our evening outing.

The stars aligned, and traffic was light. I was relaxed. This was gooooood!

I had remembered to go to the ATM to have a twenty ready to hand over for parking. Except, it turned out parking had gone up to $25. Luckily I had more in my wallet. Whew!

The parking lot was nearly empty - we were early! - and I found a terrific spot. We walked towards the arena and my boys paid particular attention to the funny-looking porta-potties. That is, until they smelled them, yelped, and ran away. Diiii-sGUSTing!

They started making jokes as young boys do, but thankfully we reached the ticket office quickly. Even more thankfully, the lines were about nil, and will-call had my tickets right away. Excellent!

We ran into an interesting delay while trying to get food, but once we were seated, the excitement of the day resumed.

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October 21, 2010

Happy Time with McDonalds Halloween Pails

A few weeks ago I mentioned how McDonald's U.S. restaurants are donating proceeds from Happy Meal and Mighty Kids Meal sales to Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC.) I also mentioned the online campaign, "Make Family Time Happy Time." Through this website, families can get ideas for how to spend time together, and for every minute pledged, McDonalds will donate a penny to RMHC, with the goal of reaching $10,000 to use towards family time activities for RMHC guests.

Well, in honor of Halloween, there is another reason to purchase Happy Meals: Halloween Pails!


Some of you may remember these pails from your youth. They were last sold in 2001, so many of our kids haven't seen them before. The version this year features Mr. Potato Head and comes with a handle that doubles as a skeleton or pumpkin mask.

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November 1, 2010

Tangled: Rapunzel Lets Loose

Tangled_right.jpgOne of my favorite storybook characters was Rapunzel. Sure, she did pretty much nothing, aside from sitting in a tower. But that hair was mighty impressive. I used to put stockings on my head to simulate super-long hair. In fact, I was pretty good at wearing two at once to create an impressive braid. My favorite pair of tights to use for this purpose was dark red. Oh, to have long red hair!

Years later I did have super-long hair, but it was blonde. And then later when it was short, I dyed it red. Oh well.

Yes, the Rapunzel of my youth was beautiful, but passive. Conversely, the new film Tangled comes out November 24th, and stars a spunky, very-capable gal attached to those locks. Hey, I'd love to be kick-booty and have fabulous golden hair! (Okay, well I do have blonde hair, and am a Warrior.)

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November 2, 2010

Butterfinger Snackerz: Taking the Smooth to a New Level

Butterfinger_Snackerz.jpgWhat kind of Halloween candy is your favorite? Your answer might be none now that it is two-days-post-haul and your belly might not want to see another piece of chocolate or colored sugar for the remainder of your days. Or, you might just now be sneaking some of your kids' stash, or happily taking home some of that half-price stuff from your local supermarket.

For many years now, I've been thrilled to find that bright yellow and blue wrapper of a Butterfinger tucked into my trick-or-treating sack, or now, in my kids' bags.

It isn't surprising, then, that my eyes lit up when I saw the Butterfinger Snackerz booth at BlogHer. At first I figured the Snackerz were just a mini Butterfinger, but when I tried a sample, I learned that although the buttery-goodness is still there, the texture and taste is slightly different. The texture still has that satisfying crisp, but also includes more of a melt. And then the taste is a bit "lighter" with more of the chocolate shining through than in the original.

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November 6, 2010

Natural Candy for Autumn and Winter Holidays

dark_chocolate_covered_marshmallows.JPGI've mentioned the Squirrel's Nest before, because it is a favorite source of mine for Feingold-safe baking supplies and treats. But, it is worth a mention again, because we're gearing up for a season-of-treats.

The whole organic and all-natural food movement lately has meant that I have local stores in which I can purchase some of the baking supplies that I used to only order online, but I still go to the Squirrel's Nest for things like dark-chocolate covered marshmallows or chocolate solids, like this crispy pumpkin candy that is a fantastic all-natural, no-preservatives substitute for those nestle crunch lovers in your household. Most of the cute Santas, Chanukah Gelt, and Thanksgiving turkeys and other such things in the grocery stores are mass-produced and have things like BHA, BHT, TBHQ, and vanillian in them. But Nancy's confections at the Squirrel's Nest are free of these preservatives and artificial ingredients. (Can you resist these adorable chocolate mini ears of corn?)

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November 7, 2010

Little Alouette is Filled with BIG Delights

mustache_teether_little_jpgI've known of Amy Turn Sharp's wooden toy shop Little Alouette for quite awhile now, but it wasn't until this summer that I got to see her handiwork firsthand. Thanks to a discount in the Social Luxe Lounge giftbag during BlogHer, I ordered a bunch of toys for my 1-year-old niece. And then even though maple egg shakers might seem like a baby or toddler toy, I think my school-aged sons will get a kick out of finding a couple in their stockings this Christmas.

Heck, even I'd like to have a little shaker to hold once in awhile; the smooth wood is comforting, and tossing it up and down or between hands can be a great "fiddle activity" or stress-reliever. There, you heard it from me: adults love baby toys. (No joke, I'm also seriously considering getting a cashmere chime ball because it seems like something cool to play with.)

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November 8, 2010

Bop It, Preferably not on Someone's Head

bop_it_jpgI have plenty of fond memories of "family game night" as I grew up. Monopoly, Pay Day, Life, Chutes and Ladders, and a variety of other fun games lived in the credenza next to the television. We didn't have tons of video games "way back when" and so we made our fun with those physical games. I also enjoyed playing solo games like Simon. Imagine the thrill when I found the Simon app for my Droid! (Yes, I am also an Angry Birds addict, but having old favorites like Battleship on my phone makes me smile.)

My kids are primarily on the computer these days, but I still try to get them to play some traditional board games, or at least "traditional" in the sense that they don't involve electricity or an internet connection. I've already talked about Animal Mastermind Towers, and another game my boys love to play against each other is Star Wars Trouble. More recently, the highly portable game Bop It has taken center stage.

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November 11, 2010

zeum: The Creative Children's Museum for the Tech-Age

Outside zeumA few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending an event at zeum, an interactive computer, television, and animation space for children. (It is actually the San Francisco Children's Museum, morphed to keep up with technology.) I was there to learn about a computer game for preschoolers, but remained in only one room of the actual zeum facility. My boys were in school during that time, so didn't get a chance to see the space. Thankfully, we were invited back to actually delve into the zeum experience itself, so my boys and I spent the afternoon today on our zeum adventure.

At first my oldest was hesitant. He wanted to stay home on his vacation day to play video games. But, I explained that he'd be producing things on his own at zeum. He loves creating his own video game levels, so it made sense that he'd enjoy creating his own animation. Once he saw zeum, he agreed that the excursion was worth it. (He's even considering holding his birthday party there.)

My youngest was game from the beginning. I had told him about zeum right after I saw it in October, so he's been eager to go ever since. He's quite the "ham" so I knew he'd be interested in putting on a show.

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November 15, 2010

Hip, Hip, Hooray - The Cool Mom Picks Holiday Gift Guide Launched Today!

CMP_holiday.gifI am thrilled that the Cool Mom Picks Holiday Gift Guide launched today. Sure, some of my glee is purely because I'm a code-wrangler there, so finishing a big project is always rewarding. But more of my excitement involves the actual picks. Although I had a list-in-progress of things that I thought I might purchase for my various relatives and friends, the CMP Gift Guide made me change my mind on a few, and certainly filled in the blanks as I considered difficult-to-purchase-for people.

I expect I'll reference the Guide way past the holidays, too. I always do. When folks have new babies, decide to grow a year older, or just need a little "pick me up," I know that I'll find an appropriate gift on one of the Guides. Of course Cool Mom Picks has fabulous ideas every day, but having the Guide all laid out all purdy (I did that!) makes it easy to pick something at a glance.

I'm not going to lie - I emptied my wallet today - but I'm pretty sure that there will be some happy faces when they open their presents from me (if I do say so myself!) I bought gifts for a bazillion people, so definitely appreciated the "under $15" and "under $10" picks on the guide. You will do.

Get shopping!

Disclaimer: I'm on the Cool Mom Picks staff, but loved them even before I started working for them. No joke, the majority of the presents I purchase throughout the year are from a CMP guide or post.

November 17, 2010

Learning about Energy Conservation

pge_smart_meter.gifLast week turned into One Big Teachable Moment. Or, I suppose more appropriately, it was several moments with a common theme.

I've always been relatively eco-conscious. I feel guilty if I can't find a recycling bin (and will sometimes carry an empty can around with me until I do.) I am always turning off lights in the house (except there are certain ones that I want on even though my husband turns those off!) I conserve water, and I donate items to "re-use" day.

But I know I'm not perfect. I have plenty of appliances sucking energy when they aren't in use, and sometimes I forget my cloth shopping bags when going to the store, or purchase bottled water because I neglected to wash out my re-usable bottle.

My eco-efforts are a work in progress. Similarly, the way humans harness energy and deliver it to the population is a work in progress. Last week I had the opportunity to learn about PG&E's smart meter from Silver Spring Networks during an event hosted through Mom Central.

Continue reading "Learning about Energy Conservation" »

November 19, 2010

Tiny Prints, Big Impressions

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

ornament_card_tiny_prints.jpgI have been a tiny prints customer for years. I learned about this fabulous company in 2007 and promptly ordered my holiday cards from them. I received tons of compliments on our photo cards, and ended up starting a trend amongst my friends and family. Many sent tiny prints cards the following season.

Meanwhile, I didn't stop at holiday cards. I ordered personalized stationery for myself and for my boys. This past summer I ordered my business cards from tiny prints.

And today I got to take a tour of the tiny prints corporate office. It was quite a thrill to see where the magic happens, to learn more about the company's culture, and to receive samples of some of their hot new products for this year, such as the ornament card or the flip card. (There are many unique premium cards, as well as some beautiful budget-conscious options.)

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November 18, 2010

No Lice! (Is it just a Fairy Tale?)

Fairy_Tales_Rosemary_Lice_Repel_Shampoo.gifEvery time I see a light yellow piece of paper in one of my sons' backpacks, I cringe. These "lice alerts" let me know that a child in that particular classroom has lice. Sometimes I only receive one paper. Other times, both boys bring home papers and I hold my breath. We received these notices through preschool and now during grade school. It seems as though lice is always traveling around the school.

But... knock on wood... knock HEAVILY on wood... the lice have not taken up residence in my house or on my boys' heads. (I'm seriously going to knock on wood a few more times here.) I remember dealing with lice a few times during my youth and it was absolutely no fun. I can only imagine how much worse the "mother" role is in the whole scenario.

If I were confident, I'd sing it out: "Not a louse in the house! Oh yeaaaaaah!" But I really don't want to get a puffed-up chest about this, because I fear by simply typing this post I'm welcoming the inevitable.

But for now, we're good.

Continue reading "No Lice! (Is it just a Fairy Tale?)" »

November 22, 2010

popchips: the healthier way to dig potato chips

One of my favorite race-bag additions is popchips. I'm fortunate that reps from popchips are often handing out free bags in the post-race area after some of the trail runs from my favored organized running company. Just as I crave a little salt, the popchips are right there. And yet, I'm not completely sabotaging my diet by partaking. You see, popchips aren't fried. In fact, they aren't even baked. They are popped!

I know what you are picturing - rice cakes, anyone? - seriously, this is much different.


Popchips have actual flavor. It is amazing to me that a single-serve bag is only 100 calories and 3.5 grams of fat. The ingredients are natural - I can pronounce every word on the bag. This isn't a chemically-laden snack food. They start with real potatoes, and POP! them. They then add seasoning using the actual ingredients they want the chip to taste like. Remember, no manufactured flavors out of chemicals!

I've always loved the original potato and barbecue potato flavors, but when popchips sent me a whole variety of flavors, I found a new favorite: cheddar potato!

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November 28, 2010

The Coolest Holiday Tech Gifts

A couple weeks ago, Cool Mom Picks launched their annual holiday gift guide. I've already purchased several items from that particular list of excellence. And then on Friday, Cool Mom Tech launched its tech-oriented holiday gift guide - whoo! As full disclosure, I was part of this project, but had to laugh when I discovered that many of the items on there are already wrapped under my tree. Er, well, they would be if we had our tree up yet.

Go check it out - there are many items on there that you simply wouldn't have considered, but that will be just perfect for that special someone on your holiday gift list. (And yeah, that "special someone" might be you.)

December 13, 2010

Family Game Night

mythbusters.gifOh, I know what you are thinking. No, I'm not talking about the type of Family Game Night where everyone is wearing matching turtlenecks with identical smiles. Yes, I know the importance of sitting down to dinner together and spending time together, but realistically it is tough.

Usually "Game Night" it is not exactly a scheduled situation. Rather, it is a spontaneous, "Hey, will you play Towers with me?" Or my two boys will start playing together, but then the first gets bored so the second asks a parent to join in. Then the first comes back. The fun catches on.

A lot of times our family gravitates towards games on the Wii, such as our latest acquisition, Tony Hawk's Shred. This game was exciting to receive because while I love Wii Sports Resort, they don't allow goofy-foot snowboarding. But Tony Hawk does!

But recently, I had the pleasure of obtaining several new board games from The Wonder Forge, the creators of ZimZala Games for older kids, and I Can Do That games for preschoolers.

Continue reading "Family Game Night" »

May 2, 2011

National Donut Day

entenmann_donut_day.gifMy oldest son adores donuts. His super-thin frame doesn't give away that on occasion he can eat about four donuts in fewer than that many hours. Fortunately for our figures, we don't do a donut run on a daily basis, but for June 3rd's National Donut Day, we definitely will.

While we still have a month left to go before the big event, from today until June 3rd, Entenmann's will donate $1 (up to $10,000) to the Salvation Army for every Facebook "like" they receive. As if that weren't enough, they will be giving away many daily prizes, as well as 10 iPads. (Mmm, iPads are just yummy enough to gobble up, too!)

Why the Salvation Army? Well, apparently Salvation Army volunteers served donuts to troops in WWI, so the organization is credited with popularizing the donut in the U.S. This year in honor of National Donut Day, Entenmann's wishes to honor this service, which likely brought comfort to those young men far away from home.

Disclaimer: For publicizing their Donut Day donation to the Salvation Army, I will receive an Entenmann's Donut Day "prize pack" which will help fund my son's sugar habit. No further compensation or commission will occur as a result of this post.

April 30, 2011

April Shout-Outs

Now that the advertising rules have changed for my main blog, The Karianna Spectrum, I've started posting some brand-specific shout-outs on there. This blog will still be in use from time to time depending on the nature of the announcement or review. But, in case you missed it over on The Spectrum:

- I was excited about the launch of Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo's VT Luxe Collection for QVC. Affordable style is always in fashion!

- My youngest son loved Design Squad Nation's Ingenuity Day, plus he really loves the Super WHY! app (there is also a Super Why PAINT! app out now, too!)

- I learned that one of my college Christian Fellowship leaders has a new venture, The Providence Granola Project. In addition to creating yummy granola, the organization is providing valuable job skills training for refugees.

- With Mother's Day fast approaching, I recommended that readers consider sending a free e-card to their mom (or other mom-like individual) to honor them through Macy's "Thank a Mom" Movement benefiting 5 different charities (you choose which one you wish to support!)

Disclaimers are posted on the original entries explaining when and what type of compensation was given for some of these promotions.

May 13, 2011

Cars 2 Movie - Whoo!

Cars2_movie_poster.jpgI'm fortunate to get a lot of press releases about movies. I'm asked to preview movies and then perhaps post the trailer. Most of the time I don't - not because I don't think it might be a good flick, but because I personally have no strong desire to see it. (I'm definitely an "eh, I'll get it on Netflix"-type person.)

But I went to a media event for the Cars 2 Video Game Tuesday night, and last year while in Anaheim learned about the soon-to-be-opened "CarsLand" attraction at California Adventure. And then there is the whole thing that I have two boys who are big fans of the original Cars.

So yeah, I'm looking forward to the release of Cars 2. Check out the Cars 2 trailers over at iTunes to whet your appetite. (And check out the Cars 2 video game developer diaries I posted earlier this week.)

I think this movie is one I'll take my boys to see in the actual cinema. Cars 2 hits theaters June 24th - see you there!

June 2, 2011

Chugging Along with Chugginton's Traintastic Cargo Game

chuggington_traintastic_cargo_board_game.jpgLast winter I had the pleasure of receiving and reviewing some games from The Wonder Forge. I was thrilled that they approached me again this spring to check out their newest offering for preschool train aficionados: Chugginton's Traintastic Cargo Game.

Trains are a hot commodity for the toddler and preschool set. Back when my boys were small, I spent many hours in various train museums and at model train displays. We rode trains, we built trains, and we talked trains.

As every educator knows, making a topic relevant to someone makes it easier to learn. And so, a board game focusing on colors, shapes, numbers, memory, and trains is destined to be a hit with those girls and boys who proudly run around yelling "choo-choo!" and begging to ride their favorite local train again and again.

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June 21, 2011

Going Cars 2 Crazy

Cars2_video_game.jpgI've been super-excited about the release of Cars 2 since even before the Cars 2 media event, but even more so during and afterwards. Thankfully the wait is nearly over, as the movie hits theaters this Friday, June 24th. Plus, I received a copy of the Cars 2 video game just a few days ago (and of course, the boys have been playing ever since.)

While my younger son had a bit of a learning curve to conquer, my older son picked it up quickly and soon taught his brother. Plus, the tutorial mode made it enjoyable for both to learn. They've enjoyed playing the various roles in the video game and are definitely eager to see the actual movie.

Don't miss a super-special event for folks in the Bay Area: Lightening McQueen, Mater, and Finn McMissle will be zooming on down to The Tech in SJ this Sat from 10am-4pm for their only Northern California public appearance. Imagine what a weekend it would be to take the kids to the movie on Friday and then let them actually see the life-sized cars on Saturday!


Disclaimer: I received a copy of the Cars 2 video game for free, and earlier attended a media event to preview the film and movie. I am am Amazon affiliate.

July 5, 2011

Back to the Circus

Fully_Charged _200.pngOr the circus is coming back.

Either way, my boys and I will be eager to see Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's next show. We've had a blast the other times we've gone, and the feel of the performances have been very different each time we go.

As a bonus, unlike past tours, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Fully Charged will be playing at HP Pavilion at San Jose, Cow Palace in Daly City, and ORACLE Arena in Oakland: three weeks, three venues.

Of course, I have a discount code for you:

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September 8, 2011

Fully Charged Missed, but a Treasure Trove Awaits

negrey_troupe_fullly_charged.jpgThursday night my boys and I were supposed to see Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Fully Charged. I admit I was a little nervous about taking them out on a school night, but they love the circus, so figured I'd take my chances. But it wasn't the kids' homework, or fatigue, or anything like that that kept us from our date.

It was my crazy left eye.

During my youngest son's soccer practice, I noticed my eye was getting a bit irritated. I sort of swiped my contact in the hopes of re-positioning it to a more comfortable spot. As we drove to the ATM (because I realized I had forgotten cash for the parking fee) I realized my contact was wedged in the corner of my eye.

Not good. And certainly not good for driving to what I expected would be an electrifying performance.

Continue reading "Fully Charged Missed, but a Treasure Trove Awaits" »

July 11, 2011

Psyched for this - The Muppets

Get ready for Muppet Domination:

August 2, 2011

Summer Vacation with Phineas and Ferb's Video Game

Phineas_and_Ferb_Across_2nd_Dimension_Video_Game.jpgFor more than a few summer vacations - and other times throughout the year - I've had the Phineas and Ferb theme song engrained in my brain. During the school year it is funny (as the boys lament that it isn't summer vacation) and during the summer it is downright freaky. After all, my kids do try to build a variety of contraptions, but unfortunately we don't have a clean-in-ator to magically zap their efforts into the ether. (I do have a long white lab coat and a black turtleneck, though.) That is, we didn't until now.

You see, with the Phineas and Ferb Across the 2nd Dimension video game, my boys can construct all they want virtually without a physical mess. (This particularly awesome as I don't want to see an actual world of gelatin in my living room.)

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July 30, 2011

Blissful Over blissmo!

blissmo_eco_conscious_organic_flash_sale_site.jpgSome time ago I was running a giveaway here. I posted it on Prizey, and while I was over there, figured I'd check out the other giveaways going on. One in particular caught my eye - for some bars from Core Foods. As a super-busy person who is always in my van chauffeuring someone to something, or at my computer with deadlines that don't involve the oven timer, I was attracted to the idea of 100% organic, raw, whole food to-go. Often convenience bars are filled with bleech, but these sounded good. And so I entered to win a case. Why not? I figured.

Well, I didn't win. But, Core Foods emailed me promoting a deal from this company called blissmo. For a deep discount I could get a sample set of all the Core Food bars, plus a voucher for an entire case of my favorite flavor.

Continue reading "Blissful Over blissmo!" »

July 31, 2011

TV Without Commercials with Ameba

No, I don't mean your DVR.

Sometimes it is tricky to find kid-friendly shows without the non-kid-friendly intrusions. Even kids' movies these days have previews that aren't exactly compatible with the movie's target audience. Plenty of public television stations and cable channels aimed at families and kids still have advertisements, many of which aren't age-appropriate.

ameba_logo_words.gifRecently my family has done a lot of Netflix streaming, but with their new price plans, many families have decided to back away. Plus, families with young children don't particularly want their kids to accidentally browse over to adult fare.

One possible alternative for kid-friendly, educational television is Ameba commercial-free children's media.

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August 9, 2011

BlogHer Bars, Take a Bow!

I don't go to the BlogHer Conference for the Expo. (In fact the first couple conferences didn't have an expo.) My main focus is to hang out with friends I've met through blogging, meet new folks, and do a few sessions that might teach me something new. But I still go to the Expo. I use products on a regular basis that I originally learned about through my blogging activities.

skinny_cow_candy.jpgThis year's Expo was pretty food-heavy. In particular, it was pretty convenience-food happy. This is fine - because after all I'm a busy person - but I'm typically pretty wary about whether such things have too many additives, or too many calories.

I was pleased to see Skinny Cow represented since I love their ice cream. I happily snacked on some of their dreamy clusters during a writing session, and then took home their heavenly crisp bar in the milk chocolate flavor, which my son proclaimed the absolute yummiest bar ever. I already knew from the tasty ice-cream that Skinny Cow doesn't lose flavor just because they are lower in calories than the traditional desserts, but the clusters and bars brought home that point. After all, who can say their 10 year old son approves of the taste of "diet food?" Well, my son is begging me to buy more.

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August 11, 2011

The Winning Holiday Gift - Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

the_big_toy_book_Sweet_Suite_Event.jpg(Yeah, I know what you are thinking - how can we possibly discuss gift-giving holidays when it is still summertime? Well, I'm in denial that school starts in less than two weeks, so I might as well get a jump on December.)

When I was invited to the Big Toy Book's Sweet Suite Event (featuring KidzVuz) during the BlogHer Conference, of course I accepted. Who doesn't like toys?

hexbug.jpgThere were certainly several products that caught my eye at the Suite, such as the new zombie and glow-in-the-dark Hexbugs. (I posted about Hexbug Nanos last year after seeing them in the Mom Select Swag Suite during BlogHer; they appeared at Mom Select this year, too, in addition to the Big Toy Book event.) The zombies will be out at Halloween, and I'm definitely eager to grab them up!

lite_sprite.jpgAnd then even though I have boys, my fairy-loving youngest son would adore Light Sprites. I watched a demo at the Suite of how the "lite wand" can pick up any color and transfer to the playsets. It is tons of fun, and will appeal to those who love sparkles, light, and sprites.

There were plenty of amazing products at the Suite, but by far the one that will likely end up in Santa's sack this year (shhhh!) is Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure. My boys are both Wii fans, and definitely adventure fans. They love collecting little characters and moving through video game worlds.

Skylanders_Spiro_Adventure_video_Game.jpgThis game is different, though. The characters aren't just on the screen; they are physical collectible figures. These figures enter the virtual game when the player puts the character on top of the portal. Poof! The character shows up on the screen!

The progress of the character is attached to the actual figure. For playdates, the child can just take their character(s) and enter the game over at his or her buddy's place. The characters work across platforms, so even if one child has a Wii and the other has an Xbox 360 or PS3, not to worry - both kids' characters will work wherever they are. And when it is time to go home, the child leaving can just stick the figure in his pocket; no need to wait for a "save point" in the game, since all items and abilities will be saved to the figure. (If the character is wearing a hat in the game when the playdate ends, then the character will still be wearing the hat in the game back at home.)

Continue reading "The Winning Holiday Gift - Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure" »

August 17, 2011

Frozen Yogurt! Fro-Yo! Coco-Swirl!

cocoswirl_yogurt.jpgWhenever I tweet a status update that indicates that I'm enjoying Coco-Swirl, I inevitably have friends who chuckle about how that is the perfect drag queen name. Nonetheless, I am a huge fan of this nonfat treat.

My very first "real" job (aside from babysitting and cleaning neighbors' homes) was working at our local frozen yogurt joint (which is sadly now a Subway. I love Subway, but I love frozen yogurt more.) The place was called "Naturally Yogurt," and it carried all-natural varieties of frozen yogurt that I could actually eat (on the Feingold diet) unlike the rainbow flavored/colored stuff in the more traditional franchises around town. Eventually the place was renamed "Scoops," but I definitely preferred the "Naturally Yogurt" moniker.

While an employee, I learned how to clean the yogurt machines (a task that is much cooler than it sounds) and of course I got to eat some free yogurt. Shhh, don't tell anyone, but we used to trade employees of the hamburger restaurant next door fries for yogurt. I dipped my fries in vanilla yogurt. And I also dipped carrots and celery in vanilla yogurt. (It is better than it sounds, seriously.)

And so now that I've lost all credibility thanks to my potato-and-veggie-combined-with-dessert meals I enjoyed as a teenager, lemme tell you about Coco-Swirl!

It is yummy! The End.

My kids love to go to Coco-Swirl as a treat. I love to go because I'll take my beloved frozen yogurt and then add toppings like mochi and tiny cheesecake squares. We didn't have sophisticated toppings like that back in my Naturally Yogurt days.

When I moved back east for college, I was freaked out that maybe frozen yogurt was only a California thing. Thankfully, that wasn't true, but back home Scoops did close. Although many chains ended up closing for about a decade, I am so grateful that places like Coco-Swirl are now around to feed my obsession.

Disclaimer: I love frozen yogurt. I could live on it - and maybe also sushi - forever. Coco-Swirl did not ask me to post about them, nor will I receive compensation for this post.

August 15, 2011

More About Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure!

As if I needed more reason to be excited for the October 16th launch of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, here's a walkthrough of one of the levels that serves as a great introduction to what makes this game special:

They taunt me with the awesomeness!

This is not just a level preview, but also a pretty great explanation of the nuts and bolts of the game. For example, the narrator (Yale Miller, the game's producer) explains how there are different element characters (which of course provide different necessary benefits for certain aspects of the game) and how the game works across platforms. I love that the characters can come and go without having to wait for a "save point" on traditional games. The toys here truly do come to life! Like some similar games, each character has different attributes, but unlike those other games, each character here has the potential to unlock completely different areas of gameplay.

My kids and I are definitely eager for the game's launch on October 16th.

Preorder Skylander's: Spyro's Adventure now from Amazon!

Disclaimer: I was introduced to Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure thanks to an event in San Diego at the beginning of August.* I mentioned how this is the winning holiday gift for this year. It truly is! The fantastic people behind this game and its promotion gave me the link to the video above. When I link to Skylanders on Amazon, I am using my affiliate code, which means I get a few cents of commission if you happen to purchase anything.

I've written about Skyanders here:
- The Winning Holiday Gift: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
- More about Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
- It's Hard to Wait: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
- Just Another Week to Wait: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
- Skylanders - Yes, We Play it All Day!

*Update: As a pleasant surprise, the Activision folks sent me the game and some additional characters as a thank-you for promoting the game and to facilitate a review once the game was actually released! This post was written before the release.

August 22, 2011

purity.Organic Iced-Tea + Lemonade

purity_organic_iced_tea_lemonade.jpgI'm not a super-big iced tea drinker, although I'll have it on occasion. And lemonade is tasty and refreshing, but is often a bit too sweet for my tastes. Imagine my forehead-slapping surprise when I came across a solution to a problem I didn't know I had. Amongst my latest blissmo box of yummy treats was a single bottle of purity.Organic iced tea + lemonade.

Yes! People put all kinds of sweeter and lemon in their iced-tea, why not lemonade?

I tried the drink with a little skepticism, but also excitement. Verdict = yum! It is refreshing, not too sweet, and not too bitter. It is the perfect mix of flavors. It is satisfying without being heavy.

This stuff is half organic lemonade and half fair-trade black tea. It isn't from concentrate, and does't pack as high a caloric punch as many sweetened drinks. Each 2-serving bottle is 80 calories per serving, for a total of 160 calories per bottle.

purity.Organic iced tea + lemonade is sweetened with cane sugar, not any of that crazy HFCS. And there are no unpronounceable ingredients. The bottle is made of PET rather than glass because the company says it is lighter (takes less energy to produce and ship) and because it can be recycled to make many new products.

I'm definitely excited by this lemonade-iced-tea blend and will be looking for it at my local grocer.

Disclaimer: I just happened upon this drink in my blissmobox and thought it was innovative and delicious enough to share here. I will not receive commission or compensation if you buy from purity.Organic; however, if you sign up for blissmo emails I'll get a tiny kick-back if you purchase one of their deals.

August 24, 2011

I'm a Nutcase!

nutcase_bike_helmets.jpgI'm not going to lie and say I do a lot of bike-riding (although I did when I was younger!) But when I go out cycling I like to keep my noggin safe.

For years now I've been buying the helmets in the bike section of various all-purpose stores. We even got some free helmets once during a health event. But, these seemed to wear out really quickly, well before their time.

I first learned about Nutcase Helmets thanks to my teammates, the same folks who invented Sparkle Skirts. I visited the Nutcase site, and immediately ordered a pretty pink one for my head.

My youngest son was insanely jealous, so stole it for himself a couple times. Thanks to the adjustable pads, it can fit his head, too.

Otherwise, here are the helmets my boys have been wearing:

Continue reading "I'm a Nutcase!" »

September 26, 2011

Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster

If you are one of those lucky people with a Kinect, check out the new Sesame Street game, Once Upon a Monster, which hits stores October 11th. This adventure is a multi-player, co-op gameplay experience designed to enhance social and emotional development.

Disclaimer: The fine folks at Sesame Street gave me access to this trailer. I support their projects, so decided to post it here. I will not receive compensation for this post.

September 2, 2011

It is Hard to Wait: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

bash_skylanders_spyros_adventure_screenshot.jpgI first learned of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure at the Big Toy Book's Sweet Suite Event. Shortly after I returned from San Diego I posted about how Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is likely going to be the "must-have" holiday gift this winter season for elementary-school-aged boys (and probably middle-school boys, and plenty of girls, and even middle-aged women such as myself.) I then followed up with a wii walkthrough for folks who wanted a bit more information.

Well, I just got a character bio sheet that I wanted to share with you folks. Completely coincidentally, when the email with this bio sheet came in, my eldest son was asking me, "When is Skylanders coming out again?" and "How many characters are there gonna be?"

It is sad to say, but when a package arrived on our doorstep that night, my son cried because it wasn't the game. Logically, he knows it doesn't come out until October 16th, but he made a wish that it would come earlier. He just hopes that somehow the game will magically be released sooner so that he and his younger brother can partake in the adventure.

Continue reading "It is Hard to Wait: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure" »

October 10, 2011

Just Another Week to Wait: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

My boys have been counting down to October 16th ever since I learned of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure at BlogHer.

Today I got an email that reads, "In honor of Skylanders: Spryo's Adventure shipping this week..." I read it aloud - "SHIPPING THIS WEEK" - and my boys knew exactly what I was talking about, and started jumping around, dancing.

After all, with every package that lands on our doorstep, no wonder how big or how small, they turn to each other, wide-eyed, "Skylanders?!" as if there would be a "mistake" at the factory that would lead to us receiving the precious game well before the official release. Sorry, Guys, but you don't have so long to wait now!

In the meantime, my kids have enjoyed watching Skylanders commercials, plus little vignettes like this one of "Ghost Roaster" - a character perfect for Halloween:

And then there is Terrafin. For those vintage-SNL fans, "Land Shark!"

My youngest is already in love with Whirlwind. Rainbows, for the win!

There are plenty of other characters waiting to be discovered.

Just a week left - whooooooo! (But, you can preorder Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure now from Amazon!)

I've written about Skyanders here:
- The Winning Holiday Gift: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
- More about Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
- It's Hard to Wait: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
- Just Another Week to Wait: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
- Skylanders - Yes, We Play it All Day!

Disclaimer: I received one of the Skylanders as part of the Big Toy Book's Sweet Suite event at BlogHer. I am eager for this game, so have agreed to help promote it.* When I link to Skylanders on Amazon, I am using my affiliate code, which means I get a few cents of commission if you happen to purchase anything.

Be sure to check out the Skylanders game website for more information!

*Update: As a pleasant surprise, the Activision folks sent me the game and some additional characters as a thank-you for promoting the game and to facilitate a review once the game was actually released! This post was written before the release.

November 16, 2011

Holiday Games from Wonderforge

wonder_forge_logo.jpgLet's face it, the rest of 2011 is going to be one huge landslide from turkey talk to opening presents. Although I started my holiday shopping early, I'm realizing that my headstart wasn't as great as I thought it was now that the calendar says it is mid-November. It is definitely exciting to see what some of my favorite manufacturers are rolling out in time for December.

I've been a Wonder Forge fan for awhile (check out my Family Game Night post for a few older kids' games or Chugginton's Traintastic Cargo Game for the younger set.) Well, it is no surprise that they are back this autumn with some new offerings that no doubt will end up in Santa's Sleigh.

First up is another Chugginton offering: Chuggington: Let's Ride the Rails game. This is a board game, but it comes with three train figurines that could be used for fun off-board, too. The object of the game is to figure out the "mystery animal" that stays behind at Safari Park when the rest of the animals escape. Our hero trains Wilson, Brewster, and Koko pick up the escaped animals en route to discovering the identity of the "mystery animal." This is a guessing game, but for older players can be modified to be both a guessing game and a memory game to keep it challenging. Let's Ride the Rails Game earned the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio "Best Toy Award" gold seal.

Continue reading "Holiday Games from Wonderforge" »

November 13, 2011

Tiny Prints Holiday Cards

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

naughty.jpgLast week I had the pleasure of attending not one, but two luncheons surrounding holiday greetings. Admittedly, I get nervous when I learn about "competing" products because I end up loving them all, and don't want to choose one over the other.

Well, I'm in luck because although I got to check out the latest offerings from one of my long-term favorites - tiny prints - the other luncheon I attended dealt with a very different product, so I won't feel guilty for profiling them both, here. (So stay tuned...)

So... tiny prints and I go waaaaay back. Seriously.

nice.jpgI learned about them way back in 2008. Family and friends gushed about my holiday photo cards that year, and so in 2009 I noticed many of the holiday cards we received had "tiny prints" on the back. Of course, in 2010 I kept up the trend, and posted about them after a tour of their digs. Last year I sent the naughty/nice flip card, and the recipients absolutely raved about it.

That makes this year's card a challenge, since I think last year's was The Best Ever. But... here are some designs that I've saved in my "favorites" at tiny prints:

Continue reading "Tiny Prints Holiday Cards" »

November 17, 2011

Be a Savvy Shopper

savvy_logo.jpgOn Tuesday I had the pleasure of being introduced to a beta version of Savvy, a shopping app that will rock your world. The updated iPhone app launches today! (Android users, hold on because December 2nd will be your lucky day.)

Have you experienced either of these situations?

Scenario One: You see something you absolutely loooove, but the price is just a tad out of your budget. You promise yourself you'll keep checking to see if it goes on sale, but you forget, or don't have time to obsessively monitor it, so end up buying something later that isn't as fabulous as that first find.

Scenario Two: You buy something you adore, but then mere days later you see it for half-off, or your best friend gushes that she got the same item for way less than what you paid.

With Savvy in your pocket, you won't lose. Here's how:

Continue reading "Be a Savvy Shopper" »

December 1, 2011

My Eco-Friendly Answer to Holiday Gift Wrapping

I spent a good portion of the day wrapping up family gifts using the various wrapping paper I stored in the shed. Sometimes I'm careful as I unwrap my own gifts so that I can re-use the paper. But, I've got to admit that seeing a few silverfish and spiders squashed against some of my older saved paper made me think maybe this isn't such a great route. (For the record, I put tape over the squished remains of our insect friends so that they wouldn't touch the actual present. And I'm giving those presents to my husband.)

Yeah, so I'm not perfect. I buy gift wrap from my kids' fundraisers, and I use it.

pottery_barn_kids_santa_baga.jpgWhen my kids were small, I had a separate roll of "Santa wrap" which of course was used only from the gifts from Santa. (I had heard too many tales of clever toddlers wondering why Daddy's gift to Mommy was wrapped the same as the gifts to the kids from Santa.)

I even got different wrap for each kid so they knew which belonged to them: For my older green-aficionado, it was shiny green (of course.) My younger son then got peppermint-striped paper. I kept this up for several years, and used a lot of paper.

Last year, I decided to get lazy.

Continue reading "My Eco-Friendly Answer to Holiday Gift Wrapping" »

December 22, 2011

How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical!

Grinch_Max_Musical.jpgI adore musicals, so it was a no-brainer to accept when SHN asked if I wanted to bring the family to How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical.

The San Francisco show officially began last night and will run through 12/29.

The show clicks in at an hour and 20 minutes, which is completely do-able for kids. Since there is no intermission, there is none of that crazy trying to decide whether to use the restroom and potentially miss the start of the next portion of the show. Plus, an 80 minute show is shorter than most movies these days, so the kids won't have trouble sitting still.

Wreath_Grinch_Stole_Christmas_Musical.jpgThey also won't have trouble sitting still because they'll be so engrossed in the happenings on stage. After all, that is the point. I expected my sons to adore the show, but I didn't realize just how fabulous it would be. The cast was polished, the sets were delightfully whimsical, the tunes were catchy, and the script was divine. I found myself laughing aloud at the unexpected twists and touches.

grinch_and_son.jpgMy "cool" older son who was initially skeptical had a wide grin on his face the whole time, especially in response to a good helping of belching and farting humor, but also because of non-stinky physical humor, kazoos, and mice. He was also thrilled with the ode to green, his favorite color. The audience had opportunity to participate in the show, too, which really brings it alive for everyone. My youngest son was definitely smitten with the Grinch, and insisted on taking him home in stuffed-animal form.

After the show, we were lucky to meet with the star of the show himself, played by Stefan Karl, also known as Robbie Rotten in Lazy Town. My green-loving son of course was thrilled when the Grinch picked up on his clothing choice, "Ah-ha! You are wearing green, too! Smart man!" Alas, this son was too timid to pose with the Grinch, but his fearless younger brother (who was also wearing green) was happy to oblige this camera-happy mom. Afterwards, my oldest laughed, "Heheheh, I'm glad I didn't get my picture taken 'cause he gave YOU massive bunny fingers!"

grinch_poster.jpgHow the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical was definitely worth an afternoon of our time. Although it is in the San Francisco Bay Area this year, it might find its way to your place next year, so keep your eyes out.

Can't go to the show? There are some Grinch coloring pages and other fun things to do with your tripped-up-on-candy-canes kids, such as "Find the Grinch" or sending a Grinch-themed holiday card. These are all free and can be done from the comfort of your own holiday-hectic home!

Thank you to SHN and the cast and crew of How The Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical for putting us in the holiday spirit while letting us laugh off the pounds that we'll gain snacking on our holiday sweets!

Disclaimer: SHN gave my family a pack of tickets to see the show for free - wheeeee! On-stage photos above are from the website.

January 8, 2012

Tangled Ever After and Beauty and the Beast: Together

I loved Beauty and the Beast and own the DVD. About a week ago, the kids caught a showing of it and were excited to hear it is coming back in theaters, this time in 3D. Although I love a good cinema outing, I'm not sure exactly how the 3D is going to impact the whole deal. But, what has really caught my eye is the short occurring before the main event. Tangled Ever After picks up where Tangled left off. I love me a good Rapunzel story (did you catch the version on Grimm?) so a continuation of the Disney version is welcome:

Beauty and the Beast in 3D comes to theaters on January 13th.

January 16, 2012

Beauty and the Beast in 3D Opens Today

Today is the magic day! It is time to watch Beauty and the Beast in 3D and the accompanying short Tangled Ever After.

Here's a little preview of Beauty and the Beast to whet your appetite:

January 25, 2012

Classroom Valentines!

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

Let's cut to the chase: those little grocery-store Valentines that I used to give to my classmates when I was small no longer cut it. In this day of Elf on the Shelf and elaborate St. Patrick's Day "mischief set ups" (that somehow end in a pot of gold for the kid) it isn't uncommon to receive personalized cookies, little embroidered gift bags, or at least some candy from each kid at school for Valentine's Day.


Luckily, you need not know how to knit or spend hours assembling gift packets (although I have for several years - see two examples above!) Adorable, impressive, high-quality classroom Valentine Cards are easy to get at Tiny Prints.

Continue reading "Classroom Valentines!" »

April 27, 2012

Santa Clara Disney Store Grand Opening!

Disney_Store_Logo.pngUp in Northern California we are just far enough away from Disneyland to not go all that often, and yet close enough so that we get a little envious when our fellow Californians seem to go every weekend. But, we NorCal folks have our own little mini-fantasy lands in our malls with the Disney Store. My local mall's version is pretty small, but tomorrow is the Grand Opening of a new Disney Store at the Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara. This is a new "concept store" that goes beyond the traditional stuff-on-a-shelf display cases. For example, the store includes a Disney Princess castle with a magic mirror, where children are encouraged to play and interact. Each time a child waves a magic wand in front of the mirror a Disney Princess will appear, bringing the fairytale to life. For those who aren't into princesses, there is an interactive CARS world. And don't miss the Disney Store Theatre.

princess_section.jpgThis new Disney Store includes elements that are unique to Santa Clara. Disney characters on the walls are placed in historic landmarks such as the Santa Clara Depot, the Santa Clara Interlocking Tower, Mission Santa Clara de Asis, the Harris-Lass Historic Museum, and much more. I know my son will get a kick out of seeing his favorite characters interacting with familiar local places. (See, Mickey, Belle, Aurora, Donald Duck, and Cinderella don't all just live down in Anaheim or Orlando!)

The official Grand Opening begins at 10am on Saturday, April 28. The first 500 guests to attend the grand opening celebration will receive a free gift. From noon to 4 p.m. a meet and greet with Mickey and Minnie Mouse will take place in the mall's center court, with an opportunity for guests to take photos with the characters.

Of course, the Disney Store hopes you'll buy some great goods while attending the Grand Opening; the Disney Store will donate 10 percent of grand opening day's sales to Make-A-Wish®. Sounds good: you can make both your child's and another child's wishes come true all in one day!

I'm eager to check it out for myself tomorrow!

Disclaimer: Disney Store logo, photo, and some descriptive text are from Disney Store North America. Although I was invited to a preview event, I was unable to attend. I hope to attend a small media walkthough tomorrow morning to experience the magic on my own. I received no compensation for this post; I'm posting because I enjoy Disney magic.

April 28, 2012

A Mickey Mouse Morning

IMG_20120428_093519.jpgMy Disney-crazy son and I awakened early this morning in order to go to the Santa Clara Disney Store grand opening at the Westfield Valley Fair. We both wore Disney attire, and were thrilled to go behind the scenes at the store before it was open to the public.

My son was particularly enthralled with a magic mirror in the princess castle display that played a movie clips from various Disney movies. Each piece of merchandise around the display (tiara or wand) played a different clip. So Cinderella's wand would play one clip, while Arial's tiara would play another one. Kids wave their favorite princess' tiara or wand in front of the magic mirror to activate it. (Tiara and wand each have their own separate clips per princess.) New and seasonal characters will activate the mirror from time to time, so each visit to the Disney Store might be different for your child.

I loved the pixie dust on the floor (embedded into the floor; don't worry about tripping!) and was thrilled to see a display for Brave the flick coming to theaters June 22nd featuring the fiery Princess Merida. I also got a kick out of seeing Toy Story cowgirl Jessie's very sparkly cowboy hat. My son loved the chandelier. Clearly, we like sparkle!

The stuffed animal tower is interactive: a tunnel beneath the tower provides a little hiding nook, while a button on the side creates wacky sounds. Twisting a lever prompts the tower's top to spin around. The Disney Theater is also interactive: it operates like a jukebox so kids can select their favorite clip to watch while Mom and Dad are in the check-out line.

My son called the new Santa Clara Disney Store the "best store ever" and wished to share his impressions with you:

Remember, the Disney Store will donate 10 percent of grand opening day's sales to Make-A-Wish® - so come on down!

Disclaimer: My son and I received a gift bag for visiting the store today; it was a privilege to walk through prior to the official Grand Opening. I will receive no further compensation or commission. We just love Disney and enjoy spreading the word!

June 8, 2012

Personalized Graduation Gift: My M&Ms

DSC_0015.JPGI'm rather shocked, but today was my oldest son's last day of elementary school. Although this technically isn't a "graduation" since that term is reserved for high-school, he's still moving on to a different school. As such, I wanted to commemorate the moment a bit more specially than the typical "congratulations on the end of the school year!"

This year I chose personalized M&Ms. I was vaguely familiar that it was possible to order bags of specific colors of M&Ms, particularly those colors not found in regular bags found in the grocery store. I remember buying an all-yellow bag for a nephew a few years ago.

DSC_0010.JPGRight before Mother's Day, I got an e-advertisement from "My M&Ms." I was intrigued by the idea of being able to put personalized messages and images on the candy. Rather than choosing the school colors of next-year's destination, I selected his favorite colors: green and white. I then put little congratulatory messages on half of them, and his headshot on the other half. I'm pretty tickled with the result! (I wonder if my son will feel funny about eating candy with his own head on it?)

I think these candies are a complete riot, especially in the old-fashioned candy machine dispenser. I'm willing to bet I'll end up using My M&Ms for other occasions.

Disclaimer: I paid for the candies with my own money and will not receive compensation or commission for posting about this product -- it was just something cool I wanted to share.

June 21, 2012

Truly UNREAL! Natural, Preservative-Free Candy for the Same Price as that Artificial Crud

unreal_natural_preservative_free_candy.jpgI wish I had UNREAL's "unjunked" candy when I was a kid. You see, back in the early 70's, the super-bright colored sugar was "in" along with that swirly polyester clothing. Of course the 80's were no better with all that neon.

When I was a young hyperactive kindergartner, the majority of the candy on the shelf was filled with artificial crud. And so, when my mom put me on The Feingold Program, I was forced to eat carob chips and other very basic items from health-food stores for a treat. Yes, we could find natural chocolate, but not combined with anything else. "Candy" was just maple sugar formed into various shapes. Halloween was not very fun, nor were birthday parties with piñatas. We later discovered that a few big-brands had some limited all-natural offerings, but many of them were special-order only. Sadly, most of those brands have since given up on being all-natural.

Meanwhile, although there is definitely a drive towards cleaner food, many of these foods end up being pretty expensive. I'm willing to spend more money for special occasions, but I admit that I wouldn't fill up my Halloween bowl with specialty chocolates.

But this coming Halloween, I'll gladly purchase UNREAL. Amazingly, UNREAL candies are the same price as the artificial crud AND have the same shelf life. UNREAL candy is made with pure cane sugar, no corn syrup, no hydrogenated oils, no artificial colors or flavors, and no GMOs. It has more fiber and protein, and fewer calories than those "leading brands."

It sounds completely "unreal" doesn't it? I'd be skeptical, thinking maybe there was some sort of catch... how does it taste?

Continue reading "Truly UNREAL! Natural, Preservative-Free Candy for the Same Price as that Artificial Crud" »

June 22, 2012

Brave Boys... and Girls

Before we saw Brave in a special advance preview, a woman next to us covered her daughter's ears and mouthed, "Do your sons know about the BEAR?" She told me that even kids my sons' ages would find the film freaky.

My youngest son did jump a bit during the opening sequence, but the rest of the film wasn't overly frightening for him or for his middle-schooler brother. (I love that they enjoyed the film thoroughly, without saying anything about it being "just for girls" just because the heroine happens to be female.)

What is a bit more freaky - although not actually spelled out during the movie - is the meaning behind the will o' the wisps.


They are beautiful, indeed. They glow, and magically disappear (with a little adorable squeak in the movie.) According to legend:

Continue reading "Brave Boys... and Girls" »

September 25, 2012

Undead Dogs

Hmmm, so what is it about these undead dogs?

First, Vampire Dog comes out on DVD today, and then Frankenweenie is released in theaters a week from today, on October 2nd. There is just something about dead dogs come to life.

vampire_dog.jpg     frankenweenie.jpg

I suppose since dogs are a man's best friend, it follows that their companions would want them around as long as possible. And, what better time to test freaky-yet-enduring friendship than Halloween?

Continue reading "Undead Dogs" »

September 26, 2012

Free Entrance to National Parks

This Saturday, September 29th, all 397 national parks will offer free entrance for National Public Lands Day.

More than 170,000 volunteers are expected at more than 2,100 sites across the country on Saturday, September 29 to take part in the largest single-day volunteer effort for public lands in the United States, National Public Lands Day (NPLD).


Other Federal agencies offering free admittance on September 29 include the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Normally, 133 national parks charge entrance fees ranging from $3 to $25. The other 264 parks do not charge for admission. The National Park Service will also waive entrance fees from November 10-12 in commemoration of Veterans Day.

It is a great time to enjoy the outdoors before winter arrives. Fresh air, exercise, and community service: excellent!

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post; it is just something I wished to share since all too often we forget about our wonderful public parks.

November 1, 2012

Election Education

The adults are scrambling around to decide how they are going to vote next week - both in The Big Race and for multitudes of local races. But even if the kids can't yet vote "for real" they can still learn about the election process, and how important it is for the adults to get out there and vote. Meanwhile, the kids can participate in a mock vote online:


Here are several resources I've found that make learning about the election fun:

bashers_president.jpgMy son has enjoyed both Thud! Presidents and Basher's Presidents apps. (Sense a theme with the whole crushing?) In general, if it is made into an app, it becomes fun! These apps teach important facts to the more ridiculous tidbits.

The accompanying website for Basher's Presidents, Basher Kids' Vote allows kids to vote for either Romney or Obama while indicating which issue is most important to them. Check out the "Explore the Data" section to see how other kids are voting across the U.S. Also check out for "align with the candidate" quizzes and other exercises. This one has a more adult "look" but would be a good springboard for discussion with older kids. See how the candidates view the various issues that are most important to you and your children.

thud_stack.jpgPBS Election Resources for Classrooms includes materials for K-12 students, but with an emphasis on middle school and high school. Available resources include both current events for the 2012 Presidential Election and in-depth learning opportunities that can be used in any study of the U.S. government and election processes.

The Democracy Project is also from PBS, but geared towards the younger kids. Design your own campaign poster, join the sticker race, or collect Presidential Trading Cards! Oh, and find out about the candidates, too. Before you leave, be sure to step into the voting booth:


Politics doesn't have to be boring or frustrating! Let your kids discover for themselves how amazing it is that citizens get a voice in our future. If they are excited about it now, then they just might be more likely to really think about their responsibility and privilege when they turn 18, and therefore get out and VOTE as an informed citizen!

Disclaimer: I was given a review code to try out Basher Presidents. Otherwise, all other mentions are uncompensated. I will receive no commission should my readers visit these websites or purchase these apps. Just VOTE!

September 21, 2012

Math Midway

math_midway_exhibit_lawrence_hall_of_science.jpgMy sons are both talented and interested in mathematics and science. But, not all kids are inclined to excel in these subjects. Of course everyone remembers the whole "Math is hard!" Barbie doll. It is a common refrain from boys and girls alike that mathematics is difficult, or that science is dry.

Our local school recently made some changes that continue to "dumb-down" mathematics, effectively ignoring those who are high-achievers in the hopes of bringing the students who are more challenged by math up to speed. Of course we have "No Child Left Behind" to "thank" for some of these policy changes, because after all, the goal these days is to be average.

Thankfully, there are other ways that kids can be encouraged in math and science. I'm a big fan of the Lawrence Hall of Science. I went many times as a kid, and my own kids have gone to camp there. Tomorrow, "Math Midway," a special mathematics exhibit opens.

Continue reading "Math Midway" »

November 8, 2012

The Lion King

IMG_1631.JPGLast night my family was fortunate enough to be SHN's guests at The Lion King, on stage at San Francisco's Orheum Theatre through January 13, 2012.

To say I was completely captivated is an understatement. I had seen the animated movie, two different "Disney on Ice" versions of the story, and a depiction of a crucial scene during CA Adventure's World of Color, but this was my first time seeing the musical.

In The Lion King's case, the word "musical" doesn't do the performance justice. This show's experience goes well beyond the music. From shadow-play to elaborate puppets; from towering sets that seem to appear and disappear with ease, to a simple prop that holds great symbolism, this experience is joyfully overwhelming. I enjoyed the artistry in both light and dark, and soaked in the scenes filled with vibrant colors.


I especially appreciated the actors' amazing command of their bodies. Most wore elaborate costumes that required simultaneous mastery of puppetry and dance. Some characters required sharp movements with precise isolations while others' gestures were fluid and ethereal. The animals looked like animals. The plants moved like plants in the wind. The water rippled.

Although the designs and choreography are sophisticated, my boys were just as captivated as I was. There are definitely moments of kid-level humor (fart jokes, anyone?) but my sons no doubt also enjoyed the visual effects, even if they may not have appreciated fully the strength and coordination necessary to achieve them.

Lion_King_Embrace.jpgOf course The Lion King's story is similarly both entertaining and more philosophical. There are frightening scenes that children under six may not tolerate well, but the "darker" parts give way to plenty of light and in some cases, whimsy. Kids need not understand the whole "Circle of Life" concept to come away from this performance changed because they have experienced something new to them.

I definitely came away from the show with a smile in my heart. I adore storytelling and expression through dance. The Lion King went well beyond my expectations, and I'm thrilled that I had an opportunity to witness it in person. My younger son was especially tickled that he got a chance to meet two of the performers!

Tickets for all performances of THE LION KING in San Francisco are on sale now and can be purchased at the SHN Orpheum Theatre Box Office, online at and by phone at SHN Audience Services at 888-746-1799. While you are there, consider purchasing tickets for other shows this season: rumor has it that Mary Poppins is phenomenal!

Disclaimer: SHN provided my family with our tickets in exchange for publicizing the show. I will receive no commission or further compensation should my readers choose to experience this fabulous event!

Top photo is my own; middle and bottom photographs are by Joan Marcus, courtesy of SHNSF.

June 20, 2013

Peace of Mind as a Present

Last summer my computer's hard drive crashed. Thankfully, I was able to restore my data, but it was tough. I had a couple external drives of backed-up material, but I hadn't done a file transfer in about six months.

I shudder to think about how devastated I would have been to lose six months of photos.

Why wasn't I doing an automatic backup to an external drive? Well, it slowed down my computer. Sometimes I need to do work late at night or early in the morning, which is when those overnight backups typically occur.

logo-backblaze-big.pngMeanwhile, we've had a rash of burglaries in our area. What if a thief takes both a laptop and the back-up drive? That's right: you've got nothing. Ditto if there is a fire or a flood.

Enter online backups, like Backblaze.

Backblaze is an automatic backup system that can either backup continuously (so the file you just changed is now backed up) or at a scheduled time. (Backblaze says it won't slow down the user's computer while backing up - I'm testing that out now, and so far, so good!) Of course the data is encrypted, and sent over an encrypted connection, but users can add a passphrase for another layer of privacy.

The data is stored at their datacenter with plenty of redundancy. That redundancy is critical: my blog went down for two weeks because my host's superficial backups were also ruined, so it took a lot of time to recover the data from their very-external backup. I certainly don't want to discover that my backup failed right as my computer was stolen! With Backblaze, that seems unlikely.

Continue reading "Peace of Mind as a Present" »

June 28, 2013


With school now long-over (amazing how that happened) and an entire week of camp under our belts, we're still far from being done with summer.

Typically the kids do activities that they are used to: My older son continues to play violin, just as he did during the school year. My younger son continues to do gymnastics, just as he has for the past five and a half years. 

But, this summer we're doing something a bit out of the ordinary. My younger son is going to attend Bandworks School of Rock, where he has selected guitar as his instrument of choice. (Yes, everyone has commented how lucky I am he didn't select drums. But, we've got two boys in our neighborhood who play drums, so it is all good.)

Aside from the in-school music training on song flute and singing, he doesn't have much experience. He has nearly no knowledge of any actual musical instrument. This isn't for lack of want, though. 

Several years ago, he performed gymnastics at a local activity fair. He enjoyed looking at the various booths, and fell in love with a pink ukulele hanging up at one tent. He begged for it. But I told him "No." He waited a bit and begged again. "Nope." Finally, I laughed and said, "Well, if you want to pay for it, you can have it!" Less than a minute later, he magically pulled a $20 bill from some sand next to the path. And, of course, used the money to buy the ukulele. (He then "played" it vigorously until the strings couldn't take it anymore.)

Years later, he asked for a pink guitar for Christmas. We got it for him, but it has pretty much sat idle in his room. (None of us play, after all, so can't really provide him adequate instruction, even if Santa left him a "learn to play guitar" book.)

Many of the "band camps" or other music camps out there expect the prospective camper to already have musical experience. After all, kids can't just pick up an instrument and magically play, can they? The initial stages of learning an instrument are pretty basic. It is tough to find "exciting" songs to play right away.

But - Bandworks is magic: they take kids with no experience, and turn them into rock stars. (Or, at least they put them in a band and teach them songs they can feel proud about performing!) Believe me, my son is excited to learn a little guitar while also meeting other kids who want to rock. Other options for the into class include bass, drums, keyboards, and vocals. 

If your child happens to have experience, fear not: Bandworks has plenty of opportunities for seasoned rockers as well. There is even a CD Recording Program! Check out the various options at Bandworks to see if one is right for your child.

My son is really eager to rock. And, I'm definitely looking forward to hearing the end-of-camp performance.

Disclaimer: My son will receive a week of Bandworks camp in exchange for my review. I'll be sure to let you know what I and my budding-guitarist think after we experience the camp! (I will not receive further compensation or commission should any of you fabulous readers decide to rock.)

August 22, 2013

Planes the Movie

Download Soar Into Theatres! ActivitiesWhat, you haven't yet seen Planes? Get thee to the cinema!

My boys and I had a fantastic adventure watching the movie, and then were fortunate enough to try out the Planes Wii Game at a reception after the screening.

My older son is entering 7th grade, so was definitely skeptical about attending a "kids flick." But, he need not have worried, because I found him engrossed in the movie and chuckling at various parts. There are definitely little jokes in the film for adults and in-the-know teens. My favorite part was when the competing planes took a little break before their next race stage. Of course they relaxed in a "bar" with fuel, so I couldn't help laughing when the bar-maiden decreed, "You sad. You drink!"

My youngest son was enthusiastic from the start. He loves the adventure of going out for a movie, and meeting new characters. His imagination can take him anywhere, so immersing himself in the Planes world was complete and satisfying. As is always wonderful about Pixar films, tiny details in the background are fun to spot. This world is "our" world, but it is also very "Planes-i-fied." (A plane as the Statue of Liberty? Little tiny paper planes as "birds?" Sure!) My youngest spent a long time after the movie playing the a href="" target="_blank" title="Planes Wii game on Amazon">Wii game to continue to engage with the various characters and scenery.

Planes Wii Game

We were thrilled when Planes story artist Art Hernandez sketched "Dusty" for my older son, and "Rochelle" for my younger son. I'm in awe of artists in general, so watching Mr. Hernandez work so rapidly and accurately right in front of me was a genuine treat:

Planes Story Artist Art Hernandez

Of course, no description in the world can substitute for actually seeing the movie. It is definitely worth an outing!

And, you know the drill! There is always more of an adventure than just the movie: Check out Disney's Flew Tube for trailers and clips, airplane tutorials, and all kinds of other "planes" type things. Of course check out Planes on Facebook and Planes on Twitter. Extra bonus: check out the Planes: Storybook Deluxe app ($6.99 for iPhone and iPad) and the two FREE online games below:

Propwash Pursuit online Planes Game      Jet Stream Racers online Planes Game
Disclaimer: I attended a media event for Planes, but did not receive monetary compensation for this review, nor will I receive any sort of commission should readers visit any of the linked websites [with the exception of Amazon, as I am an Amazon affiliate] or purchase a ticket to see the movie.

August 23, 2013

Bandworks After-School Programs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bandworks Music Camp

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

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

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

Bandworks Music Camp

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

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

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

January 21, 2014

Looking Ahead: Bandworks Summer Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 27, 2013

Another Year of Camp Galileo Over?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galileo Summer Quest Digital Photography

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

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

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

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

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

January 23, 2014

Gearing up for Galileo Innovation Camps

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

Galileo Innovation Camps

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

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

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

November 5, 2013

A word about Tiny Prints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

"..may have"?

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

Updated #2:

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

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

About Kids

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

Johnson's Camp Baby is the previous category.

Marketing / PR is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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