Thursday, November 29, 2007

Discovering space with Discovery Channel Toys

We've had quite the frenzy of gift-receiving here in the Builder Mama household, what with Monkey Man celebrating the big "6" birthday recently. He got some really cool toys, things that make a boy's heart sing - monster trucks, Transformers, football gear just to name a small portion of the loot. Seriously, it looks like Toys R Us vomited in my house.

But even with all this wondrous splendor, what toy does he keep coming back to over and over? A brand new offering from Discovery Channel Toys called the Spark Talking Telescope.

Pretty snazzy looking, isn't it? Monkey Man was seriously foaming at the mouth as I was taking it out of the box. He could hardly wait to get started looking through it.

So what do you get with this Talking Telescope? Well, it starts with a series of flash cards that talk about space exploration. Then there are 20 slides with images provided by NASA that feature different elements of our solar system. And a parent-friendly "Lab Assistant" guide. And of course, this cool looking telescope. Oh, and did I mention that the slides can be stored in a tray in the base of the telescope, thus almost eliminating the possibility of lost slides? Ooooh yeah, that almost made me giddy with excitement.

But you know, you always think that things look cool straight out of the box. And haven't we all bought toys that we thought would be fantastic and educational, only to be sadly disappointed?

Well, this certainly is not the case with the Spark Talking Telescope. I was pleasantly surprised at how user-friendly it is, how packed with information it is, and how fun it is. The three of us - Monkey Man, the husband and I all played with it for a good hour the first night, taking turns changing out the slides and listening to the facts.

How it works is that each slide can be inserted into the telescope. Then you have a series of facts that you can scroll through as you look at the slide. The information is in snippets that can be replayed as many times as you want. What I liked is that it's all simple, concise information that is presented - not too much to be overwhelming to a child, but not dumbed down either. The focus is also adjustable so a child can see the slides well. And if your kid is really into it, there are quizzes available for them to try their skills with.

So Monkey Man and I have thought this was one of the coolest toys we've seen in a while. And even the husband, who knew I was working on this review, said he thought it was one of the best things that Monkey Man has. And considering the husband is a serious geek, that is high praise indeed.

Priced at $34.95, I think this would make a most excellent holiday gift or birthday present for the future scientist in your life. I'm planning on checking out some of the other products that Discovery Store offers, like the Spark Talking Microscope. It looks way cool, as did many of the other products that I saw in the complimentary catalog that was included in our telescope.

If you're interested in reviews of the microscope or to see what the other reviewers thought of the Spark Talking Telescope, stop on over at Parent Bloggers Network where the campaign is getting off to a great start!

Parent Bloggers Network

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Get a jump on things with JumpStart World

We are serious computer junkies in our house. Three of us, five computers. You do the math. When your six-year-old has his own laptop, that is serious business.

Monkey Man has so many more opportunities to learn about computers. From the time he was old enough to push a mouse around, The World's Most Expensive Preschool gave him "computer lab" time and he has really flourished. Heck, he can do stuff that even I can't do, and I'm not exactly a slouch in the computer department.

What's difficult is finding children's software that isn't just fun, but educational and also good quality. Enter JumpStart World and their great programs for Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade.

We tried out the Kindergarten program. What you get is an "Adventure Pack" that has dozens of learning games and missions for kids to use. They work their way through the game - there are so many cool games to play with 3-D characters. Personally, I loved the characters - just cartoonish enough without being cheesy, no high-pitched annoying voices, and the encouragement that they offer (even when you're not doing so hot) is really important in getting kids hooked into staying with the game versus throwing their hands up in frustration. Kids work through the mission earning "prizes" and earning pieces to their "Friendship Badge". Pretty cool stuff.

As a parent, I also liked that I can stay in tune with exactly how Monkey Man is progressing by checking his progress that is automatically updated into the parental section. I can personalize it with his name, his birthday, photos, and the little avatar that represents him throughout the units. I was also able to go unit by unit and see exactly what was being covered - a little math, a little reading, and a little bit of brain-stretching critical thinking. That got big thumbs-up from me, because the kid gets seriously bored if it's "just" one thing that the program focuses on. Mix it up, and he's hooked.

So after I got to play with it a little bit (and realize that I am pathetic at computer games), I turned him loose with it.

He loved it. Even more than his beloved Kid Pix software which we've probably almost worn out. It wasn't so easy that he got bored, but not so hard that he got frustrated. And the true test? He is able to sit there for at least 30 minutes easily without me hearing a peep from him. And I know he's not just having a good time, but he's learning and reinforcing what he has learned all at the same time. Priceless.

The best part? The Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade programs cost $19.99 each. Great stocking stuffers for the little brainiacs on your holiday shopping list. Not to mention you can also subscribe to their website to get new Adventure Packs. How cool is that? And if you want to give it a whirl, they offer a free trial.

Seriously, go give this a try because I think you and your kids will love it. Not to mention, how much will you love 30 minutes of peace and quiet knowing they're doing something good versus shaving the cat again? Exactly.

Read what other bloggers have to say about this and other exciting products over at Parent Bloggers Network!

Parent Bloggers Network

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick 'em with some treats - Deceptively Delicious

I wouldn't say that Monkey Man is the pickiest eater on the block - he eats more than just chicken nuggets and mac & cheese, but he's not exactly the most adventurous eater either. He has a few favorite veggies and unfortunately as we found out a few years ago, he's actually allergic to green beans (!) and navy beans - both of which were in the list of favorites. So sometimes it's a little struggle trying to get him to try new stuff. Every now and then I can make cheese sauce over steamed veggies, but isn't that kind of defeating the purpose of eating healthy veggies if you're going to drown them in cheese?

I love me a good cookbook, too. I have a pretty extensive collection of them and will sometimes spend an afternoon on the couch with a few of them looking for new things to try. Blame my mom for that, since she started me in the kitchen when I was old enough to stand up at the stove.

Parent Bloggers asked me if I'd be interested in checking out Jessica Seinfeld's new cookbook, Deceptively Delicious - and I thought it would not only feed my cookbook addiction, but also maybe give me some good ideas for other veggies to try with Monkey Man. I'm not exactly very adventurous in the veggie department myself, so I figured maybe this would be good for both of us.

The cookbook itself is adorable. Hard cover, spiral bound, and very pink. The pages are durable and probably wipable too (although thankfully I didn't have to test that part out). Jessica introduces her family, intersperses comments that are presumably from her kids as well as her husband Jerry (yes, that Jerry), and offers her own brand of advice when it comes to dealing with kids and their eating. There are great illustrations and photos throughout the cookbook and it's very visually appealing. I liked that part a lot.

The general idea of the book, if you haven't already heard all the buzz, is that she recommends using vegetable purees in recipes to boost the nutritional values of regular foods like macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, cheesesticks, and so on. Jessica collaborated not only with a chef, but also with a nutritionist to assemble the recipes. She goes step by step over what you need to prepare the vegetables, how to make the purees, what kind of equipment you need for the pureeing as well as any baking or cooking. It's really very thorough and I believe that anyone could successfully do it.

I decided that I'd put a few recipes to the test - nothing too complicated but something I could easily fix one night after work or on a weekend when we're running around like a bunch of maniacs. First, I tried the Pita Pizzas - I had some baby spinach that I had pureed the day before, so I was able to throw them together in just a few minutes. I liked that I could use things that I already had in my pantry - wheat pita bread, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese along with the spinach puree. And you know, they were good and perfect for something like an afternoon snack or lunch when you're in a hurry and the kids are starving. You could probably jazz them up a bit by adding other toppings too if you wanted to.

The second thing that I tried was the recipe for Mozzarella Sticks. Yeah, I know, not the most gourmet recipe but Monkey Man adores them in restaurants so I figured why not. This used cauliflower puree as well as flaxseed meal and you also have the option of adding sesame seeds (which I left off since I don't like them). Well, he didn't care for the flaxseed meal on them, so I am going to try them again another time using just whole wheat breadcrumbs. So it wasn't a total flop, just a temporary setback.

The last thing were the Aloha Chicken Kebabs. Jessica recommends using sweet potato puree and pineapple puree - well, I didn't have any sweet potatoes on hand so I used all pineapple puree instead. I also, after the Mozzarella Stick Incident, left the flaxseed out and just stuck with the breadcrumbs. These were pretty tasty too - Monkey Man didn't care for the coconut but she suggests leaving it off if it's too objectionable. Personally, I liked these and they were pretty easy to fix.

I'm anxious to try a few more of these, especially the desserts. The chocolate chip cookie recipe incorporating chickpeas looks especially intriguing and I've heard raves about them - and who doesn't love a good cookie? So that's next on the list.

Seinfeld devotes quite a bit of space to nutritional information and the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables. One thing that I'd change, however, is to add a little more emphasis about actually serving fruits and veggies with these dishes and not just depending on the purees to meet the nutritional needs of your family. She does mention it briefly but I think it could be easily lost with all of the other eye-catching features of the cookbook.

Is Seinfeld's idea new? Nah, mothers have probably been sneaking healthy stuff into our food since the prehistoric era. But what she has done is incorporate some great ideas into a format that is visually appealing and full of enthusiasm.

Check out Deceptively Delicious for the picky eaters in your house!

Parent Bloggers Network

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kids are Americans Too

I'm not what they would call a political zealot. I tend to lean a little more to the conservative side on economic issues, and more on the liberal side on social issues. I don't watch any of the political talk shows unless they just happen to be on when I'm channel surfing, and even then it's a very quick five-minute process.

I'm not a Bill O'Reilly fan, nor do I think he's the Devil incarnate either. I've watched him a few times, was mildly entertained, and moved on. So when Parent Bloggers Network asked me if I'd be interested in reviewing O'Reilly's latest book "Kids are Americans Too", I really wasn't sure what to expect.

I liked the general premise of the book, which is to teach kids about their rights. As O'Reilly puts it, if you look at modern-day society it's hard to believe how much things have changed since the Founding Fathers came up with the Declaration of Independence. As much as things have changed, though, our fundamental rights are still the same as they were over 200 years ago. And once you think about that, it's pretty cool. O'Reilly also discusses how sometimes an individual has to think about the "common good" versus what the individual's own interests are, and sometimes the common good has to outweigh that. He also discusses some court cases regarding kids' rights with varying degrees of success.

O'Reilly doesn't go into any serious depth about the Constitution, the government, or the Supreme Court with his aim to give kids a very broad overview of how our rights work without going into minute detail. I think that in his attempt to give an overview, however, he almost gives too little information.

But maybe that isn't such a bad thing in this case. Although O'Reilly comes out of the gate very strongly in the first few chapters and had me completely hooked into the premise of the book, by mid-way in the book I was pretty turned off. I really wanted to believe that O'Reilly would give fair and balanced coverage to the topics, however I was really disappointed when slowly but surely he started sneaking his own viewpoints into the book. By the end, I really got the impression that O'Reilly would be almost giddy if every kid that reads this book subscribed to his beliefs. Not to mention that he slipped in references to his talk show and other books that he has written, which I think really isn't appropriate to do in this type of book. Save the sales pitch for another audience, please.

My biggest beef with the book, however, was that I think it was dumbed down a lot. The writing style is very disjointed - now, I have never read any of O'Reilly's other works so I'm not sure if this was written to appeal to teens with "MTV brain" as I call it, or if this is his normal style. I think kids today are way smarter than he gives them credit for in the book and the style of writing. In addition, there were multiple parts in the book where I felt like O'Reilly was very patronizing toward the reader as if they weren't quite cool enough or smart enough to play in his sandbox. It's one thing to play Devil's Advocate in order to arouse interest in a topic that you're passionate about, but it's another thing to make the reader feel like a moron if they don't align with your viewpoints.

Overall, I think the idea of the book was great - I mean hey, don't we all want to know more about our rights and want our kids to know more too? However, I think O'Reilly's personal beliefs bleed into the book too much for it to be an impartial report on this topic. I'd really like to see this subject tackled for teens by someone who is a little more politically neutral rather than someone trying to covertly push their own personal agenda.

Parent Bloggers Network

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Printakid - magic you can definitely try at home

Have you ever ordered one of those personalized books as a gift for a child? I have. And I was sorely disappointed. Poor print quality, lackluster stories, and weakly-constructed books that wouldn't hold up to an adult's use, let alone a kid's use. Disappointing, to say the very least.

Enter Printakid. These personalized books for children not only met my expectations, but reached moon and stars beyond them. It was like magic!

Ordering one was as easy as pie. First, I went to the website and selected the story that I wanted. Themes ranged from "first day of school" to a Christmas story - I decided to go with the outer-space themed "The Robots of Sedna" since one of Monkey Man's favorite things is astronomy. Oh, and Star Wars. I figured it would be a win-win choice, even though all of the other book selections looked equally good.

Then came the personalizations. First, I got to dedicate the book and choose my own wording. Very cool. Then came turning Monkey Man into the hero of the story. I was able to choose his hair color, hair style, eye color, skin tone, if he wore glasses and what the shape of his glasses were (if he wore any). Then I put our names in there and was then able to choose the names of three of his friends that were then worked into the story.

So that was it. It took me a whopping ten minutes to put the order together. Now, all I had to do was wait for the book to come.

The day the book came, I sat down with Monkey Man and started reading the book to him. His eyes grew bigger and bigger...

"Hey, that's ME!" he shouted. And as we went through the story, he got more and more excited to see that not only was he the hero of the story, but his friends and Joey and I were in there too. He liked the book so much that every time we had people come over that week, he pulled it out and showed them the book, including my dad who got suckered into reading it at least four times the afternoon he was visiting.

Okay, so he liked it. But what did I think? Honestly, this is hands-down the best personalized book for children that I've ever seen. The illustrations are crisp, clear and colorful. The story is well-written and does a good job of making the "hero" feel very special. And the book's construction is sturdy - maybe not if you have a page-ripper lurking in your house, but it will definitely hold up to a lot of reading if treated in a normal wear-and-tear manner.

Printakid has done an awesome job in presenting a product that is not only easy to order, but a real kid-pleaser too. It's like magic, only the type that you can definitely try at home. Check out Printakid and see what kind of magic you can conjure up for the special kids in your life!

Parent Bloggers Network

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sweet on your feet - The Ryka MC2 Walk

I can't remember who it was one time that told me they weren't built for speed, but to go slow and steady. Well, that's me.

I've done a few 10K races - running part and walking part. Honestly, the running is kind of like torture. Unlike some of my friends who love to run, I'd just as soon skip that part. I'm like the Little Engine that Could - I just chug along.

A few months ago, I got an email from Parent Bloggers Network asking if I'd be interested in reviewing some fitness gear. Little did I know what little gem would be showing up on my doorstep - some awesome shoes from Ryka.

Behold, the mighty MC2 Walk. Ain't it purty?

Ryka makes all of their gear specifically for women. And while I've always been kind of a shoe snob - mostly due to design issues and my pesky achilles tendon that seems to rub on 99.9% of the shoes that I try - I was eager to try the MC2 Walk. I already had a few of their shirts that I loved, so why wouldn't I love the shoes too?

Well, I have to admit that at first I put them on...and I didn't like them so much. I believe the predominant thought running through my head was OUCH. So I wore them around the house a few hours and - well - I started to like them. Really like them. Like skipping around the house like them. Like finally having to take them off because athletic shoes don't really go with my pajamas. That's how much I liked them.

It does take a little getting used to if you're used to either running shoes or cross-trainers like I am - the fit is definitely snugger but it gives great support. The MC2 Walk fits your heel so you don't get that pesky slippage - which would probably help women with narrow heels that have such a hard time finding athletic shoes that fit. Ryka calls that "True Motion Control" - and they really deliver. It offers great stability, especially when walking outside where they handle rough sidewalks and uneven pavement like a champ.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my biggest problems with athletic shoes is that my achilles tendon tends to rub on most athetic shoes out there. The MC2 Walk's upper heel isn't cut down as low as my old shoes, but I found that as long as I wore good quality socks that weren't cut too low that I didn't have that problem. The only time I had an issue with the MC2 Walk rubbing my heel was when I stupidly put on a pair of extra-low cut socks - and it wasn't the shoe that left a teeny blister, it was the elastic on the sock. Color me happy! I had one pair of the "swoosh" shoes that I ended up giving away because no matter what I did, the stupid things rubbed my heels raw.

Overall, I was very pleased with my MC2 Walk shoes - inside on the treadmill, outside on the street, and running errands, they held up to the abuse that I regularly dish out to my footwear. I'm hoping that once I run these into the ground, I'll find a different model of Ryka shoes to try since they have a really good selection for walking and running.

Now through the end of October, register with Ryka's Good for Your Sole campaign and you have the chance of winning some awesome gear - Ryka is giving away 50 pairs of shoes and 50 performance tees every single day plus they are donating one pair of shoes for every pair given away to the Women's Sports Foundation for distribution across the country to women in health and wellness programs. How cool is that?

Parent Bloggers Network

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Doin' it in style

I love clothes. I love handbags. Shoes, not so much, but mostly because they don't like me very much. When I lost almost 50 pounds two years ago, I totally revamped my way of dressing. Gone were the schlumpy mom jeans, anything with an elastic waist that wasn't workout gear or pajamas, and the boxy oversized jackets. I felt good about myself and wanted to project myself in a way that reflected it to the world. Even still, I felt gripped with insecurities - does this look right, do I look stylish without appearing ridiculous?

So when Parent Bloggers Network asked me if I'd be interested in reviewing the new book, The Little Black Book of Style by Nina Garcia, I practically fainted at my desk. If you've been living under a rock, Nina is one of the judges on the popular Bravo show Project Runway, in addition to being the fashion director for Elle Magazine. Obviously, she knows what she's talking about. When my package arrived, I eagerly ripped open the envelope and dove straight in, eager to find out all of the deep, dark secrets about being a Person of Style.

What I found wasn't what I expected. What I expected was a diva-like list of Things You Cannot Live Without but Will Have to Sell Some Vital Organs to Afford. You know, like you must be kidding yourself if you think you can live one more minute without a Hermes Birkin bag.

What I got was a common-sense guide to style, with the most important tip being that being stylish is having confidence and presenting yourself to the world in a confident manner. It isn't about spending gobs of money on designer labels or expensive jewelry. It's taking basic pieces like a white shirt or a trench coat and turning them into a personal statement. Mixing things like some inexpensive earrings or a chunky necklace with a basic white shirt turns it into a Shirt as a Statement. A tailored tote bag is just as classic as an expensive designer handbag.

Garcia lists tips of what to wear for certain occasions (like it's not a great idea to wear fishnets and stilettos when meeting your boyfriend's parents) as well as her ten basic rules of style including a list of basic items that everyone should have in their closet. One of the most interesting parts of the book is how Garcia reviews the influence of film, music, and art on fashion. She also sprinkles the book with interesting quotes not just from fashionistas but also people as diverse as Einstein and Da Vinci - and it all ties together beautifully and makes it a really fun read.

If you are a fashionista or just someone who wants to ditch the mom jeans, you should definitely pick up a copy of The Little Black Book of Style. I think anyone could pick up at least a few good tips and inspirations from this book - and it's a good, fun read.

Parent Bloggers Network

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Just in Time - School Zone!

As I've mentioned ad nauseum over the past few weeks, Monkey Man started kindergarten yesterday. Like normal parents, we have obsessed over everything he's been bringing home from pre-K and wondering how he was going to fare in the public school system. Heck, we weren't even sure the kid could read anything - which was causing huge anxiety in our house.

Enter School Zone and their "Start to Read Level 1" kit and their "Kindergarten Magnetic Tin". And all I have to say is that it was just in the nick of time to keep me from having a nervous breakdown as well as giving my son the refresher that he needed before school started, since he was too busy in summer camp doing face painting and making blue goo to worry about silly things like spelling or reading.

School Zone is an award-winning educational company that has developed over 200 educational products for teachers and parents to use with students. What impressed me upon opening our package was the quality of the materials - everything is durable and well-constructed and will hold up to a lot of use. Not to mention that everything was portable - we have been hauling these all over the planet in a backpack and haven't lost a thing nor has anything gotten dinged-up, bent, or damaged in any way. Considering how hard we can be on things, that's pretty darn impressive.

The "Start to Read Level 1" book is geared to beginning readers. What you get is a large, hard-cover book that you open up to a bounty of fun. Two different stories - "Jog, Frog, Jog" and "I Want a Pet" are included - each has a book, a read-along CD with songs included, and then activities with each. The activities are on laminated pages and a wipe-off marker and eraser are included along with the pages. The laminated pages encourage reading comprehension, spelling, and other fun activities. Then, each story comes with a journal book with stickers, a pencil and a stencil. Monkey Man could not tear himself away from the journal - he carried it around with him for days and would add things to it now and then. Overall, it's a very complete package the likes of which I have never seen before - and to me would be a great gift for a kindergarten-age child or even for your own child!

The "Kindergarten Magnetic Tin" is a great concept. Included are small magnets with shapes, different items (like a saw, a baseball, etc.), letters and numbers. These can all be used with laminated activity cards. They also have magnetic animals to use to learn about animals but also colors since both sides are different colors. We used that a lot in restaurants this summer because not only can you use the cards, but you can also use the grid on the back of the tin to just do silly stuff like making patterns or even spelling out words or using numbers. Monkey Man really thought that was cool.

I was really impressed by School Zone's products and wouldn't hesitate to order more or recommend them to a friend. So, friends, stop by their site and check it out!

Parent Bloggers Network

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Holy cow...I mean two's Noah's Pals

My son Monkey Man loves animals. If he's not pretending to be an animal, watching a show about animals, or asking a thousand questions about animals, it's not a regular day. Don't even ask me about the two months that he pretended to be Baby Buffalo. Really.

Parent Bloggers Network asked me if I was interested in reviewing Noah's Pals and I hesitated. We're not religious people. It's not like we don't believe in God and the Bible and all that stuff, we just don't attend church except on special occasions. So I kind of wondered how Noah's Pals was going to be received in our house. We've read the story of Noah before (we might be worshippers at the Almighty House of the Waffle on Sundays but we do read to him out of a children's Bible) so I knew it wouldn't be a total unknown to him - but what exactly was this going to be like?

The night that the package arrived, Joey and I had a business dinner so Monkey Man's former teacher was going to babysit. Marie usually brings her son Austin with her - he is four years old and when he and Monkey Man get together, they have a total blast playing. So I let the boys tear into the boxes (praying all the while that they wouldn't lose anything before I had a chance to check things over).

It was like magic. They carefully opened the boxes, identified the animals, asked for their names (each pair of animals is given a set of names), and then played with them. And played with them. And played with them.

Noah's Pals, developed by Caboodle! Toys LLC, are designed to not only be realistic but also educational. The Noah's Ark set comes with an ark, Noah, and 40 sets of animals. The animals are divided into three categories - Common, Endangered, and Vulnerable. Caboodle! has made only 10,000 editions of the endangered animal pairs, and 20,000 editions of the vulnerable animal pairs.

Each pair comes with a laminated identification card, which describes the animal, its scientific name, the average stats (height, weight, length), their habitat, and where they are usually found. Each pair also comes with a unique identification number that can be logged onto the Noah's Pals website in order for you to create a virtual "boarding list" and track what you have purchased.

Personally, I was impressed with the quality of the animals. Each pair is individually hand-painted and created from sturdy PVC, and managed to withstand some pretty rough play from two boys. The detail is really amazing - one set that we received was the snow leopard, and they are just incredibly well done. Some of the animals are very small, like the doves that we received in our shipment; however, the toys are aimed for ages 4 and up so people with younger children should keep that in mind and perhaps save the smaller figures for when the kids get a little older.

Although it's called Noah's Pals, that is the only religious connotation associated with these toys. They are really an extensive collection of animals from all seven continents that any kids that love animals would enjoy playing with. They have barely gotten a rest at our house since the day they arrived, and have happily taken up residence along with the Power Rangers and Transformers. And Caboodle! Toys donates 5% of the net profits from the sales of Noah's Pals to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which just makes it a win-win for everyone. There's also a blog all about Noah's Pets too!

If you're looking for a great gift for the little animal lovers in your house, scoot on over to Amazon and pick up Noah's Pets for only$269 - that's a $30 savings over the regular price. Not to mention that once you collect all 40 sets of animals, you get a special reward called a "Caboodle" from the manufacturer which is a box of special, exclusive rewards. The animals, the ark, and Noah are also available for purchase separately. And if you want to read more reviews on Noah's Pets, stop by Parent Bloggers and check out what everyone else had to say!

Parent Bloggers Network

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

When Parents Hurt

I looked at the email from ParentBloggers asking if I was interested in reviewing this book and thought, "Well, I'll sign up for this and maybe it'll be kind of interesting."

Interesting indeed.

As I've written on my main blog off and on for the last year, my family has a pretty strained relationship with my oldest brother Paul. There wasn't a culminating, tragic event - but a series of small incidents that all added up into an odd kind of estrangement with him. Finally, things came to a head recently after a family gathering which was ironically right around the time that I received the book in the mail. I dug right in.

When Parents Hurt by Dr. Joshua Coleman is based on personal experience. After experiencing a painful estrangement from his own daughter, he felt compelled to write a book to help parents cope with these situations. As he notes, there are no manuals to deal with the complex relationships between parents and their adult children, and he offers advice to parents to help them "get back on their feet" again after estrangements occur.

Dr. Coleman pointed out a few things that really hit the nail on the head with our family's situation. First of all, he discusses how siblings within a family can have a completely unique perspective of their parents and childhood. In our family, my dad is the warm and fuzzy type to three of us - always the great, loving father ready with a hug and a kind word. To my brother Paul, however, my father is nothing short than his own personal version of the father in The Great Santini. And see, I totally don't get that at all and neither do my other siblings. It doesn't mean, however, that my brother's viewpoint is invalid - it's his viewpoint and is unique based on his perception of their relationship.

Coleman also brings home the point that sometimes parents can be as loving, giving, and nurturing as possible to their children and the relationship still doesn't work. He encourages parents to not only have compassion toward their children and their pain, but also compassion for themselves - a wonderful concept in an age where society has turned so many people into self-flogging parents who second-guess every move they make in raising their children. He does a great job exploring the societal changes in childrearing over the years and how it affects our relationships with our grown children in this day and age.

The book offers a very good chapter titled "Where Did this Kid Come From?" which explores what Coleman calls "mismatches" between parent and child. For example, he gives advice on relationships between an authoritative parent and a sensitive child, or a depressed parent raising a very active child. I hadn't given much thought to the idea of being mismatched, but the explanations and tips he gives for these situations are well thought out and listed as "Strive to avoid" and "Strive to".

I could go on and on about this book, because I believe it's not only a must-read for people in strained relationships with either their own parents or with their grown children, but also for people raising children who would like to avoid the pitfalls that come later on when the kids are grown. I even found myself quoting from the book this week when discussing a friend's marriage troubles with her, because I believe that a lot of the principles that he discusses are good for all adult relationships - not just parent/child ones. Dr. Coleman does an excellent job delving into this topic with a candor and sensitivity that is a rare find in this genre of book.

When Parents Hurt is available on Amazon. And be sure to check out the podcast with Motherhood Uncensored's own Kristin as she discusses the book with Dr. usual, Kristin does a great job!

Parent Bloggers Network

Friday, June 29, 2007

Finally, some alternatives - The 24-Hour Pharmacist

Two years ago when I shed almost 50 pounds, I started a new lifestyle of trying to take better care of myself. Yes, I became the dreaded "hi-may" type of person obsessed with exercise and looking and feeling better about myself. I've done the dreaded cleansing diets, I've popped vitamins, I've rubbed lotions and potions all over. And despite all of that, I'm always looking for the next best thing.

Enter The 24-Hour Pharmacist by Suzy Cohen, R.Ph. Ms. Cohen is the author of the syndicated column "Dear Pharmacist" and has compiled this incredible reference book focusing on personal health and well-being. Divided into sections - Above the Waist, Above the Neck, Below the Waist, And Everything In Between, it focuses on health issues like fatigue, insomnia, depression, libido, arthritis, and a multitude of other topics.

I immediately dove in and found a multitude of topics that I've dealt with over the years like cervical dysplasia, antibiotic overusage, weight loss, and skin revitalization. What I liked most about the book is not only does she discuss prescription drugs, but also non-prescription remedies that range from vitamins to "Suzy's Secrets from Behind the Counter" which are basically home remedies - for example, drinking rosemary tea to combat dandruff or seborrhea. She also includes warnings for drug interactions as well as consulting your physician when necessary. It's very, very thorough.

The book also contains a feature called "Finding Your Dream Doctor" which lists professional organizations that can refer you to a good doctor that meets your needs. Also, an extensive list of "drug muggers" which are medicines that rob you of essential nutrients from your body or cause other side effects like muscle pain or interfere with your sex drive. The book is capped off with a jam-packed Resources section that includes a recommended reading list, recommended CD's and DVD's, cosmetic and skin care resources, food resources, labs and testings, organizations, and a myriad of other useful resources.

Of course, you should consult your physician before taking any supplements, herbs, vitamins, or treatments - but The 24-Hour Pharmacist provides a healthy dose of alternative treatments that are worth discussing with your physician. There were so many little tidbits in the book that I had no idea about (like the symptoms of having low acid are amazingly similar to the symptoms of excess stomach acid that many times it is misdiagnosed) that it really opened my eyes to not always taking things at face value and exploring alternative treatments.

The 24-Hour Pharmacist is a great resource to keep on hand to tackle a myriad of problems. This book is available on either Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Want to win a $50 gift card to CVS? Stop on by Parent Bloggers and leave a comment on the kickoff post or the mid-campaign post in order to be entered for a chance to win! Then you can buy some of the cool stuff in the book!

Parent Bloggers Network

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hey June, it's okay to cut yourself some slack

When Monkey Man was about 18 months old, I remember spending one night obsessing over making the perfect heart-shaped brownies for his preschool class, complete with lightly tinted pink frosting and a chocolate heart placed on top. Each one had to be perfect, you perfect that I think most of the kids licked the frosting off and turned the rest of the brownie into microscopic crumbs that they're still probably trying to get out of the carpet in that classroom. Oops.

Then there was his Halloween party in the 3-year-old class, where I spent two hours making cupcakes that looked like spider webs complete with little piped-on spiders. Again, icing was a big hit and more crumbs. I hope they had a good vacuum cleaner handy.

So other than an obsession with baked goods, I consider these just a few small examples of my effort to be SuperMommy. Minus the cape, because capes make my butt look big. I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom - it's not me, not my style. By the end of my maternity leave, I was climbing the walls and ready to tie some bedsheets together so I could get back in the trenches again. And I felt awful. Guilty. Ashamed. What mother drops her child off at daycare on her first day back to work and happily walks out the door on her way to work? Um, me.

So when I was asked by ParentBloggers if I would be interested in reviewing a book about parenting, I hesitated. I'm not a "self-help" book type of person. Heck, I barely touched the "What to Expect" book when I was pregnant. Then I read about this book and was instantly taken with the subject and practically fell over my desk trying to get to my email and request a copy.

Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box, by Ann Dunnewold, tackles the battles that many mothers face - we overschedule, overprotect, and overparent our kids to the point that we're doing ourselves a great disservice. Dunnewold explores the idea of being a "perfectly good parent"; you don't have to be perfect at everything, it's okay to cut yourself some slack and live by the mantra that what you are doing is "perfectly good." Yeah, you might not have spent two days making a life-sized donkey pinata for your child's class party, but spending that time on coloring with your kid or going to their T-ball game will mean a lot more to your kids in the long run.

Dunnewold also encourages parents to show emotion around their kids versus trying to mask everything and make life hunky-dory all the time. It's vital that our kids learn that you can be mad and still love someone. It's okay to be sad sometimes, because life has disappointments. And it's okay to celebrate the little victories in life, too. Learning how to cope with these emotions are life skills that our kids need to know in order to be happy, well-functioning people.

Another part of "June Cleaver" that I found helpful was the discussion about competitiveness among parents. Heck, I remember after Monkey Man's entrance exam for kindergarten I must have gotten ten phone calls from other parents in the class wanting to know what his score was. And that irritated me. Yes, he did extremely well, but I don't measure his success by a number - nor do I want him compared to other kids as being better or worse than they are. Dunnewold explores overparenting and how we drag our kids to a zillion clubs, sports practices, and other things with the hopes that this will make them successful people. In reality, her belief is that we should let kids make their choices about what they want to do and not force them into things in order to fulfill our own needs of making our dreams come true.

I found that a lot of my own parenting philosophies were already outlined in the book - and I appreciated having a little confirmation that some of the things I'm doing aren't going to make me a bad parent nor will they have Monkey Man destined for prison or whatever. So when I decided to buy pre-cut canteloupe from the grocery store salad bar last week for his "fruit tasting" at school, I didn't feel guilty about it at all. Not to mention that we got to read two really good books in the time it would've taken me to disembowel enough canteloupe for his class. And that, in my opinion, is how I would rather spend my time as a parent - and Monkey Man will remember storytime long after he forgets that Mommy didn't spend all night cutting up fruit.

I also want to echo what some of the other reviewers have said in that Dunnewold has a really great reading list in the appendix, and I plan on checking some of those books out too.

So if you are feeling overwhelmed by the whole parenting gig (and really, who isn't from time to time?), check out Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box. I promise, you'll feel a heck of a lot better if you do.

Parent Bloggers Network

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Boca Beth es magnifico!

When your five-year-old, who normally eschews all things requiring brain power at the end of his day in favor of Power Rangers, insists on watching an educational video while he's eating his dessert and develops a little bit of attitude when it's time for his bath instead of finishing the video, you know you're onto something.

This something is Boca Beth. Developed by educator Beth Butler, Boca Beth focuses on teaching children a second language in a way that's lighthearted and fun. I received a DVD called "I Like Animals/Me Gustan Animales", a CD filled with songs, a coloring book, a Boca puppet (that was immediately commandeered by Monkey Man), and a little mini-maraca (also stolen by him). It was like Christmas!

The DVD, which features Beth Butler as the narrator, isn't as slick as some kids' videos that are out there. But what it lacks in video wizardry, it makes up for in Beth's sheer enthusiasm for Spanish that shines through the entire DVD. And not only is she enthusiastic, but her voice is very pleasant and soothing. She talks about the animals in English and Spanish, along with subtitles at the bottom of the screen. I found this part of the video to be the easiest to follow along with. Interspersed throughout are songs, which are typical kid songs like "Five Little Monkeys" that are sung in English and Spanish, with some songs given new lyrics to teach new words. It's very cleverly done without being cheesy.

At the end of the video, there is an instructional session that Beth Butler does with a group of preschoolers and toddlers and their parents. While the group is genuinely enthusiastic (and the kids are absolutely a riot to watch as they are totally hooked at this point), the audio quality in this part of the video is pretty disappointing. The songs that she sings while using puppets and props have great promise, but it's hard to understand at points and perhaps either better sound engineering or some subtitles at the bottom would help a lot. Despite this, though, Beth's passion comes bursting through in her interaction with the kids and it's hard not to get caught up in the little class. Even Monkey Man was bopping along with the songs.

We listened to the CD in the car a few times - honestly, Monkey Man is way more visual so he liked the DVD a lot better. He has never been a big fan of children's CD's, much like his mom - if it's not Def Leppard, he's pretty much not into it very much. I thought the songs were very catchy and decided to try them out the other weekend when we had friends over that had younger children. They were dancing out in our driveway like a bunch of fiends, so I would say that despite Monkey Man's music issues, the CD is popular with most kids who don't get into headbanging. Ahem.

Monkey Man was totally enamored with Boca, the puppet that goes along with the set. He has carried Boca around quite a bit since he came into our life! And to go along with that, the coloring book features Boca and is just as good as a textbook in my opinion - each page has a word in Spanish and English, and we've gone through the coloring book a lot to not only color but to go over the words.

Boca Beth might not be as slickly produced as Baby Einstein videos are, but in my own opinion the educational value of the program is far superior. Beth Butler has done an excellent job presenting Spanish in a way that is not only appealing to a wide age range, but it's done in a way that's downright infectious. Not to mention that after watching the video myself, I probably learned more Spanish than I did in two years of college-level Spanish classes!

Check out Boca Beth - they have several other videos available as well as other products. You can purchase them at the Boca Beth website, or at Amazon.

Want to win some cool Boca Beth stuff? Stop by Parent Bloggers and leave a comment about Boca Beth, and you'll be eligible for a chance to win!

Parent Bloggers Network

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Comfy Cozi

Like most families, we are always on the go. We usually don't know from one night to the next who has to work late, who is making the tae kwon do run, who is hitting the grocery store, who is taking the dog to the vet, and all the other fifty gazillion things we encounter on a daily basis. As I told someone a while ago, I really could use a wife to keep myself straight. Not sure if Joey would have a problem with that, but I'm all about it.

Well, Cozi might be the answer. When Parent Bloggers asked me if I'd be interested in reviewing it, I got pretty excited. Both Joey and I are Outlookaholics at work and we email each other all day long as well as keeping our separate calendars going. So when I started looking at Cozi and the features it offers, I thought it was pretty intriguing.

Cozi is a completely free download that provides you with your own personal assistant. First of all, it has a family calendar that is color-coded for each family member. At a glance, you can look at the calendar's events and tell who in the family has to be there. For example, if only Joey and Monkey Man have to be at a playdate, it's noted on the calendar as "Playdate" with a dot with each of their colors on it. If the entire family has to go, there's a different color dot for that. Joey can make changes from his office, I can make changes from mine, and then both of us can log in at any time and see what everyone in the family has going on. Even at a glance, you can keep on juggling everything and know who is supposed to be where.

Another great feature is the list features. Divided up into four types - grocery, wholesale, other and new list - you can keep a running list going at any time. I typically scribble down stuff as I think about it at work on Post-Its and you know what happens to those, right? They go straight into the Burmuda Triangle in my handbag. This lets me put down bananas on the list if I think about it at a nice convenient time like when my boss is yelling at me about not being able to find something. And the coolest feature of all is that if you forget your list, you can call the toll-free number that Cozi provides and have it read to you or sent as a text message to your cell phone. Now that, my friends, is wickedly cool stuff.

There is a messaging feature as well that you can use to send a message to the people in your family. At this point, apparently, the program doesn't allow the recipient to respond - which for me is fine, because that's what I like to use e-mail for. This messaging feature is more for things like "don't forget the milk." Or to make sure your spouse picks the kids up at school before CPS does.

Cozi also offers a photo collage feature. I didn't have an opportunity to check this out, but if you check out the Cozi blog you can see what some other creative folks have done. I can't wait to try this feature out!

The best part about Cozi is that not only is it user friendly, but it is totally free. So you can download it, give it a whirl, and fall madly in love. You know, because it's cheaper than getting another wife to keep your schedule straight for you. Stop on by Cozi and check out the interactive demonstration to see everything this amazing program can do.

Parent Bloggers Network

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Let's Get Ready for Kindergarten!

On April 26th, I will not only be the bawling basketcase standing in line at Kindergarten registration, I will be the nervous competimommy pacing back and forth while Monkey Man is tested for readiness.

So when Parent Bloggers contacted me about my interest in reviewing Let's Get Ready for Kindergarten! I was intrigued. Hey, we've been paying out the wazoo to send him to The World's Most Expensive Preschool for five years now - what better way to see if we've gotten our money's worth?

Let's face it - when kindergarten time rolls around you are afraid. How is my kid going to stack up with the other kids? My kid can't remember to cover his mouth when he coughs, how is he ever going to remember his shapes or numbers?

Let's Get Ready for Kindergarten is an amazing book. First of all, the entire book is laminated, allowing you to use a dry-erase marker wherever you want. And it wipes completely off with no traces of marker left (unlike some other alleged "wipe-off" books we've tried before). I liked the size, too - I was able to tuck it into my bag easily and tote it along on a few outings where I knew we'd have some time to kill and it was perfect. Each page has a separate activity, so you can touch on things fairly quickly and move onto the next thing.

After being bombarded with knowledge all day long at The World's Most Expensive Preschool, I knew that Monkey Man would probably show some resistance to the book. Heck, half the time it's a death match to get him to do his homework. Well, not with Let's Get Ready. He immediately started going through page by page, asking questions and we worked our way through the entire book in about twenty minutes. He was intrigued with the sample telephone key pad where you can practice dialing your telephone number - a very handy skill to have, and I'm hoping he only uses it for good versus learning to dial any 900 numbers. Ahem.

Not only does each page have a different activity, but at the bottom you have "Mrs. Good", the teacher, who suggests other things you can do on the page - like "Can you name another pair of opposites?" I liked that feature a lot - not only did they have some creative ideas, but sometimes just a word of encouragement like "Magnificent!"

So when all was said and done, Monkey Man did very well. He has a few weak areas like skip counting, but we have enough time to work on that so hopefully by the time school starts he'll have no problem at all. And the cool part is that every few days since we got the book, he's brought it out of his backpack and asked to work on it with me or my husband. And considering how overloaded he is after a day at preschool, I'd say that's a ringing endorsement.

Let's Get Ready for Kindergarten! has a sister book, Let's Get Ready for First Grade! Both are available for purchase from the publisher, Cedar Valley Publishing, and if you want to get a jumpstart on making sure your child is ready, I highly recommend this book. I already have plans to use it all summer as a refresher, both for Monkey Man and myself.

Want a chance to win these cool books? Stop on by at Parent Bloggers and post a comment on any of the posts about the Let's Get Ready series, and a winner will be selected at random to receive a free set of these books. How cool is that?

Parent Bloggers Network

Sunday, April 8, 2007

No more 911 for my skin - emerginC skincare

When I first started doing this product review thing, I promised that I would share any cool products with you that I stumbled on and tried out myself. I've been sitting on this one for a while - mostly just because I wanted to make sure that this stuff worked as well as I thought it did before I stuck my neck out there.

Y'all know I loves me some skin products. And hair products. And whatever else will make me the best-looking corpse at the funeral home. I've spent hours discussing the agony of bad skin as an adult, just when you thought that zits went away with the teenage years. Well, when we were in Las Vegas early last month I splurged one afternoon and went to the spa at the Wynn Las Vegas. There I had an amazing esthetician who introduced me to the emerginC line of skincare products

I was skeptical. I've battled with oily skin and breakouts since I was about 10. For the past few years, I was a diehard Philosophy fan and had been relatively fond of their products. However, I'd tried a few of their newer products lately with not-so-great results, like some breakouts and flaky skin. So when I got a full facial with the emerginC products and saw how great my skin looked, I went back to the spa shop and bought some of the products to take home and try out.

The regimen that she recommended was using the No-Comedone pore cleansing lotion twice a day, the Crude Control hydrating lotion twice a day, and the Micro-Scrub two or three times a week. And since I was already going whole-hog, I decided to go with some of the Deglazing Cleanser as well

The Deglazing Cleanser is soap-free, which immediately attracted me because if you're like me, you've been brainwashed for years that soap on your face is the root of all evil. The esthetician didn't recommend it, and now I know why. First, it has a very unpleasant smell and look - it looks like some kind of greenish-yellowish goop and has a sulfur-like smell to it. The good part is that it does get your skin clean - but for me, it is almost too drying and even using the hydrating lotion afterwards left my skin feeling tight. I will probably put this away to use for times when my skin is very oily (like the dead of summer or when everyone's favorite relative Aunt Flo is in town) and stay with a mild cleanser like Philosophy's Purity Made Simple for everyday use. Another positive is that it takes a very minute amount to work and make your skin clean, so one bottle will last a very long time

After cleansing, you should use the No-Comedone Pore Cleansing Lotion. To call it a lotion is kind of a misnomer to me - instead of a lotion-like consistency, it's liquidy like a toner. I put some on a cotton pad and wipe it all over my face. Now this stuff - this is gold. I have noticed a significant improvement in my skin - all the little bumps on it have greatly decreased and the quantity of huge zits has gone drastically down. I really think this is worth it's weight in gold, and the esthetician told me that if I only went home with one thing that this would be what she would recommend.

All this is followed by their lotion, Crude Control. The scent is almost a little sickly sweet to me, but it definitely leaves the skin feeling soft and supple. After my skin peel last week, the after-peel balm that I had been given by the facialist didn't do a great job of combating the flaking. Well, Crude Control did - I put a little extra on the flaky areas and it definitely helped without leaving me feeling greasy. Crude Control is also great under foundation and does a good job keeping the oil under check during the daytime - you still have a healthy glow but not like your face is sopping in oil and your foundation stays in place very well

A bonus that I bought was the Micro-Scrub. I was a big fan of the Philosophy micropeel kit, so I was a little afraid that I wouldn't like the Micro-Scrub as well. Well, I do. You need just a teensy bit for your entire face, it washes off cleanly, and frankly was a lot less messy than other scrubs I've tried before. It has done a great job both before and after the face peel that I have removing the dead skin and keeping a nice glow on my face.

So, you ask, how do I get these and am I going to have to get a second mortgage on my house to afford it? Well, the most expensive item is the Crude Control, which runs a stiff $48 for two ounces - however, after having it for a month, I still have half of a bottle left and have used it twice a day except for 3 days after my peel. You need so little that I think a bottle could potentially last you almost two months. I would probably avoid the Deglazing Cleanser unless you have super-oily skin - it's a more reasonable $24.50 for 4.4 ounces and you can use a dime-sized amount and get great results, so a bottle of that would last a long time. The No-Comedone Lotion is priced at $22.50 and in my opinion, the most valuable part of this entire equation. The Micro-Scrub at $28.00 is very nice, but you could do without it if you're watching your dollars. If I had to pick the must-have items from this collection, I'd definitely do the No-Comedone Lotion and the Crude Control hydrating emulsion.

Where can you get them? They're available at fine spas and salons throughout the country, but I found that you can order them directly from the emerginC website and the shipping was a flat fee of $6.50 no matter what you ordered. I just placed my first order directly from them, so I'll be anxious to see how quickly it arrives.

So why do I like it? Well, it's the first thing I've tried in a long time that had quick and noticable results. Even after my last trip to the facial place, I reverted back to the emerginC products after trying what the facialist recommended for a few days and my face revolted. After my face peel last week, I developed a nasty zit on my chin from using the after-peel balm, but after two days back on the emerginC products it is almost gone. I can't help but feel like I've stumbled on something special.

So, trot on over to emerginC's website and check it out. They have a ton of other products too, like some yummy face washes.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

CleanWell - Disney Survival Guide

Normally I don't plan on updating any of these product reviews, but we had two things happen at Disney World that I felt like I should share.

First, Monkey Man took a header on the sidewalk and scraped the ever living crap out of his knees. CleanWell to the rescue! I sprayed both knees and cleaned all the dirt out, the best part being that it didn't sting at all. Both knees ended up having no visible scabbing or anything, but more than just aesthetic reasons I was relieved to have something so handy to clean him up with that didn't make him howl in pain even worse than he did on the fall.

Then, on our last day, we were in the ladies' restroom right inside the gates of Epcot and apparently someone had spilled water all over the floor making it super slippery. And of course, Monkey Man slipped and fell right on that nasty bathroom floor in all that water and dirt and who knows what else. Again, CleanWell was there to save the day! I grabbed handfulls of paper towels and adjourned to a bench outside of the restroom, where I liberally sprayed it all over him and then wiped him down with towels. He was as good as new in minutes and I wasn't scared to death that he'd come down with ebola or something like that.

So that's it in a nutshell. CleanWell is great for disaster recovery as well as regular hand cleaning. Thumbs up again from me!

Monday, February 26, 2007

CleanWell - Germs begone!

When ParentBloggers contacted me about reviewing this product, I was skeptical. Alcohol-free hand sanitizer - bah! What good was this going to be?

Then I checked out their website. I was intrigued. This product was inspired by a child with an immune system disorder. If you're familiar with the story of my family, you know that Monkey Man was tested early on in life due to multiple illnesses to see if he had such a disorder. Luckily for us, he didn't. He is within the "normal" range, but seriously - he is ROCK BOTTOM.

Having a kid like this makes me the hand-sanitizing and hand-washing queen of the universe. But this comes with concerns for me personally, too - like how do you keep the "good" bacteria too if you're killing it all off with alcohol and other stuff? Well, that's where CleanWell comes in with Ingenium. Ingenium is a blend of essential oils from plants that kills 99.9% of germs. The theory behind this is that some germs have become immune to the other anti-bacterial products due to overuse - so you use the natural ingredients in Ingenium, and they use nature as the weapon. Smart stuff!

So I signed on right away. I knew we'd be a good test family, not just because of Monkey Man's issues, but also because we were preparing to head to the Germiest Place on Earth - Disney World. What better place to test it than there?

CleanWell sent me the 1-ounce spray bottle as well as a batch of their fabulous wipes. Immediately I fell in love with the bottle - it's smooth, sleek, and has a hinged cap. For someone whose purse is like the Burmuda Triangle, this is a huge thing. I loved it! And I really loved not having a leaky bottle in my purse.

But enough about that - how does it work? I found that the most that you need is two good sprays. I tried some on my friend using three sprays and she felt like it was a little tacky-feeling on her hands afterwards. But the main thing is the smell - what a clean, awesome smell it has. The main note in the fragrance is thyme, but everyone that I sprayed with it had a different idea - some thought it had a little bit of lime scent to it, others thought maybe some lemon. But the general consensus was that they loved the smell - it's fresh, clean, and doesn't have a heavy floral scent. The guys in our group even liked it, and that says something!

The wipes are fabulous - they come in individually sealed packets and what I liked was that they didn't drip the cleaner all over when I opened them. The wipes were moist enough to get the job done without having cleaner dripping everywhere. I loved that part, and used them to wipe down grungy looking handles on the amusement park rides. I wish I'd had more!

The coolest part was the reactions of people that saw me using the CleanWell hand sanitizer. People wanted to know all about it. They wrote the name down. They took pictures of the bottle. It was like a little celebrity right here in Orlando!

Our group gives CleanWell an enthusiastic thumbs up! And to check it out, visit the CleanWell website and learn more about this very cool product.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Me, myself, and I

Check out my interview for Parentbloggers - all about me, me, me!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

It’s been a while that I haven’t been watching a children’s program that didn’t involve Megazords or some kind of ninja bunny rabbits, so when I was offered the chance to review the new DVD athleticBaby: Soccer! I jumped at the chance.

athleticBaby: Soccer! is the latest addition to the family of athleticBaby DVD’s. Created by a fitness-minded mother of three children, the series is designed to inspire kids to get out there and get active. I figured it would be perfect for a kid like Monkey Man, who is obsessed with all things sports.

I hate to admit it, but the video was totally not what I expected. I thought it would be more instructional and give ideas of how to work with your child to learn some soccer fundamentals. Well, that’s not what you get. But what you do get is a video full of movement, color, and some great music. The only real “instructional” part is a segment where the song talks about how you can’t use your hands in soccer – and it’s done in a really cute manner.

I loved that kids of all ages from toddlers to teenagers were featured – and it was an excellent mix of boys and girls throughout the video. The kids are shown playing independently as well as in groups, with lots of happy smiles and groupings that seemed to encourage teamwork.

The music, created by Eddie Coker, far surpasses the typical insipid “kiddie music”. Monkey Man gave the music two enthusiastic thumbs up and was bopping around the family room each time we watched the video. Even my husband Joey, who normally would rather put cottonballs in his ears than listen to one more kiddie song, thought that the music was exceptionally good.

After we watched it, we discussed what we liked and didn’t like about the video. Monkey Man really liked the music and said he liked watching the kids play soccer, with his favorite part being a segment where they have a dog dressed up in clothes that plays with soccer balls. What he didn’t like were the attempts to review colors and numbers – “It’s too much like Circle Time, and I don’t like Circle Time.” So obviously that part is not a big hit with the 5-year old crowd that doesn’t like Circle Time.

Joey and I both enjoyed the music, but agreed that the video was probably better suited for two- or three-year-olds rather than a five-year-old like Monkey Man. He enjoyed it a lot, but was more impressed by the music than inspired to get out one of his ten zillion soccer balls and play around with it. I think toddlers would definitely have a great response to this video and get swept up in the movement and music in the manner intended by the creator.

Overall, I give this a thumbs-up for the toddler crowd…older kids will like it, but I don’t think they will appreciate it like the younger kids could. The video is well-produced, the music is great, and the concept is very smart.

Check it out! athleticBaby products are available at their website, on Amazon, and at select retailers nationwide.

Parent Bloggers Network

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Coming soon...

A review! Woo hoo!

Stay tuned, yo.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Getting off the ground

So...welcome! This is my Picks and Pans page, where I will give you the good, the bad, the ugly, and always my honest opinions about products my family and I have tried out.

I'm proud to announce my affiliation with, a group that gives bloggers the opportunity to do product reviews on all kinds of cool stuff. Not to mention that I'll be chiming in my own opinions about stuff I stumble upon when I'm out in the trenches. You know, because I am materialistic and stuff. Just kidding. Sort of.

What I promise here is that even if I'm reviewing something that a company has asked me to review, I will always give an honest opinion. And I think any of y'all that know me well enough will realize that I can't keep my trap shut so you're in for a real treat - not to mention you'll get to learn about some cool stuff (and maybe even some real dogs) before you go out and spend your hard-earned money on it. See, I'm taking a bullet for the team so don't ever say I didn't do anything for you.

And when I'm not here, you can find me over at my blog, Builder Mama. Ya never know what's going on over there, but feel free to stop on by any time. The bar's always open.