Monday, December 10, 2007

Lighting Up The Night

We have several friends who live about two hours away from us. Because they're all clustered in one area, we're often the ones driving to go visit all of them. We've done the drive so many times now, I think we could do it in our sleep. We often drive back at night, which leaves the passenger in the boring position of staring at the cars. Reading is difficult to do without distracting the driver or creating too much glare on the windshield. Our SUV has map lights in the ceiling, but those are too bright to the driver to use for any longer than a few minutes.

The Parent Bloggers Network sent me the Autolite Spotglo as an alternative to those dark, boring drives. It's a reading light that clips onto your seatbelt so that the light is only focused on your lap.

I like how small it is. The Spotglo stores easily in the glove compartment - even an overcrowded one like ours. It clips easily over the seatbelt and doesn't add a huge weight to the shoulder belt.

The light has two settings: low and high. Low was sufficient for me, but I used the high anyway to prevent any chance of eye strain. It's a bright, white light - I was impressed with the light strength.

The only problem I had with it was that it was hard to get the right angle on the light. While it works great for men and kids, it doesn't angle so well for women with anything over a B-cup. I had to hold it in the right position several times or lean forward slightly to get the best light. If they ever redesign it, I'd suggest having the light on a hinge so that it could move out and away from the main unit (even just an inch or two) for better positioning.

The warnings in the package say that this isn't to be used by the front-seat passenger, but since our back seat was filled with sleeping children, I wasn't able to use it any other way. It didn't distract my husband, though, so I would continue to use it in the front seat.

Cordy was a little too young and sleepy to try this out, but when she's older this will be perfect for her to read her books in the car on long drives. At that time I will probably be thankful this product can save me from countless refrains of, "Are we there yet?"

If you do a lot of driving at night, or long-distance driving, the Autolite Spotglo is a good product to have with you for your passenger, or your kids in the backseat. I think we'll be getting a lot of use from this on our long weekend drives.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Organizing My Attempts To Organize

I try so hard to be organized, but always fail in some way. I found a great online system to keep the entire family organized, even when we're not together, but can't get my husband to keep it updated. I have a nice personal calendar, but still can't remember to put my bills in one place or find my daughter's school papers.

So when the Parent Bloggers Network asked me to review the Family Matters organization system by Day Runner, I said sure, why not? After all, it's an entire organization system, which has to be better than just an organizer, right?

When I opened the box, I was impressed with how much was packed inside. I pulled it all out, examined everything to see how it all worked together, and then made a pact with myself to put it all to use.

Included was a paper monthly calendar, an undated dry-erase monthly calendar, a planner, storage boxes, activity folders, and door hangers. All are color coded so that each family member can have their own assigned color. The goal is that each family member's schedule can be merged into one system, to prevent those arguments of, "Wait, what do you mean you have an exam to take? I have rehearsals tonight!" (Not that we ever have those arguments. Ahem. Anyway...)

The paper monthly calendar is a great replacement for my current monthly calendar. It's larger and has a lot more space for writing, plus it has color coded areas for each person. Mine starts with January 2008, but I've already started writing appointments and my school schedule on it. Until then, we're using the dry-erase calendar. I have a feeling we'll use the paper calendar more, since Cordy has shown us the one down-side of dry-erase is that small children can easily wipe it off.

What I love most are the storage boxes and activity folders. These are so useful to keep track of bills that need to be paid, papers Cordy needs for school, paperwork I need for Mira's next doctor's visit, and lots of other stuff. I plan to buy some more folders so that each person's storage box can have multiple folders in it for different activities.


The only products that didn't get any use were the door hangers. Cordy saw these and immediately snatched them up to play with. (They do look like little people, after all.) I don't think they would have a chance at staying on a doorknob with little hands around.


Overall, I like the Family Matters system that Day Planner has designed, and I think this could be a very useful tool for keeping busy families organized. I'm looking forward to getting the infocenter when it's available, and I hope that this system will help me stay a little more organized in the new year.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Blasting Off To Fun

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. My goal was to be the first female commander of the space shuttle. I even went to Space Camp in seventh grade. Turns out, though, I'm scared of flying, which kind of put a damper on my astronaut dreams. But that love for space and exploring the unknown never left, and I still enjoy watching every shuttle lift-off and landing.

It seems my love of space has been passed on to Cordy. Some of her favorite toys are space-themed, including rockets and aliens. So when the Parent Bloggers Network asked for volunteers to try out the Discovery Store Ready Set Learn! Paz's Lift Off Rocket, I practically begged. OK, I did beg.

When this rocket arrived, it stayed in the box for all of 1.6 seconds. Cordy took one look and demanded we release it from the packaging right away. She played with it for the remainder of the afternoon, lining up the astronauts, exploring the crew quarters inside the rocket, and driving the moon buggy around the living room.

The rocket has a button on the side which produces lights and sound. When it's pointed in a lift-off position, pushing the button results in a voice counting down to lift-off, along with the boosters lighting up red. When the rocket is sideways and the button is pushed, only sounds of the engines are heard, as if it is flying through space. A handle on the side makes it easy for small hands to fly their rocket up, down, and all around.

There are three compartments inside the rocket. A cockpit holds two of the astronauts, and the crew quarters has a pull-down bed for them to sleep on. Below that, the cargo hold stores the moon buggy and the door becomes a ramp to drive the buggy down. Four astronauts are included - all are characters from the Discovery Kids Ready Set Learn! series, including Paz, Dog, Pig, and Rabbit.

Cordy is familiar with Paz, and she knew all of them by name right away. I was happy to see her so interested in the rocket, but expected that her interest would wane, like it does with so many toys. But she still loves this rocket. The first night, she insisted the rocket come to bed with her. And while she doesn't want it every night now, it's still not uncommon to see it in her bed, like last night:


The size of the rocket makes it useful for other toys to "take a ride" on the rocket, too. Her Little People sometimes hitch a ride in the cargo hold, and her Mickey Mouse figure has been known to pilot the rocket on a few missions, while Donald Duck takes a nap on the bed and Minny Mouse mixes up Cosmopolitans in the kitchen. (OK, I was the one playing Minny.)

This is a well-made toy, holding up to some pretty rough play and a few tosses down the stairs. Best of all, the rocket has helped Cordy practice imaginative play. One aspect of her autism is that she has a lot of trouble with imaginative play - she'd rather line things up or stack blocks than put together play scenarios with her toys. But when she plays with rocket, she'll put an astronaut on the bed and saying, "Astronaut Pig is taking a nap!" or drive them around in their moon buggy.

It's awesome to see her making such progress, partially thanks to this toy. Give her a doll house, and she wouldn't know what to do with it - apparently all she needed was a toy that was geared to her interests, and this rocket fits perfectly. When she does engage in imaginative play, the rocket is involved 75% of the time.

Obviously, I highly recommend Paz's Lift-Off Rocket. The price is appropriate for the quality of this toy, and the design encourages repeat play. It is recommended for ages three and up, but I think two year olds would appreciate it, too - the pieces are all big enough to not be dangerous to a toddler.

For us, I have a feeling this rocket will have a place of honor in Cordy's toybox (and her bed) for a long time.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rockin' The Day Away With That Baby DVD

Cordy has been obsessed with a certain famous Mouse DVD lately, and well, I'm sick of it. We needed to find something a little more...relaxed. A little less corny. A little more parent friendly.

In my effort to find something we could both watch, I pulled out That Baby DVD (provided by the Parent Bloggers Network), hoping it would distract her away from her current obsession. The DVD has eleven music videos on it, all of which are acoustic covers of songs we parents are familiar with from our rock radio stations, like "These Are The Days" by 10,000 Maniacs, and "Sunday Sun" by Neil Diamond.

Before anything was on the screen, Cordy didn't want to watch and protested. I told her it was time to try something new, and she might like it. She was an unwilling participant in this review at first. But as the first song came on ("Happiness Runs" - one of my new favorite songs), her protests drifted away and she sat down in her chair quietly to watch.

The songs, performed by Stephanie Schneiderman and others, are a little more mellow than their famous counterpart versions, and the music videos are filled with kids dancing and lip syncing, gentle animation, and even puppets. In-between some of the songs are brief lessons in the alphabet and counting. The numbers only went to 10, which I think Cordy was a little disappointed with. I think she wanted to count higher. But Cordy liked repeating the alphabet with the voice on the screen, and it went at a nice, slow pace.

She loved the rest of the DVD, too. While the music was a little too mellow for her to want to get up and dance, she did enjoy watching the children on the screen. (Side note: I'd love to see this company put out a dance DVD!) And I enjoyed the time to sit back and relax to some good music.

After it was over, she immediately asked to watch it again, and has since asked to watch it each day. While she's still asking for the Mouse DVD, too, we have equal requests for both. You can guess which one I'm more willing to give in to - That Baby DVD is by far more pleasing to my ears and eyes. You can view a clip of it here to see what I mean.

I also appreciate the fact that the company uses US recycled materials for their products. Plus, if you (or, more likely, your kids) ever scratch or break the disc, they'll replace it free! What other company would do that?

We also received a copy of That Baby CD, which contains the same songs as That Baby DVD, plus three bonus tracks. The CD is great in the car for longer trips. It helps Cordy relax when she's having a hard day, and again, the music is pleasant for me to listen to, also. It's earned a well-deserved permanent place in our car.

Right now That Baby DVD is offering 20% off to readers! Just use the coupon code PBN when ordering. Don't forget that Christmas and Hanukkah are next month - these would make great gifts!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

MotherTalk Review: The Daring Book for Girls

The game I remember most from my childhood was four-square at recess. It was so popular the school had three four-square games painted on the blacktop, with one game of two-square, too. Kids would line up for a chance to get in on the games, with one of the painted box games always reserved for the top players. I was pretty good at the game, but not one of the top players.

Eventually, I found even more exciting things to do with my recess time, including climbing trees, befriending squirrels, and pretending to be a great detective. I never joined in on the games of house that many girls played. Too boring for me - I needed excitement, not drama!

Now that I'm the mother of two girls, I find myself thinking of so many things I want to teach them from my childhood. I used to jot down notes here and there, reminding myself about games I played and places I visited that I want them to know about, too.

I can throw out some of those notes, because now there is a book that contains many of these secrets. The Daring Book for Girls, written by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz, is a summary of some of the best information a young girl needs for having a fun childhood and growing into a strong woman.

I knew I was going to like this book when I read the very first page. Among the items the authors list as Essential Gear for a girl are duct tape and a Swiss Army knife. Right there I knew this wasn't going to be a book about tea parties and make-up tips. (Thank goodness!)

Instead, the authors cover a wide variety of topics, with more "girly" stuff right next to stuff that might have given a girl from my youth the label of "tomboy". Seeing how I lived up to that tomboy label as a child, I really enjoyed reading through such topics as building a campfire, making a lemon-powered clock, and knot tying. To be honest, I never knew how to tie good knots - had I known that information as a girl, my makeshift tent for my backyard camping expedition might have remained up all night, instead of nearly smothering me in the middle of the night.

Not only can you learn the best sleepover games and how to make friendship bracelets (see? I said there was some "girly" stuff there, too!), the book also covers topics that will stay with a girl her entire life. Topics we should all know, like how to negotiate a salary, basic first aid, and how to change a tire.

Plus, along with all of the awesome how-to's are several pages detailing famous women from history, including scientists, leaders, and even pirates. There are also lessons on language, giving you a taste of French and Spanish, along with looking for the Greek or Latin root of many English words.

Writing a quick summary of what this book is about is hard to do, because it contains so much. Some pages are filled with fun and frivolous information, others serious and very important, but the transitions between them are effortless and create a well-blended book.

The Daring Book for Girls is the perfect book for any free-spirited girl who would just as soon climb a tree as play with dolls. While my two girls are too young for this book at the moment, I will be sharing this with them as they grow older. I know I'll be reading them stories of famous women, and then in later years pointing them to the book to find an activity whenever the words "I'm bored!" escape their lips.

Maybe they'll decide they want to make sit-upons, just like their mother made at Girl Scout camp. Or maybe they'll want to play four-square, in which case I'll gladly join them for a game. Thanks to MotherTalk for giving me the chance to review a book that will get so much use in our home.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Book Your Child Can Really Get Into

Have you read the incredible story about a little princess named Princess Cordy who fights off a mummy, a scorpion, and a dragon on her quest to bring color back to her kingdom? Along the way she gets help from Mira, Paul, and Kate, and they all become friends. What? Never heard of Princess Cordy in the Kingdom of Nevernight? Well, it could be because we have the only copy in existence.

We received this book from Printakid, courtesy of Parent Bloggers. Printakid specializes in personalized books for children, with six different stories to choose from. These aren't like those cheesy books you can find at a mall kiosk, where your child's name is plugged into any story, usually in a different font, and the kid in the story may or may not look anything like your child.

The Printakid books are customized for each child. You not only put in your child's name, you also design the character so it looks like your child. Princess Cordy is a tall girl with pale skin, curly blonde hair, and blue eyes. I really liked the level of detail I could customize. They even give the option of glasses if your child wears glasses.

But it doesn't just stop with your child in the story. You can also provide your name, and the names of siblings or friends, and they can be worked into the story. In our story, Princess Cordy is helped along the way by Mira, Paul, and Kate. You don't customize those characters other than name, but for our story they were all wearing elaborate costumes so you couldn't see their faces.

Cordy thinks it's fun that there is a book about a princess who looks like her and has her name. I also like that this isn't a story with a passive princess waiting for her prince to save her - she marches right out to take on any challenge. And while it's a long story for Cordy's age and focus level, she doesn't lose interest when we read it, like she does with so many other books.

The Printakid books would be a great idea for birthday or holiday gifts. They also offer a personalized CD featuring the book on audio, along with other personalized gifts. With such a unique story and a heroine named Princess Cordy, I'm sure our Printakid book will be on our "Most Read" bookshelf for a long time.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hip Shoes, and They're Not Pink!

Normally, I hate buying baby shoes. Half of the time I find shoes that are too tight (manufacturers take note: chubby babies have chubby feet by nature).

And if I do find shoes that fit, they're nearly always pink. While girls get the lion's share of clothing choices and, later in life, there are more shoe styles available than the population of Hong Kong, baby girl shoes tend to fall into two categories: pink, and more shades of pink.

I'm not completely against pink. It has its place along all of the other colors in the spectrum. I just want more choices in my daughters' footwear, and I want their shoes to fit well.

So when I was invited by the Parent Bloggers Network to pick out two new pairs of shoes from Vincent shoes, I was excited. Have you seen these shoes? No? Then promise me you'll go check them out after you read this review. Promise? OK, let's continue.

I received two pairs of the Vincent line of pre-walker shoes for Mira: the Mini Bjorn and the Mini Angela, and after trying them out I can say these are some of the best looking shoes out there. I am impressed with the high quality construction. The leather is smooth and comfortable, and the velcro is strong enough that a baby isn't likely to pull it open. The sole is flexible and soft - a must for pre-walkers and early walkers to encourage proper foot development - but it also has some cushioning for protection.

An important factor for me is fit. Both pairs fit Mira's feet without any difficulty. Like her sister, she has chubby feet, and the hard part is always finding shoes that are tall enough in the arch. These fastened without any squeezing of her foot, and there is still some room for growth, too. No matter how much she kicks, she can't get them off, either. I appreciate that, since I hate retracing my steps to find missing shoes.

The online shoe sizer was very easy to use. You can either go by age (less reliable) or print off their size chart and hold your child's foot up to it to measure. I'm glad I used the chart - while Mira may have fit into a size 2 based on her age, the size chart showed that she was better off going with a size 3 to have a little room for growth. The size 3's are great - slightly big, but not so big they fall off her foot.

The two styles I picked are perfect for us. The Mini Angela is a dressier-style shoe, perfect for all of the holiday gatherings coming up. And the Mini Bjorn is cut higher and lined in fake fur - an ideal warm shoe for the colder days ahead. But really, buth styles can be worn with nearly anything. Not only are they practical, but they're stylish, too. In the past two weeks, we've received so many compliments on her shoes.

My only complaint with these shoes is the way they identify the brand. The shoes have "Vincent" written across the bottom of the soles - I didn't think anything of it at first, but you wouldn't believe the number of times people saw that and thought my daughter was a boy named Vincent! It was funny at first, but I did get tired of explaining why her shoes were like that.

Finally, these aren't your standard pink shoes for girls. Sure, pink is available, but Vincent shoes come in a lot of vibrant colors. I specifically chose the red Mini Bjorn shoes because I wanted something that would stand out and get noticed. Red seemed to be a "take notice" color, and I was right. With the hip and unique design of Vincent shoes, these styles are guaranteed to stand out from the crowd of boring slip on elastic moccasin shoes and baby high-tops.

There are even more styles available for your older child, too. I'm seriously eying a pair of Julia boots for Cordy next. If you want shoes that are of solid construction, but also unique and fashionable (and not pink!), give Vincent shoes a try! I plan on buying more - after all, if I'm going to spend the money on well-fitting shoes for my girls, I want them to look good, too. Bye-bye pink high-tops!

What's better than hip shoes? Free hip shoes! Vincent is giving away two $50 gift certificates through Parent Bloggers. To enter, visit Vincent's site, look through the shoes, and leave a comment on the Vincent post at Parent Bloggers telling them what shoe style you like the most and why. Two winners will be chosen at random on November 1.

Can't wait for the contest to end? You can also get 20% off your first order at Vincent by using the coupon code "OCT-20-OFF" through November 11.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Eating Healthy Without Complaints

Cordy loves food. Loves it like it might someday disappear and she doesn't want to pass up that last chance at a taste. She gets that from me - I love food, too. Looking at how much food is consumed in our house each day, you'd think we had a teenage son, not a preschooler and a breastfeeding mama.

But while we're great at eating our breads, dairy and fruits, we're not so good with veggies. I like veggies, but most of the time I'll be the only one eating them, so I don't bother to make them. Aaron will eat veggies, too, but only a few specific varieties, and only if prepared in certain ways. Sadly, Cordy's vegetable intake is embarrassing.

I received a copy of Deceptively Delicious, by Jessica Seinfeld, from the Parent Bloggers Network. When first asked, I said, "Are you serious? I can't cook." Honestly, if it doesn't come from a box, I usually screw it up. Julie reassured me that there were plenty of recipes in this book that I could handle, so I nervously agreed.

Jessica Seinfeld (wife of Jerry Seinfeld, in case you were wondering) put this cookbook together to provide ways to sneak in good nutrition for your family's meals. Most recipes use fruit or vegetable purees to add a healthy boost to old favorites, like mini-pizzas, chicken nuggets, pancakes, muffins, brownies, and even pudding.

Deceptive? Absolutely. But let's face it, many kids don't like fruits or veggies, and if they get the nutrition they need by hiding it in their favorite foods, why not? And if you really feel guilty about it, tell them after they eat it. You won't necessarily be raising a child who will never eat vegetables - I'm proof of that. I wouldn't eat any veggies as a kid, or a teen, and now I love them. Many kids simply don't have the taste for veggies yet, but they can benefit from the fiber, vitamins and minerals found in them.

So back to my lack of cooking skill. The puree part is pretty easy. I have a mini food processor that did the job well, and Jessica walks you through all the steps. But as I browsed the recipes, I wasn't sure which to try. Some looked intimidating to a person who can't cook, but others didn't look bad at all. And there were some baking recipes, too - I'm a much better baker.

I decided to try the grilled cheese recipe - it was only a few ingredients, and Cordy just happened to ask for grilled cheese that day. The recipe uses either sweet potato or butternut squash puree - I used sweet potato for this trial. The sweet potato gave the cheese an even darker yellow-orange color, but Cordy didn't mind. When it was time for the taste test? She ate the whole thing, not once noticing anything different with her sandwich. I tried a bite, and while I could taste something different - just a hint of sweet potato, really - it wasn't a strong difference, and I thought it tasted better than a standard grilled cheese.

I also highly recommend the chocolate pudding recipe - yum! (Although you may like it enough you don't want to share with the kids. That's OK, there's plenty of desserts for them, too.)

While there are several recipes in this book I will probably never attempt, anyone with a hint of cooking ability could manage them without difficulty. And there are plenty for the cooking-impaired, like myself. My next attempt will be the Peanut Butter and Banana Muffins - two of Cordy's favorite foods in a muffin, with cauliflower puree thrown in for an extra boost.

As a side benefit, I now know how to properly puree fruits and veggies. Since Mira has just started solids, I can save money by making my own baby food.

If your kids refuse to eat fruits or vegetables, Deceptively Delicious could be a good addition to your kitchen. (Works on picky spouses, too.) Then you can feel good about pizza for dinner, especially knowing that there is spinach puree hiding out under the sauce.

(PS - Want to try out a few recipes before you buy? Oprah posted a few of them here.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Laundry Miracle

You may remember that I'm domestically challenged. I hate cleaning, I have trouble with laundry stains, and don't even ask me to cook. The laundry is one of my chores, though, which means I'm responsible for trying to keep our clothes stain-free (and make sure they stay the colors they started out).

No easy feat for me, especially when dealing with bright yellow-orange baby poop blowouts. So when Parent Bloggers asked if I would like to try OxiClean, I jumped at the chance, if only for another product to use on some serious stains I was losing the battle against.

I wrote before about a serious baby poop blowout on a onesie I wanted to save to pass down to Cordy if/when she has children. I was a fool and soaked it in hot water, thinking that hot water would help remove the stain. No one ever told me cold water was the key. So I probably set the stain.

There are a thousand products out there for stain removal, and I think I used about half of them, including another "oxy"-type product. While they all lessened the stain's appearance, it was still pretty obvious.


And then a couple of weeks ago, Mira had another blowout diaper, all over the cute outfit seen in this picture:


I liked that outfit, and wanted to save it as best I could. So I filled up the sink with cold water (see? I can be taught by the Internet!) and added a few scoops of the OxiClean powder. The package said I could soak it for several hours, and so I left the mess for an entire afternoon. I was hoping that, at best, it would weaken the stain enough so that it would be hard to see. I didn't expect a miracle.

When I came back at the end of the day, I was prepared to see a lighter stain. I didn't expect to see no stain at all! Seriously, I held that outfit up and looked everywhere for the stain. I brought it into another room to look under different lights. The stain was completely gone, and the colors on the outfit were just as bright as before!

After that clothing resurrection, I grabbed the onesie with the set-in stain and soaked it, too. The results were a huge improvement on the stain - some parts were completely gone, and the last stray spots were a lot lighter. Now I could use a bleach pen on the last stubborn spots and have a like-new onesie. I have no "after" picture, because there's nothing to see. Just imagine the picture above with no yellow on it. Yay!

I was seriously impressed with OxiClean as a pre-wash soak for stains. I also used it in the wash, and while I'm horrible at noticing these things, I think it did help keep the colors brighter versus detergent alone. And it helped with stain removal in the wash, too.

If you have a baby and need good stain removal, I highly recommend OxiClean powder, especially as a soak for newly stained items. Fill the sink with water (cold water), add several scoops, and soak for several hours. We'll soon be starting solids, and I have a feeling this will also come in handy for food stains, too. I'm keeping a bucket of OxiClean on hand from here on out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My Kid Loves Spanish

A second language is always helpful, right? OK, maybe Latin is a little outdated, but there are many other languages that can be handy. In our area, we have a large Spanish-speaking population, so Spanish is a commonly taught second language in the schools.

But by the time kids get to school, much of their capacity to easily learn a new language is gone. Starting when a child is a toddler or preschooler is optimal, which leaves more of the responsibility on us as parents.

Cordy has learned some Spanish thanks to her two best friends: Dora and Diego. Not a lot of Spanish - just enough to get me in trouble. Yet somehow, I keep encouraging her to know more Spanish, because I know it will be good for her in the future.

The Parent Bloggers Network sent me the entire DVD set of Kids Love Spanish and asked for my thoughts on it. The series was created by two Southern California moms (and sisters) as a way to help address the need and importance of a second language for kids in our country.

The set contains seven volumes: Basic Words, Alphabet & Numbers, Family, Food, Colors & Shapes, Animals and Basic Phrases. Each DVD follows the same basic format. Words are taught one at a time, and each word is repeated many times before moving on to the next.

Each word is not only said by the two moms, but also by several children. This gives the viewer the chance to hear a word pronounced with slight variations by each child. There is little pressure to say the word exactly the same. After the word is repeated several times, one of the moms repeats the word one last time, and they move on to the next word.

It's clear this isn't a big-budget production. Bright green-screen effects and occasional rough patches of audio were a little distracting to me. But Cordy enjoyed watching these DVDs and didn't pay any attention to production value. She especially liked the songs at the beginning and end, and also really liked seeing all of the kids. Kids learn well from other kids, and I noticed Cordy paying more attention when children were the ones saying each word.

Some of the words had more explanation given, while others did not. For example, comida (food) was said several times by the kids, but little more was said or done. The kids simply stood in front of the camera and said the word. Having them point to or eat food might have been more helpful.

However, other words received a lot of explanation, such as agua (water). Agua was presented in several ways, with kids drinking glasses of water, babies splashing in water, and kids swimming in a pool (with commentary such as "The baby is splashing in the agua."). This worked really well - Cordy picked up words that were given more explanation than she did with words that didn't receive such treatment.

I liked how other Spanish words were worked in to a topic when possible. This was especially good when teaching the alphabet. Cordy learned quite a few words just by hearing a word that started with each letter.

The only thing that would have improved Cordy's enjoyment of Kids Love Spanish would have been more songs. She is a musical child, and learns well through song. Had they taught catchy Spanish songs, she probably would be singing them every day. (I can't tell you how often I have to hear, "C'mon, vamanos, everybody let's go...")

Grammar isn't really taught on these DVDs, but they do give an excellent introduction to basic Spanish words and phrases to get kids interested. They provided the spark to get Cordy interested in learning new ways to describe old things ("kitty...gato!"), and when she does finally start language instruction in school, she'll have a good start on vocabulary so she can focus more on sentence structure.

The important part of teaching your child a new language is just to get started. Make it fun, keep it simple, and reinforce what you teach. The Kids Love Spanish series provides an interesting and fun introduction to Spanish, providing simple words with a bright, cheery delivery.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Let Your Voice Be Heard

Sure, I get some great opportunities to review products here on my blog. I like the chance to try out new products before buying. Sometimes I try things I never would have tried, and discover I love the product, other times I find out a product I really wanted wasn't worth the hype. Why waste money on something that won't work out for you, right?

However, I'll let you in on a little secret: product trials aren't just for bloggers with connections to PR reps. You, too, have the opportunity to try new products and give your opinions. You don't have to have a blog, either. All you need is an interest in new products and an opinion you're willing to share freely.

Vocalpoint is a group I signed up with over a year ago. Oftentimes, big companies want input from consumers on new products they're creating, or they have a new product they want to get the word out about. Vocalpoint connects these companies with their members, providing their members with access to product information before it's released, product samples, coupons, and a chance to provide feedback via surveys and forums.

In the past year, I've been able to try out a lot of interesting products. Most recently, I was given the chance to order one of the new line of Kashi snacks for free, and received a razor I might have never tried were it not for the sample. I also got a preview DVD of the new season of Meerkat Manor from Animal Planet. (Not for me, but Cordy loves watching it.)

Best of all, Vocalpoint can be as interactive as you want it to be. You can be active in the forums, participate in every survey, and give your feedback for every product. Or you can just receive the bi-weekly e-mail newsletters, try out samples that are sent to you, and provide feedback only if you really like or dislike something. It's up to you to choose your level of involvement.

If you're interested in getting the inside scoop on new products, click here to sign up for Vocalpoint!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wilbur Gets You Moo-ving

At our house, we're practically children's programming connoisseurs. Cordy has strong opinions on what she likes and dislikes when it comes to TV, and there are things I like and things she will never know exist. (*cough*purpledinosaur*cough*)

Along with Playhouse Disney and Noggin, we also watch Discovery Kids in the morning. Cordy loves that little penguin between shows (Paz?), and Hi-5 is an old favorite. So I expected another high quality show when the Parent Bloggers Network asked me to review the newest show for Discovery Kids, Wilbur.

My expectations were right. Wilbur is a cute calf who explores his barnyard world with his friends, solving problems by reading books to find the answer. Each episode, Wilbur gets the wiggles, and young viewers know it's time for a book. Wilbur reads the book once, and then the book is revisited, only this time the story is told by kids in their own words. Even if your child can't read, the show encourages a love of books and teaches kids that they can look at the pictures and still tell the story in their own words.

After the story, the problem is solved, and there is usually a musical segment following. I really, really like the diversity of the kids featured in this program. We're not talking about the token Asian kid in a sea of white kids - I mean a real mix of all colors, ethnicities and cultures. In particular, I remember seeing one little girl wearing a head scarf. I have to applaud the creators for choosing to represent real diversity in this program.

The characters on the show are charming and kids can easily identify with them. One episode deals with two characters both wanting to pretend to be little red riding hood - I think we can all think of situations where two kids fought over wanting to dress up as the same character.

Cordy gave the show her full attention each time we watched it. She danced, she pointed out shapes, and she had a good time. My only complaint is that when Wilbur starts to wiggle, a catchy little song is sung about it being time to choose a book. The song encourages kids to get up and get moving, but then as soon as the song is done it's time to calm down and read. While some kids may be able to do this, Cordy can't make that fast transition, and so keeps dancing and running around, unable to wind down and enjoy the story. She usually slowed down by the second reading, but introducing reading time with a get up and move song didn't work for her.

Did Cordy like it? Oh yeah. This is targeted right to her age, and after each episode she'd ask for "Weebur?" again. Will we watch it again? Of course. After several viewings, I don't think it's in her top three favorite shows, but she's still asking to see it, and I like it enough that I don't mind indulging her. After all, I can only watch Little Einsteins so many times before I want to plug my ears.

Wilbur can be seen on TLC and the Discovery Kids channel. Check your local listings for showtimes.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Shoes That Make You Want To Exercise

I'm three months postpartum now, so it's probably time for me to get off my ass and start working out again unless I want to continue being mistaken for someone who is six months pregnant. But getting started is so hard: I have to find time, I need new workout clothes, and I have no idea what happened to my last pair of athletic shoes.

Well, I have shoes now, so there goes that excuse.

The Parent Bloggers Network asked me to try out a pair of walking shoes by Ryka. Actually, I had my choice of running or walking shoes, but the thought of me running made me laugh so hard I nearly choked on that donut I shouldn't be eating. Walking it is, then.

I was sent the MC2 Walk shoe, which is designed as a walking shoe that provides motion control with plenty of cushioning, especially in the heel. When I pulled them out of the box, I was pleased that they were white, and not some crazy color. I like funky shoes, but for working out, plain white is fine for me.

I was a little too excited to try these shoes out. I wore them out for the first time to an all-day convention, where I was walking around non-stop for over six hours. While they felt good at first, it didn't last. That marathon walking session in new shoes left my feet terribly sore. Lesson learned: no matter how good the shoe, take your time and slowly break them in!

However, after they were broken in, it was like walking on a cloud. Ryka does a great job providing ample cushioning for your feet. I'm flat footed, and as a result I tend to slap my feet on the ground when I walk. But wearing these shoes reduce the shock and help guide my foot into a proper step. I spent a lot of time walking the girls around the block in the stroller last week, and my feet never got tired, even when the rest of me was begging to get out of the heat and find that last ice cream sandwich hidden in the back of the freezer.

They were a little tight in the width at first, but now that I've worn them several times they're comfortable. I have wide feet, though, so this wouldn't be a problem for many. I like the weight of the shoe, too. It's lighter than many athletic shoes I've owned in the past.

Not a walker? They also have shoes for running, aerobic classes, and cross training. I'll admit I'm pretty fond of their hip mary jane cross trainer, too.

Overall, I'd recommend the MC2 Walk shoes from Ryka, with the warning to first break them in with a few short uses and not an all day long trial like I did. Aside from that first day, these shoes are comfortable, provide great cushioning, and provide good motion control. For a stroll around the block or a power walk on the treadmill, they'll keep your feet happy so you can focus on more important things, like willing fat to disappear from your problem spots.

Win shoes! Starting September 5 (next Wednesday), Ryka will be giving away 50 pairs of shoes A DAY! Stop by Ryka's website on or after Sept. 5 to enter to win!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Banish Burned Skin

If you've ever seen me in person, you know I'm quite pale. It should come as no surprise that I burn easily when out in the sunshine. Not quite spontaneous combustion, but without sunscreen it only takes ten minutes before I start to turn pink.

Now, if you've seen Cordy, you know she has my coloring, and is actually more pale than me. Sunscreen is a must for her, but trying to put something gooey or oily on a child who has sensory issues with anything like that touching her skin is not easy. I'd like to go play outside without going through a meltdown first.

So I was a little nervous when Parent Bloggers sent me samples of KINeSYS sunscreen. We were sent bottles of the spray-on sunscreen for adults and kids, a face stick, and a bottle of the lotion for kids. I knew the lotion wouldn't work for Cordy, so I tried the spray-on sunscreen.

Thank goodness the spray-on isn't aerosol. Cordy is afraid of aerosol cans, but only slightly perturbed by pump sprays. While she still whined while I applied it, she didn't freak out. The bottle said you didn't need to rub in the sunscreen, but I admit I did it anyway. Trying to spray an unwilling child means you probably miss a few spots, so rubbing just covered my bases. It dried in about three or four minutes - a little longer than they claim, but still acceptable.

I sprayed the adult sunscreen on myself, and didn't rub it in. Again, it took about three or four minutes to dry. It felt a little strange on my skin - silky or powdery is the best way I can describe it. That's still a huge improvement over the oily shell feel from most spray on sunscreens. The scent was light and pleasant.

Our first test was a cookout at a friend's house, out in the country. His backyard is full of toys, but not one tree, and it was a bright, sunny day. Amazingly, Cordy and I were burn-free after a full day of fun, with only one reapplication. Another test was our backyard on an oppressively hot day. I didn't sweat off the sunscreen, and Cordy's splashing in her pool didn't wash it off (sweat and water resistant). The result: no burn.

Probably the best part of the KINeSYS sunscreen is that it works for sensitive skin. It's free of any preservatives, PABA-free, oil-free, alcohol-free, and hypoallergenic. The kids sunscreen is also fragrance-free. Cordy and I both have sensitive skin, and this didn't bother our skin at all for regular use. Other sunscreens often cause Cordy's eczema to flare-up. The backs of her arms did get a little bumpy the one day I left the sunscreen on overnight, so if your child has sensitive skin, I'd recommend an early bath-time that night so it's not left on too long.

I also like the travel-size spray bottle, which is perfect to throw in the diaper bag so you're never without sunscreen.

So, to sum up the KINeSYS sunscreen: good sun protection, no greasy feel, easy application, good for sensitive skin, and doesn't freak out the kid with sensory issues. The only downside is the price: it's a little more expensive than your average sunscreen, but if you have sensitive skin and don't like oily sprays, I think it's worth it.

I have a feeling we'll be going outside more often now. Thanks to the Parent Bloggers Network for giving us the chance to try KINeSYS!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

De-Stinkify Your House

Babies are small and sweet creatures, but I think we can all agree that they don't always smell so sweet. Add in some pets with touchy digestive systems as well, and it can be pretty easy for a room to smell not-so-fresh. Cleaning helps, but what do you do when guests are coming any minute and you just had to change a toxic poopy diaper, leaving baby poop fumes floating in the room?

We've used scented candles to help hide diaper and pet odors, but most just add a new layer of scent over the smells already in the room. So I was skeptical when asked to try the new Febreze scented candles.

The Febreze candles are not only scented, but also contain a special core that helps to remove bad odors from the air. Seriously?

I was impressed by the performance of this candle. I have no idea how the special core works, but it does seem to remove bad odors. While it didn't get rid of the garlic odor in the kitchen as well as I hoped, it did seriously minimize the scent, and when used near the diaper pail I couldn't catch even the slightest hint of a dirty diaper.

Best of all, the scent provided by the candle isn't overpowering, either. I had the Apple Spice & Delight scent (one of my favorite smells), and I loved it. If that's not to your liking, there are four other scents to choose from.

If you like scented candles, I recommend giving the Febreze candles a try. With a 30 hour burn time, you'll be able to de-stinkify many areas of your house, or one particularly bad area, with just one candle.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Read This Before Taking Your Next Pill

It's pretty clear that in this modern world we're a medicated society. Have high blood pressure? There's a pill for that. Depressed? There's a pill for that, too. Need help getting it up? Of course there's a pill for that.

But one problem with taking all of these pills - chemical compounds created by pharmaceutical companies - is that many carry side effects. A pill may fix one problem, but cause a different problem in return, which warrants another pill to fix the new problem. It's a slippery slope that can lead to needing one of those little pill boxes divided by day just to keep track of the cocktail of drugs needed to stay relatively healthy.

Do we need all those pills, though? In some cases, yes, drugs can improve the quality of life and even be life-saving. But Suzy Cohen, author of The 24-Hour Pharmacist, argues that in many cases we can look to natural ways to improve our health without abusing our bodies with the side effects of some medications.

Cohen believes that many of the medications we take in our daily lives - like birth control pills - rob our bodies of nutrients that are needed to maintain our systems. When we lose these necessary nutrients, our bodies can't function as well, and so other health problems crop up. But through diet and the use of naturally-occurring compounds, we can correct these imbalances and feel better (not to mention save money on prescription drugs!).

Before you think she might be an alternative health quack, know this: she's a pharmacist. So she really knows her drugs and how they affect the body. Her explanations of how a medication can impact systems other than the one it's supposed to help make perfect sense, and are put in terms that someone without a medical degree can understand. And in recommending herbs and supplements to treat conditions, she gives a brief explanation as to how they help, along with stating any studies that have proven their benefits.

The book is easy to read, with short sections and engaging, sometimes humorous writing. The chapters are divided up by different health problems, covering everything from heart disease and joint pain to fatigue, depression, and sexual desire. The fatigue chapter was the one I paid special attention to. While I knew about thyroid problems, I had no idea an adrenal gland problem could lead to fatigue, and I plan to follow her advice to see if I can get over this constant run-down feeling.

Cohen does caution that the book should not be used in place of a doctor, and it's always wise to consult your doctor before trying anything new. But one big advantage of the supplements she recommends is that most can't hurt your body if you try them. For example, if I were to take the recommended dosage of pantethine to see if it could help me with my fatigue, but I don't have an adrenal gland problem, the supplement still won't cause damage to my body. And if I do have an adrenal gland problem, it could help me feel better.

I honestly love this book and will be giving it a nice home on my bookshelf. I fully believe in the power of supplements and natural cures before trying prescription medications, and this book is full of useful advice to solve health problems without costly drugs. I really don't have any complaints about this book. OK, I suppose I could complain that Cohen writes for women as her audience, which could alienate any men who were reading it, but then again, how often do guys actually seek out options to improve their health without a woman pushing them to do so? (Or maybe that's just my husband?)

If you don't like taking prescription drugs, want to balance your body's nutrients being stolen by your current prescriptions, or simply want to find natural supplements to compliment the drugs you are taking, I highly recommend The 24-Hour Pharmacist.

Want to win your own copy of the book and a $50 CVS gift card? Click here and leave a comment on the Parent Bloggers blog to enter the contest!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What To Really Expect When You're Expecting

The first time I was pregnant, I bought a ton of books so that I could be as educated as possible. However, I think the popular books scared me more than educated me. They covered all of the exotic, strange things that could go wrong while pregnant, making me feel that anything out of the ordinary was leading to a miscarriage, when in reality it was nothing to worry about.

The one thing I wasn't prepared for with pregnancy was the emotional toll it would have on me. I was thrilled to be pregnant - we had planned this, after all - but at the same time I felt scared, a little lonely, overwhelmed, and a little sad at the life I was leaving behind. Did the books tell me how to deal with this emotional overload? Nope, and it took me well into my second trimester to finally seek out help for the depression these emotions were causing.

I wish now that I had the book Body, Soul, and Baby back then. Parent Bloggers asked me to take a look at this book, and now that I've read it I think it might be one of the best pregnancy books out there. Dr. Tracy Gaudet approaches pregnancy from a whole person perspective, addressing not only the physical changes happening while pregnant, but also the emotional changes that shape you throughout this journey.

The book covers all aspects of pregnancy, from preconception (are you really ready for a baby?) all the way to postpartum. Dr. Gaudet introduces ten exercises to help you feel connected to your body, your emotions, and your baby - the goal of these exercises is for you to actively experience your pregnancy, not just go through the motions. Let's face it: it's far too easy to go to all your doctor's appts., take your prenatal vitamins, and not give much thought to how your body and life is changing until you're suddenly being sent home from the hospital, baby in arms, shell-shocked at the whirlwind of changes. Your body is saggy, the little person you're holding seems like a stranger, and you're unprepared for hormonal bombardment on your emotions. I know that after my first, I felt like I didn't know who I was anymore.

Using the ten tools, you explore the mind-body connection, paying close attention to your internal signs to determine what your body, soul, and baby needs. These tools include journaling your feelings, dialoguing with your physical and nonphysical self, and dreamagery (which is a type of guided imagery).

I received this book right after having Mira, my second child. Yet even this time around, I don't think I was fully engaged in this pregnancy. Reading the postpartum chapters of this book helped me to sort through my emotions of her birth and my conflicting postpartum feelings. I was impressed with how thoroughly the book covered the postpartum period - in most books it is usually an afterthought crammed into the last few pages. I also didn't have a vaginal delivery last time, so it was nice to read that much of what I'm going through physically is completely normal.

Body, Soul, and Baby is an excellent guide for anyone having a baby or thinking about having a baby. The whole person approach is a refreshing change, and it is the only book I know that aims to help you nurture all aspects of yourself in preparation for this life changing event.

My only suggestion is I would have liked to see her give some ways to use the tools in helping to prepare for a second child. Other than that, I was thrilled with this book, and plan to pass it along to an acquaintance who has suddenly found herself pregnant. I know she isn't really ready for what's coming. I think this book will help her prepare more than any other.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Maybe Not The Worst Household Chore Now

When it comes down to household chores, bathroom cleaning ranks at the very bottom for me. I would rather scoop litterboxes and soak poop-stained toddler clothing than clean the bathroom. There's something about cleaning in and around the toilet that grosses me out (maybe it's the guy factor, with all of the drips on the rim?), and being forced to chip off dried toothpaste from the sink gives me chills. And let's not forget the harsh fumes from cleaners that burn my lungs and make my eyes water. That's why I usually leave the bathroom cleaning up to my husband.

But then Parent Bloggers sent me two new products to try: the Kaboom Neverscrub! Continuous Toilet Cleaning System and the Kaboom Shower, Tub, and Tile spray cleaner. The huz has slacked off a little in bathroom cleaning since Mira was born, so this was the perfect time to test out the products.

At first I was skeptical of a product who promised me I wouldn't have to use the toilet brush again. I tested the Neverscrub! Continuous Toilet Cleaning System on our downstairs half-bath. That toilet gets the most traffic, from both of us as well as any visitors.

I haven't used many toilet cleaning products that are placed in the toilet tank, mostly because I worry about the chemicals being poured into the water with each flush. We usually keep the toilet lids down, but if they're up, our cats have been known to try for a quick drink. And while Cordy has shown no interest in playing with toilet water, I didn't want to test Murphy's Law in that way. But the Kaboom Neverscrub packaging calmed my fears - it's non-toxic to pets and kids!

The results after a few weeks were noticeable. The upstairs toilets looked dirtier than the downstairs one, even though the downstairs toilet had more use. While it wasn't perfectly spotless (I won't go into the intestinal problems of certain family members), I will say that the Kaboom system did a good job of keeping it as clean as it could, and it saved us the hassle of having to constantly scrub at the toilet, too.

Next up was the Kaboom Shower, Tub, and Tile cleaner. It's a spray that foams up and then wipes off, and it can be used for most bathroom surfaces. The first thing I noticed right away was that it contained no harsh chemicals like bleach or ammonia. So when testing it in the hall bathroom, which has no windows, I was spared the sting of chemical fumes - my eyes and lungs would like to thank Kaboom for that! It's not my favorite scent in the world, but the Kaboom cleaner scent is like fresh spring air compared to that other stuff we've used in the past.

Did it work? Yes, surprisingly well! I sprayed our guest bathtub, and after letting it sit for a few minutes, wiped the grime right off with barely any pressure. It took out a black ring around the tub without the need for a Brillo pad and lots of manual labor. No scrubbing, no multiple applications - it did the job easily the first time.

I was impressed with how well both of these Kaboom products work. With cleaners that make it this easy to clean the bathroom, maybe I'll pitch in on this chore more often? Nah, I'll let Aaron keep that job, but at least it won't take as long!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Have a Rockin' Fourth!

Any true fan of rock has to have at least a small soft spot in her heart for the Rolling Stones. After all, they're practically rock royalty, right up there with the Beatles and Elvis.

So for those big Stones fans out there, a new big DVD set has been released. The Rolling Stones' The Biggest Bang is a four DVD boxed set crammed full of some of the best from these rock icons. It includes two full length concerts, including the Rio de Janeiro concert at Copacabana Beach, as well as two behind the scenes documentaries.

The set also gives viewers the chance to see some new, never-before-released tracks and rare footage from concerts all around the world (including my favorite Stones song, Sympathy for the Devil).

The Biggest Bang is an amazing collection of Rolling Stones music and video footage. Available exclusively at Best Buy, this would make a great gift for the rock music lover in your life. Or you could just keep it for yourself, too. I won't tell.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

An Open Letter to Pampers

Dear Pampers,

I have been a loyal customer for over two and a half years now. We started out with Swaddlers on our not-so-little baby girl, then progressed naturally to Cruisers. We tried other diapers, but always came back to yours, because they were the most absorbent, most leak-proof diapers out there. My daughter has what you might call a wide butt, and most other diapers simply couldn't cover it well enough to keep everything contained within. I also liked the soft, cloth-like feel and the velcro tabs.

However, you have recently changed your product, and I don't know how to tell you this, but...well...they suck. Really suck, honestly. Your new Cruisers seem to be cut smaller and more narrow than the old style, and based on our use, seem to hold about half as much as they previously did. We rarely had a wet-thru with the old Cruisers, but with the new ones, she's wetting through roughly every third diaper. I've had to resort to changing her diaper every hour or so to keep her from leaking through. How hard is it to create a diaper that can hold out for at least two hours?

Our daughter weighs about 38 pounds and is two and a half years old. Your diapers should still fit her. In fact, with the new design, you even created a new Size 7 diaper for 41+ pounds. We tried the new size along with her old Size 6 - they both leaked and barely fit her. She's not an overweight child, she's just tall and solid-built. Not all toddlers are skinny wisps who live on air and dust bunnies. Mine appreciates her food, and has inherited a solid frame, so she needs diapers that are wide enough to meet her needs.

So lately we've been scouring the stores looking for the "old-style" Cruisers. Luckily, you changed the font on the packaging and added a tiny amount of extra decoration to the diapers, so we can spot the old style packages. (Hint: if the name "Cruisers" has a capital "C" on the package, it's the old style - new one have a lowercase "c".) However, I'm so fed up with these lousy new diapers that it's time for us to find something new.

Pampers, you have disappointed me with your new design. I used to highly recommend your product, but now I must warn everyone away from your diapers. My laundry chores have increased dramatically since we bought these new diapers. With a new baby in the house now, I don't have time to deal with leaky diapers, more laundry, or changing diapers twice as often.

I can't understand why you chose to mess with a perfectly good design. My only guess it that it was profit motivated - you wanted to create a cheaper product. Well, if that's the case, you certainly created a cheap product. I hope you will reconsider these design changes and work on creating a product that is truly leak-proof and highly absorbent. Until then, my children will be wearing another company's diapers on their little bottoms.

Sincerely,
Tired of blowouts

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Bounty's One Sheet Challenge

Want to win a complete kitchen makeover? Bounty paper towels is having a contest with the top prize being a $30,000 kitchen makeover.

To enter, just go to this site and tell Bounty the worst mess you cleaned up with only one sheet of Bounty. That's it - a little creative writing (which should be no problem for our talented bloggers out there, right?), and possibly a new kitchen as a reward!

As for me, I was sent a roll of the new Bounty towels, and one sheet managed to clean up spit up on my shirt, spilled juice from Cordy's sippy cup on the kitchen floor, and cat vomit on the carpet, being rinsed between the juice and cat vomit. And yes, those all happened within 5 minutes.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Keep Your Marriage Healthy

While we've had our bumps along the way, I'd generally say that my marriage is in pretty good shape. Before we were married, an issue forced us into counseling, but through that we learned how to communicate with each other and actually address our issues before they blew up into big problems. Even now, Aaron and I often recommend counseling to friends who confide relationship problems to us. We sincerely believe it can help if both partners are committed to improving their relationship.

But what if you don't have time to go see a counselor, or what if you'd simply like to do a little preventative maintenance on your relationship? A counselor isn't always the most practical solution. Which is why eHarmony (yes, the singles site) has created the eHarmony Marriage site. This new program is designed to help you improve your marriage by pinpointing trouble spots and then having a series of exercises, articles, and personalized advice to help you improve those problems.

The program first has both partners answer a detailed questionnaire about their marriage. From that questionnaire, a personalized marriage profile is created for you. This profile focuses on ten relationship areas, such as commitment, family, values, sex, and companionship. Each area shows each partner's happiness level with a smiley face (or frowny face). Clicking on any category gives you an overview of the category, followed by a few sub-categories with personalized information about your situation, and advice on how to improve that area. Also featured on the side are articles related to the topic and exercises you can complete on your own or as a couple.

The questionnaire was very detailed, although Aaron really didn't like the method for answering the questions. Instead of yes or no questions, or little buttons from "Completely disagree" to "Completely agree", there is a little slider bar that you adjust to indicate your level of agreement. I can see his problem with this - if one partner is more likely to slide the bar to either extreme, while the other is more conservative, it can skew the answers.

Aaron and I both completed our questionnaires, and were happy to see the general overview telling us our marriage was in good shape, but had a few minor problems to work on. However, when we clicked on our profile, we were surprised to see so many little frowny faces. We were both conservative in our slider bar action, so I can only guess that this led the program to interpret our responses as unhappiness, when this isn't the case at all. Perhaps better instruction is needed in how to use the slider bar, or less sensitive interpretation at the least.

The articles are excellent, however. It's nice to be reading a personal evaluation about your relationship, and see recommended articles that apply to specific issues you may be having. The exercises, though, are the truly interactive part of the program. They are a blend of videos and guided exercises to help you think about the topic and start the process of making changes. Aaron and I did an exercise together which, while a little general, was thought provoking and interesting, and it convinced us to work on setting some common goals together. You do need some time to do the exercises - the one we did took about a half hour.

As for the cost, the program is $49.95 per month, or you can buy three months access at a time for $39.95 per month. Consider the cost of a marriage counselor, and this is a cheaper option for many.

The beauty of eHarmony Marriage is that you can take it at your own pace. If you only have time together late at night, the program is right there waiting for you - just try to get a counselor at 11pm at night. You can start and stop at any point, coming back when you want to work on the areas you want to work on.

While I don't think this is the ideal solution for a marriage in true crisis, this is an excellent program for those suffering from minor problems or for those who simply want a marriage "tune-up".

To see more reviews of eHarmony Marriage, check out the Parent Blogger Network.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Google Without The Spam

As an Internet-age parent, I rely on Google far too often to help me when I need advice. After all, I'd rather have the advice of someone going through the same things I am than ask my mom, who hasn't had a newborn in over 30 years.

But Google, with its wide net, will find anything with the search terms you put in. So if you enter anything containing the words breast, diaper, bad mom, spanking, or other parenting-related terms, you are likely to get at least a quarter of your returns pointing you to spam sites, or porn or fetish site by accident. What's a mom to do when she just wants the information without sloshing through the slime of the Internet to find it?

I was excited when Parent Bloggers told me about Light Iris. It's a search engine for moms that is powered by Google, but unlike Google, only seeks out the relevant results for your search. Light Iris was launched on Mother's Day, and searches blogs as well as other web sites. I've already used it more than once, and can attest that it can quickly find the information I need quickly and easily. It's nice to search for information on storing breast milk without clicking past links to lactating women porn.

The Light Iris site is still new, so there will be more features coming soon, including a Popular section to read about what's new and popular in the Internet. The database will continue to grow, too, thanks in part to user submissions - you can submit your own site to be included in the search engine. To make it even cooler, they also support the charity Global Fund for Women.

Right now, if you join Light Iris (free to join) you can be entered to win over $3000 in gift cards. Who couldn't use free stuff?

Speaking of free stuff, do you want to win a free 2-day pass to BlogHer '07? If so, join Parent Bloggers and Light Iris for the June 8 Blog Blast. Details can be found here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Que? Habla Espanol?

In our area, it's useful to know a little Spanish. There are a lot of Mexican immigrants in this neighborhood, some of which speak very little English. All of the research shows that the earlier you start a second language, the easier it is to pick up, so I've been making a serious effort to teach Cordy what little rusty Spanish I remember from high school.

Luckily, Cordy is a huge fan of Dora and Diego, and she's picking up Spanish words quickly. She can count to ten, knows a few phrases, etc. We'll forget the fact that it also can work against me, like when we're in the post office and she's having a tantrum and shouting "Ayudame!" (help me)

As many parents know, Dora can be a little...shall we say...grating on the nerves. I have been looking for other ways to introduce Spanish to Cordy that don't involve that little football head girl with no volume control. Thankfully, Parent Bloggers came to the rescue with a copy of Boca Beth's DVD "I Like Animals/Me Gustan los Animals" as well as a Boca Beth puppet, mini-maraca, CD and coloring book.

The Boca Beth DVD is a well-produced program (not a fancy production, but expensive production values weren't needed) that introduces each animal in English, then in Spanish, and then uses the name of the animal in an English and Spanish sentence. So while a child is learning animal names, they're also picking up some other basic words and grammar at the same time.

Cordy enjoyed watching the animals, and I think she liked that they were real animals and not animated ones. She would often shout out the English names of the animals, even before the DVD said them in English, and then once she heard the Spanish names, repeat those as well. She also enjoyed the songs, many of which are familiar tunes with some changes to the words.

I appreciated the fact that the program was slow paced, without flashy animation or quick cuts that so often distract toddlers. And I was happy to get a refresher course in Spanish as well.

Also included on the DVD is an interactive class session. Cordy wasn't as excited about this, and eventually lost interest. Then again, she really has never been interested in structured group sessions, so even seeing it on TV is apparently a no-go for her.

The CD is also a nice reinforcement that works well with the DVD, although it's not as easy to sing along with the Spanish unless you know the words. The puppet was also a big hit, often sending Cordy into fits of laughter and exclamations of, "That's silly!"

Overall, Boca Beth is a well-designed system, involving several different tools that work together to introduce Spanish to young children. I really like that it is not just a passive DVD, but an interactive system with puppets, coloring books, CDs, and musical instruments. If you've ever found yourself muttering insults at Dora while your toddler is enraptured, give Boca Beth a try.

Win it! Leave a comment over at Parent Bloggers to win your own copy of Boca Beth!

A Rockin' Mother's Day

Traditional Mother's Day gifts usually aren't my thing. I'm allergic to most flowers. I don't wear a lot of jewelry, and when I do wear it, I already have a good stash to choose from. I certainly don't want anything for the house, since I'm not a domestic goddess by any means.

However, I am a geek, and I love music. Which is why I was so impressed when my promotions pal Nichole sent me the Best Buy Mother's Day gift set of the iPod Nano to try out. First, it is a 4GB iPod Nano in either hot pink or silver. That alone is awesome, but Best Buy was smart: they added chocolates and packaged it in a polka dot gift box. An iPod and chocolates? It's like they were thinking of me when they put this gift set together.

I've had an iPod before, but mine is ancient. When I say ancient, I mean it was purchased when you had no color choice other than white, the screen was black and white, and it was a lot weightier than the ones made today. It also was full of technical problems. While it would sync with a Mac without issue, it didn't get along with my Windows computer, and it refused to connect with my computer about 75% of the time. It was a great music player - it was just a pain trying to get music onto it.

When I received my hot pink iPod Nano, I was excited to see how things have changed. First off, this thing is tiny! It fits in my palm, and is about as thick as three credit cards. For those of you lucky enough to be past diaper bags and back to itty-bitty purses, this iPod will easily fit into your purse. For the rest of us, it's nice to not add weight to my already full diaper bag.

The screen is small also, but brilliantly clear and bright. It's in full color, too, so you can view album covers for the songs you're playing. I worried that I might not be able to read the menus well on such a small screen, however the text is clean and easy to read. The click wheel is also smaller, but still just as easy to use as the larger models.

I've had no issues with connecting the iPod to my computer and downloading music. Long gone are the install CDs - now you need only have iTunes on your computer, and it automatically takes care of the setup for you. This iPod is a 4GB model, meaning it will hold about 1,000 songs. Fully charged, it has about 24 hours of battery life.

My only complaint is I wish it came with a cable to recharge the iPod by plugging it into an outlet, instead of recharging via the USB cable and the computer. I have a laptop, which cuts off power when I close it, meaning I can't charge the iPod with it closed. This can be fixed by buying the extra cable - I just wish it would have been included.

And finally, the music quality is as good as it has ever been. I appreciated the clear digital quality of music from my old iPod, and it seems Apple has been successful at keeping this high level of quality, even while making the iPod smaller and smaller.

If you're still looking for a gift for that music-loving or tech-savvy mom in your life, consider this iPod Nano gift set from Best Buy. It's a great MP3 player, and with the addition of the chocolates and the cute gift packaging, she'll think you didn't just grab something off the shelf as you were looking for that new computer game for yourself.

Oh, and the chocolates? They're not Godiva, but they're pretty good! (It's hard for a pregnant woman to ever criticize chocolate.)

Win one! Two other sites are giving these away. You can either go here or here (or both, really) to enter the contests and win your own iPod. Sorry, I'm keeping mine - it's coming with me to the hospital when I go into labor, loaded up with my best relaxation and distraction music.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Go Potty Go!

Some people I know have kids who potty trained, by their own desire, right around two years old. No begging, no cajoling, no reward charts. For the other 99% of us, however, potty training just isn't that easy. In fact, some of us (uh...me) are starting to worry that preschool may have to be postponed because of a lack of interest in potty training.

Cordy got a potty seat shortly after she was two years old. Since then, it has served as a TV watching chair, a step-stool, a place to hide her toys, and a crayon canvas. The idea of sitting her bare bottom on that seat with the draft underneath is laughable to her. She knows when she's "yucky", but seems reluctant to give up her diapers.

I was asked to review the DVD, Go Potty Go, for the Parent Bloggers Network. Sure thing, bring in the reinforcements, I thought. Cute panda bear twins and their animal friends teaching about the potty sounded like fun to me.

My first fear was that Cordy wouldn't even want to watch. She has a very refined toddler taste in entertainment, and only the "best" programs will hold her interest. However, I was pleasantly surprised that she sat on my lap the entire time with her eyes fixed on the screen. Later she brought me the DVD case, handed it to me, and said "Go Potty Go?" I was stunned that she knew the title after only one viewing and requested to watch it again. She has since learned the "Go Potty Go" song and sings it to request repeat viewings.

As for the program itself? It's cute, and filled with catchy songs about all aspects of becoming a "big kid" and using the potty. They cover everything from choosing fun underwear, to washing your hands afterwards.

To introduce the actual practice of using a potty chair, they play a game, asking the child to identify potty seats (with wrong answers including a bicycle and a wagon), identify activities that can be done while sitting on the potty, etc. The DVD does advocate reading while on the potty, further insuring that Cordy will follow in her daddy's footsteps and I will never be able to get into the bathroom ever again.

Thankfully, the songs aren't annoying to adult ears, and the subject is handled tastefully. My only complaint is that I got tired of all of the rhyming during the spoken dialogue, but this didn't seem to bother Cordy.

While I can't say Cordy is suddenly wanting to use the potty after viewing Go Potty Go, she is more interested in her potty chair and now knows what it is used for. She also requests to watch the DVD, so perhaps with more viewings she will take more of an interest as she internalizes the message that it's fun to be more independent and give up diapers. It may still take awhile for her to give up diapers, but I think Go Potty Go will be a useful supplement in Cordy's potty training.

Win a copy! Go to the Parent Bloggers Network and leave a comment on this post to win a copy of this DVD for your toddler!

Friday, May 04, 2007

An Enthusiastic Endorsement

Getting Cordy to hold still for a picture is difficult. Having her hold still for a picture while holding a product I'm reviewing is next to impossible.

Unless it's these:


...in which case, she's more than happy to pose with the box, as long as she can keep eating.


Check out my full review over at Family.com.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Calendar For The Wired Family

I keep several calendars in our house: a small one in my purse, a Fridge Grid Pad in the kitchen, etc. However, I'm usually the only one who updates them, and soon something will get missed because my husband never wrote it on the calendar.

I can't blame him entirely - he's gone from the house much of each day, so it's hard for him to remember to update the calendar. Plus, by the time he does get home, he's often forgot what it was he needed to write down. But he's usually near a computer 18 hours a day, meaning if he had a virtual calendar he could be better at writing everything down.

We were asked by the Parent Bloggers Network to try out Cozi, and once I saw what it was I could barely contain my excitement! Cozi is a software program that includes a family calendar, shopping list, and message center. You can download the software onto your computer for quick, easy access to your family calendar, but you can also use the Web login to check and update when you're away from home.

Each family member is given a color code, so you can easily sort out who is doing what. You can see the overall family calendar using the "All" tab, or look at each person's individual calendar. Adding a meeting or appointment is as easy as double clicking the day and filling out the event, time, and choosing who is involved. You can also set up recurring appointments or events, like birthdays or regular meetings.

This calendar is amazingly useful for the family that doesn't spend all day together. (And really, who does that?) Aaron can update the calendar from work via the Web, while I'm adding appointments to it from home using the downloaded software. The two versions sync up right away, so you always have the most up-to-date information.

Also useful is the shopping list that Cozi provides. I updated it from home, then pulled it up online before I left work so I could remember what I needed at the grocery. Aaron was also able to update the list with things he needed while at work. And best of all? You don't even need to write it all down before going to the grocery. You can either ask Cozi to text the list to your cell phone, or you can call the Cozi toll-free number and have a computer read the list to you. How cool is that?

Cozi has other features that I didn't play with as much, like a family photo collage screensaver, and a messaging system. And you can customize the color assigned to each family member, as well as select a family photo for your Cozi Central homepage.

But the most awesome part of all of this? It's free. Yes, you read that right: f-r-e-e.

Is there anything about Cozi that I don't like? Well, the login for the online version is sometimes very slow. And I would like to see more customization of the homepage beyond one picture - maybe different display layouts, or a selection of backgrounds. But these are minor complaints, and it's hard to complain about little things like layouts and backgrounds when the product works well and doesn't cost a penny to use.

I'd recommend Cozi for any family who has little time at home, a lot to do, and has at least one or two techno-geeks with a computer attached to them for a significant part of their day. But even the non-geeks in the house can use this simple, intuitive software to manage the family calendar.