Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Win A SanDisk Cruzer Gator Flash Drive!

Every time I visit with my mother, she asks me if I have any new pictures of the girls for her. And me being the forgetful person I am, has to answer no because I didn't take the time to print any of them off. My mom is OK with computers, but not so good with the internet, so telling her about my Flickr account doesn't help much.

But I was recently contacted by SanDisk about their new Cruzer Gator flash drives, and I immediately thought: I'll keep all my photos on a flash drive, and then I can upload them to my mom's computer each time I stop by. Brilliant! The flash drive also serves as an additional backup for my pics, in case my laptop's hard drive should ever decide to spontaneously erase itself.

How does this apply to you, you may ask? Well, you can have one too! SanDisk has given me five of these little beauties to pass along to you. The black and red ones hold 4GB of data, while the pink one is the 2GB model.

How to enter: Leave a comment on this post, telling me what was the best/worst Mother's Day gift that you've received or given. Was it an inappropriate piece of lingerie from your mother-in-law that made you cringe? Or maybe a breakfast of soggy cereal prepared by an eager-to-please five year old that melted your heart?

The contest will close Friday, May 2 at 11:59PM Eastern. Five winners will then be selected (using Random.org) - please make sure you leave your e-mail address with your comment so I can contact you.

Good luck!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Working Through Transitions With Skill-Building Buddies

In my previous post, I reviewed a DVD intended for kids on the autism spectrum. It covered topics such as greetings, recognizing feelings, using words to express feelings, and dealing with transitions.

But when Parent Bloggers sent me that DVD, they also sent me another with a similar purpose. Skill-Building Buddies is a DVD that teaches children on the spectrum about the right ways to deal with transitions and change, using a mix of animated characters and real-life examples with kids in familiar settings.

The first thing I noticed about this DVD is that I recognized the animation style and the voices. I quickly realized that it was made by the same people who made Go Potty Go, a favorite in this house.

The animated characters set up each live action clip, discussing how change can be hard in different situations, and then after the clip they discuss what the child did right. Each situation followed the same formula: look, listen, and stay calm. Included with the DVD are flash cards of each of these three concepts, so that the parent can use them with their own child.

I liked that each situation showed a very common transition problem that kids will deal with on a weekly, if not daily, basis. One showed a teacher asking a girl to put away her clay because it was time to move on to a different activity. Another showed a boy upset because he wanted an apple for snack time, but there were no apples left. In another clip, a girl was sad because her friends wanted to play a game she didn't know.

In each case, the children showed that they were sad, but then modeled the appropriate behavior. The animated characters always validated the feelings of each child, letting the audience know that it's OK to feel sad or mad, but that you need to listen to your parents and teachers and handle the situation in a calm manner.

Cordy likes this DVD, although just like the Kibbles DVD she never asks for it, yet watches quietly when it's on. At first, I didn't think she was getting the message, but then I saw her playing with her little sister one day, and I overheard her saying, "...use your ears to listen, and stay calm," while she modeled the hand motions. Apparently she understood more than I thought she did.

This is a short DVD, about 15 or 20 minutes in length, and it packs a lot of information into that time. Each situation is quick and to the point, followed by a description of what the child did correctly, and then on to the next clip. My only complaint is that there is just one song in the program. It's a good song about change, but it is played at the beginning and then again after every two situation clips. I got tired of that song before the end of the first viewing.

I think this DVD is a good tool to help children on the spectrum learn to cope with transitions and change. Seeing children model the appropriate response to situations helps them think about the right way to approach a situation. In a sense, it provides them with a script to follow, and scripts can be comforting to children with autism.

Skill-Building Buddies is made by Mazzarella Media and can be purchased directly from their website. Parent Bloggers will also be giving away a copy by leaving a comment on their post about these DVDs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rockin' With Kibbles Rockin' Clubhouse

Many of you know that my oldest daughter was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum last fall. Officially, it's PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified), which means that she has autism-related delays in speech, motor skills, and social skills. In many ways, this has been a relief, because we now have a strategy to help her overcome her difficulties so that she can move through this social world in an easier manner. Right now, she attends a special needs preschool every weekday for three hours. She has speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy once a week for an hour each.

While these are great, I often feel like it's not enough. An hour once a week doesn't feel like enough for me, and no matter how many times I've asked, I can't get her therapists to send home exercises and activities to do at home. We're on the list for further services from the county, but we're still waiting to hear back. With money for these services always running short, we could be waiting a long time for additional help.

A few months ago, the Parent Bloggers Network asked if I would be interested in checking out a couple of DVDs that are intended for kids on the spectrum. These programs help teach basic social skills that are often hard for kids on the spectrum to learn: greeting someone, understanding emotions, keeping your cool, using your words, etc. Of course I wanted to give these a try.

The first one we tried was Kibbles Rockin' Clubhouse vol. 1: Expressing Yourself. This DVD combines music and simple language to create a master class for autistic children on the topics of greetings and expressing emotions. The very first song is about how to say hello to someone, which includes waving or shaking hands, making eye contact, and saying "hi". I was impressed that they stressed eye contact - Cordy had a lot of trouble with that skill, and we constantly have to remind her to look at our eyes when she talks to us.

Verbal and non-verbal communication are addressed with each topic. When discussing feelings, all of the characters practice showing what someone looks like when feeling each emotion. It's hard for many autistic kids to "read" emotions on the faces of others, just like it's hard for them to express their own feelings. Cordy loved watching them practice each emotion, laughing at the silly faces, and trying to pick out the right emotion each time. (For the record, she still can't recognize angry, frustrated or sad faces.)

I really liked their use of an activity schedule to guide kids through the DVD. The activity schedule is a picture schedule showing what activity will come after each one is completed. Cordy responded well to the schedule - after a couple of viewings, she recognized the pictures and knew what was coming next. In the parent section of the DVD, the speech therapist said that kids on the spectrum often can't transition well between activities because they prefer the predictable and the routine, but as we all know, the world is a very unpredictable place. Moving from one activity to the next can be scary, so having a picture chart to refer to at all times can help provide some structure and prepare them for each transition. I'm thinking about setting up an activity schedule for our daily routine now.

The true test is: did Cordy like the DVD? Honestly, she wasn't that thrilled to watch it, and never requested it. But when I played it, she was drawn to the TV and would quietly watch and internalize the message. While she never asked for it, she still enjoyed watching it. She soaks up anything she watches on TV, and when she is tired or having a rough time, she often falls back on her "scripts," retreating inwards as she repeats entire conversations said on TV over and over again. (Thank goodness we don't let her watch anything other than preschool TV, right?) Now she's repeating some of Kibbles lessons also. And she's added "howdy" to her list of greetings.

The extras on this DVD are just as valuable as the actual program. The speech therapist and the two music therapists who helped design Kibbles Rockin' Clubhouse talk about the theory behind the therapy and give parent strategies for incorporating music and speech therapies all day long. They explained that studies have shown that kids on the spectrum process pitch better in their brains better than the average person, meaning that music is a natural strength for them. This makes sense to me, because I know Cordy learns better when it is set to music.

They also discussed how their music is comforting to kids with autism, and how they used very structured music, with lots of repetition and minimal extra language to reinforce the lessons being taught. This was very effective for Cordy - she's only three, and a lot of extra words often confuses her and throws off her concentration. The speech therapist explained how they used video modeling to reinforce non-verbal cues and teach new scripts to kids who might not have a script in their heads for basic social interactions.

Overall, I was very impressed with Kibbles Rockin' Clubhouse, and I recommend it for children with any kind of social developmental delays. Cordy is three years old and followed the 40 minute DVD fairly well, with only a few moments of wandering off. This probably wouldn't be as effective on kids who are younger than three, but I could see this as a useful tool for older kids. The DVD is made by NoteAbilites and can be found at Amazon. It also includes a sing-a-long CD for the car. Parent Bloggers will also be giving away a copy of both DVDs for this campaign - to enter, just click here and leave a comment on their blog post.

Check back Friday when I'll be reviewing another DVD for kids on the spectrum.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mamma Mia! Contest from Ponds

This summer, Mamma Mia! is moving from Broadway to movie theaters everywhere. If the movie is anything like the show, it's going to be a lot of fun. (And c'mon, with Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth staring in it, the eye candy alone is worth seeing this film.)

Ponds is offering to send three women to the London premiere to spend the night living the life of Donna & the Dynamos. The only rules are you have to be 40+ and willing to show the world how fabulous you and two of your friends are.

To enter, just make a video of the three of you singing one of the songs from Mamma Mia!, then submit your video to this site by April 30. Be bold, give it your all, and have fun! Five videos will be selected and posted on the Ponds website on May 23, and then popular vote will determine the winners.

And if you want to see my singing performance, you'll have to find me at the theater July 18 as I groove out to Abba songs and drool over Colin Firth.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

All The Gory Details From Camp Baby

Seems like nearly everyone has written their recap about the Johnson & Johnson Camp Baby event from last week. I could sound all writerly and say I needed time to digest the event for a proper write-up, but the truth is I've just been so busy catching up from being gone three days and working on school assignments. And it is incredibly hard to condense three days worth of information into one post, so I was a little intimidated, too.


Conquering my fear of flying was a little difficult when I took my seat on a plane where the cabin was only slightly wider than my SUV, with about as much head room. But we made it there safely, and I quickly found the Camp Baby representative, who ushered me into a Suburban. I learned that all of our ground transportation for the event was being sponsored by GM. I've seen GM at other blog events (like BlogHer 06) and I've always been impressed with their outreach.

At the hotel I checked in and was told that I could get something to eat in the hospitality suite. Since I traveled during lunchtime, I was hungry, so I quickly dumped my luggage in my room (stopping to notice the gift bag of Neutrogena products) and set off to find the hospitality suite. When I got there, I immediately ran into Belinda and Carmen, who were already chatting while Belinda twittered. The food was a bit of a let-down at first: some fruit, nuts, and soda. I was expecting something a little more substantial. Tracey arrived shortly after that, and asked if we could get some food with a little protein, like hummus. Poof - hummus and pita triangles arrived! Later, we tried this same trick with "something sweet" and poof - cookies arrived. Yum.

That evening everyone gathered for the wine tasting with Ted Allen. Confession - aside from him being male, I couldn't have picked him out of the crowd if asked. I've never really watched any of the shows he's been on. He was very patient through all of our chatting (C'mon, many of us haven't seen each other since July! We want to catch up!) as he guided us through food and wine pairings. I've always preferred white wine to red, but I got to try a few reds that might change my mind.

We were all feeling warm and happy, thanks to the wine, and then Lori got up and reminded us that Thursday's activities would begin at 7:30am. (Ack!) Still, it wasn't enough to convince us to go to bed - many congregated in the bar afterwards, and Kristen did her podcast live from just outside the bar.


All of the morning activities were in one (very nice) room. They clearly were thinking of us when choosing this hotel. Each row had a desk with outlets to plug in laptops. Genius! The programming for the day began with a talk about teaching your children to sleep by Dr. Jodi Mindell. Most of us could identify with our children having at least one issue with going to bed or staying asleep, and we all learned we don't get enough sleep. (Wait - we knew that.) We were all given a copy of her book as well.

Other morning programs included a talk with "Dr. Germ" who told us that there are germs on everything (and then I watched the poor germaphobes in the room squirm in their seats), and a nutritionist who I didn't care for at all. I mean, she had some good points, but she also insisted that there was no problem giving artificial sweetener to kids, and organic milk was a waste of money, because there's nothing wrong with antibiotics and artificial growth hormones in milk. I might mention that even Wal-Mart, who I trust with my health about as much as I trust George W. Bush with searching for alternatives to oil, recently decided to remove growth hormones from all of it's private label milk.

We also got to see a J&J employee answer questions about the safety of their products. She had clearly anticipated that we would have questions about parabens and phthalates, and proceeded to tell us that there are good and bad versions of these chemicals, and they use only the "good" ones. I don't think she convinced anyone in the room - many of us have read the research and know the dangers. But she was honest about not knowing just how much animal testing they do with their products - I appreciate that she didn't try to talk around that question.

We then heard Tina Sharkey from Babycenter talk about how the internet has affected the way moms connect and interact, and while she was a great speaker, she said little that the mom bloggers in the room didn't already know. Those stats she gave? We're the ones making those stats.

The best session in the morning had to be Dr. Scott Jens talking about the InfantSEE program, which works to provide babies under a year old with free eye exams. I'll be blogging more about this in another post.

After lunch, we were split into three groups so we could rotate through three different sessions. One was a feedback session, some of which I talked about here. I felt a little like we were beating our heads against a wall. There were so many of us trying to get across that we are VERY concerned about the chemicals in our children's bath & body products. Several challenged J&J to make one product - just one - free of parabens, phthalates, artificial fragrance, etc. and let us prove to them that there is a strong market for it. I hope our suggestions will be given serious consideration.

The next session was "What's Happening Down There?" where the greatest amount of twittering took place. This session discussed the issue of uterine prolapse and other gynecological issues that can affect women who have had children. Honestly, I think it was too much for this crowd to handle. I'm in nursing school, and just finished my unit on reproductive health, so it didn't bother me, but many women were (justifiably) horrified at the topic. But I felt bad for the speakers, too. How would you like to be giving a lecture and look up to see this:

The laptop brigade can be intimidating.
(photo by Glennia - found here)

By the time I got to the final session (hairbraiding), I was burned out, along with everyone else. Silliness ensued:

Dana (Mamalogues)

Catherine (Her Bad Mother) (photo by Glennia again - found here)

Dinner was held at The Frog and the Peach restaurant, and while the dinner was simply amazing, that wasn't the story for the evening. GM sponsored all of the cars that took us to the restaurant, but I have no idea who they hired as drivers. As a group of us were being driven to the restaurant, it quickly became clear that the driver had no idea where he was going. We drove from one end of New Brunswick to the other, still not arriving at dinner. Even worse, the driver was listening to ultra-conservative talk radio, and we were all stunned into silence at what we were hearing.

If it wasn't for Sarah and her GPS, we might have never made it to the restaurant - two blocks away from the hotel. It took 20 minutes to get there.

Sarah saves the day.

Nintendo had several Wii systems set up at the restaurant, including one that featured the new Wii Fit. I can simply say that I will be lined up to purchase the Wii Fit when it is available in May. (Karianna has now pointed out they are available for pre-order on Amazon now.) They also surprised all of us with a DS Lite and a copy of the game Brain Age 2. Being a geek, I already have a DS Lite, but the game was a welcome distraction in the airport on the way home.


Again, we had to be in the lobby way too early for my liking (7:00am). We checked out of our rooms, stowed our luggage with the hotel, and went to the J&J headquarters for breakfast. We had a great presentation about the history of the company and some information about the blogs they write. We gave a little more feedback, again asking for more product information on their website, and they seemed genuinely interested in our thoughts.

After breakfast, we returned to the hotel to visit the product expo, where we went table to table with our pretty bags, trick-or-treat style, collecting full size samples of many of the products Johnson & Johnson makes. Another genius moment - the event coordinators anticipated that we wouldn't be able to take all of our loot on the planes, so they provided boxes and FedEx labels to ship it all back to us. (Side note: It's been over a week now. I'm still waiting for my box. Where's my box?) From there, we all waited in the lobby for our moment to be whisked away to the airport to return home.

Other random thoughts about the event:

  • Lori and the entire event staff did a kick-ass job making sure everything went smoothly. Honestly, I don't think I've seen an event run so well, often going above and beyond to make sure we were getting what we needed (and a lot of what we wanted).

  • I fully expected to have a lot of product information pushed at us. I realized this was a business trip. But I wish they would have put together a morning of product information and then have sessions that weren't necessarily related to a product. It became a game after a while to identify the pitch. Dr. Germ = Purell. The nutritionist = Splenda. Hairbraiding = J&J hair care products. Even the "down there" session = lube, pads, and the surgical materials used to fix a prolapse.

  • Twitter is the greatest invention ever. If it wasn't for Twitter, I might have been bored through some of the presentations. But knowing that half of the room was on Twitter discussing how good looking the eye doctor was, or throwing out links to research that countered things being said. It was like a second discussion going on without having to bother the person talking. And having those who couldn't be there following along with us made it a party.

  • I think J&J learned a lot from us, and we learned from them, too. I didn't realize that some of the products I use are made by J&J, and I didn't know about some of the community outreach projects they participate in. I hope they learned from us that many mom bloggers are smart, highly educated women who really do want to know more about the products we use, and have a serious concern about the safety of what we're using for our families. We want full disclosure - you might think we're not interested in chemistry and research, but we are.

  • Did you know J&J has a blog? More than one, actually.
While there were some problems with the initial invitation process, the event was interesting and entertaining. I appreciate that J&J wanted to meet with us and listen to us, and I'd like to see more blogger outreach. (And I'm not talking about sending us press releases and expecting us to post them.) If you really want to know what moms think, go to the mom bloggers. We're some of the most opinionated women out there, and we're often happy to tell you exactly what we think. Even if you don't want to hear it.

So thanks for a fun event, J&J, and I hope we didn't tell you too much that you didn't want to hear.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Because Trains Are Like Toddler Crack

If you saw my Christmas post, then you know that Cordy likes trains. The hit of the year was her Thomas the Tank Engine Trackmaster train set. It's still set up on our table, although the train is more likely to be found traveling across the living room carpet or trying to move his load of logs through the wall without success.

While she owns several Thomas trains, Cordy has never seen any of the Thomas videos or the TV show. So I was excited when I was asked by PBN to review the newest DVD, Thomas & Friends - Engines & Escapades.

This DVD has several episodes featuring the smaller engines of the Sodor gang. Each episode features a fairly standard script, where one engine finds himself in in a situation that seems promising at first, but then a problem develops. This leads to a solution that involves teaching a lesson about seeing a job through, conquering your fears, helping others, etc.

I am impressed that some of the more complex social issues are tackled - this isn't just about being nice to your friends and sharing. One episode is all about an engine (sorry, I can't keep their names straight) who is left in charge of the others for the first time, and lets the power go to his head. He quickly learns that there is more to being a leader than just telling others what to do. Another episode features an engine who is scared of storms, but learns to be brave and get the job done. Who knew train engines could teach so much about life?

Cordy was very interested in watching the trains, but I found her attention quickly drifted away after only one episode. The pacing of this series feels very different from other children's TV shows. It's slower, with the story unfolding with a lot more narration and a lot less action than your typical children's show. She's used to faster-paced shows, so I think that's why she had a short attention span. As long as we watched the DVD one episode at a time, followed by another activity, she was happy.

And I must admit, I was happy to only watch one at a time, too. The stories all have a good message, but the narration made me want to curl up on the couch for a nap. Plus, hearing "Look, mommy, the train is going in a tunnel! And now up a hill!" does get old after a bit.

Mira, on the other hand, could sit and watch trains with faces roll by on the TV all day long. She squealed and clapped and tried to touch the engines on the screen. With the low amount of action, yet bright colors and interesting faces on the engines, this was the perfect DVD for her.

If your child likes trains, or more specifically Thomas, then Thomas & Friends - Engines & Escapades is a good DVD to pick up. It teaches valuable lessons about doing your best and getting the job done (middle-class work ethic, anyone?), which can be useful to revisit in everyday situations - like asking your child to clean up his or her toys.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Naptime Is the New Happy Hour

I just had the chance to review a copy of the new book Naptime Is the New Happy Hour by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor thanks to the Mother Talk book tour. Some of you may know Stefanie's blog, and others may know her first book, Sippy Cups Are Not For Chardonnay.

I read her first book, and was looking forward to this book. While the first dealt with the crazy changes that occur in your life immediately after becoming a mom, this book goes beyond the cozy, cuddly infant years and into the chaotic, tantrum-filled toddler years.

This is not a parenting how-to guide - more like a here's what its really like guide. Filled with lots of humor and honesty, Stefanie shares her experiences with raising her toddler daughter while wondering how anyone can survive this period without some form of chemical dependency.

What I like best is Stefanie's way of relieving all of the guilt that society heaps upon us. You know what I'm talking about - letting your kid watch TV, feeding her anything other than all-natural, organic, no-added-sugar foods, never letting your child throw a tantrum in public, etc. One part of the book discusses New Mommy Math, which helps you distinguish what the truth is when hearing another mom brag about some amazing feat of parenting. The truth is, none of us are perfect, and it's time to stop stressing about if our kid is getting the precise amount of stimulating play each day or if they happened to sneak an extra handful of M&Ms.

I also appreciated that Stefanie admits up front that she's not a perfect parent. It's nice to read about someone else admitting that she doesn't like her kid sometimes. Reading about her failures as well as her successes is refreshing. And her ability to come up with creative parent hacks rivals any parenting book on the market. Her ideas about taking your toddler to Target instead of an overpriced museum are brilliant. Her list of which TV shows to watch, and which are too painful to be worth it, are useful and amusing. And reading her opinion of the alterna-parent movement is absolutely hilarious. (It also reminds me not to expose my kids to too much of my music, lest they turn into sixth grade social outcasts!)

Naptime Is the New Happy Hour is a quick, light read - I'm a slow reader and still finished it within two days. While the material is presented in a humorous manner, don't think it might be light on substance. I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders as I see in print another reaffirmation that I'm doing the best I can and shouldn't be stressed if I can't live up to the expectations of the competi-mommies out there. I will warn you that there is some strong language in this book, but if that doesn't bother you, you'll enjoy this take on surviving life with a toddler. I recommend this book for anyone currently in the trenches with a toddler or new moms who will get there eventually and need to know what's coming.