Maven Says

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Maven says: Discover this

This is the first time I've ever written a review where I had to fight for time to actually look over the object d'review. My kids are fascinated with the Discovery Store Spark Talking Microscope. The recommendation on this microscope is ages 5+ but I can tell you my newly 4 year old loves it. In fact, at her preschool they use it as part of the science curriculum and her teacher says it is a sad day when it is not a part of the lesson plan.
Since it arrived at our house it has been constantly in use. When other kids come to play they gravitate towards it. The microscope comes with slides that your child can slide into the microscope and look at under 5x magnification. Then the microscope tells them all about it. When they are done, there is a quiz mode. Learning and fun all wrapped up into one!

When I asked what their favorite things about the microscope were my 6 y.o. immediately said, "It's really cool because it tells you neat stuff about what you are looking at." My 4 y.o. said "I don't know, why are you asking me that." You win some, you lose some. I do believe that Discovery has a winner here, I am sure it will be on lots of lists this holiday season.

Check out what others have to say about the Spark Microscope as well as the Telescope at
Parent Bloggers in the mid-campaign round-up. Be on the look-out soon for the final say. Younger kids? Check out what's available for kids 3+.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Maven Says: Organize me

I want to be organized, really I do. My Blackberry goes a long way but I just can't seem to keep everything in there. It's great for keeping track of meetings with the big cheese. I've even resorted to sending appointments to Gman for most of the things that I have going on in the evenings but somehow, someway things fall through the cracks. Maybe it has something to do with the serious paper problem that we have in our house--WAY, WAY too much of it and no good way to organize it.

Could that be prince charming riding in a white horse to save me in the form of the new Family Matters line from Day Runner?

Door reminders: These are by far my favorite of the Day Runner Family Matters products. The cute little "reminder men" hang right on the door handle and virtually whisper in my ear as I try to escape the house in the morning. I have them hanging on the front and garage doors so that I don't leave things behind. They are so clever and easy to use--if only they would yell at me, "make sure she has her lunch" on the way out they'd be perfect!

Undated wall planner: I am the queen of dry erase, I use a similar calendar in my office to keep everything straight. I take great joy in actually erasing things. This version has both a traditional calendar as well as a version with days of the month down one side with a column for each person in the family. I can't find a convenient place to hang it in the kitchen/family room which is (dis)organization central at our house. I've decided it does have great potential as a chore keeper-tracker for my girls. I think it will be perfect on the closet door in their room.

Weekly/monthly family planner: I love the idea of this weekly/monthly calendar book with colors and columns assigned to everyone in the family. It also gives you places to note things you need to buy and an address book. Alas, that part of my life I have a pretty good handle on in the electronic world. The book is relatively big and if I can't stuff it in my purse I'm afraid I won't get everything in there. I am notorious for stealing a few minutes in the preschool parking lot at drop off and pick up trying to get things on the calendar!

Coordinating folders and storage bins: These have great potential. Unfortunately we are so far gone in the keeping track of paper department that I haven't quite gotten to getting things in here yet. I love the idea, having sports, school, church folders for the kids in their own storage bin and getting rid of the basket of paper doom really appeals to me. I need the services of that professional organizer I bought at the silent auction three years ago...if only I could find her card!

I love the idea of the Family Matters Day Runner products. I think I've proven to myself yet again that you've got to use things consistently to be organized and somehow, I just can't find the time to get the process established, let alone follow it consistently. For those of you a bit less organizationally challenged, this may be the organizational system you are looking for! For more perspectives, check out what the other parents have to say over at Parent Bloggers.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Maven Says: Jump Start Learning with Jump Start World

My girls love the computer. I am hesitant to let them play online when I can't be right there beside them--I think the sites are safe but who knows what is lurking out there in the great Internet world. So when Parent Bloggers gave me the opportunity to review a computer game that didn't require the kids to be online I jumped at the opportunity to take a look at Jump Start World 1st Grade for PDQ.

I found the initial installation to be a bit slow and frustrating but I don't often install software so I have no idea how it compares to other programs. Of course having a little person asking if it is done yet every thirty seconds probably made it seem a LOT longer than it really was! Once it was loaded up we were ready to go.

I started by visiting the parents center and entering the girls' birth dates and the holidays we celebrate for personalization in the game. You can also enter messages for your child(ren) through the parents center that then show up as banners in the game. I love the fact that the game can be personalized for my children. I think that having their name and information right there engages them right off the bat.

Next I sat with PDQ to pick out her character--girly, girl for her. Soon I was being shooed away and it was obvious that she would do much better at figuring out the intricacies of the game without my help. Boobah is only a preschooler but she is itching to get her hand on the game as well--oh the fights that will ensue. I will definitely take a look at the Kindergarten version to help her get a Jump Start on the skills she'll need for Kindergarten (a place we hope she'll be next year despite her missing the cutoff by 2 days).

There are opportunities to buy additional adventure packs for the game online through the Jump Start World website. It allows you to keep your child engaged in the game over time. I would recommend the game as a holiday present, assuming the other versions are as engaging at the 1st grade one I would recommend it for kids pre-K through 2nd grade. I will definitely be looking into it for one of the kids in the family gift exchange.

Check out what others have to say about it in the mid-campaign round-up at Parent Bloggers. Other bloggers have added it to the holiday must have list. At $19.95 the hours of engagement for your child and the fun learning are well worth the investment.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Maven Dares You

Any book where the back cover says "For every girl with an independent spirit and a nose for trouble..." is a must read at my house. If there are two words that sum up my girls they would be independent and trouble. The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz was inspired by The Dangerous Book for boys by Conn & Hal
Iggulden (which you can check out reviews for here). I wasn't sure quite what to expect but enjoyed the combination of trip down memory lane, reference source for information on interesting women and provider of new ideas to try with my own girls.

I found the book broke down into four kinds of information--things I did as a kid, things I wish I did as a kid, interesting facts on stuff (gotta love a good list) and stuff that needs to wait until my girls are a bit older (they are 4 & 6).

Things I did as a kid and want to remember to do with my girls:

  • The sit-upon is a fond Brownie memory. Mine was red Naugahyde bound together with twine and a string long enough to wear it around my waist. I have a vague memory of using it on a Brownie camping trip where we slept in platforms tents and "foraged" for breakfast by getting our little boxes of cereals off trees where they had been suspended by string.

  • The God's eye was a Vacation Bible School and summer church camp staple with its brightly colored yarn and variations from popsicle sticks to tree branches depending on the venue.

  • Campfire songs, although I can't carry a tune in the bucket I have been blessed with a memory for all of the words and a voice that carries.
I found that many activities in the book like this reminded me of good stories to tell my girls--like the Brownie camping saga for my little cookie seller. Sometimes it is hard to pull those memories from the recesses of the aging mind but the book was a good memory jogger.

Things I wish I did as a kid...

  • Read a lot of "classic" books. I fancy myself a relatively well read person but when I looked at the list of Books that Will Change Your Life I hadn't read many of them. I did finish the entire Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden series though and wondered if that started my love of serial fiction.

  • Building a tree house or fort. In my house the closest we got to this was draping blankets over chairs.

Seeing those things that I might have "missed out" on is a good reminder of more things that I want to experience with my girls or encourage them to experience for themselves.

Interesting Stuff...

  • A table with the states, their capitals, flower and tree

  • Women spies from WWII

  • Greek & Latin roots of words

  • Fourteen games of tag

  • Instructions for Sun Salutation

  • French terms of endearment

  • Spanish phrases

Its nice that a book that I would have considered things to do also covers a wide range of things to talk about. Although I am sure I could find most of this stuff on the internet, finding it in print on my shelf holds a different weight for me. I like seeing the words on the page rather than the screen.

Things that can wait until later....

  • How to change a tire

  • Robert's Rules of Order (although I am not sure we're ever old enough for this!)

  • The basics of finance

  • How to negotiate a salary

I found The Daring Book for Girls to be a surprisingly wide ranging reference for all kinds of things to do with girls and to talk to them about. It spurred my own memories as well as giving me good ideas of things to do with my girls now and as they grow. I am sure I'll tuck it away on the shelf and refer to it on those rainy days when I am short on patience and good ideas.

You can check out what others have to say at the mid-campaign wrap up over at Parent Bloggers.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Maven Says: Its Deceptively Delicious

I am blessed with children who will eat nearly anything. The catch is, they won't necessarily eat the same thing twice in a row. Boobah will clean her plate of broccoli one night and a week later, she's claims she doesn't like it. I try to be calm and not get too hung up on her food intake on any single day, try to offer her a wide variety of foods, and occasionally sneak a little something in on her. My own efforts have been veggies in chili and things like zucchini bread. Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious offers recipes with a little extra nutrition in everything from chocolate cupcakes to beef stew.

Seinfeld (yes the wife of THAT Seinfeld) includes wisdom from parenting experts Jean Mandelbaum and Pat Shimm, a foreward by Mehmet Oz and Roxana Mehran, and a nutrition primer by Joy Bauer to round out her own experiences from feeding a family. Together they offer a well rounded view of feeding your kids healthy food and avoiding food battles. Although most of the books recipes sneak extra veggies into to places you wouldn't expect them, the point is made multiple times that you still need to offer your kids vegetables that they recognize. Eventually most kids will eat them, even if it requires dipping them in something.

Seinfeld's program for adding extra vegetables to food is broken into four sections:
  1. Equipping your kitchen
  2. Stocking up on staples
  3. Making purees
  4. Recipes

Her suggestion is to make purees a few at a time, keep the ones you'll use immediately in the fridge and freeze the rest in 1/4 or 1/2 cup portions, labelled in your freezer. This syncs up nicely with my efforts this summer to try and eat fresh local products, it would have been a great idea to make purees in addition to freezing whole veggies. I still have time to catch up with winter squash for recipes like tacos, sloppy joes and grilled cheese! Jessica Seinfeld shared a few of her recipes with Oprah and thus with you too!

I like the physical book itself (I'd love to show you a picture but blogger is being a bit difficult), the hard covered book with an interior spiral binding is set-up is perfectly for use in the kitchen to cook. Its also easy to wipe clean (yeah, I am a really messy cook!). The pictures of the food are beautiful yet approachable. The food isn't so styled that you can't imagine ever making it at home but it still looks incredibly appetizing--even with the extra added veggies. Serving french toast with a small glass of milk and a plastic fork is certainly do-able at my house! The use of bright colors and lots of plaid gives the book a fun retro feel.

If figuring out how to keep your kids well fed without having constant battles at the dinner table is your goal, this may be the book for you. I did have a little struggle with whether or not I should be "hiding" things in my kids foods. I reasoned that I don't tell them what else is in it, so why would I tell them about the cauliflower or butternut squash purees? I probably won't be whipping any cauliflower puree into our morning eggs--we are lucky to be eating cereal or yogurt in the van in the morning--but the other recipes are definitely an easy add to my repertoire.

You can read the thoughts of more bloggers on Deceptively Delicious over at Parent Bloggers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Maven Says: Lovin' Ryka Kicks

The nice people over at Ryka, along with the lovely ladies at Parent Bloggers Network gave me a pair of MC2 Walking Shoes to take for a spin and let you know what I thought. I received my new shoes and was thrilled to give them a spin. Unfortunately they were too small. They run true to my running/exercise shoe size rather than my regular shoe size. They moved me up into the next size right away. Ahhhhhhh, room for my toes! Just like clothes, forget about what size they are and find the one that fits you!
I have been a reasonably regular walker for the last 6 years. After PDQ was born I lost nearly 100 pounds and most of my exercise was walking. We lived near a lake with a walking path and PDQ and I did it religiously. One of the only problems was my feet and ankles would get sore. Fast forward 6 years, I have maintained about a 30 pound loss after having another baby and I am still walking and fighting to find a shoe that is comfy for my foot. I generally hate the look of walking shoes and have worn every running shoe on the face of the earth (that I could find in a size 11!) including several pairs of Rykas. The result was generally sore shins.

So I went out to try my new walking specific shoes. After 2 miles, no sore shins, comfy feet and no pain in my knees or ankles. Oh, I like these shoes! For the next several weeks I put around 10 miles a week on the shoes and continued to be pretty comfortable walking--both on the walking paths and in the gym on the treadmill. My knees, ankles and feet all held up pretty well. With my wider forefoot and narrow heel it is sometimes hard to find shoes that fit well. These shoes, and the other Ryka shoes I've tried, fit the bill. I love the idea that Ryka only develops shoes for women. We deserve to have good exercise shoes that fit our feet and aren't just whittled down versions of men's shoes.

What I liked:
Good support & cushioning
Comfortable in the gym and on the street
Good fit in the heel and forefoot
Lacing options around the ankle for good adjustment
What I'd do different:
Shoes are all leather and a bit hot when walking during hot weather
I still can't quite get over the look of walking shoes, I prefer the sportier look of running shoes (but these are the sportiest of the walking shoes I've seen/had)
Just another personal plug for the folks at Ryka. A friend started training for a triathlon last year and it just happened to be the Ryka Irongirl Triathlon in Columbia, MD. I went to the event and it was seriously first class. The race was well run and the go grrrrrrrrrl feeling was electric in the air. In fact, I was so inspired by what I saw there that I am now training to do it as well. Soon I'll be trading in my walking shoes for running shoes so that I can swim, bike, run to the finish line next year. Registration starts next week and I'm signing up, then I'll be totally committed (some days I already feel like I should be)!
Free shoes? Yep, you can enter to win your own pair of free shoes over at the Ryka website and enter their Good for Your Sole promotion to win one of 50 pairs of shoes or performance tees EVERY DAY through October 25! I told you these people rock. So get thee on over there and sign thee self up!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Maven Says: Books are Moovelous

My girls love videos, especially on long car rides. Along came Wilbur from my friends at Parent Bloggers just in time for our vacation drive. It was Boobah's turn to pick the first movie, she chose Wilbur. PDQ complained before it started that it was a baby video. Thankfully, once Wilbur and his friends Ray, Dasha and Libby started things quieted down. I even caught my thirteen year old stepson watching along with the girls. Although he didn't watch for long, anything that doesn't involve live action that can get his attention for a moment wins in my book. The girls stayed engaged with the show until the end and Boobah was crushed when it was over and PDQs turn to pick. Boobah picked Wilbur again later in the trip and insisted on sharing it with her toddler cousin once we arrived at our lake house. He enjoyed it while running around the room, as he generally enjoys everything!

Wilbur and his puppet animal friends were created by a group of Moms who noticed the limited TV programming for preschoolers. They do a great job of promoting early literacy skills, the calf Wilbur reminding us frequently that "books are moovelous!" I love that Wilbur reinforces my goal of having my children develop an early love of books and reading. I grew up with books everywhere and parents who always had a book laying around the house--sometimes more than one. My husband didn't have that same experience and rarely reads (for his own pleasure) today so I am very concious of reinforcing the value of reading with the kids. Its important to me that their other entertainment options send the same message so its not just something Mom wants me to do.
Two moos for Wilbur and his friends and their positive, entertaining reinforcement of the importance of reading! You can catch them on TLC or Ready, Set, Learn on the Discovery Kids Channel.