Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Discovery Tornado Lab Saved Me Hours of Unnecessary Crafting

For the past few months my nine-year-old had been bugging me to make her a toy she saw at a birthday party awhile back. It consisted of two, 2-liter soda bottles joined together at their necks and containing colored water, and when the bottles were flipped one way or another the liquid would create a tornado effect. The ones she had seen were joined by a plastic sleeve made especially for this purpose, but she had been told (by a very "helpful" parent at the party) that the same thing could be achieved by using duct tape to join the two bottles. So go home, he told her, go home and tell your mom to get cracking on that craft in all that free time of hers.

This particular project posed a few problems. For one thing, we never buy soda in liter bottles. I may drink coffee by the liter, but never soda. If that contraption could have been made by joining two Starbucks cups, well we would have had ourselves a house full of tornado toys. Another thing is, I don't trust the combination of large amounts of water, duct tape, and the willy-nilly arms of a nine-year old. I just knew that the toy would work fine for a few minutes, and then I'd spend the rest of the day cleaning up blue-tinged water off my couch and off the walls.

And most importantly, I don't consider myself a "crafty" person. You may not consider taping two pieces of plastic together a craft, but for me it may as well be needlepointing an entire set of living room chairs.

So imagine the screams of joy and the clapping of hands when The Parent Bloggers Network sent me the Discovery Tornado Lab to try out. My kids were pretty excited, too. Not only is it a hundred times more attractive than two Sprite bottles taped together, but at the touch of a button it makes tornado noises and has different speeds to simulate five different tornado strengths. The kids were a little disappointed we didn't have all that soda to finish off, though, so I gave them a bowl of candy to eat while we played with our new toy.

We live in California and have never experienced a tornado first hand, but we've seen them on TV and felt Dorothy's pain when she got sucked up into one in The Wizard of Oz. But luckily the Discovery Tornado Lab comes with a DVD that has some pretty breathtaking footage of actual tornadoes touching down, and also some sound bytes from people who have lived through them. The DVD is well made and worth watching - a really nice extra that makes the toy even more interesting.

Besides inserting batteries, there really isn't any setup, which is great (no duct tape!) Simply fill with water, turn the knob to your desired tornado strength, and push the button for sound effects. It comes with some small objects to drop in to the water to see how they react to the vortex effect, but my kids filled it with everything - small sticks, a little bit of dirt, some leaves. At one point I even saw a Polly Pocket purse and a small rubber wig twirling around in there - I guess they were trying to simulate what would happen if a tornado touched down on Polly Pocket's Ultimate Stylin' Boutique.

It's not every day that I enthuse about an instruction manual, but the Discovery Tornado Lab comes with such an unusual one that I think it's worth pointing out here. The actual setup and instructions take up only half a page, but the other 23 pages are filled with tornado facts and maps. It even has several experiments that you can do, and poses questions relating to the outcomes of those experiments. When was the last time you saw a thoughtful, educational instruction manual with that Bratz Limo your kid got, or with that pack of Pokémon cards?

My daughter will be entering fifth grade next year, and one of the things they'll be studying are different types of weather patterns and occurrences. I'm already planning on lending the Discovery Tornado Lab to her teacher, along with printouts of the instruction manual and the DVD. Come to think of it, this would make a great teacher gift, one I'm sure they would appreciate much more than that Santa mug or the pencil holder carved to look like an apple.

This isn't the first Discovery toy I've owned, and it won't be the last. I've always found them to be well made, and above all, educational. And thanks to the Discovery Tornado Lab, I won't be laboring over soda bottles and duct tape any time soon.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

The HP Photosmart Portable Printer Just Might Be My Favorite Gadget Ever.

I'm the gadget nut in this family. While my husband would be content to use a rotary-dial phone and a TV that needs to be hand-cranked, I have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning unless I know that there is some electronic device waiting to be purchased that will make my day more exciting. I've got my eyes set on a one-cup coffeemaker (even though we already have a grind-and-brew and an espresso machine fighting for space on our counter) and my husband has noticed that I make odd slurping noises whenever an iPhone commercial flashes on the TV screen.

So when The Parent Bloggers Network sent me an HP Photosmart photo printer to test out, I was ecstatic. Never mind that we have two working printers in our house already - one in my office and one in the kitchen for the kids to use - I'd seen these in action before and I couldn't wait to try one out. Plus I knew it would come in especially handy for printing out a detailed photo-wish-list of all the other gadgets I wanted for Christmas.

First off, this printer solved the number one problem I have with digital photography: the fact that I can take a gazillion photos of say, my daughters birthday party or the neighbor's annual Nude Barbecue, but none of those pictures ever see the light of day. Before, with traditional film cameras, I'd rush to get my film developed and then could share those photos with family and friends. Grandma could feel like she was actually at my daughter's Hello Kitty party, and my husband could hang those barbecue photos right up in his office.

But unless I emailed them out, I would never share my digital photos because printing them out was such a laborious process. Open the photos in Photoshop! Resize them! Arrange them on a page! Add to that the fact that both my husband and I are designers and will analyze and correct color for days on end, and you can see why those photos of my daughter's birthday party in April have never made it into an album. That would be April 1999.

The Photosmart solves that problem, and then some. I have to stress here how unbelievably easy to set up and use this device is. I'm not big on reading manuals, so I was relieved to see it came with a 'cheat sheet,' one of those posters that has basic instructions (and diagrams) for doing a quick set-up on a product. I timed myself, and it took me exactly eight minutes to set up the Photosmart and print my first photo. Not bad, considering it took me five hours just to figure out how to install the tape cartridge into the video camera we bought a few months ago.

The touch-screen on the Photosmart works beautifully, and except for the fact that it just amped up my longing for an iPhone, I have to say it's one of my favorite features. It makes navigating through the thumbnails of your images incredibly easy, and gives my hands a nice break from using a mouse or a keyboard.

I first used the printer without hooking it up to my computer. For me, this is the way to go, as it makes the printer truly portable as a stand-alone device. You simply pop the memory card from your camera into the designated slot (to accommodate various types of media from compact flash cards to memory sticks to MultiMedia cards) and your photos appear on the touch-screen in thumbnail format. Touch any photo to enlarge, or touch the arrows to scroll through your images. Seriously, you could use this printer while driving a car, drinking a mocha and talking on your cell phone, although I would never endorse such ridiculous behavior to my readers. I would urge you to forgo the sugar in the mocha in favor of a double cappuccino.

Once you've picked a picture to print (or you could go ahead and 'print all' if you're that type of devil-may-care reckless personality) you can either do a straight print or customize with any of the many tricks the Photosmsart has up its sleeve. You can put a variety of borders on your photo (the Summer border with Naked Barbecue kills) or place icon 'stickers' on your image (useful for putting a pacifier over the beer can in that photo of your drunk uncle.) Get the handy stylus out of it's smartly-designed nook on the printer and draw on your image using a couple of different brush widths and a variety of colors. Or, use the onscreen keyboard to type in a caption in one of five different fonts and several different colors. You'll never have to scrawl "Loser" with a Sharpie over your ex-boyfriend's picture again!

(Their red-eye feature works great - my results were just as good as those I get in iPhoto.)

I did try using the printer in tandem with my computer, but I have to say that for me it defeated the whole purpose of having a photo printer. It took the novelty and fun out of being able to point and print out an image directly from my memory card, and I found the program a little cumbersome. The USB cable (which usually need to be purchased separately but was provided to me by HP) just seemed like yet another cord to deal with. I'm going to unplug it and use it to tie back the curtains in my bedroom.

I was also sent a set of HP Photobooks to test out, and it made me marvel at how ingenious the whole HP photo system is. I started off with the smaller, 5 x 7 sized book and was able to print out my photos with my Photosmart and place them right into the album (the pages snap right in with their ingeniously-designed snap-spines.) Unfortunately I wasn't able to use the software included becuse it isn't Mac compatible, but apparently you can use it to create different layouts with different themes and add text and desig elements to the page. I'm hooked!

My two daughters, ages 9 and 11 couldn't get enough of the Photosmart and turned into photo-printing maniacs; I had to put my foot down when I realized they were going through all of my paper printing pictures of my daughter's stuffed rabbit in various forms of inebriation while holding a wine bottle Christmas tree ornament. I'm considering purchasing them a Photosmart of their very own; besides wanting to keep mine all to myself, I could see the touch screen taking a beating at the hands of overzealous tween girls, and I don't see the stylus hanging around too long before it's lost in the seat cushions of the couch.

Lastly, as if the Photosmart weren't awesome enough on it's own, I'm thinking of ordering this cool carrying case so that I can take my nifty printer with me wherever I go. Look for me - I'll be the one printing photos while in line at Trader Joes. Of course, I'll be on my iPhone at the same time.

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*Wanna put those photos of yours into an album as a present for Grandma? Click here to get 20% off Photo Books at the HP store.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

I Use It Everyday: Tabasco Gets Me Hot

Call me crazy, but I don't think there's anything that doesn't taste better with a healthy dose of Tabasco shaken on it. I put it on everything - eggs, chicken, tacos - I'd probably put it on a donut if I weren't watching my carbs. Sure it's hot and can make your lips feel like they're burning off and singes your throat like you just drank a cup of hot lava, but like giving birth, you soon forget the pain and want to do it all over again! Coincidentally, too much Tabasco can make you sound like you're in labor.

I recall my sister-in-law once saying to my brother, "What IS it with your family and Tabasco?" as we all fought over a bottle at a family gathering. I'm not sure, but somehow the spicy condiment was a staple in our Japanese American diet. I never thought there was anything strange about the pairing of Tabasco and ramen noodles and I thought nothing of emptying half a bottle onto my Denver omelet. I remember that familiar red and green bottle being present on our kitchen table at all times, and even today I still make sure there's always one in my refrigerator. Hey kids - mommy forgot to buy milk, but what about some Tabasco on your cereal this morning?

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Friday, November 16, 2007

The Daring Book for Girls: Don't Judge This Book By its Cover

Not that it's a bad cover, mind you. I happen to like the nostalgic feel of it; the weighty look of the title makes me think I'm going to find a map for buried treasure inside, or a spell for turning the mean boy next door into a toad. But my tween daughters? They thought it looked "old." That was pretty much the final verdict for us and this book: I loved it, my girls - eh, not so much.

First my side of the story, because not only am I their mother and know what's best, but I'm bossier and have more cash.

When I first got The Daring Book for Girlsto review for the Parent Bloggers Network I felt like I had been transported back to my childhood. Everything from the typeface on the cover to the line drawings inside were reminiscent of a set of child encyclopedias I remember having as a little girl. Remember that? Before Wikipedia? It's hard to imagine having to look for information without a search box and a cursor.

And if I could sum up The Daring Book for Girls it would be this: It has virtually every nostalgic activity in it that a parent dreams of doing with their kids, but don't always have the time. From setting up a lemonade stand to planting a secret garden, from bird watching to making a wooden tree swing. Throw in some yoga positions, a few math tricks and a recipe for making fake blood, and you've pretty much got the perfect book for getting your kids away from the TV and actually doing something. Why, it even made me want to consider pulling myself away from the computer for a few minutes.

And now for my girls' opinions. Keep in mind that they're 9 and 11, and don't know what's good for them yet.

They're first comments, besides the one about the cover looking "old", were that all the illustrations looked "old." Oh, and all the activities looked like they were "from a long time ago" and the type used for the body copy looked like "something out of an old book."

Do you see a theme here?

And on some of these points, I tend to agree with them. Let me explain.

I'm an art director. I enjoy good design, I totally get and appreciate the feel the authors were trying to achieve with this book, and I think they succeeded. But that's not to say that tween girls, who love a good iPod commercial and covet Japanese manga books with their slick graphics and mod colors are going to appreciate a book that looks like a throwback to a 1940's Girl Scout handbook. No matter how many times I threaten to ground them.

And though we all know you can't judge a book by its cover, I think that it's hard to expect children, who are bombarded with such sophisticated visuals these days to look beyond first impressions. Even when I showed my nine-year-old the section on 'sleep-outs (which she's been wanting to do) she had a hard time getting past the vintage silhouette illustrations. And don't get me started on her comments about the campfire songs, but I can hardly blame her - Darling Clementine was rusty even when I was a little girl.

My 11-year old pondered the list of Books That Will Change Your Life, and while she was excited to see her favorites Harry Potter and Nancy Drew included, she pointed out that not a single book on the list took place in modern day. She just did a book report on The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and wrote that it "taught her about friendship and conflict resolution" - so where was a nod to the modern 21st girl in this list? She had me there.

In spite of all our disagreements, I still love The Daring Book for Girls, but I concluded that, at least in our case, the book is really for moms to use as a guidebook in seeking out activities that they might bring to the attention of their daughters. When I mentioned to my youngest that there was a recipe for making a vinegar and baking soda volcano, she wanted to take another look, and even flipped to the next page to peruse the Rules of Bowling. There might be hope yet.

I found this video just as I was writing this review, and it's late now but I'm going to show it to my girls tomorrow. For me, this really captures the spirit of he book, and I think seeing these activities in a modern context would make them much more appealing for my jaded, modern girls. They might just reconsider that sleep out...

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Deceptively Delicious: Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables, One Pureed Squash at a Time

Okay, don't hate me, but I've never had a problem getting my kids to eat. Anything. From every vegetable you can think of, to raw octopus, to fiery curry - they'll try anything once and they usually end up liking it. In fact, my biggest problem at restaurants is trying to keep our bill down while they attempt to order one of everything on the menu - bisques made with strange fish, appetizers that contain mysterious animal body parts - "Just to see what it tastes like." I know it's freakish. But if it's any consolation they won't eat the school pizza, because it's square-shaped. Can you blame them?

So when The Parent Bloggers Network asked me to review Jessica Seinfeld's new book, Deceptively Delicious, I was a little skeptical. Do we really need to 'deceive' our kids into eating vegetables by pureeing them, mashing them or otherwise rendering them unrecognizable and then hiding them in foods? When at the age of 18 they finally come upon a real vegetable in its natural state, say a bell pepper, will they become puzzled and wonder aloud what the 'hideous green bulbous thing' is on their plate? Are we setting our kids up to become ridiculed because they're the only ones at the senior banquet who don't know what a zucchini is?

But then I got the book in the mail and I have to admit I could see what all the hoopla is about. Even Oprah digs it, and I was starting to come around, too. It's full of straightforward recipes with easy-to-understand directions and basic ingredients. Right off the bat I applauded it for it's chic un-stuffiness. Not a truffle oil or duck tongue to be found, thank goodness.

The basis of the recipes are vegetable purees, the secret ingredients that Seinfeld recommends you 'hide' in the foods, but I see them more as nutritional boosts. Cauliflower puree added to tuna salad, spinach puree added to brownies - ingenious! Who wouldn't get behind the idea of getting some folic acid along with your afternoon chocolate fix? But at the same time, I still think it wouldn't hurt to still serve your kid a cauliflower floret dipped in homemade ranch dressing, or maybe some whole spinach leaves scrambled into eggs. Obviously things are alot more fun over at Seinfeld's house than at the Vegetable Lady's house over here.

Being a designer, I have to say that my favorite aspect of the book is it's retro feel. From the kitschy illustrations (reminiscent of '50's clip-art) to the photography, it brought back memories of cookbooks that my mother had used to introduce me to cooking when I was a little girl. Is it improper to use a cookbook as a coffee-table book? Because I'd like to leave this one out for everyone to see. It reminds me of my favorite entertaining book, Amy Sedaris' I Like You, but without the snark and tips on how to wash your private parts.

But I still think that only serving our kids vegetables that have been mashed and pureed robs them of experiencing the beauty of vegetables in their natural form - the crisp of a sweet pea or the adventure of eating an artichoke for the first time. Instead of hiding the vegetables, what about coming up with creative ways to serve them that would entice kids to try them? I've found that with my own two girls, a visual presentation is sometimes all that's needed. I introduced them to raw red bell peppers by slicing them into thin sticks, standing them up in a cup like a bouquet and serving it with a side of hummus. Worked like a charm, and I saved myself the trouble of hauling out the Cuinsinart.

But in spite of my differences with Seinfeld's "deceptive" tactics, I would still recommend Deceptively Delicious. Because when all is said and done, it's a beautiful book with easy recipes and wholesome ingredients aimed at keeping our kids healthy - shouldn't all books be so noble? And then I came down off my high horse (aren't you glad?) and thought, if it helps even one kid get a green bean coursing through his small intestine, I'm all for it.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cleans Dishes, Smells Nice And Is Fun At Parties, Just Like Me.

The next time you're in my kitchen and you notice a clean, fresh scent, it might just be my dishwashing soap and not the back of my neck. I've been using this ingenious invention lately, and now my kitchen smells like water lily and jasmine instead of stale coffee grounds and old fruit. Everyone's in a better mood!

Dawn Simple Pleasures has an air freshener built into the base. The scent isn't overpowering, and the bottle is a nice compact size that isn't an eyesore on the counter.

But did you know the really cool thing about Dawn soap? It makes the best, biggest, strongest bubbles, and that's on the sage advice of a bubble magician I talked to at a party. (Yes, I talk to bubble magicians - I'm such the social vixen) And here's a video (with an awesome Joe Jackson soundtrack) to show you how to do it:

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Little Black Book of Style: Take Two Birkin Bags and Call Her In The Morning

Don't let my current look fool you. I didn't always walk around in sweatpants, a faded Gap t-shirt and shoes that look like they were run over by a truck. You think I went out of the house without lipstick in my twenties? Back in the day I actually got my hair cut more than three times a year, had neatly pedicured toes and my belt freqently matched my shoes. I've got an Azzedine Alaia dress in my closet, an old Fendi bag on my shelf and even a Gaultier suit I had altered to fit. By a real tailor.

So what happened? Somewhere between then and now, I had kids. Plain and simple. Some people may say that's no excuse, but I beg to differ. Show me a woman who's style hasn't faltered since she's had kids, and I'll show you a woman who's got a full-time nanny and an assistant who irons her socks, I always say.

One of those women would appear to be Nina Garcia, author of The Little Black Book of Style and judge on the popular TV show Project Runway. When I was asked by The Parent Blogger's Network to review Garcia's book, I was intrigued by the idea of a handbook that could possibly help me on the road back to fashion enlightenment, a primer on regaining my taste for well-fitting skirts and expensive shoes. Do I always have to pick up the kids wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt with a jam stain on it? I think not!

Okay, maybe Garcia's assistant doesn't iron her socks, but by the tone of this book you come to suspect that the author has just a little bit more time than the rest of us to devote to picking out the perfect outfit in the morning. I guess I was expecting the book to have a little bit more of a tongue-in-cheek approach to fashion; I've never taken clothes too seriously and I thought Garcia, who has an infant son, would have a more user-friendly approach. I had to keep reminding myself that maybe I'm not the target audience for the book, although there's a small section devoted to dressing during pregnancy so you'd think she was expecting at least a few of us moms to be reading. A few of us non-model, non-celebrity moms, that is.

The book is well-written and the illustrations by Ruben Toledo are beautiful, but for me the book felt impractical and slightly elitist. I would love to have seen a chapter on everyday dressing - not all of us shop at Prada and need to put on our Manolos to walk out the door. I'm sure even fashionistas need to leave the house in a hurry once in a while to run by the post office or pick up ingredients for a casserole, don't they? And while I don't expect Garcia to advise her readers to buy their purses at Target (me, often), I thought putting only wildly expensive designer bags - the Chanel 2.55, Louis Vuitton Speedy, Hermes Birkin - under the heading "[Bags] Every Woman Should Have" a little unrealistic. A Hermes Birkin can set you back $6,700 - that's 231 messenger bags from Target.

Not that the book doesn't have some solid, useful advice. I found the second chapter, "The Basics" to be helpful in recognizing which core pieces make up a cohesive wardrobe; a trench coat, ballet flats, a classic men's watch - pieces I wouldn't think of buying but am seriously considering. And the advice about buying a pair of black high-heeled pumps has convinced me that a visit to the shoe store tomorrow is imperative, groceries and utility bills be damned.

One of the last chapters in the book, "Insider Tips and Tricks" would have been the perfect vehicle to pull in some differing and unique points of view on fashion and style. Instead, I was disappointed to see that everyone interviewed was a heavyweight in the fashion field - from Donatella Versace to Heidi Klum - and had frustratingly similar answers to many of their questions. Variations on 'confidence and inner beauty' seemed to be everyone's response to what constitutes a unique sense of style - how great would it have been if she had queried the high-schooler shopping in Chelsea, or the rocker buying his wardrobe on Melrose? Or me, putting together an outfit from the sale rack at Macy's? Okay, maybe not me, but those other two would have definitely worked.

As a point of reference, I have to say that one of my favorite movies of last year was The Devil Wears Prada, a film that skewers the fashion industry and makes the salvation of the heroine possible only when she realizes the transparency and superficiality of the industry that she had embraced. I started reading The Little Black Book of Style with that movie in mind, and was expecting a little bit more self-parody or humor. But I quickly realized that Garcia takes fashion very seriously, which, being that it's her profession, she has every right to. I just think she missed an opportunity to make her book more lighthearted, and in the end, more accessible to those of us just trying to get out the door with a clean pair of pants in the morning.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Get Down, Get Down: Wii Boogie Is In Da House

There's a song that's been on an endless loop in my head the past few weeks. No, it's not the latest Gwen Stefani song or that insidious jingle from the Advantix commercial (that was last week's loop.) It's You're The One That I Want from the movie Grease. I just watched it a few weeks ago, along with my two tween girls who were seeing it for the first time. They loved it, and the song from the end of the movie where Olivia Newton-John is rubbing her leather-clad butt all over John Travolta seems to be their favorite. Funny, I didn't think that was odd until I just wrote that sentence.

Talk about timing: a few days after our Grease viewing we received our copy of Boogie, the new karaoke game for the Wii. The girls popped it in, and saw You're The One That I Want on the song list. Needless to say the game was an instant hit, they played the tune over and over, and now that damn song is searing a path through my brain.

When the Parent Bloggers Network offered to let us try out a new Wii game before it was released I jumped at the chance; we'd had the gaming system for a couple of months and we were all getting tired of the sports games that come with the system and the selection of Wii games you can purchase are fairly limited. Boogie offered something for the entire family; the karaoke/dance theme was right up my girls' alley, and singing badly along to popular songs is something my husband and I do quite frequently.

As with most video games, I have no pretense of knowing how to set it up, learn the rules or work the controls. I pass it off to the girls, and if they run into trouble it's their job to find a willing, qualified ten-year-old to help them out. As I've told them repeatedly - that's what friends are for. They didn't have any problems with Boogie, though - it was easy for them to pop in the disc and start playing the game immediately. Of course, I give a thumbs up to any activity that doesn't require me to put down my cappuccino.

I have a suggestion for video game developers, and that is to make a game for tween girls that consists entirely of choosing a character and deciding which groovy hairstyle and funky clothes she can wear. My daughters and their friends spent more time doing this in Boogie than in any other part of the game. (The same goes for the initial setup of their Wii console, where one is able to customize their character, or Mii.) Finally after hours of "I like your bangs!' and "Your character looks too emo" I had to beg them to get down (no pun intended) to the business of singing and dancing.

A last quick note on the characters, though - my girls found them a little "too weird" and "childish." (Question: Can a nine-year old even use the word 'childish'?) There's only one female character who, while they enthusiastically dressed her like she had just spent fifty-hours in a virtual mall, they said was too 'Bratz-like' for their taste. Fine if you like Bratz, but if you're like my girls and sneer everytime they see them on TV, beware.

Along with the eponymous Grease tune, there were a few other songs that got my girls up and singing and dancing; Walkin' on Sunshine, ABC, Get The Party Started. For me, the inclusion of my favorite dance song of all time, Brick House, made me give a big high-five to the game creators. However, I didn't get as enthusiastic an endorsement from my daughters when I started singing, "Brick. House. She's mighty mighty" Kids these days.

Also, I had to put the kibosh on The Pussycat Dolls' Don't Cha. Something so wrong about hearing your tween daughter singing, "Don't cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me."

Besides the singing/dancing activity in Boogie, my daughters had a great time with the Video Maker, which allows you to create a music video using your character and a song of your choosing. Using the pre-fab effects, camera angles and backgrounds anyone can create a YouTube masterpiece. Unfortunately, my girls seized this opportunity to have a contest to see who could create the most awful video. making their character do a series of ridiculous leg-kicks and waist bends and dancing completely off-beat. Come to think of it, it bore a striking resemblance to Paris HIlton's music-video debut.

A few comments/suggestions from my kids: A DDR-type dance pad would be nice, and my nine-year-old would, and I quote, "like more songs from this century." I tried not to take her comments too personally as I sang enthusiastically along to the Ohio Players' Love Rollercoaster.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Glaceau Vitamin Water XXX: You Had Me At 'Reverse Osmosis Water'

glaceau-vitamin-waterAside from my daily double cappuccino, the drink most likely to be seen in my hand these days is a bottle of XXX Glaceau Vitamin Water. And not just because it has this on the label:

c'mon on get your mind out of the gutter. we only named this drink XXX because it has the power of triple antioxidants to help keep you healthy and fight free radicals. so in case you're wondering, this does not cost $1.99 /minute or contain explicit adult content or anything considered uncensored. it has not gone wild during spring break nor will clips of it be passed around the internet like a certain hotel heiress, and it has never been seen live or nude, but is definitely au naturale.

And the first ingredient is listed as "vapor distilled, deionized, and/or reverse osmosis water." I kid you not.

And they've got a crazy website to boot.

In the interest, or lack, of disclosure, I was not paid or compensated to profess my love for this product. But if the manufacturers are moved to send me a case of XXX that may very well likely move my love to a whole other level.

Author's Note: No, I didn't write this review to see how many hits I would get by putting 'XXX' and 'love' in the same sentence.

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Thursday, August 9, 2007

I Use It Everyday: FiberOne Cereal Has Put A Spell On My Family, And Made Us Regular, Too!

Recently I was asked to test out a new cereal, FiberOne Raisin Bran Clusters. Besides the cheapskate in me lusting after free breakfast food, the chance to use all those fiber jokes in a review was just too good to pass up, so I accepted. To top it off, the site is also called - I imagined this review would just write itself.

I figured my husband and I would eat it but not the kids - there were no cartoon characters on the box and not a marshmallow star in sight. Although I was disappointed at the absence of any toy hidden inside - I thought for once I could have the magic decoder ring all to myself.

So imagine my surprise when my kids tried it...and liked it. They didn't seem to notice that each flake wasn't coated in an inch of sugar, or the fact that the word Fiber is mentioned like a gazillion times on the front of the box. Never mind that I didn't bother to explain the attraction of fiber for us, uh, older folks - why ruin a good thing? It would have been like telling them the story of Bambi's mother while they were enjoying the fawns at a deer park.

I like it because it isn't overly sweet - I don't like anything interfering with the bitterness of my cup of black coffee in the morning. In fact, I poured some in a bag and took it to the pool the other day to snack on while the kids swam - I felt extra smug watching the other mom's chow down on Cheez-It's when I knew that I was the only one improving my digestive system. Ha! Take that, über-moms and your fancy colonics.

Like most foods, breakfast cereal is cyclical around here and I'm sure sooner or later we'll get tired of this one and have a new favorite. But for now, FiberOne is da boss around here in the morning, and helps us get up and go. (It'd be a shame if I didn't get at least one fiber joke in here.)

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Dark Dreamweaver: Endorsed By A Nine-Year-Old Summer-Book-Hater

Every summer it's the same with my two daughters - any activity with even the slightest association whatsoever with school is met with as much enthusiasm as a dental appointment. 'Educational' and 'learning' are struck from our vocabulary, and even one of their favorite activities, reading, takes a hit during the summer months. So when The Parent Bloggers Network offered me a chance to review The Dark Dreamweaver, a book aimed at tweens, I accepted but thought I may have to disguise it as a Nintendo game and attach it to a popsicle before presenting it to my girls.

So imagine my surprise when, after showing them a description of the book online, they jumped at the chance to read it. (Not saying it didn't have something to do with the fact that I told them that the book was free and wouldn't be coming out of their allowance.) But I will say that in this case, they did judge the book, at least initially, by it's cover - they reacted immediately to the mystical illustration that was similar in feel to some of their favorite series - The Chronicles of Narnia, A Series of Unfortunate Events. And then these two non-summer-readers did something unheard of - they played rock paper scissors to see who would get to read a book first. If that isn't a ringing endorsement from the start I don't know what is.

My nine-year-old won out (she says her secret is to just keep doing rock rock rock) and started reading it as soon as it arrived in the mail. She immediately became engrossed in the story of David, a young boy who discovers a caterpillar who claims to be a wizard named Houdin who hails from a world called Remin. She'd stop her reading to describe to me the various characters - a serpent, a jellyfish-man - but I'd have to say she was most excited to discover that her big sister shares a name with one of the main characters.

One of the first comments that my daughter made about the book was that the dream sequences in the beginning of the book were frightening her, and when I read them I'd have to agree that the images they conjure up may be intense for young readers. But beyond that there's nothing particularly violent or disturbing in the book that I've read thus far. I think author Nick Ruth does a good job of creating a magical world with his characters, although his writing may lack the flourish of J.K. Rowling or Lemony Snicket.

Another comment she made was that the book seemed to "jump around too much." I haven't read far enough to see this, but she says the story changes locations too many times and "it would be nice if the story was more calm in places." I'm going to make sure I bring this up the next time she's watching an episode of one of her favorite cartoons, the 'calming' Fairly OddParents.

But overall my daughter is giving the book a thumbs up so far, and she's now three quarters of the way through it. She seemed to lose interest in the story in the past couple of weeks until recently when she and her sister found a caterpillar in the backyard, named it Jerry and claimed it was of extraordinary intelligence. This seemed to light a fire under her to finish the book, which just goes to prove that as with most things, sometimes the key to a good read is all in the timing.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Animals Came Two By Two, And Thus A Fight Between Two Sisters Was Avoided

When they're not busy being incredibly cute and amazing, my two daughters, ages nine and eleven, like to spend their time arguing over "what's fair." This might involve who got the last Otter Pop, or how to equally divide up the stickers that grandma sent over in the mail. Sometimes the complicated process of making sure each one gets their fair share requires intricate mathematical equations, a scale and a protractor. It almost always ends up with one of them fuming, the slamming of a door and the calling of my name.

When I was asked by The Parent Bloggers Network to review a toy called Noah's Pals, I didn't realize then how perfect this toy would be for our situation. I only jumped at the chance because even though my daughters are getting older they never seem to tire of any toy or activity that has to do with animals. The miniature farm set, the toy pet shop all remain while Polly Pocket and her small, annoying plastic friends were sent packing long ago.

But when the box arrived with five sets of animals and my girls tore into them, I immediately saw the beauty of it: TWO of everything. And not to discount the Great Flood, but the real miracle was happening right here in my living room - the rustle of plastic as they unwrapped and divided the animals into two sets, with - gasp - no arguing.

Noah's Pals are sold separately (that is, as pairs) or as a complete set which includes 40 pairs of animals, Noah and the ark. I'm impressed with the craftsmanship - the animals are all made out of durable plastic, and are carefully painted and molded. My girls are older so choking isn't a concern (unless they're at each others' throats over that last cookie) but smaller animals, such as the dove we received, might be a problem with younger children. The toys are recommended for children 5 and up. And judging by my 11-year old's attachment to her pair of kangaroos, I'd say there's no age maximum.

While my girls are vaguely familiar with the story of Noah and his ark, I don't think a religious background is necessary to enjoy this toy, only a love of animals - and small plastic things. I even caught them dancing the animals around to a song on the radio the other day (The Frey, no less.) But the best part for me, of course, is the fact that there are two of everything - makes me wish the story had Noah taking pairs of Otter Pops and cookies on that ark.

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Monday, July 9, 2007

Beauty and the Bowl: My Shiny Adventures With Hi-Tech Bathroom Products

Awhile back I was asked by the Parent Bloggers Network to give my opinion on a toilet cleaner and a tub and tile cleaner, which they informed me they would be sending free of charge. I eagerly agreed, since everyone knows cleaning is high on my list of least favorite activities, right up there with jury duty and being picked last for kickball. It was like a dream come true - a clean bathroom, free of charge!

So imagine my surprise when I realized the 'cleaners' they were referring to weren't actually people coming over to clean my bathroom, but products. Deflated, I agreed. After all, free is free and that ring around my toilet bowl wasn't going to clean itself.

The first product I tried was the Kaboom Never Scrub Continuous Toilet Cleaning System. My husband was suspicious of this one, since he's wary of any 'unnecessary' chemicals coursing through our plumbing system. So, the hardest part was figuring out a way to do it behind the little tree-hugger's back. While other women wait until their husbands leave the house so they can empty the liquor cabinet or invite the FedEx man in for a back rub (okay, me neither) I get my thrills by illicitly installing toilet-cleaning devices. Hot!

I have to say it was remarkably easy to install, even for a non-handy person like myself. It definitely seemed to keep the toilet clean, although I was disappointed to see that it couldn't do a thing for that messy pile of Oprah magazines stacked next to it. One of the things I liked was that it didn't turn the water a hideous blue color that I've seen other cleaning systems do - to me this just screams to the world, "I'm not scrubbing my toilet!" Because ideally you want your toilet to look clean and still be able to complain about cleaning it to all your visitors.

The second product, Kaboom Shower, Tub & Tile Cleaner worked equally well, and actually did make my tired old tiles 'gleam.' It definitely worked best when you followed the directions to let the spray sit for a couple of minutes before rinsing, but if you're like me and two minutes seems like an eternity to spend cleaning your bathroom, an immediate rinsing still works well. My only problem with it was the spray seemed to come out unevenly, but that could have been due to a faulty valve, or the fact that my shower was so filthy it was actually scaring the spray back into the bottle.

The thing I liked best about both of these products was the mild scent. While most people like their bathrooms smelling like pomegranate essence or a field of daisies, I detest flowery, fruity scents and would prefer mine to have the ammonia smell of a hospital ward that can conjure up images of Nurse Ratched barreling down the hallway rolling an IV pole behind her. So the slightly soapy, mildly disinfectant scent of Kaboom is a nice compromise.

But don't take my word for it - try some Kaboom products for yourself. Check out their website at and then go read what others have to say about these products at Parent Bloggers Network.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Tales From The School Cafeteria: How I Love Thee, Cardboard Tray.

What do the following have in common?

• Bean Burritos
• Creamed Chicken on Rice
• Shredded Carrot and Raisin Salad
• Taco Casserole
• Fish Sticks

Besides all being foods that you may find in my purse on any given day, they're all things that I remember being served in the school cafeteria. If I sound wistful, I am - I'm one of the freakish few that actually liked what we were served by the hair-netted ladies in the white smocks. Of course, I like eating sardines out of the can and natto, Japanese fermented soybeans, so that says alot about me right there.

When The Parent Blogger's Network requested a post on "Tales From The School Cafeteria" I have to say it triggered only good, nostalgic memories for me. There may have been a few traumatic ones, for instance the time I asked for seconds on my Jell-O cup and was practically chased out with a meat cleaver, but for the most part I remember lunchtime being a bright spot in my day. I even worked in the cafeteria for a semester as a student volunteer, and along with receiving lots of free food, it definitely had a certain cachet to it - it's amazing how your popularity soars when your friends realize you can sneak an extra cinnamon bun out to them at recess.

My kids, now in elementary school, eat in their school's cafeteria almost every day. Where else can you get a hot meal for only a dollar? And while the other, overriding reason is that I'm essentially too damn lazy to make them a lunch every day, I think they're getting a decent balanced meal. Sure they lack on presentation - do they really have to serve their hamburgers on buns that look like they've been sitting under a stack of ten-pound weights? But I've studied the menus carefully and they always consist of a good sampling of the various food groups. Although the inclusion of nachos as a main course puzzles me, and on the days that's on the menu I always make sure I stop watching America's Top Model long enough to make them a sandwich.

And who are we kidding - our kids never their lunches anyways.

But there's another reasons I have a special place in my heart for the school cafeteria and the ladies (and let's face it, there are only cafeteria ladies - when was the last time you saw a man in there) who work long and hard to make sure hundreds of unruly kids get fed their pizza and cartons of milk.

My mother was one of those ladies. She worked for over twenty years in the busy cafeteria of an inner city middle school. Her paycheck put clothes on the backs and food on the table of five kids, especially helpful when my dad's business wasn't doing so well. She made lifelong friends there, a few that she sees regularly and others that she sees when they have their occasional reunions. And of course, she ate in the cafeteria every day that she worked behind that counter.

And now? My sprightly mom is 86 and in perfect health, with 20/20 vision and still drives a car. She works four days a week in her Senior Center, takes a computer class every Monday and always sees movies before me, since she goes out for 'movie & lunch' outings with her gaggle of girlfriends twice a month. Although I do have to admit it's a little disturbing when your elderly mother sees 'The 40-Year Old Virgin' before you and proceeds to tell you all about the waxing scene in detail.

Which leads me to believe that, say what you will about school cafeteria food but if my mom is any proof, it may just be the fountain of youth.


Check out these websites, that work together with School Food Services Directors, for helpful information regarding school lunches: School Menu, which has games for kids and an interesting feature that lets you download your school's lunch menu, and Family Everyday, which I found especially helpful for it's articles on nutrition and also recipes for making healthy lunches. It may just inspire me to get up and pack those sack lunches for my kids, afterall.

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Got Hobby?

During a brief period in middle school I remember being obsessed with macramé. I was a virtual knot-tying wizard, if you will, whipping up everything from belts to intricate plant hangers that I would then hang from the ceiling right next to my beaded curtain and Partridge Family poster. I wish I had saved one of my most prized creations, a necktie made from orange macramé cord and embedded with wooden beads that I remember wearing with my rainbow suspenders. Why I wasn't a hit with the boys back then is still a mystery to me.

Fast forward (more than ten years, less than ninety) to present day, and I am sadly, a woman without a hobby. Sure, I crochet the occasional cell phone case, or whip up the requisite emergency memorial for a deceased fish, but not with the fervor and dedication that I remember of my macramé days. And while a seatcover made out of knotted twine wouldn't necessarily fit in with our present decor, I still sometimes wish I had a diversion that I could sink my teeth into.

When the Parent Bloggers Network sent me a book to review called Get A Hobby, I was a little wary at first. Shouldn't the love for a particular activity be an organic one, and not simply plucked out of the pages of a book? But I was relieved to find that though it does have some serious advice (a foreword written by a neurologist proclaiming the health benefits of engaging in pleasurable activities ) and some bonafide hobbies (Furniture Restoration, Quilting) author Tina Barseghian's approach is pretty tongue-in-cheek. How else to explain the quiz to find your "Hobby Personality" where one of the questions is "Name one of the leaders of the peasant's revolt of 1381"?

If anything, I found this book highly entertaining and well written. From hobbies such as Dumpster Diving ("dive for tchotchkes, not classified information") to Gourd Crafting ("the versatile gourd can be used as food and as a functional readymade container!") I got a kick out of reading these out loud to my husband, whose ears perked up at the mention of Urban Animal Husbandry until I pointed out that it involved raising farm animals and wasn't slang for sleeping around.

Nevertheless, I decided to make a concerted effort to utilize the book and it's hobby-assigning powers. And then, I saw it. There, on page 74, was the one hobby that seemed like the answer to my prayers.

Deep Frying. Yes, Deep Frying.

From the magical words "...flaky coating around a soft warm interior" to the recipe for Scottish deep fried Mars bar, I felt like the author was speaking just to me. And then there's the profile titled, 'Deeply Satisfying' where cookbook author Rick Brown is quoted as saying, "Fat tastes good" and goes on to recommend deep-frying everything from fruit to Oreos.

Rick, you had me at fat.

Wanna buy some hobby supplies? Go here and leave a comment for your chance to win a $100 gift card to Michael's Arts and Crafts.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bobby Brown Is Dating! Lock Up Your Daughters! And Your Booze! And Your Money!

The former Mr. Whitney Houston and badass says he's back on the dating scene. For all you single women looking to hook up with His Hotness, you'll find it hard to resist this package:

• Numerous DUI arrests and related bail violations starting in 1996.

• Was jailed for failing to pay $11,000 in child support.

• Reneged on a deal to appear on a Washington DC radio station that gave him $19,000 to bail himself out of jail.

• Appears to have gotten Whitney's hat in the divorce settlement.

Who said all the good men were taken?

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Feed Me: A Pasta Recipe That Isn't Rocket Science.

I've always been a sucker for cooking shows. So of course I'm a huge fan of The Food Network, that 24-hour orgy of food preparation, home to edge-of-your-seat entertainment such as "Gingerbread Challenge" and "Calorie Commando." One of my favorite things to do is to watch it while I'm walking on my treadmill, since nothing says health and fitness like watching Mario Batali cook up a big batch of fettuccine alfredo using twelve pounds of butter and a barrel of heavy cream.

Although it's not my favorite show on the network, I often watch Ina Garten on The Barefoot Contessa - there's something so comforting about her manner, and I always feel like she's the type of person you could always call when you're having a bad day and she would show up at your doorstep with a huge rib roast, a tub of mashed potatoes and a homemade cake. This is so different from what actually happens when I call any of my friends to tell them I've had a bad day, as they're more likely to yell, "Again?" before hanging up the phone and then changing their number.

While I'm not a big fan of the way shows try and hawk their own cookbooks and products, I did succumb to buying Barefoot Contessa Family Style, and I'm glad I did. The recipes and ingredients are simple and straightforward - not a single reference to fermented hazelnut oil or candied pheasant glands. Everything I've made from this book has been fairly easy to make and came out great. My favorite recipe is her Lemon Pasta with Shrimp which I've make frequently, with and without the shrimp. I've made it as a main dish, and as a side dish, before getting on the treadmill and after a grueling twelve-minute workout. And sure it's a little heavy on the butter, but if you promise yourself you'll spend the rest of the week drinking wheatgrass juice like I do, it doesn't feel so bad. Here it is:

Lemon Pasta With Shrimp Scampi
Serves 6

Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
1-1/2 pounds linguine
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
5 tablespoons good olive oil
3 tablespoons minced garlic (around 9 cloves)
2 pounds large shrimp (about 32 shrimp), peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons)
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced in half-rounds
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

Drizzle some oil in a large pot of boiling salted water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the linguine, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or according to the directions on the package.

Meanwhile, in another large (12-inch), heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic. Sauté for 1 minute. Be careful, the garlic burns easily! Add the shrimp, 1 tablespoon of salt, and the pepper and sauté until the shrimp have just turned pink, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat, add the parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon slices and red pepper flakes. Toss to combine.

When the pasta is done, drain the cooked linguine and then put it back in the pot. Immediately add the shrimp and sauce, toss well, and serve.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

$33,000 Can Buy A Lot Of Lunchables.

Ellen DeGeneres' ex, Anne Heche is being accused of being a poor parent. In court papers filed by her soon-to-be-ex husband, Coley Laffoon, Heche is described as exhibiting "bizarre and delusional behavior" and is characterized as having "poor parenting skills." In the document Lafoon also claims that Heche often made school lunches that their son, Homer "did not like." Apparently the 5-year old was outraged when he opened his Barney lunchbox and found a bologna sandwich and Cheetos when what he really wanted was a brie and prosciutto focaccia with currant chutney.

Laffoon, formerly a videographer who made $6,000 a year, is asking for $33,000 a month in spousal support.

No word on who will be prosecuted for allowing a child to be subjected to the name 'Homer Lafoon.'


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Monday, May 14, 2007

I Use It Everyday: Bliss Soap Makes My Skin Soft As A Baby's Behind But Not As Smelly As One.

After checking into a hotel the first thing I do upon entering my room is scope out the bathroom amenities. Then, like any normal person would do, I spend the next few minutes figuring out how I'm going to stuff all that free shampoo, conditioner and moisturizer into my toiletry bag and then make it seem like I've used it up so housekeeping will replenish my supply the next morning.

So when we stayed at the W Hotel a couple of years ago for our anniversary I was excited to find samples of six different bliss products, all tucked into their own little case. It was like the Holy Grail of bathroom amenities! The only thing that could have been better was to discover that little case perched on George Clooney's abs while he lay sprawled on the bed, telling me I had just won the lottery.

I've been hooked on bliss lemon+sage soapy sap ever since. Not only does it make me smell good, and therefore irresistible to the opposite sex, but it makes my skin so soft that the opposite sex no longer cries out in pain when my sandpaper elbows graze his arm and makes him bleed. Now he says it was worth being tricked into distracting the maid while I slipped an extra sample case off her cart.

The stuff's not cheap, so I admit to feeling a little guilty when I've used all my money to buy a bottle instead of say, buying milk or paying the phone bill. But can a carton of milk make my skin soft as a rose petal? And what good is a phone if I can't call everyone and brag about my fragrant skin? Priorities, people!

But don't take my word for it. You can get your own sample case here. Or, for true bliss, check into the W Hotel and grab the free toiletries instead of spending ten-dollars on that can of cashews from the minibar.

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Sunday, May 6, 2007

I Like A Little (25% Less) Sugar In My Bowl.

I was recently sent a box of Fruity Cheerios to try. This was exciting on two fronts:

1) Free cereal!
2) I wouldn't have to feel guilty about buying something with the word 'Fruity' in the title.

Not that I have anything against sugar-infused, kid-appealing breakfast cereal. In fact, we buy it regularly - Trix, Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs - they all have graced our cabinets. But here's the trick - I almost always use it as a 'topping' on top of plain cereal (usually Cheerios, or Trader Joe's), sort of like the marinara on top of pasta. Or chocolate sauce on ice cream. Or vodka - well, you get the picture.

When I was pregnant with Kira I remember having, along with my other odd cravings, the urge to have one of my childhood favorites, Cap'n Crunch. So after buying a box of it a the supermarket, I sat down with a big bowl, alongside my plate of Spaghetti O's, jar of pickles and my glass of yak milk. I took one bite of the cereal and could feel the sugar coursing through every tooth and root in my mouth. It was so strong I was certain it had just permeated my placenta and given my unborn child a mouth full of cavities on her unformed teeth. I vowed to give my children sugared cereals only in moderation in the future. However I continue to consider Spaghetti O's the nectar of the Gods.

The girls almost never get an entire bowl of sugary goodness (unless Rigel is serving it up, which is a whole other issue. This is a man who puts honey on raisin toast. Who does that? Isn't the toast already sweet? That's like putting sugar on top of a cookie, for chrissakes.)

Where was I?

Fruity Cheerios!

I'm happy to say that with the 25% less sugar ("than the leading fruity cereal") they promise on the box, these brightly colored circles aren't nearly as sweet as their counterparts and as an added bonus they don't make my teeth feel like they're going to fall out. Also, the sugary cereal to plain cereal ratio is much lower in my girls' bowl, which they like. Why, if I'm feeling particularly in a good mood one of these mornings, I might just give the girls an entire bowl of Fruity Cheerios, not cut with any of the plain stuff. Along with their yak milk.

Oh, and there's a third front. I finally have an excuse to buy this:

Because having to pour cereal out of the box is just so much work.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Hugh Grant Wastes Food.

It’s getting harder to love Hugh Grant. We forgave him for stopping for dessert on a busy L.A. street, for breaking Liz Hurley’s heart and for Bridget Jones II: The Edge of Reason. Well sort of. I’m still waiting for my refund on that one.

We can even understand why he might go medieval on a creepy papaparazzi with a Tupperware filled with last night’s dinner. It’s being reported that Hugh attacked a photographer who was trying to take his picture by slinging a tub of beans at him and then kicking him. Or, as the photographer says, “He was effing and blinding at me.” Huh?

Legume-flinging aside, it looks like Grant stepped over the line when he reportedly hurled some pretty harsh insults at the lensmen. “He asked me if I had a girlfriend or any kids and I said I had two.” the photographer reports. “He said 'I hope they die of f**king cancer.’”

Whoa. If it’s true, I'm thinking there's probably a lot of parents whose kids are suffering from cancer who are going to want to get a hold of Grant and put that tub of beans somewhere else.

Let the effing and blinding begin.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

I Use It Everyday: My Starbucks Barista Is My Crack.

When we decided to buy our first minivan four years ago we already knew which one we wanted. We had seen this one advertised and fell in love with its sleek design and the sunroof windows that went all the way to the back of the van. I was completely taken in by their marketing campaign that had hip mothers - artists, surfers and musicians - all happily driving their well behaved, impeccably groomed children to museums and raves. Basically, every superficial thing about this particular vehicle sucked us in and three weeks later we had one sitting in our driveway.

We never even test-drove it.

When I bought an espresso machine it was after four months of tedious research, numerous visits to kitchen and specialty stores and many hours perusing online reviews. I 'test drove' and then returned no fewer than five different machines from four different stores.

Because, really - what's more important - a vehicle that's going to be responsible for safely transporting your your precious children, or a small appliance whose only real purpose is to dispense a heavily caffeinated beverage to sip with your afternoon donut?

My search led me to an 'espresso expert' in a small cramped shop on the Westside whose company specialized in turning out custom machines for cafes and coffeehouses. After talking with me for awhile he said he knew of a perfect machine for me. I expected him to put in a call to someone named Guido living in a quaint village on the coast of Italy, who would then build a custom machine just for me that would be wrapped in goat pelts and hand delivered to my door.

Instead he sent me to Starbucks.

Surprising, but he told me that the Italian-made Starbucks Barista was one of the best home espresso machines he had seen in awhile. And he was right. I've had it for over five years now, and unless someone invents a machine that magically produces bacon at the touch of a button, the Barista will always be my favorite appliance. When 4pm rolls around you won't find me anywhere else except in my kitchen brewing a cappuccino. And maybe chowing down on a donut.

Oh, and I still love my minivan, too.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Corinne Bailey Rae Has To Stay Home And Eat Hot Pockets Like The Rest Of Us.

I’m a CBR fan, so it was just a little sad to see that she couldn’t get into NYC club Butter on Monday night. After they turned her away at the door she had to turn around and cab it home – which means some hottie inside the club had to find someone else to lick tequila shooters out of his navel.

But what I loved most about this article were the reader comments. It turned into a fierce Britain vs. U.S. brawl with lots of juvenile name calling. The best kind!

“Never heard of her. Go back to your own country. We have enough pathetic wannabe celebs.”

“That's because you don't listen to decent music…Too bad Europe appreciates talent while America only appreciates boobs.”

“Who is she?...Even if they did know her, how was anybody going to recognize her with that ugly shirt on her head and two fat women escorting her who were dressed like crap.”

“’Butter’ is so last year. They let trash like that nasty Tinsley Mortimer in, while barring truly nice and talented people like Corrine Baily Rae.”


“Why I am not suprised of [commenters] #1 and 2 . One can safely imagine that you never heard nor can appreciate Jazz or Neo-Soul. Exhibit your lack of taste with pride.”

“Who is she?
Another moron.”

“Why would TMZ refer to her bodyguard as a Fantasia Barrino look-alike…People are so mean. The internet has not helped, not at all!!!”

“Only in Amerikkka!!!”

“…I could really care less for this woman. I don't even care to type her name. She is as exciting as tap water.

Thank you.”


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Monday, April 23, 2007

Cozi Central Will Make A Calendar Girl Out Of Me.

First of all, what's not to like about a program that let's you do this:

powered by ODEO

A toll-free number that you can call to get your grocery list, with your husband's mocking additions, read to you over the phone. Just one of the features of Cozi Central, a free, downloadable and web-based program consisting of a calendar, shopping list, message center and an amazingly effective cell phone interface that are meant to centralize the complex schedules of the modern family. In other words, I believe it can actually help me to remember to pick up the kids at guitar lessons and remind me to stock up on coffee filters. Why, it's like having a wife!

(We're a Mac family, so my experience is based on using on the web version of the program. The program is available to PC users as a software download.)

I was working on my new site this weekend, trying to get it up and running for my first review for the Parent Bloggers Network scheduled for Tuesday, April 24. So imagine my surprise when I re-read one of the scheduling notices they've sent me and realized it was actually due Monday, April 23. Next time, I'm going to pay attention, read all of their emails out loud and even try not to move my lips.

I can't help but think that this could have been avoided if I had remembered to mark the deadline on my Cozi Central online calendar, one of the main features of the program. After logging on you can post your family's appointments and events to the calendar which is color-coded for each family member. Each registered user can then log on from any computer, see what is on the schedule and then add events of their own if they'd like. If your kids are smart-asses like mine, expect to see things added like, "Disneyland" no less than twelve times in the next month and the appearance of "Mall" on almost every weekday after school. Also beware of the husband who may try and make birthday parties and any visits from your mother mysteriously disappear.

The shopping list is hands down my favorite part of the program, and the one feature I think I'll be using the most. I pride myself on my mammoth grocery lists, writing down everything I can think of that my family will need for the week. It's the cavewoman in me, except instead of going out and hunting or gathering food I drive to the store in my gas-guzzling minivan and bring everything home in plastic bags. My lists are invaluable on these excursions, but the only problem is I frequently forget them on the kitchen counter. Or I can't read my messy handwriting and end up buying three cans of Raid instead of a head of lettuce. On Cozi you can type out everything you need, categorizing them into grocery, wholesale and 'other', and then either print it out or send it as a text message to your phone. Or, the most brilliant part, as I've already demonstrated - you can call the toll-free number and have your list read to you.

As I mentioned I'm using Cozi on a Mac and can only utilize the web version. From what I've read the downloadable version provides the user with many more options when using the program, like more shopping list features and screen savers. I found the single calendar view on the web version limiting, but multiple calendar views are available on the PC version. Also, I found the online version slow in loading at times, and this can become frustrating when just trying to switch over from one page to the next. But it was intermittent, and not enough to keep me from using the program, or from amusing myself by writing down things like "cheese cheese who doesn't like cheese" on my grocery list and then listening to it over the phone.

I highly recommend giving Cozi Central a try. It's free, and takes only a few minutes to set up. I'm thinking it may be the first step in getting my family organized, and I like the fact that it gets everyone involved in the scheduling process. And with Mother's Day coming up the whole family will be able to see my entry for May 13, "Mother's Day - mom sleeping until noon."

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