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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