Monday, December 29, 2008

And The Winners Are...

Sorry to all of you for the delay in announcing the winners of my two giveaways. I was busy cleaning up after the Christmas rush, and eating all those holiday baked goods took me longer than I thought. But I put that last brownie aside and finally got a chance to fire up the number-picker at - and now I have my winners. And here are the names of you lucky people:

The winner of the SpongeBob Rocket Ride Lego Set is:

Jessica New of Moving Pictures.

Congrats Jessica - please email me your address so I can have your Lego set sent off to you! I'm sure you can't wait to send SpongeBob to the moon.

And the winner of the Children's Place Gift Card is:


Congrats Betzbaby - please email me your address so I can send you your gift card and you can start shopping! Hopefully you'll get this just in time to scoop up some great after-Christmas deals.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Children's Place: Win a Gift Card That Comes in All Sizes

Update: I'm extending the entry deadline to Tuesday, December 23 at 11am pst.

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Last Christmas a friend gave my older daughter a pair of pants that just didn't fit right. We thought maybe she just had to grow into them (yes, go ahead and have another donut, honey) so we put them away for awhile. By the time we remembered they were there they were around five inches too short, so she handed them down to my younger daughter. Well, they were a little too big for her, so back they went into the closet. And - you guessed it - by the time we pulled them out again they were too small. Kids these days and their rapid, freakish growth spurts.

I would have put those pants back into the closet to save for the grandkids in twenty years, but that kind of thing creeps my husband out so we gave them away. A perfectly good, brand new pair of jeans, never worn. Hopefully they ended up fitting someone, but I have a feeling they may be tucked away in someone else's closet, just waiting for that right moment...

Well, here's your chance to win a gift that can't come in the wrong size - a $30 gift card to The Children's Place, the kid's clothing store that sells high-quality, reasonably-priced clothing in sizes 0 all the way up to 14. My daughter has this pair of pajamas and loves them - perfect for our current freezing (65°) L.A. weather.

They have an amazing selection of gifts here for $10 and under - take a look at this skirt I'm ordering for my 10-year-old that costs $7.49. I think that might be less than the price of one sock from Macy's.

All you have to do for your chance to win the gift card is to leave a comment here sometime before 10pm on Monday, December 22. (U.S. residents only, please) I'll be picking a name the next day using You know it's all official and stuff when it ends in org.

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SpongeBob and Lego: A Perfect Union (And You Can Win It!)

Update: I'm extending the entry deadline to Tuesday, December 23 at 11am pst.

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Kids love SpongeBob SquarePants, right? And I KNOW they love Lego. So what could be a better combination than a SpongeBob Lego set - a SpongeBob Rocket Ride Lego set, to be exact. I'd say they might even go together better than peanut butter and jelly. Or Crabby Patties and beer.

All you have to do for your chance to win the SpongeBob Rocket Ride Lego set for your favorite kid (or for yourself - I won't tell) is leave a comment here by 10pm pst on Monday, December 22 telling me what YOUR favorite combination is. Furry slippers and a warm fire? Angie and Brad? Piña coladas and getting caught in the rain? And while I love my readers from all far-flung regions, I have to limit this to U.S. residents only - but you can still bring on your bangers and mash. (I'll pick a winner using, the randomest number-picker on the internet.)

Good Luck!


And while you're waiting to see if you've won my giveaway, check out The SpongeBob SquarePants’ Lost & Found My Prizes Game - an online prize hunt for kids (and grownup SpongeBob fans) where you'll have the chance to win this amazing Grand Prize:

* Toshiba REGZA® 32LV67U 32-inch LCD HDTV
* HP Pavilion® dv2700t Broadband Wireless Series Laptop - Piano Black Coating
* SpongeBob SquarePants Rolltop Box
* SpongeBob SquarePants Toy Organizer by Delta Children's Products
* SpongeBob SquarePants DVD Collection (12 DVDs)

To play, get a Game Piece found in selected SpongeBob products or request a free one by mail. Then go online to to play - every time you play the SpongeBob SquarePants’ Lost & Found My Prizes Game, you will be entered to win one of 550 Instant Win Prizes and the Grand Prize. (You can also enter to win the Grand Prize by mail.) Click on this link for a complete list of prizes and contest rules.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Disney Photo Pass: Leave Your Photo Angst at the Gate

If you're like me, you're always stressing about taking the perfect photo. This is a problem, as I often miss out on having a good time because I'm always worried about getting the light just right, or making sure the shot is framed perfectly. This is probably why my husband banned cameras in the delivery room when our kids were born - I think he knew I would have held up the whole birth entirely until those lights were positioned just so and the doctor and nurses had all brushed their hair.

That's what's so great about Disneyland's new photo service, PhotoPass, which we just used on our last trip to Disneyland. Have your photo taken by one of the PhotoPass photographers in various locations all around the park, and he'll give you a card that's linked to your photos online. (There's no charge, and you are not obligated to buy any of the photos.) Create an account on the Disney PhotoPass website where you can view and share your photos, order prints or create keepsake items like calendars or mugs. You can also upload photos of your own - my kids have forbid me to post any photos of them online, so to create this an animated snowglobe greeting I used one of our cat Milkshake since he doesn't get to tell me what to do. Unfortunately the finished product can't be embedded but you can view the actual flash version, complete with falling snow, by clicking on this link.

Make your own snowglobe here. You don't have to have a PhotoPass card - just create an account and upload your own photo of your cat or other cooperative family member.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Family Game Night for Wii: More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys*

A few weeks ago my 10-year-old told my husband and I that she wished our family played board games "like all the other families." I tried to explain to her that she had probably just seen that on TV or read about it in a book because in reality most families sat in front of their computers and ignored each other, just like we did.

So imagine my surprise when a few days later a huge box arrived in the mail from EA Games containing the following board games: Sorry, Boggle, Battleship and Connect 4. Also in our surprise package was EA's Family Game Night, which contained Wii versions of all the games. But of course, the Wii game could wait awhile - we were going to sit down and play some board games first, like all those other normal families.

We started with Sorry, which I remembered playing when I was a kid. This game can get pretty heated when you knock someone back to 'start' (hence the name, 'Sorry') and my husband asked us to keep the noise down because he was napping - just like what my dad said when I played the game way back when! Next we moved on to Connect 4, which is like a 3-D, vertical version of tic-tac-toe which I loved because it was simple and went very quickly, which was important - I was really itching to get back to my computer. We skipped playing Battleship since I figured the girls could play it with their dad - I thought it was the least he could do after taking a nap right in the middle of the day.

Lastly we played the word game Boggle, and I'm not shy to say that this is where I really shined. My 'hasten' and 'pliant' beat their 'car' and 'bed' handily, although my 12-year-old did come up with 'fez' during one game which I thought was brilliant. Then the two of them challenged me to the Wii version of Boggle - I guess they got tired of me doing my victory dance around the living room every time I won a game.

Well, this is where the generational difference was really apparent. I was still trying to figure out how to use my Wii controller to select a letter and my girls had already spelled out 'rake' and 'heart' and 'tree.' I finally did get the hang of the controller, but then didn't realize I had to double click when I was done spelling a word and ended up with a 35-letter monstrosity. Score: 0

We all loved Sorry Sliders, the Wii version of the game where you actually use your pieces in a game of shuffleboard to knock your opponents out of the way, and Battleship, Connect 4 and Yahtzee play very much like their board game counterparts. (There is also the traditional version of Sorry, but my girls prefer the board game version of this. Or as they like to call it, the Old Fashioned One.) There are also mini-games that my girls love - these are small competitions that use the same pieces and some of the other elements of the main games, but move at a quicker pace. If you're feeling adventurous you can play other amped-up versions of these games, games with crazy names like Connect 4 Power Chips, Reverse Yahtzee, Boggle Portal Cubes and Battleship Salvo. Think of it as all the games you love, but on steroids.

I would really recommend Family Game Night as a way for parents to get in on the gaming action with their kids - besides the Wii Fit, it's one of the few games that I enjoy playing (and don't completely embarrass myself doing so.) But I would also recommend picking up the board game versions - we have continued to play these together, and the girls have even introduced their friends to these strange, 3-dimensional cardboard and plastic relics. They spent 2 hours recently playing a very loud and rowdy session of Sorry - although it was very disorienting to see them having fun and not lit up by the glow of the TV screen and without a controller in their hands.

Best of all, I'm starting to think that maybe we'll get around to having that family game night after all.

*Barrel of Monkeys isn't a Wii game yet, but I'm sure there's a developer somewhere working on it this very second.
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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Game On: Finally Something I Can Play Other Than Pac-Man

A couple of weeks ago I took my daughters and their friends to a party thrown by Disney Interactive to try out some new video games. I had to take my kids along, because seriously, not being a gamer, what kind of feedback could I give on a video game? I'd have to wait until someone asked me my opinion on the logo design, or what I thought of the copy on the game package. Or maybe I could tell them what I thought of the characters in the game; I could say things like, "that one needs to tuck his shirt in" or "that one is too brightly colored and seems like he would be mean to his mother." I'm sure they would ask me back again.

But lo and behold the Disney people are a persuasive bunch, and they actually talked me into playing not one, but two video games. After assuring me that they weren't going to secretly videotape me and post it on YouTube, I agreed to try banging on some drums, and also to race some sort of motorcycle-looking thing along a muddy trail.

First up was to try my hand (or should I say hands) at Ultimate Band for Wii. I had to kick my girls and their friends off this game, since this was their favorite and they had played it nonstop since we'd arrived. The game is similar to Guitar Hero but features other instruments besides the guitar. Up to four players can play at one time, and unlike other 'band' games you don't any special peripherals - only a Wii controller and a nunchuk for each player. With just a little bit of instruction and after a couple of lame attempts, I was pounding the skins like nobody's business. I'm sure Ringo Starr is shaking in his boots right about now.

You can also choose to play either guitar or bass, and the game lets you create a unique 'look' for each of your characters. Also create the type of band you'd like - English rockers? Girl band? Style them as you'd like, and then polish your act - part of the game is perfecting your skills as you move from garage band to performing at monster stadiums in front of hundreds of screaming fans. Luckily they left out the part where the bands fall victim to addictions and divorce and then end up on E! True Hollywood Story. But who knows - maybe that's next season's game.

Next I headed over to play Pure, which is a game that puts you on an ATV and lets you race around real fast on dirt trails and through mountains. I'm sure a gamer would have a much more accurate description of this game, but for someone who never exceeds 55 in her minivan, all I can say is that it was a pretty thrilling ride. It really didn't matter that I ended up crashing into fences and was constantly hearing my girls yell out, "Noooooo, mommmm" as my rider tragically raced off a sheer cliff - it was fun. My girls loved it, too, but unfortunately Pure is made only for XBox 360 and Playstation, so this Wii family will have to do without the ATV action in our home.

That was the extent of my gaming - I headed to the buffet table to recharge after my exhausting evening being a rock star and an ATV supastar. My girls and their friends continued to play though - they tried their hand at the new Bolt game coming out, and also at Club Penguin for Nintendo DS. Too shy to sing in a room full of strangers, they passed on Sing-It, but they did give it a try, and loved it, after we got home and they were in the safety of their own room. A karaoke style game and a microphone is pretty irresistible to tween girls - and moms while their kids are away at school. Just imagine if I combined that with my stealth drumming skills...

Now that I've awed you with my stellar gaming abilities, check out my main blog and leave a comment there to enter an amazing giveaway, where you can win a gift bag filled with some of the games we tried out.

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Thanks to Maral Kaloustian for such a fun evening for me and my girls!
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Monday, December 1, 2008

HP's Girls' Night Out Relieved My Stress AND Made Me Crafty, Too

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to an amazing event: HP's Girls' Night Out. To say that this invitation came just in the nick of time is an understatement; I was working way too much, and having anxiety attacks just thinking about everything I had to get done for the upcoming holidays. I wasn't really sure what this whole Girls Night Out was about, but to be perfectly honest they could have just invited me over to sit in a dark room and served me warm beer and I would have been overjoyed.

But they had much, much more in store for all of us. The evening started with some food and some good wine, and then an instructional talk by my friend, the amazing Tracey Clark who showed us how to take a decent photograph of our kids without cussing or throwing things, and then turn it into an unforgettable holiday card. Then came a truly moving presentation by Jen Lemen, who showed us how a chance encounter in a park changed her life, and inspired all of us to give of ourselves this holiday season. (I really wished I had brought some tissues, and I apologize to the woman sitting next to me whose sleeve I had to use.)

After that we broke into small groups and headed to several different craft areas, where we could make various gifts ranging from a mini-scrapbook to beautiful gift card boxes to customized food gift labels. Let me interject here by saying that I am not a crafty person. Sure I worked as an art director for most of my life, but when faced with a glue stick and a bolt of ribbon it may as well be a spark plug and a jar of mustard - I have absolutely no idea how they go together. But lucky for me they had people there to help us, and also detailed instructions with every project. They had all the materials there for us to use, but the best part is that these projects and more can be downloaded from the HP website, absolutely free. I would say that in these tough economic times, this is a great way to make beautiful, handmade gifts that are not only more personal than that fruit cake you were thinking of buying, but way cheaper.

Here are links to some of the HP Holiday projects you can make:

Gift Card Boxes
Mini Scrapbook
3D Holiday Ornaments
Holiday Cards
Labels for Homemade Treats
Gift Tags and Stickers

(But don't take my word for it. Check out HP's Creative Studio website to see all the things you can make yourself. )

Here's the kicker: Not only did this evening relieve my stress, it made me temporarily insane and gave me the crazy idea to have my own crafty-but-not-so-crafty get-together during the busy holiday season. But I think it will be just the thing for some of my harried, overworked girlfriends: I'm going to invite a few of them over, mix up a pitcher of cosmos, set out some materials I've downloaded from the HP site and we're going to get down and get crafty. Sure, there'll be those among us using our X-acto knives only as swizzle sticks and I expect at least one person will pull out their credit card bill and burst into tears, but I think everyone will be inspired and will walk away with at least a few homemade gifts. And a lot less stress.

Want to check a few more things off your holiday gift list? Check out my main blog and leave a comment there to enter an amazing giveaway, where you can win a gift bag filled with Nintendo DS and XBox 360 games!
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Thanks to Karen Cage for a wonderful, inspirational, stress-busting evening!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bolt Is No Ordinary Dog

Most people I know with kids rush out on opening weekend to see movies as soon as they hit the theaters. We're just the opposite, preferring to wait until the crowds have died down and our children are the last ones amongst their friends to see a particular movie, setting them up for constant ridicule and taunting. They come home saying things like, "Lindsay's seen Wall-E! Katie's seen Wall-E! When am I going to see Wall-E?" We then give them our standard response, "Next week!" and then we just try to keep stalling until one of their friends takes them to see it or until it comes out on DVD, whichever comes first.

Not so with Bolt, the Disney movie about the ordinary dog who plays a superhero, and then takes an extraordinary journey to find out that he is, in fact, a superhero. That dog is so powerful, it got us out of our house to see the movie even before it opened! Granted, we were invited to a special screening of Bolt in 3D at the amazing El Capitan Theater, but still. I say it takes one badass dog to make sure my kids aren't the laughing stock of the playground. And to make the experience even more special, we were treated to a live holiday stage show before the movie. Take that Lindsay and Katie!

We all loved Bolt. It's a rare movie that gets both the kids and parents laughing, but this one did. (Of course, you all know that since you rushed out to see it this past weekend.) Rhino, the hamster is one of my favorite characters in a Disney movie ever, and I love that he is voiced by one of the story artists at Disney, and not by a celebrity. Sort of an ordinary soul doing extraordinary things - hey, just like Bolt!

Even crazier, we all liked it so much I may be taking my girls to see it again, and bringing their friends along. This is unheard of, going to see a movie twice before it's relegated to one of those scary bargain theaters with gum on the seats. I told you that Bolt was no ordinary dog

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Get your tickets here to see Bolt at the beautiful, historic El Capitan Theater. The show opens with a live holiday stage show that kids will love. Also, a chance to hear the Wurlitzer Organ - maybe not so thrilling for the kids, but us dinosaurs love it.

Many thanks to Scott Howard at Walt Disney Studios for making this day possible!

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Jonas Brothers at the Roxy: Like the Rolling Stones, Only Much, Much Closer

More than a few years ago when I was a teenager, I won tickets to see the Rolling Stones on the local radio station. I popped out my retainer, put on my rainbow suspenders, grabbed a friend and headed down to the Forum in Inglewood. We took our seats, ten rows from the stage. We were so close I could see the sweat on Mick Jagger's face, and if I was a little more aggressive back then I would have pushed that woman aside who scored Keith Richards' guitar pick. It was, and still is, one of the most amazing concerts I've ever seen, and the closest I ever came to a band as huge as the Rolling Stones.

Until Friday night, when my two tween daughters and I went to the private Jonas Brothers concert at the Roxy.

(Okay, calm down all you music snobs out there - I'm not comparing the two bands musically, but you have to admit that in terms of popularity, the Jonas Brothers are eliciting the same type of frenzy that the Rolling Stones did in their day. So, put down that bat.)

The concert was a kickoff for American Eagle's new 77kids clothing line. We were invited guests of 77kids, and were treated like real VIPs - a rep from the company met us outside, gave us wristbands and whisked us in a side door. We were one of the first people inside, so my girls grabbed a place right up front, so close they were leaning on the stage If you've ever been to the Roxy you know what a tiny place it is, so the idea that they would even be in such close proximity to - gulp - the Jonas Brothers had my girls excited beyond belief. My 12-year-old spent the first 45 minutes calling all her friends on her cell phone. I think every conversation started off with, "Okay, okay - guess where I am?" and ended with three omigods and a high-pitched squeal.

From a parent's perspective, the concert was a brilliant idea, and a huge success. The staff of 77kids and the staff at the Roxy were beyond accommodating and really, really nice - something you don't often see at music venues. It was a big change from the Ting Tings concert we took our daughter to a few months ago at the El Rey, where the security staff was unbelievably rough, and rude - they tried to take my daughter's gum away since no gum chewing was allowed inside. Forget weapons and bottles - one can only imagine what damage a 10-year-old could inflict with a stick of Orbit.

When the concert started, it was still hard to believe how close we were, and with only a few friendly security guards between us and what is probably the biggest boy band in the world right now. I was standing towards the back of the crowd while my girls stayed up front by the stage - but by 'back' I mean I was at most fifteen feet from the stage. It was hard to get across to my girls just how crazy this was, how millions of tween girls (and older) would give their right, tattoo-free arm to be in their shoes right now.

Well, here's where I admit that I actually like the Jonas Brothers, and can actually sing along to couple of their songs. While I'm not sure about the whole purity ring thing, they seem like genuinely nice kids who really enjoy what they're doing, and make a real effort to connect with their fans. They put on an energetic, heartfelt show, not that that made any difference to the fans that night; I have a feeling they could have come on stage and combed their hair and the crowd still would have gone wild. Both of my girls got to touch Nick and Joe's (or was it Kevin and Joe's?) hands as they reached out to the crowd, something I know I would have killed to do at the Rolling Stones concert but what was beyond impossible without being knocked unconscious by one of the Hells Angels.

And in what I can only describe as karmic or sort of full-circle-ish, at the end of the concert my youngest daughter scored a guitar pick from Kevin Jonas. As I said, like the Rolling Stones only much, much closer.

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Check out the 77kids line here, where you can actually put together an outfit for your kid right there online. Ingenious. And the best part? Not a thong or midriff-baring tank top in sight. In other words, clothing for kids that is actually appropriate for kids. What a concept.

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Thanks to Mollie Lange, Steve Coulson and Beth Blecherman for making this night possible!

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Boogie SuperStar for Wii: Best Thing to Happen to Tween Girls Since Cheetos and Root Beer

When I opened the box from EA Games and saw Boogie SuperStar inside, I knew what my tween daughters' reaction would be. As far as Wii games go, this one's a no-brainer. Take their favorite feature of the Wii - the ability to design your own character - combine it with songs they actually like, package it with a microphone and let them dance and sing in an American-Idol-like competition. Would my girls love it? Do tweens like stuffing their faces with junk food and washing it down with carbonated beverages? Uh, that would be a definite yes.

Boogie SuperStar can be played by 1 - 4 players and lets them compete in a singing and dancing competition to win new outfits, unlock new songs and new dance moves and ultimately become Boogie SuperStar, or the equivalent of (insert name of favorite American Idol winner here.) The best part about the game for my music-savvy girls is the playlist: a hip mix of pop, urban and techno tunes, and not just the usual bland fare you see in most karaoke games. Some of their faves: Natasha Bedingfield (who is the featured spokesperson for the game), Katy Perry, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Metro Station and Good Charlotte. Hey, there's even my favorite, Kanye West - I plan on doing a little singing and dancing myself one day when the kids are at school. And the shades are drawn.

(Note: My girls pointed out that many of the songs are covered by other singers, although I couldn't tell the difference. Then again, I don't know my Feist from my Regina Spektor from my Ingrid Michaelson, either.)

If you're looking for a great gift for tween girls this holiday season, Boogie SuperStar is it. My girls have played this game solo, with just the two of them, and with a room full of friends - it's always a big hit. With or without the Cheetos and root beer.

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tags: | nintendo wii games reviews | |

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Jonas Brothers Concert: LIVE TODAY AT 3PM EST!

Don't forget to watch the concert here online. And look for my kids - my 12-year-old is the one chatting up the security guard up front, and my 10-year-old may be trying to climb on stage.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Monopoly For Wii: Old School Is New Again!

This past summer while we were vacationing with friends at their lake house, my daughters learned proper diving form, jet skied for the first time and learned how to ice a cake. This is the ideal vacation for my husband and I - it's great to hang out with people who can teach our kids stuff. My feeling is that we taught them all the really important skills - walking, talking, how to order a proper drink at Starbucks - so I think it's really up to others to teach them everything else. It's worked out pretty good so far, but I'm getting a little worried about my 10-year-old, who is picking up some pretty bad habits from the drunk guy who's been tutoring her down at the bowling alley.

One of the other things they learned from our friends' two daughters was how to play Monopoly, the classic board game that we all grew up with. Our girls quickly became hooked, and the four them spent hours buying and selling properties, going to jail, arguing and going bankrupt. (It's like the AIG story, without the government bailout!) We promised them we'd buy the game when we got home, but like everything else, we never got around to it. So I was happy to receive a copy of Monopoly for Wii from EA Games to try out - I looked at it as all the fun of Monopoly, without the paper money to clean up. I liked it already.

My girls gave it a test run with their friends - there can be up to four players but each person has to have their own Wii controller. (We only have three, so two of the girls formed a team.) Their previous knowledge of the Monopoly board game helped, as they jumped right in and were able to start playing immediately. One of the features they loved was the ability to choose different themes for the board, which is reflected in the gamepieces, the board graphics and even Mr. Monopoly's clothes. Depending on your mood, choose from Classic, Future, Cheese (!) or my girls' favorite, Sweet, where you can have a gamepiece that's a cupcake. Continued play will allow you to unlock even more game boards - my girls had fun coming up with their own ideas for possible themes: MySpace, iTunes, Slumber Party and my favorite - World Without School (don't ask.)

From there most of the rules are the same as the Monopoly game we've all come to love, with one major exception: When you land on a property, your only choices are to either buy it or put it up for auction, and players try to outbid each other for the deed. Also, unlike the traditional version there are in-game mini games that players can challenge each other with. One that I didn't get to see but that is mentioned in the game literature is the "Get Out of Jail" game where you saw prison bars to escape. I love it! I'm wondering if the Sweet version of the game has a gamepiece that is a cake with a file baked into it, or maybe the Future version has a game card that allows a relative to sneak a time machine into the slammer.

I'm sure Monopoly for Wii will never completely take the place of the board version of the game, but my daughters have been playing it pretty consistently and it's been a popular game during playdates. Personally, I'm thrilled that EA has decided to take traditional board games and make them popular to a whole new generation by releasing them as video games - it's a welcome break from the overabundance of violent and inappropriate games for kids. (Some other upcoming releases are Boggle and Sorry! - which we loved when we got to try them out earlier this year.) Also, I appreciate that the traditional boardgames require kids to actually think to strategize and outsmart their opponents instead of just blindly pushing buttons. Leave that to the adults and their Blackberrys, kids.

Note: One of the things my girls and their friends mentioned immediately and were "extremely disturbed by" was the fact that Mr. Monopoly was missing his monocle. I agreed, but then after some research I can't seem to find a single picture of him with his monocle. Did he ever have one to begin with? Or they thinking of Mr. Peanut, or maybe one of their math teachers?

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tags: | nintendo wii games reviews | |

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Never Underestimate The Appeal of Cute Little Critters

My youngest daughter is 10, and sadly moving away from all things 'little girl-ish.' The Polly Pockets have been pushed aside to make room for her manga collection, the Pokémon posters have been replaced by ones of the Beatles, and her collection of candy dispensers she used to carry in her purse? Replaced by tubes of lip gloss. Shudder.

So when I received a copy of Littlest Pet Shop for the Wii, I wasn't sure how interested she would be. Would she put down her iPod long enough to play with a bunch of cute, virtual wide-eyed animals? Come to find out, the toy form of the small, plastic animals are still very coveted among her and her tween posse. In fact, she opened her backpack to reveal, somewhat sheepishly, a small collection of them stored in there that her and her friends break out on the playground after school. I didn't want to tell her how relieved I was that she didn't pull out a pack of cigarettes and a Danielle Steel novel.

The game, which features pets from the Littlest Pet Shop line of toys, allows the player to interact with their own pet and earn 'Kibble' as they play various games. They can then use their Kibble to purchase items such as collars and hats and also to earn new pets. This was a stroke of genius on the part of the game designers: Combine cute little creatures and shopping - what girl could resist? The only thing that could have made it any more appealing would have been to wrap the entire game in chocolate and bubble gum and make it redeemable for a day off of school.

Another feature my daughter loved was the way the 'new' pets arrived: riding into town on a spiffy little train. This is in sharp contrast to how our real cat arrived- hissing and being jostled around in a tattered cat carrier in the back of our van while I cursed and drove like a crazy person home from the animal shelter. You can see why I may never have a video game for kids based on my life.

But one of the things my daughter and her friends liked the most about this Littlest Pet Shop (and other similar games, such as Nintendogs) is that the play is all of a non-competitive nature. It's not really about winning so much as it is about taking care of your pet and helping them explore their environments. (The game features four unique 'worlds': Pet Plaza, Winter, Jungle and Garden.) I wish that could be a lesson for other game designers: not all games that appeal to kids has to feature the annihilation of other human beings. Granted, the average teenage boy isn't going to want to help his animated polar bear buy a new hat, but maybe something in-between? How about a kinder, gentler version of Grand Theft Auto, where the guy just nicely asks to borrow the car?

I can see my daughter and her friends getting a lot of mileage out of this game, especially in their quest to acquire more pets for their menagerie. And this works out great for me, too, since she's been asking for a dog, and another cat, and a hamster for some time now. I'm happy to let her have all the imaginary pets she'd like - as long as there's no pixelated litter box I'll have to clean.

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tags: | nintendo wii games reviews | |

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

If You Happen to be Craving a Play About Two Neon Debutantes in a Post-Apocalyptic Society

post-fact-productions-rachel-kolar-lauren-brownIn the mood for some experimental theater? Looking to escape one more newsmagazine analysis of who was booted off "Dancing With The Stars"? Then Post Fact Productions' "NEW" starring Rachel Kolar and Lauren Brown may be right up your alley.

Here is a description (from their website) of the production, currently playing at the Son of Semele Ensemble in Silverlake;

"In a post-apocalyptic setting, two young and flamboyant socialites, Rachel Kolar & Lauren Brown, are depressed by the bleak state of the aftermath of war. No longer is there room for extravagance, no longer are there parties and delusions of grandeur. In attempts to glorify the need for excessive materialism they devise a movement of neon colors, empty consumerism, absurd rules of engagement and foppish costumes. When their movement takes a turn too dark for the pretty pair of dipsomaniacal flamingos, chaos ensues. What is left for our sad debutantes? The only thing left after destruction, to build a bomb to blow up the world. Lost amongst the ruins they stumble upon a final opportunity for redemption and must each decide to live for love or money."

And further proving you're not in Kansas anymore, here is a bio of Post Fact Productions:

"Post Fact Productions is a community for the avant hard. The pulsing opus of art by the hands of the experimental, the socially aware and the unafraid virtuosos. Founded by Rachel Kolar & Lauren Brown in 2008, Post Fact Productions creates original theater, film, documentaries, dance, music, etc."

"NEW" Performances at 8pm, Tuesday-Thursday, October 28th-November 13th
The Son Of Semele Theater
3301 Beverly Blvd.
Silverlake, CA 90004
(213) 351-3507

For more information and to reserve tickets visit

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Monday, October 27, 2008

We Made Ice Cream in Our Living Room.

Earlier this year I purchased an ice cream maker, our first ever. While my two girls were excited, I could tell they were a little disappointed at how little they were involved in the actual making of the ice cream. Sure they mixed up all the ingredients, but then it was poured into the frozen bowl of the ice cream maker and they were left to wander aimlessly through the house, counting down the minutes to when they could dig into their frozen treat.

So when we received the Light-Up Ice Cream Maker Ball recently I thought it was the perfect opportunity for some good old-fashioned ice cream making. Well, as old-fashioned as you could get, seeing as the ball resembled a toy out of a futuristic space movie. The concept is simple: Fill up one end of the ball with ice, rock salt and the special light-up 'ice cubes' included, fill up the other end with your ice cream ingredients, toss and roll the ball around for awhile and voila - homemade ice cream! My kids had fun using it, although my 12-year-old likes our electric ice cream maker better for the simple fact that she can make ice cream and still talk to her friends on the computer while doing it. Kids these days.

Here are some pros and cons we found:


• The ball requires no electricity, which means it's perfect for picnics, camping and especially appropriate for young kids.
• According to my 10-year-old, the Light-Up Ice Cream Maker Ball made "the best ice cream ever," even better than our electric machine could churn out.
• Tossing and rolling the ball provides a fun activity to do while you're waiting for the ice cream to freeze. Cuts down the whining that parents are subjected to, which is a big plus.
• It's a great, interactive activity for a large group of people. I can't imagine ten people huddled around an electric ice cream maker, but the Light-Up Ice Cream Maker Ball would be great at a party.


• Because the ball is made of hard plastic, any rolling or tossing needs to be done over carpet or grass. I was afraid of scratching my hardwood floors, or the ball cracking if it hit the floor, so our activity involved more shaking the ball and passing it around.
• The ball tended to leak after a few minutes, so make sure and check both covers periodically.
• After twenty minutes, the consistency of the ice cream was still pretty runny, despite following the instructions to re-fill the receptacle with ice and rock salt and stir up the ingredients. But my kids didn't care, digging out the frozen parts by the scoopful and devouring it.

Bottom line is, the Light-Up Ice Cream Maker Ball would make a great, unusual gift for anyone with young children (or those not already jaded by the presence of an electric ice cream maker.) You can buy yours online here, and check out their extensive selection of ice cream products and supplies here.

See the Light-Up Ice Cream Maker Ball in action:

Important to note: Although the people in this video are seen kicking the ball, the box clearly states, "DO NOT KICK OR THROW! This could result in damage to the Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker Ball and is not covered under warranty." So play at your own risk.

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tags: | play and freeze ice cream maker | |

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Got Flu?

Last year was the first year my entire family got flu shots. But with four of us, the scheduling seemed more complicated than trying to plan the Geneva Convention. We had all planned to go in at once, but with a couple of us getting sick, conflicting work schedules, holidays and school events we ended up going in around three different times, spaced weeks apart. I think by the time we all had our shots five different strains of flu had come and gone and it was time to get vaccinated all over again.

So how's this for convenient? CVS/pharmacy, in connection with MinuteClinic, is offering flu shots everyday inside select CVS/pharmacy stores. Flu shots are only $30, and you don't even need an appointment. I saw staff from the MinuteClinic giving shots at The Women's Conference, and they were quick, clean and efficient. And apparently painless, since none of the mom bloggers cried, from what I saw.

Click here to find a location near you, or call 1-888-FLU-SHOT.

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tags: | cvs pharmacy flu shot | |

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Halloween, Without The Cavities

If you haven't already, head on over to Disney's California Adventure for Mickey's Trick-or-Treat Party. It's a great bargain for $29 ($37 on Halloween night), and takes place on several evenings through October 31st. The kids get to trick-or-treat throughout the park for healthy treats between spins on Mulholland Madness and the new Toy Story Mania (which was fun for all of us.) It isn't nearly as crowded as on a regular night (we just walked on to most of of the rides) and there's great light shows and character appearances throughout the park. The parade, though short, is fun to watch (I dare you to get the theme song out of your head when it's over) and with the small crowds it wasn't hard to get a front row seat.

One of the things I like about this event is Disneyland's strict costume policy, which states that "Costumes should be child-friendly and may not be obstructive, offensive or violent." My younger daughter still gets freaked out at the sight of masks with exploding brains and realistic-looking limbs hanging off of bloodied torsos, so it's nice not to have to walk around with her head buried in my arm like I had to do at an event last year.

Besides trick-or-treating, this is one of the few Halloween activities we do with our kids, and the only one that's fun for my husband and I as well - he gets to ride California Screamin' (which I won't go near) and I get to ride the best ride on the planet.

Thanks to Michele Himmelberg in Disney PR and Maria Bailey for making this night possible!

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tags: | disneyland | |

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Let Me Scare You By Mentioning Christmas

I'm not one of those crazies that starts shopping for Christmas gifts in October (my apologies to all you crazies who shop for Christmas gifts in October.)

I am, in fact, one of those crazies that starts shopping for Christmas gifts on December 21st.

But I'm determined to cross at least one thing off of my list early this year: my holiday cards. I'm getting a little tired of waiting until the last minute and then finally getting them in the mail on December 26th. Because then I usually have to make up an elaborate story to explain why my cards are late, about how our local post office got robbed and the only thing they stole were my cards and then the Postal Police discovered them in the trunk of an abandoned Geo.

I've decided to do small booklets like the ones I made of the girls' trip to AnimeExpo, only this time they'll be made up of family photos and some drawings. If you haven't tried out the HP Photo Creations kiosk at Longs Drugs, you should check it out; it's the first in-store photo processing thingie that I've tried and I'm totally hooked. Plus, you can shop for sodas and tampons while you wait for your order to be processed.

If you want to try it out, I've got a downloadable coupon here for a buy-one-get-one free calendar, courtesy of Maria Bailey at BlueSuitMom. It would make a great gift. And it's already October, so all you crazies can start your holiday shopping now.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Free Admission to Disneyland!

Here's two things you never hear in the same sentence: 'Free' and 'Disneyland.' But guess what? For all of 2009, anyone can get in FREE on their birthday. This applies at either Disneyland in Anaheim, or Disney World in Florida. Just go here to register your birthday, and then show up on your big day with a picture ID that shows your date of birth. (Kids will need their passports or birth certificates.)

Considering that a child's admission (ages 3-9) is $59 and everyone else is $69, this could save you a nice chunk of cash. Or at least enough to buy a large soda and a popcorn from the kisok in Tomorrowland. Even more savings for someone like my brother, who has twins and will save almost $120 if he visits the Magic Kingdom on their next birthday - definitely cheaper than hiring that guy in a Mickey costume to show up at the house and make balloon animals.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

The HP Photo Center: Free Your Photos, Free Your Mind

I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of those photo kiosks in stores that allow you to make your own prints. I prefer to smugly believe that, as an art director, I’m perfectly capable of printing out my own photos on my expensive laser printer at home and then arranging them artfully and tastefully in an album that would rival anything you could create in an automated machine located in a store next to the antacids and adult diapers.

The problem is, in the ten years plus that I’ve had a digital camera, I think I’ve actually printed out photos maybe three times. As for creating an album? That’s on my list of Impossible Dreams, right underneath ‘make out with George Clooney’ and ‘get smell out of catbox.’

So when Maria Bailey of and HP asked me to try out the new HP Photo Center available in Longs Drugs, I immediately agreed. Even though I was a little skeptical, I though it would be a great opportunity to finally print out some of those shots that have been imprisoned inside my iPhoto program for the past decade or so. Besides, my mom had been bugging me for some baby pictures of my girls for quite some time, and I'm getting tired of moving just to avoid her phone calls.

I headed down to my local Longs drugs, and was a little disappointed to find a little old lady already using the machine. How long would this take? Five hours? Three days? She was a tiny thing and I probably could have taken her down, but I politely waited my turn, and was pleasantly surprised when she finished up in about five minutes. It gave me hope – surely I could work that machine as well as an 80-year-old in a pastel tracksuit.

And I was right - the system couldn’t be easier to use. Touch the screen, and it takes you through the process step-by-step. (Even going so far as to show you a diagram of the memory card dock and circling the slot you insert your card in.) Once your photos had been downloaded from your memory card, the system asks what you’d like to make: you can do anything from printing 4x6 prints to photo albums to 24x36 posters. I decided to make a min-book of pictures that I shot of my daughters and their friends at the Anime Expo last month. They’re all wearing furry hats, and I thought it would make a handy thing to embarrass them with when I bring it out and show their boyfriends in a few years.

Once you’ve chosen your project, get creative and choose from a variety of design themes and holidays, pick out which photos you want to include via the touch screen, and the HP Photo Center does the rest. It even gives you a preview of what the finished piece will look like, and allows you to go back and make design changes, add or delete photos or change the layout of your piece. I think the whole thing, from start to finish, took me less than ten minutes – around 960 minutes less than it would have taken me to layout and print the thing on my computer at home. And the price was incredibly reasonable - $7.91 for each booklet, which contained 26 photos. But the best part? No one would have to hear me cursing when I realized my printer was out of ink.

(One note: If you’re lucky you’ll have a Jeremy to help you out. Jeremy is the photo counter technician at my local Longs Drugs. Not only did he take me through a complete tour of the HP Photo Center, he was very knowledgeable about all aspects of the system and was available the entire time for questions, even when he was being asked every five seconds for the location of the restroom or which cat food was on sale that day. Thanks Jeremy!)

My girls were thrilled with their mini photo albums, and I have to admit I’m a little hooked on this whole photo printing idea. I’ve already promised to make our friends some albums of photos that I took when we vacationed together this summer, and it looks like my mom might finally get those pictures of her granddaughter’s first birthday. After all, my daughter turned twelve this past April.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cookie Contest Winner And A List Of Things That Can Really Piss A Girl Off.

Thanks for all of your responses to my first blog giveaway ever. There were so many pathetic stories it was hard to pick just one shining jewel in the mountain of crap some of you have received as gifts.

Some of you related to my traumatic t-shirt experience, and apparently received equally horrendous gifts from boyfriends and husbands:

ManagerMom received a cheap pair of earrings from Claires, in a Tiffany box. (Did we date the same guy?)

Undercovercookie received a $2 speedway mug.

E's boyfriend gave her a book that he recommended but hadn't even read.

Karen received boxing gloves and an Everlast sweatshirt.

Then there were the wedding gifts from hell:

Ali Martell received 1.75 in Canadian coins from her grandmother.

Anonymous received a hopeful 50th Anniversary plate.

Amy was promised a houseful of furniture from her in-laws, but got two nights at a mediocre hotel instead.

Bad, for any occasion (Hint: Don't buy lamps):

Suzy received a hideous fringed lamp adorned with angels and wrapped in cellophane

Aldeb received a single bottle of drugstore-brand nail polish (from a guy that turned out okay in the end.)

Asianmommy got a box of sugar-free chocolates from someone who didn't want her "to get fat."

MamaBird got a lamp, shaped like a duck.

Penny also received a lamp, only hers was shaped like a moose.

Rachel received a sock filled with Mexican pesos.

Nava received a FedEx watch, originally intended for her brother.

Thanks, Mom:

Jodifur's mother-in-law gave her a single cereal bowl for her wedding shower.

Kirida got an ab-roller from mom for her birthday.

Juju's unfortunate friend received used makeup and body wash from her mother-in-law.

Feener's husband received a windbreaker (from the drugstore!) from his mom.

But the story that takes the cake (and gets the cookies) is Lynette's story about getting a bathroom scale from her then fiancee, with a suggestion that "whatever I weighed the day we got married, he would have the right to divorce me if I got any 'fatter'. "

Really, don't we all just want to kill this guy?

Fortunately, Lynette eventually divorced the loser, and let him keep the scale.

Congratulations Lynette! I order you to eat each and every one of these cookies yourself.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Cookies By Design: Saving The Planet From Crappy Gifts

cookies-by-design-sweatpantsmom-marsha-takeda-morrison(Don't be alarmed, but I'm doing a giveaway. My first ever. Read on for your chance to be part of this historic event.)

As most businesses do, every year around Christmas I send my clients a little gift to say 'Thank You." This always seemed like kind of an odd tradition to me, since in essence what you're saying is, "Thanks for giving me money all year. Now here's a paltry assortment of baked goods."

But they always seem to appreciate it, and so around the first week of December I go online and start ordering gifts. I have to admit I don't get very creative: Year after year it's the same basket of muffins or the same box of chocolates. I imagine my clients receiving their baskets every year and saying about me, "For someone who's supposed to be creative she sure picks crappy gifts."

But then I received this awesome cookie bouquet from Cookies By Design and I knew my gift giving was about to take a turn for the better. Maria Bailey of MomTalkRadio is working with the CEO of Cookies By Design to help get the word out about their product, and asked me to review a cookie bouquet. I gladly accepted, knowing I could possibly save companies everywhere from an onslaught of tubs of stale popcorn and baskets of rotting fruit come December. Plus, I really needed something to dip in my coffee.

My basket arrived on my doorstep, beautifully arranged and wrapped in cellophane. (The whole thing was placed in a sturdy bag to prevent it from falling over.) The first thing you notice after tearing off the wrapper is the incredible aroma of the cookies - they smell freshly baked. And they're huge - each cookie is around 5" - 6" tall and around 1/2" thick. Why, you could even share one if you had that type of insane inclination.

I set the cookies out for my taste testers - my two tween daughters and two of their friends - and we all dug in. The girls chose to eat theirs still mounted on their sticks (which are holding them into the base), sort of like a cookie lollipop, which they thought was the best idea ever. The verdict: They tasted just as good as they looked. They were rich and buttery, and tasted homemade. I knew my clients would appreciate this more than those tins of quarter-sized, rock-hard cookies I sent out last year. It might even inspire them to start returning my calls.

And here's the best part: You can receive your own basket of cookies from Cookies By Design. Leave a comment here by Thursday, July 17th, telling me about the worst gift you've ever received. I'll pick the most pathetic and will have a Cookie Bouquet (this version) shipped off to you, courtesy of Cookies By Design and Maria Bailey.

And may you never send a fruitcake as a gift again.

(You can read about my own pathetic gift experience here.)

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Friday, June 6, 2008

That's Hot: The Solar Science Lab

Remember when you were a kid and you would use a magnifying glass to torture poor helpless ants? Well, me neither, but I've seen it done on TV and always wondered if it was actually possible. I thought about that when I was asked by the Parent Bloggers Network to review the Solar Science Lab. I don't know much about science but I do know the sun makes stuff hot and then I pictured my driveway littered with dead ants.

The first thing that came to mind when I opened the Solar Science Lab was how much it reminded me of toys I had when I was a kid. The kit is very low-tech, with several of the components made out of cardboard and requiring some simple construction. But this is what I actually liked most about it - the fact that it was a toy that was a throwback to things I had when I was growing up, that were simple and required some hands-on participation. We wouldn't just be inserting batteries, flipping a switch and then watching the thing perform for us while we sipped our Frappucinos and watched Nickelodeon on the side.

The purpose of the Solar Science Lab is to teach kids about the sun and how you can harness its power to do everything from warming a glass of water to making a motor run. It comes with a book that has around 30 experiments you can perform using a variety of items they provide and some you provide yourself. Some of the things that come with the kit include a small electric motor, a test tube (mine was missing), a thermometer, a parabolic reflector and incidentals like paper fasteners and rubber bands. It also came with a magnifying glass although instructions for frying ants were nowhere to be found.

I told my two daughters (ages 10 and 12) to pick out two experiments they would like to perform for the purpose of this review. They immediately were drawn to the first one that is listed on the box: Frying an egg with the sun's heat. This made me think of something else I had seen on TV and wondered about - can you really fry an egg on the sidewalk? Turns out the experiment used the sun and the test tube to just fry a small teaspoon of the egg white which dashed my hopes of an eggs benedict lunch, but we were intrigued enough to try it anyways.

(Note: The instruction manual suggests you complete the experiments in the order they are presented, since each activity builds on what you learn on the previous one. However, because we are renegades we decided to ignore this and choose activities at random and out of sequence. Some of the experiments presented early in the manual are simpler in nature and involve things like measuring the temperature of a bowl of water at different times and observing your reflection in a mirror bent at different angles. These might only hold the attention of younger kids or the very curious science student.)

The egg-frying experiment required us to first assemble cardboard stands for the reflector and the test tube. These were very simple and things my girls could easily do on their own, and probably by children much younger. (Nice to have tasks the kids can do by themselves.) My test tube was missing from my kit, but luckily I found a suitable vessel that we could place in the stand to hold the egg white. For the first time I appreciated that bizarre flower holder I received as a party favor at a wedding shower.

Next we went outside and set up our elements - this proved to be the tricky part, as you had to position the reflector and the test tube so that the egg white in the tube was at the focal point of the sun's rays bouncing off of the reflector. This took a little while to do, but when we finally got it in place we were surprised to see that the egg did in fact start to harden. It never cooked completely, but I could see where it could on a warmer day. I could also see how you might be able to cook an ant. As you can see I can't quite let this one go.

The next experiment involved using the small electric motor and a light bulb to power a propeller. Again, this required some simple assemblage which my girls were able to do easily by themselves. Next we plugged the solar cell into the motor and attached the small plastic propeller to the front of the motor. The idea is that electricity from the light bulb would power the solar cell which would in turn make the motor turn the propeller.

This experiment didn't prove to be as fruitful as we could never get the motor to run. I'm not sure whether the connection between the solar cell and the motor was faulty, or whether the motor itself wasn't working. We tried using the sun as the power source as they suggest in the previous activity, but had the same results. This was a little disappointing as the girls had already cooked up (no pun intended) an experiment where they were going to use the contraption as an economical and earth-friendly way to dry their nails after a manicure.

While we had mixed outcomes with our experiments I would still recommend the Solar Science Lab as a tool for teaching kids some basic ideas about the sun and its power. However, its $24.95 price tag seems a little steep for this modest toy, and I might be more inclined to purchase it as part of a comprehensive science kit, one that had other activities and experiments not just dealing with solar power, but maybe with recycling, conservation and pollutant reduction. I could see this being very useful as tool to teach my kids ways to responsibly utilize our earth's resources. And don't worry - that wouldn't include a lesson on frying ants.

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