Monday, December 17, 2007

printing made easy

I know a lot of people say this, but I really mean it when I am a technological infant. So when Parent Bloggers offered me a chance to review the HP Photosmart A626 Compact Color Printer I approached it with equal measures of excitement and trepidation.

So no one was more surprised than I was when I had this printer up and running in less than 10 minutes. You have no idea how spectacular that made me feel and we can all be assured it was due to HP and not to me. This was the easiest installation of technology that I have ever done in my life.

The step by step directions were easy, both on paper and on the screen itself. And I couldn't believe how responsive the touch screen was. Touch screens in the past have left me wanting to hit something but this actually responded to my prompt every single time.

Once your memory card is in the printer you can view your pictures in a variety of ways, manually, slideshow, various groupings as well as perform all the editing. Luckily we've recently gone on vacation and so I had a host of tropical pictures on my memory card and I was able to edit them easily - cropping, removing the red eye, adding frames to pictures and actually writing captions directly into the picture by hand. Erasing your mistakes is an easy thing too. And the quality was superb. As I printed out pictures of the coke bottle Caribbean it looked exactly as I remembered it. J has been working with two different photo printers at his work recently without decent results and as such was feeling skeptical but when I showed him these pictures he said it was much better color quality than anything he'd been able to achieve recently.

One of the things I haven't been able to try yet is printing pictures that are already stored on our computer. My laptop is mainly for work and I am not able to install new software onto it and our laptop with our pictures on it is temporarily out of commission. But as soon as it's fixed I plan on creating a photobook using one of the books HP sent with the printer. I am going to make a smaller photobook for my daughter with pictures of all of her friends and use the larger photobook to chronicle our recent trip.

The coolest thing about the HP printer is how small and portable it is. It only weighs a little over 3 lbs and is about 10" wide. Perfect for mobility and small spaces, something I put to terrific use last night. I took it over to one of our shelters and offered to take pictures for folks who wanted them and was able to print them right then and there for some people, many of whom hadn't had a photo taken of themselves in years. Several folks wanted pictures to send to distant relatives and some wanted group pictures of their friends, folks who live in such transition means friendships are real but fleeting, and the fact that I could take their picture and immediately turn around and hand them a print was really cool and the red eye function was especially useful given the poor lighting and the tiredness of the folks we help.

I'd imagine this same portability would be terrific for birthday and holiday parties as well as day care and school events. When you can frame and/or write on the pics it makes for a nice personal token that folks can take away immediately.

The only drawback is that you can't save the edited pictures directly onto the printer. So if you want to preserve them you'd need a bit more equipment if you were trying to do it at a function which might not be the easiest depending on where you are.

If you are interested HP is running a special promotion offering 20% off of their Photobooks. I noticed an instant rebate on the printer as well. Just in time for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ready, Set, Fire Truck!

Tis the season, I suppose, but reviewing Paz's Radio Control Fire Truck was something I signed up for awhile ago and M is certainly glad I did.

I don't generally buy plastic toys but I caved when I agreed to do the review after showing M a picture of it online and watching her lose her mind. Fire Truck! I'm a Fire Fighter! (She's been in a fierce firefighting stage lately) and when the package arrived I couldn't get it out of the box fast enough.

This truck is all about movement. It's got an easy to use remote control that enabled M to learn how to practice hand eye coordination and even a dose of patience while she figured out how to manuever the control to steer the truck around the kitchen without smacking it into walls. Luckily it's an easy venture (something pretty cool for a toddler to learn) and soon she was off and running and the truck was zipping all over the house.

It's got an easy on/off switch, but because M insisted on SLEEPING with the truck on the night it arrived I happened to find that switch around 3am the next morning (my fault, not the toys) and it includes four little people who can ride along, but to be honest those folks seemed like an afterthought and not a valuable part of the toy. They didn't hurt, but they weren't the main attraction. The movement, sounds, and lights stole the show.

It's durable, colorful and engaging, and it's also a bit loud (and even louder at 3am) so if you aren't one for noisy toys it's an important point to consider. All in all, plastic aside, it's a good toy for a toddler. You can check out what some other folks are saying about it over at Parent Bloggers too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

chief organizational officer or faulty mindless control freak?

Sometimes we all need a little help figuring out how to keep the axis turning.

I recently had the opportunity to review the Day Runner Family Matters system via Parentbloggers.

It's an interesting system. An erasable wall calendar, file folders and storage bins for each member of the family, a day planner and door hangers to remind yourself of what you'll probably forget.

I think it's a great idea for larger families or for families with older kids. We didn't have much use for the bins besides a general one for our family - our information is too entwined and our activities aren't seperate enough to warrant the additional storage. And the door hangers are nothing but a plaything for a toddler, so those quickly had to be relegated to a higher surface. And guess what, then they didn't get used at all. But again, that's me, not the system.

The wall calendar is terrific. Now I have a place to list each of the things going on in a week instead of merely keeping it all in my head. I've already filled it with upcoming things for the next month but again, with multiple kids I'd imagine the columns would have greater use.

It's probably safe to say our family won't get a ton of use out of this product but that isn't a reflection on the product itself, but rather a function of our still small family and one very smart (or controlling) woman who still stubbornly chooses to keep it all in her head.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

i am a pureeing fool

I couldn't get enough of Jessica Seinfeld's book Deceptively Delicious. After being an excellent vegetable eater as a baby M has completely turned against them as a toddler. Anything orange or green earns the screech i don't LIKE orange food. i don't LIKE green food. Truth be told, it's a pain in the rear. So when Parentbloggers offered the chance to review a cookbook where the vegetables are smuggled in I figured I had nothing to lose.

I love this book. I've pureed cauliflower and made banana bread, pureed carrots and made meatloaf. I pureed acorn squash (a feat in and of itself) and put it in buttered noodles. M has eaten everything and I sit smugly by for once, victorious over the toddler food war.

The book is not only full of recipes, but also tips and techniques. I am pretty sure I won't become the pureeing warrior that Jessica is, but I now have another tool at my disposal and know I'll return to this book over and over. It's just that easy to use and the food tastes really good. You'd never know all those veggies were in there and it feels better simply eating it, not only because there was more intentionality and effort in the preparation but also because it's a healthier way to treat your family.

Getting this book and having the space and luxury to actually use it brought up some other issues for me too, ones that I am addressing over at my main blog today so if you found me some other way stop over there before you go.

Monday, October 15, 2007

safe travels

I've never done a good job at preparing for the worst. Since M came along I've gotten better, we now have water and some food stored in the garage in case of an earthquake. We baby proofed the house. But I've never taken measures to ensure safety while on the road aside from the car seat. We don't keep extra food or water or blankets in our car. And shame on us.

Sequoia Survival helped me change that recently by allowing me to review their travel kit through Parentbloggers. The kit is small, so compact it will barely be noticeable in the trunk. But the point is, it's in there.

The kit is packed with all sorts of important items. ready to eat meals for two for an entire day, water, a decent first aid kit, rope, gloves, matches, paper, a mini-blade, emergency blankets, lightsticks, a hand crank cell phone charger and even a deck of cards. It's got what you need to spend the night, maybe two nights stranded in your car.

I will never forget the Kim family's struggle last winter. I will never forget their agonizing story of survival, a wrong turn on a day trip turned into tragedy. We've gone off the beaten path ourselves and never were we adequately prepared for the what ifs.

Nothing can truly keep us safe and that is probably one of the most important realizations we'll ever have as human beings. But we can do our part to be smart about it, to be prepared in the case of emergency, so that our mistakes can be minimized as much as possible.

I feel better knowing it's in my trunk. I'll feel better knowing I have this one small measure for M and for my family. I won't allow myself to live in fear, but I will continue to be smarter about the choices I make and calculate the risks. The Sequoia Survival Kit is one of the measures we'll include from now on in our travels, that little red safety pack nestled in my trunk.

I hope I never need to use it, but I am happy knowing it's there.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

sole train

Parent bloggers and Ryka have offered a soleful opportunity to many of their reviewers as well as anyone reading this post (did you know they are giving away 50 shoes every day until October??)

I used to work out religiously before having M. I'd hit the gym five or six days a week before work and on the weekends. I felt fabulous. In fact I worked out until the week I went into labor and I had never felt so strong. And then M was born and a year slipped by, then two. My exercise was increasingly sporadic and I couldn't find a groove. So about a year ago I went and bought new shoes, and my first time out I got a blister. The second time out I got a new one. So the new shoes sat in the closet and when I would go out walking I'd put on my old pre-baby shoes, the ones with barely any tread. My shins protested.

And then the Ryka opportunity came along. I was a bit apprehensive, sneakers on line that I didn't get to try on had a fair shot at not fitting, at the blisters redux. But I loved the Ryka shoes; not only are they comfortable, the soles have a tremendous amount of cushion and the right amount of flex, but they are also cool and understated, a perfect white.

Since I've gotten them I've gone out walking 3-4 times a week and I've never gotten a blister. And my shin pains have disappeared (the wonders of shoes with proper tread).

And this could be your post, your story. Because Ryka is giving them away. You never know, you might be walking on soft white sneakers soon too. And your shins will thank you, and so will your muscles and joints. I know I still need to move more than I do, but the right shoes go a long way.

Friday, September 14, 2007

ninos y espanol es muy bueno

The good folks at Kids Love Spanish and Parentbloggers have teamed up again to offer some of us a chance to review their DVD series that teaches kids to se habla espanol.

I jumped at the chance because we've really been wanting to offer M the opportunity to learn other languages but are realistic to know that as long as we are only speaking English that's all she is going to learn. J jumped on these DVDs when they arrived and he and M settled in front of the TV and lo and behold, M LOVED them. They sat for over an hour watching various DVDs and practicing words. M took to it like ants on sugar - she can now count to 10 in Spanish, say about 10 animal words in Spanish, and can practice the Spanish alphabet (ha, I hadn't even realized all the extra letters until I watched the DVD myself...)

I think the repetitive nature of the DVDs really work - things are repeated again and again which gives the child a chance to say it over and over. And M will sit and talk back to the TV (not that I am necessarily proud of that) repeating azul, caballo, pez, uno, dos, tres...and I think it's pretty cool.

The graphics are pretty low tech and the videos can seem a bit hokey sometimes, but my initial reaction was minimized when I realized exactly how much M was learning. She will say words in Spanish when she's not watching the videos as well which is really amazing given the exposure hasn't been near what her exposure to English has been.

It goes to prove their brains are little sponges and the more we can show them the more they can learn.

Con Mucho Gusto, Compadres.

Friday, August 31, 2007

print your kid

I had the great pleasure of reviewing Print a Kid recently. They create personalized books for children and the good people at Parentbloggers gave me a chance to give it a spin.

The end result is a fantastic, personalized book that your kid will love. And the website is so easy to use. You choose from a selection of books and they walk you through the personalization, from the skin/hair color of your own child to the names of friends and family. M is having a birthday next week so I chose their birthday book and now she has a really cool book memorializing her name with a personal dedication from us, her birthdate, and a story about a party with all of her friends and family in starring roles.

I love this book so much that I keep taking it out after she goes to bed to look at it over and over. I cannot wait to give it to her next week because I know that she will absolutely love a whole book (a real, honest to god book) all about her and her friends. And the illustrations are terrific too. The story is basic, but it's secondary to the fact that it is personal and fun and a really great idea. I have a feeling we'll be reading it over and over.

This is one of the best products I've reviewed so far and I've never had so much fun doing it. If you are looking for a gift for your kid or for someone else's I highly recommend this as a fun and affordable way to go. You can check it out for yourself at the website above and if you do, I'd love to hear what you think.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

the wonderful world of words

We all know TV is the devil but it's the devil we know and love, some of us more often than not. We've really taken a hard line lately because if M is watching it I want her to be learning something and not simply running around the house screaming "To The Rescue!" So when I had the chance to check out a preview of a new PBS series called Word World courtesy of the good women at Parentbloggers I jumped at it. I wanted to review it especially because M is really on the verge of putting letters together. She's just starting to realize that letters actually add up to something and that something makes for a bigger something. A way to read. And that my friends spells freedom for her imagination.

So we settled in with some bananas and our DVD. There were two 11 minute shorts and each was a vignette of sorts with a variety of brightly colored characters made out of distorted letters themselves. I tried to see if M would notice the letters in the shapes but she couldn't figure it out. The cartoons themselves were engaging and slightly annoying to me but less so to her. We watched them twice and M seemed to like them well enough but I was hoping for more chances to create words. Each piece had one or maybe two words it actually spelled, and after watching it twice M was able to say which word they were spelling which was pretty cool but not as cool as it would be if there were several words spelled during each show.

But these are just 11 minutes long and I think the show will be in 30 minute segments which will most likely lead to more spelling. All in all it was interesting enough to make me watch an episode when it comes out in September but I'll mostly be watching to see how educational it ends up being. If the shows practice spelling 4-5 words per episode I think it might be something we'd let M watch. Because spelling is where it's at and I'll take it over River, Backpack, Map! or however that non-educational type formatting goes any day of the week.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

feed your head

One of the reasons I enjoy participating in Parent Bloggers is because I have the chance to explore books that I'd not otherwise dive into. One such book is the 24 Hour Pharmacist by Suzy Cohen.

At first I was skeptical. Another "self-help" book marketed to help us with our ailments while quietly getting us to buy into their gimmick. How their way is the right way to live and if we just followed that way, we'd all feel a heck of a lot better.

Suzy is different. A pharmacist, sure. But pills aren't always her answer. Instead she challenges her profession and the use and often overuse of prescription medication. Her book covers a wide array of health issues: fatigue, stress, PMS, sexual energy, heart conditions, joint issues and sleep. She offers a fairly objective perspective, when pills might be useful, how supplements, herbs and non traditional treatments might also be a solution. And how overall, our goal should be to listening to our bodies and not looking for a quick solution to fix everything.

Seems obvious, right? But so hard to put into practice. Take for example her chapter on anxiety and stress. I have not known one person to not be anxious or stressed in some fashion (and that alone is alarming if you really think about it) and she begins, as she does in each chapter, to break it down. She offers working definitions for what ails us and then talks about how commonly prescribed drugs might be contributing to the problem instead of the solution. And then she takes it further by talking about how our life choices - the food we eat, how we sleep - can also be contributing to the problem. Then she ends with solutions, natural ones from teas and food and supplements and activities that can help combat anxiety and stress in a more holistic and naturally congruent way than a pill might. And how if we practiced these things regularly, our need for intervention might actually decline.

Because let's face it, pills don't last forever and aren't a solution for every issue but rather something that numbs the effects of the issue itself. Obviously that isn't true for every person or every illness - we all know drugs routinely save lives and cure disease. And her point (in my humble opinion) isn't to discount that but rather it's to elevate our thinking when choosing the course of treatment rather than just going along with the standard solution.

I plan to refer to this book again, especially in terms of preventative measures I can take to make myself healthier. As a (relatively) new mom any sort of preventative caretaking I once did for myself has gone out the window and what a shame that is because it's more critical than ever before that I DO remain healthy and have a long life. I owe that to my daughter and I owe it to myself.

PS. Points to you if you know the song I stole the title from. And more points if you head over to Parent Bloggers, I hear they are giving away a free book over there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

the green machine

Both of our cars are over a decade old, and we've kept them because both get relatively good gas mileage and because we are cheap. Lately though, we've been wondering what we'll do when one of them finally takes it's final bow.

So when parent bloggers offered a chance to test drive Saturn's new hybrid, I jumped at the chance. If there is any new car in our future, it has to be a hybrid. We can't stomach it otherwise, the knowledge that we could do our small part in this way is obvious.

And what a car it is. The Saturn Vue Greenline is awesome. It's a hybrid SUV, but on the smallish side, which in my opinion is a very good thing. It doesn't get the gas mileage of a Prius, but it does boast the best mileage of any SUV on the market - 32 miles to the gallon - which might be as good as a smaller car but if you require a larger vehicle to hold a few kids and a dog, you can still do your part for the planet while avoiding a minivan. It's a win-win.

Aside from the gas mileage, what I really liked about the car was how quiet it was. At stoplights the engine would shut off for a period of time (thus saving the planet) and it felt like we were in a library, it was that quiet. It was roomy, comfortable, and practically drove itself. And it's reasonably priced for this sort of car - $23K or so with all the fancy bits.

My family doesn't require a car this big, but if I did, I'd consider this over a gas sucking SUV any day of the week.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Long Overnight

As anyone with a baby or toddler knows, one of the more frustrating things is the amount of laundry that you have to do. It's a strain on you, and more importantly, the environment...all the washing and drying has an impact on our energy usage, and beyond that, it's just not cool.

I've used Pampers since M was born and felt they've worked well until the last six months or so. Recently she's been soaking through her diaper about 20% of the time, so that 20% means I am washing blankets, sheets and pajamas at an abnormal rate. More so, my poor child is sleeping in some seriously wet ick.

So when I was offered the chance to try Huggies Overnights I jumped at the chance. M took to them immediately; her new diapers with LIONS on them. LIONS! The world was alight with the sounds of a happy child strutting around the room in her new sleepytime diapers and all was well with the world.

The first night was epic. Not only did M wake up with what J termed the biggest load in the history of the world, but she was perfectly dry. I was in love. Huggies and I were a match made in heaven, I was sure of it.

But things went a bit downhill after that. We used the diapers every night for the next two weeks and M soaked through her diaper at least 60% of the time. Each morning it happened I would wake up in anticipation and more than half the time I was crushed. Why was my new love foresaking me? What had I done? Where had it gone wrong? Was it me?

The questions mounted. We tried different strategies; a looser fit one night, a tighter one the next. At one point J put his foot down. No More Huggies. It's not a move he makes often, so I knew it was serious.

Mayhem insued. The LIONS! M was hysterical. She loved her new diapers. She needed her new diapers like a kitten needs milk. The LIONS! But J wouldn't budge. And my washer and dryer were begging for a reprieve.

I was left with no choice. Huggies Overnights and I had to break up. But I've read a number of other reviews and others are having much more success. I think it's safe to say that no one diaper fits all. So don't just take my word for it - be sure to check out all the reviews at Parent Bloggers. I hear if you leave a comment at Parent Bloggers you have a chance at winning a free package and then you can see for yourself.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

sleep to dream

I have yet to meet a person who has said they get enough sleep. Or that they are perfectly satisfied with the quality of sleep they get. It's funny, how the lack of sleep affects us all at different times and in different ways.

I just finished reading Good Night by Dr. Micheal Breus. You can also find him here and here for more information about him and his passion for sleep. I am not much of a self-help book girl, but Dr. Breus impressed me with his open and conversational style and pragmatic approach.

And the brother is seriously committed to people getting a good night's sleep.

His book offers several assessments, checklists and questions to help you identify what your barriers to a good night sleep are (mine is worry and an inability to quiet the mind). Yours might be the irregular hours you keep, the lack of sleep ambience, a poor diet or lack of exercise. (ok, mine is probably some of those too). Whatever it is, it's outlined in the book along with a few I'd never thought of.

After exploring the reasons we don't get enough sleep, Dr. Breus then offers a sleep routine; one you can follow and if you do, should assist you with a better night's sleep. There are a variety of good ideas which tackle each sleep inhibiting issue holistically. He's got a four week regime you can follow, easy to maintain and a lot less annoying than a lot of self help books on the market.

But what the good doctor is really talking about is mindfulness. And the benefits of being mindful when caring for one of your most precious resources. If we aren't sleeping, other things will stop working, too.

I am not an insomniac. In fact, after reading the book I realized I get more sleep than I thought. I am grateful for that. But I am also not caring for my body as much as I could. The connections he makes about diet and sleep, about exercise and sleep...none of it is rocket science and yet all of it together makes all the difference.

If sleep is a problem for you, this book may very well help you work it through. One of the things the (rather cute) doctor talks about is quieting your mind before bed. I don't do that. I blog or read or what have you and then expect to fall asleep when my mind is still racing. He suggests giving yourself an hour to do things that are less cerebrally stimulating (hey, that gives me an idea) in order to quiet your mind.

I like that. I tried it. I fell asleep faster after working on it for a few days in a row.

It's a mind-body-spirit deal. We need to feed all of our parts or we'll suffer for it. If you suffer from a lack of sleep, you owe it to yourself to do more than take a pill.

The Sleep Doctor is in.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007