Wednesday, September 7, 2011

500 Acres and No Place to Hide

I didn't know much about Susan McCorkindale when I first opened her second memoir, 500 Acres and No Place to Hide, but it didn't take long for me to learn that she is a terrifically funny lady who is hiding some serious depth underneath a whimsical exterior.

McCorkindale's shtick is that she is an out-of-place New Jersey girl whose husband brings her to farm country where she fumbles around her ranch in high heels, sharing her foibles as she goes.

And she is that. She's funny, she's silly, she accidentally kills a chicken in the first chapter. McCorkindale is someone I could hang out with, and her book is all kinds of fun. The pleasant surprise, however, is that she's far deeper than that.

Sprinkled in with the bullfrogs that surprise her in the middle of the night and the cows she has to chase down after they escape through holes in the fence, McCorkindale drops in passages about her autistic son and her own history with depression.

Where I wish she didn't have to show depth is in the second half of the book, where she chronicles her husband's brutal battle with cancer. By the time she starts to relate his story, I was so invested in her life that I felt like I was reading about friends, and I was heartbroken to find out about her husband's illness.

All in all, this is a funny, bittersweet read. I'll definitely be checking out her first memoir as well. 

McCorkindale's first book is Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl. She will be signing books tonight (September 7, 7 p.m.) at Barnes & Noble (3040 M Street, Georgetown) in DC. Find her full list of events on her Facebook page.

Honesty Clause: I received a review copy of this book.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Parenting Book...Written by Kids: Guest Post by Vanessa Van Petten

Vanessa Van Petten is the creator of RadicalParenting.com and author of the parenting book, “Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?” In her guest post, she writes about her website and her new book.

When I was 16, I thought it was my dad’s goal in life to make me miserable. I was convinced that he had a running list of all the ways he could embarrass me in front of my friends, trick me into doing more chores, or make my curfew earlier.

Our relationship would have continued to devolve until one day I saw my dad reading a parenting book. I flipped through it while my dad was in the bathroom and realized a lot of the things he did that drove me crazy he was getting right out of this book! I looked at the other parenting books on our shelves and realized that they were all written by adults. I wondered—has anyone ever asked teens to write to their parents?



I decided to build a website called RadicalParenting.com where teens could answer questions and write to parents. I couldn’t believe how quickly it grew and how happy teens were to get their voices out and parents were to have a new outlet for connecting with their kids! We now have over 120 teen writers who give advice.

Teenagers, when given a neutral space, LOVE talking to parents and often offer some of the best insight because they are going through it themselves. We have also been so excited to help parents who feel like they cannot reach their kids and teens.

I think teens and parents can work together to overcome their differences and learn to work best together. We have just come out with our book: "Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?" and it is a radical approach to parenting because it is written from the kid’s perspective! We would love for you to check it out—if you are brave enough to see what kids have to say!

Here is what Publisher’s Weekly had to say:
Van Petten, founder of the popular Web site RadicalParenting.com, offers parents a candid view of the contemporary teen’s world in this eye-opening text. Van Petten uses actual stories about teens and their often anxious, angry, or befuddled parents to introduce each chapter.

Pointing out that she is neither a parent nor a teen (nor a doctor, therapist, or counselor), the college-grad author has nevertheless earnestly investigated her subject and includes current research on teens as well as hundreds of “real quotes, interviews, e-mails and advice from actual teens.”

Van Petten explores a variety of timely subjects, including peer relationships, teen/parent communication, bullying, technology, and “risky business” (smoking, drinking, sex, and more). Her outlook on technology and “Internet savvy” is particularly incisive, emphasizing not only the hazards of “time-suck” activities (i.e., Facebook, chatting on IM, and texting) but also the many social and academic benefits of the digital universe.

Like a crafty spy, Van Petten comfortably segues from parent to teen perspective, and while noting that each adolescent is unique, she skillfully opens doors to the collective teen psyche.  —Publishers Weekly

Vanessa Van Petten is one of the nation's youngest experts, or "youthologists" on parenting and adolescents. She now runs her popular parenting website, RadicalParenting.com, which she writes with 120 other teenage writers to answer questions from parents and adults. Her approach has been featured by CNN, Fox News, and the Wall Street Journal. She was also on the Real Housewives of Orange County helping the housewives with troubled teens. Her next book, "Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I'm Grounded?" is being released in September 2011 with Plume Books of Penguin USA.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nintendo 3DS

So, the Nintendo 3DS. I know I am woefully late with my review here, but because it has taken me so long to write this, my family and I have really had a chance to see how it works and how much we love it.

There are a lot of features on the 3DS that don't come on other versions of the game systems in the DS family, making it a unique and fun addition to our family gaming collection.

Of course, the biggest advance in this game system is the 3D option. You don't need glasses to use this system in 3D mode, and it is really, really cool. Generally I don't care for 3D, even going out of my way to find movies in regular ol' 2D theaters. 

Playing Asphalt 3D
As a novelty factor, though, the 3D on this system is incredibly neat. Furthermore, it makes certain games so much cooler. I get bored pretty easily of racing games, but playing a car race game in 3D? I was sold immediately. We also have Nintendogs + Cats in 3D, which is cool, but the 3D seems less important.

The nice thing about the 3DS is that there is a slider on the side of the screen so you can easily go from 2D to 3D and back again. If you don't want your kids playing in 3D (and Nintendo itself says not to let kids under 7 use that feature because they don't know for sure how it affects developing eyes) there are parental controls that let you control that feature.

So how is the 3D? Well, you do have to position yourself in just the right spot to get the right effect, which means that no one can look over your shoulder to watch you play because the screen will be fuzzy for them. Also, some people say that the 3D features makes their eyes tired, but if it does, you can switch right over to 2D.
Me and Mii

The 3DS also has a 3D camera, which is a lot of fun, and you can make your own Miis right on the 3DS. I object to the weird place they put the stylus storage spot (on the back of the system), but that's not that big of a deal, especially considering the 3DS also features a circle pad controller. There are several other neat features built into the system as well.

StreetPass is a feature where, if you set your controls to allow it and you carry your sleeping 3DS with you, you will exchange Miis with other sleeping 3DS' that you come in contact with. I would review this feature for you, but since we mostly play this system at home, we haven't managed to collect any other Miis yet, which is sad because it looks like there are additional games you can play once you collect them. I have taking to semi-stalking this kid who plays 3DS in the waiting room of my son's occupational therapist, but I don't want to be the creepy stranger asking to exchange Miis. That said, I think that once a Mii is on your system, there is no further connection to its original 3DS.

Also, if you are looking for Miis for your StreetPass, check out some of the Meetups people are planning on June 25 to exchange Miis all over the world.

The thing that first really pulled my kids into the 3DS is one of the games that comes built in to the system. Face Raiders and AR Games are both really neat, although we've played a lot more Face Raiders because the AR Game requires that you have a physical card on a surface in front of you to play, and I don't carry it with me.

The thing that is cool about both of these games is that they use your environment as part of the game setting. When you play AR Games, you still see your desk and your room—and people in the room—on the screen, but the game builds characters and game play on top of them.

Jack discovers Face Raiders
Face Raiders is even better, and has completely grabbed the attention of my 8-year-old. In this game, you take photographs of people...and then shoot at them. Huh. It doesn't sound so great when I write it like that. But basically it makes people you know—and your PETS, if you want—characters in your game. This is a 360-degree game, meaning you don't just toggle a joystick to move, but you end up rotating all the way around to play, and the cameras on the 3DS make the room where you are sitting your actual game setting.

I didn't do a very good job explaining either of those games, but they both have a real wow-factor. Nintendo explains it better than I do. Check it out here: http://www.nintendo.com/3ds/built-in-software/.

There are a lot of wonderful new games for the 3DS, and you can use your regular DS games in it too. When I went to Seattle to learn about the 3DS, I got to play a lot of the 3D games and they were a tremendous amount of fun.

My favorite is Pilotwings Resort, in which you fly an airplane, hang glider, or jet pack around the Wii-universe island. I know the island has a name, but I can't remember it right now. Regardless, it's fun, has lots of options, and looks awesome in 3D.

Quinn, my six-year-old loves Nintendogs + Cats. He already had an earlier version of Nintendogs, but the addition of cats has changed his whole little world. He adores this thing. It's fun because it has a pedometer, which means you can put the 3DS in sleep mode and go for a walk...with your virtual pet. I know. I thought it was weird too, right up until I saw Quinn doing laps around my house while clutching the 3DS so he could earn treats for his dog.

My kids and I have been delighted by the 3DS, even if the 3D part of it isn't the biggest draw for them. If you are looking for a fancy full-featured portable game system, this might be it. It also has cool factor. You may not be excited about the 3DS, but if you have elementary school aged kids, they know about the 3DS and they think it is awesome. Trust me. I know this based on reaction my own kids have gotten when others have watched them play.

Bottom line: The Nintendo 3DS costs about $250. The Nintendo DSi costs about $150. If you are looking for a basic gaming system, you will probably do fine with the DSi, but if you have the extra cash, the 3DS is a tremendous amount of fun and has a great wow factor.

Honesty Clause: I was given a free Nintendo 3DS, along with Asphalt 3D, Pilotwings Resort, and Nintendogs + Cats. Furthermore, I went on a fully paid trip to Seattle for a bloggers weekend with Nintendo. However, my opinions are my own.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dunkin' Donuts Has New Iced Drinks for Summer! (With Giveaway!!)

I get a fair number of pitches from PR firms and companies, but it is rare that I get one that is so spot on as the one I got from Dunkin' Donuts a couple weeks ago. They invited me (and several other bloggers) to an iced drinks tasting at a Dunkin' Donuts about 10 minutes from my house

Honestly, it's like the mother ship was calling me home.

My family are big Dunkin' Donuts fans, regularly engaging in "Donut Breakfast" some weekends. My kids are especially enamored of their Coco Confetti donuts, which are chocolate with chocolate frosting and multi-colored sprinkles. Okay, I just looked that up, and Dunkin' Donuts calls those donuts Cocoa Confetti, but I like my spelling better, so I'm going to stay with it.

Just don't get me started on doughnuts vs. donuts, because I get mad about that at least once a month.

Here is the thing: Even with our long track record with Dunkin' Donuts, we only buy, well, doughnuts donuts. Did you know that they have sandwiches of a variety of styles and on a variety of breads, hash browns, an extensive selection of drinks, and more? They're not all donuts and a Box o'Joe, people.

I was invited, along with Laurie, Amanda, Janine, Jill, Anne and Maggie, to taste test a selection of iced coffees, plus a new summer product, details to come! I don't drink coffee. Ever. But I figured I could soldier through a coffee taste test if it got me into a Dunkin' Donuts tasting.

The fortunate thing is that the new summer products are the Coolattas and other Frozen Beverages, which are delicious in their many flavors. The Coolattas are frozen drinks that come in a variety of fruit and coffee flavors. We tested the strawberry, which was very tasty.

Frozen yummy.

By far my favorite things that we tasted, however, were the Frozen Beverages, of which there are three: Frozen Iced Tea, Frozen Lemonade, and Frozen Hot Chocolate. These were all really, really delicious. I would definitely go back and buy more of these on my own dime. I was actually surprised by the Frozen Iced Tea because, although I adore iced tea, it would never have occurred to me to make a frozen drink out of it.

All three of the Frozen Beverages earn a giant thumbs up from me.

I did try the iced coffee, which mostly served to confirm that, yep, still don't like coffee. Not even in tiny blueberry iced coffee form.

I pretended that I was a giant.

Some of the other ladies there liked the fancy iced coffees though.

I was a wee bit jittery at the end of this tasting event, but I was stable enough to grab my gift bag which included a $25 gift card that I get to give away to one of you! To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment below telling me what is your favorite donut. Mine is lemon filled. Yum.

I'll choose a winner sometime after midnight Eastern time on June 16.

AND THE WINNER (chosen by random.org) IS... KellyG, whose favorite doughnut is raspberry filled jelly!


Honesty Clause: Dunkin' Donuts gave me numerous tiny cups of beverages, plus samples of food dishes at this event. They also gave each attendee a gift bag, including our own $25 gift card, coupons for free products, reusable cups, and coffee. But trust me, I'm a Dunkin' Devotee.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Imperfectionists

Stimey is reading The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. This book about a failing Italian newspaper is told in separate chapters, each about a different employee of the paper. It is eloquent and, at times, breathtaking. It's easy to read because of its short story-style set up, but compelling as an integrated whole as well. Recommended.

The Nintendo Wii on Sale Starting Today!



If you've been waiting for a good time to buy a Nintendo Wii, now might be the time!

From May 15th, the Wii will be available (either in black or white) in stores for the discounted price of $149. It will now come bundled with Mario Kart: Wii and a Wii steering wheel for the game (instead of Wii Sports or Wii Sports Resort, which were bundled with it before).

The Wii Remote™ Plus controller, Nunchuk™ controller and Wii Wheel included in the package will all match the hardware, meaning they will be either black or white. The new black Wii wheel will also be available separately at a suggested retail price of $9.99.

Also on May 15th, Nintendo is releasing a bundle of ‘favorite’ Wii games for $19.95, including: The Legend of Zelda™: Twilight Princess, Animal Crossing™: City Folk (see my Animal Crossing review on Momicillin), Mario™ Super Sluggers and Wii Sports, which is available for the first time as a separate software purchase.

Monday, April 4, 2011

#nintendoenthused

I just can't NOT talk about it. Last week I flew to Seattle—well, near Seattle—with a bajillion other bloggers and we went to Nintendo America's headquarters to celebrate the launch of the Nintendo 3DS. It was AWESOME.

I am going to spend a few days playing with the Nintendo 3DS before I write my official review of it, but I can tell you that it is a cool little machine. You can use it in 3D or 2D mode and it works without 3D glasses. It's kind of amazing. (And by "kind of amazing," I mean, "super incredible amazing.")

We got to spend the day playing all kinds of different games, from nintendogs + cats to Super Street Fighter IV to the game I bought for "my kids," Asphalt 3D (plus a bunch more cool games).

Me, playing something awesome.

They set us loose in the Nintendo store with a gift certificate, an employee discount, and more merchandise than we could possibly stuff in our suitcases, even if we could afford it all. I bought some well-received little plushies, some birthday gifts, and that one game. Much of that came from my own wallet, but how could I NOT buy something that would make my kiddos so happy?



See? Well received.

We had been divided into groups to move around all of the different stations they had set up for us over the course of the day. I tend to be a Yoshi or Bowser girl myself, but I ended up in the Diddy Kong group, led by the lovely Lili.

Team Diddy Kong!

One of the coolest things about our day at Nintendo is that we got to talk to a lot of the company's employees. I can't tell you how many people referred to their work there as their "dream job." That's pretty cool. They all seemed so excited about the company and their part in working for it. I don't think that's something you see at a lot of humongous corporations.

I was hoping to stake out a little cubicle or two for my kiddos to move into when they mature into working age. Quinn even had a whole list of things he wanted me to tell the Nintendo people about games he was going to design for them.

And it wasn't even just that the employees were so happy there, but also that the building itself was one of the most amazing and whimsical places I have been in my life. Sadly, we were under strict orders to NOT PHOTOGRAPH ANYTHING outside of the main conference room or THE ENTIRE DAY WILL BE CANCELED FOR EVERYBODY!

My camera hand was twitchy the whole day, but in order to NOT be THE PERSON WHO RUINED IT FOR EVERYONE, I restrained myself. This is what I have instead of photos:


Lest you think I exaggerate, let me give you some highlights. Instead of silhouettes of men and women on the signs for the bathrooms, they had silhouettes of Mario and Princess Peach. (And, yes, they had employees escort us to the bathroom.) Their conference rooms were all named after Nintendo characters or locations: Toad Conference Room, Bowser Conference Room, Star Road Conference Room.

The building is divided into four quadrants based on Nintendo characters. Yoshi, Donkey Kong, and other characters were all over the walls in a very tasteful but delightful way. The building sports a huge living roof. Even blank walls were painted ridiculously bright and happy colors. The seating in the hallways is shaped like the D-Pad control pad.

I could go on, but I can't remember everything I saw because I wasn't allowed to take photos. Did I mention that?

Everything about this building was phenomenal. I badly wanted to stow away there. I could have very happily existed there for many years, as long as they allowed my kids and Alex to visit. Especially if all I had to do was play Nintendo games.

Let's see, what else? Oh, yeah, every time I turned around, they were giving us more food and drinks and I got to meet or hang out with fantastic bloggers. Maggie and Kimberly and Amie and Shash and Kimberly and Marisa and Ilina and Jen and Maria and Julie and VDog and all kinds of Katies and everyone else.

Dinner at Black Bottle in Seattle on Friday night is one of the most fun meals I have had in months. It was extra cool because Jen and Marisa, who are food bloggers, told Maggie, Ilina and I all about our food. I laughed more that I have in a long time. Also, I got really drunk and then was driven back to a comfy hotel where I had a room all by myself, which is not a situation I have been in for probably ten years. Awesomesauce.

Now I just have to catch up on all the dull, non-brightly colored things I missed while I was out of town. As soon as I do that, I am giving myself permission to play Nintendo 3DS for hours and hours in the name of research so I can write my review.

Honesty Clause: I am a Nintendo Brand Ambassador and received much for free last weekend, including airfare, hotel, food, a Nintendo 3DS, and margaritas. Why, yes, I have sold my soul to Nintendo, but I would have given it to them for free. All opinions expressed are mine and no one told me I had to write about this trip. Thank you to Nintendo, Brand About Town, and Justine Meek. Y'all are awesome.