Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Mayo Clinic Diet Book and Journal

Well, another year has rolled by and it's almost time to start up those new year's resolutions again. If you're like me—and millions of other people—your resolution might have something to do with dieting or exercise.

My personal resolution is to start exercising regularly. In light of this, it seemed like an apropos time to review The Mayo Clinic Diet. I'm going to tell you straight off that I am reading this book and trying to apply its principles to my life, but thus far I have not actually "done" the diet. However, based on what I know about diet and nutrition, the ideas the diet puts forth are very sound.

First of all, this weight loss plan is put forth by the Mayo Clinic, whose weight-loss experts, including Donald Hensrud, M.D., wrote the book. This isn't a fad diet.

The plan starts with a two-week kick-start period, which they say will help dieters lose 6-10 pounds in two weeks. This period is followed by a second phase, which is designed to have dieters lose 1-2 pounds a week until they reach their goal.

I have to tell you, when I started reading this book, I got really inspired. I was going to do the first two-week phase and happily report to you that I lost ten pounds. Here's what happened instead: I rushed into starting when I wasn't really prepared (which the book specifically warns against). We didn't have any healthy food in the house (the initial phase has you focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and no excess sugar) and we'd lost the magnetic key to our treadmill so my plans to go running on the treadmill got derailed. (I did do an alternative exercise instead.)

Excuses, yes. I plan on trying it out again when I am more prepared. But I do have what I think is a very valid criticism. The first phase asks you to add 5 habits (eat breakfast, eat whole grains...), drop 5 habits (don't watch TV while you're eating, don't eat sugar...), and do 5 bonus habits (keep diet records, write your daily goals...). That's a lot of behaviors to alter all at once. I guess the trick is to treat the diet like a job for two weeks, but it's still a lot to change all at once.

After the first two weeks, you're supposed to stick with those habits, but in a less strict manner. Phase 2 is based on the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid.

There were aspects of the diet that I really like. Most importantly, I love that they have you eat real food. In fact, that's one of their 5 bonus habits. If you get on this diet and get into the habit of eating the way they suggest, you will come out the other side with a fresh, healthy way of eating.

I also liked some of their habits. One of them is that you shouldn't eat while you're watching TV (and that you should only spend as much time watching TV as you spend exercising). While I'm not overly fond of that second part—although I do admire the principle—that first suggestion is excellent. I eat most of my calories, and definitely the least nutritious calories, at night in front of the TV. The diet also wants you to write out a goal each day and to write down your food intake and exercise done. It's been shown that people who write down what they eat lose more weight, so this is great advice. And there is more where that comes from.

The Mayo Clinic Diet book
is gorgeous and has a ton of information in it, including some very practical tips. I think it is a great resource to have. You can chart your progress and write your goals, food diary, etc. in a notebook, or you can supplement the book with The Mayo Clinic Diet Journal, which has everything all laid out so you can easily keep track of what you need to do and what you've accomplished. I actually really liked the journal.

So here's my bottom line: I think The Mayo Clinic Diet is a really solid, reasonable weight loss plan. I believe that if you were to follow it, you would lose weight. And compared to other weight loss programs and support groups, this one will only cost you the price of the book. I think the problem is that it might be hard to stick with it. But I don't think that problem is specific to this diet.

If you are looking for a smart, basic, healthy diet plan, the Mayo Clinic Diet is definitely worth a look. I plan to implement some of the principles even if I don't end up sticking with the diet proper. Let's face it. Losing weight is hard. This diet doesn't make it easy. But it doesn't make it harder than any other diet. And it does make it realistic and it makes it healthy.

Good luck to you on your diet journey. May all your resolutions come true. I hope that mine do too.

Honesty Clause: I received a review copy of the Mayo Clinic Diet and the Mayo Clinic Diet Journal. List price for the book is $25.99 and $14.99 for the journal.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mozart and the Whale

Stimey is watching Mozart and the Whale, which is a love story about two people with Asperger's falling in love. I liked it. And I cried. And evidently it's based on an autobiographical book that I now have to find and read.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Flex Cordless Mini Canister Vac

A lot of what I'm about to say here may be obvious to those of you who, you know, clean your homes, but it's kinda new to me.

Hand vacuums are AWESOME! No, really. I haven't had one of these since I made my husband get rid of an extremely old Dustbuster many years ago. So my mind was kinda blown by the Flex Cordless Mini Canister Vac I tried out recently.

Much of my delight with the Flex could probably be applied to most hand vacs, but I belive there are several things that set it apart.

First of all, it's a canister vac, so instead of a bulky dustbuster-style suction area (I don't know what that part is called) you get to use a flexible hose that can reach small spaces. For example, here are before and after shots of under my kids' train table:

(Please don't judge me.)

The Flex made it really easy to get under and around those little bars without having to move the whole table. I really liked that.

Plus, I used it to vacuum the top of the train table as well. Finally, an easy way to get all the crumbs and dust off of a table with raised edges that are difficult to get to with dusters and rags. And I know you're probably thinking, of course you can use hand vacs on tables, but that's you. This is me: OHMIGOD YOU MEAN YOU CAN HAND VAC TABLES?!?!

I talked to my husband on the phone shortly thereafter and told him about it. (Yes, cleaning at my house really is that noteworthy.)

His response? "You're blowing my mind. I bet we could vacuum the crumbs from the silverware drawer."

"We could," I said. "Whole new levels of cleanliness are open to us. I mean we're not going to get to them, but we could."

The Flex also comes with a couple of nice attachments, including a pet hair cleaning tool, which I'm going to be able to use. I also really love the brush attachment. I like it because you can fold it back without removing it to have a brushless attachment. Easy.

You can also remove and clean the pleated filter and it's plastic pre-filter cover. In this next photo you can see the pre-filter that fits over the pleated filter. Also you can see the trash I vacuumed out of a two-square-foot area of my kids' room.

(Mostly pencil shavings...)

The Flex is cordless and charges using a simple cord that plugs into the wall and the vacuum. It's very light too, and easy to carry around. So if your child, say, empties a pixie stick onto your table, you won't think twice about grabbing your Flex for a quick clean up.

If you do buy a Flex and you buy it from Black & Decker, you can get a free Power Brush Attachment with your purchase. To do so, go to this Flex Team link on the Black & Decker website and enter the code FLX506 at checkout to get the Power Brush and a Power Scrubber for free.

Here's the thing though: On the Black & Decker site, the Flex costs $80. It sells for $65-70 on Amazon. So, if you really want the power brush and scrubber (which has a $14.99 value and is not available in stores), you should buy from Black & Decker. Otherwise, you might want to look around for a bargain.

Honesty Clause: I received a Flex Cordless Mini Canister Vac at no charge.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stay Tuned...

Hang in there, folks! My Wii and Wii Fit Plus giveaway is still coming! I hope to have it up soon!

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Stimey just finished watching the cult Japanese horror film Audition. Stimey is confused as hell and a little grossed out.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Modern Family

Stimey is watching Modern Family on ABC. Previews for this new sitcom made it look hysterical, but after the first couple of episodes, I wasn't sure how I liked it. It's been growing on me though, and now I laugh out loud at it. Who thought a sitcom with Ed O'Neill could be so funny, edgy, and heartwarming all at once?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Eucerin vs. Lubriderm

Hint: The winner starts with a "Eucer" and ends with an "in." As in, "EU CER, have lovely skIN."

Okay. So after I got home from BlogHer a few months ago and unpacked my bags, I found a lot of beauty products given out by various sponsors.

Two of those things were tubes of lotion: Eucerin's Everyday Protection Body Lotion and Lubriderm's Intense Skin Repair. Because I have problematic facial skin that can require a prescription, I am always on the lookout for good lotions.

See, I ran out of my face cream prescription a while back and have been too lazy to go back to the dermatologist. So I looked at these two bottles of lotion and decided to use them.

I chose the Lubriderm first because it said "intense skin repair" on it, and trust me, I have intense skin.

I really liked the texture and consistency of it, more so than the Eucerin. I used it everyday, sometimes more than once. My skin stayed dry and kept peeling in its problem spots, however. I have had problems in the past remembering to use lotion every day, and now that I was using it daily, I figured that my skin was just the kind that would always peel from dryness.

And it was bad. Some days it looked like my skin was entirely trying to disassociate itself from my face. But it didn't occur to me that the type of lotion I used would make a big difference.

Until one day I grabbed the Eucerin because the Lubriderm was temporarily misplaced. And by the end of the day there was no more skin trying to peel off of my face. The Eucerin had done for me in one day what Lubriderm had not been able to do over a course of weeks.

Now, remember, everyone has different skin, and what works for me may not work for you, but for me? From now on, I'm a Eucerin girl all the way.

Honesty Clause: Both Lubriderm and Eucerin gave free samples of their lotion to me.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wii Fit Plus

Last year when Alex got me the Wii and Wii Fit for Christmas, I was beyond excited. Since then, we have used the Wii often and enthusiastically. But the biggest criticism I had of the Wii Fit was that it was really difficult to actually do a workout with it.

Yes, you could do the exercises, but between each one you had to go and select and set it up, which left a lot of down time in which you were thumbing through menus instead of working your body.

Nintendo has vastly improved all of that with their new Wii Fit Plus, the update to the Wii Fit. There are a bunch of new features to it, but the smartest are the ones that let users put together routines without having to recreate them every time.

Users can now put together a workout made up of their favorite yoga and strength activities so they can just turn on the TV and start moving.

As you can see, I don't much care to "exercise."

If you want to do a workout, but don't necessarily want to build it yourself, the Wii Fit Plus has some preprogrammed routines you can do based on your fitness goals.

There are a bunch of options. I didn't even bother to look at the routines for "Leaner Miis" and instead went right to the lists for—what is the opposite of "leaner"?—Fattier Miis. (Note: this is not how Nintendo refers to them.)

I wasn't exactly sure which one I should try first, but then decided to go with "Overindulged."

It just seemed right.

The Wii Fit Plus also tells you how many calories you've burned, and what that means in terms of food. When I checked it out prior to playing, I had burned 0 calories, which was enough to let me guzzle that glass of water I've had my eye on. Presumably, if you look at the calorie count after you exercise, you might see that you burned off that, oh, say, ice cream bar you ate earlier.

Ooooh! Oooooh! You can also create Miis for your pets. Which is AWESOME. Although you can't make them exercise. But you will see them running alongside you in some of the exercises. But you will have to pick up your 55-pound dog in order to get her a Mii, which, in our case, was highly entertaining in its own right due to the look of abject terror and confusion on her face when it happened.

Wake up, Quinn! Wake up, Nana!

Of course, the great thing about the Wii Fit is that it makes it fun to exercise. That's kinda the whole point. And the Wii Fit Plus adds a bunch of new excersises, including all of these super fun ones:

These new Training Plus exercises are so much fun. My personal favorite is the snowball fight, but a bunch of them were really entertaining. They include balance games, bicycling, karate, juggling, and even a Segway course, which was more strenuous than I would have thought.

And the Wii Fit Plus has a multi-player option making it SOOOOO much easier to take turns playing a game than with the original Wii Fit. I was really, really, really, really (REALLY) excited to see this. My kids always want to play with their own Miis, which used to make turn taking sort of onerous, but now it's a piece of cake!

All three of my kids love playing the new game. They regularly shout, "Can we play Wii Fit Plus?! Can we play Wii Fit Plus?!" Here is Sam skateboarding:

He needs to work on his stance.

And here is Quinn doing the flying game, which is quite possibly one of the most entertaining things I have watched in...ever:

I have to hand it to Nintendo for seeing the flaws in their system and making some terrific improvements.

We're still exploring the new functions and features of the Wii Fit Plus, so I'm sure there are things here that I've missed, but if you have a Wii Fit, it's definitely worth your time and your $19.99 to upgrade to Wii Fit Plus. If you have a Wii already, but not the balance board, you can get the Wii Fit Plus Balance Board bundle for $99.99. The Wii itself, which you need for Wii Fit Plus, is $199.99.

If you don't have a Wii, stay tuned for my next post here at Things. And Stuff. I'll be giving away a Wii and Wii Fit Plus with the Balance Board. (Edited to add: Okay, so not the next post. But soon.)

Honesty Clause: I am a Nintendo Brand Enthusiast and received a copy of Wii Fit Plus at no charge.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pedia-Lax Fiber Gummies

It is well-known among my friends, acquaintances, and blog readers that my four-year-old son Quinn has had problems with his...digestive system since he was about six months old. He's a kid who has trouble pooping, so fiber is really important to him—even more so than it is to the average child.

Recently I was contacted to try out Fleet's Pedia-Lax Fiber Gummies, and because digestive health is such a big deal at my house, I decided to give them a try. After all, some of Fleet's other products have brought some much needed relief to Quinn in the past, although at this point, we mostly rely on Miralax.

The Fiber Gummies are sugar-free, zero-calorie Penguin-shaped gummies, each of which contains 1.5 grams of soluble fiber. Pedia-Lax recommends one gummy three times a day for children ages 2-11. According to the website, three gummies supply an amount of fiber equal to 21 spears of asparagus or a half cup of broccoli.

My kids won't eat a half cup of broccoli or 21 spears of asparagus, so I thought this might be a good alternative. Unfortunately, my kids wouldn't eat the gummies either. I gave the bottle to a friend of mine who has a four- and a six-year-old to see if her kids would eat them. She reported back that they happily gobbled them down.

Her big issue with the Fiber Gummies—and I tend to agree with her here—is that she wasn't comfortable giving them "candy" three times a day. This is "not the healthy and whole foods message I want to convey to them," she reported.

Fiber Gummies contain no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. They are also gluten, milk, egg, peanut, and tree nut-free.

It is important to note that this is a fiber supplement—not a laxative. However, the bottle warns that sensitive people may experience a laxative effect. Which could be either a good or a bad thing. For my son, it would be a great thing.

There are definitely families who could happily and successfully use Fiber Gummies. After all, fiber is a very important part of a child's diet and sometimes it is difficult to make sure your little ones get all the nutrients they need from their diet alone. For instance, my kids each take a candy-like vitamin each morning. Unfortunately, the Fiber Gummies just didn't work out for us.

Honesty Clause: Pedia-Lax sent me a bottle of Fiber Gummies for free. They retail for about $7.99. You can get a $1 off coupon on the Pedia-Lax website.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

LeapFrog Zippity Learning System

LeapFrog has a lot of wonderful products that let kids learn while they're having fun. One of their newest products is the Zippity High-Energy Learning System.

This is a video game system that connects to your television and lets kids play learning games by jumping around on the mat and moving the "bopper" controller.

It's a cute game and I like the idea behind it—that the kids stand up and actively play a video game instead of sitting on a couch exercising their thumbs.

The game system comes with eight included games featuring Mickey Mouse characters, Tigger and Pooh, Handy Manny, and the Little Einsteins. Additionally, there are more games available for purchase.

While I do think the Zippity is a fun idea, I have to admit that it didn't work in my household. My kids have a Wii, which I believe to be the best example of an active video game* currently out there. Not to mention that if your child has already been exposed to something such as an Xbox or a PlayStation, the Zippity might be too basic for him or her.

Mr. I-Wanna-Play-Xbox

With this is mind, I decided to pass my Zippity along to a friend of mine who has a two-year-old and an almost five-year-old. It definitely fared better at her house. Her two-year-old wasn't able to follow the directions yet, but her older child enjoyed playing the game. I do not believe that they have any other gaming systems, so this was her son's first exposure.

She tells me that he liked it and that the Level Two questions were very appropriate for his age level, asking things such as which object begins with a certain letter and having him count objects. (Each game has one or two levels that the child can choose, based on their abilities.)

She did say that her son did get a little bored after a while and that the game might be better targeted to the 3-4 year old age range. She mentioned that at almost five her son was probably on the very upper edge of kids who might enjoy the game. Also, she wished that the system had come with more games installed to keep her son interested. (Additional games retail for $24.99)

I'm a little torn about this. On one hand, this is a very cute, age-appropriate learning game. But I feel like the Wii has done it better. A very casual search for Wii learning games came up with a few, such as Jumpstart Pet Rescue (which we have, and my kids love), but I can't think of any active learning Wii games. I think the Zippity is unique there.

The Zippity sells for $79.99, which is substantially less expensive than the Wii, so it may be a good option if you're looking for a gaming system solely for young children and you're comfortable with them outgrowing it within a couple of years. Plus, if you want to keep them moving and learning at the same time, this might be your best option.

Honesty Clause: LeapFrog sent the Zippity Learning System to me at no charge. I have since given it to my friend to keep.

* I am a "Nintendo Brand Enthusiast." My family did, however, purchase our Wii—and fall in love with it—prior to my becoming an enthusiast.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Wave Enviro Products

I have been packing school lunches for my three children for a few years now. Over the course of those years, I have used probably 2000 plastic sandwich bags and a similar number of juice boxes.

That is an awful lot of trash.

I'm a little bit ashamed to say that this is the first school year that I've really put an effort into creating no-waste lunches for my kids. Happily, New Wave Enviro Products contacted me to try out some eco-friendly products that I could use to help reduce the trash produced by my kids' lunches.

New Wave Enviro offers a lot of great products, including BPA-free water bottles and containers made from food-grade stainless steel. They also sell water dispensers and water filters both for drinking and bathtub water.

I tried out one of their stainless steel bottles and a couple of their plastic lunch box bottles. All of these were great sizes for my kids and perfect for their lunch boxes. And instead of packing them a juice box every day, with all of the waste that goes along with it, they can use these instead:

Here is an example of my best (almost) no-waste lunch yet. Yes, I know those GoGurt tubes get thrown away, but I'm new at this. Cut me some slack.

While I've been using Tupperware for things like sandwiches and crackers, New Wave Enviro also sent me one of their stainless steel food containers to try. At 6" x 4.5" x 2", it's too big for my kids' lunch boxes, but it would work really well for an adult. Or it's even big enough to fit enough of a meal to feed a couple of my kids at a picnic. Maybe all three.

It does fit in my favorite thing that New Wave Enviro sent me to try out, which is their new Bamboo Lunch Bag.
This thing is cool. It is big and soft and made entirely out of bamboo, which I've learned is the fastest growing plant on earth, making it kind of awesome as a raw material. I really like this bag. Even though it's a lunch bag, I've used it to carry other things as well because it is large and strong and all-around way cool.

There are lots of environmentally friendly alternatives to sandwich bags and juice boxes. This is just one of them. But they seem like quality products made with safe materials. There is a store locator page on their website to help you find their products, which seem to be mostly available at organic markets and stores like Whole Foods. You can also buy them online at Amazon.

Honesty Clause: New Wave Enviro Products sent me several products at no charge so I could try them out. They are as follows: the 12 oz Stainless Steel Bottle ($14.99), two of the .250 Liter Lunch Box Bottles ($3.50 each), a Stainless Steel Food Container ($19.99), and one of the 100% Bamboo Lunch Bags ($19). (Prices come from Amazon.)

Gardens of the Night

Stimey is watching Gardens of the Night. This movie is all kinds of disturbing. In the first ten minutes, an eight-year-old girl is tricked into being kidnapped. And it gets worse from there. It wasn't terribly graphic or anything, but it is an absolutely terrifying movie. Terrifying. I just turned it off and I feel like I have a rock in my chest. Now I'm off to chain my kids to their beds and bolt all the doors closed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The White Stripes

Stimey doesn't know if you've heard of this little unknown band or not, but she is listening to the White Stripes. Seriously. Why didn't you people tell me about them? I've had Elephant for, like, three years and just started listening to it. Seven Nation Army? Are you kidding me? I love discovering something great that I already own.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Comparing Portable Gaming Systems for Kids

Reader Aimee at Smiling Mama had an excellent question for me the other day about whether a DSi would be appropriate for a four-year-old. She writes:
"...Someone recommended that Lucas would be a great age to get a DS and that it would be an uber-helpful distraction to have when the new baby arrives. He'll be 4 in December so this could be a birthday or Christmas present. He hasn't played any video or computer games except some find this letter/number/shape apps on Abel's iphone. So my questions he too young? Are there games he could play, etc. Would you recommend it?"
I've reviewed several kids' portable gaming systems, so thought I would take this opportunity to compare them to each other. You can always read my original reviews for the Leapster2, the V.Smile CyberPocket, and the LeapFrog Didj. Although I haven't officially reviewed it, I've also included information in this post about the Nintendo DSi.

Because we've tried so many, I'm frequently asked which gaming system I would recommend for kids. I'm going the easy route here and saying that I think it depends on your child and what you want from the system. But I will give you some pertinent information and pros and cons of each of the systems below.

V.Smile Cyber Pocket

This is a great little system that my kids have really enjoyed. It is simple for small children to use and the game cartridges are compatible with their console game systems if you already have one of those.

There is a good number and variety of game cartridges for this system, many of which feature much loved characters. Our favorites are Thomas the Tank Engine, the Wonder Pets, and Kung Fu Panda.

I've found V.Smile's customer service to be wonderful too. At one point, our Cyber Pocket just stopped working. I called the customer service line and the tech ran me through some troubleshooting. When nothing fixed the problem, he put a return label in the mail to me and they replaced it for free. You can't beat that.

I like this system because the games are educational, but not too hard. My four-year-old has really liked this system a whole lot, but it might be too young for the older set. My now eight-year-old will still play it sometimes, but he is far more likely to chose one of the other systems. I would say that you could get a good, solid two to three years of enjoyment out of this.

LeapFrog Leapster2 ($69.99)

The Leapster2 is the LeapFrog equivelent of the Cyber Pocket. Its games are also educational, and it has some nice features such as a drawing program that you don't even need a cartridge for.

Many of the people whom I've advised on the gaming system for kids dilemma has gone with the Leapster2 and been very happy with it. As with V.Smile, there are many games you can play with it that feature familiar characters. My kids have loved Jedi Math more than any other game.

One nice feature of this system is that there is room to create four different gamer profiles, so that multiple kids can play their own games and keep track of their own rewards. LeapFrog lets you upload your kids' progress to your computer in order to see what they've been learning, and also to download printable rewards.

I've found the Leapster2 to be slightly less intuitive than the Cyber Pocket. Your kids will pretty easily figure out how to operate it and work the different controls, but things like the volume control are easier on the V.Smile system.

LeapFrog Didj ($89.99)

The Didj is intended for a slightly older child. I don't think I would buy it for a child younger than seven. The games are more challenging and are still educational. If you want a system that a pre-tween will accept, but you're not ready to go to a system that offers fewer learning benefits, the Didj is a good way to go.

We've enjoyed Clone Wars and Indiana Jones games on this, and have mostly played math games. The math is definitely too hard for my 4- and 6-year-olds, and is challenging for my very bright 8-year-old. The games have age suggestions on them, which are pretty accurate.

My younger children have been able to play the action parts of the game, but have to hand the Didj to my eldest to have him unlock doors and gates by doing the math. We've also tried out a Hannah Montana reading game that my son sorta liked (you know, it was pink), but you had to have the sound turned up for it, which could be a problem in places like waiting rooms. As with the other games, however, there is a plug-in spot for headphones.

Nintendo DSi ($169.99)

The Nintendo DSi is pretty much the be-all-end-all of hand-held gaming systems. (I don't have, nor have I tried the Sony PSP, so I can't speak to how it compares.) This is a system that will grow with your child and will keep him or her happy until the day that it breaks. I have one, and I've been enjoying it as well.

There are literally hundreds of DS games, so if you're looking for young child-friendly or learning games, you will be able to find them. But there will also be games your child will want to play that have absolutely no educational value. (My son's copy of Math Blaster is sitting idle in its case while Lego Indiana Jones is getting a super workout.)

The DSi has so many other features as well, including a camera, online play, and more. Thus far, we've only explored the camera and games options. All three of my kids, ages 4-8, love the DSi and compete to play it. It is definitely the favored system at my house.

The downsides to me are that it is not inherently education based and that it is much more expensive than the other systems. (You can find games that are comparably priced to the other systems, and more expensive ones as well.) Although if you are looking for a system to grow with your kids for years to come, this just might be the one.


So, Aimee (and everyone else), I hope that helps. I really think that all of these systems are good options if you're interested in a portable gaming platform for your child. To decide which one you want, I would definitely think about what it is you want your child to get out of such a system.

Let me know in the comments if you know of any other pros or cons of these systems or if there is another gaming platform that you think is great.

Honesty Clause: I received the Cyber Pocket, Leapster2, and DSi for free from the companies. (I am also a "Nintendo Brand Enthusiast.") I won the Didj from a blog giveaway. The prices you see listed above are the suggested retail prices, but you can generally find them for cheaper if you do a little bit of shopping around.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Stimey is watching FlashForward. I am really excited by this show. It has a great mystery at its base coupled with some fun characters. I'm particularly interested in their portrayal of an autistic child. So far, he seems to be a pretty accurate version of autism. I like that the show hasn't gone with blatant stereotypes for him. I'm interested to see where they go from here.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Business Cards: Staples vs. Avery Print-Your-Own

I use a lot of business cards. I have them for all my blogs, my videography business, and I created some for my (someday...maybe) special education advocacy practice.

I usually make them myself using Avery Clean-Edge Business Cards. Recently I decided to try Staples Copy & Print to make some more professional looking cards for my new blog, AutMont.

The photo above shows cards I made with Avery on the left and the Staples-produced cards on the right.

I have to say, I was not impressed with Staples. First, here is the cost breakdown for each of the above options:

A box of 400 Avery Ink Jet, Two-Side, Clean-Edge Business Cards costs $33.21. Plus you have to add in the cost of ink, and you have to be able to design and format them yourself. I use Photoshop and Quark to do that, although they have free templates you can use as well.

My order for 300 one-sided business cards on basic stock from Staples Copy & Print coast me a total of $44.51. I created my design in Photoshop, although they also have online templates. BUT! If you want to upload your own art and you use a Mac, you are going to have to call the customer service line and get the email address of a customer service rep and send the design to him or her because the Copy & Print website doesn't support Macs.

I have a long story full of sadness, anger, and woe about my Staples business card order. I won't go into the whole story, but here are the highlights: I got my order turned in (through email to a customer service rep) and asked for it to be ready at a nearby Staples store. The website promises same-day pick-up, but I gave them an extra day. When I went in, they said the cards weren't ready, but they would be ready late the next day. I went in two days later to have them tell me they lost my order. So then, I had to wait until Monday when the customer service line was open again, have the guy resubmit my order (to a different Staples), and picked them up the following day.

It was quite a hassle for a "same-day" order.

Once I got them, I still wasn't impressed. I suppose I should have asked for the pricier paper because the basic stock wasn't what I had hoped. I guess I assumed that because they were produced by a print shop that they would be of business card quality. They weren't. Honestly, they looked cheaper and were thinner than the ones I produced at home by myself.

Here I compare a stack of the Avery cards I made (on the left) with an equal number of my Staples Copy & Print cards (on the right).

You may notice that the Staples card stack is shorter, indicating thinner paper.

Then there is the fact that they were inconsistently printed. Here you can see that the cards are not uniformly produced:

The cards I make at home are often like that too, but I make and format the page myself, so I'm okay with it. I sort of figured that Staples would be able to produce a uniform card.

The image quality was pretty good on the Staples cards, however. Here, you can compare cards I made with the same image on Avery blanks (on the left) and the Staples cards (on the right).

After all of this, I will say that I won't be ordering business cards from Staples Copy & Print ever again. Comparing quality, ease, and expense, it makes so much more sense for me to just make them myself.

There are many other options to make business cards that you don't have to print yourself. Just make sure to give yourself plenty of time to design, upload, and have them shipped to you. Let me know in the comments what is your favorite source for business cards.

Honesty Clause: I paid for both my Staples business cards and the Avery cards. After an irate letter to Staples, they did sent me a $25 store credit (yeah, thanks a lot). When they sent it to me they were all, "Per our conversation..." We never had a conversation—they never got in touch with me prior to emailing the credit. You should probably also know that I am highly pissed at Staples Copy & Print.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm Enthused About Nintendo!

I wanted to take some time here to let you know that I've joined with Brand About Town to be a Nintendo Brand Enthusiast for the next year or so, so you'll likely be seeing some Nintendo reviews and chatter around these parts in the coming months.

When Brand About Town contacted me, I was thrilled, and not just because of the possibility of free stuff and parties (of which there will be), but because I honest to god love the Nintendo brand.

See, my family are gamers, and we have been for as long as we can remember. I actually started out with the Atari 400, of which I have very fond memories. Alex evidently had the first Nintendo system, the name of which I can't even remember. But our "as a family" gaming journey began together waaaay back in the 90s when I bought Alex a Nintendo 64 as a gift. I cannot tell you how many hours we spent playing on that thing together, especially Mario Kart. (I raced as Bowser, Alex as Donkey Kong.)

When the Nintendo GameCube came out, it was a natural progression for us to buy that and spend hours playing it, which we did.

Since we've had kids, we've had less time to play video games, but as my kids have gotten older, they have started to enjoy them. Last year for Christmas, Alex blew my mind by buying me a Wii and Wii Fit. And I love them. But you know who loves them more? My kids. And you know what I love about them loving the Wii? Unlike with other video game systems (and, yes, we own others), this one actively engages more than their thumbs.

The games my kids really love on the Wii are the ones that get them moving. They love Outdoor Challenge, they love Wii Sports, and Jack has started asking for Wii Sports Resort, which his occupational therapist uses as a reward and a teaching tool. Jack is also super obsessed with the tank shooting game on Wii Play, spending hours drawing pictures of tanks and maps of their environments.

I think that means we own the entire Nintendo line, which is a little shocking now that I look back on this post. Oh, wait! We didn't own the DSi. But now we do. Brand About Town sent me a DSi AND the very game that has made me covet the DS for ages—Brain Age (2). I just about flipped my lid when I opened that package.

Although I might have flipped my lid more had I opened it two weeks ago, when we bought Sam a DSi for his birthday. (But now I have my own as well, and get to mess with Sam who thinks I'm stealing his game to play.) Sam is a good kid and spends a fair amount of his time in waiting rooms because Jack has therapy twice a week, so it seemed like a nice thing to surprise him with the game system that he always drools at when other kids have it.

He had never asked for one (I don't think he was bold enough to think we would agree to buy him one) and was NOT expecting it. After he opened the birthday present, his mind went into overload and he was completely unable to react:

He sat like that for a solid two or three minutes. For a second, I thought Nintendo had flat-out killed him.

All of this is to say that, as a family, we really love Nintendo. And apparently we are a little spoiled as well. But I also wanted to let you know why you would be reading about Nintendo products and events here for the next little while. No, I'm not being paid to write these posts or to host parties, but, yes, there are perks. But, you will still always get my honest opinion about the products. I just happen to really like the products. I think that just may be why they chose me.

So, carry on and happy gaming!

Honesty Clause: To welcome me to their program, Brand About Town sent me a Nintendo DSi, the DS game Brain Age 2, and a copy of Wii Fit Plus. You'll be hearing about the Wii Fit Plus soon. All the other games and equipment mentioned above have been purchased by me or members of my family.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Torchwood: Seasons 1 and 2

Stimey is watching seasons one and two of the British series Torchwood. To my terrible embarrassment, I'm really enjoying it. It's a lovely mix of science fiction, humor, quirk, adventure, and some actual, honest-to-God diversity, including a gay male lead, who is played for zilch shock value. Love it.

Lighting Their Fires by Rafe Esquith

As far as great teachers go, Rafe Esquith seems to fit the bill. He's a teacher in an urban Los Angeles school who has found ways to help many of his students excel in academia, the arts, and life itself.

Even Sir Ian McKellen is a fan, and, frankly, I could probably end this review right there, because seriously, what more do you want?

Esquith's latest book, Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children is less about Esquith and his kids, who put on well-received annual Shakespeare productions and more about laying out a gameplan of how you can help your kids reach their highest potential.

He presents important ideas to pack in your child's metaphorical backpack. All of his ideas are simple and seem obvious, starting with "be on time." As someone who is perpetually and chronically early, I agree with this and his other tenets, including, watch less (or no) TV, focus and pay attention, and learn to make the right decisions for yourself and not because others expect you to.

All these are lovely ideas and this book is full of great advice. I do have to say that the book and the writing style didn't entirely resonate with me. I felt a little bit preached to, and the tone seemed a little judgy. That's not to say that this isn't a book with great ideas and an important message. I was just hoping for more personal stories about the kids, a la Phil Done.

Even so, there was a lot of food for thought in this book. There are a lot of big ideas, and based on Esquith's success with the kids in his classes, those ideas work.

Honesty Clause: I received a free review copy of this book. "Lighting Their Fires" sells for $24.95, but you can find it for cheaper on places such as Amazon.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stimey's Sister's Top iPhone Apps!

You've now spent four days reading about my favorite apps. But enough about me, what do other people like? I checked in with my sister, Ann, (who technically isn't me), who uses her iPhone to do pretty much anything she needs in her personal life and in her professional life as a doctor. She didn't name all the medical apps she uses, but here are her other favorites! (My snarky comments follow in brackets.)

Shazam (Free)

Cool app that you can hold up to the radio—it analyzes the song and tells you what it is. [I think there is more to this app, but I didn't bother to check as I ran to get my iPhone and test it out. Way cool.]

Safe Note ($0.99 or Free)

This is a notebook app with password protection. I use it for passwords and financial information. [But where do you keep the password for the app?]

Pandora (Free)

Radio app where you put in lists of people you like and it comes up with stations for you to listen to based on that. [I have Pandora on my iPhone as well, but I rarely use it. I need to remember to use it, because everyone who does loves it.]

PocketMoney ($4.99 or Free)

Budgeting app—I use it as a checkbook. It keeps track of what you have in your accounts, plus you can clear things that the bank has cleared so you know where the bank thinks you stand too. It's really easy to add notations when you're buying something at a store so you don't have to save receipts. [Plus, its little pig icon is adorable.]

Formula Pro ($4.99)

This is an app with tons of mathematical and other formulas. The neat thing is that you can define and save your own formulas, plus it's really easy to enter info and get an answer (versus having to use a calculator where there's more chance for error). [Neeeeeeerrrrrdddddd!!!! Also, I feel kinda dumb now, because I would never have a use for this in my sad little illiterate life.]

Boxed In ($0.99 or Free)

A simple but very addictive game. Move boxes around to get out of the maze. [Well, I'm glad to see that Ms. Mathematical Formula plays dumb games too. I'm going to go download this now.]

NYTimes, MSNBC, and TimeMobile (Free)

News apps. [Yeah, I wish I had something to add to this, but "news apps" pretty much covers it. However, I can add that I feel kind of embarrassed now that I don't have any news apps on my iPhone as I get most of my news from twitter.]

Apparently no one has any App suggestions for me. Hellooooooo!!!! Is this thing on? Well, if you do have app suggestions, leave them in the comments here so others can read them. And so I can download them.

Earlier on App Week: Scholastic Game Apps, Stimey's Top 10 Utilities, Social Media and More, Simple Games

Honesty Clause: All of these apps were downloaded by my sister and paid for (if there was a charge) by her.