Sunday, September 27, 2009

LeapFrog: Let's Go to School DVD

I may be a little late on this for this year's back to school crowd, but my family recently watched LeapFrog's new Let's Go to School DVD, and were delighted by it.

This adorable DVD follows Tad and Lily who are nervous about starting school. So naturally, this being a LeapFrog DVD, a magical firefly gives them a tour of the classroom, which is just as nervous as they are.

My personal favorites were the super anxious chalk. Really funny. There are songs and jokes, and lessons in phonics, letters, and counting. It was really cute.

This DVD is targeted at the 3-6 year old crowd, but all three of my kids (4, 6, and 8) had a good time watching it. In fact, it was my 8-year-old who was the first one to ask for a repeat viewing.


There was a lot of giggling and laughing out loud while they watched this. Also, my kids are generally terrified of everything (and I mean everything) the first time they watch it on TV, and they weren't afraid of this.

Let's just pretend Jack's face isn't covered in ice cream, m'kay?

I definitely think this DVD is going to be a staple in our viewing rotation. I like it because my kids like it, but mostly I love it because of how gentle and sweet it is. There is absolutely nothing objectionable in the DVD, which I appreciate so much.

The DVD is about 35 minutes long, which is perfect for a quick and wholesome diversion.

Honesty Clause: I received a free review copy of Let's Go to School. It sells for $14.98, but you can currently get it on sale at Amazon for $8.49.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kodak Zi6 Pocket Video Camera

One of my favorite giveaway items that I came home from BlogHer with is the Kodak Zi6 Pocket Video Camera that was so generously handed out at the SocialLuxe party.

This small HD camera has been a terrific addition to my collection of family history tools. I took it with me when my family went on vacation to Wisconsin this summer, and I loved using it to catch snippets of my kids in action.

I always take a lot of photos, but even though I do videography in a professional capacity, I rarely take personal video, mainly because I've never before had a camera that I could fit into my purse.

I loved this. I took it with me everywhere and now I don't just have still images of my kids from vacation, but also footage of their little voices, mannerisms, and spirits that can only be captured on tape. I plan on eventually editing the footage together to share with my family.

The quality on this camera is great. Low light situations are a little tough for it, and that footage is grainy, but still perfectly acceptable for personal use. Here is an example of one of my clips. (The quality is better when not uploaded to this tiny Blogger version of the clip.)

video

I hope you paid special attention to the careful way that Jack tossed the fish back into the water.

This camera has some nice features, but perhaps most importantly, it is incredibly easy to use. It has, like, three buttons. It is very intuitive. And when you're ready to upload your footage to your computer, you just use the built-in USB plug to connect it to your computer.

You can play back your footage right there on the large 2.4-inch screen on the back.


It also comes with a limited zoom capability. One very nice thing is that the Zi6 comes with rechargeable batteries and a charger, so you don't have to worry about going through batteries like there is no tomorrow. I took more than 30 minutes of footage in short snippets before I had to recharge the batteries.

This camera also comes with software, but it is only compatible with PCs. As I am a Mac user, I just uploaded my videos directly into iTunes. Easy, fast, and simple.

I'm thrilled with the Kodak Zi6 Pocket Video Camera and know that it will be a staple of my personal archival equipment for a long time to come.

Honesty Clause: I receieved the Zi6 for free in a swag bag. It sells for $159.95.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

ScanDigital

Edited to add: Please check the comment section for reviews from other users of ScanDigital. My experience was positive, but others have not been as satisfied..

Several weeks ago I got a PR inquiry from a company called ScanDigital that takes non-digital media (photos, videotapes, etc...) and converts it to digital formats. I was intrigued for a variety of reasons.

First, because I have a small videography business and I constantly have people asking me about converting videos to DVD. I don't have that capability, but would love to have a reliable place to send clients to.

Second, I was interested because I have thousands of paper photographs that mean a tremendous amount to me but that would be lost if something terrible, like a fire, ever happened to my house. There are too many to grab and take in an emergency (especially considering I'd be trying to save three kids, three pets, and a husband who sleeps through all alarm noises), so having these photos stored elsewhere in a digital format is a big deal. (All of the photos in this post were scanned by ScanDigital.)

My dad and I. I'm a kick-ass card player, by the way.

ScanDigital offered me a gift certificate to try out their services. I decided to use the photo to digital service, but am interested to know how the video service is. If anyone uses it, or has used it in the past, please leave a comment here to let me know if you were satisfied.

I'm going to disclose here that I signed up to be an affiliate for ScanDigital (which means I earn a percentage when people order from their site using my affiliate URL). I did this mostly for my videography business, but wanted to let you know my interest in the company.

The way it works is that you go to the website and download and print a mailing label (and pay a shipping deposit) and then send your photos to them via UPS. I was a little bit worried about sending my precious photos, but I felt better knowing that they had a tracking number attached to them. Also, ScanDigital does a good job of keeping you updated on the progress of your order, so you know when they've arrived, when scanning is done, and when they are being shipped back to you. All of my photos arrived back safe and sound and in the Ziploc bags I sent them in.

They scan all the photos and put them on a disc and in your own online gallery. They are organized in folders according to how you send them in. For instance, I grouped my photos in Ziploc bags and wrote names of the groups on the front. For example, childhood, high school, college, wedding and honeymoon. And that is how they came back. Each photo was named according to the group: "childhood-001," "childhood-002," and so on. It makes it very easy to go through and organize them.

"Childhood-020," a.k.a. me in my favorite shirt.

I sent in 175 or so photos and all of them were successfully scanned, but for one, which my computer was unable to open. However it is available in my online gallery.

The photos were well scanned, with older photos obviously coming back grainier because they were of lower quality to begin with. The photos, most of which were 4"x6" snapshots to begin with, are now available to be reprinted at a larger size.

For instance, this photo of the most adorable puppy known to human kind.
She's still cute, but not this cute.

They will also scan slides, negatives, scrapbook pages, whole photo albums, and other variations. Prices vary depending on the source of the photo, with unmounted photos being the least expensive. Pricing starts 48 cents a photo. It is definitely worth taking a look around their website to see if they offer the service that you need.

I only have one major complaint. The cost. Oy. ScanDigital is definitely comparable and competitive with other scanning services. And the way I look at it is that I would probably never do it on the scanner that I have at home. One or two photos, yes. 175 photos, oh my god, do you know how long that would take? They also have special pricing for packages. But in the long run I figure it's worth it. (Also, their website sometimes runs slow and is difficult to load.)

Especially when the photo I am preserving in a safe place and putting in a format that I can share, print, order, and alter digitally is as important as this:


Honesty Clause: ScanDigital gave me a $75 gift certificate to try out their services. Also, I am an affiliate for their company. Now, because I am so in love with the photos that I got back from them, I'm going to make you look at more below, in sort of random order.

Alex and baby Jack. The scanning is so clear you can still see Jack's tiny little tear.


Jack's first birthday. Sam picked out a cake with a giant fish on it.


At Alex and my wedding reception. I love this photo.
The negatives have long been thrown away by the wedding photographer,
so I'm glad to have it archived.


My favorite wedding photo. Especially because Alex is stepping on my dress.


My mom. Bow-chicka-bow-wow!


More of my mom. I love having these old photos safely digitized.


My dad. Photos of him are the photos I would be saddest to lose.


Can't I do anything by myself, Quinn?


Sam, age one. This photo may be even cuter than the puppy photo above.


My sister and I in college on Halloween.
I was Pippi Longstocking. She was Charlie Chaplain.
Best costumes ever.


My dad in the field. (He's on the right.)
How would I ever feel if I lost this?
Even if you don't use ScanDigital, back up your photos somehow.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Weight Watchers Giant Wildberry & Orange Sorbet and Ice Cream Bars

I am hesitant to recommend Weight Watchers' Giant Wildberry & Orange Sorbet and Ice Cream Bars because, frankly, they are too good. They just might sabotage your diet because you will want to eat all six that come in the box at one sitting.

I am dead serious.

I have been a fan of Weight Watchers' ice cream novelties for a long time, even when I haven't been watching my weight, but I hadn't tried these particular bars because they didn't look that interesting to me.

But then Weight Watchers gave me a coupon to try out an ice cream treat and I figured that I would go with something new. And...oh...my...god.

They are creamy and light and delicious. The texture is awesome. Each bar is huge and satisfying. But if you try the orange one first, then you're going to want to try the wildberry. And then you just might want to try to cram another one in your mouth for good measure.

Given the option, I will almost always choose chocolate ice cream over fruit, but these may have converted me.

In fact, my next excursion to the ice cream aisle may have me coming home with Weight Watchers' other fruity ice cream treat, their Strawberry, Key Lime and Passion Fruit Sherbet and Ice Cream Bars. And this variety is only one point a serving to the larger bars' two.

In all seriousness, go out an buy these. They are really good. Even if you're thin as a rail, you are going to like these.

Honesty Clause: I received a coupon to pick an ice cream novelty to try at no charge. They sell for about $4.99 in the store.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Play-Doh Burger Builder

You may not be aware of this, but today (September 16) was National Play-Doh day. Now, I'm flat-out going to tell you that I can't stand Play-Doh. I have all kinds of sensory issues that cause me to freak out when it's around.

Unfortunately (for me), my kids don't share my opinion. They LOVE Play-Doh and everything that comes with it. They can't get enough of the stuff.

They spotted the Play-Doh Burger Builder that I was sent to review and insisted on playing with it immediately. Like yesterday.

Even I, who don't like squishy things, have to admit that this is a cool toy. The first thing that I noticed about it is that, other than the Play-Doh name, there is no branding on the thing. I love that. A few years ago someone gave my kids a McDonald's Play-Doh set and it drove me crazy. I hated the consumerism that came with what should be just a fun, creative activity. Score 1 for the Burger Builder!

The Burger Builder is a fun little set. It's made up of three little presses to make the shapes of burgers, buns, lettuce, pickles, and more. There are six plates that are easy enough for small kids to put on the press and change all by themselves. There is also a little press for kids to make snakes, strips, and that sort of thing.


There's also a chip maker, or something to that effect. Jack (my six-year-old) really liked this. He liked seeing how it worked. I think it was a little hard to use, but he couldn't have cared less. He loved it. Maybe I was doing it wrong.


Another score for the Burger Builder? It comes with five cans of Play-Doh in all the colors you need to make a burger. Awesome.


This is a great toy. If your kids like Play-Doh, they will like this. It is not as complicated as some other Play-Doh sets that I've seen, so it's really functional and practical for all ages. My kids kept pulling this out day after day to play with it. They adore it.



And for that, I'm willing to forgive Play-Doh for being squishy.

Play-Doh is currently running a contest until September 30 that showcases your child's best Play-Doh art. Send Play-Doh a photo of your child's best Play-Doh food creation. Winners get a $5000 playroom makeover and a $5000 Doh-nation (ha, ha, ha) for their school.

Honesty Clause: Play-Doh sent me the Burger Builder and the backpack shown above at no charge. The Burger Builder sells for $15.99.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Heat is On—Brazilian Heat

The following is a guest review by incredible writer and loyal blog friend Kristen, who writes From Here to There and Back. She also has fabulous hair.

********

About six months ago, my sister, who owns a small boutique PR firm, introduced me to Brazilian Heat hairstyling tools.

Before I go on, let me say one thing about my sister: though she represents some very cool products (like Brazilian Heat), she never sends me free stuff. Or at least, she never sends me free stuff unless I drive her crazy asking for it. So here’s my honesty clause—yes, Brazilian Heat is one of my sister’s clients; no, I did not pay for any of the product she sent me; and yes, I had to beg for it.

It all started like this: A long long time ago, I wanted a flat iron. So, my sister gave me one of her old ones. It was fine. I used it a few times a month when I wanted a more polished look, but I wasn’t particularly attached to it in any way. In fact, it seemed like a lotta effort for so-so results.Then I dropped it on the tile floor and one of the plates fell out, so I tossed it in the trash.

Two other things happened about this same time. Brazilian Heat became one of my sister’s clients, and I let my thick, wavy hair grow below my shoulders.

Though I liked my hair long, I found styling it was a chore. So, I asked my sister for a new flat iron. This is what she sent me.


Aside from the fact that it looks unlike any other flat iron I’ve seen, it is lightweight, easy to control and leaves my hair shiny and smooth. According to press materials, the plates on the Brazilian Heat flat iron are double dipped in ceramic allowing it to glide effortlessly through your hair. Available in both 1” and 1-1/2” plate sizes, the iron features six heat settings up to 450 degrees (heats up in 30 seconds) and has an on/off switch and digital temperature lock. Plus it comes with a great thermal pouch for storage or travel.

The truth is, as much as I like my hair to look good, I’m pretty lazy, so the ease of this flat iron really speaks to me. I don’t get all fancy sectioning off my hair—half the time I only run the iron through the top layer—but the end result is as close as I’ve ever come to having that salon look on a daily basis.

I love this flat iron so much, that I asked my sister what else was in the Brazilian Heat product line that I should know about. She offered to send me a curling iron for the days when I want to give my hair a little extra flippiness and a set of round brushes. She also sent me the blow dryer. I haven’t used the curling iron much (I’m just so crazed for this flat, smooth look right now...) but the round brushes (in four sizes) are incredibly easy to handle and the blow dryer is lightweight, powerful and again, just so easy to control.


The dryer features ionic conditioning—less drying time, healthier hair—a turbo boost and cool shot setting as well as a super long 9 foot power cord. I really like the way the dryer feels in my hand and the fact that I can control the heat setting beyond the traditional “low” and “high” of other dryers.

The truth is, I get a pretty polished look from the dryer and the brushes alone, with very minimal effort on my part. The brushes grasp my hair without pulling or tangling and the ceramic barrel heats up (from the heat of the blow dryer) changing color when it gets hot. All of which adds up to very happy hair, very happy me.

Brazilian Heat products
come with a two year warranty, and though they aren’t cheap—the flat iron retails for about $80, the dryer for $100—I think they are definitely worth it. I love the way these products glide through my hair, doing the job in half the time it used to take with my old styling tools. And I really love the white and orange color scheme. Very cool.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

VTech's Bugsby Reading System

We already have and love the LeapFrog Tag reading system, so I was very interested to see what VTech's similar toy, the Bugsby Reading System was like.

I assumed that it would be almost exactly the same, but I was wrong. There were some very different—and cool—variations with the VTech version.

First, and most obviously, the "pen" is a character: Bugsby. This is really fun, especially for younger kids. Plus, many of VTech's books feature Bugsby, which makes for fun interaction between the pen and the book.

I thought Bugsby was incredibly adorable. His little antennae light up when you turn him on, which I thought was extremely fun. My kids liked him too.


The other major difference between Bugsby and the Tag is that the Bugsby system doesn't require a computer audio download to read the books. Each book comes with a cartridge (in a handy little compartment attached to the back cover) that you can put into Bugsby's back and then immediately start reading.


I LOVED this. The thing that bothers me the most about the Tag is that you have to download the audio for each book into your Tag before you can use it with your book. Honestly, it's not that hard, but each Tag Reader only holds five to ten books, depending which version you have. So if you have a lot of books, you have to go back and forth to your computer to switch the audio files in and out.

This is much easier. It is a little difficult for kids to get the cartridges in and out of Bugsby (my kids couldn't do it by themselves), but it is much easier than dealing with audio downloads. The downside is that cartridges can get lost, so you have to be very careful to stow them away back into their books when your child is done.

The books themselves are really cute and a lot of fun for young kids. Kids can touch Bugsby to any page in the book to hear the story or sounds. Plus there are games for every page, as well as a game at the end of the book that has the child look for things throughout the book, which is great to teach kids about the structure of books, page numbers, and the like.


There are a lot of Bugsby books to choose from. They are hardcover with thick, quality paper. Some are new and feature Bugsby. Some feature popular characters that your kids already love, such as the Wonder Pets, Max and Ruby, Scooby Doo, Olivia, and more.

All three of my kids (ages 4, 6, and almost 8) liked Bugsby. But Quinn (4) and Jack (6) loved it most.


I have to say that I was really pleased with the Bugsby Reading System and would definitely recommend it for young kids.

Honesty Clause: VTech gave me a complimentary Bugsby Reading System (which comes with a book) and two additional books. The Bugsby Reading System sells for $29.99. The books sell for $12.99 each.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thomas and Friends: Hero of the Rails

Having three boys, my family has done our share of Thomas the Tank Engine. We've collected the wooden trains, created elaborate tracks, gone to Day Out With Thomas, and have tried to watch the DVDs and TV show.

I say tried, because my kids have always been slightly deathly afraid of the traditional Thomas DVDs, voiced by George Carlin or Ringo Starr. They always claim to want to watch them, but then run away and watch them by peeking around corners.


Anyway, all of this to say that HIT Entertainment recently sent me a copy of Thomas and Friends: Hero of the Rails, which is a brand new CG-animated 60-minute special that is airing on PBS Kids all through September. News that we would be watching a Thomas video was not met with glee by my four-year-old, who ran away screaming. (Let's be honest here. I think the old-style Thomas shows are cool, but they are a little creepy and dark.)

I put on the TV show and my little guy started edging his way back forward...


...until eventually he was happily sitting in the same room as the TV, laughing and smiling at the TV.


I think he liked Hero of the Rails because it is a little more natural than the original show. Because it is animated, the facial expressions are more fluid and easy. Also, the characters all have their own voices, which was fun. The story is cute too. Thomas helps save an abandoned, broken-down train from being scrapped. However, as might be expected on the Isle of Sodor, mishaps abound. You can watch a trailer for it on YouTube.

It really is worth a look if you have a child that loves Thomas the Tank Engine. If your child watches and likes the original Thomas shows, s/he will LOVE this.

Find out when PBS Kids is showing Hero of the Rails on the PBS website. (They also have a new CG-animated Angelina Ballerina and a new Barney special airing this month.)

Honesty Clause: I received a review copy of Hero of the Rails at no cost. You can watch it for free on PBS Kids or buy it at a list price of $19.98 (although it is currently on sale at Amazon for $13.99).

Monday, September 7, 2009

LeapFrog Tag Junior

My kids love their LeapFrog Tag reader, so I was excited to try out the Tag Junior, which is a new version of the Tag intended for younger kids, ages 2-4.

I have a four-year-old so I used him to test the reader, which came with a very cute little book called "If I Were..."

The Tag Junior differs from the regular Tag in that it is shorter, chunkier, and easier for a small child to hold in a fist. Plus, the books intended for use with the reader are sturdy board books, which is a way better bet for the 2-4 year old set, which is not necessarily known for their avoidance of page tearing.


My four-year-old liked the Tag Junior, but it didn't hold his attention the way the regular Tag does. I would definitely recommend this system for younger children. I imagine that a two- or three-year-old would be delighted by the ability to make a book talk to them.

The Tag Junior is very easy to use (once it's set up and you've downloaded the audio from the internet, which does take some time). A toddler could easily "stamp" the page with the reader to be rewarded with animal noises, music, and the story.


At this point, LeapFrog offers 13 books for the Tag Junior, including some classics, such as "Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?", "Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?", and "How Do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends?" Each book focuses on a different preschool theme, including sounds, colors, letters of the alphabet, numbers, and social play.

The Tag Junior can hold the audio for up to five books at one time, and parents can swap the audio files in and out with their computers. The Tag Junior works with both PCs and Macs.

So if you have a young kid and you are tired of reading the same book over and over to him or her, or you just want to let your child explore a book alone, the Tag Junior might just be for you.

Honesty Clause: LeapFrog sent me a review sample of the Tag Junior at no charge. The Tag Junior sells for $34.99. Tag Junior books sell for $10.99 each.

Torchwood: Children of Earth

Stimey is watching Torchwood: Children of Earth. I've never watched Dr. Who, but after spending a whole day watching the third Torchwood series on BBC America, I may have to rethink that decision. I had a lot of fun watching aliens come to London and demand ten percent of the world's children.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Battlestar Galactica

Stimey has just finished spending her entire summer watching the complete series of Battlestar Galactica. Honestly, I might consider this to be the best TV show I've ever watched. I'm actually very sad that I have no more to watch.

Friday, September 4, 2009

CLEANpHIRST Aloe Up Hand Sanitizer

Let me tell you a little something about my son Jack. He loves hand sanitizer. Loves it. There has been many a time when I have caught him pumping fistfuls of it into his little hands. He uses so much that it drips off of him. The other day he told me that he put some in his hair.

Now, I know that handwashing is important. And when you can't be around a sink, hand sanitizer is a great option. But I don't love all the alcohol and mess that comes with traditional sanitizers.

I recently tried CLEANpHIRST Aloe Up Alcohol-Free Foam Hand Sanitizer and I was really happy with it. First, there's the practical—foam means less mess. But there are other good things about it too.

It is alcohol-free, which means it is less potentially dangerous, not to mention less drying and less irritating to your skin. I also like that it seems to be unscented.

The company website says that this sanitizer protects for 30 minutes after application, as opposed to alcohol-based sanitizers that stop working after ten seconds. They say it is 99.999% effective at killing common and dangerous microbes.

They say that it contains 125 applications in each pump bottle, and based on how a small amount covers my whole hands, I believe it.

I can't vouch for how this scientifically compares to gel versions of sanitizer, because I really don't know the science behind it. But I do know that, given a choice, I would definitely choose this over an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

CLEANpHIRST also makes carpet cleaner, laundry detergent, and other cleaning supplies.

Honesty Clause: I received a review sample of the hand sanitizer. You can purchase a 3-pack for $18 on the CLEANpHIRST website.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Melissa's Paperie (plus Discount Code!)

A Discount Code is near the bottom of this post.

I have this friend named Melissa, and last year she showed up at a preschool holiday fair with a table full of paper goods. And I was astounded. I couldn't quite believe that she had created all the beautiful art in front of me.

I immediately ordered several of her creations for teacher gifts. She has since opened an Etsy shop, Melissa's Paperie, so people that don't know her in person can also buy her gorgeous cards, boxes, and other paper creations.

Her cards are beautiful and the cost is totally competitive with what you would spend in a store to buy a mass-produced card. Her cards tend to run between $4 and $5, depending on how many you buy. (They are available individually or in sets.) Frankly, if I'm going to spend $4.50 on a card, I would rather have it look like this...


...than like Hallmark card you would get for the same price.

She also does custom orders. Check out the robot card at the top of this post. She made it for Quinn's birthday when we invited her son to a party last May. I framed it and hung it above his bed, it's that cute.

This is a baby shower card she made for a friend at our preschool:


And these are her custom-made invitations for her son's pirate-themed birthday party:


Imagine what she could do for your next event. She told me that she loves to create things specifically for customers. In the past, she's created picture frames, scrapbooks, invitations, and cards as custom orders. You can create custom orders on her Etsy site, or find Melissa's email address on her blog.

In fact, if you go to her Etsy shop, you will see not only cards, but also gift boxes and keepsake boxes. Last year, she made gift card holders for my teacher gifts that also had packets of hot cocoa inside. They were fantastic. She blogs often about the things she makes. It amazes me every time I see that she's put up a new post. She makes incredibly beautiful things.

Melissa has been doing paper crafts since early 2006, when she started scrapbooking photos from her son's first year. If you check out her store, I think you'll agree that she has a tremendous talent for it.

If you think I sound a little gushy, you're right. But it's not just because she's my friend. It's because she makes cards that cost pretty much exactly what they cost in the store but are far superior. If you have an occasion coming up that you need a special card for, get in touch with her. You really won't be sorry. I've seen many of her cards in person and they are gorgeous.

Melissa is also a very cool person and has offered my readers a Discount Code! If you order three cards from her shop, she will give you a fourth free. Just write "STIMEY" in the "message to seller" at the checkout point and make a note of what card you want for free. Great deal!

Honesty Clause: Melissa is my friend, but I have not received any compensation for this review. Nor did she ask me to write it. In fact, I've been harassing her for quite some time to do publicity for her stuff. It is incredible.