Monday, December 20, 2010

Wii Party

If you like your video game experience to be more social than solitary and you are looking for a family-friendly game that all ages can play, I would like to suggest Wii Party to you.

I had a chance to try out Wii Party a few months ago as part of my work with Nintendo as a brand enthusiast. They sent me the game (and a disco ball, which was kind of weird, but, if you are my kids, AWESOME) to try out and to use at a party I was to host with some of my friends. More on that later. First, the game.

Naturally, I didn't wait for the party to bust out the game, but popped it into my Wii one afternoon, gave my kids remotes, and started to play. The whole concept of Wii Party is that there are a multitude of social games for you to choose from, and each of those games is made up of smaller "mini-games" you play along the way.

For example, Board Game Island is basically a roll-the-dice and move-forward-that-many-spaces game that you play on the Wii. However, before each round, you play a mini-game (which is chosen seemingly at random) with all the players to see who gets to roll first and with how many dice. Many of the squares your Mii lands on are interactive and lead to further fun. My seven-year-old is obsessed with Board Game Island.

My favorite is Balance Boat. Unlike many of the other games on the disc, Balance Boat has you work cooperatively with a partner to balance Miis on the mast of a ship. Within the game, you play cooperative mini-games to determine what size Mii you each place.

Honestly, talking (or writing) about this game doesn't do it justice. Here are my main points about why I like this game and wholeheartedly recommend it:

• It is absolutely family friendly. There is no violence. Yes, there is some competition, but it is adorable, funny, and silly.

• It is social. There are single player options, but the most fun with this game comes from playing with one to four players. You're going to laugh when you play it. Promise.

• You know how if you have kids, someone always gets upset that they don't win? Each game here is made up of the game itself and a multitude of mini-games. Each player is going to be able to win some and lose some.

• There are endless options of how to play the game. There are many game options and dozens of mini-game options. You won't get bored.

The only negatives that I see in this game is that sometimes the games can last a little too long—45 minutes to an hour (although there are 5, 15, and 30 minute options for games as well). Every once in a while you will get caught in a game of Board Game Island or Spin Off that just lasts a leetle bit tooo long.

Also, there is one mini-game where you are supposed to "rock" your remote to get the on-screen baby to stop crying. It's fairly horrible. I don't go to my Wii for screaming babies. That's three minutes that I wish they had cut from the game. 

Seriously though, if you're looking for a fun Wii game that the whole family can play, go to the Wii Party website and look at all the different ways you can play this game. It is a tremendous amount of fun. I might even suggest that if you have difficult visitors coming to your house this holiday season, this might be a good way to kill a few hours with them. The game is easy to learn and would be fun for pretty much everyone.

List price for Wii Party is $49.99.

Okay, commercial over. Obviously I like the game. I play with my kids in the afternoons sometimes and my husband and I like to play Balance Boat together in the evenings. But I also really enjoyed having a Wii Party with Wii Party and inviting some of my friends over to play the game with me.

These are the people I invited.

Knowing I was going to have to stuff all of these people into my tiny TV room, I was a little agitated about the guest list. I hate narrowing the list down. I ended up inviting mostly people who lived extremely close to me. Except for Canape, who came all the way from North Carolina to come to the party. Although I can't take full (or any) credit for that. She was in town visiting WhyMommy, so we forced her to come.

I put out some pizza, some candy, some margaritas, and my disco ball and we had a blast.

I purposely invited people from a variety of sources: neighbors, "real life" friends, and bloggers. Wii Party made it easy for everyone to get to know each other and relax. It was a fun excuse to get some people together for a pre-holiday party. Thanks to everyone who came!

Honesty Clause: I am a Nintendo Brand Enthusiast. I got a copy of Wii Party, a (blue!) Wii remote, a gift card for pizza, and a disco ball at no charge for hosting the party. I bought all the booze myself. :)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Coloring Outside Autism's Lines by Susan Walton

When you have a child with autism, there is always a lot to do. There is speech therapy, occupational therapy, social skills group, ABA, special education law research, and so much more. The thing that gets forgotten sometimes is fun.

Susan Walton reminds us right in the introduction to her book, Coloring Outside Autism's Lines: 50+ Activities, Adventures, and Celebrations for Families with Children with Autism, that all our kids need to have fun. We can incorporate learning and therapy into that fun or we can just have fun. Walton uses the pages in this book to give parents of children with autism a plethora of ideas on how to to do that with their kids.

Walton offers tips from how to generally prep for an outing to specific ideas for places to go. As the parent of a child with autism (plus two more), Walton has covered this territory in her own life and can offer advice based on experience.

A lot of this advice is common sense information that you might have already thought of and incorporated in your own life, but you are sure to find something new to do with your kids in this book. Walton's ideas range from the simple (set a goal of visiting every park in your area) to out of the box (if you pass landscapers cutting down a tree, stop and grab some stumps to create circle games, such as stepping stones, hot potato, and more).

There were a couple of sections that really grabbed my attention. One of them was the section on managing playdates. For my son with autism, playdates are a wonderful way to practice social skills in a controlled but real life environment. That said, it can be excruciating to facilitate those playdates, especially if the other child also has special needs. Walton offers some wonderful and specific ideas for these playdates.

I also really loved the section offering suggestions to grandparents and other relatives for how to connect to a child with autism. If you, as a parent to a child with autism, have a relative who doesn't quite know what to do with your children, this section is a must-read.

Full of resources and featuring an appendix of helpful websites, this book has plenty of ideas and pointers for relaxing and having fun with your kiddos!

Honesty Clause: I received a review copy of this book at no charge. List price for the book is $14.99.

Friday, December 10, 2010

ZipBin: Boxes, Bins, and Backpacks

Here's a question for you: When was the last time you walked through your kid's room and stepped on a Lego, rending you unable to stand (without cursing) for several minutes?

The Lego City ZipBin Toy Box and Playmat may not eliminate this hazard, but it might help a little. Basically, the ZipBin is a playmat (which comes in MANY styles) that zips into a storage box when your kid is finished. This means they don't have to pick up their Legos (or cars, or dolls, or whatever), but can just zip up the sides of their ZipBin and be done.

Basically you can go from this:

To this:

(But with toys inside.)

I think the best application for the ZipBin is travel. If you're headed out of town this Christmas, this would be a great way to take along some toys for the road.

There are several Lego City ZipBins to choose from, but they also come decorated with dinosaurs, space, cars, aquariums, zoos, farms, a house, unicorns, and more. They are really cute. ZipBin also offers regular playmats as well as backpacks and bags that double as racetracks, barns, and dollhouses, like the Doll House Back Pack PlayPack seen below.

I think this is a really clever idea. The backpacks in particular would be great for plane trips. So many kids I know have plenty of toys. Why not buy them something instead that looks like a toy, but is really an organizational system? Pretty sneaky, no?

For about $20, which is about how much most of these cost, it's a great gift idea. If I did a holiday gift guide, ZipBins would definitely be on it.

Honesty Clause: I received review samples of the Lego City ZipBin Toy Box and Playmat as well as the Doll House Back Pack PlayPack.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Team Stimey's Top Ten Wii Games

My family is made up of gamers. My friends know this and will frequently ask me for recommendations for Wii games for their kids. I've decided to share my advice with all of you in the form of a Top Ten list. Without further ado...

Team Stimey's Top 10 Wii Games:

1. and 2. Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns: Both of these side scrolling action games are super fun, have minimal cartoon violence, and are simple enough for kids to play. That said, they are challenging enough to be fun. (Sometimes my kids have to help me pass a level.) I like that even if you complete the levels, you can still go back to collect all the extras (coins in Super Mario and puzzles pieces in Donkey Kong) to make the game last longer and to unlock other features.

3. (and 3b.) Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2: I've never played these games, but my kids love them. They didn't look as fun to me as Super Mario Bros. Wii, but my kids (ages 5, 7, and then 8) were obsessed with them for a long time. My five-year-old even spent his birthday money on the second one.

4. Wii Party: LOVE this one. Think family games on the computer. There are board-style games, bingo games, cooperative games, competing games, and dozens of mini-games to choose from. It's a little hard to explain this one, but I think it's really fun (my husband and I play it at night sometimes—our favorite is Balance Boat) and my kids adore it. My seven-year-old particularly loves Board Game Island, which is basically a video game version of a board game with lots of interactivity and a set of mini-games each round to keep it exciting. Because you get to compete in many mini-games, hopefully the kids who don't win the whole game will be less upset if they've had small victories along the way.

5. Wii Fit Plus: This one is an oldie (from last year), but a goodie. I use it to exercise because it lets me choose what parts of my body I want to work on, and it will vary my workout every time so I don't get bored, not to mention that some of the silly exercises (skateboarding, hula hooping, flapping your "wings") really are quite a workout. Plus, I often do the Free Step or Free Run option, which cues me with audio from my remote while I watch TV on another channel. You don't just have to use Wii Fit Plus to exercise, however. There are many fun games for you and your kids to play that get you up off of your couch and moving without making you realize that you're exercising. My kids have a lot of fun with this game. (You will need the Wii Balance Board.)

6. Animal Crossing: City Folk: This game is a ton of fun. It is not as fast-paced as some of the others here, but it is extremely fun. You get an avatar, a house, a mortgage, and have to set about picking fruit, fishing, collecting, and otherwise futzing around town in order to make money and keep your town humming along. And, yes, you do have to pay your mortgage if you want a bigger house. It doesn't sound like something that would be great fun, but it is. I especially recommend this for kids who are a little older, maybe seven and above. I like this game too. You can while away many a lazy hour fishing in the streams of your town. Use your internet connection and Wii Speak to visit a friend's town and steal some of their fruit. Trust me, if your town only has apple trees, your buddy's peaches are going to sell at your store for a lot more!

7. Endless Ocean: Blue World: This is a lovely calming game for older kids and adults wherein you scuba dive in various locations around the world, identifying sea creatures, salvaging treasure, and solving a mystery. I really like this game because it is not violent at all, it is soothing, and my kids learn about sea life. Endless Ocean is proof that you don't need a game to be action packed to be exciting.

8. EA Sports Active: I love to work out with my Wii, and of all the games I've used, my favorite is EA Sports Active. The workout is varied enough that you don't get bored, but tough enough that you work hard. Occasionally the Wii struggles to follow your motions with the remote, but for the most part it does a really good job. New this year is EA Sports Active 2, which I haven't tried yet.

9. Epic Mickey: I was going to put Mario Kart or Wii Play here, because those are both good, solid games that kids love, but I have heard nothing but good things about this Epic Mickey game. Even though I've not played it, seen it played, or know the contents of it, I heard a story about it on NPR and was intrigued enough to list it here. If I had to guess, this will be the new hot Wii game this year, especially if your family is into Disney.

10. Bonus DSi Section! There are several games that we play on our DSi that are a lot of fun, most of which are also available for the Wii, which is why I am calling this number 10. My kids have really enjoyed Drawn to Life, Lego Harry Potter (or any of the Lego games—Batman, Star Wars, Indiana Jones), and the Zelda games. As an adult who enjoys puzzles, I like the Professor Layton games.

Disclosure: I am a Nintendo Brand Enthusiast. I received copies of the following games at no charge: Donkey Kong Country Returns, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Wii Party, Endless Ocean: Blue World.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

127 Hours

Stimey is watching 127 Hours. That was an intense movie. I thought my movie-going companion was going to jump out of her skin and abandon me in the theater. James Franco is a great actor. If you see this movie, I recommend Pineapple Express as a palate cleanser afterward.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jillian Michaels: Fitness Ultimatum 2011 (for the Wii)

I love working out with my Wii, so I was really excited to try out Jillian Michaels: Fitness Ultimatum 2011, a new workout game that includes not just a training element, but a mission mode to make the work out fun.

I ended up with mixed emotions about the game. On the plus side, the exercises were challenging and made me work hard. I could really feel my body working while I was doing them, and after doing the game for three days, I was so sore it hurt to sit down. I consider that to be a success.

Fitness Ultimatum has a Wii MotionPlus and Wii Balance Board option, although you don't need to have that equipment to use the game.

However, the thing that was most frustrating for me was that the interface was hard to work with. It was hard to tell if it was tracking my movements, even though there is an onscreen green/yellow/red tracker that is supposed to show how well you are keeping your form. It didn't seem to really correspond to what I was doing.

This was not so bad in the training section of the game—where you can choose circuits or individual exercises to work out to. Missing a few reps, or having the game not recognize your movements didn't make much of a difference. As long as you kept at, you could do your workout and be fine. (Although if that's how you're going to do it, you might as well do Michaels' 30-Day Shred exercise video instead. That will also make you sore. Trust me.)

There are five built in training circuits: two whole body and three that focus on upper body, lower body, or abs. There are also five slots where you can create your own circuit. They were good circuits, but one of the reasons I like to work out with my Wii is because it varies the exercise regimen without me having to program it. I like workout games that will switch up the exercises for you, so you don't get bored doing the same circuits over and over.

What I was excited about was the mission mode. In mission mode, your avatar is out to defeat the evil Cureall Corporation, which produces fast food out of one side of the factory and medicine to treat obesity-caused illnesses out of the other. I was hopeful that this would be a fast moving and fun way to make me exercise without realizing I was exercising.

There are ten missions, which you can unlock in sequential order. The first couple, which is as far as I've gotten thus far, are recon missions, meaning that Jillian Michaels has tricked me into doing a circuit training workout mixed in with stretches of running in between.

Very sneaky, Ms. Michaels.

It's actually a great workout, but here's where I got frustrated. In mission mode, if you don't do the reps fast enough, you will fail the mission and have to start over from the beginning. That's all fine and good if you can't do it fast enough, but the problem comes when the game doesn't "see" that you are doing the exercises. For example, when you do 30 jumping jacks or 18 squats and the game only recognizes three of them and then says you failed your mission, it gets really annoying.

There were times that I spent more energy trying to position the remote correctly than do the exercise correctly, which is not a good way to prevent injury and get the most out of your exercise.

Honestly, when it worked, it was really fun and I loved the missions. The interval-style training is great for your body and really keeps you moving. When it didn't work, I wanted to break my television.

Considering that every time the game uses the balance board or the Wii MotionPlus, it makes you recalibrate (only a few seconds, but still a little bit annoying), it seems like it should be better at tracking your movements.

One other thing that bothered me a little bit about the game in both training and workout mode is that there were no audio prompts for doing the movements. This meant that when I was doing an exercise, I had to make sure I could see my TV to make sure the timing was right, especially on the mission mode. For some exercises, craning to see the TV is awkward and not conducive to the exercise.

Things that I liked about the game, other than the fact that it is a great workout, is that you can choose your intensity level, plus as you unlock the missions, you also unlock fitness, wellness, and diet tips.

So. I guess my final assessment of the game is that it is a fantastic idea and I love Jillian Michaels' workouts, but I wish the execution were better. I will probably still mix this game in with my other Wii workouts, but will do my main exercising with my standbys, like EA Sports Active, which is still my favorite Wii workout game.

Honesty Clause: I received a review copy of this game at no charge. List price is $39.99.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tony Hawk: SHRED

I like skater kids. I've been hoping that one of my kids gets into skateboarding. It seems like a healthy—although semi-dangerous—obsessive sport that would keep my kids busy after school.

Unfortunately they haven't been all that interested in it yet. I'm hoping that our new copy of Tony Hawk: SHRED will encourage them to want to try the real thing. (Am I the only mom in America who wants her kids to be skater punks?)

SHRED, because that's how you say it—in all caps—comes with a skateboard controller with which you can navigate through all of the controls just by moving the board around and doing ollies and nollies. At least I think that's what they are called.

Using the board to navigate is a little tough and learning to skate takes a while, but it's fun. It's okay if you screw up, because you just try again. My kids that played the game are 7 and 9 and they were able to make it work fine. I was too, although I'm sure I looked ridiculous. Teens or tweens that are already into skateboarding will probably love this and, because it's so active, it will get them up and off the couch, which is always a good thing.

Honestly, the thing I found most frustrating about the game was figuring out how to use the menus to get to the action I wanted to choose. My kids got stuck on one particular skate route because we couldn't figure out how to get out of it.

We haven't played the snowboarding function yet, but that looks like it's going to be fun. For sure I'll keep pulling this out and encouraging my kids to play with it because if I can't encourage them to skateboard in my driveway during the long winter months, at least I can make them skateboard in my living room.

 Shred, little boy! Shred!

Tony Hawk: SHRED is available for the Nintendo Wii, the Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 3. List price for SHRED, including the board controller, is $99.99, but you can find it online for less.

Honesty clause: I received a review sample of Tony Hawk: SHRED at no charge.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Power Gig: Rise of the SixString

Okay. First off, Power Gig: Rise of the SixString is awesome. AWESOME. My husband and I are having so much fun with it. If you haven't heard of Power Gig yet, think Rock Band, but more AWESOME because the guitar is actually a real guitar. With strings.


Now, I'm going to be honest here and let you know that I've never played Rock Band, nor do I play the guitar (although I've tried, oh lord, how I've tried...), but based on the game play I've experienced thus far on Power Gig, this seems like the way to go.

The guitar is a real guitar, as in plug-it-into-an-amp-and-play-it-if-you-want-to guitar.

That's pretty cool. Possibly even AWESOME. When I'm done playing, the tips of my fingers hurt from playing, just like on a real guitar.

Although you don't need to know how to play the guitar to get started, Power Gig makes you feel like you know how to play the guitar. There is a game play tutorial that walks you through basic controls. Once you get better, or if you already know how to play the guitar, you can add power chords—which are more complicated and involve substantially more coordination.

The cool thing is that if you already have Rock Band, or one of the other music games on the market, the Power Gig guitar is compatible with most of them. Check out the compatibility chart to see if your game is one of them.

The premise of the game is that music has been banned in the world of Ohm and Rockers have been oppressed. You and your trusty band of musicians have to play gigs to save rock and roll. The game is full of busty cartoon women and rocking dudes and includes terminology like "mojo flask" and "mojosplosion" and "mojomorphosis." Power Gig believes in the power of the mojo.

I played one gig where I achieved Maximum Mojomorphosis. That was AWESOME.

There is a lot of music on the game that I don't know, but that probably has more to do with my inherent uncoolness than that of the songs. There are some great artists featured—artists like Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, and Kid Rock. Overall, the music is really fun, and there are plans to regularly release more tracks.

The Power Gig software sells for $59.99, but the game and guitar sells for $179.99. If you want to take advantage of the additional instruments so you can have a whole band in your living room, you can get the game, guitar, drums, and microphone for $229.99. Power Gig: Rise of the SixString is available for the Xbox 360 or PlayStation3. Of course, there are multiple accessories you can also buy for the game.

Bottom line, this game is really fun—quite probably AWESOME, maybe even SUPER AWESOME. My husband also loves it. After playing this, I can't imagine playing a music game that doesn't have an actual guitar as a controller—and, yes, you can navigate all of the controls and menus with just the guitar.

If you can't tell yet, I highly recommend this game. It's all kinds of fun and more of a music experience than a video game one.


Honesty Clause: I received a review sample of Power Gig: Rise of the SixString at no charge.

Nintendo Black Friday Deals

I don't normally post deals, but because I love Nintendo (I am a Nintendo Brand Ambassador),  I now present to you some deals if you're planning on going out on Friday to battle the crowds. I will be at home in bed, but YOU should go and have a great time.

Unless specified otherwise, these deals are only valid on Friday and while supplies last.

At BestBuy you’ll be able get a black or white Wii for $169

GameStop is offering a free game (Fossil Fighters or the Legendary Starfy) with purchase of a new, special release Orange or Green DSi bundle

At Kmart if you purchase a black or white Wii console on Friday or Saturday, you’ll receive a $25 Gaming Coupon. Also, from 5am-11am on Friday only, they’re offering a $25 Gaming Coupon with purchase of an orange or green DSi bundle.

At Target you’ll be able to get a new Fling Smash bundle for $39, Wii Fit Plus bundle for $67, and if you purchase Super Mario Bros Wii, you’ll receive a $10 gift card.

If you purchase an orange or green DSi bundle at Sears, you’ll receive a $20 Award Card. You can also get Metroid: Other M or Super Mario Galaxy 2 for $39.99

At Walmart there is a $50 gift card with purchase of a Black, White or Red Wii console, and they’ll be offering the Nintendo DS Lite for just $89

Happy shopping!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sound Asleep Comfort Pillow

This one might seem weird. A pillow? With a speaker in it? Huh? Why? Wha—?

I'll tell you why: Snorers.

The Sound Asleep Comfort Pillow, which features a built-in speaker, is targeted at people who like to listen to music when they are going to sleep or people who want to listen to audiobooks.

I, however, found it ideal to drown out the snorer in my life.

See, if you know me, you know that I have some auditory sensory issues. If I am sleeping in a room with someone other than my husband, I keep an iPod clutched in my hand in case of snoring. As for sleeping in a room with Alex? Well, I have a white noise machine and have been known to put pillows over my head—and kick Alex in the shins if he starts to snore.

I have to tell you though, sleeping on a pillow is a lot more comfortable than sleeping with your hand cupped over headphones.

Now, this pillow has worked out for me and I love it. So, if you're exactly like me and plan to use it exactly like I do, you should go now and purchase it. However, this pillow might not be for everyone. Following are some questions I had about the pillow and the answers that I came up with.

So, really, how comfortable is it to sleep on a pillow with a speaker in it? Pretty comfortable. The speaker is small enough and buried deep enough within the pillow that you don't really feel it. I mean, yeah, if you're digging for it, you can find it, but when you're just resting your head on the pillow? It might as well not be there. I'm not very picky about my pillows, but I am completely happy with this one. Even when I'm not using it as a speaker, this is one of the pillows I use to sleep on at night.

What devices can you use the pillow with? The materials I got say that the pillow can be used with any MP3 device with a stereo socket. I used it with my iPhone. But do you wanna hear something else that's cool? I was able to plug the pillow into my white noise machine, which I find far less distracting than music to fall asleep to. I just plugged it into the headphone jack.

Does the pillow require batteries? Nope. It runs off of the MP3 (or white noise!) player's power.

How loud does it go? I had actually hoped that it would play a little louder. I would prefer that my white noise be a little louder to drown out the sounds of my husband, who insists on existing in the bed next to me. It does mask the sounds of him breathing so inconsiderately, but would not cover a full-on snore.

The music was loud enough for me. Remember that the pillow isn't a set of headphones; other people in the room will probably be able to hear it too.

How is the sound quality? I was skeptical about how good the speaker would sound playing my music. It is, after all, a speaker in a pillow. Honestly, it sounded fine to me. It wasn't scratchy or tinny at all. I was pretty happy with it.

In sum: Yay, Sound Asleep Comfort Pillow!

You can buy the pillow at Bed Bath & Beyond. It is also available online at BB&B, Amazon, CVS & Linens-N-Things. Although all of these sites claim that the list price is $49.99, each of them sells it for $29.99 (except Linens-N-Things, which sells it for $34.99).

Honesty Clause: I received a review sample of the Sound Asleep Comfort Pillow at no charge.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Kodak EasyShare M580 Camera

A couple of years ago my husband gave me a Canon Rebel for Christmas and my days of using point and shoots were over. I love my awesome camera. I don't really know how to use it very well, but I love it.

It is, however, quite large. There are times when I don't want to lug a large camera all over or there are times when I don't remember to take my camera with me, but I want a better camera than the one on my cell phone.

Enter the Kodak EasyShare M580 Camera. This is the camera I keep in my bag at all times so I'm never caught without a camera. For a point and shoot, I'm really happy with it.

The new cool thing about this camera is that it makes it really easy to share photos on social media sites and through email. If you take a photo that you know you'll want to post on Facebook, you can mark it as such right after you take it. If you take a photo of a friend's child, you can enter your friend's email address right there on the camera. Then, when you upload your photos to your computer, the pictures will automatically be sent to the places you designated.

The camera can share via email and on YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, and Kodak Gallery sites. The interface is really easy to use and it only takes a few minutes to set it up.

The camera also takes video, but I haven't used that option yet.

Also, it's purple. I like that a lot. (It comes in other colors too.)

When I went to BlogHer in August, Kodak invited me (and a lot of other bloggers) on a bus tour of New York. They gave each of us their EasyShare M580 with which to take photos on the tour. At first I was sad that I couldn't take my SLR, but I was really pleasantly surprised with the photos that the camera took.

Here are a few from that tour—taken from a moving bus.

I also tested the camera by taking a photo of my kid from all the way across a hockey rink—and through plexiglass.

It's good with details too.

This camera also took one of my favorite photos of all time.

Now, I do have to say that I am not 100% thrilled with the button placement. The button you use to take the photo is a little small, not raised, and close to some of the other buttons. Even so, I chose this point and shoot as the camera to keep in my bag at all times over the one I owned previously.

I feel good knowing that I have this camera with me so in case a great photo op comes up, I'll be able to get a good shot.

Honesty Clause: Kodak provided me with a free Kodak EasyShare M580 camera. They also took me on a free bus tour of New York City and fed me lunch. The camera sells for $169.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Walking Dead

Stimey is madly, madly, madly in love with AMC's The Walking Dead. Madly.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Stuart J. Murphy's I See I Learn Book Series

Stuart J. Murphy has created a new preschool book series designed to help young children learn skills important for school readiness and daily life. The books focus on social skills, health and safety skills, emotional skills, and cognitive skills.

Drawing on many kids' visual learning style, Murphy's new I See I Learn books feature inset pictures, diagrams, and highlighted words to reinforce the lessons told in these simple stories.

My kids and I recently checked out the first four of the books in this series:

Emma's Friendwich, which teaches the social skill of making friends.

Freda Plans a Picnic, which teaches the cognitive skill of sequencing.

Good Job, Ajay!, which teaches the emotional skill of building confidence.

Percy Plays It Safe, which teaches the health and safety skill of playground safety.

The books are very cute and fun to read. Each of the books features the same cast of characters so kids can get familiar with the whole group. The characters are kids, who are actually little animals. If asked to identify each animal, I'm not sure I could, but they're still cute.

My favorite character was Percy the Giraffe. I also very much enjoyed Pickle the dog.

There are a couple of features I really liked about the books. At the beginning of each is a map of the town. My kids all love maps, so they pored over these to see where each character lived in relation to buildings such as the school.

Each book also features an "A Closer Look" section at the end of the book to reinforce the lessons learned in the story. This is a nice way to really solidify the skills that the book is trying to teach.

For instance, at the end of Percy Plays It Safe, questions and pictures prompt the child reader to determine when Percy is playing safely and unsafely. The questions also ask the reader to think for him or herself as well, with questions such as "How do you play safe?" "What are some good rules for safe play?"

There is also an activity prompt at the end of each Closer Look section, asking the reader to draw, act out, or pretend something related to the story.

The books are very cute and a lot of fun. My children enjoyed listening to me reading them, but they weren't immediately drawn to them. (To be fair, my children are all a little older than the target audience here, which is preschoolers and pre-k.) I do like the books because they are books that teach skills and are not based on pop culture characters, like so many children's books these days are. They're definitely worth checking out.

Each 32-page paperback book sells for $6.95. Hardcover copies are $14.95 each. The four books mentioned here came out this past July. More I See I Learn books will be published in February 2011.

Honesty Clause: I received a free review copy of each of the books mentioned in this review.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bubble Talk

A while back, I was looking at a list of games for review opportunities.  Seeing one called Bubble Talk, I skipped right past it. It didn't look like something I was interested in. The PR rep who'd sent me the list, however, noticed that I have a child with autism and made the decision to go ahead and send it anyway, telling me that she'd heard of people using it for therapeutic purposes.

I'm so glad she did.

It took me a little while to break out this game, but we've played it multiple times since I first opened it. The premise of the game is that players match funny captions to funny pictures. A player acting as "judge" (this position rotates every round) decides which caption is the funniest. The winner gets to take the picture, and once you have a certain number of pictures, you win.

For example:

 I won a round with that caption.

The pictures themselves are hysterical. Especially if you're a kid. I've played with my kids and neighbor kids and all of them laughed and laughed and laughed.

There are photos on both sides of each card.
I don't know what they're looking at here.

Back to the autism thing. The reason this game is so great for Jack, my son with autism—and I commend the PR rep I was working with for seeing this—is that it lets Jack work on the nuances of language. We're working on figuring out the meanings of phrases and matching them to pictures. We're using the game to teach him humor, which can be difficult for literal-minded children with autism. We're using it to teach him some of the more abstract meanings of phrases and we're using it to teach him about best possible options.

Honestly, it's a very cool home speech therapy tool.

The thing I like most about the game is that you can change it up however it works for your family.

For instance, my 5-year-old doesn't read yet. So when we played with him, instead of having the role of judge rotate around the players, we just made the little guy the judge for the whole game and had one person read all the captions to him. He would pick each picture, then we would put our captions down. The best part was that, because he doesn't read, he didn't know who chose what, so he was totally impartial.

Here he is choosing a photo:

Here he is choosing a winner:

And here he is with my kids' favorite photo of the whole game, which, on front cover of the box, is matched with "tastes like bacon," which has turned into a new catchphrase at my house.

We've used this game in other ways as well. I've played alone with Jack by picking photos and having Jack choose from captions I've selected for him.

I've also picked photos and had him make up his own captions.

Top: "Doh!"
Bottom: "I hate this disguise."

There are so many ways to use this game and ways to alter the length of the game or the method of play. With 150 photos and 300 captions, the combinations seem endless. You can pretty much take this box and make what you want out of it.

Bubble Talk is for 3-8 players, ages 8 and up. Obviously, I found a way to play it with my kids, only one of whom is older than 8. However, there are some caption cards in the deck that are more appropriate for older kids or adults. Younger kids may not get some of the jokes, or they just may not be appropriate.

 I don't know that I would ever choose that caption as funniest.

It would be pretty easy to remove inappropriate captions from the deck, however.

Do you want to hear something else way weird about this game? Evidently Quinn snuck away to model for it.

We all laughed really hard at this.

Although this isn't a game that I would have chosen off the shelf, I give it a big ol' thumbs up. Since it's come to my home, we've played it a lot, and had a lot of fun with it. The best part of the game is that the goal is to make the players laugh. Is there a better Object of Game than that?

Honesty Clause: I received a review sample of the game at no charge. Bubble Talk sells for $19.99 and is available at specialty retailers, including Learning Express and Barnes & Noble. You can find it online at several retailers, including and

Friday, October 29, 2010

Netflix on the Wii, Part II

I wrote about Netflix streaming through the Wii when it was first announced earlier this year. I have grown to love this service more and more every week. I use it almost daily. At this point, I'm not sure what I would do without it.

All you have to do is have a Netflix account ($8.99 a month) and a Wii. A few quick configurations later, and you're watching one of a huge selection of movies or TV shows straight to your TV.

Previously, Netflix would send you a disc and you would insert it every time you wanted to access movies through the Wii. But now you don't even have to do that! Netflix and Wii have made it so that you can download the Netflix channel for free from the Wii Shop Channel.

Now, you can access your Netflix streaming just by turning on your Wii and choosing the Netflix channel from your home screen. It's awesome. It's possible that it makes me the laziest person on earth that I am so excited about this, but I am. Good times.

Honesty Clause: I pay for Netflix all by myself, but I do have a relationship with Nintendo as a brand enthusiast. But seriously, I use this service all the time.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shapeways Color It!

I am always looking for fun gifts to give to my kids' grandparents that capture their personalities at a moment in time. In the past, I have put their artwork on key chains and bags or let them color on potholders.

When information about Shapeways' Color It! sculptures came through my email inbox, I jumped at the chance to test it out.

Shapeways is actually a cool company that can take 2D renditions of things and turn them into three dimensional jewelry, art, or pretty much anything else you can think of in a variety of materials. You can check out this video to learn about their process.

This year, Shapeways released Color It! personalized pets, which take your kids' coloring and puts it on an adorable little sandstone animal. Currently you can get Wiggle the Dog, Wooly the Sheep, or Oinkie the Pig.

The process is really simple.

1. Download the coloring sheet of the animal you choose and have your child color it.

2. Either take a photo of the finished product or scan it and submit it to Shapeways along with your payment. I sent this photo to them.

3. Wait patiently while Shapeways creates your sculpture. They keep you updated with emails to let you know where in the process your art is. It took slightly more than two weeks from the time I submitted my order to the time it arrived on my porch.

4. Ooh and aah over the adorable.

 5. Show your child the 3D representation of his art. Watch his head explode. My guy thinks this is so cool.

You may notice that the base of the dog's tail looks a little weird. That is because, sadly, Wiggle arrived with his tail broken off.

I was curious to see how Shapeways would deal with the situation, so without telling them that I was reviewing the product, I emailed them to tell them how the dog had arrived and asked what their policy was. The very next day I got an email from the designer who offered me a free reprint and just asked that I provide them with my order number and a photograph of the broken piece. (Because my copy was a review sample, I turned down the free reprint and just glued Wiggle's tail on.)

The sandstone is pretty fragile. The sculpture is definitely not something that you should let your kids play with unless you want little pieces of foot or tail snapped off, but as a piece of art, it is fantastic. I put ours on our TV stand so it's always there being cute while we're watching TV.

At $50 each, the price is a little steep, especially if you would want to produce art for more than one child. But if you are looking for a really fun way to showcase your child's coloring skills, this is a fun way to go. I like that it would be appropriate for all ages, as young kids can scribble on the dog and older kids can create more elaborate designs. This would be cool for teens and older kids who want to find a new way to express themselves.

Honesty Clause: I received a review sample of a Wiggle the Dog Color It! at no charge.