Saturday, May 29, 2010

You're Not the Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your 4- to 12-Year-Old Child

There are tremendous numbers of parenting books on the market. They range from the ultra-specific to the incredibly general. You're Not the Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your 4- to 12-Year-Old Child is a new book by Betsy Brown Braun that falls into the general category, but has enough specifics within it to be incredibly useful to almost any parent.

As a parent, one of the things I want to do most in life is to raise a caring, thoughtful, grateful, giving, independent-thinking child. In other words, the opposite of a brat. Naturally, the title of this book grabbed me right off.

Looking at the table of contents was honestly like looking at a laundry list of the traits I want to teach my children. The author is spot on with identifying the characteristics that contribute to quality individuals.

She covers empathy, independence, responsibility, respect, honesty, self-reliance, gratitude, eliminating spoilage, and how to bring humor into your child's life. Each chapter starts with a general discussion of each trait and then breaks down into bullet points of ways you can concretely help your child (and yourself) learn to acquire these traits.

Furthermore, she doesn't just discuss how to to solve character problems with your child, she talks about the root of the problems, so you can understand where your child is coming from and learn that your family doesn't have these issues because you have a faulty child, but because you have a child.

Braun's book is valuable, I believe, largely because of how she intends you to use it. Too often, a parent will read a parenting book full of great ideas, then be overwhelmed by how to implement them. There are too many topics, too many behaviors to deal with all at once. We get overwhelmed and end up not implementing any of them.

Braun helps with this problem by telling us how she intends for us to use the book. Pick a chapter and spend a month working on just the ideas in that chapter until they are second nature. Then move on to another quality you want to instill in your children.

It's not a quick fix, but what is with children? Maybe that should be another chapter: turns out you have to actually work at raising children. Who knew?

I personally did a quick read of the entire book and plan to return to each chapter in detail, just as Braun suggests. I'm torn between starting with the gratitude and respect chapters. I definitely saw myself and my children in what she wrote in those chapters. Furthermore, her ideas are easy to implement and so common sense.

That common sense quality is one of the strengths of this book. You'll find yourself recognizing things you already naturally do and you'll also recognize things that are so obvious that you'll wonder why you haven't already implemented them.

Nothing in this book is earth shattering, but it is very useful to have it broken down in such easy to read and implement passages. Of all the parenting books I've acquired, read, and had the best intentions of implementing, I think this one will stick with me as one of my top reads.

Honesty Clause: I was given a free review copy of this book by Mom Central on behalf of HarperCollins. I was also given $20 to write the review. The opinions expressed are mine. List price for this book is $15.99.

Monday, May 24, 2010

America's Test Kitchen: Let's Get Cooking for the Nintendo DS

I'm a little bit of a disaster in the kitchen, so I am happy to try out anything that might make my life a little easier there. With this mind, I was excited to try out America's Test Kitchen, Let's Get Cooking for the Nintendo DS.

This is a cool little program that is packed full of features to help you plan menus and cook for your family. It includes helpful tips on different kinds of cooking equipment and techniques to help you along the way and it comes with 300 recipes direct from the public television cooking show, America's Test Kitchen.

There is some set up time involved. I liked that you can adjust how fast the game talks to you. There is nothing more frustrating than listening You don't have to do that with this game. You can create profiles for each member of your family so you can track what they like, what recipes they want to try, and what they can do to help with the recipes (are they allowed to use knives and the stove?).

You select who is going to help cook and the game assigns each of you tasks.

By far the best things about this game in my opinion are the recipes. There is a wide range of recipes including appetizers, salads, soups, sandwiches, breads, pasta, pizza, seafood, desserts, and more. You can browse through the recipes and then mark any you are interested in making in the future so they will be easy to find. Once you make them, you can mark how much each member of your family liked them to help you decide if you want to make them again.

Honestly, I think the way I would use this game the most is if I were out and about with my DSi and didn't know what to make for dinner. You can easily find a recipe, mark the ingredients you don't have to create a shopping list, and then take your DS to the store to do the shopping.

This is the shopping list function. It lets you see which recipe
you are buying the ingredient for, which is very helpful.

I tried out a couple of the recipes, a chocolate chip cookie recipe and baked ziti. Both were delicious.

Here is my cooking assistant for the cookies. He had a great time.

A huge part of the game is the cooking part, however. It gives you step by step instructions that you can either read and use the stylus to move to the next step or you can listen to the instructions and give voice commands to move on. I felt that this function was the most troublesome.

First of all, I am not the world's cleanest cook so I was worried that I would get the DSi dirty. I've spilled soda on a computer and it wasn't pretty, so I wasn't interested in seeing what happened if my kid cracked an egg all over a gaming system.

Theoretically the voice commands should eliminate this problem as you should be able to say "continue" or "last step" to move back and forth through the steps. It was a little tough to get the game to understand us. It turns out that if a kid excitedly yells, "I did it!" after cracking an egg or a different kid yells "ratta tatta tatta tatta" from an entirely different room, the game interprets that as "continue." It was difficult to get it to understand "last step" at all, at least for me. Eventually I gave up and used the stylus to move between steps, which made me worry again about getting food on the thing.

Also, I found myself whispering so that the game wouldn't misinterpret something I said and go on to the next step without me. We had a lot of fun with the game, but it was frustrating at times.

One other thing that I saw as a flaw was when the game told me to mix in the chocolate chips for our cookies. It didn't tell me to add in a certain amount, so I had to go back to the ingredient list to find the number. I could have eliminated that problem by measuring before I started, but I think I already mentioned that I'm not all that organized in the kitchen.

I did really like the timer feature. If you had to stir something for 2 minutes, you could start the timer right there so you knew when to stop.

I mentioned above that there are cooking technique and equipment tips included in the game. I really like that part. If you are unsure how to do something or what one of the items on the equipment list is, you are one click away from the answer.

For the record, I didn't use the parchment paper and the cookies were still delicious.

Honestly, there are a lot of things I haven't had a chance to try out on this game yet. It really does have a lot of options. I'm going to have to search through the "Cooking A to Z" section some more. While the game can be a little frustrating while you're actually doing the cooking, I think that the recipes and the menu planning functions are excellent. America's Test Kitchen: Let's Get Cooking sells for $19.99.

Honesty Clause: I am a Nintendo Brand Enthusiast and received this product for free to review through that program. They also sent me a number of cooking accessories (bamboo cutting board, onion goggles, a Cuisinart pot, and an apron) at the same time to help me out with my cooking.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Firefly and Serenity

Stimey is watching the entire (and entirely too short) series of Firefly and its concluding movie Serenity. Pure. Nerdy. Goodness.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Insect Lore Ladybug Land

If you are at all familiar with my main blog, Stimeyland, you know that I don't have the best of track records with small, captive creatures. First, I accidentally let mold take over my ant farm and then there were the tadpoles. The poor, doomed tadpoles.

So when Insect Lore offered to let me try out one of their bug-raising habitats, I headed into it with some trepidation. I chose Ladybug Land because ladybugs are cute. And because they seem hearty.

I'm going to cut right to the chase here and tell you that this story has a happy ending. Even I couldn't kill ladybugs. Now they are happily frolicking in my backyard.

Ladybug Land is a cool little dome that comes with either live ladybug larvae or a coupon to order them. Ladybug Land is really easy to set up. All you do is use the enclosed water dropper to put some water in there and then drop the ladybug larvae and their food in. You do have to remember to give them water every day or two, but other than that, this bug habitat maintains itself.

I also liked Ladybug Land a lot because it was really easy and fast to see changes in the bugs. The larvae are nothing like what you expect, but they are fun to watch and they move around a lot.

It only takes a few days for them to get rounder and more ladybug-like.

Shortly after they get rounder, you will become convinced that your ladybugs are dead. It will look like there are dried up husks of ladybugs stuck to Ladybug Land. You may try to hide the evidence from your children and order another vial of ladybug larvae.

Never fear. They are doing something known as "pupating." I don't know where they are hiding or what they're doing in there, but after a couple of days, voila! You will have Pink Spotted ladybugs!

I was extremely nervous about killing the grown ladybugs after they reached their full potential, so after just a couple of days, I opened Ladybug Land, found a shady, grassy spot in the yard, and wished them well.

I returned only to confuse my neighbors by taking photos of what, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be dirt, but was really way more awesome.

The fact that I could release these guys is a big part of why I recommend them. When I had my ant farm, I wasn't supposed to let them go in my yard, so when mold started taking over their ant farm, there wasn't a lot I could do. I really liked that I could raise these ladybugs and then let them go.

I would highly recommend Ladybug Land. At $19.99 for the habitat and larvae, it's a fun, easy science experiment and a great way to teach your kids about the life cycle. Plus, you can't find a cuter bug to raise. Insect Lore offers all kinds of fun supplementary products, including models of the ladybug life stages, posters, puzzles, and more, but you could easily find a ton of free information online about your bugs.

Insect Lore has lots of cool stuff. You can raise butterflies and ants, frogs, worms (yeccchhh), plants, and even praying mantises (so cool!).

I got a lot of joy out of Ladybug Land, which I put right next to my computer on my desk for optimal viewing purposes. My kids thought they were cool too. If you're interested in watching metamorphoses in action, I would definitely check out Insect Lore.

(You can read the tales of my ladybug-raising career here.)

Honesty Clause: Insect Lore sent me a Ladybug Land and ladybug larvae ($19.99) at no charge for review purposes. They also sent a lifecycle poster ($4.99) and models of the life cycle stages ($5.99). After I thought I killed the larvae, I ordered a second set of larvae ($14.99) all on my own with my own cash.