Thursday, November 29, 2007

MotherTalk Blog Tour: The Daring Book for Girls

This post is part of a MotherTalk Blog Tour. For 99 other opinions on The Daring Book for Girls (!), as well as links to the authors' appearance on The Today Show and the book's Web pages, click here. You'll also find the book's zippy video trailer.

As a girl during the '70s, I did many of the activities listed in The Daring Book for Girls, the latest book by MotherTalk founders Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz.

I told ghost stories and played "light as a board, stiff as a feather" with the neighborhood kids. (And yes, we levitated. No, really.) We played Marco Polo in Lesley's pool and made cootie catchers decorated with boys' names. The bones in my legs must have doubled in thickness thanks to the countless hours I spent jumping rope, both the American and the Chinese versions. (The sequence in, out, in, on, side, side, double, double is forever etched in my brain.)

We bowled candlepins at Sunnyside (and it didn't cost $20+ for two strings). I developed a penchant for scary movies. I roller skated and played intramural basketball and turned roughly 1,543 cartwheels by the time I turned 12.

I like to think I was daring.

Most of the things I did as a kid -- to kill an afternoon, to save myself from another hour of Mighty Mouse, Tom and Jerry or The Brady Bunch -- I did without much guidance. Sure, there was that Yoga for Kids book from the library, which taught me the child's pose and the downward dog and which I never returned. But there were no skating lessons, no basketball clinics. Not for me, anyway. I just strapped on the skates, grabbed the ball and plunged in.

I was, in today's terms, a hack. A happy hack, but a hack nonetheless.

How much more formidable would I have been if I'd had a copy of The Daring Book for Girls? Would I have finally mastered the back walk-over? Would I have fended off the neighborhood bully with my Karate moves? Would I have impressed my teachers with my knowledge of the Bill of Rights and of important women in history? Would I have saved myself untold hours of math anxiety with a few easy tricks?

Maybe yes, maybe no. One thing's for sure, my daughter will have this compendium of information to help her make that boring hopscotch grid about 10 times more interesting. She'll have handy access to all those handclap games I could never memorize. She'll have a killer booklist for when she starts reading, saving her from the random fate of the Scholastic book club selection. She'll know the basics of public speaking without the baptism-by-fire ritual most elementary school teachers seem to favor. And when her school has its first election for class officers, she'll know what the heck it's all about and what office, if any, she might be interested in.

She'll know all this because I'll read her this book. I'll remind her of it when she's bored or when some of her first challenges come up, for instance, when she negotiates her first babysitting salary.

Before any of that happens, though, I'll finish reading it myself. As crazy as it sounds, I still haven't given up on mastering the back walk-over.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 Saving You From the Inept Babysitter

UPDATE: We have a winner! Dawn, you are the proud owner of a three-month membership to Contact me with your email address so I can send you the link. And don't forget to come back and share your results!

It's no secret to my longtime readers that I haven't had the best luck with babysitters. Heck, even my favorite babysitter turned around and left me after a while. Then there's the times I'm so burnt out I feel like I need to save my kids from myself.

It's just a fact of life: When you have kids, you will always be vulnerable in the area of childcare.

When the folks at Mom Central asked if I'd blog about, an online service for connecting child (and pet, and elderly) care providers with those in need, I said yes. But I figured it would be one of those elite, high-priced services that I could never afford. Then I figured there wouldn't be any babysitters listed in my area. Then I figured they'd all have inflexible hours or want full time.

Such a positive thinker, aren't I?

When I halted my predictions of doom long enough to visit the site, my inner pessimist couldn't have been more surprised. Let's start with the price: A premium membership costs $25 for 1-month, $45 for 3-months, or $120 for 12-months, plus a one-time $15 registration fee. This lets you post jobs and contact any listed provider, and request their background checks and references. All of this is unlimited with no additional charges. They also have a directory of preschools.

During my babysitter debacles, I spent about $100 for three different ads in the newspaper, which netted me lots of people whom I knew nothing about and easily could have been wanted by the FBI. Given that experience, I consider's rates cheap money.

There were several pages of available babysitters listed in my town and in neighboring towns. Their price range was $5 to $20, which reflects the going rates in my area. ($5 an hour? Can you start, um, in five minutes?)

The profile pages include a photo, their age and a brief bio. The background check lets you know if their address, social security and criminal record have been verified by There's also a spot for references, although not all candidates have references immediately available online. Some, however, have recorded interviews with their references available at your request. Awesome!

The word that best describes this site, to me, is "empowering." Really. I'm pretty excited about this service, because it's the best tool I've seen for finding babysitters. Brian and I do not have a babysitter right now for those times when my mom's not around. For those times, I've had to rely on the kindness of my neighbor or my niece, and they are generally available for the one-hour teacher meeting, not the four-hour dinner out that Brian and I suddenly need for our mental stability.

There are enough candidates listed in my area that I believe I'll find someone reliable and in my budget to care for my kiddos once in a while. Maybe I'll even set up some regular daytime freelance hours for myself. Huzzah!

Does this service sound interesting to you? OK, here's the deal: I've got at least one complimentary 3-month membership available for giveaway. You might want to go to and see if there are listings in your area before entering. I've still got to work out the details with Mom Central, but if you're interested in winning this, please leave a comment on this post between now and Saturday at midnight, EST. Sharing a babysitter nightmare story is optional but strongly encouraged. C'mon, tell me I'm not the only one who's hired more than her share of duds.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Have you heard of

As you may know, I've participated in blog tours with MotherTalk for about a year now. Today, I've joined a tour with a MotherTalk partner that you also may have heard of: Mom Central, so I can tell you about I also earned a $20 stipend for this post.

I took the chance to tell you about the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), because it's a comprehensive resource for parents who want to check out the violence level and age appropriateness of video games before buying them or letting their kids play them.

ESRB ratings are found on virtually every video game package, and provide helpful information about the age-appropriateness and content of video games. In addition, many video game consoles allow parents to set controls based on specific games' ESRB ratings. If you follow that link, you will find step-by-step instructions on setting controls for the Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows Vista, Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation 3.

At the heart of ESRB's site is an online tool that parents can use to search for game ratings. I used it to check out my boys' Imaginext Castle game, which has a nice, tame E rating. The only other non-educational game they've played so far is LEGO Star Wars, which also received an E rating despite some violence. However, Brian bought LEGO Star Wars II for them for Christmas and -- lo and behold! -- it's got an E10+ rating for cartoon violence and crude humor. Wonder if we can return it?

Another very helpful part of the site is the Resources for Parents page. It's got tons of links for finding family friendly video games, reviews, more info on setting parental controls, and online safety. Regarding the latter, we parents know that we need to remain vigilent about policing our kids' online activities. You may not know, however, that kids can download unauthorized or illegal modifications to software and hardware that remove protective controls. So keep an eye out for that, too.

This parenting job gets harder by the year, doesn't it? Thankfully sites like are making it a bit easier.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Another Winner

Becky, you've won the Pixar Short Films Collection DVD! Congrats, and send along your address to

Thanks to all who entered!

Giveaway: Home Improvement, The Complete Seventh Season

You know what depresses me? The fact that Home Improvement debuted 17 years ago. That wouldn't be so bad if I hadn't already been out of high school for four years at the time.

In other words, man, I'm old.

I have a brand new copy of Home Improvement, The Complete Seventh Season, available for giveaway to one of you nice persons who stop by my blog. For those of you unfamiliar with the intracacies of each Home Improvement season, the seventh season was when the boys became teenagers, some "serious subjects" were dealt with, and Mark went through his goth phase! I think the latter makes the season, don't you?

Although I also received a copy of the 8 Simple Rules, the Complete First Season, I am selfishly keeping it for myself. That show first aired in 2002, and despite all the great buzz it got, I never watched it because I was so busy having babies. Then, sadly, John Ritter went and died, so.... now's my chance.

Anway, if you would like a copy of Home Improvment, The Complete Seventh Season, leave me your excellent lead-and China-free ideas for Christmas gifts for 6-8 year old boys or a 2 year old girl. (If you don't celebrate Christmas, just think of it as a birthday gift idea, mmmkay?)

I'll accept entries between now and Friday at midnight, EST, and I'll announce the randomly drawn winner on Saturday. Good luck!

Saturday, November 10, 2007


I often wondered what kind of post would push me up toward the 100-comment mark. Sure, I suspected it may be a giveaway, but I never, ever thought it would be for a DVD of a kids' show that people can watch on their regular cable/satellite every day of the week.

What's up with you people? Nothing personal but, for all of you who said you don't like Little Einsteins, you lie! You sing the theme song in the shower, and we all know it!

Given current events, I shouldn't be surprised. First it's lead paint on millions of toys, now it's the date rape drug in Aqua Dots. After all the concern about too much screen time, about brain cell damage caused by the boob tube, it turns out a screen is the safest thing for our kids to play with. I never saw that one coming, either.

So, all you adorable and eager Little Einsteins enthusiasts, we have a winner. I'm sorry for the delay but we had printer issues, and unlike Y, I do NOT love you guys enough to write down 80 some-odd names, let alone 200. I am no Y, this I know. Plus I'm lazy.

Anyway, the winner! Karen, come on down! You are the winner of Wonder Mom's most-entered giveaway contest ever! Wooo hooo! Send me your address, and I'll get this prized DVD out to you ASAP.

Congrats, and thanks to all you Einstein FREAKS who played along.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Giveaway: PIXAR Short Films Collection DVD

Before we get into the details of this giveaway, can I just bitch for a minute? Yes? Thank you.

My day yesterday:

Get up early, anticipating the arrival of my mother, the harbinger of an "easy" day for me. Get the kids ready so we can go to Barnes and Noble to get a gift card for a birthday party John was invited to later in the day. (The invitation said not to feel obligated to bring a gift, but if we wanted to, we could bring a book for the birthday girl. I decided to at least get her a gift card, because, if all she's getting are books, then damnit, she gets to pick the book out.)

Notice the pouring rain, but remain optimistic that it will lighten up. Hit my clicker to unlock the car from the family room so we can all jump inside fast. Notice the lights don't flash. Get ominous feeling.

Run out in the downpour and realize that, yes, I left the interior lights on (long story) and the battery is dead (again).

Decide to rally and move the car seats into my mother's car, even though I can't open the sliding doors on my minivan because they're battery powered. Take the tribe to Barnes and Noble.

After an uneventful and pleasant trip to the bookstore, return home, put John's car seat back in my car --in the unending downpour -- and bring various items into the house, where Ava promptly pees her pants. Check my messages and realize the doctor's office scheduled me for my abdominal CT (long story) at exactly the time I asked them not to. Make several calls. Realize the CT place is closing and reopening in another location this week, causing problems with getting an appointment. Also realize there is a "prep kit" involved in this test. Get ominous feeling.

Run out in the rain in my mom's car to get the prep kit. Return home to listen to Ava yell "I'm NOT SLEEPING MOM!" over the monitor while I slurp down some chicken soup. Give John time outs for various infractions before realizing he has a fever. Begin to wonder if he can go to the party.

Call Brian for the 13th time and get no answer. Send him an email: "Please call me. I've been calling you since 8:30 am!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Congratulate myself for showing considerable restraint, with the bitchiness restricted to exclamation points.

Ben comes home, in the pouring rain. Begin scrambing to give snacks and get homework done. Finally talk to Brian for half a second, and let him no the battery's dead and John may or may not be too sick to go to the party. Propose that Brian take John to the party instead of me. Get shot down, and realize I'll have to take him. Ava pees her pants again.

Answer the phone. It's Brian. Catastrophic problems at work, he can't come home so I can take John to the party. Can't I bring all three kids? (No.) Can't I call our neighbor and ask her to babysit? (During dinner time? No.) Listen to how tremendously bad he feels. Hang up and gaze over at John, who is wiping snots on his sleeve.

Consider all the ways I may be able to take John to the party (babysitters, dropping him off and driving around with the other two kids for two hours), all the while forgetting that my car won't even start.

Answer the phone. It's my mom, telling me she still has Ava's car seat in her car. In New Hampshire. She offers to drive it to me in the morning. I accept despite wretching guilt. Ava pees her pants again.

Break the news to John. Explain all the reasons why I can't take him, including his low-grade fever and my lack of a car seat. Still forgetting that my car has a dead battery.

Make raviolis. Serve dinner. Break up fights. Stop Ava from jumping on the couch/coffee table/her brothers/me. Yell. Blow John's nose. Clean up Ava's pee again (WTF?!). Clean up the house. Yell some more.

Get the kids to bed. Sit in a heap on the couch and watch Dancing With the Stars over a bowl of Red Sox Peanut Butter Nation Ice Cream. Go to bed, hoping that the rising sun will break whatever curse had befallen me.

Back to the giveaway:

I haven't watched this yet, but I'm planning on sticking Pixar Short Films under the tree and watching it over Christmas break with the kids. I've seen a few of these, as extras on various Pixar DVDs, and I especially loved "Boundin' Jack-Jack Attack," and "One Man Band." There are 13 shorts in all. You know you want it!

If you really do want it, just leave me a message telling me how your day is going between now and Saturday at midnight EST. I'll draw a name randomly and post a winner on Sunday. Good luck!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Giveaway: Little Einsteins Rocket's Firebird Rescue DVD

My blog and I had a little falling out. I got to the point where I was like, "You're just a pain in my ass, a waste of my time." And my blog was like "You're nothing without me. Remember the day you checked your stats and email 187 times?" And I was all, "You said you'd never throw that back in my face! And? You're nothing without ME!"

Turns out, I was right.

So I'm back to see if I can get a little bloggin mojo back. We shall see.

Meanwhile, I have for your giveaway-entering pleasure a brand new copy of the latest example of pioneering cinematic toddler crack, Rocket's Firebird Rescue, featuring Little Einsteins. At the time I was offered this DVD, Ava was so infactuated with Little Einsteins that I had to accept, even though I'm trying SO HARD to resist the free book/DVD temptation. As a testament to the power of Murphy's law in my life, Ava promtply eschewed Little Einsteins for her new BFF Dora and her new boyfriend Cailliou. (The latter is a horrible influence by the way, I'm going to have to break them up.)

Even though Ava is "so done with" Little Einsteins, I stuck this movie into her bag when she visited my Mom for the day. After stamping her foot and nearly popping a blood vessel demanding Dora for three straight hours, my Mom put this movie on. Ava didn't flinch for the entire movie, once again mesmerized by the the show's frolicsome animation and classical cadence.

Can you tell I haven't had my coffee yet? Remind me never to use a thesaurus before coffee.

If you'd like to win a new copy of the DVD Little Einsteins Rocket's Firebird Rescue, just leave a comment here between now and Friday. I'll draw a name randomly and post the winner on Friday. Good luck!