Friday, January 25, 2008

The Six Pack: Karen Voight's New Workout Series

Way back in the mid '90's, when I worked out like a fiend, weighed 2 ounces and thought I looked fat, I worked out to Karen Voight videos. I always loved her: excellent cues, with plenty of tips to help you do all the moves correctly and efficiently.

Turns out, unlike me, she's still incredibly active, writing for the Los Angeles Times, being voted “Fitness Instructor of the Year” by I.D.E.A. (International Dance Exercise Association), and making tons of workout DVDs, including her latest release: The Six Pack.

This past fall I started getting into exercise videos again, after the loss of morning light and the realization that my town is crawling with coyotes ended my morning walks. Unfortunately, within a week of receiving this set for review, my left leg was put in a cast for an as-yet-undiagnosed ankle ailment. So I haven't been able to give these videos a shot.

However, I did research them as I would have before purchasing them. I found that:
• Most if not all of the DVDs are repackaged versions of previously released workouts. Which is good for us, because they're are plenty of reviews online.

• All six are highly rated at Collage Video, which I've found to be an impartial, invaluable and reliable resource. More than half of The Six Pack have been named "staff favorites."

• Three of them -- Slim Toning on a Ball, Yoga Power and Quick and Slim, are just 30 minutes long. I love that in a workout, and many mornings, it's a requirement.

I know I could have watched them myself to give you a better review. But did I mention that I'm pretty pissed that I can't work out right now and haven't been able to since November? Watching a fitness video would kick off a pitty party of epic proportions. We don't want that.

Here are some links to make it easy for you, in case you interested in kicking your own butt around the living room.

The Six Pack
1. Strength: Slim Toning on a Ball -- Amazon page, Collage Video reviews
2. Sweat: Quick & Slim - Amazon page, Collage Video reviews
3. Streamline: Yoga Power - Amazon page, Collage Video reviews
4. Strength: Lean Legs & Butt - Amazon page, Collage Video reviews
5. Strength: Firm Arms & Abs - Amazon page, Collage Video reviews
6. Streamline: Pure & Simple Stretch -- Amazon page, Collage Video reviews

If you're into exercise videos, or are getting sick of your routine and want to try something new, you cannot go wrong with these. Promise.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Giveaway: A Suburban Mom, Notes From the Asylum

UPDATE: Well, the competition was pretty stiff here, but we do have a winner: Karen of A Deaf Mom Shares Her World. I just stopped over there and -- wow -- she's got a lot going on. Head on over, I suggest that you start with this post. Go get 'em, Karen!

Monday afternoons at my house are known as Hell. Because that's when the boys take their swimming lessons. They hate it because, well, they're whiney brats I guess. I hate it because I have to chase Ava all over the place and the lessons are not at the same time so I get stuck there forever and.... Well, I guess I'm a whiney brat, too.

One thing I look forward to, though, is the new issue of Parents and Kids, the parent's paper of our regional newspaper, which is always in a pile by the flight of stairs Ava tries to fling herself down. As I hold Ava by the back of her shirt, I flip right to the back page to read Meredith O'Brien's latest column. It always makes me laugh out loud. And it always makes me feel like I'm "not the only one who..."

When Meredith came out with her book, which is a collection of 76 columns, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. And it didn't disappoint. Half the time that I'm reading Meredith's columns, I have tears of laughter streaming down my face. It's just that I know many of her situations all too well. And if you're reading here, you probably do, too.

If you'd like to read one of Meredith's Parents and Kids columns, click here. If you'd like to win my copy of Suburban Mom, Notes From the Asylum, please leave a comment on this post between now and Sunday, January 27, at midnight, EST. My copy isn't brand new, it's been loved a bit, but it's still guaranteed to induce much laughing and nodding.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Jumpstart World 1st Grade

When my kids ask to play video games (every other minute), I do my best to make sure that they play something with educational value, at least half of the time. Like many things in parenting (OK, most), this hasn't been as easy as I thought. My boys can sniff out an educational game like a dog can sniff out bacon, and much of the time, they're not biting.

I received the Web-based game JumpStart World First Grade for review, a perfect fit for my boys who are in kindergarten and 2nd grade. One afternoon over vacation, after they'd spent many mind-numbing hours playing at and, I told them the only video game they could play was JumpStart World.

They'd played it once the previous week, and I expected some push back. But they were both pleased. Here is what they had to say after an afternoon of play:

John (6): "It is the best game, because you get the super stone, and I already earned the whole thing!"

Ben (7): "It's awesome. I like it cause it's different than any other game. You get to walk around and do different things."

JumpStart World begins by allowing the child to choose a character. Then he can follow the map to walk around the place and complete various activities. This set-up gives the game a sense of adventure, and by completing the tasks and earning pieces of a gemstone, the child feels he's accomplishing something.

The game keeps the child engaged, and suprisingly it keeps me engaged as well. After my boys play, JumpStart World emails me a progress report on each child, describing in detail what activities they have completed and what they will do next. I also receive "parent activity tips" tailored to each child. I like the ones I've received so far because they don't take much time to do and seem to have real educational value. For example, a tip I received for John suggested that, after reading John a story, I have him retell it to his grandparents in an email (with me typing). My desk is covered with child activity books that I never seem to use with my kids. I like the idea of getting these ideas in email to make sure that I will see them and be reminded to take a learning moment my kids.

The game we received came with two of the 12 first-grade adventures. If I want my kids to do the rest, I'll have to purchase one at a time for $8 or buy all 10 for $65. My boys completed the first adventure in about a week. I like the idea that they can progress at their own rate, and I am considering signing on for more adventures.

If you'd like more information, check out the JumpStart World Web site, and here's a link to JumpStart World First Grade on Amazon.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The "What to Expect Guide to a Healthy Home"

I need to tell you the grossest thing I ever witnessed since becoming a mom, but first I have to tell you a few other things.

Especially during my first pregnancy, I read countless pregnancy books. Cover to cover. I still remember that Amazon box arriving with no less than 12 thick books inside. And that was just the first shipment.

But it was my dusty old booksale copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting, by Heidi Murkoff, that I read first and that seemed the most comprehensive when I was up at night, worried about one thing or another.

Murkoff is still actively advising new mothers, most recently with her "What to Expect: Guide to a Healthy Home," available for free here through a partnership with The Clorox Company. She also has launched a Web site, What to Expect, that's worth a look for any new parent.

Now, the gross-out story:

I was at an amusement park, standing in line for a ride. A young couple was in front of me, with a toddler perched on the mom's hip. The child was sucking on a pacifier, and it popped out of his mouth and landed on the ground. The mom barely stopped talking with her mate as she swooped down, picked up the pacifier, stuck it in her mouth to "clean" it, and popped it back in the child's mouth.

As if this wasn't gross enough, the scenario played out again no less that EIGHT TIMES before it was their turn to get on the ride. I have never, ever been so grossed out at another parent's actions.

Thanks for letting me share that, I feel so much better. Also, if that was you at the amusement park, or if you don't see the gross factor here, DOWNLOAD THIS PAMPHLET NOW!

OK, back to the "What to Expect: Guide to a Healthy Home." My main criteria when looking it over was whether it 1) taught me something new and 2) validated my neurotic germ-phobic behaviors. Happily, it passed on both counts, and I'm the proud owner of some brand new neurotic behaviors to boot.

To her credit, Murkoff keeps it low key, assuring readers that we live in a extremely clean conditions here the 21st century U.S. of A. The perfectionist in you can appreciate the desire to make it even cleaner, and as I always say, knowledge is power.

Did you know that if you flush the toilet with the cover open you create a "mini bacteria volcano"? Holy new neurotic habit, Batman!

Murkoff advises washing your hands BEFORE changing a diaper, something that never occured to me to do, and which I'm probably too lazy to ever do unless I was deboning a chicken when the smell of poop permeated the air.

Did you know that people who wash their hands seven times a day on average have about four times fewer colds than the average person? It's worth the dry, cracked skin after all!

I'm forever grateful to Murkoff for validating my staunch refusal to let my kids drink from public water fountains, or bubblers, as we like to call them here in Boston. She didn't go into the details as to why not, and I'm forever grateful for that, too.

She also gently told me that I have to stop picking my nose to set a good example for the children. Oh, I kid. I do it in the bathroom. Did you know you should wash your hands before you pick your nose? I am dead serious. Although Murkoff didn't say that, just to be clear. I extrapolated that fact for myself.

Clearly I am getting way too silly for what is a serious topic: the health of our families. This book taught me a few things and validated me on a few others, and I recommend that you check it out, too. It's here, in case you forgot.