Friday, April 27, 2007

Habla español?

Knowing a second language is becoming more of a necessity than a luxury these days, so when the lovely folks over at the Parent Bloggers Network put out a call for reviewers for the Boca Beth program, my hand shot into the air. Their program aims to teach children English and Spanish starting at birth and continuing through grade school. The program employs several different tools to help engage children across the age group, from coloring books and puppets to cds and dvds.

A few weeks later we received a package containing a cd, a dvd called I Like Animals/Me Gustan Animales, a Boca puppet, a coloring book and a maraca. Right away I noticed the big sticker declaring the program the winner of the Teachers' Choice Award for 2007. I was impressed.

We always play music in Sam's room, so the next time we were in there I popped in 'My First Songs In Spanish'. At first, I was underwhelmed. The recording was a little muddy, like your freshman roommate's demo tape that was recorded in your dorm room. Since I don't know Spanish, I found this to be a major issue because I couldn't understand what they were saying during the non-English portions of the songs. While lyrics aren't provided with the cd, they are available on the web page, but it took me almost two weeks to look them up. However, the songs were catchy. I found myself singing 'Kiss, kiss is a beso!' to the tune of 'Skip To My Lou' on more than one occasion.

The dvd program helped to make up for my disappointment with the cd. Sam loves watching it, and I love that the words being spoken appear on the screen so I don't feel like an idiot. The musical numbers always get his little bum shaking, and when I pull out the maraca for him during the songs he squeals. There is a sequence at the end that captures an entire Boca Beth class. We haven't had the patience to sit through this entire portion yet, but when split into two viewings we can usually make it through.

Sam loves playing with the maraca, but the puppet and coloring book haven't really caught his attention as of yet. He's still learning the ins and outs of crayons, so when presented with the book he simply tried to rip it to shreds. One very useful tool for parents, though, is the short glossary/pronunciation guide in the back of the coloring book. Every time I try and use the puppet, he thinks I'm playing peek-a-boo with my hand and pulls it off. Since he's only 14 months, though, I'll keep trying as he gets older. The program is labeled for birth to grade school, so I wasn't expecting him to love every single thing right off the bat.

The big question is: does it work? Well, folks, I'm sorry to tell you that you may have to wait awhile for the answer. The only words we get, grudgingly, from Sam are mama, dada and no. Check back with me in a few more months and maybe I can give you some more information. What I do know, though, is that my baby enjoys these educational programs, which helps in more ways than one. First of all, I don't feel as guilty parking him in front of the TV because I know he's potentially learning something while I pee. Secondly, I don't get as pissed at daddy when he has the this video on TV on all morning instead of Star Trek, which was their usual fare, when it's his day to get up with the boy. I doubt that Captain Kirk can impart as much knowledge to my boy as Boca Beth. Now that I've instructed him to watch I Like Animals/Me Gustan Animales with Sam in the mornings, I can sleep peacefully.

If you are interested in buying some Boca Beth products, click over to the Baby Center Store where they are currently running a big sale on Boca Beth products. Even better? Visit the Parent Bloggers Network page to win yourself a Boca Beth prize package valued at $45! Free stuff! What could be better?

There's no need to thank me. I'll just say 'de nada.'

Monday, April 16, 2007

Saturn Vue Green Line: A Hybrid For the Masses?

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A few months ago we bought a new car. During our search, we heavily considered a hybrid, but had trouble finding one that was both large enough for our growing family and priced within reason. I have always been a supporter of fuel efficient vehicles, but found it discouraging that the models on the market didn't fit the needs of the average American family. Saturn has found a way to fix that with the Vue Green Line Hybrid, which combines ample space for tots and their associated gear and a sticker price that won't force you to sell off a kid just to pay for it.

On a Tuesday morning, two guys from GM hand delivered a Silver 2007 Vue to my front door. The car looked pretty nice. Unfortunately, the delivery men did not. They were a bit surly and couldn't answer the few basic questions I had about the vehicle. They did help me transfer my stroller and car seat, though. Luckily, Sam was at Jesus school, so I had a some time to spend online getting info on the Vue. I found that the SUV gets an EPA estimated 27 miles per gallon in city driving and 32 miles per gallon on the highway, and has a base price of $23,495. When I played the 'Build Your Own' game and tricked it all out with a sunroof, heated seats, and satellite radio, it still only came in at $26, 750.

One way Saturn has managed to keep the shock off the sticker is by using a simpler version of hybrid motors that are already on the market. In the Vue, the battery assisted motor only kicks in when the car is at a stand still, or when you need a boost to pass another vehicle. Because of this, the battery packs are much smaller than other hybrid models. On the plus side, they take up almost no storage space in the car, but on the negative side, the car cannot run solely on battery power. This is also why the Vue has lower economy ratings than the other hybrid SUVs on the market. The battery also supplies power to the radio, lights and air conditioning when the gas engine isn't running. One piece of information the GM guys could have provided that would have made my driving experience more pleasant is that there is a small green button inside the vehicle that, when pressed, also economized the AC. I wasn't aware that this feature was on, and I found it mildly annoying that the AC cut out every time I came to a red light. Otherwise, my first day of driving was a satisfying one.

The Vue drives like a normal vehicle in most circumstances. It was only slightly noticeable that the gasoline engine stopped when at an intersection. The transition from gas to battery that occurred when going down hill was the only thing I found a little alarming. When the system would switch to battery charging, I noticed a slight deceleration. After a while, I got used to it. The standard stereo was fine, although if I were purchasing one, I would probably go for the upgrade. There was plenty of room in both the front and back seats for passengers, baby and miscellaneous stuff. There was less room in the trunk area than I would have liked, but I drive a looooooong station wagon and can fit three strollers in my cargo space, so I'm a little biased. SOB sat in the driver's seat as well, and he said that he was impressed that it drove like a normal car. Being on the tall side, he also appreciated the extra head room, especially when loading Sam in and out of the back seat.

At the end of the week, the GM guys came right back to my front door and took the car. Again, they could have used a touch more charm, but I can't really complain about door-to-door service. I'm glad that Saturn is making a car that has some environmental conscience, and a price that won't send most people running for the hills. Knowing that GM has the capacity to manufacture a car that runs entirely on electric power, it's a little disconcerting that we're not able to move further in that direction. However, I read somewhere that future models will have even better fuel economy ratings, so there is hope. This car is a great way to help spread the hybrid mentality to as many people as possible.

And? I got a free car for a week!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Sweet Dreams are Made of These!

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They say if you have plenty of vivid dreams, then you are getting good quality sleep. Last night I had a dream that I was taking a school tour through a museum that just happened to be haunted. And I was being protected the object of my high school affection, Todd W. The dream was filled with plenty of detail, and plenty of making out in dark corners.

Before I read Good Night The Sleep Doctor's 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health by Michael Breus, Ph. D. I don't recall dreaming ever since Sam started hanging around.

Long time readers may recall that I've mentioned my sleep troubles before. They might also remember my adventures with ear plugs. I've been a troubled sleeper since adolescence, and the situation has only been compounded by snoring sleep partner, a baby and a pregnancy. For a period during college, I spent some time in behavior modification therapy with the main intention of improving my sleep. While it helped, it wasn't as comprehensive as I would have liked. Now a few years later, Dr.Breus' book has provided me with all the information my therapist left out, and I've noticed a big difference in my sleep quality.

When I started reading Good Night, I was initially discouraged. There is a little caveat on page 57 that says pregnancy complicates the hell out of everything, and a discussion of such is beyond the scope of the book. However I decided to press on. I'm not going to be pregnant forever (only 20 more weeks!) and I'm sure I'll use the strategies I develop because of this book after the arrival of Numero Dos. Or at least a few weeks (or months) after the arrival of Numero Dos.

After the introductory chapter, the book goes into a series of quizzes to determine what type of problems, or disordered sleep, you are having. The book makes a clear distinction between true sleep disorders (insomnia and sleep apnea) and disordered sleep, which is what afflicts the typical person. After taking the quizzes, I determined that the root of my sleep trouble was anxiety and my sleep partners. Duh. After each quiz is an action plan to be put to use immediately.

The very first item on my action plan turned out to be the most effective sleep inducing technique I have ever tried. It was so simple it was almost elegant, the very definition of good science. All I had to do was count backward from three-hundred by three. On the fist night, I was asleep before I even hit two-hundred.

After some additional evaluation of my sleep environment, I jumped headfirst into Sleep Boot Camp, which is detailed in chapters 8, 9 and 10. While I wasn’t able to stick to the schedule exactly as it’s outlined, the book allows for a little personalization. I found it very useful that the sleep diary discussed in the book is clearly outlined in the appendices, as well as many of the retailers Dr. Breus mentions in the text. We ordered not one, but two white noise machines from the Ear Plug *Super* Store. All of these resources can also be found through Dr. Breus’ blog, The Insomnia Blog.

Overall, I was very pleased with the newfound quality of my sleep. Despite being pregnant and having to get up to pee at least once a night. Already. If I manage to keep up the good habits I’ve gained as a result of this book, I’ll be in halfway decent shape once F Squared arrives.

How about you? Do you think you could benefit from better sleep? Um, you’re lying if you said no. Leave a comment by Monday at 10am and WIN my gently used copy of Good Night The Sleep Doctor's 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health by Michael Breus, Ph. D. Winner to be chosen by my highly technical randomizer. Good luck!