Archive for Reviews

Walking with Dinosaurs — LIVE!

My family and I had the opportunity to see Walking with Dinosaurs at Barclays Center for opening night and it was a thrill!

Walking with Dinosaurs Barclays Center

The show is like a natural history museum comes alive and explodes with the crushing force of the jaw of a tyrannosaurus rex.

Walking with Dinosaurs packs brachiosaurus-sized learning into its entertainment. The show begins back in the Triassic, explaining the vegetation, the geology, and the evolutionary developments that allowed dinosaurs to go on to conquer the earth.
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What a Doll–Matching Doll and Girl Outfits for the Holidays!

American Girl Dress 1

My daughter’s prized possessions are her American Girl Dolls, especially Marie-Grace, her first one and a gift from her aunt.

Although I was not a doll-lover as a child, I have really enjoyed reading about 19th century New Orleans with my daughter and talking about the issues of public health, volunteering, class, race, and friendship raised by the books.

For the past three Christmases, her entire wishlist has come from the American Girl catalog!

My daughter also loves to dress her dolls in both historical and modern fashions and especially enjoys wearing matching outfits.

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Strider 16 No-Pedal Balance Bike for School Age Kids

Over the summer, I was able to review the Strider ST-4 no-pedal balance bike with my two boys. Strider also makes the SUPER 16 SS-1, a unique balance bike in the market because it is a no pedal balance bike that is just the right for children ages 6-10.

The concept behind balance bikes is that pedaling comes easy once a child learns how to balance. If you start with “training wheels,” however, the child becomes dependent on them and takes longer to learn how to balance. Anecdotally, my friends either reported quick learning with a balance bike or did not use one and had children who struggled getting rid of training wheels. I have been amazed at how quickly my five year old son learned to balance and I wish we had started all the kids on a balance bike. My third and fourth kids will definitely use balance bikes from the start.

At the time, my almost 7 year old daughter still had training wheels. She loved riding a bike but did not want to ride at the park with training wheels where she might see her friends. She used the ST-4 we had received for her brothers and felt confident and comfortable on it, although it was a little small for her.

Strider Super 16 Balance Bike Review

I mentioned her frustrations to the people at Strider and they offered to send me a STRIDER SUPER 16 at wholesale cost for review.

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Unpacking the boxes

We’ve moved five times in our 13 years of military life. Some moves were easier than others. This last one was rotten. We were coming from a place we LOVED and had been for six years to a place we weren’t so sure of. Leaving our home of six years was rough. Saying goodbye to people with whom we had weathered a deployment, multiple TDYs, a few personal crises, and life was rough. Our children had never really known anywhere other than that location, having moved there when they were 3 and 1, respectively.

Ten months later, we’re still settling in. It doesn’t feel like home and I’m not sure it ever will. We went back to visit friends at our old duty station and a friend of mine gave me the book, “After the Boxes are Unpacked” by Susan Miller. It’s a Christian book but even if you are not a Christian, this book holds some wonderful insights and encouragement into the whole “bloom where you’re planted” mindset.

The book is divided into three parts: “Let Go”, “Start Over”, and “Move Ahead”. Each section and each chapter includes stories about people – mostly women – who have dealt with the trauma that is moving. While this book is not aimed at military spouses (the author’s husband is in the hotel industry), many of the situations are similar to what we, as military spouses, face.

There is a lot of validation in the “Let Go” section. The author recognizes that moving is one of the most traumatic experiences a person endures in life and that it takes time, and EFFORT, to make it through that trauma. Miller delves into the psychology behind the trauma, identifying why it affects us the way it does and how we can counter the effects of leaving all that we know behind.

In the “Start Over” section, Miller encourages the reader to take baby steps toward settling in. For us as military spouses, those baby steps might not happen as slowly as Miller sets out in her book – we all know our time in any one location is quite limited so we tend to hit the ‘fast-forward’ button on that process. She addresses the loneliness factor – something I’m sure most of us have dealt with, even in the best of duty locations. And she offers practical advice on how to strengthen your marriage in the midst of all of the chaos that is a move. I don’t know about you but my marriage can suffer under the strain of all of my emotions following a move, combined with the fact that my husband is now my sole social outlet until I find friends in our new location. It’s tough for him to handle all of that on top of settling into a new work environment.

“Moving Ahead” encourages the reader to look not for ‘happiness’ in their circumstances but contentment instead. Happiness is fleeting but contentment endures. Miller points out that a move is a chance to shed the things that had been weighing us down at our last duty station and focus on the things that make us shine. Toward the end, Miller offers up twenty additional tips from women who have moved. Most are applicable to military spouses but I’m curious to know what tips you would offer if you had been asked to contribute to this book? How would you encourage a military spouse who is in the middle of a PCS or just settling in to her new location?

You can find the book on Amazon.


Army Wives Season 4 Finale

Army Wives Season 4 Finale***NO SPOILERS***

The Season 4 Finale of Lifetime’s Army Wives will air on Sunday, August 22, 2010, at 10:00pm ET/PT.  Lifetime kindly sent me a screener and fans of the show are not going to want to miss this season finale.

This is a NO SPOILER post and I request that you keep the comments spoiler-free as well.  I’ll put up another post on August 22 where everyone can add their thoughts and also another on August 23 where I will give my synopsis of the finale!

From the website:

In the episode entitled “Forward March,” while Emmalin (Katelyn Pippy) prepares to graduate from high school, Claudia Joy (Kim Delaney) receives potentially devastating news. Pamela (Brigid Brannagh) gets an unexpected phone call which leads her to question her future and Denise (Catherine Bell) experiences a life changing event.

We are at an interesting point in our military cultural history.  People are very curious about military families because of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan but there are many people who do not personally know anyone currently serving.  Army Wives satisfies a societal need to be part in some way of the sacrifice of our troops while also giving us military spouses some validation that are stories are heard.

The fact that it is a nighttime drama (read: soap opera) does not change the reality of the emotions.

When I was a classroom teacher, Boston Public was popular.  People would ask, “teaching isn’t really like that, is it?”  And as with Army Wives, the answer is, “well, it is and it isn’t.”  Most of the things that happen in the show happen at some point to someone, somewhere.  The conflation of the stories–the idea that all of these crazy things happen to the same small group of people on one post, all in the same year–is what makes it exciting viewing.

Let’s be honest, a show about my real life as a military spouse probably would have generated about 15 minutes of good television.  Plus there is no way I would look that glamorous, even while crying.

But the tension, the worry, the joys…those are all 100% real.

And this finale has it all. Although I might quibble with some of the details of official processes, the depiction of the emotional geography of military family crises is spot-on.

There’s the quick spread of any news or rumor, the just being there for one another, the mistake of trying to tell someone how to feel about their own crisis, the urge to keep going with routine, the expectations placed on military spouses (or the ones we believe are placed on us). the need to be strong for others, and navigating the complicated relationships between different levels of tragedy and individuals’ reactions.

What “got me” the most about this episode was that tense feeling of waiting.  It is that feeling you live with every day when your spouse is deployed–especially the days when you know they are out “under the wire”.  Casualty notification (which includes severe injuries as well) only occurs during a specific daytime window.  So, there’s that tense feeling of dread every night after the window ends until the morning when you wake (assuming you could sleep).  You just pray you are woken by your alarm clock and not a knock on the door.

And the other big emotional moment for me centers around missing your soldier during the big moments in your children’s lives and the possibility they may miss them all.  Even just typing that I am crying again.  It is easier to be strong when it is just you–but explaining absence, loss and danger to your children just does not seem fair sometimes.

The finale delivers big on an emotional resolution to all that tension–but I can’t tell you whether there were tears of joy or sadness in my eyes because that would be a huge spoiler.

I did smile a lot at memories of my active-duty Army wife friendships.  There’s definitely a warm feeling seeing military spouses come together to support one another.  It is a camaraderie tinged with the knowledge that your friend’s tragedy could just as easily be yours.

There is also an “on-trend” nod to some ideas you may be familiar with if you follow PTSD-treatment therapies in the news.

That’s about all I can say without ruining the surprises in store…you will just have to watch!

What are you expecting or hoping to see in the finale? What questions do you have?

REMINDER: Please keep discussion on this post spoiler-free even after the episode airs!

Oh, My Little Soldier Boy

Aeromax JR Camo Suit Costume for KidsThe kids are obsessed with my husband’s ACUs. They always want to try on pieces of his uniform and play “army”. About the only thing they do not like about the uniform is that when my husband puts it on that means he’ll be gone for at least a few days.

My toddler son is thrilled to have his own uniform from Aeromax for when he tackles the obstacle course in our backyard.

The Aeromax Jr. Camouflage Suit ($39.95 to $44.95) is a one-piece jumpsuit with matching patrol cap and a webbed belt. Although the jumpsuit is different from what my husband wears, it looks great and is more comfortable for an active child–there is no waistband to dig into his tummy and his pants won’t fall down as he plays soldier.

I love that they changed their camouflage design to match the military’s current use of the digitized Universal Camouflage Pattern. The details are great, down to the removable name tags and rank.

My husband admiringly noted that the fabric is “summer weight” so I can slip it over our son’s clothing and he still stays cool and comfortable. And the feel of the cloth is very soft. This is more than just your average Halloween costume or dress up clothing–this is a high quality garment that will hold up to hours of play with multiple kids. Any Aeromax dress-up item can be handed down from child to child.

childs soldier dress up costume for kids

To be honest–this brings up mixed emotions for me.  I am proud of my husband’s sense of honor and duty and his desire to serve his country.  At the same time, the thought of my little baby–who will always be my little baby–going off to war makes me tear up a little.  Of course, this is all at least sixteen years in the future and I will support my little man no matter what career path he chooses.

For now, he’s just a two year old, dressing up like his daddy.  He is proud to wear this uniform–now if I can just convince my daughter that she isn’t a drill sergeant!

WANT IT: The Aeromax Jr. Camouflage Suit starts at 18 months and fits kids in 5 sizes: 2/3, 4/6, 6/8, 8/10 and 12/14 and is machine washable.

Disclosure: Aeromax sent me the Jr. Camouflage Suit for review. All of my opinions are my own.