You’re Outa Here

Spring is in the air, so let’s get outside and start having fun!

backyard adventures base camp shelterBase Camp Shelter (Backyard Safari Outfitters)
Journeys—whether they’re a thousand miles or just out to the backyard—start with a single step. But before you start stepping, you need to plan out where you’re going to rest along the way. The Base Camp Shelter is a 3-sided tent, which means you won’t want to use it in the rain. However, it’s perfect for fair-weather overnights, rest stops, shade at the beach, or as a place to observe birds, bugs, and other natural wonders. It has a zippered rear window, moisture-proof floor lining, mesh storage pouches that you can fill with healthy snacks for your weary adventurers, and D rings for hanging lanterns and other gear. It’s also light, extremely compact, easy to carry, and sets up in minutes., thereby removing many of the obstacles that keep kids from enjoying being outside and encouraging them to get out and start having adventures. Ages 5+. About $49. http://www.backyardsafari.com/

Star Wars Science Jedi telescopeStar Wars Jedi telescope (Uncle Milton)
Star gazing is a classic parent-child activity, one that can spark an interest in ancient mythology and/or science. There’s plenty to see with the naked eye, but a telescope can make the whole experience a lot more fun—and educational—for everyone.  The Jedi telescope works like a real telescope, allowing a closer look at the moon, stars, planets, and other celestial objects. When you and your child get tired of seeing things the way they are, you can always explore that famous galaxy far, far away. The Jedi telescope has 10 Star Wars-related images built in, including planets such as Tatooine, Dagobah, and Kamino, and even the Death Star. Ages 5+. $22.00 http://unclemilton.com/star_wars_science/

backyard adventures walkie talkieWalkie Talkies (Backyard Safari Outfitters)
Communicating with basecamp is an important part of any outdoor adventure. And with its two-mile range, you can give the kids some freedom to explore without losing contact. These walkies come two in a pack and include basic instructions and an adventure guide, but not the 8 AAA batteries you’ll need. They’re easy to use and the sounds quality is good—as long as you’re in an open area where there’s not too much to interfere with the signal. Perhaps the nicest thing about these walkies is that they allow you to communicate with your child the old fashioned way: using words. No texts, no apps, no data plan required. $30. Ages 6+. http://www.backyardsafari.com/

little scholar school zone tabletLittle Scholar tablet (School Zone)
When the adventure is over, it’s time to get back to the real world. And the Little Scholar tablet can help with that transition. Made by School Zone, which has been manufacturing educational materials and products for more than 35 years, the Little Scholar comes preloaded with 150 apps, e-books, songs, and videos, all of which are ready to use right out of the box. The apps are the full versions, which means there’s nothing to download and none of those annoying in-app upsells that we’ve seen in some other tablets. The apps cover a wide range of subjects, including math, spelling, and reading in a playful, creative way. Popular titles include the “Start to Read!” E-book series and the “Charlie and Company” video series. The password-protected A+ app is designed for parents, and lets us pick the apps our kids have access to and monitor their progress. Little Scholar runs on Google Android 4.2.2 and has an 8-inch screen with 1024×768 resolution. For kids 3-7 (anyone older than that will want a more adult tablet). $169.99 at online retailers and www.buylittlescholar.com .

No More Bedtime Battles

Getting the kids to go to bed—and actually stay there—can be of the most challenging parts of any parent’s day. The best solution is to have (and keep) a good bedtime routine. But what’s a harried mom or dad to do when the routine doesn’t work? Sometimes, having the right helper is just what the Sandman ordered. Check out some of these fun and innovative new products for bedtime and beyond.

melody mates blanketMelody Mates (Melody Mates)
Most kids (and most grownups too) want a soft, snuggly blanket to cuddle up with. And what could be better than one with a gently glowing, soothing animal face on it? Melody Mates actually goes one step further, pairing the blanket with a matching (and washable, yeah!) pillow. Push a button and calming lullabies play and the LED lights glow—just enough to be friendly and put an end to those bedtime battles, but not nearly bright enough to interrupt sleep (that would be evil, wouldn’t it?). Soft, plush Melody Mates come in six flavors, including cow, duck, frog, and monkey. For ages 12 months and up. About $30. Unfortunately, batteries aren’t included. www.MyMelodyMates.com

broboBrobo (Brobo)
If you haven’t met Brobo and his friends, we’re glad to introduce you. These fun, adorable, cuddly buddies first hit the market in 2012 but were pretty hard to find until now. There’s Brobo himself, Pep, Mumu, Trex, and Dog. All of them have a futuristic, robot feel and a glowing center that looks like Iron Man’s Arc Reactor. They’re great company for your little one, and they’ll definitely help scare away the darkness when it’s time for lights-out. The glowing center has a very bright “flashlight” mode and a much-less-bright nightlight mode. Just swipe a hand (or tail) over the lights to activate. Both shut off automatically after five minutes. $35 at www.brobo.com

 

ok to wake clockOK to Wake! Clock (Patch Products)
If you’ve got a child who gets up at 5am when you were looking forward to sleeping in, the OK To Wake! clock will be your new BFF. The clock will let you child know—even if he or she can’t tell time—when it’s okay to get out of bed and demand breakfast or cartoon time. Just set the desired time and the faceplate will light up. And for those weekday mornings when the kids would like to sleep ‘til noon instead of going to school, the OK to Wake! just switch to alarm clock mode. You can also use it as a night light. Batteries required. $33 at http://www.patchproducts.com

dino petDino Pet (BioPop)
Although Dino Pets are shaped like dinosaurs, they don’t really have very much to do with those prehistoric reptiles. The Pet’s name comes from dinoflagellates, which are the bioluminescent phytopankton that live inside its clear, plastic body. (Yes, we know that dinoflagellates sounds like a dinosaur that has gas or is being whipped.) Like most other pets, Dino Pets are alive and are fun to play with. Unlike other pets, you don’t have to take them for walks or clean up after them. You will have to feed them with the provided Dino Food, though, but only once every few months. During the day, the algae soaks up energy from the sun or low-wattage lightbulb. But at night, they put on an amazing light show—all you have to do is touch the dino’s body or gently shake it. Part night light and part science project, Dino Pets are absolutely fascinating. $59.95. Additional dino food is $14.95, and if your colony suddenly goes extinct, you can order refills for $49.95. http://biopop.com/products/dino-pet

From Me to WWE

cena vs rusev

So my dad, my sister, my daughter, my nephew, and I all lost our virginity at the same time. Really. Okay, it wasn’t THAT kind of virginity. The one I’m talking about is our WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) virginity. This past weekend, the aforementioned group of family members descended on Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara for Wrestlemania 31, WWE’s flagship event. It was, as it should be with other types of lost virginities, a huge amount of fun.

flintstones wweThe day started with a media viewing of “The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age SmackDown” in the screening room where the post-game interviews happen at Levi’s Stadium. It had been a couple of decades since I’d last communed with the Flintstones and the Rubbles and it was great to see how little they’d aged. After that, lunch. Then, out to our seat for the big events.

 

As I kid, I’d watched WWF—the predecessor of WWE—and as an adult, I’d seen some actual WWE on TV so I thought I knew what we’d be in for, but I wasn’t even close. Sure, there were the wrestling matches—that much I expected. But there was so much more—and something for pretty much everyone.

andre the giant wweFor older fans, there was the introduction of the 2015 inductees to the WWE Hall of Fame, which included Kevin Nash, The Bushwhackers, Randy Savage, Alundra Blayze, Larry, Zbyszko, Tatsumi Fujinai, Rikishi, and Arnold Schwartzenegger. And of course there was the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, which was won by Big Show (billed as “The World’s Largest Athlete) who tossed about 20 competitors out of the ring.
[Read more…]

Making Spring Clean and Colorful

When Daylight Savings begins, you know that Spring can’t be far behind—and neither are Easter, Passover, and Spring cleaning. This week, we review some Easter bunnies, outdoor art adventures, and a decluttering marvel.

3d sidewalk chalk3D Sidewalk Chalk (Thames & Kosmos).
The folks at Thames & Kosmos can’t help themselves: they include a really fun, educational component in everything they make. Their new 3D Sidewalk Chalk is no exception.  The kit comes with plaster power, dye, mixing cups, molds, and 3D glasses. The fun starts by making your own chalk by mixing the plaster powder, dye, and water (not included). Then, pour the slurry into the molds. When it hardens, you’re ready to start creating art. Here’s where the science comes in: when you put on the 3D glasses, your drawings seem to jump off the sidewalk. The instruction manual explains how and why that happens and includes directions for making rainbow chalk, and more chalk science experiments. Ages 8 and up. About $15. http://www.thamesandkosmos.com/

crayola sidewalk chalkSidewalk Chalk Mega Pack (Crayola)
Crayola’s sidewalk chalk doesn’t have much science behind it, which means it can focus on what Crayola does best: giving kids tools to make colorful art. The Mega Pack includes 12 large chalk pieces: 3 neon, 3 glitter, 3 tie dye, and 3 basic bold colors. No instructions required. The chalk itself is especially easy to clean up—just hose it off—a big plus if your neighbors are persnickety about their sidewalks. Unlike most other sidewalk chalks, these pieces aren’t cylindrical, which means they won’t go rolling down your driveway into the street—with your child running after it. Ages 6 and up. http://www.crayola.com/

 


alex washable bunnyColor & Cuddle Washable Bunny (Alex Toys)

How many times has your child “decorated” a favorite stuffed animal with a Sharpie? If that sounds familiar, you’ll love Alex Toys’ Color and Cuddle line. The idea is pretty simple: make a toy that’s snuggly, let kids draw on it, and allow them to change their mind whenever they want. And that’s exactly what happens: color, wash, repeat—as many times as you’d like. The only rule is that your young artist needs to use the included markers. The Washable Bunny is perfect for Easter. Other options include a bear, a doll, and a pony. Ages 3 and up. All are about $21. http://www.alextoys.com/

 

funshine easter bearFunshine Easter Bear (JustPlay)
This 16-inch, soft, cuddly, plush gets your child’s best Care Bear ready for Easter too. Cleverly disguised as a bunny—complete with Easter Bunny ears—Funshine is a great addition to any Holiday basket. $24.95 at Amazon and elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

fujitsu ix500 scannerScanSnap iX500 Scanner (Fujitsu)
When we think of “spring cleaning” the images that come to mind usually have to do with sweeping and mopping and maybe reorganizing the garage. But what about all that stuff in your file cabinets? Worse yet, what about all the stuff—including those boxes of old photos—that should be in file cabinets but is sitting around in piles? The ScanSnap iX500 can help. It’s incredibly easy to install and even easier to operate. Drop in a stack of documents, press the button (there really is only one), and in seconds all that paper is transformed into pdfs or Jpegs. Then you can save it to your computer or upload directly to Dropbox and other cloud services. The ScanSnap handles everything you can throw at it, from business cards to long (up to 34 inches)  documents. Put it in crooked? No problem. ScanSnap straightens is out. Upside down? It’s rotated automatically. A great way to keep those important family documents and memories organized. $499.  http://www.fujitsu.com/us/products/computing/peripheral/scanners/scansnap/

Family Fitness: Strike a Pose and Get Ready to Sweat

We all know how great exercise is for us—it’s been shown to have positive effects in almost every area of our life, whether that’s reducing disease risks, combatting depression, or just improving overall wellbeing. But exercising together as a family has some additional benefits. Of course, there’s the bonding part. But besides that, family exercise provides some built-in motivation, encouragement, and can add an element of (hopefully) friendly competition. If you and/or your family are relatively new to exercise, here are a few ways to help you take those first steps towards lifelong fitness. But please, before you start any kind of exercise routine—especially if you haven’t worked out in a while—check with your healthcare provider to make sure it’s appropriate for you and your unique circumstances.

lazy lizards yoga mat and dvdLazy Lizards Yoga mat and DVD (Lazy Lizards)
If one or more of your kids is wiggly and impatient, yoga is a great way to redirect some of that surplus energy. A tremendous amount of research has been done on kids and yoga and there are many documented benefits, including increased strength and flexibility, better ability to manage stress, lower obesity risk, improved balance and agility, fewer sports injuries, and better on-field performance. Some studies even suggest that yoga may encourage creativity, improve memory, and boost academic performance. Yoga, of course, can be done alone, but it’s also a wonderful family activity. The Lazy Lizards yoga mat is the perfect size for children, and has 12 kid-friendly poses printed right on it. There’s even an empty space where kids can draw their own pose. These mats are eco-friendly (meaning they’re made from phthalate-free materials and are recyclable) and come in four colors. Kids can do their own yoga practice by following the illustrations on the mat, or you can pick up the Lazy Lizards yoga DVD, which includes a more structured workout, which includes the little-known pizza pose. The mat is $32, the DVD is $17.95, or you can get a combo for $44.95, all at http://www.lazylizardsyoga.com/ and other retailers.

doyogawithmeDoYogaWithMe
If you’ve got older kids, DoYogaWithMe is a great resource. The website has dozens of free yoga videos that range from 15 minutes to more than an hour. There are three levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and 17 styles to choose from. The instructors are uniformly excellent and the workouts are just as good as you’d find at your local yoga studio. http://www.doyogawithme.com/

sears fitstudioSears FitStudio (Sears)
Sears’s newly re-launched FitStudio is a free, one-stop site that offers a variety of workouts (complete with short video demos of each exercise), a large library of articles on fitness and nutrition, and reviews of dozens of fitness-related products. Once you register (it’s quick and free) FitStudio helps keep you motivated by giving you rewards for incorporating movement into your daily life. If you have a fitness tracker or other similar device, you can connect it to your FitStudio account. You can earn points for walking two miles, burning 1,500 calories, or achieving some other fitness goal you’ve established. You can redeem those points for discounts on merchandise from Sears, sears.com, or kmart.com. Find out more at https://www.fitstudio.com/

sportline sync watchSportline Sync Heart Rate Watch
We’ll be reviewing advanced fitness trackers and fitness-enabled smart watches in future columns, but if you’re looking for a good quality, inexpensive tracker with a lot of features, you can’t go wrong with this one. Besides telling time (you’d be amazed at how many fitness trackers don’t), the Sportline Sync Heart Rate Watch measures steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, and heart rate. About $50 at Sears and other retailers.

Lexus ES300 Hybrid

Lexus ES300h - 2

I’ve never stolen a car—even though the “Fast and Furious” movies and “Gone in 60 Seconds” make grand theft auto seem so glamourous. But after spending a week with the Lexus ES300 hybrid, I was more than a little tempted (yes, Lexus loaned me the car, but that in no way influenced my opinions).

Really and truly, there’s not a whole to say about this car except that it is absolutely amazing. But of course, one wouldn’t expect any less from Lexus. So I’m going to skip over the typical review items and focus on a few lesser-known features.

lexus es300It’s a magnet. As a single guy, I’ve noticed over the years that the amount of attention women pay to me changes depending on the circumstances. When I’m out and about by myself, women often smile at me (despite my fantasies, I’m sure most are just being polite). Going out for a walk with my dog (who’s, admittedly, cuter than I am) doubles the number of smiles. And when my daughters were little, going out with them probably tripled the smiles. I always thought that the combination of me + dog + daughters was the best thing ever. But me + dog + one daughter (the older two are all grown up) + the ES300 was complete insanity. I am, however, still single.

It makes the roads safer for everyone. The ES300 has all the latest and greatest safety features: blind spot sensors, lane change alerts, more air bags than you can count, anti-lock brakes, and on and on. But after testing out the zero-to-70 factor (which was really impressive) a few times and working the suspension by taking a few turns faster than I should have, I found myself actually obeying the speed limit. The reason? Because it’s such a joy to drive that I wanted to make the ride last as long as possible.

lexus es300h clockIt has a clock. Yes, the ES300 is gorgeous to look at (even without my daughters, my dog, or me in the picture), and the interior styling is sleek and stylish. But one of the classiest features of all was the analog clock. For some reason that tiny touch of retro made the whole car seem even more luxurious.

 

lexus es300h interiorIt’s beyond comfortable. As an NPR addict, I often stay in the car after arriving at my destination so I can listen to the end of an interesting segment. With the ES300, I’d frequently take the long way to wherever I was going and, when I arrived, I’d sometimes just sit there, usually with the radio off, reveling in the luxurious interior. My passengers, whether they sat in the front seat or the rear, said very much the same thing. And somehow, driving around looking for parking became a pleasure instead of the trigger for a murderous rage.

Bottom line? At $50,000, it’s a bit out of my price range, so I’m saving my pennies. But it might be cheaper to just hire one of those “Gone in 60 Seconds” guys to do their thing.