2013 Reads

I doubt I’m going to be finishing any more books in the next week and a half, so I thought I’d do a round-up of books I’ve read this in 2013. As you can see, I don’t do much reading on my own anymore but I steadfastly still read with Jack every night.

Read on my own or with book club:

  1. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
  2. Alif the Unseen – W.G. Wilson
  3. John Dies at the End – David Wong
  4. Warm Bodies – Isaac Marion
  5. Stepcoupling – Susan Wisdom
  6. Your Seven-Year-Old –  Louise Ames
  7. The Sensory Child Gets Organized – Carolyn Dagliesh
  8. The Highly Sensitive Child – Elaine Aron  [still reading]
  9. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clark  [still reading]

Read with Jack:

  1. Bunnicula – James Howe
  2. Howliday Inn – James Howe
  3. The Celery Stalks at Midnight – James Howe
  4. Nighty Nightmare – James Howe
  5. Bunnicula Strikes Again – James Howe
  6. How to Train Your Dragon – Cressida Cowell
  7. How to be a Pirate – Cressida Cowell
  8. How to Speak Dragonese – Cressida Cowell
  9. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory  – Roald Dahl
  10. Charlie & The Great Glass Elevator – Roald Dahl
  11. James and the Giant Peach- Roald Dahl
  12. The Magicians of Caprona – Dianna Wynne Jones
  13. The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet – Eleanor Cameron
  14. Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet – Eleanor Cameron
  15. Mr. Bass’s Planetoid – Eleanor Cameron
  16. Warriors: Into the Wild – Erin Hunter
  17. Warriors: Fire and Ice – Erin Hunter  [still reading]
  18. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda – Tom Angleberger
  19. Darth Paper Strikes Back – Tom Angleberger
  20. The Secret of the Fortune Wookie – Tom Angleberger
  21. Stardust – Neil Gaiman  [still reading]

Jack has read several chapter books on his own, as well, including a Geronimo Stilton chapter book but I haven’t done a good job of keeping track of them all so this is what you get…

The Sensory Child Gets Organized [Book Review]

If you’ve been reading my blog this year, you probably know that we’ve struggled with sensory issues with Jack. We didn’t know whether these struggles were related to his fight with cancer (treatment can affect many things) or if the issues had been less noticeable earlier in his life because he wasn’t under so much stress. He’s always been a sensitive kid – I can remember setting him down on the lawn outside our apartment at nine months old and his look of consternation when he realized he was surrounded by pokey blades of grass. He kept trying to crawl away and shrinking back from the sensation of the grass against his palms. Frustrated, he started crying and reaching for me. After that I learned that if we put a blanket down on grass, he wouldn’t leave it – no playpen needed.

blanketingrass

When he wasn’t busy avoiding certain textures, he would sit and scratch his fingernails on others – which made me cringe. Getting Jack to eat solid foods wasn’t easy. He shuddered and gagged on so many textures. He also wouldn’t tolerate sticky or dirty hands and would hold them out and wave them at me while “uh uh uh”ing until I wiped his hands. This never bothered me – it was always easy to keep him clean because he would avoid being wet or muddy. It also never went away.

Later on, we noticed that he was sensitive to sound. He was easily startled and would cover his ears when a large truck passed by outside – even when we were cozily tucked into our house. He can’t STAND to hear me sing and will throw a fit until I stop.

He’s always had trouble with transitions, too. I don’t remember a time when I could just put a new pair of shoes on him – it’s always been a struggle. Coming home from a trip usually involved a meltdown, which we dealt with by sitting in a dark room together while I rocked and shhhhh’d him.

Many of these things have come and gone over the years and been fairly manageable. We just thought “that’s the way he is.” But earlier this year when clothing became such a problem that he was missing school, I realized maybe we needed help. We had him screened for sensory issues over the summer and there were several problem areas noted. We haven’t had a chance to follow up on the recommendations, though, due to Jack’s unstable health. Such is life, right?

When the offer to review the book “The Sensory Child Gets Organized” by Carolyn Dalgliesh came my way, I jumped at it. In between a zillion oncology appointments, I could get some useful advice that could help Jack in real time! Because while things like 504 Plans and IEPs will try to accommodate Jack at school, they don’t specifically address or help his sensory issues – only the fallout from them. I would love to PREVENT problems in the future.

Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster

First off, you should know that “sensory” children are dealing with a variety of issues – not just Sensory Processing Disorder. The book gives a great primer on what the various issues are and explain how they each impact children. Here are some statistics for you:

  • 1 in 20 kids have Sensory Processing Disorder.
  • 8.6% of kids are diagnosed with AD/HD.
  • Anxiety Disorders are diagnosed in as many as 1 in 8 children.
  • Currently, 1 in 88 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
  • As many of 50% of kids with a diagnosis also live with a co-existing condition
  • Most kids receive a sensory or special-needs diagnosis between ages 3 to 10 years.
  • Many kids will not be eligible for special services and parents need help supporting day-to-day life at home.

Sensory issues are not unique to one specific diagnosis. This struck me immediately because even if Jack does not qualify for a SPD diagnosis, there is still the fact that cancer treatments are known to impact cognitive function – particularly information processing, memory, and organization/planning. We need help in those areas and the book addresses them immediately, explaining in the section titled “The Sensory Profile: Different Diagnoses, but the Same Core Challenges” that the following issues are discussed inside:

  • Attention challenges
  • Ridigity/Infexibility
  • Anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Social and emotional challenges
  • Low frustration tolerance and/or explosiveness
  • Executive function challenges

Jack deals with all of these to some degree. And as his parent I struggle to help him deal with them in the appropriate manner, especially because I am stressed about other things so often. I’m sure a lot of other families deal with these issues, too – not only those who have diagnosed conditions.

This book has pictures and suggestions for how parents can (EASILY!) help their children focus on what is important by eliminating other sensory challenges that overwhelm their brains. I love this! I am not by nature a very organized person – I am easily overwhelmed by clutter and mess. With that said, I did find that some of these suggestions are things we are already doing to help Jack (and ourselves, frankly):

  • Labeling toy bins so that he can quickly find what he needs without getting overly frustrated and giving up or throwing a fit
  • Calming routines before bed – we read three books and snuggle before saying goodnight – if we don’t, Jack will thrash in his bed unable to calm down and sleep
  • Picking out outfits ahead of time – this way he doesn’t struggle with the choice about what he “feels” like wearing
  • Sorting Jack-specific food and snacks so that they are easy to see and accessible – he has his own shelf in the refrigerator

Things I want to do still:

  • MORE labeling of bins and grouping of toys – according to Jack’s preferences
  • Rotation of bins so that he gets a chance to play with different toys
  • Visual instructions about the process of play (play, then clean up afterward)
  • Build a quiet zone where he can calm himself and feel safe
  • Buy tactile items – i.e. a bean bag chair and a mini trampoline – so that he doesn’t use our pets for this purpose

There are some fabulous suggestions for how to deal with homework, as well. Jack is easily frustrated and asks for breaks often, but we haven’t always been accommodating because we want him to hurry and get it done. But hurrying him tends to have the opposite effect – he gets more frustrated and ends up going slower because he’s overwhelmed. The book suggests building breaks into the homework time and offers ways to organize the homework load (i.e. do harder tasks first) and make it less stressful for the kids. I’m looking forward to trying these tips out this week.

And when I’m ready to delve deeper, there are exercises in the book to assess learning style, suggestions on organizations that may help, and even product recommendations. Can we say thorough?

If you want to check this book out, visit Carolyn Dalgliesh’s website to find out where to get your copy. And, hey, she has a Sensory Parenting blog, too!

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For purposes of this review, I was provided with a free copy of “The Sensory Child Gets Organized” by the publisher, but all opinions here are my own.

AT-AT Attack Battle Game Review & Giveaway

Are you ready for Star Wars Day? If your family is a lover of Star Wars, you can celebrate this epic day (May the Fourth) by winning the Angry Birds Star Wars AT-AT Attack Battle Game by Hasbro!

Now, we don’t play Angry Birds at our house. We tried the app – both Jack and I – but it just made us too angry. It is aptly named. Something about those pigs laughing at us hysterically when we don’t beat a level is too much. It was better for us to erase the game than it was to slam our phone and iPad against a wall.

We do love the concept of Angry Birds, though – a puzzle game where you fling birds at jerky pigs hiding in cleverly configured bunkers. Puzzle games and snark are right up our alley! When the Angry Birds Star Wars game came out, I really wished we did like the game (even if they did leave out the ewoks). So I was delighted to see that Hasbro created a physical game to putter around with. Who doesn’t love flinging flying objects in order to knock things down?!

We received the Angry Birds Star Wars AT-AT Attack Battle Game to test out. Here’s the description from Hasbro:

Stack, launch, and destroy with the AT-AT ATTACK BATTLE GAME, which includes 21 blocks to create the signature AT-AT, a LIGHTSABER LAUNCHER and 12 ANGRY BIRDS STAR WARS figures — including two that are exclusive to this set! Players can also unlock ANGRY BIRDS STAR WARS in-app content with a special code in each pack. (Approximate retail price: $39.99; Ages: 5 & up. Available: Now)

Now, I know this doesn’t have anything to do with the actual playing of the game, but I have to give a shout-out to Hasbro with regard to the packaging. There were no zip-ties and only one plastic tray to contain the bird and pig figures – the rest was cardboard folded in creative ways to keep the pieces in order. We got the whole set out of the box in about 30 seconds! THIS is frustration-free packaging!

My friend Sabrina and I went to town setting up the pieces for Jack (we were excited, okay!). The plastic headpiece for the AT-AT was a bit tough to put together, but it is sturdy so I think it will outlast many wallopings by flying birds. There is a beginning suggestion for how to set up the pieces on the AT-AT platform but there are a bunch of different configurations you can come up with – it’s a bit like Tetris. I’m sure if you’ve played the app enough, you can mimic some of the set-ups you’ve seen there.

There are four birds and eight pigs that come with the set. Each of the birds has a hole in the bottom that you place on the peg on the launcher (it looks similar to a sling shot). You hold the base of the launcher with one hand and pull down the lever with the other, then let go. The launcher sends the bird flying right at the AT-AT and those jerky pigs! It’s REALLY satisfying to knock down a bunch of blocks and see the pigs fly. Bonus: If you miss, the pigs don’t make a peep!

Launching things is one of Jack’s favorite past-times these days, so this game had his interest right away. He didn’t seem to have any complaints, although it took him a few tries to figure out how to aim the launcher and determine the necessary distance for his target. Once he got the hang of it, he didn’t want to stop.

I could see older kids getting bored with this ‘game’ somewhat quickly, though – it doesn’t have any rules so it’s more of a toy than a game. Also some may be bothered by the fact that it takes much longer to set up the blocks than it does to knock them down. Jack thinks setting up the blocks is part of the fun, though.

Side note: At a $40 retail value, I would have loved to see this game come with a carrying case because once you assemble the head of the AT-AT, it won’t fit back in the box it came in. If you have babies or toddlers in the house, you’ll want to keep the pig and bird figures away from them as they may present a choking hazard.

Do you live in the U.S. and want to win the AT-AT Attack Battle Game and have your own Hasbro GameNight? Entries will be accepted through May 4th. Modes of entry:

Mandatory:

  • Tweet about this post OR share it on Facebook or Google+ (leave a comment with your tweet URL or Facebook/Google+ info) – 1 entry

Additional Entries:

Good luck and May the Fourth be with you!

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Disclosure: I was provided with the above-referenced product in order to provide my review but am receiving no compensation for this post. All opinions expressed here are my own. For more information on my reviews, please see my disclosure page and my summary of sponsored content.

Box Tops Pantry Stock Up Giveaway

If you have a child attending public school, you likely spend at least a little bit of time ripping little squares off the packaging of your pantry contents and collecting them in an envelope to give to your kid’s school. You maybe even hit up your childless co-workers for THEIR box tops. (I can’t be the only one!) I know that since Jack entered Kindergarten, I’ve become much more aware of which products I buy at the store and whether they have the Box Tops for Education label on them. I’m much more likely to choose a brand that will help my son’s school – especially if it’s a better product than the alternative.

Did you know that since its introduction in 1996, the Box Tops for Education program has provided $500 million in funding to schools? That’s a lotta money and it’s the simplest thing in the world to collect little squares of paper and drop them off at your school. These things are on TONS of products that parents buy – food, containers, organizational products, etc.. I guarantee you have these sitting in your cupboards right now. (If you aren’t using them, send them to me! California schools can use all the help they can get!)

Check out this press release detailing the Box Tops program:

Cash-Strapped Schools Welcome Record-Setting Funding from Box Tops
Box Tops for Education® Raises More than $500 Million for Schools

Minneapolis, February 1, 2013 ─ Box Tops for Education®, the nation’s largest school fundraising program, today announced that it has earned more than half-a-billion dollars for schools across the country since it started in The General Mills program began as an experiment on boxes of Cheerios in California with first year earnings of only $1 million. It has grown to include more than 240 participating brands providing needed cash for 90,000 enrolled K-8 schools. At the heart of the program is more than 75,000 volunteer Box Tops for Education coordinators who motivate local school communities to collect the 10-cent coupons which are redeemed for cash schools use for whatever they need most.

To celebrate this milestone, this winter, the program is offering a variety of bonus Box Tops on more than 50 million packages at grocery stores and at btfe.com, allowing shoppers to double their earnings with select products.

School budget cuts have made the program more and more important over the years as it provides unrestricted cash to help schools with their basic operating needs and programs that would not be possible otherwise, such as field trips, textbooks, musical instruments, playground equipment, classroom technology and arts and cultural programming.

“I witnessed the power of the program when I visited several schools in the state a few months ago,” said New Mexico governor, Susana Martinez. “After seeing how easy it was to earn cash for schools, I started encouraging everyone to participate to help students get the things they need most to improve their education experience. I congratulate Box Tops for Education on reaching this impressive level of support for students
everywhere.”

“We are very impressed at how far the Box Tops program has come,” said Mark Addicks, chief marketing officer at General Mills. “To say that we’ve awarded schools more than $525 million through this simple program is amazing to us. However, it’s due largely to our participating brand partners and passionate coordinators that have propelled the program to this level.”

On average, schools in the U.S. earn around $900 annually through the program, but many schools earn more than $20,000 by clipping Box Tops, participating in bonus programs and shopping 300 online eBoxTops® retailers at the Box Tops Marketplace®.

About Box Tops for Education
America’s schools have earned more than $525 million through the Box Tops for Education® program since the program started in 1996, including $47 million just since March 2012. More than 90,000 schools use that cash to purchase items such as computers, library books, art supplies and playground equipment. Schools can earn up to $20,000 by clipping Box Tops coupons from 240 products and can earn eBoxTops by shopping online through the Box Tops Marketplace. To learn more and for a list of participating products, visit www.btfe.com.

Facebook at www.facebook.com/BoxTopsforEducation
Twitter at www.twitter.com/BTFE

To celebrate the awesomeness of this program and their $500 million milestone, I am hosting a Pantry Stock Up giveaway. One lucky winner will get a box full of products with the Box Tops labels right on them. You can stock up your pantry AND help your child’s school raise money at the same time with these tasty items:

  • New Peanut Butter Toast Crunch® cereal
  • Nature Valley® Chewy Trail Mix Dark Chocolate Cherry and Protein Salted Caramel
  • Fiber One® Protein Bars
  • Progresso® Recipe Starters
  • Food Should Taste Good® Chips
  • Green Giant Fresh® Box Tops for Education pencil pouch
  • Hamburger Helper® Sweet & Sour Chicken and Parmesan Crusted Chicken
  • Betty Crocker® Mac & Cheese and Au Gratin potatoes
  • Kleenex® wallet pack and 184 count box
  • Scott® toilet paper (4 roll) and paper towel roll
  • Avery® dry erase weekly calendar
  • Ziploc® bowls and bags
  • Yoplait® Frozen Yogurt free product coupon

Check it out:

To enter:

  • Leave a comment and tell me if you collect box tops for your child’s school!

Get extra entries for:

Please submit a comment for each entry. All entries must be received by Friday, February 22nd.

Please note: This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.

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Disclosure: Information, products and promotional items have been provided by General Mills and Box Tops for Education and its program partners. For further information on my media policies, see my Disclosure page.

Save Your Money, Save The World

Last week I attended a luncheon hosted by my local electric/gas company PG&E and Opower, thanks to Mom Central. The purpose of the event was to share information on how to conserve energy and save money. As a new and, frankly, flat broke home owner, I was very interested in the topic. I need all the money savings I can get and I live in California – home of the rolling blackouts – so if I can avoid those, all the better!

So, here’s the deal with PG&E and Opower. PG&E is the utility company for the majority of California and they have enlisted the help of Opower, a software company, to employ an energy management system that will help engage and encourage customers to conserve energy. PG&E’s revenue is no longer based on how much electricity people use; instead there are regulations in place that state they must develop energy savings programs in order to receive profits. This is a huge win for the environment as it makes everyone more aware of conserving precious resources and a win for consumers because it will save money and keep the power on longer.

A fact that really struck me was that since 2008 Opower has saved enough electricity to take a city the size of Oakland off the grid for an entire year. They’ve done this by harnessing the power of our peers because research has shown that the best way to get people to cut back on their energy use is to educate them about what their neighbors are doing. It’s easy not to think about how much you use on a daily basis and live in La La Land thinking you’re doing plenty for the environment, but if you get a report that shows that you are an energy hog compared to your neighbors? Well, damn, that makes an impact! No one wants to be the asshole neighbor – particularly when they find out they’re being put in a higher rate tier and paying more money because of it.

For my fellow PG&E customers, there are some awesome things in store on the PG&E website. The first is already available – if you log into your account online you can run various reports on your energy consumption and get tailored tips on what your household can do to lower your consumption and save money. It’s super easy to find out about rebates and other incentives you qualify for with this interface, as well. Anybody need some evidence to show their spouse that the old piece of crap refrigerator that clicks all day long needs to be replaced? This is your chance – you can probably even qualify for cash back.

My favorite graph is the one that shows you how much electricity you are using at different times of day – I figure you can catch someone stealing your internets at noon on a Tuesday if you pay attention – “Hm, what’s that curious spike in the middle of the day when no one is home?” You might also be able to detect a malfunctioning appliance before it shuts down completely on you.

Many customers are now receiving printed reports along with their paper bills that show what their consumption is right alongside their neighbors’. A lot of the houses on our block are the same size and have a lot of the same features inside – so if I find out I’m using more electricity than most of my neighbors, I can then go and figure out what they are doing that I’m not! Maybe it really is time to replace those windows.

Even more fun is the social apps Opower has developed. For instance, they’ve partnered with Facebook in order to implement an app that allows you to see how you stack up with your friends as far as energy consumption goes. Nothing like a little bit of friendly competition to inspire environmental conscience, right?

I’ve jumped right into using the online tools. Our energy usage is pretty good so far and our bills are manageable, but I’m hoping we can fine tune what we do around the house and make the most of every dollar. (I know my husband is hoping this gets me to turn off more lights around the house. But I NEED LIGHT!) PG&E has shown that those customers who simply log in to the site to review their account and energy usage save 23% more on gas than other customers. One of the tools to assist with this is their energy alert system, which triggers an email, phone call, or text message when you are about to go into the next (more expensive) rate tier. If there are only a few days left in the billing cycle, maybe you can bundle up a bit more and take shorter showers until your next cycle begins and save a bit of cash! I know I would use that cash for a latte…

Opower is partnering with utility companies all over the country (and the world!), so keep an eye out. Here is a list of where they are now so that you can take advantage of these awesome tools:

  • AEP Ohio (OH)
  • Arizona Public Service (AZ)
  • Burbank Water and Power (CA)
  • Commonwealth Edison (IL)
  • Connexus Energy (MN)
  • Constellation / Baltimore Gas & Electric (MD)
  • Southern Company / Gulf Power (FL)
  • National Grid (MA, NY)
  • Pacific Gas & Electric (CA)
  • PPL Electric Utilities (PA)
  • San Diego Gas & Electric (CA)
  • Xcel Energy (MN, CO)

Have you heard of these tools before? Are you using them? If not, I hope you all will all join me in using these tools so that we can start saving money AND the environment.

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I wrote this review while participating in a campaign by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of PG&E and Opower. I attended an informational luncheon and received a promotional item to thank me for my participation.