Review – Learning to Read with Reading Eggs

Pros:

  • Easy to sign up
  • Long free trial period (5 weeks)
  • Intuitive user interface
  • Good content

Cons:

  • Some words reflect Australian culture (i.e. baby stroller = pram)
  • Can bit bit pricey

Verdict

At least try it for 5 weeks to see if you can get your child interested!

The Online Phonics Program That Kids Love

Visiting Sesame Place – Langhorne PA

Time is flying by and when I blinked, our children are now 4 and almost-2 years old!

To celebrate our 4 year old’s birthday, we decided to head over to the Sesame Place in Langhorne, PA (about 1 hour drive from New Jersey).  My wife was bit concerned about some negative reviews she read (i.e. rude people, rowdy teenagers, etc.) but because we decided to visit the park on Friday, we thought there would be less crowd to contend with

Date of visit / weather

Friday, May 27, 2011.  Sunny, hot in the upper 80′s

Tickets

There was a  special $20 off per person promo which came out to be cheaper than $5 off $50 ticket prices from AAA.  Children under 2 do not have to pay so we paid for 3 tickets ($55.99-$20 = $35.99 per person; yes, the price is same for adults as for 4 year olds) plus $8 in sales tax for a grand total of for$ 115.98.

If you did not get to purchase tickets in advance, just make sure to stop off at WaWa convenience store.  They had a bunch of $20 discount coupons by the cashier.

Parking

Curiously, Sesame Place’s map do not show parking locations (http://www.sesameplace.com/sesame2/park-info.aspx?id=park-map).  So I drew up a crude version of where they are in relation to the gate/entrance.

Parking locations

If you have young children, I highly suggest paying $25 for the VIP parking spot (you can purchase it online).  With two kids in tow, a stroller, small cooler and assortment of other stuff, having our minivan readily accessible was super-duper convenient!  The spot was literally 30 feet or so away from the entrance so we planned on doing “dry” activities first, come back and change into our bathing suits for the remaining water activities.

Food

We brought a decent sized cooler packed with fresh fruits, yogurts, water, apple juice boxes and snacks, all nestled in a tub of ice.  We originally thought about eating what we brought between activities but decided to eat at Elmo’s eatery because we were all getting very hot and could use the air conditioned air.  So we dutifully ended up spending $41 dollars for 2 Elmo tray of chicken strips with fries, 1 small pizza with fries, 1 bottle of water and 2 bottles of small apple juice.  It was a lot of money for greasy, crappy food, but we sure enjoyed the cold air while we ate!  Just keep in mind that any snack bars and pavilions are all outside so if you want to cool off, you need to go to Elmo’s Eatery or Captain Ernie’s Bistro.

Another option is to leave the park all together and go “off campus”.  There is Pizzaria Uno just outside the entrance, and a host of Wendys/McDonalds/Burger King nearby (Heck, there is a Home Depot and BJs across the street too!).

Other things to consider

Two main electronic pieces you may or may not have.  If you have a digital camera, you want to protect it from water but at the same time, be able to take pictures on demand.  Sesame Place sells hard, clam shell water proof case for $5.50 plus tax but I found it to be be very cumbersome as I needed to make sure I was in a dry spot before taking the camera out and take pictures.  Instead, buy something like this: DicaPac WP410 160x105mm Small Zoom Alfa Waterproof Digital Camera Case with Optical Lens (Clear)Underwater Camera Housings).  The clear plastic allows you to protect the camera from water but you can take pictures wherever and whenever without the need for purchasing a separate waterproof cameras.

Also, you may or may now own a car with electronic key “fob” (you know, one of those remote entry keys).  I could have rented a small locker and leave my sensitive electronic key but I opted to put it inside a zip lock bag and inside the clam shell case I bought at Sesame Place.

Ride Review  – Vapor Trail

This is the only ride that my 2 year old could NOT get on.  Of course, my 4 year old had a blast riding this mini roller coaster.  He loved it so much that we ended up riding it 6 times!  One word o

 

Save yourself a headache. Buy this combo booster seat

Alas, nothing in life is more frustrating than being inundated with information which paralyzes decision making.

Here are some basic criteria to keep in mind when reading:

  • All 50 states mandate that children under 4 be in a car seat while riding in a vehicle
  • Most, not all, states require a booster seat for older kids
  • Most experts recommend parents to rear-face car seats as long as possible (some up to 40 lbs)

The bottom line is that if your child is over 2 years old, weighs minimum of 25 lbs, and measures at least 30 inches tall, Britax Frontier 85 Combination Harness-2-Booster seat may be perfect for your child like mine.

PROS

  1. Improvements over the first generation (Frontier’s max weight is 80 lbs, max adj. height was 18 inches and cup holders flipped out; Frontier 85′s max weight was increased to 85 lbs, max adj. height was increased to 20 inches and the cup holders are integrated or fixed)
  2. Combo seats are generally larger to accommodate dual functionality.  That meant our child can stay in a protected car seat environment longer than a single purpose seat
  3. We were very impressed with Britax Boulevard, our first true car seat, in terms of build quality and side impact protection features so Britax brand was given a priority consideration over others
  4. Consumer Reports magazine rated Britax Frontier 85 (v2) as a best buy choice in January 2010
  5. The seat can be used as a classic harness car seat (using the belt attached to the car seat) and when a child gets bigger, convert it to a belt-positioning booster.

CONS

  1. Belts are not as thick as the ones found in Boulevard so they twist more
  2. Seat cover is hand wash only (definitely buy a piddle pad to minimize washing)

I bought the seat with canyon color but Britax offers other fun-sounding color choices like Cowmoonflage, Maui Blue, Onyx, Pink Sky, Red Rock and Rushmore.

Britax Frontier 85 Car Booster Seat Version 2

Britax Frontier 85 (v2)

When time comes for us to buy a second one, we will probably go with either Onyx or Rushmore (I think they can better hide all those stains!)

MY PURCHASE EXPERIENCE

It was nice to receive the box and notice how “green friendly” it was.  It seems like Britax did a good job of shrinking down the box.

Britax Frontier 85 box

Britax Frontier 85 box

I was initially concerned about this packaging, but upon opening the box, I was pleasantly surprised how the combo seat was tightly packaged to minimize damage that might occur during transit.

trendydads-britax-frontier-85-box-open

Britax Frontier 85 Opened box

Right off the bat, I noticed how much lighter it felt in comparison to Britax Boulevard. Fabric looked and felt nice to touch and seemed like it was made of semi water resistant materials. The overall size was about the same, except the lower portion of the Frontier 85 seat looked slender. As I mentioned before, the thickness of the belts felt thinner than Boulevards’ which might cause more twists.

trendydads-compare-britax-boulevard-to-frontier85

Britax Boulevard vs Frontier 85

Installation was much easier than Boulevard with a safety clip that hooked directed on to the LATCH system. My only complaint was that the strap is adjustable only from one side whereas Boulevard’s strap can be adjusted from both sides. In addition, the locking clip was bit cumbersome. My tip is to actually kneel on the seat then click on the safety clip for tight installation. The seat should move no more than an inch or so.

trendydads-britax-frontier85-installed

Britax Frontier85 installed in Dodge Grand Caravan Minivan

Finally, the bottom seat on Frontier 85 is not as high as Boulevard, providing more head clearance.

And yeah, my kid loves his dual cup holders!  They can hold 5 action figures in each cup!

WHERE TO BUY

When price shopped around, I found that local brick and mortar stores had the highest prices around (especially at Babies R Us).

I recommend buying Britax Frontier 85 from Amazon. Hurry as Amazon is currently offering a 20% off sale so the cost of the seat is $224!  No sales tax for most and free shipping!

For Kansas, Kentucky, New York, North Dakota, or Washington state residents, I recommend CSNstores.com as they also have 20% sale with free shipping.

They both have excellent customer service and free shipping.

REFERENCES

  • Britax Frontier 85 online manual can be found here
  • Converting to a booster seat mode?  Check out this page and click on video
  • If you want to read more about car seats in detail,  I recommend these sites:

ConsumerReports.org

HealthChildren.org

Car-safety.org

Stock up on your emergency kit

You know the cave mentality.  First sign of pending snow storm and every Dick and Jane rush out to grocery stores to stock up on milk, bread, rock salt and snow shovels.

We’ve had more snow accumulation than last year’s total and it is only January!  Are you prepared if you and your young ones get stuck in the house for period of time?

There is simply no time to procrastinate.  Stock up on these emergency items so that when you need them the most, you have them on hand:

  • Flashlights
  • Battery operated lantern lights (kids love them and you can play games with it)
  • Batteries (check the “use by date”)
  • First-aid kit (bandages, Neosporin, tape, gauze, antiseptics, etc.)
  • Toilet paper and other sanitary stuff
  • Hand sanitizer (check the date; older ones tend to dry out)
  • Enough water to last a week (approx. 1 gallon per day per adult; less for children)
  • One week supply of non-perishable food items (canned and dried goods; select the ones with high caloric content)
  • Electrolyte drinks (Gatorade, etc.)
  • Latex gloves
  • Surgical masks (N95 or higher filtration)
  • Manual can openers (more the merrier)

You can find additional stuff to store at the Red Cross site

Save quick 20% off diapers

If you are a subscriber to American Baby and/or Parents magazines, there is a 20% off coupon that you can use at Amazon.

If you are not a subscriber, don’t worry.  Just visit your pediatrician’s office when you get a chance.  They almost always have either or both copies for free.

As usual, buy $25 or more (which can easily be done with just a single box of Pampers or Huggies), you get free shipping.

PS. New coupon code for the month of January begins with “Y”

How to get 40 minutes of zen moment + cup of hot cofee

I draw the line when my kids look like little sumo wrestlers after bundling them up with jackets.  It’s just too darn cold outside to let ‘em play in the snow.

Cabin fever?  check!

Kids bumping around the house like pinballs? check!

Nap time is more than few hours away?  check!

Going nuts trying to get some sanity back?  check!

I thought about baking cookies with them, but with the younger one around, dealing with raw eggs and flour is just asking for trouble.

What about letting them watch cartoons on TV?  Have you actually sat down and watched some of these “cartoons”?  Even shows found on Nick channels need proper supervision due to inappropriate content.  Sponge Bob?  No way!  I used to think Sponge Bob was funny until I recently watched an episode with the kids.  What an eye opener, actually promoting cheating, lying and succeeding!

What about Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Incredibles, etc?  Better get those ear plugs because no matter how hard I try, they always end up watching way more than 30 minutes.

Being a Christian (sometimes good, sometimes bad), I wanted them to at least watch something that will teach them basic lessons as well as limit the amount of time the spend in front of the television.  One day, someone recommended a VeggieTales movie so I borrowed a copy from local library and watched it with my kids.

The story was closely based on Bible teachings and the movie was short (around 35 minutes)!  Awesome!!

By the way, the bad part about borrowing DVDs from the library was that I never managed to remember when I had to return them.  After my last penalty late fee approaching something like 60 bucks, I figured it would be money better spent on acquiring Veggie Tales DVDs, rather than borrow-and-pay-late-fees.

I missed out on an awesome Thanksgiving/Christmas sale at a Christian Book Store.com but, drum roll please, Buy.com has the 30 DVD VeggieTales library for only 100 bucks!

That works out to be only $3.33 per DVD!  Woohoo!  And even better, Buy.com is running a FREE shipping promotion.  No coupons or promotion codes to hunt.  99 bucks for 30 Veggie Tales movies. (surprisingly, Amazon.com’s price is much higher).

If you are unsure of committing to 30 DVDs, I encourage you to visit your library and borrow a copy of any Veggie Tales movie and see for yourself.

Just make sure to refresh your Bible teachings because your kids will ask questions :)

PS.  And yeah, return that DVD on time!!

Keeping the air moist to prevent illness

With two little kids stuck inside during winter, it is very important to keep the house clean and maintain the proper humidity levels.

Too little humidity results in dry noses (frequent nosebleeds), dry skin, cracked finger tips (ouch) and increased chances of getting sick.  Too much humidity is also bad because it can promote mold growth and rot.

So here is what I am doing about it:

1. Get a simple, digital hydrometer (like this one)  I would place them in all bedrooms and in the basement to get a baseline of humidity level.

2. Get a Graco Evaporative Humidifier The reviews at Amazon on this product is low.  The majority of the folks have complained that the fan noise is too loud.  In my opinion, the fan noise is exactly what I need to cancel out the ambient noise (say a 3 year old running around) so that the infant/toddler can soundly go to sleep.  Just make sure to clean out the water tank with soap and warm water before use every night. In addition, the paper filter needs to be turned upside down every 2 or 3 days and replace them if it gets too discolored or dirty (CSNStores.com has the cheapest price)

References:

HealthyChildren.org

Top reasons why you should Buy Adobe CS5 Web Premium

I started using Adobe Dreamweaver MX long time ago then upgraded to CS3 Web Premium (academic version for which I paid around $499 back in 2007).  I especially liked using Adobe Fireworks CS3 to design logos and websites and it worked very under Microsoft Windows XP.

Problems started when I upgraded to Windows Vista, then to Windows 7.  For some weird reason, Fireworks tool buttons refused to work if the active window was re-sized after opening up a file. Talk about a maddening experience. Not only it added multiple clicks and adjustments, sometimes CS3 simply crashed in the middle of a project.

Recently I had the opportunity to test drive the Fireworks CS5 version and I was impressed.  Although I still felt that Adobe should have corrected CS3 bugs, I drawn into by CS5′s snappy operations (yes, I am still using the same laptop that I got with CS3).

WHY SHOULD I BUY ADOBE CS5?

If you checkout Craigslist, you see many Adobe CS5 products that normally cost thousands of dollars for $50 bucks? How is that possible? Stealing.

Now, I am no boyscout so I will leave discussing the morality of stealing for someone else. I concede that any software that costs thousands of dollars is a very hard to to accept, but that does not give anyone a right to steal.

Better and cheaper way would be to sign up for a class at a local community college (say how about that pottery class?) and qualify to purchase an academic or student/teacher edition for far less?  Academic edition has the same features and capabilities of the retail version, and is shipped in a factory sealed retail box. However, this version is able to be sold below the retail price because of an educational discount.

Adobe CS5 Web Premium includes the following:

  • Acrobat Pro CS5
  • Dreamweaver CS5
  • Fireworks CS5
  • Flash CS5
  • Photoshop Extended CS5

Right now, Buy.com is running a sale where Adobe CS5 Web Premium only costs $399!

Just remember that Adobe Student & Teacher Editions are for use by university and college students, primary and secondary school students, faculty and staff ONLY. Before the software can be installed, students must obtain a serial number by submitting proof of eligibility for this Program to Adobe. If the student cannot provide proof of eligibility, the end User will not be able to use this product. Students will receive instructions for completing their validation in the Student Edition box. These instructions will direct them to the Identit-E website to submit their verification. www.myidentit-e.com/adobe-student-edition. Required Proof of Eligibility: You must provide a photocopy of a valid, current student ID that includes your name, a date, and a photo. Students who are under 18 and do not have a valid photo ID may provide an official letter from their eligible educational institution stating their name and current enrollment status.

Diaper update

I kind of stopped posting messages when I was being bombarded with XRumer generated auto posting crap.

But, with economy being what it is, I think I can contribute to my readers with some detailed product reviews so that you can minimize buying crap like I did.

Ok, so my oldest is now about 31 months old now.  As you may recall, we started with Pampers Swaddlers but decided it was waay too expensive, especially since my guy did not have any allergic reactions.  So when he was about 3 months old, we switched to BJ’s house brand.

Now, some people might say it is inferior to Pampers but I have to ask you this question:  if you knew your baby pee’d in his or her diaper, wouldn’t you change it right away?  I don’t get this hold notion of not changing diapers frequently because it can hold more liquid.  I guess under certain circumstance (like being out in the mall), it might be convenient, but for general use, I think using BJ’s brand is better.

Having said that,  I decided to switch the diapers to Luvs for several reasons:

1. Size 6 diaper is slightly wider, preventing poop leaks (yuck)

2. Luvs diapers seem to be softer (but slightly thinner) than BJ’s diapers

3. Luvs diaper seem to better hold liquid than BJ’s

4. Price (with BJ’s manufacturer coupons) is comparable between Luvs and BJs

So, there you have it. If you have a size 6 boy or girl, why don’t you give Luvs diapers a try?  As I recall, Luvs is a cheaper brand manufactured by Procter and Gamble who also manufactures the Pampers brand.

PS.  What is up with Costco?  Because Costco is closer than BJs from my house, I checked out their store the other day.  It seems like the majority of the items are their own Kirkland brands.  Especially for diapers they only had the Huggies and Kirkland!  Instead of paying membership fee, Costco should pay ME to shop there!  lol.

Baby Eczema

Wow, it’s been waaay too long since my last post;  As a stay-at-home dad, I am sure you can appreciate that time is really, really short!

Anyways, I wanted to share a product that has worked wonderfully with my son’s eczema on his face.  Basically, his skin is very dry so he would scratch and make his skin bleed.  Upon his pediatrician’s advice, we ended up buying a product called Eucerin which has worked wonderfully.

The reason why we chose this product is because unlike petroleum based products (Vaseline, etc.), it does not have a warning about accidental ingestion.  We had to apply it for few days to see the results but his skin is now very soft and no more bleeding, yay!