cool things I like (and a giveaway)

Okay, so it isn’t “Oprah’s Favorite Things,” exactly, but here are three cool things I have recently discovered that I want to pass along to all of you– because when a mom tells me something she loves, I tend to listen.

Carnival Day,” Vanessa Trien and the Jumping Monkeys
Vanessa heads up a Boston-based band that I have never seen in person, but her CD is an absolute fave in our house. If you’re looking for insanely catchy songs that you won’t mind hearing in the minivan a few hundred times, look no further. Vanessa’s got a great voice, and her songs manage to be fun without trafficking in the wise-assed or the potty-based humor.

“Animal MASTERMIND Towers” game
I bought MASTERMIND for the boys because Dr. Toy named it one of the best toys of the year. While they did enjoy it, it was a tad too challenging for them to play (at 5 and barely 7) without me sitting there and supervising (which lessened its appeal considerably, at least in this busy mother’s eyes). Now Pressman has put out this new version of its code breaking game, and it’s much easier for younger kids to play on their own. Each player stacks up six animal tiles in random order; their opponents then have to guess the order of the animals in their tower, without being able to see them. It’s Battleship meets Memory. The boys tell me this game is “awesome,” and I’ve noticed that they enjoy playing their own made-up games with the not-too-cutesy animal cards as well. (This is crucial: if the animals were too sweet-looking, Connor would say the game was for babies.) Pressman Toys has recently put out Looney Tunes and SpongeBob versions of MASTERMIND Towers as well; when the boys heard that, they decided we would also need each of those versions in order for our board game options to be complete.
At its very reasonable price point, I’m going to get a few to keep on hand for birthday presents.

–the “Time Timer
At Connor’s curriculum night last week, his second grade teacher extolled the virtues of this nifty little device. It’s a timer with a red disk, giving the viewer a visual understanding of time elapsing. When time runs out, you can choose to have an alarm go off, or not. “I just got it, and I don’t know what I ever did without it,” Connor’s teacher raved, and I must concur. This morning at 7 a.m., I pulled it out (for the first time) and set it. “If you guys get completely ready for school before the red runs out,” I said, “you can watch a show.” Off my three kids were like shots out of a cannon. All three of them got at least 20 minutes of beloved programming in, and I didn’t yell, wheedle, threaten, or throw anything. 6 year old Seamus, the pokiest of children, was particularly taken with the timer- and I think the visible time remaining really helped him stay on track. I’m going to use it for homework, Wii, and probably for myself, to help stay on task while the kids are at school. (If you want to save money on the desktop version, and have an iPhone, there is also a $4.99  Time Timer app).

There you have it: three of my cool new things (new to me, at least). Vanessa’s album was a gift from a family member; I bought my own Time Timer; and Animal MASTERMIND Towers was given to me by Pressman Toys, with the request that I review it for this blog (little FTC disclosure there). Here’s the good news: Pressman has offered another copy of the game for me to give away to a lucky reader, so I’m going to do a giveaway! That is something exciting and new on this blog… hope you enjoy. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below, telling us all *your* cool thing you think other moms might want to know about. The giveaway will include all comments this week. Good luck!