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Max and Ruby Bunny Party; Tour dates and venue prices vary.

Pros: Entertaining show that captivated my 2-year-old and my 7-year-old — and made Mom and Dad smile, too; catchy, fun songs; running time was long enough to make an afternoon of it, but short enough where the kids didn’t lose interest.

Cons: Seats toward the back made it difficult to see stage details; souvenir prices were steep.

Max and Ruby light up the stage, keeping kids and adults laughing.

Early on, I became a member of Where the Hell are Max & Ruby’s Parents group on Facebook. It always drove me a bit nuts when I would watch the show about two kids — who are the same ages as my kids — that seemingly had no adult supervision. That’s why my husband and I were so excited when, part of the way through this show, the cast took on the age-old question, filling us in on the whereabouts of Mr. and Mrs. Max & Ruby! And that was only one of many memorable moments watching this show.

The show, which is based on the books by Rosemary Wells and produced by Koba Entertainment, centers around Max and Ruby planning a birthday party for an unnamed “super-duper special birthday guest.” Ever-bossy Ruby drags Max into the process, taking him shopping with her to buy a gift for the mystery person and making him help set up the table. Along the way, they take a bus ride, learn about spending money, and meet up with friends.

For example, at one point Ruby is thinking about buying a jewelry box, which, it turns out, isn’t for sale. Why? Because it’s magic! (We get to watch the box’s lovely ballerina dance and twirl around the stage, which my daughter loved.) During the birthday table set up scene, Max brings out all his friends — a robot, a slug, and a spider — which quickly get into the act as well.

We were provided with complementary mezzanine tickets for the New York City showing of Max & Ruby: Bunny Party! My kids truly had a ball. The show takes into account that its audience is comprised of the under-8 set, so they get the kids up and dancing several times throughout the show. My little one was transfixed. She wanted to run up on the stage at one point. My big girl, who at 7 is closing in on “too old” for Max & Ruby also loved it. I spent the second half of the show with her sitting on my lap tapping along to the music.

Songs were adorable. Aside from the Where are Max & Ruby’s Parents ditty, we really liked the Gorgeous number, which has a fun, surprise ending, and one that all parents will identify with. (Who’s kids haven’t tried to put their makeup on?) We also liked seeing familiar characters like Louise, Ruby’s best friend. And Max’s party guests were a blast! Seeing a dancing slug and spider was a hoot.

My only complaints were that we were a little far from the stage. I’d suggest spending a little more to get seats closer to the action. Also, I was a little disturbed (as I always am) when Max does his annoying toddler thing asking for what he wants over and over again. Granted, Ruby is a sister — not his mom — but I wanted to hear someone tell Max he was going on a time-out if he asked for the teeth one more time. (They were shopping, and Max spotted vampire teeth that he wanted.) I used that as a teachable moment for both girls, reminding them that you don’t always get what you want like Max did, especially when you ask for something more than once. Finally, Little Girl was a teeny bit afraid of the robot, but once we reminded her that it was all pretend (and handed her some pretzels) she calmed down.

Overall, though, this was a delightful way to spend a lazy weekend day. We did skip the souvenirs, which would have set us back $100 if we gave into everything the kids wanted. Instead, we went for the cupcakes and pretzels at the snack bar and hugs at the end of the show, which are always free!


Warning label from 365 version

The warning is a little harsh compared to...

Trader Joe's warning label

the one on the Trader Joe's bottle.

Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Laundry Detergent (citrus scent); $10.99 at Whole Foods

Pros: Clothes were, for the most part, clean after washing. Large bottle means fewer trips to the market.

Cons: Some stains required a second washing, but this is often the case with natural detergents. Contains ingredients that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has expressed concerns about.

I’ve been a Trader Joe’s Liquid Laundry Detergent user for years. I like the product, but it doesn’t get every piece of clothing completely clean all the time. Some stains, like nursery school paint and tomato, require pre-treating with the best natural spot cleaner I can find. This is why — when the folks at Whole Foods offered me a free bottle of their newest detergent — I was thrilled to give it a try.

I got a $20 gift card so I could choose which one was best for me. (There are a lot of options.) I picked the Citrus scent because it is formulated for high efficiency machines, and it was a nice, big bottle. There are some significant difference between the two options. My Trader Joe’s detergent uses coconut surfactants; the 365 Everyday uses sodium lauryl sulphate. Also, the ingredients list is a lot longer. Here’s what’s in Trader Joe’s detergent:

Purified water, plant-based surfactants, earth salts, soy-based fabric softener, cellulose optical brightener, lavender oil.

Here’s  what’s in the 365 Everyday Value option:

Purified water, sodium lauryl sulphate  (plant-based anionic surfactant), laurel alcohol ethoxylate (plant-based anionic surfactant), sodium oleate (plant-based anti-foaming agent), kathon (preservative), sodium carbonate (PH control), blend of citrus essential oils, sodium chloride (viscosity modifier).

Now here’s where things get tricky. Trader Joe’s does not elaborate which surfactants it uses. At first glance, it seems like it’s quite possible that the two detergents are pretty close in terms of ingredients. That said, the warning labels on the two bottles are very different. (See above. Click to expand to full size.) One — TJ’s — is a “mild eye irritant.” The 365 version says “harmful if swallowed,” and says contact with eyes requires 15 minutes of flushing and a consultation with a doctor. Okay, so after reading the two bottles and looking at the ingredients, I’m thinking that the 365 option is probably a little more caustic.

So…how does it clean? Well, I was impressed with its cleaning prowess. It brightened my whites more than my usual detergent, and colors came out bright, too. I have done about 20 loads in cold and warm water, and the results are impressive aside from one of Big Girl’s shirts that had purple poster paint and some of my own jeans that had a dollop of mayo and some tomato juice. Both the jeans and the shirt required a second wash, but to be fair I did not use any stain spray on either, which I normally do as a habit.

The cost is also a big plus. I pay $8.99 for a one gallon bottle of TJ’s liquid detergent. The 365 Everyday Value bottle of the same size costs $10.99. Here’s the thing, though: The 365 bottle claims to provide 94 HE loads, while the TJ’s option only does 64. That works out to 14 cents per load for the TJ’s detergent and 11 1/2 cents per load on the Whole Foods version.

So will I be switching over to the 365 version? Probably not. I have a 2-year-old and a 7-year-old. I keep my detergent in an unlocked laundry closet on the same floor as our bedrooms. I just can’t take the chance that one of them will decide to “help,” and get into trouble. Especially since one of the ingredients, kathon, is rated a 6 on the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics database. (You can look at it here, and then look at Dow’s description of the preservative here.)

Written 3/28/2011

UBI Soft’s Just Dance 2; $34.95 from Amazon; Rated E

Pros: Very interactive; lots of great songs; easy to learn. Biggest plus: You can download up to 16 additional songs as of 12/28/2010 via an Internet connection (for a fee).

Cons: Some of the songs are not all kid-friendly. Different enough from the original Just Dance to frustrate said kids at times.

This review should have been up before Christmas since, if my Facebook friends are proof of a trend, most people have purchased the game already. Everyone, it seems, is having a ton of fun with this game. We’re among the having fun camp.

When we first got the game in the mail I couldn’t wait to rip it open. We’ve got the original game and have logged hours as a family playing it. All I knew about the new version is that it had 44 new songs. Whoohoo! I was jazzed about some of the old school stuff (Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and the cover version of Madonna’s Holiday, for example) and my husband was SO excited about The Ting Tings’ “That’s Not My Name,” which he and Big Girl dance around to all the time.

When we turned it on we had to figure out which mode we wanted to play in: Just Dance, Dance Battle, or Just Sweat. We decided to go with Just Dance, which is most like the original — up to four people can dance and get scored on how well they match the on-screen instruction and examples. Instantly, we loved the fact that the menu shows exactly how long each song is in minutes and seconds and gives you an idea of how difficult the moves are and how strenuous they are. For instance,  Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” is rated three for sweating and two for difficulty. We were able to steer away from the toughest songs for my 7- and 2-year-old until they got used to the new-ish format.

The dances, as in Just Dance 2’s predecessor, are challenging but fun. The on-screen graphics are easy to follow, and the moves are actual dance moves. Yes, some are very corny, but hey, this is Just Dance, after all! The songs are a nice mix of pop, rock, oldies, and rap, and although I think some of the songs are NOT appropriate for little ones (Pussycat Dolls, anyone?), I can’t really complain since there is a Just Dance Kids for the younger set.

Since I am an exercise buff I was really excited about the Just Sweat mode. The kids didn’t realize it, but I did: I could use this mode to see how many calories I was burning and it would force me to complete my daily routine. (Well, maybe not force, but shame.) Here, you can pick Mild (one song), Tough (3 songs), or Intense (6 songs) mode, and get a mini workout that’s fun and won’t become boring.

Overall, I am extremely happy with Just Dance 2. It is a game that I can see playing over and over again, especially with the added bonus of being able to download new songs as they come out. My only complaint: My husband is already better than I am at some songs. Not UBI Soft’s problem, though, right?

The bottle starts its journey: Waiting for the LIRR train to arrive

Takeya USA Reusable Glass Water Bottles; $19.99 and $24.99, depending on the size. Available in mid-August at TakeyaUSA.com, Amazon.com, The Container Store, and specialty retailers.

Pros: Naturally BPA-free; easy to clean; strong, break-resistant glass; comes with silicone cover; dishwasher safe.

Cons: No sports cap; although glass is strong, it’s still glass so I would not send this to school with my daughter.

My quest for a new drink container started when my husband started working in the city. He needed to eat breakfast on the train, and didn’t want to be buying single-use orange juice containers. They were expensive and didn’t give him the right amount of juice. (The guy goes through almost a quart at a time.)

Stainless steel wasn’t a good choice. Something about an acidic drink and a metal container just didn’t sit right. And then I got an email from the folks at Takeya USA. They wanted to introduce me to the company’s newest reusable bottle line. Yes, bottles as in glass.

They sent me two bottles to try out: The Modern and The Classic. From the press release:

The Modern is available in 16oz and 18oz sizes with a wide mouth for easy drinking, an airtight twist cap and easy-carry loop. The Modern comes in soft colors ice green, ice pink, ice blue, natural and black mist with suggested retail price of $19.99 and $24.99.

The Classic Glass Water Bottle is inspired by the iconic American milk bottle, with substantial walls and a smooth rounded spout. Available in 16oz and 22oz sizes with bright colored silicone jackets, the Classic comes in green, cobalt blue, purple, black and fuchsia with suggested retail price of $19.99 and $24.99.

Okay, but how would they hold up in regular use. This is glass we’re talking about, after all. Three words: I love them. And yes, they are extremely sturdy. My husband took the modern with him to work. First, he loved the size. He could have his fill of cold orange juice without plunking down $2.50 for a little carton. He liked the silicone jacket, saying it was easy to hold on to and kept it from bumping around too much. (He also said people on the train looked at him like he was holding some sort of explosive device. After looking at the photo, I can see why.

Is it juice or some sort of dangerous liquid?

Still, that bottle made it to the city and back without nary a scratch. And it didn’t leak at all. At all. That’s very important for anyone sharing a train or subway seat with other people. It even survived my trunk. He tossed the empty bottle into my trunk where it rattled around over the weekend. (I found it Monday when I went back there to grab a reusable shopping bag.)

Other pluses: The see-through area on the silicone cover is a good way to keep track of how much is left inside. That’s one of the main complaints I have with my stainless steel water bottle: you can’t tell how much water is left! It washed up beautifully, too. I stuck the whole thing — sleeve and all — into the dishwasher and took it out looking clean and shiny.

I decided it needed to get the ultimate test, though: a spin class. So I toted it to the gym the other night. Here’s where I found one of the negatives: the lack of a spout. It’s really hard to keep uncapping the bottle when you’re trying to do jumps on a bike. I actually spilled water down my tank top at one point. I was rushing, and the bottle top was very wide. Yes, this is a plus at a desk or on the beach where you want a wide spout to put ice through or pour a drink from, but the gym — not so much.

Overall, though, I am thrilled to be adding the Takeya USA products to my reusable bottle arsenal. In fact, after spending some time on the company’s website, I’m off to find a few more of its products. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll be adding a spout soon!

The snaps make it easy to size the diaper to your baby's measurements.

Smartipants; www.smartipants.com; $14.95 for a single diaper

Pros: Adjustable design so you don’t have to buy multiple sizes; absorbent insert and waterproof outer cover to keep baby (and clothing) dry; washes well.

Cons: Insert can be difficult to insert; not thrilled that the snaps are plastic; packaging warns against using diaper creams or lotions.

When I had my first baby six years ago the cloth diapering options available weren’t great. I considered them, of course, but in the end we used disposables. When our second was born in 2008, I campaigned hard to use cloth diapers. But my husband, who was handling a lot of the childcare at that time, flat out refused. It would be messy, he said. It would be a pain. And since he was going to be handling most of the daytime diaper changes I couldn’t really do much about it. We went with disposables again. (We bought the unbleached Seventh Generation diapers whenever we could.) And, like the first time, we potty-trained very early. My little one has been in undies since about 19 months, wearing diapers for naptime and overnights. I do wonder, however, if our diapering decision would have been different I had access to Smartipants right from the beginning.

Smartipants, which are reusable cloth diapers, are unique. The first thing that struck me was that you really could use them from the day you took a baby home from the hospital to the day you finished potty-training. They are designed with two sets of snaps — not Velcro — all of which are guaranteed for two years. There’s a line of snaps across the top to fasten it around the baby’s waist and two vertical lines that shorten and lengthen the diaper. (Picture overalls. Know how you can make the straps tighter or looser depending on which button you snap? Same deal here. They get “shorter” and “longer” depending on how you snap it all together.) I absolutely LOVED the snaps because Little Girl, who is prone to taking off her clothes at nap time, couldn’t work them! This alone makes the Smartipants a great addition to our repertoire.

Getting back to the design: The outside of the diaper has elastic on the waist and leg openings to keep everything solid inside where it belongs. The diapers do a good job with liquid waste, too, due to a super-fluffy and absorbent insert that sits inside what the company calls a Smart Sleeve. It’s smart because you don’t have to pull the dirty insert out of the sleeve before throwing it into the wash. It comes out on its own during the spin cycle.

We got a single Smartipants to review, which worked well since we’re not going through a ton of diapers. My little one mostly stays dry during naps, but when she did urinate in the diaper the wetness stayed inside where it belonged. We tested the diaper overnight, too, and we also had the same result: clean, dry sheets, pajamas and sleepsack. I will mention, however, that my kid is not a big drinker, and we’ve never had wet accidents overnight like we did with my big girl. That said the company suggests adding extra inserts, but I’m not sure how comfortable that would be in the long run. It might be too bulky, but maybe not.

As for the poop: Unfortunately — actually — what am I saying!?! fortunately! — for us, my little one will only poop on the potty these days. However, I wanted to see how well the diaper cleaned up so I (can’t believe I did this) took the poop out of her potty after she used it and put it into the diaper. Then I pressed the two sides together to simulate a little one sitting on a mess. I must say it didn’t stick to the inside of the diaper. I was able to open up the Smartipants and drop the waste right into the toilet with some residual staining left behind.

Overall, I really liked using the Smartipants diaper, and was impressed with the way it held waste in and cleaned up post-urine and post-poop experiment. My only complaint was that it is slightly difficult to get the insert into the diaper when it comes out of the wash. It seemed to puff up a bit after it was washed once, so you have to reach your hand into the insert sleeve and move it around a bit to get it to lay flat.

So would I use Smartipants if I was a new mom? I would definitely bring them into the mix, reserving the occasional disposable for when we went out and about.

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