Archive for August, 2010

Bunny in a stroller, snake in a sling

Our house bunny needed his nails clipped yesterday.  It was such a hot day, and I had to bring all the kids with me, I thought – I am NOT carrying a pet carrier all around the mall.  So we did the next best thing, and hauled the old twin baby stroller out of the basement.

Wary of strange people’s stares, I carefully placed a blanket over the top of the stroller, and it looked like any other baby stroller.  The only problem I could see, would be running into someone I knew, who would then think I had another child!

We ran all our errands, and headed to the pet store.  Pulled up the stroller, and uncovered the pet carrier.  There was already a customer at the counter, buying some tasty mice for her pet snake.  She was gently petting and rubbing her snake, while talking to the clerk and paying for a mouse dinner.

When she finished, she lifted up the snake and gently placed him in a baby sling, which she placed over her shoulder.  As she left the store, I laughed.  I mean, how strange is that?  A bunny in a stroller, and a snake in a sling.

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Review: Nerf, Part 3, Lazertag!

Ever play Lazertag?  It’s basically a game where you run around and target each other, with guns that are smart and can keep track of how many hits you‘ve taken (health) and shots you’ve fired (ammo).  After so many hits, you’re “dead” and the other person wins.  It’s good active fun, with lots of running, hiding, and sniping.

Hasbro sells a Nerf branded, basic Lazertag System 2 Pack set that comes with 2 Phoenix LTX taggers (1 blue, 1 gold) and retails for around $50.  This 2 player system is a relatively inexpensive introduction for your kids into the world of lazertag.

Each Phoenix LTX tagger (made by Tiger Electronics) has interactive lights, sounds and vibrations, including:

  • Built in fire recoil – activated with every shot fired.
  • Rumble pack – hit vibration lets you know when you’ve been hit.
  • Manual reload – when you run out of your virtual ammo, you have to “reload”, which activates an integrated ammo clip, and you need to smack it back up into the handle of the tagger.
  • Force field style shield – blocks hits for 10 seconds.

The tagger comes with switches for:

  • Indoor/outdoor
  • Strength:  10 or 25 (This sets how many times you can be hit before you are “dead” – make sure everyone has these set to the same level before you start)
  • Off/solo/team 1/team 2

and also has indicator lights for:  ammo and strength (that’s your health/hits meter).

The Lazertag System 2 Pack is designed for home use, but we take ours with us and play at playgrounds, and parks.  You can also buy additional taggers for team battles; we only have 2 taggers, and will probably get 2 – 4 more, so more of our family can play in team battle mode (parents vs. kids?).

Recommended for ages 8 – 15 years.  I’m not sure a 6 year old would be able to understand the different lights and settings, or if they would just run around screaming.   Very small kids would probably be more comfortable holding their taggers with 2 hands (which will help them be dropped less), while older kids and adults can easily use 1 hand.  Also, these guns are electronic, so I would avoid dropping them as much as possible; I imagine they it’s not good for them to be smacked into things, or dropped.  Be warned – be sure to pick up a big pack of AA batteries, as you’ll need 6 for each tagger. 

Some people take their lazertag very seriously, with tournaments and massive team battles, along with expensive equipment.  Me?  I just want a quick, fun, inexpensive game for the kids (who beat me every time – clearly I need more practice). 

Note:  The Lazertag 2 pack system you can buy for $50 is just the basic 2 LTX taggers.  For $300+ (on eBay and Amazon) you can get the Lazertag multiplayer system which, in addition to the 2 LTX taggers, includes 2 SHOT BLAST attachments, 2 Pinpoint Sight (green dot sight) targeting units, and 1 video game module.

In conclusion:
All in all, I’ve found that Nerf toys are a good investment – they last a long time, and get played with a lot.  Unlike some toys that break quickly, or that get played with once and that’s it.

The thing I like best about Nerf, though, is that they’re family toys.  Mom and Dad can get in on the action during epic, house wide Nerf gun fights with secret bases, sniping, and lots of overly-dramatic jumping and rolling around.  And, I’ve taken on the boys more than once, in elimination-style swordfighting tournaments.  Lastly, there’s that lazertag practice I need, too – I will defeat them someday…

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Review: Nerf, Part 2, Guns!

Nerf makes guns more than any other weapon.  Most Nerf guns have interchangeable ammo – larger guns with ammo clips, or rapid fires, use snub nose darts; smaller guns use suction cup tipped darts.  They also have dart tag guns that use Velcro tipped darts, and a few guns that shoot foam balls.

When you’re selecting a gun, there are some important considerations:

  • easy to carry – especially when running or hiding
  • good maneuverability – not too big and unwieldy
  • easy and fast to reload
  • accurate aim
  • fires darts a good distance (usually the bigger the gun, the farther it fires, but that is not always the case)

It’s also fun to have lots of guns for teams, so when in doubt, go for quantity and price – it’s better to have 4 $10 guns, than to have 1 huge $40 gun.

The most important thing about Nerf guns?  Respect your ammo.  Take good care of your darts – keep them in a container where they won’t get smushed, squished, or bent.  Damaged darts won’t fire as well, or go as far.

Want to know the secret to winning a Nerf gun battle?  It’s all about the ammo – the easiest way to shut down the other team is to pick up, and keep (or hide) all the ammo they fire at you.

Some of the guns we have:

  • Longstrike ($35) too big gun.
  • Raider Rapid Fire CS-35 ($29) sick, awesome gun; lightweight, lots of ammo, but takes time to load all that ammo.
  • Maverick ($13) small, can hold 6 darts.
  • Recon CS-6 ($20) way too big; we don’t even use the back/shoulder piece or the site.
  • Dart tag ($27) we don’t use the Velcro darts too much, as they’re dangerous to the eyes; we don’t use the vests at all, or the glasses.  It’s a nice idea though, we just use it differently.
  • Nite Finder EX-3, 2 pk ($13) My favorite guns by far; small, lightweight, and accurate.  Add a couple AA batteries, and you get a red laser site, which is fun.  Only comes with 6 darts, so get an extra pack of darts, or you’ll spend all your time hunting for ammo.
  • Firefly REV-8 ($21) nice size, comes with 8 glow-in-the-dark darts.
  • Big Bad Bow ($20) we didn’t bother assembling the plastic bow parts; we just use it as a gun, with extra big rocket arrow darts!
  • Magstrike ($20) rapid fire nerf guns are dear to my heart; there’s nothing like pouncing out and nailing someone with 10 darts in a row!  Comes with a quick loading magazine that holds 10 darts.
  • Longshot CS-6 ($58) another too big gun; we could never successfully keep this gun assembled, and the actual gun part broke.
  • N-strike ($75) worth the money; this gun is actually 3 separate blasters – a Scout Blaster pistol, a Hornet with 6 shots, and the Titan Blaster which is a huge rocket launcher (we don’t let the kids use this one unsupervised in the house).  You can assemble them to make “one awesome unit of soft foam rubber destruction”, but we just use them separately, ‘cause seriously, this thing is massive and heavy as one unit.
  • Nite Finder (single pack) ($7 – 10) the best gun for quantity; buy the 2 pack, tho, it’s cheaper.
  • Micro Darts refill pack ($10) include 30 suction tipped micro darts, and a little mesh bag.
  • Suction Darts 36 pack ($10) no mesh bag, but you get 36 darts.
  • Clip system, snub nose darts 36 pack ($9) for using with rapid fire or recon guns.

Update:  Just read on Crunchgear about the up and coming Nerf N-Strike Stampede ECS-50. The first fully automatic NERF Clip System blaster – shoots 18 darts a minute and includes 3 full clips, 1 small 5 dart clip, a bipod, and a blast shield.  Retail cost will be $55.  This gun looks huge, but wow, sounds like maximum extreme fun.

Hands on with the Nerf Stamped ECS-50 from CrunchGear on Vimeo.

 

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Review: Nerf, Part 1, Swords!

Our family loves Nerf.  Loves, loves, loves Nerf!  When I buy a Nerf toy, I know I’m getting a durable, quality built, fun toy that will keep my kids active.  We should buy Nerf stock.  Seriously, with the amount of Nerf toys we have purchased over the years. 

Nerf sells a wide variety of dart guns, foam swords, and even a lazertag set.  If you’re looking for good, safe, active fun that’s great for indoor play especially on rainy or subzero days, get a Nerf.  And having a bin full of Nerf toys is always good for something to do when your child has friends over.

Part 1:  Swords

Nerf makes 2 different foam swords – a smaller one, and a bigger one.  They’re both durable and colorful, but are very different.

Nerf’s smaller sword (32” long) is the N-Force Fury Sword, which comes in 2 colors:  Shadow Fury Blue and Thunder Fury Yellow.  These are lightweight, 1 handed swords, good for younger kids.  They have a shorter reach than the larger sword, and don’t hurt when hit, unless you’re seriously smacking someone.  You can move quickly, and slash fast with these swords – there’s no flopping around like the bigger sword.  Recommended for ages 6 – 9; I think they’re perfect for any age that can hold a sword, more like ages 3 – 93.  Retail is around $12 – $15.

Nerf’s larger sword (41” long) is the N-Force Marauder Long Sword, which comes in red and black.  These are weighty, 2 handed swords, good for older kids.  They have a long reach, and will hurt when you get hit.  Slightly floppy due to the weight and length, you do need to be a little bit careful when swinging.  Recommended for ages 6 – 12.  It would be difficult for a child under 6 to wield this sword, but for preteens or teenagers, or even grownups (like me!) this sword is a dream.  It’s so much fun to hold the Marauder long sword in your hands – your really feel like Link, with the Master Sword (for Zelda fans out there).  Retail is around $20 – $30.

We tell the kids that swordfighting is more about form, style and movement, and using your imagination than it is about hurting your opponent.  It’s important when battling to have a fair fight, and that your weapons have similar reach.  No hits to the head or face are allowed, of course.  We typically play with touch damage rules, meaning for example, if your opponent touches or strikes your arm with his sword, you can no longer use that arm.  It gets pretty hysterical when you only have 1 functioning arm and leg, and you’re hopping around blocking hits.  Next on our list to buy?  The Warlock Axe – at least 2 of them.

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Cooking With Kids: Lemon cheesecake

lemoncheesecake

This is the best cheesecake I’ve EVER made, and it’s perfect for little helpers.  You’ll need to plan ahead for this delicious dessert – if you want this cake for dinner, then cook it before lunch.  This recipe takes time to soften the cream cheese, 20 minutes to make, 1 hr 15 minutes to bake, an hour to cool, then a couple hours in the fridge before eating.  Plus, everything takes longer when cooking with kids, and you don’t want to rush and get stressed out.  The goal is to have fun, and end up with something tasty to eat.

Ingredients:

¼ cup melted butter (that’s ½ stick)
1 pack graham crackers (they come 3 packs to a box usually), crumbled
Have your child open the pack of graham crackers and put them into a freezer (sturdy) ziplock baggie (at least as big as quart size).  Squeeze air out of the bag, then have your kid put the baggie on the floor and dance on it, til the crackers are stomped to bits.  (If crumbs start coming out, stop immediately, and get a new baggie.)
¼ cup sugar (for crust)
1 ½ cups sugar (for cake mixture)
3 packages cream cheese, 8 oz each, softened
A couple hours before, pull 3 packages of cream cheese out of the fridge, and place on the counter to warm up and soften.  (If you forget, just unwrap and microwave each pack for 15-30 seconds until soft.)
4 eggs
¼ cup lemon juice, or juce from 1 lemon
Zest from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Equipment:

9” springform cheesecake pan; spray with nonstick cooking spray.
3 bowls – 1 small plastic, 1 medium glass, 1 large mixing.
Rubber spatula
Mixer

Step 1:
Melt butter in medium glass bowl in microwave.
Add graham cracker crumbs.
Add ¼ c. sugar.
Stir.
Dump crumbs into cheesecake pan, and press down with the back of a spoon evenly until flattened.

Step 2:
Unwrap 3 packages of cream cheese and put in large mixing bowl.
Beat till fluffy.
Add 1 ½ cups sugar.
Add eggs.
Never have kids break eggs directly into the mixing bowl – break eggs, one at a time, into a small bowl.  Pick out any stray eggshells, then they can dump the egg into the mixing bowl.
Add lemon juice and lemon zest.
Add vanilla.
Mix on low.
Pour on top of graham crust in cheesecake pan.

Step 3:
Place in oven at 300 degrees for 1 hr 15 min – I do bottom rack for 1 hour, then top rack for 15 minutes.
After cooking, set on top of the stove to cool, and take a knife and carefully run it around the outside edge of the cheesecake.  This will keep it from cracking as it settles and cools.  When cool, place in the fridge for a couple hours, then enjoy!

lemon

Cheesecake photo: by Juanelos.

Lemon photo: by Axhaaarry.

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Raising a black swallowtail caterpillar to butterfly

One night while eating dinner, my daughter looked at the bouquet of wildflowers on our table, and exclaimed “Look!  A caterpillar!”  Sure enough, there on a Queen Anne’s lace was a tiny, tiny caterpillar – the same size as the tiny, single dark red flower in the center.

We carefully placed the flower and caterpillar in a large plexiglass bug cage, and went out and picked a handful of fresh Queen Anne’s lace flowers.  With the stems placed inside layers of soaking wet paper towels and secured in a ziplock baggie, the flowers will stay fresh for days.  We also placed a stick diagonally inside for when he (she?) is ready to crawl up and form the chrysalis.

He ate like a pig for over a week, and we kept adding fresh flowers every couple of days.  This morning there was a chrysalis.  In less than 2 weeks the butterfly should emerge, stretch out his wings, then wave them slowly up and down to dry.  We’ll have to be sure to release him soon after this happens.

Raising a butterfly, and watching him change from tiny little caterpillar to big fat caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, is fun and awe inspiring.  If you find a caterpillar you can probably figure out what type of butterfly it will be based on the plant you found it on.  For example, Queen Anne’s lace = most likely black swallowtail; milkweed = most likely monarch. 

Be sure to have a safe, spacious environment that allows room for a butterfly.  Make sure the kids know not to handle the caterpillar or butterfly unless you’re watching (don’t handle the chrysalis at all).  Place the cage in a safe spot, where it won’t get knocked over by accident.  Check online to see what your caterpillar likes to eat, and keep plenty of fresh food available.  According to Wikipedia, black swallowtail caterpillars eat a diet consisting of dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, and parsley.  Once the chrysalis is formed, check often (4-5 times a day) to see if a butterfly has started to emerge.  Be ready to let it go once the wings are out.  When it starts to fly, it will need to go and find food right away.

And don’t forget to take lots of pictures, so your kids can remember this miracle of nature!

Some pics from Wikipedia:

 

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