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September 29, 2007

2008 Ford Taurus X

Early this summer, I was contacted by Ford's Marketing Group with an interesting proposition...Ford was offering the chance for a few blogging moms to take a brand new Ford Taurus X on a family vacation. They were interested in our thoughts about using the Taurus in real-world situations. Ford is confident that the new Taurus is the ultimate vehicle for moms, and they wanted us to spend two weeks with a new Taurus X, seeing if our experience matched their expectations.

I volunteered immediately. New car smell! Whee!

Wanna see what it looks like? Click here!

When the driver dropped the Taurus X in my driveway, I was impressed with the good looks right off the bat. Gone is the bubble-butt of the older models - Taurus X is a handsome cross-over vehicle. I chatted in the driveway with the delivery driver:

"And you are with who?" he said.

"I'm a mommyblogger!" I announced.

"And you're doing what with this car?" He looked at me over the top of his clipboard, with his eyebrows crunched together in the middle.

"ROAD TRIP! WOOOOO!" I yelled, with my arms raised over my head. He thought I was kidding.

"Are you a journalist?" He was still not understanding. At this point my kids came barreling through the gate and stood panting by the front of the car, oohing and ah-ing.

I was all "I'm super important. I'm a TASTE MAKER!" and then I yelled at the kids to get back inside the fence unless they were wearing pants, because they can't take a pantless test-drive. And maybe go put on some shoes, and wash those filthy hands before you come and touch this pretty new car.

The driver backed away slowly after handing me the keys, and I chuckled as he drove away with his partner.

I'm a taste maker. I kill me.

Our road trip adventure began as soon as everyone put pants back on. We drove around the neighborhood honking and waving. We went to Target and the grocery store to stock up for the week and test out the trunk. 5 full sized paper bags in a row fit nicely, by the way. It also held three medium sized suitcases and a large duffle, plus assorted gear. I really loved the remote trunk opener and closer.

We drove over to my parents' house, and took them for a ride around town. My mom and dad were both really impressed with the smooth ride and luxury features.

"It just feels solid - this is real quality," said my dad.

"This is so much more plush than my car," offered my mom, who drives a 2003 Honda CR-V.

Back at my parents house, I made my dad stand behind the car so I could test the back-up alarm sensor.

"Don't run down your father!"

"I'm not going to," I said. "I just want to see what it does when I nudge him."

When our original trip plans had to be scuttled due to sickness at our destination, we decided to take a trip to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to test out the Taurus X on some varied conditions. Freeways? Check! Mountains? Check! Surface streets and stop-and-go traffic? Check!

The first thing we did was set the navigation system with our destination, and pre-load six CDs in the six-disc entertainment console. Then we took a fuzzy picture to commemorate the start of the drive.

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We also brought along an iPod, because the Taurus has a handy jack for hooking up iPods and the like. We had a few stations programmed into the satellite radio, but didn't give them much air time, since we also had a DVD queued up for the kids on the built-in entertainment center.

We decided to photograph the navigation screen every time the kids asked "Are we there yet?" and then headed off down the road. I couldn't get enough of this awesome little flip-down mirror:

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With a handy third row of seats to keep the "Mom...she's looking at/touching/breathing on mes at bay" we were all smiles as we started our journey south.

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Barf-bags at the ready, too... wouldn't want to besmirch those leather seats.

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18 minutes into our drive and we've already managed to drive right off the beaten path. Danger! Danger! Turn around! Turn around!

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You see this shiny chrome and walnut? Gorgeous right? But those chromed vents sent laser beams of sunlight directly into the drivers eyes at certain sun exposures. Maybe Ford's engineers are taller than my husband and I, but it was squint city for a good hour during the evening commute.

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Here's one of my other favorite features on the car - you see that little button in the middle of the dashboard? That's the ejection seat trigger!

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I'm kidding. (Ford? The Three Kid Circus Special Edition should have an ejector seat trigger. And a sound-proofed barrier between the driver and the passengers. And maybe auto-pilot. And a photon cannon.)

No, that's a shot of the dash compartment as we approach the Golden Gate Bridge.

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And here's where the real road trip fun started.

Are we there yet?

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No.

Are we there yet?

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Seriously? No.

Are we there yet?

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Um? No.

Are we there yet?

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No, and our ETA is over an hour from now.

Are we...?

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What do you think? Does this LOOK like Santa Cruz yet?

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Okay, yes, there are trees. But no. We are not there yet.

And with this traffic? It is going to take a while.

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Oh, no. Don't whine.

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You hit the ejector button, honey.

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Are we there YET?

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No.

Are we there yet?

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Close.

Are we there yet?

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OMG. We are ONE POINT FOUR MILES FROM OUR DESTINATION. STOP ASKING!

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Behold. We are there. And it was good.

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Aside from the chrome-blinding, there was only one other issue I had with the Taurus X:

If you had either the driver's window or the front passenger window down, even half-way, once you hit about 40 miles an hour, there was a horrible acoustic booming that started up. The entire roof of the car seemed to vibrate, and the loud, repetitive booming was deafening. This wasn't a slight noise - it was really annoying. The fix for us? Drive with the windows up at speeds over 40 miles an hour. Still, for such an well-designed, luxurious vehicle, you should be able to drive with the windows down while running around town without having to deal with sonic booming.

Our trip home from Santa Cruz was peaceful, with all three kids sawing logs and my husband and I enjoying some of our favorite tunes on the fantastic stereo system. When Ford picked up the Taurus X, I was reluctant to let it go. I might have thrown a bit of a fit, in fact.

We were quite impressed with the great handling, sporty looks and ample room for passengers and gear in the Taurus X. With the NHTSA five-star rating indicating that Ford Taurus X is America's Safest Crossover, and surprisingly good gas mileage performance, it is not hard to appreciate the value. We'll be in the market for a new vehicle soon, and the Taurus X will be on our short-list of possible new vehicles for our family.

Thank you, Ford! We really enjoyed our experience with the 2008 Taurus X. For more information on the new Taurus.

Some shots from our trip:

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Despite spending several hours in the car, the whole family was eager to ride the horses.

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Me and the girls, sitting on another ride. Really, if we could have stayed in a sitting position for the entire day, I bet we would have.

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Here's where my daughter demonstrated her mad driving skillz, and made me very glad we have eight years until driver's training.

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My husband and son getting ready to ride the train.

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In another spectacular parenting decision, I put all three kids on the mini-sized free-fall ride and took pictures while they screamed in terror. Hey, they wanted to... and you better believe I'll tell their therapists that.

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We made some great memories, and dyed our tongues strange colors, too. All in all, a great getaway.



September 24, 2007

The Little Black Book of Style

Today is Three Kid Circus Auditions' stop on the Parent Bloggers Network tour for The Little Black Book of Style, written by Nina Garcia of Project Runway and Elle Magazine fame. This slim volume is a quick, entertaining look at how the stylish half live - and once I decided to stop sputtering indignantly over some of Garcia's anecdotes, I actually came away with some great ideas for developing and enhancing my own personal style.

I've never been one to hold a narrow view of beauty - and Garcia is right on the money when she says:

"Style comes from knowing who you are and who you want to be in the world; it does not come from wanting to be somebody else, or wanting to be thinner, shorter, taller, prettier....When a woman embraces her "imperfections," they can become her greatest strengths, definers of her character and spirit."

So, yeah. I've got my flaws, but I've always thought I was pretty hot stuff. Glad to know that confidence, however unfounded, is stylish.

With colorful, vibrant illustrations and a chatty style, Garcia comes off as privileged and perhaps a bit out of touch with the average woman's fashion realities, but ultimately gives great guidelines for selecting quality pieces, creating your own signature look, and finding inspiration all around you.

I really enjoyed the section on movies and musicians - Garcia points readers to some classic looks captured on film and breaks the looks down, explaining what worked, and why. I also loved the Q&A with some of the fashion industries top players - some of their answers were really surprising. The fantastic, loving, woman-appreciating quotes scattered throughout the book subtly reinforced the message that style isn't for the tall, thin and elite. Style isn't one-size-fits-all. Style isn't unattainable, and can't be purchased. It has to come from within.

As a stay-at-home mom, I'm guilty of pulling on the same pair of jeans day after day, lacing up sneakers and stealing oversized sweatshirts from my husband's side of the closet. I always promise myself that I'll dress up when it matters. Reading The Little Black Book of Style was a great nudge - comfortable clothing doesn't have to be frumpy - and taking those extra few minutes in the morning to put together a cute outfit can often have a fantastic effect on my entire day.

As Garcia says in her closing thoughts:

"Style is a matter of finding out who you are and who you want to be in the world. I hope you choose to be fabulous, daring, fun, inspired and yourself."

It is time to attack my closet and "ruthlessly edit" down to the best of the best. With the great guidelines in The Little Black Book of Style, I'm already feeling inspired.

For more reviews from Parent Bloggers Network bloggers - check out the roundup.

September 14, 2007

RYKA - MC2 Run Running Shoes

Oh, Parent Bloggers Network - you know me so well. All it took was the words "free running shoes" and I was jumping up and down and saying "Me! Me! Me!"

That was about six weeks ago... and for the last month, I've been prancing around town in my pair of RYKA MC2 Run shoes. Prancing, I tell you.

I should back up a bit, and explain about my feet. You see, I have what I affectionately refer to as "Tree Climbing Feet" - wide across the balls of the feet and narrow at the heel. Add to that really high arches, a tendency toward shin splints, grotesque swelling at random times and man, you are totally hot for me now, aren't you? Ahahahaha.

Yeah. Anyway, my feet suck. They make it really hard to find supportive shoes that don't either cause blisters, aggregate my splint-prone calves. After several aborted attempts at becoming a jogger, I finally found my 'thing' with indoor walking/jogging. I know, it isn't the same as running down a trail in a coordinated outfit (which RYKA also has! Really cute ones!) but I still need supportive, cushioned shoes to keep me going through a 65 minute walking/jogging intervals class. My last shoes felt great, but looked like orthopedic nightmares, and I resigned myself to looking like a Mom Who Wears Sensible, Ugly Footwear.

I put in my wishlist to RYKA, and when the box of shoes arrived, I almost did a back handspring*. Look! These shoes are so cool!

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They aren't just cool looking - no. These are performance shoes. From the very first workout, I noticed how much lighter these shoes were than my orthopedic monstrosities. With just the right amount of flex and plenty of cushioning at the heel and ball of the foot, I was surprised at how light these shoes felt. More importantly, the heel stayed put - no blisters! - and the roomy toe-box on the shoe accommodated my extra-wide monkey toes with no crunching or compressing.

Not only fantastic for working out - the MC2 Run was a comfortable, good-looking addition to my wardrobe. I actually got compliments on my sneakers for the first time in, like, ever. They have become my go-to choice on a daily basis. I'm looking forward to checking out some of the other shoes in the lineup - it appears that they have something for every foot out there. They've even got a handy way to check out what type of foot you have (something I ended up doing at a specialist shoe store months ago - where were you then, Ryka?) and a great quiz to help determine the best shoe for you.

To check out what the other Parent Bloggers Network bloggers had to say, check out the roundup. To find out more about Ryka products, you can visit their website - they are giving away shoes and clothes!

* I say almost, because no way no how am I doing a back-handspring. No. Not even if you beg.

September 10, 2007

Mother Talk Blog Tour - February Flowers

Today is Three Kid Circus Auditions' stop on the Mother-Talk blog tour for Fan Wu's debut novel, February Flowers.

I loved this beautiful book!

From the back cover:

Set in modern China, February Flowers tells the stories of two young women's journeys to self-discovery and reconciliation with the past.

Seventeen-year-old Ming and twenty-four-year-old Yan have very little in common other than studying at the same college. Ming, idealistic and preoccupied, lives in her own world of books, music, and imagination. Yan, by contrast, is sexy but cynical, beautiful but wild, with no sense of home. When the two meet and become friends, Ming's world is forever changed. But their differences in upbringing and ideology ultimately drive them apart, leaving each to face her dark secret alone.

Insightful, sophisticated, and rich with complex characters, February Flowers captures a society torn between tradition and modernity, dogma and freedom. It is a meditation on friendship, family, love, loss and redemption and how a background shapes a life.

Fan Wu is a masterful storyteller. She embroiders the pages of this tale with gorgeous detail, and captures the twilight time between girlhood and womanhood perfectly. Somber, but never dark, February Flowers took me back to my own late teens and early twenties. Ming's fascination with Yan's 'bad girl' behavior and appearance is perfectly contrasted with her own bookish, 'good girl' ways and reminded me of my own friendships and struggles to grow up at that age.

In a pivotal scene, early in the novel, Yan appears in Ming's room with a new, sexy dress. Yan insists that Ming try it on - and seeing herself dressed up for the first time, Ming realizes that the line between girlhood and womanhood is a fine one. This realization is an uncomfortable one for Ming, and plays out in an unpredictable, real way.

Most of us have that one girlfriend in college - the one who has mastered the workings of a world we don't understand. Fan Wu captures the exhilaration and heartbreak of these challenging friendships perfectly. Ming's journey from seeing herself as a girl to embracing her womanhood travels in stops and starts. As she gathers knowledge about relationships, sexuality and her own power, she is jolted, again and again, by the way things are. Her roommates' confessions about desire, her first exposure to dating, her own awakening sexuality - all of this is shocking to Ming. The push and pull of Ming's emotions feel authentic, and had me fully invested in the novel.

Fan Wu is tender, but not sentimental to these young women who are balanced on the edge of What Comes Next. I was truly moved by their stories, and am eager to share this book with my book club. I highly recommend February Flowers.

To see what other Mother-Talk bloggers have to say about February Flowers, visit the roundup. For more information on Fan Wu, you can visit her site. And to get your own copy of February Flowers, go shop.


September 8, 2007

Girlology: Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups, and Holding Out

Cover Girlology Hang-Ups.jpgToday is Three Kid Circus Auditions' stop on the Parent Blogger Network Blog Tour for Girlology: Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups and Holding Out, the highly-anticipated book from Melisa Holmes M.D. and Trish Hutchison, M.D.

Apparently I'm the last person on the planet to get wind of Girlology - this popular educational curriculum created by Dr. Holmes and Dr. Hutchison spawned a website: www.girlology.com and the original book, Girlology: A Girl's Guide to Stuff That Matters. This fantastic series of books tackles some of the toughest topics for young women with confidence and directness. Rather than preaching or admonishing girls to follow a rigid, antiquated set of rules, Holmes and Hutchison present case studies - in the form of anecdotes - that delve into the real-life situations that most girls will encounter, or at least hear about through the grapevine, and then break down the important issues in a concise, straight-talking question and answer section.

As a mother of a sooner-than-I'd-like-to-be tween, I'm already bracing myself for the inevitable questions - and I'm coming up short. I'm absolutely thrilled to know that there is a wonderful series of books that takes on these topics. (I can't imagine discussing some of these topics with my now-eight-year-old daughter, even when she is older, but just because I'm having a hard time envisioning a discussion about whether oral sex does or doesn't count as 'real' sex, doesn't mean that her friends won't go there - and probably not when they are in college, either.)

I really liked this book - Holmes and Hutchison had this to say about Girlology: Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups and Holding Out:

Our new book is definitely for the teen that still needs advice, but also needs more detailed information for "damage control." By this age, they're past the puberty stuff and they've already established some personal values and behavioral patterns. Some are already having sex, and many are thinking about it. Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups and Holding Out still emphasizes the importance of a committed adult relationship as the best setting for sexual intercourse, but it offers viatl information that can help teens make smart and safe decisions about their health, relationships, risk taking and sexual behaviors.

I really enjoyed the open-minded approach - good and bad decisions are presented and analyzed. The great Think it Through sections at the end of each chapter are a fun, eye-catching way to help young women work through a situation and come to some very important conclusions.

Girlology is a great find - especially for those of us who don't know how or where to start with all of this. I'm putting this one on the shelf for later years when my daughters are ready - I have no doubt that it will be a welcome resource for both of us.

To see what other Parent Bloggers Network tour members had to say, please check out the roundup.
Click here to get your own copy of Girlology: Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups and Holding Out.

And to find out more about Girlology and the authors, visit www.girlology.com.

September 6, 2007

Maximum Ride: Saving The World

When MotherTalk put out a call for reviewers for Maximum Ride: Saving The World and Other Extreme Sports, I was eager to read it. My oldest daughter is an avid reader, and prefers exciting stories with fantasy elements. We've spotted this series before, but hadn't picked it up yet. I'm familiar with some of James Patterson's other books, hand-me-downs from my husband's airplane reading stash. His rapid fire, cinematical writing style makes for a quick, entertaining read, and I was curious to read his young-adult offerings.

Maximum Ride: Saving the World is the third book in a series that is projected to have several more books and a movie, too. A line early in the book has the narrator and main character "Max" commenting:

Ah, the joys of being an adolescent hybrid runaway.

Ah, yes... that pretty much sums it up nicely.

I willingly suspended disbelief as I tore through this book. Winged kids? Cool! Crazy mutants and plots to control the world's population and hybrid human/animal experiments and teen angst and evil corporations! Wahoo!

The thing about this genre (action fiction?) is that it plows breathlessly along, the plot proceeding so quickly that there is not much time for in-depth character development or descriptive writing beyond the basics. As someone who prefers literature that offers riches, this didn't meet my needs.

But here's the other thing - I'm not the target audience for this book. While my eight-year-old could probably follow the story, the heavy use of slang, sarcasm and faux-swearing (freaking, for example) and references to crack addicts and hookers make it a little too edgy for younger kids, say, the 8-12 year old range. Maybe I'm just sheltering my kids.

For a slightly older child, who is already well-versed in pop culture and sophisticated enough to understand the sarcasm and other elements, I think this would be a great series. The rapid-fire chapters and non-stop action are great for readers who don't like to linger, and the characters are undeniably cool. Best of all, even with all the strange abilities of the characters, these are plausible, real-world kids, with problems and emotions just like the target audience. They don't have everything figured out yet, and their flaws are both endearing and authentic.

With a tied-in blog, and an active community of enthusiastic fans, Maximum Ride will continue to build momentum. The publishers aren't waiting for the adults to catch up - they are speaking directly to kids through their sites, and from the enthusiasm of readers...and that is really cool. For all the press that the end of the Harry Potter series would equal the end to kids reading - I have to laugh. Maximum Ride offers a great chance for kids to escape into a fantasy world that resembles their own - and that is very appealing. This is just one of thousands of great options that will get - and keep - kids reading.

Click here to check out what other MotherTalk Bloggers thought.


September 2, 2007

Kappa Kappa Wii

Early this spring, I was contacted by Nintendo. It seems that they were given my name by a friend who assured them that I did, indeed, like to party.

Across the country this summer, Nintendo has been hosting a series of themed parties to introduce people who aren't your typical gamers to the Wii. I didn't have to think about it for even one second. I heard "party" and that was all the convincing I needed.

Seriously, I have no idea how I got so lucky. I mean, look at the party invites?

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That's right - blinged out sorority paddles were mailed to all the attendees. A shuttle bus was arranged to have us all arrive together. The party was set up in a lovely ballroom at a lovely hotel, and before they let us walk through the door, they gave us all sparkly tiaras. The enthusiastic Kappa Kappa Wii sisters led the assembled guests through a few cheers and then opened the doors to the party.

The angels sang. The hard-core gamers wept. (More on that in a minute...)

And then, we walked in to this:

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That's right. We had a lovely buffet, wait-staff bringing around fantastic tidbits, game stations set up around the room (a total of 5 stations, each with a selection of games and multiple controllers, a full bar, and around each of the play areas, buckets of popcorn and candy.

It was like heaven. With video games. And pink shag carpets. And champagne.

My four-year-old daughter immediately ran to the first bucket of candy and uttered this little "oooooh!" and began grabbing fistfuls of candy. The moms lined up at the bar, and within minutes, we had the party rockin'.

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Within a few moments of our arrival, we had our first mom-daughter boxing showdown:

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Once the normally mild-mannered mama pictured on the left knocked her daughter's Mii out and did a vigorous In-Your-Face dance, all the newly-inducted Kappa Kappa Wii mamas wanted a piece of that action. (You can see my four-year-old chawing on some candy in the background.)

Here's me taking on my Mom. I kicked her butt.

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My four-year-old is next to me, still chawing. It took about an hour before she was literally running laps around the room. My eight-year-old daughter, the co-hostess of this little soiree, was beaming from ear to ear as she played with all of her friends.

We had the chance to play Wii Sports, Wii Play, Mario Party 8, Wii Boogie and another title that is escaping my mind right now... probably because I was all about the damn cow-racing. You should have seen me, taking out the eight-year-olds with no guilt.

I'm sorta competitive.

The kids had a great time, too. Look!

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Yes, Wii had a good time. The bartender was serving up sodas in real glasses:

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and he allowed my youngest to shake him down for napkins full of maraschino cherries before I finally cut her off.

The Nintendo party staff was fantastic - they even got my mom, a reluctant gamer, especially after I beat her in boxing, to try the cow-racing game:

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It was so much fun, such a relaxed atmosphere to hang out with friends and laugh ourselves sick as we tried out these great programs.

When I was invited to join the Wii party circuit, I was impressed with the angle - certainly moms control the spending for most families, and deserved to be courted. But instead of trying to sell us on the educational benefits, or the unique, physical game play and how it is a benefit for our kids, Nintendo just asked us to have fun, and explore what the system could do. Even better, they are listening, and creating games that appeal to women. The upcoming Wii Fit has me excited, and I know I'm not the only one.

I had the chance to visit EGM last month, and along with my fellow Nintendo Mom, Stefania Pomponi Butler, recorded a podcast with Jennifer Tsao and Shane Bettenhausen where we talked about this whole notion of marketing to so-called "alpha moms." I don't really consider myself an alpha-mom...I'm just a mom with a (couple of) blogs, and a wide circle of friends who like to have fun. And you know what? I came away from the experience with a smile on my face, and a Wii to play with with my family.

I was a little surprised to hear about the anger some hard-core gamers have towards this marketing strategy. I guess I understand why there might be some consternation over the development dollars and effort being split in new directions - especially toward these non-traditional, not-game games. Sorry, y'all. It wasn't my call. But you know what? It has me playing, in little fifteen minute intervals, with my entire family joining in. And you know what else? That is all the time I can devote to playing. A few silly minutes of boxing or off-road truck racing, and I'm back to laundry, dishes, dinner and homework supervision. I can't devote myself to role-playing games or complicated adventures right now - but someday, I might. And even more importantly to Nintendo and game developers, my kids might.

In a family with young kids, violent, visually intense games are not ever going to be welcome in a family area. Wii's non-gamer approved games give us a new way to get silly and interact with each other. We've been having a blast teaming up with Boogie. The kids have been busting out the Pokemon Battle Revolution using our Nintendo DS as controllers. And we're aware that there are more sophisticated options out there for the Wii. We're looking forward to exploring together.

I feel really lucky to have been a part of this, and I'd be happy to tell you more about my experiences with the Wii. You can leave questions in the comments.

You see these ladies? They weren't gamers before they entered the building, but you can bet they are now.

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And you know what else?

The moms who came to my party haven't stopped talking about it. Move over, hard-core gamers...there's a new breed of warrior in town. And she's carrying the purse.