Sunday, July 12, 2009

Can I Have A Pet Butterfly, Daddy?

Butterfly PavilionMy son recently turned four and, like many four-year-old boys, he loves insects, lizards, cars and dinosaurs. One of the bug-related gifts he received was the Live Butterfly Pavilion from Insect Lore.

Insect Lore, as one might guess from their name, sells a wide variety of insect-oriented gifts including a number of live insect habitats (butterflies, praying mantises, and hissing cockroaches among others). We went with the butterflies so as not to give my wife the creeping willies for the duration. For less than $21.00 (Note: this is the current Amazon price; as far as I can tell, the same product is significantly more expensive at the manufacturer's website: $33.00), you get a two-foot-tall pop-up mesh pavilion/habitat along with a coupon to receive the caterpillars. Make sure that you order this product well in advance of when you want it because you not only need to wait for it to arrive, but you then need to send in the coupon for the caterpillars and then wait for them to arrive. [Note: they stick on another $5.00 charge to receive the caterpillars]. The caterpillars come in sealed containers that already have everything they need to survive until they emerge from their chrysalises.

While they do sell a package with only three to five caterpillars, we went for the one that comes with six to ten; we figured if we were going to all of this trouble, we wanted to end up with more than just two or three butterflies. We received ten caterpillars (the maximum possible) and within three or four days they attached themselves to the top of their containers and became chrysalides. Right on time, about a week later, they crawled out and voila! All ten had turned into caterpillars. A few more days and my son and I took them out (they walked right onto our hands) and let them go near his grandmother's butterfly bush. A good time was had by all. Even by my wife.

1) Great learning experience.
We got to watch the caterpillars crawl around, spin silk, and then make their chrysalises. Later, we got to see the butterflies just after they emerged (by chance, we missed the actual emergence), and beating their wings to pump the blood into them and make them rigid. Then we got to feed them and we could easily see them extending their proboscises down to drink. Hard to ask for more.
2) Fairly easy to use (but see Con #1, below). The pavilion just springs right up as soon as you open it, the caterpillars stay in their sealed containers until they're chrysalides, and when it's time to let them go you can either take them out by hand or just open up the top; the butterflies which are sent occur naturally throughout the continental United States. [Note: The caterpillars can only be mailed within the continental United States]. You obviously don't have to let them go if you don't want to and it does come with instructions for taking care of any young caterpillars which may be born.
3) Easy to reuse. Once the butterflies are gone, you can re-order more caterpillars whenever you'd like. (You have to pay for them, of course). The set comes with complete instructions on how to clean out and re-use the habitat.

1) Sometimes hard to get in and out of the pavilion.
The pavilion has two openings which zipper open and close that allow you to put the chrysalides in, to let the butterflies out, and to feed the butterflies. I'm not sure if it was placement or size or what, but we had a hard time using them. Having said that, however, I did manage to transfer the chrysalides without harming them and it took less than 30 minutes.
2) The butterflies that are sent do not look like the ones on the box. While they advertise, and send, Painted Lady butterflies I should warn you that the ones you get will probably not be as colorful as the ones that they advertise. I don't know if it's a matter of species (there are four different species of butterfly called Painted Lady) or something else, but only two or three of ours had any orange at all and none had the bright colorings shown on the box.

I hereby award this product TEN Happy Munchkins (out of ten)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Everybody Needs A Wee-Minder Sometimes

Wee-MinderI recently blogged about my son's potty training. While I accurately described the system we used -- we sent him to the potty every hour on the hour. Period -- I chose not to discuss the exact mechanism we used. No, it wasn't that strange and mysterious new invention called "a clock" it was .... [drum roll] The Wee-Minder Potty Training System. [wild applause]

The Wee-Minder system, besides having a name so ridiculous that I have to admire it, consists primarily of a big, bright-red watch for your child to wear that can be set to go off at specific intervals. It also comes with a decent-sized book and a short DVD.

Overall, I love it. The watch can be set to go off at different intervals, so you can increase the time between potty visits. When the watch goes off, it sings a happy little tune about it being time to "hop, hop, hop to the potty place" that your child will probably love and you will probably come to dread; as with most such things, you will learn to happily sing it anyway because it works. The book is cute and features Wally Wallaby forgoing a number of tempting situations because he knows that it's time for him to "hop, hop, hop to the potty place." While it's hardly one of the great masterpieces of children's literature, it doesn't need to be. I've certainly read worse books to my son.

The video is simply the re-telling of the story from the book, without animation; the "movie" simply recites the book while showing pages from the book. For example, when they want to show Wally jumping up and down at the end because he's excited that he made it to the potty place in time, they simply leave him and the scenery stationary while the camera moves up and down. It's possible that this was intended to be campy, I suppose, but if so it fails pretty miserably. The DVD also includes a "music video" that was less than inspiring. For only twenty bucks I'm not going to complain about the video's quality too much. But I do think that the system might have been even more effective than it was had the video gotten my son more excited.

1) It worked. My four-year-old son loved the song and the book and he was "hop, hop, hopping to the potty place" almost immediately.
2) It can get wet. At least a little. This is a major distinction between this product and other similar things like The Potty Watch, which cannot get wet at all. How in the world do you get your preschooler to wash his hands and not get the huge watch on his wrist wet?

1) You can't set the watch to ninety minutes. While the watch can be set to go off every hour, every two hours, or every two and a half hours, it cannot be set for every hour and a half. The jump from every hour to every two hours was too big for our son and I'm sure he isn't alone.
2) The DVD was pretty pathetic. As described above, the "movie" (which did not actually contain any moving pictures) left a fair amount to be desired.
3) Ship at your own risk? Incredibly, the website states that not only are they not responsible for lost or damaged packages, but that all sales are final unless the product is not as described. Given that the description is essentially "This product contains an alarm watch, a book, and a DVD" you'd have a pretty hard time getting around that clause. While the Amazon price for this product is substantially higher ($28.00 vs. $20.00), it might be worth it for some people in order to gain Amazon's return policy.

I hereby award this product EIGHT Happy Munchkins (out of ten)

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