The Chronic Consumer

I buy things — all the time!

Maurice Lenell Cooky Company Closes

Back when I was growing up, Maruice Lenell cookies were a standard part of my afternoon snack menu. I used to love their Butterscotch and Almonette varieties, and could eat handfuls of the little treats at a single sitting.

So although I haven’t had these cookies in decades, it was with great sadness that I read a Chicago Tribune article saying that the Maurice Lenell Norridge factory is closing down, and its assets (and name) are likely to be sold at auction by May of 2009. The property housing the current factory has already been sold to a developer who plans on putting a Costco there.

Sigh. Actually, I guess people like me are part of the problem for smaller companies like Maurice Lenell, since I haven’t bought any of their products in so long. I’m not a huge cookie person anymore, so it’s not as though I’m propping up their competitors either, but still… when you steadily lose business like that over the years, it’s tough to compete with the multinational corporations.

So long, Maurice Lenell Cooky Company. You will be missed!

Hooked on Phonics Kindergarten Edition

My five-year-old son is in kindergarten now, so we’re spending quite a bit more time focusing on educational activities. While his public school class is still drilling for upper- and lower-case alphabet recognition, I decided we should forge ahead at home and take serious steps towards learning to read. Since I have absolutely zero experience teaching kids how to read, I thought the Hooked on Phonics system would come in handy. I recently bought the Kindergarten Edition, and think it is absolutely terrific!

The Hooked on Phonics (or HOP for short) Kindergarten Edition takes a very intuitive, systematic approach to teaching children how to read. Steps are incremental, yet noticeable, so kids will feel a sense of accomplishment from very early on — which is very important for getting them to stick with the program.

The Kindergarten Edition comes with the following items:

  • Interactive CD-ROM
  • Workbook
  • 3 Audio CDs
  • 5 sets of flashcards
  • 24 level-appropriate books
  • Parent’s guide
  • Two progress posters
  • 1 sheet of stickers

The Parent’s Guide lets you know where to begin with the HOP system depending on how much your child already knows. For instance, since my son is already proficient at recognizing all the letters, we didn’t have to start at the very beginning. Instead, we could jump right into learning the various sounds that the letters make.

Once you begin, you can pretty much work at whatever pace your child is comfortable with. The Parent’s Guide recommends 15-20 minutes per day, which is a reasonable amount of time. That’s long enough to review the previous lesson, and then go on to some new stuff without overwhelming the child too much.

As I said, I’m pretty impressed with the overall system and presentation — except for one thing. I think the audio CDs are pretty boring for kids of this age, especially since one exercise is liable to be repeated four or five times in a row without a break. Instead of making my son sit through that torture, I now go through the exercises without the CD so that we can stop after two or three repetitions (which is usually enough if he’s paying attention).

Other than that minor nitpick, the Hooked on Phonics system really works! My son is actually reading the simple stories contained in the books and is getting much better at sounding out words on his own than he was before starting the HOP system. Yes, sometimes it’s a chore to get my son to study every single day, so we do take time off now and then. I just make it up with a longer review session, and keep going from there.

The bottom line is that if you want to give your children a head start on building important fundamental reading skills, then Hooked on Phonics: Kindergarten Edition is a must-have. It’s straightforward, effective, and is a fun way for kids to learn how to read. Plus, at a sale price of $40 and change, it’s a bargain! Buy it today!

Big Sales Day

If your Christmas spending didn’t completely wipe out your bank account or max all your credit cards, then you might want to brave the crowds one more time today. Retailers are still trying to move a lot of products that didn’t sell during the ramp-up to Christmas, so there are bound to be some major bargains out there.

Indeed, many analysts are predicting that post-Christmas sales prices are going to be considerably lower than pre-Christmas sales (including those to be had on Black Friday). So if Santa failed to bring you that new laptop or MP3 player that you covet, maybe you’ll find a great sale at the mall or online today.

Personally, I won’t be shopping today, but if there was something I really, really wanted, I might be persuaded to check a few stores. Happy bargain hunting! :)

White Rabbit Kanji Flashcards Vol. 1

I’ve been wanting to learn how to read Japanese kanji characters for years now, but haven’t had any luck finding a system that works for me — until a few months ago when I heard about the kanji flashcards produced by White Rabbit press. These cards are specifically designed to help students prepare for the JLPT 4/3 exam, and as such, take a systematic approach that is highly effective.

This Volume 1 set, which was written by Max Hodges and Tomoko Okazaki, contains 284 credit card-sized flashcards featuring kanji that are likely to appear on the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. There are 103 cards pertaining to Level 4 (the easiest level), and 181 cards pertaining to Level 3. The cards are color-coded (green for Level 4, blue for Level 3) to make it easy for students to distinguish between the two.

What I like best about these White Rabbit Kanji Flashcards is how much information is packed onto each individual card. On the front side, you get the main kanji character, six compound words or phrases showing how that character is typically used, two examples of characters that look similar to the main one (so you can avoid confusion), the radical that the kanji is derived from, and the correct stroke order when writing the character.

On the back, you get the Chinese (on) and Japanese (kun) pronunciations of the main kanji and all the derivatives, as well as mnemonic devices where applicable. Take a look at a sample (click to enlarge):

These cards are so fun and simple to use that I find myself studying more often than I ever did with a textbook or software program. I just grab two cards each day (M-F) and carry them around with me while doing all my errands, cooking, housework, etc. I glance at them whenever I can, and by the end of the day, I usually know the compounds cold. I use Saturday and Sunday for reviewing the 10 new kanji I learned during the week, and for writing practice (though the writing portion isn’t that critical to me).

Using this approach, I’ve been able to increase my Japanese vocabulary by leaps and bounds, and am finally learning to read common kanji compounds that I see a lot, but had never bothered learning before. Even though I don’t plan to sit for the JLPT anytime soon, I am still benefiting immensely from these flashcards.

If you’re serious about wanting to learn how to read Japanese kanji characters, then I highly recommend starting with Kanji Flashcards 1 by White Rabbit Press. This is the absolute best study aid I’ve come across in the past eight years, and will help you improve your Japanese whether you’re going to take the JLPT or not. And at just $18.94 per set on Amazon, this product is a steal! Check it out today!

I stand corrected

So the other day I wrote a post about what not to get your girlfriend or wife for Christmas this year. It was meant to be sort of tongue-in-cheek, and as such I mentioned things like appliances and car-related items.

But someone contacted me and said that I was being a bit sexist with my remarks. Apparently, this guy’s girlfriend loves to work on automobiles in her spare time, and specifically asks for tools as gifts. In fact, she’s currently trying to replace the power steering rack in an old car, so she’s hoping to get a DIY manual for Christmas.

Ok, I stand corrected. I admit that ruling out an entire class of gifts based on gender might not be the smartest way to go about your Christmas shopping. Instead, just consider the hobbies and interests of the recipient and make an appropriate choice from there!

To Gift or Not?

I’m kind of curious as to how many of you buy holiday presents for people who do minor jobs or perform regular services for you. I’m talking about your mail carrier, UPS driver, landscaper, or hair stylist. Do you give these people gifts or not?

When I was younger, I remember my dad giving our mail carrier a gift every year — but it was usually just a re-gifted bottle of scotch or something (since my dad didn’t drink). I don’t think he ever actually went out and bought something specifically for the guy.

As for the other types of folks I mentioned, I don’t recall either of my parents ever gifting them during the holiday season.

So what about you? Do you include these peripheral folks on your holiday gift list? Obviously you wouldn’t be expected to buy something or the guy who comes in for a day to clean your gutters or install your new Grohe faucets, but what about others that you come into contact with more frequently? Is there some protocol to follow here? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts!

Callpod Chargepod

Like most people, I have a bunch of electronic devices that need to be charged regularly, including my cell phone, iPod, Kindle, Nintendo DS Lite, and various Bluetooth accessories. The problem with having all of these devices is that I have to have an equal number of charging cables — which can obviously get pretty messy. That’s why I NEED to get this Callpod Chargepod.

The Callpod Chargepod is an ingenious little gadget that helps charge a variety of different devices at once. It consists of a wheel-like base with seven extensions where you can plug in your devices for charging all at once. The Chargepod helps keeps things nice and organized, with no muss or fuss.

You do have to figure out what kind of charging tips to use for each device you own (and purchase them separately), but I still think the cost ($40 for the wheel, $10 per tip) would be well worth it. I want one of these things sooo bad!!

What not to get

I am constantly amazed by what some boyfriends or husbands try to pass off as Christmas gifts each year. Let me tell you right now that small appliances, kitchen gadgets, or anything else that is remotely connected to housework or cooking should never be given as a present — unless your significant other is studying to be a gourmet chef and really wants these items.

Nor should you buy the woman in your life anything remotely related to cars, such as a spoiler, rims, window tinting or auto insurance. Sorry, but just because you think these items are hot, it doesn’t mean your girlfriend or wife will! The same thing applies to tools as well.

And finally, do not get your better half something related to your favorite hobby and try to justify the purchase by saying that you two could spend more time together. For example, if you like fishing, but your wife of 10 years hasn’t shown the least bit of interest, now is not the time to buy a new rod and reel for her — especially when you know these items will just end up in your possession when she refuses to get involved.

Instead of doing any of these things, why not take a moment to think about what the recipient likes to do, what she would like to get, and what she would actually enjoy using or owning. If you follow these guidelines, she’ll be sure to love whatever you buy!