Quick hits of news and fresh ideas for busy parents.

Recall Overload

It hasn't been an easy year for parents in the product-recall department.

First it was over-the-counter painkillers. Several varieties of Tylenol, Motrin and Benadryl -- those elixirs for growing pains, erupting molars and stuffy noses -- were taken off the market in January because of a "moldy smell" eventually traced to chemical exposure from wooden pallets in the Johnson & Johnson manufacturer's warehouse. The list of specific products has expanded several times, most recently on July 8, and now stands at 21.

Then in mid-June came the SpaghettiOs with Meatballs recall. Talk about your basic food group.

Maker Campbell Soup was pulling all its meatball-laden SpaghettiOs products (including the A-Z and car Fun Shape varieties) because a routine plant inspection had discovered that the meatballs might not have been getting fully cooked. As with the painkiller recall, there had been no reports of consumer illness, but safety came first.

And then it just got ugly. About 28 million boxes of Froot Loops, Corn Pops, Apple Jacks and Honey Smacks were yanked in late June. There are vast segments of the teen-aged population that live on this stuff. But a "waxy smell" that had apparently caused nausea and vomiting for five consumers led to the recall. As of press time, the manufacturer Kellogg has not identified a cause.

It's enough to make a mother afraid to feed her family anything more than water and bread (and even then, you might get paranoid about local water-quality reports).

A lot of consumers start tuning out the warnings when they come so often, said Jennifer House, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health.

"There have been more recalls than usual lately," House said last month. "Recall fatigue is something we're concerned about because all food-borne illnesses are serious. They end up costing everyone in the community."

There are a few different ways you can keep up with the announcements. For instant updates you can download a smart-phone app at recalls.gov that will notify you the minute a recall goes out.

The Dispatch maintains an updated list at blog.dispatch.com/recalls, and Columbus Parent links to this list in our weekly Bulletin e-newsletter. This recall list is searchable by category and keyword, so if women's bathrobe recalls don't worry you but chili pepper recalls do, you can get straight to the hot stuff. Sorry, that's just a little bit of recall humor.

You can sign up to receive the weekly Columbus Parent Bulletin newsletter here.

e-Reading and Writing and 'Rithmetic

On paper -- or the lack of it -- Kindles, iPads and other e-readers seem like a pretty good idea for cutting costs in schools. These electronic readers would eliminate traditional textbooks, which often run as high as $90 each.

Starting this school year, Clearwater High School in Florida hopes to become the first public high school in the U.S. to use e-readers. They'll be investing in Amazon Kindles for all 2,100 students and 100 teachers. They retail for about $259, but the school announced they hope to negotiate a deal with Amazon for bulk rates on the devices and for bundled licensing fees on e-textbooks. The district has set aside about $600,000 for the venture.

Are e-readers and e-texts in the offing for any Central Ohio school districts? Well nobody's doing a Clearwater just yet, but at least one district is piloting a project to try e-readers in middle school.

Beginning this fall, 10 iPads each will circulate at Jones and Hastings Middle Schools in Upper Arlington. Associate Superintendent Debora Binkley said a district grant is enabling them to purchase the iPads, which students and teachers will use in the
schools' libraries and as part of language arts classes.

"They'll try them out during the next year and see if they're useful," Binkley said.

The goal isn't to use them in place of textbooks, but rather as a different type of library book to check out and read.

"The e-texts are just as expensive as the textbooks themselves," Binkley said. She said the district has not considered the idea, as with Clearwater, of outfitting individual students with e-readers.

She's curious to see how people react to digital books: "Personally I like the feel of flipping through pages, and even the smell of the book, but kids don't have those barriers to get past. So we'll collect everyone's feedback and go from there."

Animal house: Keeping Your Dog Cool

Walking, running or jogging -- the summer heat affects us all whether we have two legs or four. That doesn't stop us from engaging in outdoor activities, but the pets who often accompany us are more susceptible than we are to heat stroke. So summertime is the perfect time to make sure they stay cool and comfortable.

If you and your dog jog together, don't forget that we sweat more than our canine companions and we have the luxury of donning warm-weather gear. Dogs are still wearing their winter coats and they can only cool themselves by panting and sweating through their foot pads -- which isn't always enough, explains veterinarian doctor Janet Tobiassen Crosby.

Many dogs, especially the ones who regard themselves as athletes (really, it's an animal personality type!), will keep running no matter what. So change the routine to early morning or late evening when cooler temperatures will help prevent heat stroke. And don't forget to give yourselves plenty of water when you're both done!
-- Marguerite Marsh

The Cheat Sheet: How to fake coolness with your kids
POS, PITR, PW: This means you, Parental Unit, in text-speak. Your kid is texting that a parent is over the shoulder (POS), in the room (PITR) or watching (PW). How to keep up with these acronyms? Try the Internet Slang Dictionary & Translator. It's like a secret decoder ring for, well, people who are old enough to know what a secret decoder ring is. Warning: Some of the site's definitions are obscene and therefore NSFW (not safe for work or small eyes).

World's Cutest Cat Alert: Dazzle your grade-schoolers and astound your teens with the "mugumogu" channel on YouTube. Maru is not just a cat who lives in Japan -- he's an internet phenomenon -- and you'll be a hero for introducing your kids to the addictive pleasures of watching Maru jump into boxes, get stuck inside garbage cans, and walk around with a paper bag on his head.

What's Big In New York City
What are the hot kid trends in other parts of the world? This month we tapped a few NYC parents to find out what's big in the Big Apple.

"Poptropica" is huge with kids ages 6 to 11. The online game lets players navigate puzzle-solving challenges and safely compete against others anywhere in the world. About half the themed "islands" are free to play; the others cost $3 per month at poptropica.com.

Sneaker Boots are hot with the big-city teens: They have canvas uppers that lace up to the knees with a zipper in the back. They go for about $30 a pair.