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January 15, 2007

Baby Loves Disco

Saturday, my family had the pleasure of attending Baby Loves Disco San Francisco, courtesy of The Parent Bloggers Network. I had heard of this phenomenon first a few months ago when some friends attended an event, bragging about how cool, innovative, and exciting their experience had been. Baby Loves Disco childproofs popular nightclubs, turning them into hip, family-friendly events with music, lights, food, and fun. I was intrigued, so pleased when The Parent Bloggers Network sent me to this month’s party...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

February 15, 2007

BabyProofing Your Marriage

You walk along a path that you’ve smoothed to your specifications. Suddenly, little dirt clumps start flying upwards while little mounds appear: you’ve gotten married! ‘Tis fine, and you smooth your path again, avoiding little divots and appreciating the new views after you trudge up some difficult hills.

Then you have a baby. You are thrown into a deep hole and your spouse is deposited into another. Like a cartoon, if you move your legs too quickly in panic while trying to exit the hole, you’ll just succeed in digging yourself deeper...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

March 6, 2007

Clean Well

My kids get into everything: Dirt! Sand! Grime! They pick up everything: “Look Mommy, what is this perfectly good toy doing here lying in a muddy gutter?” They make Sundaes of Doom that necessitate trips to the E.R. where very sick people cough all over the chairs and handle the Marie Claire magazine that suddenly interests my two-year old son.

I am not a complete germophobe, but when people nearby are hacking away or my kids’ hands are covered in slime, I worry...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

March 20, 2007

Blink... And It's Done!

The center console of my van has a bunch of fast-food napkins “just in case.” In the way-back, I have a roll of paper towels, a spray bottle of window-washing liquid, and a bunch of old plastic grocery bags. Plus, I have a bunch of baby wipes that I use for various things.

When the Cat goes to his OT appointment, I use that time to quickly clean the van. I usually have to remember to bring additional supplies, such as a paper bag for recycling or an extra tote in which to put random items. By the end of the chore, the van may technically be cleaner, but the cleaning products cause their own clutter...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

May 7, 2007

The Dangerous Book for Boys

When I think of “dangerous boys” I think of the thugs who stole Husband’s cell phone yesterday. But of course, "The Dangerous Book for Boys” that I received free-for-review from the Parent Bloggers Network is exactly the opposite: an opportunity to jump back into a time when the boys played stickball outside homes with stoops, or constructed batteries and go-carts with their own hands...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

June 20, 2007

Vaccinated: A mother of an autistic son and former scientific researcher weighs in

As many of my readers know, I have a six year old son who was diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder at the age of four. What some of you also know is that prior to being a parent, I did neuroscience research. Neuropharmacology was one of my favorite classes in graduate school, followed close behind by things like biochemistry and oncology.

It is not surprising that I would jump at the chance to review Vaccinated. My scientific background is curious for the history and fascinating puzzles to be solved, and my parent-of-a-child-with-autism viewpoint wonders how the “vaccine controversy” will be presented in a pro-vaccine book...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

June 28, 2007

Garage Sale America

I gave “Garage Sale America” to my dad for Father’s Day; it was the perfect gift. Many of my childhood memories include garage-sale finds. I remember my dad went off to a sale for knick-knacks and came home with a light blue convertible. Although my first bicycle was brand new, subsequent ones were from garage sales...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

July 2, 2007

Nozin: The Orange Germ-Killer

Husband used to be addicted to Diet Coke. Around the same time, he was also very enamored with “Emergen-C” and “Airborne.” He has since moved on to Propel vitamin-enhanced flavored water.

And so, when the Parent Bloggers Network gave me a free-for-review batch of Nozin, I had to laugh, since this is the sort of thing in which Husband would be very interested...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

July 20, 2007

Noah's Pals

I received tons of Noah-themed toys when the Cat was born. They ranged from the more subtle plush cuddly animals to the board books that used words like “evil,” “lazy,” and “kill.” I was frustrated by the latter of course, since although I want my kids to know the Noah parable, I don’t think scare-tactics at newborn-hood is a good route.

The Parent Bloggers Network allowed me to receive free-for-review several pairs of animals from Caboodle! Toys LLC’s “Noah’s Pals” collection. These are not hastily put-together figurines...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

August 16, 2007

KINeSYS Spray Sunscreen Review

Surely by now you realize the sun-scorched look is out, right? People blessed with rich hues in their skin are beautiful, but those of us with pasty white thighs should rejoice in their ghost-attracting abilities, too, right?

Always wear sunscreen. It doesn’t matter your natural color. Protect your skin...Via the Parent Bloggers Network, I received a variety of products free-for-review from KINeSYS...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

August 24, 2007

The Bilingual Edge

Parent Bloggers NetworkWhen I was younger, I thought I’d grow up to speak many languages. The concept of communicating in different ways intrigued me. Unfortunately, my fear of making mistakes got in the way, plus I had some rather high-stress foreign-language teachers. Had I been involved in a comfortable situation with a trusted individual (or multiple people) teaching me a second (or third) language, perhaps I would have succeeded.

Indeed, The Bilingual Edge, which I acquired free-for-review via the Parent Bloggers Network, debunks several myths (what? I am not over-the-hill language-learning wise?), and reinforces some of my suspicions (high pressure is not a good situation in which to acquire a language.)

Certainly, I hope that my sons can be bilingual, or even trilingual, but the authors point out that it isn’t just “school language” that leads to the cognitive and career benefits of learning multiple languages; true fluency must be reached to really impact one’s life. (Of course, appreciation for another language, ethnicity, and culture is all wonderful for those who like to “dabble,” but the focus here is on actual comprehension of a new tongue.)

As I learned about the commitment and ways that subsequent languages (and even primary languages) are learned, I thought it akin to an exercise program. It isn’t as though you can strap on those little electrical sensors to “jolt” your abs into shape, or connect your stomach to a jiggle machine and expect the fat to melt away. Rather, you must begin an active program and stick with it. Likewise, the passive and sporadic learning from watching a DVD or occasionally using a series of flash cards isn’t going to create an environment in which a different way of communicating can be internalized.

Continue reading "The Bilingual Edge" »

September 4, 2007

Can Wii Boogie?

Parent Bloggers NetworkI have confidence in my ability to dance. After all, I took lessons for 15 years, was part of a performing division, won awards, and represented the USA in Australia during the World Expo.

Likewise, I am not a shabby singer. Or at least I wasn’t in my youth. I got the solos in church choir, I was a Chamber Singer in high school, and I don’t do too horribly at my husband’s staff retreat when everyone does karaoke. (I still tear up a little when I think of my husband’s VIP boss sitting in a corner singing karaoke alone when the rest of us had moved on to other things. He stopped when we brought him a birthday cake.)

When the Parent Bloggers Network asked me to review Wii Boogie, I completely did a dance and whoop of joy. “This will be fabulous!” I thought, envisioning myself busting serious moves and singing the night away. I am already a Wii addict, so why not add another title to my obsession?

Well, here’s the deal: I am not good at Boogie. At least not yet.

Continue reading "Can Wii Boogie?" »

September 10, 2007

RYKÄ Rocks to Walk: And FREE SHOES!

Parent Bloggers NetworkShortly after the Cat was born, we moved from NYC to CA. I think I was wearing worn-out loafers or something. I doubt I had a pair of athletic shoes to my name. But, I was eager to get back in shape and had visions of walking to the store, baby in stroller. And so, I went to TJ Maxx and was thrilled to see a bright-white pair of Tommy Hilfiger sneakers that fit me.

I still had images of junior high in my head in which everyone wore bright-white sleek Reebok shoes, but my wide hobbit-feet could only accommodate these puffy ivory ones that looked like knock-offs, even though they were “real.”

So back to the Hilfiger: I thought I was cool. But that was nearly seven years ago. Since then, I’ve worn them to death. Several times I considered replacing them, but figured they still looked okay and felt fine. (In reality, even if old shoes feel comfortable, they aren’t providing the appropriate support.)

My old shoes took me through the Cat’s post-partum period, plus Spliggle’s pregnancy and aftermath. Last year I wore them while losing 20 pounds by walking around my local reservoir. I have since gained 10 back, but was ready to hit the pavement again when I heard that the Parent Bloggers Network and RYKÄ were teaming up to enable active bloggers to try out some spiffy shoes.

Continue reading "RYKÄ Rocks to Walk: And FREE SHOES!" »

September 17, 2007

We Love "Kids Love Spanish"

kidslovespanish.gifThe Cat came home one day last school year announcing, “I know how to count to three in Spanish! Pedro knows the rest!”

“What?” I hadn’t recalled any boys in his Kindergarten class named “Pedro,” but I did know that there were many Hispanic kids at the school.

“Pedro knows the rest.” He insisted.

I finally realized he was mispronouncing “Uno! Dos! Tres!” by creating an English sentence that made sense to him. After a lot of coaching, I was able to separate the words for him. Then he wanted to go up to ten. And then up to twenty. And then to one-hundred.

Later, he started running around announcing “Wii!” the way the Wii sounds when jumping over hurdles in the scarecrow-tipping game: high pitched and abrupt.

“It means ‘yes’ in French,” he explained to me.

I had to counter that “oui” is pronounced without the raised eyebrows, crazy eyes, and super-screechy register. Still, I was glad that he was learning little bits of another language.

And so, when the Parent Bloggers Network asked if I might be interested in receiving the Kids Love Spanish DVD set, I was thrilled! I knew the Cat would love to learn more Spanish than during his brief introduction in Kindergarten. Plus, I want to get Spliggle started on the concept of bilingualism.

Continue reading "We Love "Kids Love Spanish"" »

September 26, 2007

Nina Garcia's The Little Black Book of Style

BlackBookStyle.gifThe Little Black Book of Style by Nina Garcia (of Project Runway and Elle fame) in a nutshell: Confidence is key, but a tailor is a must. Exude confidence, but not while wearing a sweatsuit!

I find this book more inspirational than “practical.” It is a pep-talk. And WOW, what a talk it was. I read the book in full twice, and skipped around to favorite sections a number of other times. The quotes are fabulous, and give me motivation to dress carefully and confidently. The little pieces of history educate me, and encourage me to believe that I know more about fashion than I do.

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm meant that I purchased more “trendy” items than the good-quality basics that Nina would have insisted I buy first. Yes, I was tempted by a sale, a big no-no (I got a designer skirt for less than $30!) but I am thrilled with what I received. One pair of pants is currently out being altered, because I wanted to do it “right” this time instead of slogging around in too-long jeans. The other pieces are more “special occasion” than everyday staples, but I am excited for those events to arrive, and have plans to put them in a more casual rotation after their big debuts.

Or perhaps I have mistaken “fashionable statements” for “trendy” and Nina wouldn’t chew me out after all: I’ve usually been of the “better just get it in a neutral color” mentality, so getting a bright red and white bold print skirt and a crazy-wild geometrical dress seem outrageous. I am excited to enable myself that “freedom.”

Continue reading "Nina Garcia's The Little Black Book of Style" »

September 30, 2007

Win Me a Roomba: Free Things from VocalPoint!

noodlenet.gifThe familiar orange-pink swirled envelope came in the mail last week. This time, enclosed within was a DVD offering a free trial of NoodleNet, a safe way for kids to browse the internet. Sometimes it will be a fabric softener sample, or a DVD of a new television show, such as when "Meerkat Manor" came out.

I still have fond memories of the show "Cover Shot," for which I voted on a "final shot" as one of the original VocalPoint members. I was in "the Club" so early in the game that I actually voted on the design of the envelopes in which VocalPoint sends their product samples, coupons, and announcements!

Why did I become a member?

Continue reading "Win Me a Roomba: Free Things from VocalPoint!" »

October 5, 2007

A Word on Wine: Dashe Cellars

Dashe Cellars WineMy mom gives tours of wine country, so sometimes gives us extra bottles from those she acquires. My husband gets free wine sometimes, usually gifts from people at work. One such find was 2005 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel from Dashe Cellars. Usually we drink the free bottles, enjoy them, and move on to the next.

But Dashe has become a favorite of mine. I've purchased several bottles and should probably just bite the bullet and buy a case. (My birthday is next month, y'all! I'll happily take some, although there are restrictions on shipping wine to CA, just as Argentina doesn't let anyone send leather in because they have plenty enough already to send out.)

I wish I were sophisticated enough to spew forth the appropriate vocabulary to describe why I enjoy this particular wine. It is definitely smoky, and not too watery. It has several different distinct notes, all of which are a melody rather than a cacophony with a bitter finish. The weight is pleasing and I have found it accompanies anything I decide to eat alongside.

Joshua Green of Wine & Spirits Magazine writes: "The soft, meaty tannins of this wine slowly release its zinfadel flavors of sassafras, cool, dark cherry and warm mulberries. It continues to lengthen with air, a Dry Creek edge to the texture that will suit Mediterranean-style roast lamb."

Certainly I am not going to have a career as a wine expert, but I thought I'd mention this special find since I've enjoyed it immensely. For me to actually buy wine when typically it floats its way into our home on its own is a huge complement to Dashe Cellars.

October 17, 2007

"Deceptively Delicious" is What it Says

Thumbs Up!My kids are pretty good at eating their veggies. The Cat loves to dip carrots (and sometimes celery) in ranch dressing. While the boys were big "Wonder Pets" fans, they ate celery pretty often. The Cat adores butternut squash and peas. Spliggle is less vegetable-happy, but will eat the plethora of meats the Cat shuns. There are definite holes in each of these kids' diets, though.

Meanwhile, I like vegetables provided they are prepared well. In restaurants, I eagerly eat them up. But at home, the produce that looks beautiful in the store ends up rotting in my fridge as I run out of time to create something with them or they end up prepared rather blandly. I tend to get grand ideas about cooking something delicious, but then end up ordering pizza instead.

Husband and I have our favorite "fall back" meals, which are fine, but on repeat do not provide the nutritional range our family should have.

"Deceptively Delicious," by Jessica Seinfeld, is a how-to in kitchen organization, meal planning, and - most famously - sneaking healthful ingredients into yummy food. I received this valuable resource free-for-review via the Parent Bloggers Network.

I'll admit, I usually make two or perhaps three recipes from any given cookbook before I get bored and move to the next. Sure, recipes catch my eye, but then I forget, or I think it will be too hard, or I get lazy. Amazingly, I've made many recipes from Deceptively Delicious. And I know I'll make more.

Continue reading ""Deceptively Delicious" is What it Says" »

October 23, 2007

Bill on Rights: “Kids are Americans Too!” Says Bill O’ Reilly

billoreillykidsamericanstoo.gifI didn’t take Con Law in high school. I didn’t really enjoy history, government, or current events discussions in high school, either. Con Law, though, was a tempting title. It implied a serious student, ready for some serious business. I was curious. (And serious.)

The glassy-eyed, robust, seemingly dazed teacher who oversaw the proceedings liked to talk a lot, I had been told, and yet I only heard him speak a few times, and couldn’t understand him. I was a bit nervous for what might happen behind his classroom’s closed door. A student-driven class can be brilliant, or it can be a let-down. Amongst lots of bright and socially-conscious, politically-minded students, I decided perhaps I wasn’t up for the challenge. I elected “Brain and Behavior” as my elective; but in hindsight, perhaps the subjects aren’t too far off!

Nonetheless, Bill O’Reilly would probably have classified me as a “moron,” since he explains in the introduction to his new book “Kids are Americans Too,” that “many American kids are complete morons.” He goes on to explain that these morons are “too lazy to figure out what their country is all about.”

Continue reading "Bill on Rights: “Kids are Americans Too!” Says Bill O’ Reilly" »

October 28, 2007

The Other Mother

OtherMother.jpgI had the pleasure of receiving a complimentary copy of Gwendolen Gross’ new book, The Other Mother. I dove into it enthusiastically for two reasons:

First, I am “in the middle” on the “Working Mom” versus “Stay at Home” mom battle: as a work-from-home-part-time gal, I can understand many of the benefits and drawbacks of each “type” of mother. I have plenty to say about how ridiculous this whole division is, and was curious to see how it played out in Gross’ fictional world.

Second, Gross is a friendly woman. We had a fun email exchange since she agreed to participate in the Chicago Moms Blog Book Club (sister blog of the Silicon Valley Moms Blog, where I am a contributor.) She sent me a copy of The Other Mother with a personal note and a bunch of cards promoting the book. Personal contact is so refreshing, and whenever an author takes the time to respond to his or her readers in this fashion, it pays dividends. If I feel valued, I will value that author’s book!

So what did I think?

Continue reading "The Other Mother" »

November 7, 2007

Let's Talk Provocateur Jeans

JoesPetiteProvocateur.gifI love my True Religion jeans. I bought them after flirts with 7 for All Mankind and Citizens of Humanity. Sure, the two latter are excellent, but my first True Religions (Joey) made me ever so happy. They have a wonderfully soft feel and Nordstrom's hemmed them perfectly.

Given my success with True Religion, I got an olive cropped pant and then later a deep-back-pocketed (Mickey T) that looked much better online and was way-more-ripped in person (and super-scratchy to boot.) The Joey jeans remained my favorite. (Although, I love the olive cropped and have received complements from Actual Very Rich Society People on them.)

But sadly, on the Joeys the fashionable rips have become deeper and a bit more homeless-chic than society-chic. The fading has become a bit light, so actual stain-type-things mean that the jeans always look dirty, even straight out of the wash. Still, I wear them on a regular basis, now with tights underneath to make the hole-y parts look more fashionable. (But don't I look more like an art student type that way, though?)

Continue reading "Let's Talk Provocateur Jeans" »

November 8, 2007

Look Me in the Eye: I finally read it, Mr. Robison!

I have also posted this review on the Karianna Spectrum; however, it seemed appropriate to stick it here as well.

Lookmeintheeyeaspergers Nearly two months ago I mentioned John Elder Robison's book, Look Me in the Eye. I then posted a clarification regarding my thoughts on the media portrayal of autism and/or spectrum disorders. Of course, since I hadn't yet read the book, I couldn't talk about it in specific.

Well, I've now read the book! (Funny how going away for a few days without kids suddenly opens up time for reading.)

It was a fairly quick read because it caught my attention. I couldn't put it down.

Yes, I saw parts of the Cat in it, but I also saw myself, and surprisingly, I saw my father. There were plenty of things in there that didn't resonate with my family, but that is true because we're all different people, regardless of what quirks we may possess.

My speech used to be more robotic than the Cat's is, for example. In fact, hearing the Cat read books aloud is adorable because he puts in beautiful inflection. Is that learned? Yes, but also no. When he speaks to us, I don't hear an "Aspergian" voice.

Continue reading "Look Me in the Eye: I finally read it, Mr. Robison!" »

November 27, 2007

The Daring Book for Girls

daringbookgirls.gifI loved the Dangerous Book for Boys. As such, while I was eager to review the The Daring Book for Girls, I was also a bit nervous that perhaps it wouldn’t live up to its inspiration. I knew it could either be a worthy match, or a weak attempt dressed in pink. While The Daring Book for Girls indeed has sparkles on its cover, they are welcome, for the content inside definitely sparkles. (And, the cover is not pink!)

Like The Dangerous Book for Boys, this “companion” is full of exciting facts, “how-to”s, and plenty of nostalgia.

I received The Daring Book for Girls free-for-review via the Parent Bloggers Network.

Continue reading "The Daring Book for Girls" »

December 4, 2007

That Baby CD and DVD: Creative and Fun!

ThatBabyCDandDVD.pngAs a parent determining what CDs are appropriate for your children, you don’t want to encourage repetitive jingles that stick in your head and drive you insane. But nor do you want obscene or too-sophisticated lyrics for the young-uns. Adult music can be appreciated by kids, but especially if it is introduced in a kid-friendly and “safe” way.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to review That Baby CD and That Baby DVD, two products from Rob and Lisi Wolf of OyBaby LLC. The company’s first venture into the world of children’s music was to create the first and only DVDs and CDs made for Jewish babies and kids, OyBaby.

Through the Parent Bloggers Network, I received That Baby CD and That Baby DVD, two non-religious, sway-inducing, smile-producing products. Should I admit that I’ve probably listened to the music more than my kids?

Continue reading "That Baby CD and DVD: Creative and Fun!" »

December 6, 2007

Autolite Spotglo Seatbelt Lite

AutoliteSpotGlo.jpgWe spend a lot of time in the car. Whether it is going to Grandma's or to hockey games, it is likely that we end up on the road while it is dark. Usually, we pop a DVD into the player, but then I am left rather bored and the books that the kids inevitably bring along end up unread as the sun goes down. There have been many times when I've wished for a book light for me or for the kids. I avoid using the overhead lights because I don't like people looking into our car and I don't want my or my husband's vision or attention compromised while we are driving.

Fortunately, through the Parent Bloggers Network I received an Autolite Spotglo Seatbelt Lite.

The Spotglo Seatbelt Lite is about four inches long and three inches wide. It clips on to the shoulder belt. The light itself is adjustable, plus the apparatus can slide up and down the belt. There are two settings of light strength, although I didn't realize this until I read more information about the product after I had tried it out.

Continue reading "Autolite Spotglo Seatbelt Lite" »

December 9, 2007

The Middle Place

MiddlePlaceKellyCorrigan.jpgGayle Weiswasser is hosting an online book club discussion of The Middle Place, by Kelly Corrigan. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of the book so that I could join in. If any of you wish to ask the author your questions, please visit Gayle's place to submit them.

I have read "cancer books" (and blogs) before, but I have been lucky enough not to understand what it feels like to go through what Corrigan has. Sure, I have had a friend with cancer to whom I brought meals, and I've had abnormal moles removed in the name of preventing cancer. But my frame of reference is very different than people who have lived it.

But this isn't really a "cancer book." It is a memoir. It is a spirit-lifting, page-turning, comfort-inducing memoir. Did I just say "comfort" and "cancer" in the same paragraph?

Continue reading "The Middle Place" »

January 9, 2008

CleanWell All-Natural Antibacterial Foaming Hand Wash

cleanwellhandsoap.jpgAwhile ago I wrote a review of Clean Well. Since then, I have continued to be an enthusiastic consumer of their antibacterial spray (and hand sanitizer wipe.) Splig is even pictured on their website (Look for “Chalk and Cheese”.) As you can imagine, I was ecstatic to try out their new line of products via the Parent Bloggers Network.

Their All-Natural Antibacterial Foaming Hand Wash is not like the traditional soap found on supermarket shelves. Like their hand sanitizer, the soap is made with Ingenium, a patented formulation of essential plant oils proven to kill 99.99% of harmful germs. Unlike those supermarket brands, CleanWell is the first all-natural Triclosan-free antibacterial hand soap.

Do you remember those horrible stories about alcohol poisoning from hand sanitizers? CleanWell jumped in with their alcohol-free variety. Similarly, most antibacterial liquid hand soaps contain the active ingredient Triclosan, a carcinogenic chemical which has been shown to act as an estrogen and androgen hormone disrupter. Why kill the bacteria but end up with cancer or hormone problems?

Well, CleanWell doesn’t have Triclosan.

Continue reading "CleanWell All-Natural Antibacterial Foaming Hand Wash" »

January 11, 2008

America's Giving Challenge

Parade Magazine is sponsoring "The America's Giving Challenge." The object of the challenge is to get as many people to donate to a specific cause as possible. It's not important how much is donated, just how many people actually donate. All donations are tax deductible.

The eight charities that receive the most donations (in number of contributions, not monetary amount) will receive a prize of $50,000 for their organization.

If you are interested in participating in this challenge, my cause of choice is The Find a Way/Habitot campaign to create an interactive museum for children of all abilities. I wrote about Find a Way when they were one of the top fifty finalists in the American Express Members' Project and when I created an iBakeSale for them.

In order for your donation to count towards the total, it must be through their Parade entry.

So why does the Find a Way / Habitot Campaign need money? Well, before they can proceed with further work on the museum itself, they need to pay $25,000 for a feasibility study as required by the city in which the museum is to be built.

When making a donation, it is important to specify it is for the "East County Museum Campaign" in the space provided. (This is because the organization sponsoring the entry is a broader one than just the museum for all-abilities as proposed by Find a Way.) The minimum donation is only $10, so even if Find a Way doesn't win the contest, if we can get 2500 people to donate just $10, we will have paid for the feasibility study!


January 13, 2008

The Ultimate TEA Diet is for ME!

ultimateteadiet.jpgWhen the Parent Bloggers Network offered me the opportunity to review The Ultimate TEA Diet, by Mark "Dr. Tea" Ukra, I thought it was going to be a "drink only tea, all the time" diet. Still, I was intrigued, so visited the website and discovered it is not a single-ingredient starvation diet. (Whew! - especially since I thought I didn't like tea. Turns out I just hadn't found one that I liked yet.)

I was eager to try out the book to learn more.

I had lost about 20 pounds in the early part of 2006 prompted by a "Biggest Loser" style challenge amongst the members of my mom's club. I came in second, winning some cash and some fuschia knock-off Prada sunglasses. But, as I noted later, the Cat's expulsion from Kindergarten and Spliggle becoming too active to sit patiently in the stroller (or be trusted as I exercised in the house) meant that my ability to carve out the time or method to exercise was stunted. I had plenty of excuses for why I wasn't cooking healthful meals, too.

I gained the weight back.

Fortunately, with both boys in school, my ability to exercise has picked up. I've gone "off and on" with walking or stationary biking. But my Coke Zero habit remained.

I took the opportunity to review The Ultimate TEA Diet as being a challenge: could I switch my Coke Zero for tea and lose weight?

Continue reading "The Ultimate TEA Diet is for ME!" »

March 5, 2008

Passions Will Nourish Your Child

no, not the soap opera...

YourChildsStrengths.jpeg
When my brother was in high school, he pretty much ignored math. His grades slipped. It wasn't that he wasn't intelligent; rather, he had better things to do than mathematics. He spent most of his time after school tinkering around on the family computer.

My parents could have taken the computer away as punishment for not doing his homework or for poor grades. Instead, they recognized that his passion would become his livelihood. Amazingly, they allowed him to switch from public high school to a more flexible private school that enabled him to develop his talents.

Eventually, he built his own computer in his room. He started an electronics consulting business. He then started an internet company. He attended high school in the morning and ran his company in the afternoon and into the night.

I bet you can guess the rest: he is a very successful businessman who owns two computer companies. He's taken some college courses, usually online, simply for his own edification, but his career is solid. He could probably retire and he isn't even 30. But he doesn't want to retire, because computer science is his life.

Meanwhile, as readers of the Karianna Spectrum know, I have a seven year old son who has plenty of quirks, but plenty of talents, too.

Throughout the years, I've been criticized on my parenting and he's been chastised doubly-so. While I love my son, I've seen teachers, medical professionals, and the public at large look down on his quirky and sometimes disruptive behavior. He was asked to leave a preschool and then expelled from his first kindergarten, a private school that I thought would be flexible in the same way that my brother's high school had been so many years ago.

We've had many ups and downs in his short educational career. I see qualities that will make him go far when he is older, but it is difficult for him to conform to societal expectations of who a first-grader should be. The exact qualities that make "spirited" children such a "burden" to their teachers are the same qualities that will help them think outside the box and be true innovators in adulthood.

Knowing that I must keep in mind my son's strengths as others are more concerned about his weaknesses I was eager to read Your Child's Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them by Jenifer Fox. I received this book free-for-review from the Parent Bloggers Network.

Continue reading "Passions Will Nourish Your Child" »

April 8, 2008

Uterine Prolapse, Anyone?

I imagined myself putting together a neatly-organized progression of posts to accurately recap my feelings on Johnson & Johnson's all-expense-paid blogger outreach "Camp Baby;" however, as inspiration strikes at odd times, I think I'll just let things "spill out" where they may. Ahem

---

This morning as I walked around our local reservoir, I was a bit perturbed to see a size 000 woman (probably thinner than my already-too-thin boys) energetically power-walking with an eensy-weensy baby in a Baby Bjorn. My Baby Bjorn hurt my back after awhile, so I couldn't imagine exercising with my baby in it, but more than that I was astonished at how active (and thin!) this woman was post-partum. Sure, maybe she is not the one who actually gave birth, but let's pretend for a moment.

As I watched her quickly stride out of my sight, I recalled how the nurse giving us the tour of the maternity ward laughed when I asked if I could walk the four NYC blocks home after giving birth. After all, she was talking about how the hospital requires everyone to have carseats before being allowed home. I wondered if I could be exempt because we wouldn't be taking a car.

"You'll feel as though you were hit by a bus," she laughed. "You'll be taking a car home!"

And indeed, I did. I took a taxi home with my mom (the shortest taxi ride in the driver's history, I am certain,) and Husband walked home in the rain with the newborn Cat in a Baby Bjorn.

Continue reading "Uterine Prolapse, Anyone?" »

April 10, 2008

Seriously, the Coolest:


Unfortunately, TinyPrints was purchased by a larger corporation. The way they operate is different than when I wrote the below review.

I had been a very loyal customer, and a big promoter of their company; however, they asked me to remove all links to them "ASAP" (without any compensation) as it was affecting their Google ranking. I am disappointed at their treatment of me and of other bloggers who had been so supportive of their company.

As it would hurt my own online integrity to unpublish my many posts about Tiny Prints, I am keeping them up, but with this warning attached.

More of my reaction to Tiny Prints

The Cool Mom Picks Mother's Day Guide is out!

No, CMP does not employ me*, nor do they give me anything (other than satisfaction) for kissing their behinds; but the truth is that CMP has led me towards unique, earth-conscious, well-made, and attractive products time after time.

It was through CMP that I found out about tiny*prints, which ended up being "THE" place from which to get Holiday Cards. During a New Year's party, one otherwise trendy woman was aghast that she had used another company. She hadn't heard of tiny*prints until their spectacular cards ended up in her mailbox from people who were clearly more fashion-forward than she. We discussed the issue at length.

As I noted in my New Year's Post, the majority of the gifts I bought for Christmas were from stores I found through the Cool Mom Pick's Holiday Guide, such as Modern Tots.

I trust The Cool Moms. And once you check out the listed products, so will you.

Yes, now. Go see The Cool Mom Picks Mother's Day Guide now!

* = Edited to add: I later became an employee of CMP, but was not when this post was written!

April 30, 2008

Rock Mama's Rules and Your Kids Will Be Fantastic

MamaRocksRules.jpgI was one of those first-time parents who stocked up on the parenting books and magazine subscriptions only to quickly become bitter. The preachy tone of the books and the unrealistic up-beat nature of the magazine articles soured my taste, especially when the advice didn't ring true to my particular situation.

But when the Parent Bloggers Network asked me if I wanted to read Mama Rock's Rules, I was game. Sure, Rose Rock happens to be the mother of comedian Chris Rock, but what intrigued me the most about this mother extraordinaire is that she has raised ten children, plus "more than" seventeen foster children have gone through her home. Her house was "the place" to gather and after reading her book, I can see why.

Rose Rock is an educator specializing in preschool and special education. With that kind of training, plus the real-life training of being the mother to so many types of kids, she surely knows what she is talking about. Her co-author Valerie Graham is part of the on-air and production team of The Mom Show with Rose Rock (at WWXM-FM.) She is a mother of three and a grandmother of four, so she's got experience, too!

Continue reading "Rock Mama's Rules and Your Kids Will Be Fantastic" »

May 5, 2008

Sunny Times are Here Again!

This weekend we made a spontaneous decision to go to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. As I scrambled around packing, I made sure to bring along plenty of sunscreen. I've had ikky-mole scares and while my olive-skinned older son is perpetually tan, Spliggle is blonde and ghostly-pale like me.

Last year, we tried out KINeSYS, and I was glad. I enjoyed the ability to spray it on without worrying about coverage. (I do cheat and "spread" a little "just in case.") Also in my sun-arsenal is Neutrogena Ultra-Sheer. A couple years ago, I had tried an SPF 50+ from L'Oreal, but it smelled disgusting, rancid even. I am not sure how I decided to try Neutrogena, but I did.

Then when I went to Camp Baby, one of our freebies was a bag filled with Neutrogena products. I didn't know that Johnson & Johnson owns Neutrogena! (I also didn't know they own Aveena.) As part of my stash, I received more Ultra-Sheer, plus their Face-Block and a spray-on sunscreen.

Continue reading "Sunny Times are Here Again!" »

May 6, 2008

Are Your Kids Safe?

safekids.jpgWhile I was at Camp Baby, I learned of two impressive programs that I would like to mention here.

Today I will profile Safe Kids USA. National "Safe Kids Week" was actually last week, so I missed the boat in announcing it week-of; however, the Safe Kids USA website has plenty of valuable material for parents.

Although some hospitals have carseat checks before the new parents are allowed out of the parking lot, and many police departments offer free carseat checks, many parents don't take them up on their offer. I remember traveling down the freeway when Splig's infant seat tipped over, despite being installed by several people who should have known what they were doing.

And then there is water-safety. (Pictured are Oscar winner actress Marcia Gay Harden and Charisse Nurnberg, mother of Matt, who drowned at the age of 3 - photo from Safe Kids USA) Unfortunately, I have a scary story to tell:

Continue reading "Are Your Kids Safe?" »

May 12, 2008

A Few Kinks, but Kinzin is On Its Way

kinzin.gifI have several blogs. I am an avid Flickr user. But family and friends deserve a more personal glimpse into the lives of my boys, so I happily agreed to try out Kinzin via the Parent Bloggers Network.

The site touts itself as a "free private family website," but I found it to be more of a combination of Flickr and Twitter or Facebook than a place to have comprehensive information about the children. For example, "Favourites" (yes, the British spelling) only allows four lines, as does "Wish List." The "status updates" only take about seven entries, and once they are gone, they are gone. I would have wanted a bit more space for user-driven content and an archive of the status updates. While having a huge page of status updates isn't practical, a "back" button with previous updates would be appreciated. "In the now" is literally current, but I like to have a history, too.

Continue reading "A Few Kinks, but Kinzin is On Its Way" »

May 20, 2008

The Older Sister I Never Had

RaisedByWolves.jpgWhen I was younger, my mom taught me the "circle sweep" method of cleaning a room. From her older sister, she provided me a list of "how to be a good guest." It would seem then that I wouldn't need Were You Raised by Wolves by Christie Mellor, but when the Parent Bloggers Network asked if I'd be interested in perusing Ms. Mellor's advice, I was eager.

After all, while I understood the need to keep things clean and to be respectful, I didn't necessarily know the best methods to do so. Time spent perfecting a little whorl on an appetizer may not be the best spent. Also, advice that comes via parental lips isn't as revered as that which comes from your best friend, so I may not have listened to all of the wisdom my mom tried to impart. Thankfully, Mellor can be simultaneously a best friend and a mentor. She may be older than her target audience, but she is still hip enough to not create a stodgy new adult. Her tone is friendly and casual, but she is also direct. She can give advice, but she can also shrug and say, "more martini for me" which is something I would never expect to hear from my mother.

And about those martinis:

Continue reading "The Older Sister I Never Had" »

June 3, 2008

Sleeping on Softness: Lands' End Pure Loft Mattress Topper

mattresstopper.jpegThe Cat is very sensitive.

He is sensitive to noise, pressure, smells, and food. When he feels just a little "off" it can translate into a big "off" in terms of behavior. Sometimes seasonal allergies will get him in a moody state, or a typical cold will turn off his impulse-control. Even happiness can become more like a mania, so "too much fun" is just too exhausting. (And yes, Spliggle is on the wired-up with glee train too, as many children are at times.)

The Cat is especially sensitive to sleep. Like most kids, he needs just the right amount. This can be tricky for someone who wants to stay up late and get up early in the morning. He has too much fun to do during the day than to sleep! And then there are those days when it is tough to awaken him. Right then, I can pretty much guarantee we'll have a Cranky Cat on our hands.

It is imperative that the Cat find comfort in his bed so that he can get to sleep quickly, stay asleep, and awake refreshed. Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to receive a Lands' End PureLoft Mattress Topper.

Continue reading "Sleeping on Softness: Lands' End Pure Loft Mattress Topper" »

June 11, 2008

New Episodes of The Bill Engvall Show and My Boys Premiere Tomorrow

billengvallshow.jpgThe wonderful folks at TBS sent me several DVDs worth of preview shows along with a comfy pair of pajamas (my first pajamagram!) I am glad to announce that one of these shows, The Bill Engvall Show, premieres new episodes tomorrow night.

Truthfully it has been awhile since I’ve watched an “old-fashioned” style sitcom with the laugh track . Those types of show were the staples of my viewing back when I was younger. The Bill Engvall Show is an updated version of these shows I used to watch religiously.

It was fun to watch the sitcom family in action: patient wife, goofy husband, the three kids with the requisite know-it-all, dunce and beauty, plus an annoying-with-a-soft-spot neighbor, naturally. Of course they have a family dog - who ends up being the subject of one of the episodes I previewed. The jokes were sometimes predictable, as is the formula for such shows, but I found myself chuckling along nonetheless. The plot lines are definitely lighter and more entertaining in a “kick-back-after-a-long-day” sort of way than some of the heavier “drama-dy type” shows I typically watch.

Continue reading "New Episodes of The Bill Engvall Show and My Boys Premiere Tomorrow" »

June 17, 2008

Writing Motherhood: Writing Yourself

writingmotherhood.JPGI was one of the lucky folks who received a copy of Writing Motherhood in anticipation of a book club discussion of the book on the NJ Moms Blog.

Unlike traditional book clubs, this one came with a writing prompt. Writing Motherhood at its core is a soul-seeking experience, not a "how to write the Great American Novel." The "Mother's Notebook," the handwritten book the consumer creates, is meant to be private, a "safe place" to let the words flow.

My challenge in writing is not necessarily finding time (I make time to write to the exclusion of things I should be doing, like folding the laundry and handling client requests) but as I learned from my struggles with the writing prompt, it is more that I have become used to writing for an audience, and not necessarily for myself. Although I love the idea of a "Mother Notebook," I haven't yet actually purchased mine yet.

Continue reading "Writing Motherhood: Writing Yourself" »

June 30, 2008

Preserve-Recycline Toothbrush

preserve_toothbrush.jpgWhile I started shopping at Whole Foods and other "organic-health-conscious" stores to find Feingold-safe food, I've started to notice and purchase environmentally-conscious products from pine-pellet cat litter to natural pest control solutions. After all, being healthful isn't just in things one eats, it is also what one breathes, uses on the skin, or on one's teeth. And being "green" in ways other than buying local produce or all-natural, organic products is important.

My kids are into the eco-conscious action, too: the Cat remarked the other day after I filled up my gas tank, "Mom, you're hating on the world because you drive this van instead of a part-electric car like Daddy!" But I digress...

In the household product aisle, I've been drawn to the brightly-colored Preserve plastic cutlery. I bought a whole bunch of lime ones since the Cat's favorite color is green.

Well, it turns out that Preserve makes more than just tableware. Thanks to Mom Central, I had the opportunity to receive two free Preserve toothbrushes.

There are many things about this toothbrush that warrant mention:

1) The bristles are WHITE. This may not seem like a huge deal at first glance, but the majority of the brushes found in drugstores and major-chain grocery stores have dyes on the bristles. Some brands market this as an indicator that when the dye fades it is time to replace the brush. But of course, the dye is going into your mouth or the mouths of your children.

After I received a rare white-bristled child-sized brush from my dentist, I begged him to let me snag a few more. He gave me his final two, and told me that the other brushes he had were dyed. I copied down the manufacturer's information and purchased an enormous package of the white-bristled ones direct from the supplier. Thereafter, I received mail about "my dental practice."

preservetoothbrushes.jpgFortunately, I found some white-bristled toothbrushes at health-food stores, but I am very relieved to know that Preserve toothbrushes are available. Preserve Jr. has some models that include dye, but they also have some all-white bristled ones as well.

2) Preserve toothbrushes are made from recycled material, namely yogurt lids. The Sundance Channel published a video about this process. [edited 2/2009: The website has been revamped; below is a quote that appeared on the original site.]

"Since 2001, Preserve and Stonyfield Farm have partnered to keep (literally) tons of plastic out of landfills. We collect cups and scrap plastic from Stonyfield's manufacturing facility in nearby New Hampshire, as well as the used cups that people who have enjoyed Stonyfield Farm yogurt return to them. Then we turn these cups into Preserve Toothbrushes, Tongue Cleaners and Razors."

3) Preserve toothbrushes are themselves recyclable. Their website includes a postage-paid label that can be affixed to a package of used toothbrushes, razor handles, and tongue-cleaners.

4) It turns out that Preserve products are not just sold at expensive health-stores. Preserve toothbrushes are available at Target stores nationwide for only $2.04! Plus, here is a printable coupon! [no longer available.]

Thank you Mom Central for letting me know about this fantastic company, and thank you Preserve for creating products out of old plastic that we can use and then recycle yet again!

July 31, 2008

The Beach House is Much More than a Beach

beachhouse.JPGLast night I finished reading The Beach House, a fun and thought-provoking novel by New York Times bestselling author Jane Green. This afternoon, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Green on a conference call with other bloggers.

I admit that I first thought The Beach House would be a light, quick read, something someone might read at - say - a beach house, resting on an Adirondack, toes buried in the sand. I was correct about the "quick" part, particularly because I didn't want to put it down, but "light" isn't a good descriptor. Rather, Ms. Green creates a complex situation that at its core is about simplifying. The take-home message is one of finding oneself or reinventing oneself, and essentially about coming "home" in many senses of the word.

During the conference call, Ms. Green notes The Beach House is a character-driven book, whereas her next novel (due out next year) is more a plot-driven novel. Indeed, the characters in The Beach House are richly developed. Instead of hearing a tale from a single perspective, the reader is delighted by learning the other sides as well.

I remarked that it was as if there were no true "villains" in the book. Indeed, there is only one person who seems completely corrupted. Other characters have flaws, some of them very serious, but we also see why. A fellow blogger challenged me to explain how a particular female character wasn't evil. Although I choked a bit with my response on the call, I can say with certainty that I can understand where she was coming from. I shall not reveal any plot points, but while this woman does some rather unfortunate things, it comes out of needy vulnerability.

I identified with many of the characters simultaneously. I also recognized many ways in which I was distanced from the characters. This is important, for anything that hits "too close to home" becomes more about therapy and less about entertainment. Nonetheless, reading The Beach House made me think a great deal about the portions of the book that made my gut turn because of my own vulnerabilities.

As I slept last night, I had a funny dream about junior prom. I was surrounded by friends from many years ago, people with whom I could just be "myself." Indeed, my friends told me I could just wear jeans to the dance, because it was all about being comfortable. They had arrived rather unexpectedly, and I felt awkward despite seeing friendly faces. I searched through my wardrobe to discover what I would feel best about wearing. Meanwhile, the friends sat in the limo, waiting for my decision. Alas, my alarm clock went off before I could find out what I would have chosen. I suspect the dream was motivated by the themes in The Beach House. So, you could say I was touched by this novel.

I enjoyed the call this afternoon since it is fun to hear the author's thoughts about her own book as well as some of the "back story" in developing this and her other novels. Thank you to Beth Feldman of RoleMommy and BeyondPR for arranging the call, and to Jane Green for answering our questions and chatting with us about The Beach House and beyond.

August 11, 2008

Embrace Your White Trash and Find Yourself

WhiteTrashMom.jpgLast autumn, I volunteered to bring the pumpkin pie to the First Grade Thanksgiving Feast. The pies needed to be cut into uniform pieces to serve four classes worth of students. Since most store-bought pumpkin pies contain cloves - which the Cat is allergic to - I was going to make homemade pumpkin bars. They cut easily into squares (easier to serve than pie slices!) and would no doubt adhere to the school's "Wellness Policy" because I knew I wasn't going to use additional sugar, and I use real vanilla, no artificial flavors, and no funky preservatives. It seemed like a winning situation.

But I made a tragic mistake: Instead of just showing up with 13,284 pumpkin bars, I emailed the woman in charge of the volunteers to let her know of my plans. She had said to buy "four Costco pies and cut into bite-sized pieces." I figured the mention of Costco was an attempt to let people relax about not having to bake themselves, so didn't think there would be any reason to object to someone who wanted to take on that responsibility. So, when I volunteered, I said I'd happily bake bars.

Her response was, "The committee decided to serve Costco's pumpkin pies," but that I was "welcome to bake a special pie for [the Cat.]"

In Michelle Lamar and Molly Wendland's The White Trash Mom Handbook they refer to such committees as "The Muffia," a term they lovingly lifted from I Don't Know How She Does It. Indeed, this particular lady is leader of our school's Muffia, but unlike White Trash Mom's assertion that the Muffia wishes to condemn those who aren't perfect, this particular "you must only bring store-bought goods," was a twist on that. It is almost as though this particular woman wanted to make sure that I didn't get credit for being capable enough to bake enough pumpkin bars for around eighty First Graders. (And, in this cruel twist, this meant that my son would be singled out as not having what the other kids had - and I had to foot the bill for all that nasty artificial crud, the leftovers which were returned to me, of course.)

Later, a fellow non-Muffia-Mom (who White Trash Mom would simply call a Fellow White Trash Mom - but I view this particular friend more as a Hippie-Free-Spirit more than straight from the trailer park) ran into the aforementioned woman shouting out directions to her volunteers. My very strong, unflappable friend whispered nervously, "I am SCARED of her!" Indeed, upon speaking to other moms, I learned there was no "committee" that decided on the Costco pies. The "committee" was just Muffy.

I received The White Trash Mom Handbook via the Parent Bloggers Network. It is written by the same gal behind [a now-defunct blog] plus with "inside-information" from her former-Muffia Friend "Tacky Princess."

While I don't listen to "Country and Western" or quite feel comfortable wearing tie-dye, I got some great tips from this book. Part of the White Mom Trash Philosophy (thankfully spelled out quickly at the start of the book) involves not worrying so much about what other people think. Indeed, I am very guilty of that: I am an approval-seeker, which means those "Muffia" folks definitely have a victim in me. (I have plenty of juicy anecdotes like the pumpkin pie one.) But if I learn to "take a chill pill," I should be able to accomplish much more than if I am trying to live up to an unattainable standard of perfection.

Indeed, White Trash Mom talks about how the perfect people must have help. And in my neighborhood, they do: nannies, housekeepers, personal chefs, and personal trainers. I do not. And yes, I am sure there are plenty of folks in our school who don't either, but the most visible folks are also the most pampered.

Being "White Trash" is not about bucking all expectations and rebelling loudly, because as is mentioned many times in the book, your kids will suffer. On one hand, being "White Trash" is "still holding on to the flicker of light [you] had before having kids," but on the other hand, "you need to be involved in some manner because the school needs you," so "think of yourself last and put your child first."

"White Trash Mom" and "Tacky Princess" give a run-down on school volunteer opportunities with their unique cost-benefit analysis (ROI: Return on Investment.) They mention ways short-cuts can be taken without anyone getting truly hurt. It is essentially all about balance: not trying to be Superwoman, but also not being a complete slacker.

I admit that I found a few contradictions in the book, but that is because there are many contradictions in real life. For example, the book disapproves of the Muffia's over-scheduling of kids' activities, particularly sports activities where the child is unlikely to ever play professionally or even in college or high school. But one of the pieces of advice (that I cheered!) was to sign up kids for activities outside of school. That way, if a bully at school is making life miserable, the kid has friends from outside of school.

Indeed, my kids' activities are primarily with kids who don't attend their school. (And yes, the Cat's soccer team is a "club sport," where he had to try out. But I think everyone made the team. Shhhh! Don't tell him!). My own tumultuous social life in elementary school was balanced by the many hours I spent dancing with kids who didn't know my in-school social status. Having that outlet physically and socially was valuable for me, and I hope it is for my kids as well.

But I do agree with White Trash Mom that it isn't productive for the kids to be pushed in multiple sports if it is all about the parents' benefit instead of for the kids' enjoyment. Knowing when it is about the kid and when it is about the parent is hard.

The White Trash Mom Handbook begins with a dose of social philosophy and psychology, and then continues on to actual "tips" to hopefully decrease stress while still supporting teachers in the "unwritten curriculum." It is about keeping up with expectations and appearances in a way that benefit, instead of hurt, the kids. Tips about handling work, cleaning, and cooking are all in here. I'll happily contribute to The White Trash Mom Cookbook (yes, I see a companion book in the future) because while the recipes in that section indeed look yummy and easy, I have a bunch of easy recipes that don't rely so heavily on the processed foods. Being healthy need not be a Muffia-trait.

Even if you don't like the term "White Trash Mom" - put away your biases or I'll accuse you of being part of the Muffia -- The White Trash Mom Handbook is worth a read. (pick it up at Amazon) It challenges us to be true to ourselves and our instincts while still accepting responsibility for our kids and household. The book is humorous, practical, and surprisingly thought-provoking. It is going to take some effort to wean me from my wanting-to-please-everyone ways, but at least I know there are others struggling with the same tendencies.

August 28, 2008

Zapping Uggs Across the Country

zappos.jpgLast night - after browsing for hours - I purchased a pair of Black Leather Shoreham Uggs from Zappos.com. By "last night," I really mean night. As in after traditional business hours. After I'd expect anyone other than a computer to respond to my order. Indeed, within seconds I received the traditional "Thanks for your Order!" computer-generated email.

This morning, I saw a second email from Zappos.com, this one saying "Your Order will Ship Today!" It appeared computer generated, and while it was sent only a couple hours after my order, it was super late at night, so I figured their "today" meant the next business day, like today - Thursday, August 28th - not the "today" of the email date.

But when I went outside, my shoes were on the porch.

uggs.jpgApparently, my beautiful clogs hopped the plane last night, exactly as the email had said. "Today" was really "yesterday," and somehow they reached me this morning.

The shipping insert says "your order was packed and shipped by Benjamin K. and Leia S." So to Benjamin and Leia - thank you for working so darn late last night.

As for the shoes themselves, OH MY GOSH. Don't tell Husband, but I think I'm going to order another pair of Uggs. They are THAT comfortable. The ones I bought have the sheepskin around the entire foot, but then it is an open back. I think I'll purchase some of the boot-type ones for winter. Both boys have already commented on how soft my new shoes are, and they are thus lobbying to have their own. Believe the hype. Uggs are amazing.

September 19, 2008

Libby's Says Get Back to the Table

Libby%27s%20logo.jpgTypically I talk about all the things out of the house that we're doing, from soccer to gymnastics. More and more, families are scattered about after-school. The reasons are "good:" the kids are attending religious youth group organizations, taking music lessons, or participating in team-building, obesity-fighting sports. But so much research has said that a strong family unit is the key to success, and that sitting down at the table as a family is a must.

I admit this is very difficult. Usually Husband has meetings, so I know that at the least I should sit down with my kids to eat. But we end up grabbing something on the way home from gymnastics, or on the way to soccer. I end up snowed-under in work and fail to make dinner, so tell the kids to go grab a Balance bar (which is a fabulous snack) or I quickly make pasta (yes, I use the Bertolli pasta sauce I received when I met Rocco.)

All too often, Husband comes home to a hungry family and will end up either bringing us takeout or cooking us something (yes, he's the chef in our house.) But by then, we're so tired and otherwise occupied that we might be in the same room, but aren't really "eating together."

Via Mom Central, I received some Libby's canned vegetables and information about their Get Back to the Table resources. Check out their "CANvenient" Recipe Section, with gems such as "$10 Meals in 10 Minutes."

I need meals that are:
- quick
- inexpensive
- healthful

Fortunately, Libby's recipes and products deliver on all three. Of course, the Cat has some dietary concerns in that we follow the Feingold Diet, so that is always a concern with recipes, but we can alter where necessary. For example, the tasty "Kicked Up Mac & Cheese" doesn't specify the brand of Mac N' Cheese, so I can easily insert in some of the organic non-artificial stuff like 365 or Annie's. And Ian's makes great panko bread crumbs. I can omit the pimentos for the Cat since he is allergic, but can add-in later for other family members if they are interested. Meanwhile, the Libby's corn and peas remain the same. Since canned veggies have such a fantastic shelf-life without those petroleum-based preservatives to which the Cat is allergic, it is a great option for "stocking up" the panty and then grabbing when needed to make dinner in a flash.

Some people have a negative association to canned products. But the truth is that different recipes do better with canned, fresh, or frozen. The different consistencies of these vegetables can aid in various recipes. So while I admit that I like to buy fresh, the truth is that it often wilts on the counter or rots in the fridge, whereas if I have some frozen or canned vegetables around, they'll be handy for when I finally try out whatever recipe I've been meaning to prepare. (And those canned and frozen veggies end up having more nutritional value than old soggy "fresh" ones.) Meanwhile, although the Cat is very picky about food in general, "mixed vegetables" is an amazing fall-back for him. Having cans of mixed vegetables in the pantry or bags in the freezer is imperative for us.

Convenience foods need-not be unhealthy. Using canned vegetables, such as Libby's, along with other easily-stored things like pasta and canned chicken broth, can be very easy and economical. Many recipes can also incorporate fresh ingredients and allow flexibility for personal preference.

Check out Libby's Get Back to the Table tips, and print out a coupon for 50 cents off a can of Libby's!

September 23, 2008

The First

Developmental milestones were never my thing. When I think of "first words" or "first sentence" my mind draws a blank. I remember "first steps" because my mom told me I walked at 9 months, so I wanted to make sure I knew when my son did. He ended up walking at 10 months. My second son was a good 13-14 months before he walked, although he is quite the adventurous gymnast now.

My first son walked, but he was fearful of climbing. My second son climbed, but didn't bother walking. Aside from that "important" walking milestone, my second son met his physical and social "milestones" well before my first.

When I write out those annoyingly long surveys of "medical history" I cringe at the developmental milestone blanks because they remain blank. I was of the "just relax, since kids develop at their own pace" mindset.

But you know where that got me.

Yes, doctors frowned their disapproval when I could not write down the exact date my son uttered his first word. It didn't help that he was on all fours meowing like a cat or ignoring them completely.

When it was apparent that the Cat wasn't meeting the "traditional" milestones, I was concerned, but couldn't help being hurt when the doctors and teachers would chime "Why didn't you get him help earlier!?" especially as the red tape piled up such that I had tried to get help many months or years before.

On one hand, I wanted to let my child develop at his own pace.

On the other hand, I saw the panic. Other moms didn't approve of my son's behavior. His preschool teachers didn't approve of his behavior. The doctors said he must be severely disabled and would continue to be, especially since obviously we hadn't done anything yet. (And what is "anything" given that the insurance wouldn't pay for therapy anyway?) I didn't feel comfortable leaving him with babysitters or at something like a generic daycare in a store, gym, or public event.

Now? He is a second grader. He has quirks, but he is a second grader. He plays soccer on a "normal" team where none of the coaches know he has a "diagnosis." He reads at (or above) grade-level. His mathematical abilities are above grade-level. His language, enunciation, and facial expressions are all fine. He is not an ax murderer.

And then my second son. Oh, my second son. He is a social butterfly who believes he is a teenager. Nay, he is taking over the world. He is independent in ways that my first son is definitely not. When the Cat is hesitant, Splig jumps right in to "save" his older brother. "See, I can do it!"

But even my second son hasn't escaped the designation of "developmental delays." In his case, it is his speech. He enjoys his speech classes and doesn't see himself as "different" in any way. Even so, I don't remember many of his "firsts," probably because I was so consumed with trying to get things to work well with the Cat.

I wish I could say that the first time I felt "this is the school!" was when I stepped on the Cat's current campus. Yes, I get happy butterflies when I go there because the teachers have been so supportive, but I was exceptionally excited about the private school that later expelled him, too. When I stepped on that campus, I felt like it was a special community. It turned out that community was singular, just not in a way that meshed with the Cat. That experience hurt more than I can explain, but I am glad that for now we have a happy resolution.

The Cat's current school is excellent. I must hold my breath, though, because this week is "conference week," and with it our first "official" view into how the Cat has been doing in the second grade. We've already gotten the not-so-favorable report from the Spanish teacher, so my heart is tense in my chest.

I hope that filling out forms of developmental milestones is over for us, but if either boy ends up having more severe problems in the future, those blanks will need to be filled. And again, my mind will be empty, and I'll have to give gross estimates, all the while signaling to the evaluator that I must not have been attentive, or didn't care.

And in a way I don't care. Early diagnosis can help sometimes, but it can hurt other times. I am very worried about jumping at each little deviance, and comparisons of "firsts" are just that.

But finally finding a school and extra-curricular activities that mesh with the Cat? It is worth it that it wasn't our "first" try, because so far, it is the "first" time he's really been like a "normal" kid.

------------------------------

In June I wrote a no-edit stream-of-consciousness post based on a writing prompt from Writing Motherhood, which I subsequently reviewed here at Reviews from the Couch.

The above post was based on another writing-prompt, this time on "First Words and Other Firsts."

I am pleased to announce that YOU can write your own post on this topic and win a copy of Writing Motherhood!

When: RIGHT NOW, September 23

Your Task: Write a post based on the same prompt as i did above (see below for the whole prompt). Put the link to your post in the comment section of this post. I have also cross-posted this on The Karianna Spectrum. A comment on either cross-post (not both) will get you one entry. If you do not have your own blog, feel free to respond to the prompt right in the comments section - that will get you an entry. Lisa Garrigues, the author of Writing Motherhood, will respond to your posts and comments!

The Prompt: First Words and Other Firsts: Open any baby diary and you will find whole pages devoted to firsts: first smile, first words, first friends, first birthday. Why are firsts so significant? Because they represent a beginning. Because they push us beyond what is familiar and comfortable. Because they jolt us out of the numbness or everyday life and bring us back to our primitive selves when we saw a world through a child's eyes. Keeping in mind that first experiences do not end with babyhood, write about a first: the first day of kindergarten, the first day of college, the first grandchild. Or simply begin with the writing start "the first time" and write down the first thing that comes to mind.

What Can You Win? Why, your own copy of Writing Motherhood, of course! Tomorrow, September 24th, I'll pick a winner randomly from the submitted comments.

I look forward to reading your posts, and for virtually hosting Lisa Garrigues!

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Congratulations RebekahC - you've won!

September 25, 2008

Not Just Maybe: Pick up this Baby Today.

MaybeBabyMiller.JPGWhen the Parent Bloggers Network asked me to review Maybe Baby: An Infertile Love Story, I agreed because I was curious. The early reviews sounded fabulous and the cover shot looked perky and inviting. Yet I didn’t think I would be so engaged by a novel about infertility.

First, I don’t have any experience in the subject. Sure, it took a few more months to conceive my second son than my first. And yes, I felt disappointed and annoyed when it didn’t “work” month after month, but “month after month” was probably less than eight. I have no frame of reference other than recalling how desperately I wanted each of my kids, and watching the struggles of friends who haven’t been as lucky.

Second, the subject of infertility is a “downer.” But Maybe Baby is anything but. In a way, I feel bad for laughing at some points; and yet my chuckles are testament to Matthew Miller’s amazing ability to entertain and engage his readers. We forget at times that this novel has a heartbreaking longing at its core, and yet we cannot forget because Miller’s personality is such that we can’t help thinking “This guy would make such an excellent dad!”

He is the guy you want to be your best friend. He is an entertainer. He is resilient, yet sensitive. And most importantly, he is honest. His descriptions, manners, desires and temperament show he is an excellent fit for fatherhood.

The memoir is not the same story page after page; each new adventure of Matthew and Constance may have the same ultimate goal each month, but the journey and twists are different. The obstacles they face include flat tires and “no semen after noon” rules at the hospital. And of course there is the financial aspect: “We keep paying to have wands shoved in your hoo-ha, for me to masturbate at the hospital, and for us to be criminally disappointed every month,” Miller writes a conversation with Constance on pg. 206.

This book is educational and entertaining all in one. New to me, but Miller describes on pg. 222 the bizarre-yet-logical “cum courier” role: “… the endocrinologist conductor shouted, ‘Last Call!’ for the express brassiere train for which my semen now held a one-way ticket…” A dry description of how the woman should carry her partner’s semen to the hospital in her bra to maintain optimum temperature wouldn’t have been nearly so entertaining. I can’t help laughing at his descriptions of procedures that should be embarrassing, like huddling in a bathroom that smells of “poop in a peach patch” to unromantically create the seed from which his maybe baby might occur. But I feel mortified on his behalf, too.

Miller is not a “victim” despite his position. His voice is strong. His character, solid. And yet he and his wife have been denied month after month after month. There is no condescension as I desperately wish for a happy resolution. “They deserve it,” I think, as I turn each page hoping for that “Hey! We won the conception lottery!” declaration. Throughout the book, each pregnancy announcement is someone else in their family.

Maybe Baby is definitely worth your while. The story is compelling and romantic without being sappy. Sounds cliché, but I laughed and I cried. Further adventures of Matthew M.F. Miller are at maybebabyblog.com.

October 5, 2008

Sleep is for the Weak: But These Gals are Strong



Last night I hung out with a bunch of the authors of Sleep Is for the Weak: The Best of the Mommybloggers Including Amalah, Finslippy, Fussy, Woulda Coulda Shoulda, Mom-101, and More! (Blogher Book).

I love these peeps. Truly, I do. Sure, I got a bunch of their autographs during BlogHer's closing party at Macy's, but somehow I had forgotten to get Lisa's signature, and dear Grace Davis I hadn't seen in two years. Last night, I got their two Hancocks, plus got a chance to hang out with some of my favorite people, some of whom are in the book, and some of whom will be in the sequel. (There WILL be a sequel, right Rita?)

I could gush all day about how adorably cute Mrs. Kennedy was in her jumper. Or how I enjoyed nuzzling up to Stefania. I am always excited to see Squid's red -do and who can resist the charms of Jenijen and Jenny? Of course I worshiped at Rita's feet, and although I see Maggie everywhere, last night was the first time we actually shook hands and exchanged names. I love seeing Glennia, particularly as she always has stories to tell about the Big Name Political People she sees; that girl is devoted her Momocrat-ness.

But you don't want all the name-dropping, do you? You just want me to say BUY THE BOOK. These are fabulous writers, and the company they keep are amazing folks as well. I got to meet various husbands, too, which is frequently a window into the soul.

So... BUY THE BOOK. And feel jealous that I got to hang out with some of the wonderful women who are fellow bloggers, regardless of whether they are in the book or not!

Kari’s Kitchen Kooks Norwegian Pancakes

This is not a cooking blog. But for today, humor me.

Friday October 10th is World Egg Day, and in honor of this, I will share with you one of my favorite egg recipes.

For the sake of completeness, I have posted a Flickr set of our adventures, plus have created little videos throughout the process. (Husband remarked “What’s with the multi-media extravaganza?”)

Usually folks only consider omelets, quiche, deviled eggs, and other very “eggy” tasting dishes to be made from eggs. But there are plenty of other dishes that have eggs as a major component. Egg sushi, for example, is super-yummy, and not necessarily what one considers first when thinking about egg dishes, especially if you up your wasabi factor.

Well as much as I love sushi, today I will make Norwegian pancakes.

Most people think of flour, and probably sugar, when they consider pancakes. But my favorite pancakes are primarily egg. Sure, the flour is there, as is milk, but the only sugar is whatever you put on top or inside, like syrup. And so, today I share with you my grandmother’s recipe for Norwegian Pancakes. This pancake is not quite a crepe, but is thin and versatile. Using a variety of fillings or toppings, this recipe can take on many forms.

First we had to go to the store because we realized we didn’t have enough milk:

The Cat told me he was happy to play video games instead of helping me and Splig cook the pancakes:

Before we made the actual pancakes, I prepared the fillings. One such filling/topping was (surprise!) eggs! I hard-boiled them to use later:

Our science-lesson break: how to tell the difference between the fresh-out-of-the-fridge eggs that I’d need for the pancakes proper versus the hardboiled eggs we’ll use as a filling?

Splig helped me slice the hard-boiled ones nice n’ purdy:

And then we were off to make the actual pancakes:

The three basic ingredients are eggs (6 of them!) milk (2 ¾ cups) and four (1 ½ cups.) Even these primary ingredients can be altered to taste, such as using gluten-free flour. Or you may want to use soy or rice milk to avoid casein. If you like chocolate, use chocolate milk. I wonder if using coconut milk would create a fun variation of this recipe, especially with chocolate chips as a filling?

The ingredients:


BASIC INGREDIENTS:

6 eggs

1 ½ cups flour

2 ¾ cups milk


Once the ingredients are all set, it is time to actually create the batter. The method is pretty simple: add the eggs and flour together, and then slowly pour the milk in the mix. Don’t stir too quickly or the batter will have too much air in it and won’t cook well. Certainly my grandma and those before her used a wooden spoon and a bowl for the mixing, but we use an electric mixer at its lowest speed. (Don’t forget to scrape the sides with a rubber spatula!)

Splig shows the process:

(Yes, I said “6 cups eggs” but really I meant “six eggs.”)

Once the batter is ready, fry up the pancakes! I use an electric frying pan set to a click under 350 degrees. Husband mocks me for my electric frying pan, but I’ve never been able to make Norwegian pancakes properly without it.

Set to a hair under 350 degrees, butter it up (yes, I use actual butter) and pour in the batter. As soon as the pancakes are solid enough to flip (they switch from shiny to matte,) flip ‘em. Less than a minute on the second side will do.

Here’s my how-to:

The next part is the creative part: either slap it on a plate or roll it up with or without fillings. Growing up I had my mom create a little roll with syrup inside. My kids love chocolate chips and marshmallows the best. I line up the toppings in a little line, and then roll the pancake around it. Of course it melts into a gooey yumminess. No syrup necessary for pancakes that are already filled with sugar!

The fillings need not be candy: fruit will do too, or more savory tastes like onion, peppers, or bacon. This pancake can act as a crepe or as an omelet. Ham, cream-cheese, and more eggs would be tasty. (I think the eggs as a garnish is great.) Add some caviar if you so desire. There are plenty of possibilities.

(Embarrassingly I say “sour cream” when I meant to say “cream cheese.” Indeed, sour cream would also be a great filling/topping, as would something like whipped cream, ricotta cheese, marzipan… whatever taste you are after.)

Here is the pictorial process involved in the green onion – cream cheese – egg variety:

Cooked PancakeLining up the Toppings

Rolling in the ToppingsAll Rolled Up

Egg N' Onion GarnishAll Gone!


PANCAKE PLATING:

- put the cooked pancake flat on a plate
- lay the toppings in a line
- fold over one side
- fold over the other side : now you have a roll!
- garnish if desired
- eat it up


And here is the finished product of the chocolate-chip-filled ones:

Chocolate Garnish I'll Eat These

Yummy Mid-Section View

Do the kids like ‘em? Well sure:

But then Splig wanted to let me know that my version (onion, cream cheese, and extra eggs) wasn’t his cup of tea:

So there you have it. If anything, you’ve learned that Splig has a very unusual fashion sense and likes to be a complete goofball. You’ve also learned that Kari’s Kitchen is not ready for prime-time. But I also hope you can take my Norwegian Pancake recipe and modify it to your family’s tastes and needs. Happy World Egg Day (on the 10th!)

Pleezy Cheezy Make More! Yup, these are Yummy

Thank you to the Egg Board and the Parent Bloggers Network for letting me know about this excellent holiday.

October 13, 2008

MommyBlogging Marketing Does Work: Part One

This past year I've been very lucky in the "free stuff" department

First, I went to Johnson's Camp Baby earlier in the year. That involved lots of "free" and lots of fun. Although I didn't go post-crazy about every product about which we learned, the conference has still had an impact on me and my spending.

Second, at the BlogHer Conference, we got a lot of swag. I got even more swag because of my associations with things like the Experience Project and the Silicon Valley Moms Blog. The unfortunate thing about the sheer volume of products - plus the post-conference BlogHebola virus that carries with it sheer exhaustion - is that it is very difficult (if not impossible) to post about every product, nor would I want to. After all, I want to post only about those things that I truly endorse; not feel "guilted into" posting about something simply because it is free. (You know that junk mail you receive with free address labels, or a free nickel with the "this nickel could save a child's life, please send it back to us along with your further donation.)

Although I love the "free," it doesn't necessarily translate directly to immediate blog posts. (And yes, I am disappointed when I feel "too busy" to mention products that are really worth a shout-out. But there are still benefits to swag...)

So - if you are someone hoping to get on someone's blog (or more importantly, everyone's blog,) then, should you stop the swag and only email specific bloggers for that "personal contact" that might entice them to actually write about your product?*

Well, no.

I don't say so out of greed - because after all, there were plenty of things that I passed on to others, but that is the key: I passed them on to others who would truly appreciate them..

Rather, wait a little bit, and see the "ripples" of the swag.

After Camp Baby, I posted about uterine prolapse (Johnson's makes surgical gadgets for this,) Neutrogena sun products (Yes, Johnson's makes Neutrogena and Aveeno,) Safe Kids Week, and the Thanks Mom! commercials aired during the Olympic games.

I didn't post necessarily so much about the products themselves, but here's a tip: I had a sample size bottle of Johnson's Baby Lotion by my bed. I've since used it up, so purchased another. Yes, that is right - I used my own dollars to purchase a J&J product. Similarly, I regularly use the Neutrogena cosmetics that had been in our "welcome" bag at Camp Baby. When they run out, I'll be running to the store to purchase more.

Ted N' MeSpliggle loves the Bedtime toddler-sudsing bars. Alas, I cannot find the product on the website, so I am not sure if it has been continued, although I found bedtime washclothes, which I bet are nice - but the enclosed bar is so much sturdier than a washcloth. Perhaps I'll have to go back to that old Girl Scout trick of sticking soap inside a pantyhose leg? We could still use Johnson's Baby soap inside if Splig really wants that smell. We really depend on their detangling conditioner, too: Splig the gymnast flips and somersaults his way into some rather knotty tangles.

So I have become a J&J customer - I am purchasing products that I probably otherwise wouldn't.

Other ripples include things like the photo of me and Ted Allen on my Flickr page. People ask how I met Ted Allen, and thus I mention Camp Baby - viola! More publicity for Johnson's.

And then there is Nintendo, the sponsor of one of the Camp Baby parties. During that party, we got a chance to preview Wii Fit, which I promptly pre-ordered (and I swear I'll review it one of these days.) At the end of the party, we each got a DS.

Well I am sure you can surmise what happened next: certainly we needed more games for the DS than just the one I got at Camp Baby. And of course each son had to have his own "tiny computer." So we've spent quite a lot of money on Nintendo products that we probably wouldn't have otherwise. Not that I am complaining, the boys are thrilled and have had tons of fun! But I bet I've now paid them enough to cover that one night of free stuff, and will likely continue to buy - that's good marketing!

--

"Tune in" next week when I continue the "MommyBlogger Marketing Monday" mini-series with some other examples of swag-turned-profit.

October 19, 2008

Her Room is My Room Too

I got to the BlogHer Keynote speech early.

I didn't see anyone I knew, so I sat at a table just off center to the right in the front. I pulled out my schedule and who-knows-what-else from my bag and started to read.

A lady approached, "Is this seat taken?" she wondered.

"No, go on ahead," I nodded.

Soon we were doing the usual business-card exchange thing. Except she didn't have a business card on her. "I'm from Her Room," she said, "Did you see a card from us in your swag bag?" she asked hopefully.

My face probably gave me away. I had no idea. I hadn't dug through my swag yet. "Um, no? Not yet. I haven't had time to sort through everything!"

"Well don't throw it away - that card from Her Room is good for a free panty!" She then explained how the site is heavily customer-review driven and how the customers had voted for their favorite brand and style within the different types of undergarments. That card would entitle the bearer to a free pair of whichever type we wanted (boyshort, bikini, thong...)

Our conversation then turned to other things, but when I returned home I remembered about Her Room. I found the card and checked out the site. I selected the hi-cut brief. The Her Room customers had selected "barely there," which touted completely invisible panty lines.

I wasn't familiar with that brand, but went along with it. After all, free is free!

I received several emails from Her Room after that, checking up on the status of my order and giving me very accurate delivery times. When the package arrived (very quickly!) it was wrapped nicely in tissue paper, just as if I had bought it instead of receiving it gratis.

I was struck by how much care had gone into presenting me with a free panty.

Well, I love my new pair of underwear. In fact, I love it so much that I went back to Her Room to order a gazillion more, all the barely there model I received just because of BlogHer. While at the site, I picked up some Flexees as well, 'cause most of us can stand to have a little tummy-smoothing action. Flexees was also a brand with which I wasn't familiar, but thanks to the reviews on Her Room, I had confidence that I was purchasing something about which I knew more than trying to guess how a random flashy-looking thing on an already-svelte Victoria's Secret model would look on me.

I am ecstatic that I learned about Her Room through BlogHer. I now have underwear I actually like. And that is saying a lot.

---

Her Room has a brother site called (what else!) His Room.

October 20, 2008

MommyBlogging Marketing Does Work: Part Two

As I mentioned last week, I got a lot of swag at the BlogHer Conference and during its associated parties. After the conference, I contracted that energy-sapping, need-to-get-my-life-back-in-order, oh-my-gosh-I-have-so-much-to-do BlogHebola.

I have photos of the swag bags laid out on my living room floor. I have intentions to post little "quick reviews" of some of the products using notes on Flickr. But for a good majority of the products, I don't yet have an opinion because I haven't gotten a chance to use them. This doesn't mean I won't post about them, just that I wasn't able to post about them right after the conference.

A meaningful review is unrushed and genuine.

PR officials may frown at this: they wanted instant buzz! But the ripples can be so much more powerful.

Example One:

At Blogher, via SV Moms, I received an adorable diaper cake from Sweet Pea Cakes. I will be giving it to a (non-blogger) friend who is due in a few months. I am convinced that nearly every baby shower I go to in the future will include me carrying a diaper cake to the mother-to-be. They are adorable and a perfect gift. Although I haven't posted about it other than these few sentences, my non-blogging friends are going to learn about this product. And most importantly, I am using my own money to procure these cakes: I have become a Sweet Pea customer.

Example Two:

Spliggle loves the Parking Pal I received in the SV Moms swag bag. He puts the magnet all over our van. While he doesn't use it for its intended purpose, it is there in the parking lot of preschool, gymnastics, soccer, and other kid-friendly activities. It is visible, and doubly-so as Splig makes grand gestures of placing it on the van. No doubt some folks have thought "What is that?" and gone up to take a closer look. I have become advertising for the product because I am using it.

Me & RoccoExample Three:

I was one of the lucky ones who got to eat lunch while Rocco DiSpirito talked about Bertolli pasta sauce and how to "dress up" convenience foods to be healthful and delicious as well as quick. Sure I've bought Bertolli since then - I mean, c'mon, Rocco touched me!

Example Four:

I'm still buying Oops wine, which was featured both in Chicago's BlogHer '07 and in this year's cocktail party. I've brought the wine to gatherings; the name is a great conversation starter. Of course the story that goes with it is even better: I accidentally knocked into one of the Oops signs while drinking their wine last year -- um, oops! Even my mom - who gives Napa Valley wine tours - was intrigued by Oops.

Example Five:

Well, if you read the blog yesterday, you read the entry "Her Room is My Room Too." This success was a face-to-face meeting which led me to recognize the value in my swag bag. Since ordering the initial free panty from Her Room, I've now ordered many more in that particular style (a brand that I hadn't heard of before getting the free one) plus have gotten some "foundation garments" to suck in the tummy that thankfully because of my recent dieting and exercise is becoming a bit less bulgy on its own. (Still, every gal needs a good "cincher.")

One free panty led to a drawer-full of underwear -- good move, Her Room!

--

Up next week: two companies whose initial generosity has made me think of them when I was ready to purchase products different than those I had reviewed.

October 27, 2008

MommyBlogging Marketing Does Work: Part Three

The first two "Marketing Monday" mini-series entries dealt with swag: the Johnson's Camp Baby experience and the BlogHer Conference.

Today I'd like to point out two situations where participation in an initial product review helped me think of those companies when I needed different products. There are plenty of examples of products that I review where I continue to buy that exact product, like CleanWell. But these are examples where I used the company for another purpose.

Mattress Pads to Kids' Shoes:

I reviewed the Lands' End Pure Loft Mattress Topper at the start of the summer (via a contact I met at Camp Baby - see, another Camp Baby ripple!) At BlogHer (yes, another BlogHer ripple!) I received a $10 Lands' End gift certificate. I had a positive relationship with the Lands' End people earlier with my review, and since I had their catalog, it was a natural place to go back-to-school shopping, especially with that $10 off. I bought both boys some excellent zipper-down sneakers.

landsendweatherlyshoes.jpgNow, I know there are plenty of folks out here who cry "But kids need to learn how to lace their shoes!" But laces come untied. And the Cat has lace-up shoes for soccer, anyway. Velcro is loud and attracts bits of yuck. Those springy-lace versions kind-of work, but with lots of use the elastic becomes limper, and so the shoe can slip off. (Meanwhile, at the start the laces are too tight, so require lots of maneuvering.)

These "Weatherly" shoes are amazing. The kids love them because they are comfortable and very easy to get on and off. I love them because they are sturdy and appropriate for outside play and "Club Fit" at school. They have a velvety outside texture that looks attractive, and they are surprisingly durable: I must admit first shock when Splig came home with his completely drenched from a day of preschool water fights (why didn't he wear his crocs?) and then surprise when the shoes dried out with no apparent ill-effects.


Beach Bags and Model Contests to Stylin' Pirate Footwear

Also during the summer, I promoted a Company Kids' Model Contest. As a thank-you for promoting the contest, Company Kids sent me an excellent care package.

companykidspirateboots.jpg Splig loves his pink skull & crossbones towel and ladybug lunchbox. I love the beach tote we received (alas, not available in this autumn season, so I cannot link,) and have used it quite frequently since receipt. (It is waterproof inside - waterproof!) They also included a catalog, which I skimmed through.

Enter Halloween-costume time. This Friday, the Cat will trick-or-treat as "King Boo" from Mario Kart. Splig will be a pirate. Although I gathered most of his costume together, he kept asking for "pirate boots." Aha! I remembered Company Kids' skull rain boots, and we're all set.

So there you have it: I've blogged about Lands' End and Company Kids before; and have continued to spend my money at both places.

In other words, even if you don't think a particular blogger has a wide enough audience to have a lot of "blog buzz," their own spending habits might be impacted by participating in a product review or giveaway. And of course, their "in real life" friends and family end up seeing them using these products. My loyal readers read my reviews - and they have their own ripples if they try and like the products.

--

Up Next Week: Blogger Outreach that didn't quite work.

Wall-E: Out on DVD and BluRay for the Holidays

My kids learned about Wall-E through the magic of the internet. My eldest found the preview online and watched it a zillion times before the movie ever came out in the theater. My youngest received a Wall-E toy for his birthday. He was smitten even before the movie came out.

Both boys were excited and well-behaved when we took them to see the film. They sat still the entire time: quite a feat for very active boys! Afterwards they cuddled up to the plastic robot imitating his voice and my youngest cheerfully wore Wall-E pajamas to bed.



During the outside take, my video ran out of batteries, so although you can hear my youngest’s description of Wall-E, both sons’ more poignant thoughts are missed. During the inside take, both voices are difficult to hear: My youngest explains how Wall-E makes boxes out of trash. My eldest explains this is to get rid of waste. When asked what they liked best about Wall-E, my youngest simply answers in the affirmative “good,” then when further questioned, says “’cause I love him.”

LoveWallE.jpg The boys are ecstatic that Wall-E will be out on DVD this holiday season. I’m pretty excited, too, since I know several family members for whom this movie would be much appreciated.

Sure, the kids love the robot. Anything that beeps and is personified is instantly a hit. But what isn’t typical about Wall-E is that the first big chunk of the movie is without English dialogue. My kids were captivated. Wall-E’s actions: from gathering garbage to sorting his treasure, induced giggles and sustained attention. They didn’t shift in their seat or look away, because they knew they’d miss something. How often do stories unfolding on screen actually enhance attention?

With Eve’s arrival, the kids became wide-eyed. What could possibly happen? Eve, although technically not “female” still plays the female role here. In this case, the robot portrays an exceptionally strong, sophisticated and deadly female. I’m all for shows that reinforce powerful women, even if Eve isn’t really a woman.

As the plot unfolds, the animation delights. The kids squealed with excitement. My oldest held his ice-cream bar instead of eating it. It melted into a puddle, thankfully in the wrapper since he had been so enraptured by the movie that he didn’t open the bar in the first place. It is a strong endorsement that Wall-E was more important to my son than ice-cream.

Husband and I exchanged glances as we understood the underlying message of the film. We nodded as we saw what could indeed become a realistic future for us should we continue on the overindulgent convenience-laden, planet-sucking path that we’re on. But Wall-E delivers this message in a humorous way. Both boys chuckled as the obese humans tried to walk for the first time. I chuckled at various parts that should have also elicited a groan. (Yes, I’m on a diet, people, although Husband is not on a “let’s pick up the trash around [his] messy desk” project. But he is responsible environmentally in other ways, such as driving his beloved Prius.)

The wastefulness and reliance on modern conveniences related morals weren’t the only ones though. Good thing, for they probably were lost on my boys, at least for the time being. Certainly the relationship between Wall-E and Eve was something the boys could appreciate: friendship (or more) with basic phrases, but mainly actions and gestures.

Wall-E is a movie that parents can enjoy for the “deeper meaning” and cultural references. Kids enjoy the animation, the interaction amongst characters, and the action. There is always an anticipatory feeling of “what will happen next?” yet it is the type of show that isn’t stale or “ruined” after the first showing. The kids will want to watch it again and again, and the adults probably won’t mind, since there is enough going on that they can pick out new bits the second (and subsequent) time around. Of course, any movie worth getting on DVD must have this quality: if the disc is available, it will be played, so it better be a repetition-friendly movie.

We look forward to having Wall-E at our home for the holidays. I hope he can make his way to your home as well.

-Buy Now on DVD
-Buy Now on Blu Ray

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This is a Paid Review: Disney Pixar and BlogHer have asked me for my thoughts on why Wall-E is a good choice for the whole family – thank you for letting me convince you. (Check out BlogHer's Wall-E Giveaway!)

November 3, 2008

MommyBlogging Marketing: When it Doesn't Work - Part One

I've posted three pieces on how MommyBlogging Marketing can work:
- Ripples from the Johnson's Camp Baby experience
- BlogHer Swag Winners
- Continued relationships with companies for which I've done reviews

Here are two examples of blogger marketing gone wrong because the company wasn't organized about either the outreach, the product itself, or both:

Be Organized: Case One

I received an email from a lovely person who appeared to have read my blog. She addressed me by name, and offered to host a giveaway on my site. Alas, I wouldn't get the immensely cool product for myself, but one of my readers would. I enthusiastically agreed. In fact, I was ready to actually purchase the product because it seemed so cool. It would have been a great holiday present. Still, part of me wondered if the product was too good to be true.

The nice lady wrote back later saying there was a mistake, and they didn't have any free products to give away -- but hey, you can give your readers this 15% off coupon code, here's a link to our online catalog! This was accompanied by that deadly "If you want hi-res images of our product, just let me know!" quip.

Whether they only decided to pick a few "higher ranked" bloggers for their giveaway, or if they seriously had a flub in their communications, if they are that disorganized in their marketing, I don't want to trust that their way-cool product (which if it works would be so awesome, but if it doesn't would be a waste of dough) actually operates properly.

Be Organized - Case Two

Several months ago I received an email from a company creating what is essentially a knock-off of a popular product. Although I love the original version of the product, I figured "Hey, might as well try the knock-off as well, 'cause my boys would love it."

In the subsequent months, I've gotten odd emails saying that the product isn't yet ready, or the product's name might change so they don't want anyone blogging about it just yet.

At this point, everything is up in the air, and that isn't very confidence-inspiring for the actual product. But if they had waited until it was ready to go, they could have begun their blogger outreach at that time, shipping the products out immediately, thus looking extra-organized.

Of course, the majority of the pitches that are in the "don't work" category are ones that get deleted immediately, not those that go as far as the above. Several times I've gotten follow-ups from dud pitches like, "Hey! We noticed you didn't talk about our product on your site!" even though all they had sent was a press release: no product for review, no giveaway for my readers, no compensation for mentioning their product. If I want to promote a product it is because I like the product, not because someone else says it is cool. Don't get offended if I won't publish a free advertisement for you.

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Up next Monday: When it Doesn't Work - Part Two: Know Your Audience

November 17, 2008

Get Minted in the Mail

Anyone who expects to receive a holiday card from me this year should look away. Visit this post after you've received the card in the mail. Hahaha, who am I kidding? You know you want a sneak peek.

MintedCheeryWinterSwirl.gifThis year I got lucky. I got Minted from the Parent Bloggers Network. No, "Minted" is not like being wedgied. Rather, minted.com is a fabulous online stationery store with fabulous holiday photo cards.

These cards were designed from a variety of different sources (via a "design challenge".) Winners are available to purchase.

CardBottom.jpgI had a difficult decision because there are so many amazing designs. Several designs are available in a variety of colors, plus any design can be personalized in color, font, wording, and so forth, so the options are endless - with one exception I'll note shortly. It took several days for me to narrow down my choices. I ended up doing mock-ups of four different cards before I selected the Cheery Winter Swirl Holiday Card.

One factor that complicated my decision was that I really wanted to include information about our family (a la the traditional family holiday letter.) Some of the Minted designs included an option for a "timeline." This clever take on the holiday letter is something I thought would be particularly exciting for those families who had specific events they wish to highlight: faster and more interesting than a lengthy letter.

But I wanted to highlight more general things, like the Cat's soccer success and Spliggle's gymnastics affinity, both of which don't have "dates" attached. As these cards are highly customizable, I decided that instead of four timeline dates, I'd have four "timeline" titles that were actually our names. I could then write a little paragraph about each family member's activities for the year.

Like this [screenshot, so enlargement links don't work]:

TimelineExample.gif

(Mouse Holiday)

As much as I like the result, I really connected with the Cheery Winter Swirl. But - yes, you guessed it - this particular design didn't have a "timeline" option: just a flat card or a fold-over [blank inside.]

I wish all cards could do the timeline. For example, in the card I previewed above, had the mint background been red and the font set to match the Cheery Winter Swirl design, we'd be in business: no swirls necessary on the inside time-line unless the designer wanted to specifically create a layout for this. I would think (naive, I know!) that this very simple layout could work for any card (even the vertical ones could simply open up to have the timeline horizontal; I wouldn't mind tilting a card to see it.) But alas, while many designs have this option, many do not.

AddressLabel.gifOnce I made up my mind about the cards themselves, I had to decide whether to have plain envelopes, printed envelopes, or address labels. I selected gorgeous swirly address labels with our name and address printed in block letters above the swirl.

One thing that made me a bit nervous about ordering address labels, though, is that frequently such things are so shiny that one cannot use pen without creating a smudgy situation. Pencil is too light, and it is tough to find dry pens dark enough to make an impression (figuratively and literally.) I am pleased to report that the address labels I received from minted.com have a tiny bit of sheen to them - indicating quality and style - but are primarily matte, and can handle my favorite rather wet black pen. Although it required a bit of drying time, within a few minutes I could wipe my hand across it with no smudge.

Purchasing the cards was a tad bit nerve wracking because I wanted to make sure I had made The Right Choice. Finally satisfied, I placed my order. An email arrived two days later asking me to approve the proof. The proof wasn't attached. I wrote back and within 20 minutes, "Rick" apologized and attached the proof. He made an interesting modification to our card to accommodate our hyphenated last-name personalization. As he did this, I realized I wanted to drop the "s" (Because while "The*Harrisons" sounds fine, "Johnson*Harrisons" sounds a bit off; whereas just "Johnson*Harrison" looks classy, especially given the little star-as-hyphen the Minted designer created for us (instead of "The*Harrisons" like above)

And then the proof came back with a printed envelope rather than the way-cool address labels.

A bit sheepish on the "I want to drop the 's' in the family name" and "OMG I thought I ordered the address labels but maybe I didn't because you gave me the printed envelope," I wrote the designer back with the "I do not approve this proof" box checked. I felt guilty, but need not have, because within two days I received a new proof (and an apology about the envelope printing versus address-label mix-up,) and it was good to go. I need not have been worried about placing the order because I had an opportunity to alter the design even after the first proof (customers receive two free proofs; a third is $50.)

After I said "yes," I had a quick moment of freak-out because I noticed that one under-the-line letter came mighty close to the "All is calm, all is bright" text. I hoped they wouldn't run together, but crossed my fingers that the designer would nudge the two apart. The small size of the proof made it a bit difficult to tell what the spacing was like. (I understand why they don't do a larger one - we don't want folks just printing it off on their home computer.) Again, I need not worried, the finished cards look wonderful.

My order mailed four days after proof-approval (which was two business days.) I ordered on a Monday and the completed order was shipped the following Tuesday, and that had included the one proof modification - so most cards would likely ship same week as order. The package was beautiful - the cards were surrounded in shredded black paper, carefully cushioning them. The stack was shrink wrapped, as were the envelopes and address labels. Everything was carefully packed such that they would arrive unbent and beautiful. The insides were tied with a mint green bow and a sticker specifically saying the order was for "Kari" packed by "Rob."

The whole process was very personalized. I knew if I had any questions about the design, I could email "Rick." And if the package had been damaged in some way or packed crazily, I could blame "Rob." (Instead, Rob gets tremendous kudos for a beautiful presentation.)

The cards themselves are absolutely gorgeous. They are sturdy, high-end, and made from 100% post-consumer waste.

This amazingness does come with a price, though. These cards are very expensive. Even with the discount I received for being a reviewer, I spent more this year than I did on our cards last year, which in many ways were comparable in quality, design, and customer service.

The ultimate question: will I go to who we used last year, or use minted.com the next time I need to order cards?

The answer: I am not sure. I have been exceptionally impressed with both companies, so will likely go on which design options are available at the time. Yes, the price might be a consideration, but if I really like a minted.com design, I'd be willing to pay more, especially if it is printed on recycled paper. Yes, the competitor also has some designs on 100% post-consumer waste, but there are many more options at minted.com. I could gush for days about both companies, so rest assured I'll check out both sites when I need some cards!

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Just for fun, here is the stamp that will complete our look for our card mailing this year:

PhotoStamp.gif

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I can't wait to mail these out!

December 8, 2008

We Like to Move it, Move it... to play Madagascar 2 Wii

Although December brings with it lots of hectic holiday chaos, our family has been fortunate to have some pockets of time together to do fun things. Thanks to Mom Central, the four of us sat down to watch "Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa" at our local theater. Then fresh off the movie enthusiasm with catchy tunes in our heads, we unwrapped the "Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa" Wii game.

My kids love Wii, and they especially love playing games that relate to things they've experienced in other media, such as with seeing the sequel to Madagascar before actually playing the game. The game itself has different modes: the story mode relates to the movie itself, whereas the "Africa Arcade" provides various quick games that are fun on their own or as part of a multiplayer tournament. Players can collect "monkeys" which they then use at the "Duty Free Shop" to purchase items.

My sons (aged 7 and 4) initially went through the story mode, but then decided they enjoyed the ability to pick and choose mini-games through the "Africa Arcade." My eldest son has probably played the soccer game at least fifty times. Both boys choose Marty the zebra. Watching zebras play soccer is quite a funny sight!

The movie is entertaining, certainly, but it also provides a great springboard to talk about environmental conservation. Since the game parallels the movie, it too can be a good starting point for discussion. The first scene of the movie shows hunters all too eager to lure animals off the protection of their reserve. The first movie depicts zoo animals escaping from New York to Madagascar. In the sequel, the animals leave Madagascar, crash land in Africa, and discover animals from their own species.

Initially they are awed to see the beautiful savannah, but soon the characters discover that a human-made dam cuts off water supply to the reservation. Of course the friends save the day by blowing up the dam, but in "real life," such simple solutions to man-created problems are not so easily accomplished.

Fortunately, the movie and game are entertaining, even if at the core they deal with serious subject matter. My boys laugh at the funny parts, love playing the game, but they are both aware of environmental issues. My eldest loves to scold me at the gas pump (my husband drives a Prius, so he applauds him.) My youngest likes to tell me to turn off lights when we aren't in the room anymore.

And both of them love to play soccer with zebras.

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Learn more about the "Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa" video game

Purchase Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa for the Wii at Amazon

Purchase Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa for the Nintendo DS at Amazon

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Read on for some kid-friendly tips from Conservation International:

Continue reading "We Like to Move it, Move it... to play Madagascar 2 Wii" »

December 7, 2008

Turner Classic Movies Presents: The Family Classics

Over the summer, Turner Classic Movies aired fabulous family-friendly movies every Sunday night, such as Meet Me in St. Louis, The Music Box, and National Velvet. I was lucky enough to receive - from TCM - The Best Old Movies for Families: A Guide to Watching Together , a wonderful book filled with suggestions for those great movies that many of us have forgotten, but that are still relevant and appropriate for kids. The book gives age recommendations, plot summary, modern-day tie-in, and a discussion of why it is a great choice for family fun.

Well, the fun didn't end in the summer, that is for sure. Today, December 7th, TCM Presents The Family Classics. The festivities will include Sunday movie showcases featuring more than 25 Disney live-action classics, plus an all-new original documentary entitled The Age of Beliving: The Disney Live-Action Classics, narrated by Tony® winner and three-time Oscar® nominee Angela Lansbury.

Today's line-up includes some of my favorites like Swiss Family Robinson and the original Parent Trap - show your kids the original so they aren't thinking about Lindsey Lohan's drinking and other current behaviors while they watch what is supposed to be a wholesome show. I remember fondly filling up my parents' VCR with all the Hayley Mills movies I could. Now I can fill up my TiVo with the same!

Tonight at 10:15pm Eastern (7:15pm Pacific) is Pollyanna. You know I'm going to watch that one. After all, I can't sing America the Beautiful without hearing Mills' cherubic warble and picturing her hot-dog-style in that fabric as a piece of the American flag. (But hey, isn't Mills British?)

Every Sunday starting today through December 28th, TCM will air Disney live-action classics from noon until after midnight. Please visit tcm.com for the complete schedule, as well as for their gift-giving guide for movie buffs of all ages. I won't blame you if you shed a nostalgic tear as I did reading through the list of my past-favorites like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Escape to Witch Mountain, and Freaky Friday [the original, of course.]

The Age of Beliving: The Disney Live-Action Classics, narrated by Tony® winner and three-time Oscar® nominee Angela Lansbury will premiere next Sunday, on December 14th at 7pm Eastern (4pm Pacific.) This special will follow the studio's history as it ventured beyond its animation legacy to develop non-animated family fare. I am eager to see it!

If you fear that your kids are bored with the recent releases, perhaps it is time to take a look backward to remember all those fabulous movies that we loved as kids. Check out tcm.com and your local listings. Or just set your TiVo to record from noon 'til a little past midnight on every Sunday in December.

Pass the popcorn!

December 14, 2008

Do You Believe? The Age of Believing is on TCM Tonight

Last week, I was pleased to announce that Turner Classic Movies launched their The Family Classics series. As a reminder, every Sunday through December 28th, TCM will air Disney live-action classics from noon until after midnight.

The Age of Believing: The Disney Live-Action Classics, narrated by Tony® winner and three-time Oscar® nominee Angela Lansbury, debuts at 7pm Eastern (4pm Pacific) tonight. This special will follow the studio's history as it ventured beyond its animation legacy to develop non-animated family fare.

While I received a press screener for this special, it did not arrive until late last night; as such, I must be honest and report that I haven't yet had the opportunity to view it. I am very much looking forward to sitting down for this trip down memory lane. Many of the movies on the The Family Classics series bring back terrific memories, so to get some "insider" information about the evolution and production of these movies is a real treat.

Tonight after the special, The Apple Dumpling Gang and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again both air. Next week, look out for favorite titles like Escape to Witch Mountain and Freaky Friday. (Please visit tcm.com for the complete schedule.) In case you miss it tonight, The Age of Believing: The Disney Live-Action Classics will play again at 11:45pm Eastern (8:45pm Pacific) next Sunday, December 21st.

December 15, 2008

Gold Medal Impressions Does Impress

In my next life I want to be a photographer. Sure, I dabble with taking pictures of my kids (it has been years since we've gone to a professional for portraits because mine turn out just fine for holiday cards and so forth.) But there are definitely more challenging subjects that I haven't mastered, such as compelling action shots, particularly during sporting events. Yes, our local ECHL (ice-hockey) team confiscated my camera because it looked too "professional," but they need not have worried.

Thanks to Mom Blog Marketing, I learned about Dick Druckman's Gold Medal Impressions Limited Edition Sports Photos. He has traveled the world to some of the most important sporting events (yes, including every Olympic Games including and since Barcelona in 1992.) His photographs are of many sports, at many levels, including high school and college games.

Amazingly, everything on the site is currently 50% off. Most prints start at $25 when regularly-priced, so they were already affordable before this incredible discount.

Everyone has a sports lover in their life, so this is a perfect opportunity to grab a unique, meaningful, and affordable print for them. While some of those poster-places in the mall might have cool shots of your favorite baseball team, it isn't likely that you'll find a real-life photograph of something like the two-man balancing team at the Olympic Trials (pictured above right.) And yes, there are photos of Michael Phelps out there, but how many of Rebecca Soni in action (pictured at left?)

My one criticism of the site is that it can be difficult to search for photographs. If I type in "gymnastics," only two prints come up. However, I know from browsing through the site that there are many, many gymnastics photos. Likewise, I caught misspellings in the athletes' names (ie Hortion for Horton) which makes searching more difficult.

Fortunately, it is fun to look through the prints for a given category since there might be something I wouldn't have thought to search for. Also, Mr. Druckman would be happy to help locate fabulous prints given the sports you or your loved ones are interested in if you phone the gallery at 609-606-9001.

The sale prices are not reflected on the website, so please call Dick Druckman at the gallery (609-606-9001 from 9AM-5PM Eastern) to receive the discount. Orders that are put through on the site will not get the promotional pricing - so please call for the 50% off special. This promotion ends on December 20th.

Please visit Gold Medal Impressions to get an idea of the prints available from Dick Druckman, and then give him a call so he can find that perfect print for you -- at 50% off!

December 16, 2008

Books in Honor of Autism Twitter Day

Autism Twitter DayToday is Autism Twitter Day: look for #ASD on Twitter, pointing to blog posts about a multitude of topics relating to the spectrum. RSVP and learn more by visiting Autism Family Adventures.

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Over on The Karianna Spectrum I've posted a "catch - [nearly] - all" of some of my archival autism posts representative of some of the "big topics" as well as a few (okay, more than a few) more thoughts on the issues swirling around public perception of autistic spectrum disorders: Autism is Not What You Think.

But then today seems like a good day to profile some books that might be of interest to the spectrum-interested person.

First up is Can I Sit With You, Too. This is the sequel to Can I Sit With You, naturally. Both books' proceeds go directly to SEPTAR, the Special Education PTA of Redwood City (SEPTAR.) People that I am "pos-autive" you know are included in both these books. In fact, I am in Can I Sit With You, Too.

There you have it. I have been published someplace other than a scientific journal. Yay Me! So buy Can I Sit With You, Too because I am in it. And because it is for a good cause. Yay, good causes!

Today the Cat's teacher emailed me the titles of two books she recommends: A Regular Guy: Growing up with Autism by Laura Shumaker and Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew (see also: Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew, by the same author - Ellen Notbohm)

She writes "I have recommended these books to all of the teachers I know!"

A book that I would recommend to teachers is Your Child's Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them. I reviewed it here earlier this year. The concept of playing to kids' strengths is one that is true for students with learning differences, but also for "regular kids" too.

Along those same lines, I was given a free-for-review copy of When the Labels Don't Fit: A New Approach to Raising a Challenging Child. It took me awhile to read because as I've noted before, I have a hard time spending my "free time" focusing on ASD-related matters (my blogs the exception, of course!)

But I felt this was a book I needed to read.

I was drawn to it because I am definitely against label bias and concern about using labels as a limiter or an excuse. This book isn't a philosophical discussion of this or a public plea to look at the child not the label, though. Rather, it is more of a parenting textbook, the type that unfortunately makes me feel a little ill because it ends up so overwhelming. That isn't to say the book doesn't have good ideas - it definitely does - but any parenting manual is going to have sections that don't "fit" with me.

This book is geared towards parents, but I would hope that educators would consider it as well. Many of the techniques within might already be used at home, but likely aren't being used at school. Some things won't work because by definition, the kids in question are pretty unique.

While the subtitle of the book is "A New Approach to Raising a Challenging Child," the temperament discussions contained within aren't "new." (And temperament categories are essentially yet another way of "labeling") Still, for someone not familiar with this approach, the book does a great job of explaining ways of adjusting our thinking to see things in relation to temperament. Alas, the Cat is one of those kids who exhibits different temperamental traits depending on the situation, so it is difficult to pinpoint the underlying "driving force."

What I wish would be that teachers and other parents and the public could adjust their thinking to consider that each child (ASD or not) has different strengths, different approaches to learning, and different ways of "coping" when things aren't presented in a comfortable way. Of course, that is selfish. But the truth is that there are so many different variables involved in a child's personality that it is limiting to consider that all kids must process information a certain way, such that deviance from that is necessarily wrong.

People tend to categorize. It is how we make sense of information. But that means that anything that doesn't quite fit in a category can be multiply confounding.

We need to support our kids: encourage their strengths, and find ways to introduce challenges in such a way that resonates with their talents.

One absolutely beautiful book that celebrates a variety of families who include people on the spectrum is Autism Heroes: Portraits of Families Meeting the Challenge by Barbara Firestone, with forwards by Teddi and Gary Cole. Husband brought this book home (autographed!) after a meeting he attended in which representatives from The Help Group were present.

I haven't read all the stories within its pages, but Autism Heroes has gorgeous photographs. I like seeing these families, children, and young adults portrayed in this artful manner. It makes them "celebrities" almost, because their faces comprise what we admire.

And certainly we can find plenty to admire about our friends and family members on the spectrum.

December 23, 2008

Last Minute Gifts

bigpresent.gifHusband and I typically end up with multiples of the same gift, like the year we both got each other America. Typically the duplicates end up because Husband will talk about how much he wants something, so I'll buy it for him. But days before Christmas, he'll go out and purchase whatever is already wrapped under the tree.

So I stopped listening to his first choice, figuring he'd get it for himself. I focused more on the "lower down" priority items.

Last year he kept talking about a slingbox. But I thought I knew better. I wasn't going to purchase something he'd no doubt buy on his own during Thanksgiving sales or Pre-Christmas sales or Friday Fry's sales.

The day before Christmas, Husband mentioned how excited he was that he'd be getting a slingbox for Christmas. He assumed that is what I had already bought. He was ecstatic.

Except I hadn't bought one, of course.

Not wanting to disappoint him, I quickly went online to Best Buy and did an in-store pickup order. While the store itself had long lines and packed aisles, the in-store pickup line was small. We were out of the store - coveted present in hand - in less time that it took us to find parking.

And so, my first tip to those of you who have waited too long to shop for Christmas (or the latter half of Hanukkah) is to see which big stores have in-store pickup. It is easy to browse online for that perfect gift, and typically is pretty easy to pick it up since most stores have separate lines for their online sales.

(The one exception I found to this was when I bought a camera at Circuit City - the closest store was sold out, so I purchased it at a store a half hour away. Guess what happened? That store didn't have it when I arrived, but discovered that my local store did! In the end I got my camera, but that particular excursion took a lot of driving and involved confusion.)

Another idea is the dreaded overnight shipping - yet for stores like zappos.com that already ship overnight, you're golden. Still, most overnight shipping options are pretty pricey, so you might want to brave the malls.

Or, you could buy something that is electronically fulfilled, such as an iTunes gift certificate or an Amazon.com gift certificate delivered via email.

Plenty of websites offer extended content for a fee. No, I am not suggesting purchasing "adult materials" for your preteen cousin. Rather, for kids there are sites like Club Penguin, a favorite of my boys. While the basic experience is plenty of fun, being a member allows the little penguins to accumulate coins to purchase pet puffles, buy snazzy new outfits, and deck out their igloo like budding interior designers would. In the Cat's case, that means purchasing as many toy trains as possible to create a "rug."

For older folks, there is Happy Neuron. I learned about this brain fitness website shortly after I had realized that I wasn't very good at the Brain Age DS game. (And don't even talk to me about Big Brain Academy.) "Mommy brain" is no myth: my brain is so filled with details of appointments, tasks, and managing other folks' lives that I don't have time to read or do puzzles to expand the other parts of my brain.

As we age, our brain "sags" just like our bodies do. Those who keep mentally fit by exercising their brain end up faring much better than those who don't. Plus, it is fun (until the computer tells you that you are mentally weak, that is!)

Happy Neuron is offering a 20%-off holiday special on a year's membership to the website. Members have access to 35 games (plus 5 beta Wii games.) The games fit in five categories: visual-spacial, attention, executive function, memory, and language. Each game has several difficulty levels, plus the program itself will recommend games based on the user's weaknesses.



I tried using the "coach" function whereby the computer is supposed to take me through an optimum combination of games based on my preferences, time available to "work out," and my past performance. Unfortunately, this feature didn't work for me (I was given a login free for the purposes of review, but perhaps this is a feature only available to full members, not reviewers.) And so, I tried out the five free games.

Does it surprise you that on the "split words" game that I was able to do the one about football but did horrifically on the "agriculture" one? (I can still hear my grandmother's tsk-tsk from many years ago when she learned I couldn't tell the difference between different types of cows. Sorry, I don't know anything about farming.) I thought I would do fantastically on "Catch the Ladybug" because after college I was a research assistant in a visual psychophysics lab. We did lots of "search" experiments, and since I had to program and test such things, I became very good at visual search. But my downfall in this Happy Neuron game was my trackball skills. I saw the ladybug immediately, but had a hard time rolling my way over. Perhaps a traditional mouse would be better in this instance.

There are other games that rely on time where an individual's ability to move the mouse becomes a limiting factor. This concerns me for the grandparent-set who might otherwise benefit from these mind-enhancing games. For these folks, those games without a time limit (but which will still record time) would be more accurate: as their time decreases with practice, the improvement can be attributed more to mental performance and less to mousing-ability. But for games that stop if the user fails to provide the answer, the individual wouldn't be able to practice the actual task unless the time required could be increased.

I love that there are a variety of games to "train" the user so the "workouts" are not boring. The site has a section on brain fitness science, plus has recommendations for other (sometimes offline) products. In addition to the aforementioned Wii games in beta, there is also a "Happy Neuron Junior" program in development. The Cat loves various games, particularly online. Although some of the games I've played through Happy Neuron are perfectly appropriate for him, I imagine the "junior" version will have aspects (such as in the "language" category) that will better fit his grade level.

Consider Happy Neuron for that otherwise difficult-to-buy-for adult. Grandmothers have enough perfume, bath oil, and lotion. And does Granddad really need another tie? Young(er) adults would like these games, too, so don't think your recipient needs to have grey hair. (I think my parents are sharper than I am at this point, anyway.)

Or maybe spend some time on the site yourself; it certainly wouldn't hurt! After all, the present I am getting for Husband is one that I hope to get myself at some point. This is one year where I'm actually hoping for a duplicate (but not expecting it.)

The Middle Place : Paperback Version Released Today!

I loved The Middle Place. It hit me in ways I hadn't anticipated. Today, the paperback version hits shelves.

Kelly Corrigan's publisher made the below video in honor of the paperback release. It features an essay included in the book about women's capacity to support each other:

Be sure to check out other Kelly Corrigan You-Tube pieces. The book is meaningful and moving all on its own, but seeing Kelly read the words is powerful.

January 10, 2009

Lose Weight, Sharpen Your Brain, Feel Good.

Did you make any New Year's Resolutions to get fit in 2009? We're ten days in, and I imagine that already there are folks crashing on their sofa instead of pounding the treadmill. It isn't too late to get back on the bike. And it isn't too late to resolve to do better this year than last.

Last year, I reviewed the Ultimate Tea Diet. I lost some weight on it - both from eating less because my tummy felt nice and full and warm with the tea, and because I was making a conscious choice to try to eat better, so was also more consistent in my exercise routine. Alas, the whole situation didn't "stick," and once the Cat had his annual regression (which I'm hoping doesn't happen this year,) things slid downhill. I can point to several different stress points in 2008, and embarrassed to say I couldn't recover from them, so gained instead of lost.

WiiFit.jpgI was one of the lucky folks who preordered a Wii Fit, so received mine immediately after they were released in May. I took to it immediately. Yes, the Wii Fit called me "overweight," and it was humbling to see my Mii balloon up, but from May to the end of June, I worked out every single day. (I only stopped at the end of June because our family took a trip, and I couldn't see bringing the Wii.)

I was enthusiastic about Wii Fit, and figured I'd review it... I just wanted to lose weight so I could declare it a success... which didn't happen that summer.

Continue reading "Lose Weight, Sharpen Your Brain, Feel Good." »

January 15, 2009

Dinner is Covered on Thursdays

meatballs2.jpegA few weeks ago, I entered a sweepstakes at Cookie magazine. I don't remember what the prize will be (and I probably won't win, although I did win a fancy black lacy bra-panty set from Glamour some years ago.) The online entry included the standard little boxes that are by default checked: ...news from Cookie! and ...offers from hand-picked sponsors, and so forth.

Usually I uncheck all the boxes. I'm on enough mailing lists as it is. but the "Recipe of the Week" option caught my eye. Why not? I thought, and promptly forgot about it.

Last Thursday, I was thinking about the ground turkey in the back of the refrigerator. What was I going to do with it? Originally I was going to do turkey burgers, but then the night I bought it, Husband ended up bringing home some yummy food. As I thought about what I needed to get at the store for burgers, or whether to do tacos, or something else with that turkey, an email from Cookie popped up: "What's For Dinner Tonight: Turkey Meatballs."

Yowza! The answer fell in my lap.

I read the recipe to discover that it wasn't just a boring meatball recipe. It wasn't difficult. It didn't involve exotic food preparation methods or hard-to-find ingredients.

Cookie's version is a "throw all ingredients into the food processor" method. I couldn't be happier. Sure, my fingers got a little sticky from rolling the meatballs, but it was well worth it. They were tasty - better than generic meatballs, and more healthful too (they include spinach!)

Husband requested the meatballs again at the start of this week. Yes! A recipe worth doing more than once in a single week. And so I made meatballs again on Tuesday.

Today, the email from Cookie is "Lamb Chops with Bulgur Pilaf" - sounds delicious, and includes some interesting variations (such as using dried cherries or cranberries in the pilaf instead of raisins, or including mint with the lamb.) Garnish ideas include pomegranate seeds, almonds, or salted pistachios.

Sounds yummy -- and doesn't look difficult. We'll see what next week brings!

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Cookie didn't contact me, pay me, etc -- I just entered their contest and decided to subscribe to their weekly recipe newsletter - and was excited enough about the turkey meatballs that I wished to mention the success

January 20, 2009

Preserve Kitchenware Line

cutting.jpgI am a big fan of Preserve products. My first brush with this eco-friendly company was at my local Whole Foods. I picked up their lime green plastic tableware. I needed some "disposable" utensils for the Cat's lunch. He likes eating things like yogurt and melon, and he loves the color green. I just thought they were pretty. And strong. And I liked that they came from recycled materials. We haven't "disposed" of any of the utensils - they are strong, and so I wash and rewash. They don't break, and the Cat loves them, so doesn't forget his fork at school.

Not long after, I had the opportunity to check out the Preserve Toothbrushes, and learned that there is much more to this company than I had previously thought. (And we still use Preserve toothbrushes.)

Now - right now! - January 2009, Preserve has launched a Kitchenware line, available at Target stores nationwide.

Included in this line are large and small cutting boards, colanders, measuring cups, mixing bowls, and food storage containers. All products are made from 100% post-consumer recyled paper or recycled #5 plastic. (And you can then recycle those products!) All products are BPA-free, made in the U.S.A. and are dishwasher-safe.

I received a bright blue cutting board. Husband was impressed the moment the package hit our doorstep, "We need one of these!" he exclaimed. And indeed, we do. We only have a couple flimsy cutting boards, and until this bright blue one showed up, had only one solid one. Now we have two.

The Preserve cutting board has a curved side, which makes it easy to funnel cut bits into a bowl. It is very thick - so I know I am not damaging my countertops. It is solid, so is an appropriate surface against to cut. I didn't see any little flakes of plastic come off as the knife hit the board.

My one concern is that it is a bit slick on the bottom. The board plus my granite countertops equaled a slippery situation. Husband solved this by placing a towel underneath it. With the towel there, the cutting board works perfectly: it doesn't slip-and-slide, and it is large and sturdy enough to prepare food on easily. The knife doesn't slide at all on top, so the slickness is only on the bottom as paired with my already-slippery countertops.

We'll absolutely purchase another Preserve cutting board -- in the Cat's favorite color of green, likely. We need another colander, too, and I'd much prefer to purchase a recycled, recyclable product like Preserve than one of those flimsy ones.

Their website is worth a peek: find out about Preserve products - how they are made, and how they are recycled.

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I received a I received a Preserve Cutting Board free-for-review. But I intend to purchase other Preserve products, and have done so in the past.

February 4, 2009

Preserve Flavored ToothPicks

CinnaMintPreserveToothpicks.gifLookie what I found!

I should tell you all about my oral obsession. Or maybe I shouldn't.

I am was am a nail-biter. I love to chew gum. And those little "Stim-U-Dents" make me very happy. Regular toothpicks are eh... okay, but I still pick them up at restaurants. (Fear not - I won't pick my teeth in front of you.)

Well, I ran out of "Stim-U-Dents" and was perusing the toiletries aisle at Whole Foods when I came across these excellent cinnamint-flavored huge toothpicks. I say "huge" because they are substantial, unlike the "free in restaurant" or "buy in bulk" varieties. These won't leave little slivers of wood in your mouth (the ol' I got out the piece of broccoli, but now I've got wood stuck in my teeth.)

These toothpicks have great flavor, and I think they clear out my sinuses fairly well, too, given the minty "bite" : clean your teeth, clean your sinuses - probably not the jingle they were after.

The packaging is sleek (and recyclable.) It fits nicely in a pocket or glove compartment. And unlike some of those other toothpick varieties, since it is in a plastic tube, it won't get soggy and torn like those cardboard packages.

Preserve didn't give me these toothpicks for free -- I found them on my own accord (there were several brands from which to choose at Whole Foods.) Given my previous relationship with Preserve - from cutting boards to toothbrushes, with my first exposure completely by chance at Whole Foods in the cutlery aisle - I went with the Preserve variety, and it didn't disappoint.

March 16, 2009

Read Across America and WIN with Leapfrog TAG.

I admit my kids aren't the readers that I was when I was a child. No, Wii and DS weren't around back then. Although my grandparents had an Atari that I enjoyed playing when I was at their house, my parents' house didn't have games. Eventually we had some for our computer, and we got a PlayStation at some point, but really, all that happened way past elementary school: my grammar-school education was through books.

My favorites included the Betsy-Tacy series, and B is for Betsy. (Okay, I guess it is a miracle I don't have a child named Betsy - although I have two friends who have daughters named "Tacy.") I wasn't a big Nancy Drew fan, although I read a couple Hardy Boys and Bobbsey Twins. I was huge into Encyclopedia Brown and of course all the Judy Blume books (mainly Ramona ones.) I also liked the "A Very Young..." series (A Very Young Dancer was my favorite, followed close behind was A Very Young Gymnast) Then it is with a nostalgic tear in my eye that I recall how I loved Maggie Adams, Dancer, and struck up a pen-pal relationship with the now-late author Karen Strickler Dean.

NationalReadingMonth.gif

Fortunately, even in the electronic age, there are ways to promote reading. I reviewed the LeapFrog TAG, and am a big fan of game-based educational products in general; they appeal to my boys, are "with the times" and do teach plenty of important skills.

Leapfrog is sponsoring a One Million Reading Hours Pledge in support of the National Education Association's Read Across America for "National Reading Month." By pledging to set aside at least 10 minutes a day, parents can contribute to the national goal of 1 million reading hours committed. Plus, Leapfrog is offering special offers; for example, check out the coupon on the upper righthand side of the reading pledge sign-up: $10 off a TAG LeapFrog system or $4 off any book in the TAG library. Plus, they are offering prizes, such as the one they are offering to my readers!


What Can You Win?

* One (green) Tag reader + 5 books (chosen by LeapFrog) for personal use

* An expanded-memory LeapFrog School Tag reader + 10 books (chosen by LeapFrog) to donate to the winner's local library.


HOW Can You Win?

FIRST, Make a Pledge. THEN:

* Leave a comment here telling me how much time you have pledged in the LeapFrog 1 Million Reading Hours Campaign

* Earn an extra entry by tweeting this contest (send me the link to your tweet so I know you did it!)


A winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month.

Get Reading!

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Comments are now closed -- thank you all for your reading pledges and tweets about Read Across America! The winner will be announced shortly...

March 20, 2009

Become a Dunkin' Donuts Decorator

DunkinDonutsDecoratingContest.gifI live in California, but went to college and graduate school on the east coast. During the nine years I spent back east, I was a big Dunkin' Donuts consumer.

There was one down the street from me every place that I lived. Oh, how I can nearly taste those maple-covered ones now! Alas, there are no locations near me right now, but from time to time we'll smuggle back donuts when we travel to those pink-and-orange states.

Between college and graduate school, I worked in a lab in Boston. My lab-mate and I went to Dunkin' Donuts every day as our mid-morning break. It was an excellent excuse to get away from the lab to get a tasty treat. Most of the time she got coffee and I got a bagel or an iced beverage. Once in awhile, we'd splurge and actually get a donut.

Imagine my surprise when a large Dunkin Donuts box arrived on my door this week. Inside the familiar pink and orange wrapping, I found a sprinkle-spinkler (how else to describe? It sprinkles the sprinkles!) along with a mini decorating kit and an apron.

It appears that Dunkin' Donuts is putting the decorating into the customer's hands.

Indeed, from now until April 7th, the public has the opportunity to "Create Dunkin's Next Donut" and win $12,000. While the initial stage of the contest is virtual, a dozen finalists (get it? a dozen) will be flown to Dunkin' Donuts' Canton, MA Headquarters for a bake-off. The grand prize winner will win $12,000 - to be revealed on National Donut Day - June 5th. (Nope, I didn't know there was a National Donut Day either.) The winning creation will be sold in Dunkin' Donut stores across the country.

49centdonut.gifMy youngest son is estatic that we can dress up a donut both online and with our little decorating kit. My oldest son is allergic to the sprinkles, but fortunately the online version can be fun for anyone regardless of food sensitivities. My husband doesn't know it yet, but apparently there is a "blueberry cake" option for the dough. I bet that will be the base for the donut he creates.

I've shown my creation at top left: just a simple yeast dough with maple frosting, pink/orange sprinkles, and some Heath bar pieces.

Get out there and design your donut! Plus, if you happen to be near a Dunkin' Donuts location, check out their latest promotion: if you purchase a medium or large coffee, get a donut for 49 cents.

March 22, 2009

Subscribers in Exchange for Diamonds

A few weeks ago, some bloggy friends were collecting feeds to create One Big MegaFeed! I happily trotted out my feed, only to discover the whole Google-Ate-Feedburner situation had eaten my feed as well. All my subscribers were gone, I was forced to burn a new feed, and my readership hasn't been the same.

Well Scary Mommy has her own feed-drama. While I've just been begging people to resubscribe, she's giving away diamond earrings for the cause.

While I recognize that encouraging others to enter her contest ultimately diminishes my chances of winning, I'm hoping karma points will help me score the bling.

You too can help Scary Mommy get more subscribers -- and perhaps you'll end up with some sparkly rocks attached to your ears.

Of course, if you're looking for something else to win, my Leapfrog TAG giveaway goes until March 31st, and the Dunkin' Donuts decorating contest goes until April 7th.

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UPDATE: No diamonds for me, but it certainly was an exciting contest!

March 24, 2009

Win Cookware!

With today's economy, fewer and fewer of us will be eating out, at least not in the most healthful ways. (No! Step away from the fast food! It may be cheap, but you'll pay for it in the end!) While I love someone-else-cooks, from my convenience food all the way up to the more high-dining experiences, both budget and waistline mean that it is a better deal to cook at home.

Cookware from Food Service Warehouse

Perhaps you don't have all the tools to cook -- or, if you're like me -- perhaps you'll be so tired after making dinner that the "cleaning up dinner" part takes a little longer than it should, so the next day the pans aren't available. And then there are the kid-reasons that pans might not be clean, sparkling, and ready for kitchen duty - they are spaceships, soccer goals, and barf-baskets.

Essentially, everyone needs new pans. With that in mind, I am promoting this dandy giveaway -- Foodservice Warehouse is giving away a Lincoln Wear-Ever® cookware set worth $1000. If you win, be sure to tell them you found out about the contest from moi, since then I'd get a smaller set of pans (hopefully not dollhouse-small.)

April 17, 2009

Take Five and Enjoy Pure Delicious Haagen-Dazs Ice-Cream

Ice-cream unplugged. Sounds kind of dangerous, doesn't it? But that is the tagline for Haagen-Dazs' new five-ingredient ice-cream, titled five.

When Mom Central told me about five, I seriously could not contain my excitement. You see, Haagen-Dazs and I go way back...

As many loyal readers know, I was on the Feingold Diet when I was younger. It helped with impulse-control. Since my oldest son has similar impulse-control problems with hyperactivity, we put him on Feingold and have seen success.

Dry Ice - and Ice Cream Haagen-Dazs is one of the few widely-available ice-cream brands that is Feingold-safe. Certainly people can make their own, but the convenience of being able to pop over to the local grocery store is truly priceless. Haagen-Dazs is at the corner market, not only sold in high-end specialty stores. Their product, however, tastes as though it would be in only exclusive upscale markets.

One of the number one concerns people admit when they question me about hyperactivity elimination diets is the worry that with the "elimination" all the convenience and fun will be taken out of eating. Fortunately, there are plenty of all-natural brands that are completely fine. Haagen-Dazs is one of these brands, and with the addition of the five line, the number of acceptable ice-creams has gotten larger.

Let's face it: the "creative" ice-cream flavors typically aren't the ones that are all-natural. To obtain those exotic flavors, most companies use artificial flavoring (along with artificial coloring.)

five is plenty creative, but maintains its purity.

The concept behind Haggen-Dazs five, is that it has only five ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and then one "hero" ingredient. These flavors are: vanilla bean, milk chocolate, mint, ginger, coffee, passion fruit, and brown sugar.

My first motivation for trying five was that it is all-natural, as I was eager to give my son some additional dessert options. But I soon learned that using just five pure and simple ingredients naturally lends itself to an ice cream with one-third less fat. Less fat is certainly something I can get behind. And then the flavors themselves are not common. I would have thought "strawberry" would be a shoo-in, but instead the five fruit is passion fruit. Flavors like brown sugar and ginger are quite unique, and exceptionally tasty.

I was very excited when the package arrived = dry ice!

Haagen_Dazs_Five_Brown_Sugar.jpgI was even more excited when my boys and I got to sit down to taste the ice-cream contained within. I am not a food blogger, so forgive the clumsy language, but here are my impressions of the four flavors I received:

Passion Fruit: This reminds me of a dragonfruit soda that I really enjoy. It is definitely a unique flavor, both spicy and fruity at the same time. It is smooth, as all of the five flavors are, and the passion fruit is subtle enough so that it doesn't overwhelm. This sort of exotic flavor is great to entice kids to try new foods. Haagen-Dazs recommends serving this flavor with pieces of tropical fruit on top - yum! [clicking link downloads a PDF]

Ginger: Of course this reminded me of Chinese food, so no doubt this ice-cream would be great paired with a fortune cookie or other vanilla-orange type cookie or cake. Ginger typically is associated with heat, but this ice-cream is refreshing. It is spicy and soothing all in one.

Mint: Most people think "mint chocolate chip" when they hear "mint ice-cream" and of course most people picture that neon green color. Haagen-Dazs is definitely not green: instead it is a natural white. The texture is completely smooth without chunks of chocolate. Although chocolate is certainly a great pair for mint (so this ice-cream would be fabulous over a rich chocolate cake) the mint on its own is so pure and subtly sweet that it doesn't need a companion. This is a sweet mint, not the biting mint of a mojito. Haagen-Dazs recommends pairing the ginger ice-cream with cardamom-honey roasted peaches. [clicking link downloads a PDF] I think pear would also work well.

Brown Sugar: My sons love milkshakes. Traditionally they have vanilla or mint chocolate-chip, but they have since had several brown sugar shakes. This flavor was absolutely my favorite. It calls to mind gingerbread men and a cozy gathering. I suppose now we can have our holiday memories during the summer, thanks to this spicy-yet-cool ice-cream. Recipe: Häagen-Dazs Five™ Brown Sugar Ice Cream with Warm Apple Cinnamon Blossoms [downloads a PDF]

I will definitely be purchasing five for my family in the future - tastes good, less fat, all natural. It is truly a fantastic five.

Fittingly, I have FIVE coupons for free ice-cream to give away to you loyal readers. Simply post a comment telling me what flavor five you are most interested in trying. (Check out the Haagen-Dazs five website to find all the five flavors - and yes, there are more than 5 flavors...) I'll give you until April 30th to enter. Good Luck! If you don't win, consider picking up five at your local store: you won't regret it.

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Wooo! You all won! Send me your mailing address to karianna at this domain name (see my header) and I'll get the coupons out to you!

April 20, 2009

X-14 Mold & Mildew Stain Remover Really Works

I am one of those people who values a clean home but hates the actual cleaning process. My mind feels much clearer when my space is less cluttered. It is pretty dramatic how my mental state waxes and wanes depending on whether the house is "presentable."

That said, I'm usually up for reviewing cleaning products since many of them aim to do their job in an more efficient manner. Such is the case with X-14 Mold & Mildew Stain Remover, a product that claims to remove stains without scrubbing and to keep stains away for up to two weeks. Thanks to Mom Central, I got a bottle free-for-review.

I've tested "no scrub" products before, and typically there was scrubbing involved, but even a little reduction of elbow grease is enough to make me happy. Still, many of those other products didn't work even after I scrubbed.

My test location for X-14 is a shower that I don't use. Our house has a family room that was created out of what used to be the garage. Off the garage was a utility bathroom, including shower. Our backyard used to include a neighborhood pool, but many years ago the property lines were redrawn and the pool removed. And so, I think our garage bathroom doubled as the pool shower. We use it as a bathroom and a laundry room (oh! and the cat's litter box / food room) but I didn't want to set foot into that shower... until this test.

When we have people over, we naturally convene in the family room. Unfortunately, that means that the closest bathroom is this funky one that is pretty messy. It is embarrassing to have people go in there, but it seems awkward to direct them to go back into the kitchen, through the dining room, past the living room, and then finally to the first door on the right to the "proper" bathroom.

And so the best solution would appear to be to clean up that nearby bathroom.

Let's cut to the chase. Here are photos of the disgusting bathroom shower before X-14:

Before Cleaning Before X-14

Before Cleaning


Here are photos of the same shower stall after a single application - NO scrubbing:

After First Application After First Application


Here are photos of the same shower stall after a second application - STILL NO scrubbing:

After Second Application After Second Application

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the "before" with the "after second application" (so time span about a half-hour since each application and rinse took 5-15 minutes:)


Before X-14 After Second Application

Before Cleaning After Second Application

Between both applications I rinsed well, as per the instructions. After the second application I was going to do "in action" photos, but the stains disappeared before I got my camera pointed. Seriously. I just sprayed, waited a few minutes, and then rinsed. No scrubbing.

To "finish" the shower, I did take a paper towel to clean up some of the metal parts. As per the X-14 instructions, it is recommended for hard, non-porous interior home, RV, and boat surfaces, including: bathroom tiles, grout, fiberglass and vinyl showers, vinyl bath mats and shower curtains, plastic garbage cans, and pails. It can also be used on outside surfaces like walls, decks, concrete, masonry, tile roofs, plastic furniture, awnings, vinyl (but not on cotton stitching,) mortar, plastic tubs, boats and marine surfaces and vinyl covers, swimming pool liners, and hot tubs. X-14 CAN be used on metal surfaces, but the instructions state to avoid prolonged contact with metal because it may cause rust stains. And so, I didn't spray the metal portions of the shower head-on, and was sure to rinse well, then wipe residue with a paper towel that didn't wash off with the water.

I didn't scrub.

I only wiped little flakes of gunk off with a paper towel.

Most of the gunk came off rinsing off with the shower spray.

X-14 Mold & Mildew Stain Remover worked as promised. Many people will probably wonder: so just how strong is it, anyway?

The main ingredient in X-14 Mold & Mildew Stain Remover is sodium hypochlorite (bleach) at a level generally 60 percent higher than similar products on the market. The product is activated by "pH adjustments." Of course the instructions recommend ventilating the room well.

I opened the bathroom window, left the shower stall door open, and left the bathroom door open. My kids said, "What's that smell?" at one point during the cleaning, but once I had rinsed, they didn't mention it again. They didn't leave the sofa by the bathroom nor did they complain. I didn't wear gloves during application, but perhaps some might want to "just in case." Since there is no scrubbing and the product spray doesn't leak, it didn't get on my hands anyway.

I am notorious for being bothered by smells, but X-14 didn't bother me. I didn't feel overcome by the fumes. Other products have made me feel a bit woozy before, plus other products have required more product to get the job done (as well as scrubbing and thus more "intimate" involvement with the product) and so although X-14 might technically be stronger than those products, it didn't seem that way to me.

I will definitely use X-14 again. The cleaning of the dreaded ikky shower ended up not being a disgusting production as I had feared. Instead, it was a bit of spraying, a bit of rinsing, and then a quick wipe to pick up gunk the water was unable to dislodge. it was surprisingly painless.

Thank you X-14 for making our shower presentable again!

April 21, 2009

Iced Coffee Day at Dunkin' Donuts

Hooray, Hooray, today is a special day!

Today - Tuesday April 21st - is "Iced Coffee Day," says Dunkin' Donuts. Today the price of a small (16 oz.) cup of Iced Coffee is only 50 cents. More importantly, five cents from every cup will be donated to Homes for Our Troops.

HomesForOurTroops.gifHomes for Our Troops puts on "build brigades" - a three-day construction blitz to get a house framed, plus install doors, windows, roof, and siding. The beneficiaries of these homes are severely injured vetrans who require specially adapted homes (ie, kitchens with counters accessible via wheelchair, wide enough hallways to accommodate wheelchairs, etc.) All specially adapted homes are built at no cost to the veteran thanks to foundation grants, corporate sponsors, and generous support from countless volunteers.

DunkinDonutsCamoKoozie.gifDunkin' Donuts is currently selling "Camo Koozies" to keep your iced coffee nice and cool (and your hands nice and warm) - for every Koozie sold, $1.00 will be donated to Homes for Our Troops. You can pick one up at your local Dunkin' Donuts store today when you purchase your 50 cent iced-coffee, or you can purchase one (or more) "Camo Koozies" online.

Many years ago, I volunteered in a home-building mission project for my church. The memories I have of that project are varied: from realizing just how shallow my hometown's teenager existence was to how incredibly grateful the recipients of the home were. In that case, we were building tiny two-bedroom dwellings with no electricity or appliances. Our homes were just a shelter. Nonetheless, it made a big difference for these folks.

The veterans who return from their service injured in a way that prevents them from living in a "regular" house can now have homes built to their particular needs. Learn more at Homes for Our Troops

April 28, 2009

CPR Anytime from the American Heart Association

One of my reasons for finally buckling down and losing weight, or at least working out more consistently is that I realize that at age 35, every year that ticks by is another opportunity to lose bone density, flexibility, endurance, and mental health. Although 35 is not "old," it is easy to get in the hang of putting other priorities in front of one's health.

I'm hoping to turn that around - doing "cardio" for my heart, and strengthening exercises for my bones, muscles, and body control. Falls are a big part of how older people are injured, so if my core is strong, I have a less likely chance of falling. But really, it is that "cardio" that gets me: both physically and emotionally.

ECCClassConnector.gifWhen my mom was 37, her mom died of atherosclerosis. Her mom was only 66 at the time. Well, my mom is going to turn 66 this December. Thankfully, my mom is not a smoker as my grandmother was. And thankfully, medicine has evolved such that many people whose heart disease is caught early can be saved. In my grandma's case, she was alive for several days in the hospital - fully awake and still with a sharp mind - but I guess they were unable to properly treat her before she had a fatal cardiac event. Of course, I don't know the details because I was only ten, but I remember feeling a shutter of recognition as I studied the various types of heart disease and stroke while in graduate medical school. (Want to know some sick irony? The professor who taught my stroke class died shortly thereafter... of a stroke.)

My grandmother left us too soon.

The Cat's school puts on "Jump for Heart," a benefit for the American Heart Association. Both years I've donated more than I would any other random charity. I've given in my grandmother's name - Ruby.

A few years ago, I went to the ER because of some odd pelvic pain. (I had gone to "minor injury" but they redirected me to the ER.) When I first got there, a man coded in the parking lot. Much later in the day, I learned he had a heart attack and hadn't made it.

Heart disease is no joke. People think they can drive themselves to the hospital after having chest pain, or that they can wait "just awhile longer" before seeking care. You can't on both counts: call an ambulance and get care immediately. Cardiac care (and stroke care) depend on TIME.

Through Mom Central, I learned of the ECC Class Connector from the American Heart Association. This site helps users locate local CPR (cardiac-pulmonary resuscitation) and ECC (emergency cardiac care) classes.

CPRAnytime.gifA confession: I'm not actually certified in CPR, although I've taken a few classes. I know I need to practice what I preach and actually become certified. Still, if you are like me and haven't officially gotten certified and think you probably don't have the time to devote to a long class and testing process, then CPR Anytime is for you. CPR Anytime is a line of self-directed learning products was developed to increase CPR knowledge and awareness.

Here's a chilling duo of statistics:
* Almost 80 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur at home and are witnessed by a family member
* Only 6.4 percent of sudden cardiac arrest victims survive because the vast majority of those witnessing the arrest are people who do not know how to perform CPR

Is your life worth $35? Are your loved ones lives worth $35?

Silly girl, of course they are worth much more than that! And yet CPR Anytime costs $35.

I may sound like an infomercial - but really - it is important to have these skills, regardless of whether you take a full class, buy CPR Anytime, or learn more about heart disease, such as heart attack / stroke warning signs.

Check out ECC Class Connector from the American Heart Association to find a CPR/ECC class near you, and/or explore CPR Anytime to bring CPR knowledge into your home.

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Edited to add: Specific product links and tracking links from the original 2009 post were discontinued, so I've updated with just a general American Heart Association website link. Please explore their site to find resources that might be valuable to you and your family!

In the interest of full-disclosure, I will receive a CPR Anytime kit (from AHA and Mom Central) for mentioning the ECC Class Connector website and CPR Anytime product -- however, I would have wanted to blog about it anyway - it is important, and means something personally to me, since I certainly would have wanted to save my grandmother's life if possible. Although I am not chomping at the bit to be a heroine, I definitely want to have the knowledge to save someone else's life if I am put in that position.

May 14, 2009

Stylish UPF 50+ Clothing

May is Skin-Cancer Awareness Month!

While I haven't actually had skin cancer, I have several scars to show that I've had irregular moles removed. Perhaps you all remember the Code Blue in Dermatology drama?

Several years ago I had two moles on my leg removed. I haven't worn shorts since, because they left huge bruise-like gashes. But having those is better than being dead.

Of course I don't want my kids to get skin cancer, nor do I want them to get nasty looking scars. With that in mind, I bought them a bunch of UV Skinz (who I found out about through Cool Mom Picks.) I also bought several for myself: a black jacket that I can simply zip over any tank top, plus two long-sleeved swim-shirts (that I am going to use as wear-while-at-the-boardwalk rather than for swimming.)

UVSkinz.gifWhen the UV Skinz arrived, an additional product was put in my bag: a Baby Skinz to donate to someone else. All UV Skinz customers completing an order in the month of May will receive a free Baby Skinz. They request that these Baby Skinz be donated to a needy cause of their customers' choosing. Customers can then share their donation location - good karma points!

They write, "Protecting our children from becoming the one in five Americans who will be diagnosed with skin cancer within their lifetimes starts from day one! Teaching safe sun habits to every child is imperative to help eradicate a disease that is almost entirely preventable. Every child deserves to live safe under the sun!" UV Skinz have a UPF rating of 50+, which blocks out over 98% of the sun's harmful rays. In addition to the free Baby Skinz, they offer free shipping on orders over $50.

Sounds great - but do the products deliver?

Well, my youngest son adores his new Skinz. He's worn them around "just because" (even to his preschool art show!) and also in the swimming pool. I've worn mine too - I wore the black jacket as I hiked around the reservoir. I wondered if I would overheat, but the material was thin and breathable, so I wasn't uncomfortable at all. I felt glad that my arms, neck, and chest were all protected. (Now I have to get a cute-looking hat...)

I'm also eyeing some UPF 50+ clothes from Athleta, but haven't yet taken the plunge (they are expensive.) The Athleta clothes are more "regular clothes" whereas the UV Skinz definitely have the "water" vibe. If I give Athleta a try, I'll report back here. But for now, I'm pretty excited about my UV Skinz - and plan to wear those shirts on what I imagine will be our many trips to Splig's Favorite Destination Ever - the beach boardwalk.
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My posts about the whole forehead mole situation:
- I am not Smurfette
- Code Blue in Dermatology
- Decisions and Delays
- Not Again
- Where Everybody Knows Your Name
- Blocking Pesky Betas
- En Route to a Harry Potter Scar
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Disclaimer: UV Skinz did not contact me in any way to promote their product. I did not receive any special treatment in exchange for mentioning them. I learned of the company on Cool Mom Picks and decided it would be a good match for our family. I then learned of their May promotion and wished to spread the word as it is generous and important!

May 31, 2009

New York Times: Obama - The Historic Journey

I wouldn't call myself a "scrapbooker" although I do have several albums of collages, photographs, playbills, and ticket stubs from my pre-parent days. After that, the collages became computerized, and then they just became a Flickr link.

ObamaHistoricJourneyNewYorkTimes.jpgBut I still save a bunch of my boys' work, plus little things here and there that might mean something to me later. After 9/11, I saved a lot of newspaper articles and other freebies. I reasoned that it was an important enough event that having "original" articles and documentation would be wise. (And then there is that "what if someday my kid needs to write an article about it?" rationale, although these days I guess folks pull the facts online. Still, having a copy taken directly from the original newspaper would be nice.)

It is no surprise, then, that with the campaign and eventual election of our nation's first African-American President, that I would be a pack-rat about the memorabilia. I have newspaper articles, buttons, bumper stickers, and the faded lawn-signs we displayed at our house. I may even have my ballot stub - or at the least my sample ballot.

I was therefore thrilled that Mom Central gave me the opportunity to receive The New York Times' "Obama: The Historic Journey." I received the young reader's edition to share with my boys.

Frankly, I like the "young reader's edition" because it is easy-to-understand and highlights the most pertinent points. I'm honestly not a history or politics buff (although my husband is) so I'd rather get the "gist" of something than a drawn-out explanation. That said, the "young reader's edition" is definitely not dumbed-down. It gives lots of detail, presented in an interesting way.

The book has gorgeous pictures. Being a visual person, I appreciate the vibrancy and the symbolism. I love looking at pictures from the past, like Barack playing baseball as a child, or his Senior school picture. From the same visual orientation, I appreciate seeing President Obama's family tree, especially as it is superimposed over a world map to show his origins.

Definitions for common terms appear in colored boxes above and to the side of the main text during the sections on the campaign and election. These "extras" help kids unfamiliar with the vocabulary of politics and government to understand better the story depicted in the main text. Quotes from President Obama also fill colored boxes.

These side-boxes also break down the issues for both Obama and McCain. Although the positions are greatly simplified, this side-by-side glance is useful for kids just learning about the candidates. Other information at-a-glance includes a double-page statistics page listing information on Obama such as shoe size (11) and favorite food (chili.)

Sections on Obama's past, the campaign, the election, the victory, Michelle Obama, and his daughters are all very well-done. Something unique about this particular compilation of history is a section entitled "Inside the Times" that talks about planning the election issue of the New York Times. This behind-the-scenes glance is fun. A "Presidential Advice" section shows school children's letters to President Obama, along with some very cute hand drawings of the President from thirteen kids.

While some of the book is light-hearted and celebratory, there are also sections on the financial crisis and on the Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. controversy, plus a section on Barack, Sr. as an "absent" father. And so, this book is not intended to shy away from the negative.

"Obama: The Historic Journey" is a beautiful and comprehensive book. It isn't too heavy, nor is it too simplistic. I am pleased to add it to my collection about this historic election, and glad to share it with my boys to introduce them to our President.

Thank you Mom Central and the New York Times!

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Purchase The New York Times' "Obama: The Historic Journey." on Amazon:

- Young Readers Edition
- Adult Edition

May 29, 2009

Don't Forget the Sunscreen!

As May comes to a close, so does "Skin Cancer Awareness Month," but that is no reason to forget about the sunscreen. Whether you wear UV protective clothes or slather on the lotion, make sure you are doing something to protect yourself outside.

SunglassesSunscreenSwimsuit.jpgSure, it may not quite feel like summer yet for some of you, but with school's dismissal, suddenly we're all going to be spending a lot more time outdoors.

Here's a secret: I've already gotten burned this year. I had my UPF 50+ protective jacket unzipped a bit in the neck area for the stylish look of it all (V-neck is so much more flattering for my body type) but didn't apply enough sunscreen in that area. (The neck area is frequently forgotten, and it is delicate, so important to remember!) The good news of this burn (and it isn't bad, really - just a tiny bit red) is that it showed me that the UPF 50+ protective wear from UVSkinz totally worked -- because the areas that were covered with the clothing weren't even a tad tanned or pink.

Luckily, I sprayed a bunch of sunscreen on my boys, so they were doubly-protected: they wore UV Skinz and had sunscreen on. We use both Neutrogena and KINeSYS sunscreen sprays. I also use the Neutrogena lotion (slathered it on my neck as soon as I realized I had damage: sunscreen provides healing, too.)

I know everyone knows this, but sunglasses don't just make you look cool. Sure, they help you see better in bright light (and help with fatigue in bright cloudy light) but their most important role is to protect against UV exposure. Many of those cheap-o sunglasses don't block both UV-A and UV-B light, so be sure to look on the label.

The one sun protection item I am lacking is a hat. I haven't found a "cute" one that I like just yet. Yes, I spray my head to avoid a sunburn in the part of my hair, but I know I need to be better protected. (And sunscreened-up hair is not so pretty, anyway.)

So, consider this brief "service announcement" a reminder to put your sunscreen out on your bathroom counter so you remember to put it on -- stash one in your car, at your desk at the office, in your diaper bag, and by the front door. Get a hat (yes, I need to take my own advice) and some great sunglasses (my dad has pairs littered all around, as does Husband - better to have a bunch in different places than to squint-n-burn because you can't find your sole pair.)

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I received no compensation for this post -- just highlighting products I've reviewed in the past. I purchased the swimsuit pictured from dELiA*s (and got a beautiful one from Victoria's Secret as well. I learned last season that it is important to have more than one swimsuit, least my boys require that I put on a cold wet one when they want to go back in the hotel pool and hour later...) The sunglasses pictured are Fendi - but you can get UV-A + UV-B protection from less expensive brands (just not totally cheap-o.)

June 8, 2009

Use Charged Water to Clean: Activeion

The last Saturday of May, our whole family (plus other Silicon Valley Moms) set out to The Tech to see Bill Nye the Science Guy thanks to Activeion. (Perhaps you caught a few of my photos of the event on my main blog?) My first thought was more about the family fun at the museum (and meeting Bill Nye!) but I quickly became interested in the actual product - and have since put it to the test in many situations.

activeion.gifWhen I heard of Activeion before the presentation, I thought it was a device that would heat up water to then assist in cleaning. I wondered how "safe" that would be even if there were no harsh chemicals involved. But then within moments of the presentation starting, one of the Activeion executives sprayed himself in the mouth. Minutes later, so did Bill Nye the Science Guy. Hey, they weren't gagging!

The Activeion uses cold tap water - and magically charges the ions in said water to attract the gunk on your counter, on your carpet, or even on your skin. (One of the Activeion execs said his daughter uses it to remove her makeup.)

No, it isn't hot. No, the charged ions do not create some caustic situation for humans. Run away if you are dirt, but even then, you'll just be swept carefully onto a soft microfiber cloth.

I was thrilled to receive my own Activeion to take home for free - and I'm happy to report that I have another to give away to a reader who is also interested in giving this terrific technology a shot.

Splig CleansBecause it uses plain tap water, this device is eco-friendly and safe. There are no harsh chemicals, and there is no need to continue to purchase bottles of soap - so Activeion is recession-friendly as well. (The initial purchase price may seem daunting at $299 - but consider all the different products at $5 and higher that end up in the shopping cart nearly every week.) No "running out of cleaner" mid-job - just turn on your tap to refill the Activeion chamber to continue cleaning.

Some time ago, I was begging people for recommendations on carpet cleaners. The response was crickets. None have worked for me. All that happens is a bunch of soap ends up stuck in the carpet fibers - soap which then attracts dirt, right onto the carpet. And so, although I was curious as to how Activion would perform on my countertops, my real target was the little black spots on my white carpet.

And what-do-you-know, they came up!

Carpet Spot - Before. No More Spot
A couple cycles of spray-then-wipe, and the spots really did lift

Now, I haven't erased all the spots, because to do so would be time consuming. (I am praying that Activeion creates a mega-sized carpet-cleaning gadget that would use the same technology.) In the meantime, I'll do little blocks at a time. But the important thing is that when a spill occurs I'll be able to get it up before the dreaded carpet stain occurs.

Thanks to Spliggle's surgery last week (the additional messy food and medicine load with tired people and a weak, shaky boy) plus a stomach flu situation at the same time, I've had plenty of opportunity to use the Activeion on new messes. But I've been pretty darn impressed with its job on the old messes as well.

Voilà, the Vase:
Vase - Before Vase - After

In most cases for the dried-on stuff, it required several cycles of "spray then wipe" - but this is absolutely to be expected. The gunk came up much more readily than with other methods, and I'd rather use a little elbow grease than a harsh chemical anyway. For my refrigerator, I used to employ hot water in an attempt to melt the gunk. Of course, in the refrigerated environment, hot quickly became cold. I really didn't want to spray harsh things directly onto my refrigerator, but even when I did the resulting mess took quite a bit of scrubbing to clean. The Activeion cleaned my fridge in less than five minutes. I'm not kidding.

Fridge - Before Fridge - During Fridge - After

I know I sound like an infomercial. But here's the deal: I've received other cleaners before, but they haven't shown up on this blog because they haven't worked. At last year's BlogHer conference, I eagerly picked up a carpet cleaning system for free -- but all it did was embed powdery smells-like-moldy-flowers bits in my carpet that I still smell nearly a year later. (So no, I didn't plug it on my blog.) And so, when I find something that works, I gush.

And gush about Activeion, I will.

Another problem I've had in the cleaning arena is those precious stuffed animals. Most contain a little tag that reads "spot clean only" and yet if a child throws up on them, defecates on them, or otherwise creates a disastrous mess, a "spot clean" is exceptionally difficult to pull off. We are advised to "dab with water" (which is the same not-really-working advice most people give on other porous surfaces like upholstery or carpet.) Water in its regular form alone can't cut it. And a soap-based cleaner isn't a good idea since there is no way to rinse the soap out - and any residue would be very close to a child (if not in the child's mouth.)

Here is Big Doggy - who has had several little who-knows-what stains on his paws that have remained there forever (and I am not so cruel as to throw him in the trash pile, yet I cringe when the kids actually snuggle up to him.)

Big Doggy Stained Paw - before No More Stained Paw!
Big Doggy is now clean - hallelujah!

When Splig lost the contents of his lunch last week on the couch, Activeion helped me wipe it up in a flash. Once we gave him a puke-pan, I got a little system of two vessels going on, where I'd rinse out the used one - Activeion it to sanitize - and then replace it when called into duty. The pans were clean and didn't smell from the prior use.

I could go on and on about the different things I've tried with Activeion - and yet I know there are more - like my car dash, various things outdoors that always seem to have water-spots or streaks, and the shower. (One of my favorite uses for Activeion is those seemingly always grubby doorknobs and crown molding. I can spray and wipe once and the gunk is gone.)

If you are interested in winning one of your own, simply leave a comment below. You can tell me about your hardest cleaning challenge, or anything else that shows how you'd really appreciate an Activeion. Leave your comments by June 20th. The winner will be determined using random.org on or about that date. Please make sure to leave an email address with your comment so I can reach you if you win!

Good luck - the winner will be very lucky, I can attest!

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Yes, Activeion gave me a unit for free. Blogging about it is optional, but I chose to do it because I really do believe this product works well - and because I thought it would be terrific to give away another unit to a reader. Activeion also paid our way to the Tech museum and gave us a yummy lunch. No additional compensation will be provided to me (aside from the giveaway - which will go directly to the winner) because I chose to blog about this product. They would not have hunted me down and made me give back the unit if I hadn't blogged about it. They are nice people.
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Thank you all for your entries -- the winner will be chosen
(via random.org) and notified (via email) shortly!

June 18, 2009

Father's Day Grand Slam

Did you know Sunday is Father's Day? Yeah, somehow it came mighty quickly. This first week out-of-school has been simultaneously the slowest and the fastest in a very long time. It is amazing that the 20th is mere days away.

Fortunately, we have the internet and overnight shipping to take care of us. Even if you place an order on Friday, you could have in-hand on Saturday, and wrapped and ready to go for Sunday.

Of course there is that old-fashioned go to the store thing, but plugging online products is more fun.

So here are four things that I think are pretty cool:
(If you are my father or the father of my children, please don't read ahead! And YES I ordered your stuff long ago.)

Continue reading "Father's Day Grand Slam" »

June 21, 2009

Father's Day Tea. Or Not.

This is a compensated review from
BlogHer and Crystal Light Water Way Challenge

pretty_packages_gender_roles.gifWhen my mom called me late Friday evening, she asked if we wanted to come over to "do something" for Father's Day. "Oh, of course!" was my reply, but then I told her how our eldest son had a soccer game at 12:30 so we'd have to leave before then.

Oh no, I'd want you over late - for things like burgers!

Mother's Day we get a brunch, or tea. But Father's Day we get to bring out the meat and beer. Not Fair.

And so I began to think about how a pitcher of iced tea is perfectly fine for a book club or ladies luncheon, but somehow not "manly" enough for the fathers. Granted, there are tea drinkers out there who happen to be male, but the stereotype is that men drink coffee while women drink tea. The women (allegedly) want fru-fru brunch, but the men want spice and substance.

What does this have to do with powdered beverages such as Crystal Light?

Well, Crystal Light is most certainly marketed to women. I understand that. I remember the beautiful ladies of the eighties showing how a flavored drink could avoid damage to one's figure, quite the opposite of many other refreshments of the time.

The interesting thing, though, is that now there are powdered drinks out there that are marketed to men as well. And then there are some that are rather gender-neutral. Look in your supermarket and you'll find products that are essentially alike, but in vastly different boxes.

Continue reading "Father's Day Tea. Or Not." »

June 22, 2009

Strawberry Goodness Not Found in the Wild

This is a compensated review from
BlogHer and Crystal Light Water Way Challenge

Wild_Strawberry_Powdered_Drink_Crystal_Light.jpgStrawberry juice is something not really found in nature, unless you are talking about a nice sauce over pound cake created with the tiny bit of juice that can be eeked from a strawberry, plus a lot of sugar. Nonetheless, I must admit that the wild strawberry flavor of Crystal Light is really tasty. It is refreshing, not too sweet, and absolutely smooth. (After all, with real strawberries, I end up with black-dotted teeth.)

I've had a blast filling up my sports bottle with the Wild Strawberry Energy Crystal Light because it really is a treat. I have little strawberry candies that I like, and now it is as though I am drinking them - but without worrying about the caloric impact. Interestingly, I just learned that there is such a thing as Wild Strawberry Energy Sugar-Free Crystal Light Hard Candy. I think I know something I'm going to be purchasing soon.

This particular flavor is part of the "energy" line, which contains B vitamins plus caffeine to boost energy. Yes, I said caffeine - so the energy line isn't what you should look for if you are trying to cut down on caffeinated beverages or if you are looking for a drink before bedtime.

By way of comparison, the diet soda that I have in my fridge is 34mg caffeine per 12 oz soda. Wild Strawberry Crystal Light has 60mg caffeine per 16.9oz water (or more if you dilute it a bit.) Huh, no wonder I had enough energy to do my running intervals today.

Don't get me wrong - I love a little caffeine boost. But it is probably best for me to not drink too many servings of Wild Strawberry in one day. No fear, though, because there are plenty of other non-caffeinated flavors of Crystal Light for me to drink once I'm done with my Wild Strawberry allotment.

I easily finished up my 8 glasses of water today on the Challenge -- several were Wild Strawberry, plus I had 20+ ounces of ice water right after I did running intervals. Minus a glass of wine (because alcohol dehydrates) and plus 2 diet sodas, and I'm still ahead.

What? You still don't have your Water Way Challenge Widget?
See below and get yourself one - it isn't too late!

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* My introductory post to the Water Way Challenge - which links all the posts I've done while doing the Challenge, and includes my Challenge Widget to show how much water I've been drinking.
* Crystal Light Water Way Challenge official site
* Blogher's Water Way Challenge Group
* Crystal Light official site

June 23, 2009

Pop Pop, Fizz Fizz!

This is a compensated review from
BlogHer and Crystal Light Water Way Challenge

red_crystal_light_soda_bubbles.jpgWell, I did it: I tried creating a carbonated beverage out of Crystal Light.

You see, I love carbonation. My attraction to diet soda is nearly all because of the bubbles. For awhile, I drank just club soda, but I do prefer some taste. I know my dentist would say that carbonation helps rot my teeth. And the doctor would say carbonation would cause tummy trouble. But I reach for carbonation when I'm feeling ill - I think it settles my stomach - and honestly, drinking tea has had more of a negative impact on my teeth than carbonation has, especially since the sodas I drink aren't the heavy sugar variety.

During the Water Way Challenge I've reached for soda less often than before, but I haven't gone a full day without at least one. I really crave those happy bubbles on my tongue and in my tummy. Interestingly, though, the taste of the soda has seemed a bit "off" recently since I am so used to drinking either Crystal Light or water. But, I chug it down anyway because the carbonation is comforting.

The next logical step was to see if I could create a Crystal Light "soda."

I used Pomegranate Lemonade for my experiment. I put the powder in my glass first, then slowly poured Club Soda down the side so the powder wouldn't explode. Sure, it bubbled up a bit, but didn't expand into a flurry over the side of the glass. After I stirred it up, I tried it.

Verdict?

Continue reading "Pop Pop, Fizz Fizz!" »

Win BlogHer Conference Funding Thanks to Johnson & Johnson!

It is hard to believe that the BlogHer conference is only a month away.

It seemed so far in the future - after Splig's myringotomy - tonsillectomy - adenoidectomy surgery, after school ends, after soccer starts, after summer is half over, after this, after that.

BlogHer_Conference_Chicago_Real_Life.gifBut we've been plowing through all those events, and now BlogHer is next on the list. (Well, and Splig's birthday. He won't let any of us forget that.)

People attending BlogHer are scrambling around getting their plane tickets, hotel reservations, and some new duds to wear. The preparations can take a hefty toll on the wallet. Thankfully, a variety of Johnson & Johnson brands are sponsoring a mega-sweepstakes to enable 20 (yes, twenty, that isn't a typo) bloggers the funding to attend the conference.

Acuvue, Carefree, Johnson's Baby, Listerine Agent Cool Blue, OB, Splenda, Stayfree, and other J&J brands are giving away $1200 in cash to 20 (twenty) people; 5 (five) of these people will also receive a Flip camera.

I should note that this contest does not provide tickets to the sold-out BlogHer; rather, it is for conference attendees who already have their tickets. The suggested use of the $1200 is to pay for travel, lodging, and other aspects of conference-going. I know I'd love to have an extra $1200 in my bank account!

Good Luck!

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* Enter the sweepstakes
* Official rules of the sweepstakes

June 26, 2009

Crystal Light Water Way Challenge - I Have Conquered!

This is a compensated review from
BlogHer and Crystal Light Water Way Challenge

Wow, so this is it! I've been drinking Crystal Light for two weeks. I must admit it went by quickly, and I was surprised at how I was able to cut down on soda. I not once went a day without a soda, but I certainly didn't have as many in a day as I was used to.

Typically I would have a soda beside my computer as I write; but instead I have a huge red sports bottle next to me, filled with Crystal Light. Making the switch was definitely not "painful" as I had anticipated. I thought I'd be drinking the same amount of soda, but then adding a bunch of Crystal Light on top of it. But indeed, I cut down on my need for soda because the flavored water satisfied me. As an added benefit, my skin has looked terrific now that it has been hydrated instead of pelted with caffeine each day.

The trickiest thing has been forgetting to update my widget. It seems that I'm drinking so much when I'm away from my computer (in the car, at the gym, outside) that I forget to record my intake. But since I have to refill the sports bottles, I am aware of how much I'm taking in - lots!

Even though my two weeks are up, you can be a part of the Water Way Challenge - the summer has just begun. Join the conversation by joining the Crystal Light Water Way Challenge Group at BlogHer. Head on over to Crystal Light to make a delicious change. Test your "water wisdom," create your own Water Way Challenge Widget (like mine above) and even register to win a prize.

Thank you to BlogHer, Crystal Light, and the fun gals at the Challenge Group - these two weeks have been fun!

If you haven't been reading along during these two weeks, please visit my introductory post to the Water Way Challenge. This explains a bit about why I agreed to do the challenge, and links all the posts I've done these past two weeks.

Other Helpful Links:

* Crystal Light Water Way Challenge
* Blogher's Water Way Challenge Group
* Crystal Light official site

July 3, 2009

Rock out with Guitar Hero for the DS

I attempt to walk the lineI cannot play the guitar, as evidenced by this photo in which I am holding the thing upside down (apparently.) And then there is my son, who was so obsessed with a pink ukulele that when he randomly found a $20 bill mere feet from a store selling pink ukuleles - right after I told him I wouldn't use my money to buy him one - he purchased it himself. (I mean, how could he not given that the gods were apparently smiling down on him?)

So when Mom Central put out a call to try Guitar Hero for the DS, of course I responded. Not because I think I'm a rock-star, but because I clearly need the help. More so, I wanted to try out these games because I knew my boys would be interested. After all, they spent a good portion of Thanksgiving watching my brother play Guitar Hero on his Playstation.

I figured, if my brother can do it, so can I! (But, um, apparently he's the one who got the guitar talent.)

Continue reading "Rock out with Guitar Hero for the DS" »

July 4, 2009

Independence: From Leaks and More - Your Carefree Fresh Start

Women: do you remember the first day you got your period?

In the months before that "official" period, I had just spotting. A small pantiliner fit the bill, and I figured that was that. But then the real thing arrived, and I learned that I needed a great deal more protection (and medication.)

Carefree_Fresh_Start_Fund.gifOn one hand, that first period meant I was making a fresh start as a "woman" but of course it also carried with it a great deal of "complications." I am sure every woman has at least one "leak story."

Mine was when I was wearing an outfit I thought was super-stylish. It was a light aqua color, made by a designer totally "in" at the time. Apparently I misjudged the amount of time I could wait between changing my protection, because when I finally arrived in the restroom, I discovered I had a huge red stain on my backside. (Nobody told me about it, but isn't that junior high?) Of course the expensive, stylish outfit was ruined, and I was mortified.

Junior high mortification may seem like the utmost in severity, but as a real adult, "grown-up" woman, I know better now. I know that there are women out there whose problems far eclipse my petty junior high ones. There are lots of women out there who just wish they could make a fresh start.

first_thirty_days.gif

The makers of Carefree® pantiliners are partnering with First30Days.com - experts at helping people through change - on a new program to help women make a fresh start. Women who visit CarefreeFreshStart.com will find tips for making a fresh start and the chance to receive up to $10,000 through the Carefree® Fresh Start Fund.

To apply for funding, women need to share why they want a fresh start, plans for reaching their goal, and how the funding could help.

Ten finalists will receive funding to help make their fresh start a reality, and the public will then have the chance to vote online for the best fresh start plan. The top three winners will receive $10,000, $5,000 and $3,000 respectively, plus other benefits and prizes. All other finalists will receive $1,000 to help begin making their fresh start.

The deadline for submissions is July 10, 2009.

Continue reading "Independence: From Leaks and More - Your Carefree Fresh Start" »

July 1, 2009

The Circus is Coming to Town!

UPDATE: We saw the circus! It was tons of fun -- please read on to find out how you can see the circus at a discount.

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I saw the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus when I was young. I don't remember my brother being there, which means I was probably younger than five.

Zing_Zang_Zoom.gifI remember I was nervous. It was my first time in a large arena, there were animals I had never seen before in person, and I worried that I was the one who would have to perform. But I also remember once my nerves were calmed it made quite an impression.

Yes, I'm one of those folks who is freaked out by clowns, but I love the trapeze, high-wire acts, and all the animal acts. I have fond memories of being able to meet an elephant at Ringling Brothers when I was young, and some baby tigers when I was in the eighth grade. Getting close to animals I thought would be inaccessible was a real thrill.

I took "ownership" of my Ringling Brothers experience enough so that when a competitor came to town I scoffed, saying they were just "impostors." Surely they couldn't be as talented as the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Baily troupe!

Ringling_Bros_Barnum_Bailey.gifMy first circus experience was at "The Oakland Coliseum" which has since gone through several renamings to become "The Oracle Arena."

Now MY kids can experience their first circus experience in the exact same place with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, just as I did. Their latest show, Zing Zang Zoom, is coming to Northern California in August. And my family will be there!

Lucky me, I have a coupon code for fellow Bay Area residents to use when purchasing tickets for these shows, thanks to Mom Central:

Continue reading "The Circus is Coming to Town!" »

July 21, 2009

Ode to the Michelin Man: Or, Things to See in Chicago

Bib Tire Pressure KeychainLast year, I had the pleasure of not only meeting the Michelin Man - also known as "Bib" * - (much to Jenn Satterwhite's horror) but to learn more about tire pressure and also food. (As you can see at right, my Bib keychain tire-pressure gauge has gotten a lot of use - he's lookin' a bit worn.)

I got to screetch on the brakes on a slicked down track and attempt to maneuver an obstacle course, both with properly-inflated and under-inflated tires. (Check out how the car is tilting - wooo!) I learned my steering wheel grip isn't safe because I "hook over" in such a way that would trap my thumb if the air bag were to deploy.

Watch Out JavaJenn!I learned that I am simultaneously more brave and more scared than I thought I was (about driving, about speaking articulately, about not looking like a fool.) I determined I probably wouldn't make a great reality-T.V. star because I kept looking over at the cameras like OMGomgOMGomg. (Of course, if you are here reading about me to cast me for a reality show, I'm your gal!)

Right before BlogHer last year, I had my tires replaced. I chirped this to the camera, at which point the interviewer asked, "What brand?"

"Michelin, of course" I quipped, before wondering if that was really true. I gave the camera guy a look, then said "Well, Michelin, I think...." Turns out it was true.

cartoon.JPGAfter our adventure, we went on a wine-food pairing tasting. Since that time, I've actually noticed when various people talk about "Michelin Stars."

So why I am I reminding you about last year? (Michelin BlogHer Driving Event at Flickr!)

Well, Bib is going to be back this year - He's coming to Chicago! The Michelin Events page has more details, plus a downloadable "Michelin BlogHer Guide to Chicago" - Sweet!

In case you missed it, here is the video of our experience last year:

See you soon, Bib!

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* From the Michelin website :

"The Latin phrase "Nunc Est Bibendum," meaning "Now is the time to drink (or celebrate)," was used as a title for one of the earliest illustrations of the Michelin man, who is shown holding a cup filled with glass shards, nails, and other tire hazards to show that Michelin takes obstacles in its stride (or "drinks" them, in French). The word Bibendum remained to symbolize the now world-famous mascot."

July 22, 2009

What a Woman Wants... in her Engine.

This experience is now over! Find out my impressions of the Ford event -- I was definitely surprised.

Last after BlogHer, I had the pleasure of hanging out with the Michelin Man (and associated staff plus professional race-car drivers) to learn about tire pressure. I experienced some "closed course" action. It was definitely exciting. I learned quite a lot and was thankful for the experience.

This year I am fortunate enough to go on a plant tour with Ford. I will have the opportunity to discuss "What Women Want" as it pertains to automobiles -- what are YOU looking for in a vehicle?

I know what I want and will be eager to share it with the Ford folks. But I'd really love to hear what your thoughts are as well. I'll be checking comments here, of course, but also tweeting with "#FordBlogHer" - so watch for us on Thursday if you are interested in finding out what we're discussing.

I grew up in one of those homes with a dad who was really in to cars. He loves to renovate old cars, but not the traditional "hot rod" types that some hobbyists lean towards. I learned a lot from him, but more about appreciation of the cars rather than mechanics. (I didn't like an old Porsche he had because I thought it was funny looking and smelled kinda funny - at the time, I didn't appreciate what it really was!)

My dad loves to buy and sell cars. He likes "just looking" even more. Some of my favorite outings with my dad were going to garage sales or testing out used cars. Last year at our school auction, I was one of the few women who really enjoyed that the auction was held at a car museum.

My husband first said "I love you" over the decision to purchase a Ford Escort. (It was purple. We called it "the Grape.") Although it has since moved on as our family has grown, I remember our Grape fondly.

I'll explain a little more about my car-buying history at the actual event - and will recap here.

In the meantime - please jump in with your thoughts and/or join us on Twitter to discuss What Women Want... in a vehicle.

What are YOU looking for in a vehicle?

July 29, 2009

Ford Fabulous

Last Wednesday night, I was in the Chicago Sheraton, feeling groggy. I stayed up late the night before to prepare for BlogHer, and ended up having to stay up late again to complete the work I couldn't while on the plane.

Ford EventI was eager to attend the Ford event, but not sure exactly what to expect. I feared my foggy brain might not be able to generate ideas appropriately, or my sleepy senses might not do so well if we were to attempt actually driving the vehicles.

Thankfully after a few hours of sleep I was regenerated, and successfully made it to the Ford-sponsored breakfast at 7:30am (which is 5:30 California time.) It was fabulous to see familiar faces, and meet new people.

Right off the bat, a woman pointed a flip camera towards me and asked me to give my impressions of Ford. I'm not sure exactly what I said, but I know I stammered about how I felt Ford is a "middle ground" brand. It isn't the most expensive, it isn't the cheapest, but I think of it as being a middle class car. Although I said many of my friends drive Fords, I then slipped in that many of them drive BMWs, Mercedes, and Lexuses. Although it was a single sentence, I was parsing the definition of "friend" because there are my college buddies from all over the U.S. who drive a variety of cars, my friends from my "old neighborhood" and the friends (who are more acquaintances, to be honest) in my new neighborhood.

Yes, back in our "old neighborhood" there were many Fords. Many of them were trucks. When I think of reliable work vehicles, I think of Ford. But when I think of what people drive around in my new neighborhood, BMW and Lexus top the list. Most "other mothers" at my sons' school drive SUVs, most of them the aforementioned brands. Those who drive sedans or convertibles drive Mercedes. Although I know of a couple people who drive Jaguars, I think of those as being an "older person" car. I drive a Honda Odyssey. There are several Odysseys and Toyota Siennas in the parking lot, too. My husband drives a Toyota Prius; and yes, there are some Priuses around our neighborhood as well. But I really don't notice the American-made cars.

FordCarHonestTruth.gifMy neighborhood is one of affluence. It is a brand-conscious community. There is a feeling that foreign is better. (Which may be why Ford is so popular in Europe!) Before my visit with Ford, I couldn't picture myself purchasing a brand new Ford because I'd want to show people "Hey, I can afford a Mercedes." Sad, but true. My assumption was that Ford would be a "basic car" whereas one of those "fancy" brands would have the upscale features that I'd expect from a prestigious label. (After all, I've found that designer jeans really do make my rear look better.)

What shocked me the most about my visit with Ford was that the features available in their cars are not only innovative but luxurious. I never thought I'd attach the word "luxury" to Ford, but it is the honest truth.

Continue reading "Ford Fabulous" »

August 2, 2009

Tim Gunn, Lifetime, Project Runway, BowlHer, and Me!

MeTimGunn.jpgI was really excited to meet Tim Gunn. Although I didn't win the "Style Consultation with Tim Gunn" contest with my BlogHer Fashion Haiku + Collage, meeting the man even for a few minutes was a thrill. As I stood in line with the hundreds of other fans, I thought about how I was the first to meet Carson Kressley, and yet how I essentially ran away after he signed my little How to Look Good in Photos postcard because I didn't know we were allowed to pose with him. The Tim Gunn extravaganza was much more organized: although we weren't allowed to snap photos with our own camera, a professional was on hand to make it work. (Photo shown at left courtesy of Tide Bounce Laundry Lounge)

What struck me about Tim Gunn was his calm demeanor. He spent time with each fan, chatting and signing autographs, posing for the photo, and really making each person feel special. I appreciated the way he treated us fans, and came away with quite a lot more respect for him (and I already had oodles.) It is so wonderful to experience celebrities who don't have a huge head.

I went off to BowlHer still high off the Tim Gunn experience. I put on my special outfit and prepared to walk the red carpet.

I didn't trip, though I probably made some funny faces. I was surprised that Mom TV was on hand, so flubbed a bit during my interview, particularly as I had been used to the "talk it all out and we'll edit it later" style of the Ford event, whereas it turns out this was LIVE TV. Ooops!

The venue itself was a blast. I loved the ambiance and loved just sinking into the sofas while the bartender brought me Bud Light in the shape of bowling pins.

bowl_her.jpgI loved my outfit because I could flounce around. The boas the hostesses gave out was an extra-special touch. (Photo shown at right courtesy of goportraits)

The shoes, while high, were surprisingly comfortable. I wasn't going to bowl in them, but my aim for the party was to enjoy myself by socializing and checking out folks like American Idol's Brooke White.

When the Design Challenge winners were announced, it was no surprise that Casey from Moosh in Indy won - her outfit was fabulous. But I ended up being the second winner!

Casey had the glamour down pat - but I had the quirky creativity.

Much to my shock and absolute excitement, I am off to New York City in a little over a month for a "private" party for Lifetime's Project Runway, put on by Marie Claire.

Thank you, thank you to all the folks involved in creating the BowlHer experience. The hostesses' shirts were amazing, the venue was perfect, the decor beautiful. The people were fun and the entertainment was fantastic. I am beyond excited that I have the opportunity to go to New York - and actually meet Tim Gunn a second time.

Of course, what the HECK am I going to wear?

(perhaps I should ask my son?)

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Tim Gunn, Tide, BowlHer, the associated sponsors/producers of BowlHer, Lifetime, Project Runway, Marie Claire or any other individual or group relating to these events or design contest did not require me to write this post, nor was I compensated for writing this post. I chose to write this particular entry on my reviews blog because I mentioned specific brands and events, which conflicts with the advertising requirements on my main blog. As yet I am uncertain as to the requirements or restrictions regarding blogging about the actual New York City trip as it occurs. Of course I would love to share the details with my readers, but there may be limits to what we can reveal should we get an inkling of the finishing order of the Project Runway contestants or other related information. These words are my own. Future posts about this event will be my own, not edited by Project Runway, Marie Claire, or Lifetime, unless specifically noted.

August 6, 2009

Coupon Codes

For those of you who attended BlogHer, you have cards upon brochures worth of "coupon codes" and other such promotional things. These can be great when you actually need 'em, but a hassle to sort through if they are products for which you don't have any interest.

But... I have several little referral-things that I can share with you readers that I thought I'd pass along, just in case. These were things I was interested in - and if you aren't, at least they aren't cluttering up your e-mail box or business cards floating around your desk:

You already know about the circus: Purchase a 4-pack of tickets for only $44 by logging onto www.ticketmaster.com and entering the coupon code: MOM. My family is going to the circus this week - hope it will be fun!
Gilt Group - yes, one of those "give an invitation to your friends and you get a credit to use towards purchase of designer duds:" But - even without the whole "pass on the word" part of it, there really are some amazing finds on here. And no, it isn't restricted to tiny sizes, either. I've found excellent stuff in my size that is well-priced. (Others like this include "Top Secret" and "HauteLook")
Pocketville_B9GX8NUDYS.gifMy kids will try out Pocketville shortly, but I wanted to pass on my little code before I publish the "official" review. Just enter B9GX8NUDYS for 250 tokens that can be used to purchase items for your virtual pet at the Pocketville Pet Supplies Store. I hope it is fun! (Certainly less expensive than a real pet...)
Back to School Shopping Guide I love Cool Mom Picks. I can't visit there without opening my wallet, or at least bookmarking sites to which I'll later return to purchase gifts. Several times in the last month I've bought CMP-suggested baby shower gifts as perfect presents for my recently-pregnant friends. Now their back to school guide is here, so I'm drooling about the new fun things we can buy for autumn. Both guides have a whole slew of discount codes, so not only do you get an excellent product, but you get it at a fine price.


August 13, 2009

Zing, Zang, Zoomed!

Me, Splig, and the ZINGMaster!Woooo.... check me out with Alex the ZINGMaster. Oh, and Splig, too. The Cat was too afraid to approach. Oh well. We had a blast at the circus (except for some initial hesitation from the Cat and then some interesting wardrobe malfunctions from that same son.)

Thank you to Mom Central, Feld Entertainment, and Ringling Bros. for the opportunity! it was through their generosity that my family received tickets to the show - plus a pre-show meet-n-greet with a few of the performers. No other compensation will arrive because I chose to post about this event. The thoughts/opinions above and on my main blog circus experience post are my own and representations of my boys' opinions.

As I announced earlier, YOU can go to the circus, too. Purchase a 4-pack of tickets for only $44 by logging onto www.ticketmaster.com and entering the coupon code: MOM. Please see my original post for details regarding the coupon code and dates.

August 21, 2009

Discount Code for Children's Stationery from Minted!

minted_discount_code.gifIt is barely back-to-school time, and yet my kids are already running around in their Halloween costumes, talking about Thanksgiving break, and telling me "don't worry, Santa will get it for me." when I deny them a "last summer treat." Believe it or not, I've actually started thinking about The Holiday Card Photo, since the light, kids' energy, and our newfound (and quickly lost) time seems so beautiful in the autumn. Before we know it, December 1st comes along and - WHAM! - time to send out the cards.

I was fortunate to have gotten my holiday card done early last year since I reviewed Minted via the Parent Bloggers Network. As part of our review, we naturally had to order a bit earlier than usual. if you'll recall, I was thrilled with Minted's holiday photo cards.

Well, Minted will be rolling out its new holiday card styles in mid-September. I am excited to see their offerings this year. In the meantime, they've offered a discount code to my readers for their children's products. SPECTRUM09 (that is a zero-nine) will give you 25% off children's products. New baby on the way? Need some cute personalized stationery so the kids can send Grandma and Grandpa a note about their first day of school? Birthday parties coming up? Both my boys had their baptisms in the autumn, perhaps you are planning one too? Any occasion: Minted has got you covered. (If you are planning a wedding, code HAP75 will get you 75% off matching thank-you notes when you purchase 75 or more invitations - through 9/1/2009.)

Specific language from Minted: The code SPECTRUM09 will work for all of Minted's children stationery products: children's personal stationery, children's birthday party invitations, birth announcements, baby shower invitations, and baptism and christening announcements.

Enjoy the code while it lasts -- only until September 20, 2009 -- but at that point check out their holiday offerings and consider getting Minted for the holidays.

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Disclaimer: I posted this code because Minted offered it to me. I receive no other compensation for creating this post other than a discount on Minted stationery. The decision to place little buttons on the sidebars of my blogs with this discount code is my own - simply to spread the word to my readers. I will not receive monetary compensation for advertising Minted in this fashion. When I originally posted about Minted last year, I received a discount on the stationery in exchange for my review, but did not receive additional compensation. I still spent my own money to complete my holiday card order. The statements in this post and the earlier post about Minted reflects my opinions. Aside from the specific language surrounding the discount code, Minted did not dictate what I should state in this post.

September 1, 2009

My Ford Story: Why the 2010 Lincoln MKT?

Pretty 2010 Lincoln MKTAs you recall, before BlogHer I had the enjoyable opportunity to visit the Chicago Ford Plant and find out more about a company that I had previously thought was "middle of the line" and "dependable" but learned is actually "innovative" and even "luxurious." I learned quite a lot during my visit with Ford and was thrilled that they reached out to me last week to ask if I might be interested in test-driving a 2010 Lincoln MKT.

Of course!

During the driving portion of our pre-BlogHer visit, I had eyed the Lincoln MKT, noticing it had the third row of seating that is so valuable to me and my team-sport-playing kids. Several years ago we rented a van when my in-laws came into town so we could all travel in the same car. Shortly thereafter, we purchased a minvan, considering that it would be ridiculous to continually rent vans when we needed to transport more than just our family. At that time, I looked at both SUVs and minivans.

As my husband can attest, I really really wanted the prestige of some of those SUVs. I eyed them lovingly, but their poor gas mileage gave me pause. I checked out a high-end hybrid SUV but the reviews were poor, and the technology wasn't up to par yet, such that it's MPG wasn't very impressive. The safety and the gas mileage of the minivan I selected far surpassed those SUVs that just looked tough.

Continue reading "My Ford Story: Why the 2010 Lincoln MKT?" »

September 24, 2009

My Ford Story: My Family's First Impressions of the 2010 Lincoln MKT

Sure, I'm predisposed to love the 2010 Lincoln MKT for the reasons I stated already: third-row seat, safety, Eco-Boost™, and luxury. It caught my eye in Chicago, so I already had favorable first impressions.

But what about my family? Here is what they said during our first day with what my sons later dubbed, "The very cool new car:"

My Husband:

"It is a tank!"

"Good thing it has parallel-park assist (Ford calls it "Active Park Assist") because it is a tank..."

My Husband is not a car-guy, but seemed happy with it during his brief once-over: "This is niiiice." He was particularly happy with 3rd row seats and noticed AC adapter in the back seat immediately. (Yes, this is important for long trips - to plug in the boys' DS systems and so forth.)

When I told him about the push-button start, he remarked "Yeah, I think they're all going that direction now." (He has a Prius.)

The Cat:

"This is so cool"

"Let's trade in the van"

"The windows go down ALL THE WAY" (In the van, they only go mid-way)

"I like it when you back up and we can see all the stuff behind us!"

Spliggle:

"This is super-awesome."

"It is so beautiful!"

He found the pull-up shade: "this is cool!"

"You can just go to the bank to order more money so we can get this!"

"Can we just give back the van and keep this one, please?"

"I'm going to miss this beautiful sparkley car when they come take it away." (pout.)

My written and photographic impressions of the Lincoln MKT:
- Why a Lincoln MKT?
- Don't Wreck the Lincoln MKT!
- My Family's First Impressions of the Lincoln MKT
- The Father Test - My Dad's Take on the Lincoln MKT
- Is the Lincoln MKT Kid-Friendly?

- My Lincoln MKT Test-Drive Recap
- My Lincoln MKT Flickr Set

Disclaimer: Ford lent me a 2010 Lincoln MKT to use for a few days. I am not receiving any compensation other than the use of the vehicle and possible promotion of my posts on The Ford Story website. The opinions stated above are actual quotes from my family members, not from anyone at Ford-Lincoln.

September 30, 2009

Ragu - Praise for You! Plus, win a $100 Gift Card!

This is a compensated review from BlogHer and Ragu

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My Favorite Dish of the ThreeWhen I learned that the BlogHer Reviewers would be trying out some Ragu sauces, I laughed because I had just bought several Ragu sauces to have in my pantry for those OMG-what-is-for-dinner emergencies.

Which is every day.

In fact, the three recipes I tried specifically for BlogHer Reviews I made on nights that I otherwise would have dialed the pizza parlor or gone through a drive-thru. Every. Single. Day. was one that I felt I had absolutely no time to create anything, and yet I did because I wanted to complete an honest review.

And honestly, I'm impressed.

Continue reading "Ragu - Praise for You! Plus, win a $100 Gift Card!" »

September 14, 2009

Staycation (or State-cation!) at the Holiday Inn

A few years ago, our family took a day trip to a beachfront amusement park. We soon learned that it would be a lot more fun if we had a place to crash at night, rather than drive three hours home again when the park closed. And so, we booked a local hotel on our next visit. We had fun, but admittedly didn't spent much time in the hotel itself. The following time, the hotel was full, but a Holiday Inn Express about 15 minutes away was available and beckoning. Truth be told, we weren't sure what to expect. We mocked the Holiday Inn Express commercials a bit, and wondered what we were getting ourselves into by traveling to a small town, and to a "convenience hotel" priced lower than many of the competitors.

Holiday Inn Express LogoWe shouldn't have been worried.

We are now frequent guests at that particular Holiday Inn. In fact, our kids call it our "other home." Last year when my husband's parents visited us from the opposite coast, we stayed two nights (or was it three?) at our "other home," the Holiday Inn Express. A good chunk of the time we spent at the hotel itself, in the indoor pool in particular. In fact, it was at the hotel pool that my oldest son finally became comfortable in the water. The hotel itself became a destination, not just the attractions nearby.

Meanwhile, my husband and I were able to keep up with our work because of the free internet access and comfortable suite area. (We later learned that even the single-rooms were spacious enough for the kids to fall asleep while we type away at our computers.)

Mom Central asked its interested members to give a shout-out to the Holiday Inn, and I immediately jumped at the chance because we're huge fans. Holiday Inn boasts more than 2,500 locations in the US, offering a fun and easy getaway in every state. Their website has been redesigned to highlight the various "state-cations" for your particular state. That means that you can drive close to home, but stay at a Holiday Inn and experience a "vacation" but without many of the associated costs.

In California, our family has stayed at Holiday Inns both at the beach and inland. Last January, my son decided that instead of having a party for his eighth birthday, he'd rather stay at a hotel with an indoor pool. We spent three days at a Holiday Inn while he swam in the hotel pool. We also went to a few hockey games while there, less than an hour from our house. Seemingly opposites, beach and hockey are both in California, and both accessible via Holiday Inn.

So far we've had great luck at our local Holiday Inn locations. We've had comfortable, clean, and spacious accommodations. The kids have had fun just being in the hotel - watching TV or swimming in the pool. Even though we're within driving distance of home, it definitely seems like we're on a "real vacation" when we're at the Holiday Inn. Plus, since we're so close to home, we can have a quick vacation over a weekend, even during the school year. Our travels haven't stopped just because school has started. In fact, I'm willing to bet we could create some mighty impressive weekend field trips by staying at local Holiday Inns.

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Disclaimer: I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Holiday Inn. Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.

October 7, 2009

My Son Loves His Princesses

Disney_Princess_Classics_on_Ice.jpgA week from now our family will be going to see Disney's Princesses on Ice (officially "Princess Classics," but "Princesses on Ice" sounds kinda rad) thanks to Mom Central. This is a Very Good Thing, since Spliggle absolutely adores princesses and has been yelping, "Can we go!?" every time the Disney on Ice commercial comes on T.V. For "proof" see how he looks adoringly into Cinderella's eyes when she signed his autograph book during a Disney event two years ago.

Lucky me, I have a coupon code for fellow Bay Area residents to use when purchasing tickets for Disney on Ice: Princess Classics. Purchase a 4-pack of tickets for only $44 by logging onto www.ticketmaster.com and entering the coupon code: MOM.** If you'll recall, this is the exact same deal as when Zing Zang Zoom came to town. Lucky us!

Continue reading "My Son Loves His Princesses" »

October 15, 2009

Princess Classics on Ice: Disney Debrief

(If you want to see this show - head on over to my other post for a Disney on Ice coupon code!)

Our Adventures: Disney on Ice Princess ClassicsLast night our family went to see Disney on Ice: Princess Classics. I knew my youngest would have a blast -- he's totally into sparkles, pink, purple, aqua, and pretty princesses. But I expected my oldest would roll his eyes the whole time. Surprisingly, he got into it - the Cat loved the more physical comedy portions whereas Splig loved the more sappy, glide-y, sparkle-y parts. Meanwhile, I felt nostalgic and realized that while I own many Disney movies, most are on VHS - curses!

The show catered to a great mix of ages. The little kids were scared a bit during some of the sections, but there were no hugely frightening parts. The audience really got into the spirit, such as screaming at Snow White not to bite the poisoned apple. And of course they swooned and clapped at the various "true love's kiss" moments.

Continue reading "Princess Classics on Ice: Disney Debrief" »

October 26, 2009

Oroweat Bread: Win a Prize Pack of Bread!

This is a compensated review from BlogHer and Oroweat

I am a bread person. (Yes, you anti-carbs people better duck.) I can go days where I just eat sandwiches. I eat grilled cheese sandwiches or toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, slices of bread with peanut butter or cheese for a snack, and gobble up plenty of bread with my dinner (or hey, I'll just have a sandwich for dinner!) My family is pretty much the same. My husband makes cinnamon-sugar toast as a snack (which my kids will then steal) or will fold a slice of bread over a chunk of chicken. Believe it or not, we sometimes slather bread with chocolate frosting for dessert. It was therefore an easy choice to agree to review Oroweat Dutch Country bread.

Much to my surprise, Oroweat sent not one loaf, but eight to my house. Although I was a bit concerned about how a family of four might get through eight loaves of bread without them getting stale, I need not have been concerned. First off, we have used quite a lot of the bread already - from tasty French toast to a great hamburger-bun alternative. Secondly, the bread has remained fresh and soft since when it arrived. (And no, it doesn't have BHA, BHT, or TBHQ as preservatives; however, it does have other preservatives.)

Continue reading "Oroweat Bread: Win a Prize Pack of Bread!" »

November 2, 2009

Internet Safety with LeapFrog and Larry Magid

connect_safely_internet_safety_logo.gifLast night LeapFrog sponsored a talk with Larry Magid on internet safety. (We also had some excellent food at the Four Seasons Hotel, including a to-DIE-for mashed potato bar - YUM!) Mr. Magid is the co-director of ConnectSafely.org and founder of SafeKids.com.

Surprisingly, the talk meshed well with my own beliefs about risk (not nearly as high as my parents or many others would believe) and how to approach privacy. I had been expecting a scare-fest, but instead the advice was realistic and practical.

The Cat (age 8) has an email address, but he knows I see what is on it (and I delete SPAM off it.) He knows not to give out personal information, although I admit I worry if he is anyway. Spliggle doesn't yet have an email address and doesn't yet really know his own information well enough to give it out. But, of course we will talk to them both as the need arises.

We've considered putting a filter on the Cat's computer because he's pretty Google-savvy, but Mr. Magid explained a filter is mere "training wheels" since the real world isn't filtered. We all know that an overprotective parent actually ends up hurting a child because he cannot fend for himself. But then of course a too-permissive parent ends up putting their child at risk. As with parenting in general, internet safety is about striking a balance.

Continue reading "Internet Safety with LeapFrog and Larry Magid" »

November 13, 2009

I'm Mailing Minted Holiday Photo Cards

Minted_Holiday_Card.jpgLast year I tried and loved Minted's amazing holiday photo cards. It is no surprise that I'll be ordering from them again this year. Because they know I love them, they are giving me 25 free cards in exchange for mentioning them again this year. Once I receive my cards (I'll be ponying up my own dough to have more than 25) I'll check back in here to let you know if they are as excellent as last year's. But in the meantime, I wanted to give a heads-up to you folks who still believe it is back-to-school:

Did you know October is gone? Halloween is gone? Next week is the last week before Thanksgiving of all things!? Yup - that's right - you NEED to think about your holiday cards now!

Continue reading "I'm Mailing Minted Holiday Photo Cards " »

November 20, 2009

Silicon Valley Moms Holiday Party: Generosity to the Gazillionth Power


Unfortunately, TinyPrints was purchased by a larger corporation. The way they operate is different than when I wrote the below review.

I had been a very loyal customer, and a big promoter of their company; however, they asked me to remove all links to them "ASAP" (without any compensation) as it was affecting their Google ranking. I am disappointed at their treatment of me and of other bloggers who had been so supportive of their company.

As it would hurt my own online integrity to unpublish my many posts about Tiny Prints, I am keeping them up, but with this warning attached.

More of my reaction to Tiny Prints




SV_Holiday_Coupon_Guide.jpgLast Sunday was my son's end-of-year soccer party. I was the "team photographer" and had lovingly created Blurb books of each player. I really wanted to see the families' reactions to my books, as well as to enjoy a slide show of the team. Plus, I welcomed a chance to socialize instead of just scurrying away post-game to another commitment.

But Jill Asher told me that the Silicon Valley Moms Holiday Party - sponsored by Chevy - was a not-to-miss event. Fellow SV Moms told me it would be worth it to skip the soccer party.

blurb_soccer_book.gifAnd oh yes, it was worth it.

Now, I'd like to think I'm not a completely greedy person, but let's just say my calm approach to the event turned into a surprised excitement along with that ooooh, I wonder if I can get me some of that.

And there was a lot of that to be had:

Continue reading "Silicon Valley Moms Holiday Party: Generosity to the Gazillionth Power" »

December 7, 2009

Minted Holiday Photo Cards - Yum!

They arrived!

My holiday cards arrived*. Of course, I still need to write out the address labels and actually send them, but having beautiful cards (with matching address labels) ready to rock makes me feel much better.

As it turns out, my cards arrived last week, but with the whole chin-splitting accident excitement, I didn't open the box. The turn-around time from order to design-approval to on-your-front-porch is really rapid at Minted; it certainly isn't too late to order holiday photo cards that appear as though you spent multiple revisions with a design crew and tons of time to obtain - but really are done in just a few days.

Last year I used Minted and reviewed them. I was impressed with Minted then, and so they graciously gave me a discount code for you readers earlier this year, and then offered to provide me 25 free flat-cards this holiday if I would mention them again.

By way of disclaimer, I ordered more than 25, and also ordered the matching address labels. In other words, I trusted Minted enough to pony up my own money to send these gorgeous cards to more than just 25 recipients.

Ready to see what my card looks like?

Continue reading "Minted Holiday Photo Cards - Yum!" »

December 8, 2009

Running Gear

I am only an "expert" on what I've been using, but wanted to give a "shout out" to the things that have been helping me on my runs during the past six months.

newbalanceshoes.jpgSix months. Wow. I can't believe it. Yes, on June 9th, I ran for, like, thirty seconds, and my lungs burned. Today, on December 8th, my lungs burned a little bit with cold, but I ran for far longer than I did that day. I did the BlogHer 5K, then an "official" 5K at Disney, another 5K local race, a 10K local race, a 5K trail race, and I'll be doing a 10K this Saturday. I'm signed up for a New Year's 5K and then two half-marathons in February and March, respectively.

So no, I am not an expert, but I've come a long way in six months.

The first few races I did in shoes made for walking. I had received them for a Ryka review back in September 2007 when my exercise was walking. Sure, they were fabulous shoes at the time, especially since they were specifically designed for walking -- but two years later any shoe is going to be inadequate for a newly-minted runner. I went to a real running store to get fitted for running-specific shoes. I ended up with New Balance 1011s. It really is a personal choice - I know people who are thrilled with many other brands.

Continue reading "Running Gear" »

December 10, 2009

LOFTy Goals Acheived: Fabulous Looks for the Holidays

This is a compensated review by BlogHer and Loft.

I am an online shopper. I get nervous in "real stores" and yet I know that to find the best fit, it is important to go to an actual store. After all, sizes vary store to store, and it is much easier to come up with an alternative in the bricks and mortar store. Although online shopping sites have become pretty good at suggesting various "looks" based on the items a shopper views, nothing beats the real thing.

Still, I have had lots of negative experiences in stores where I've either felt pressured by a salesperson or completely ignored because I don't have the right "look" to pull off a particular brand. And so, I purchase things from the comfort of my own home.

lookingatjewelry.jpgAs you readers know, I've recently done more by way of exercise. As a result, my body has changed and I am more confident in how I look. Meanwhile, since I work for home and shuttle the boys around in the afternoon, I have amassed a wide collection of rather boring casual clothing (I'm afraid to call it what it is - "the mom uniform") rather than anything even a bit more dressy, trendy, or flattering. It was therefore very easy for me to enthusiastically jump up and down when BlogHer asked me to participate in a LOFT party.

I knew I'd have to step out of my comfort zone to set foot in an actual store with actual employees looking at how I look in their clothes. But, I figured they would have to be nice to me, and I really wanted to learn about what I should be wearing.

Continue reading "LOFTy Goals Acheived: Fabulous Looks for the Holidays" »

January 11, 2010

Olive Smart Sacks are Indeed Smart

olive_smart_Sack_reusable_bag.gifAt the Silicon Valley Moms Group Holiday Party, I received a bunch of fabulous free products and learned about some terrific programs, vendors, and charities. One such product was Olive Smart Sacks, reusable grocery sacks that hold a lot, but are compact when not in use. I have a lot of reusable bags, so honestly didn't get a chance to use my Olive Smart Sacks until just recently. I had cleaned out my car, so the only thing in the front of the van was the little sack with the three Olive Smart Sacks in it. My other reusable bags were all stuffed in the truck. It was the perfect opportunity to take my new ones for a spin!

When I unwrapped them, they looked a little small. I admit I was concerned that they might not handle my grocery shopping. I considered going back to my car for the larger bags.

When I checked out, the bag boy laughed a little, "Hey, I thought these were pillowcases!" he exclaimed, noting the texture of the fabric, before making a joke that people could actually use pillowcases for their groceries if they wanted, "Maybe just cut some holes out?" he said, before revising, "Or just grab 'em from the top!"

Indeed, the Olive Smart Sacks are very silky and comfortable. The material feels thin, because it can bunch back up into a small place, but is sturdy while remaining soft-to-the-touch. And to my amazement, the three "small" sacks that I brought held a LOT of groceries! (Olive Smart also has a pack of six bags, which of course would bag up twice as much.)

I'm really happy with my trial run of the Olive Smart Sacks. They are certainly more attractive and more compact than the rather stiff variety I have stuffed in my trunk.

What really intrigues me though, is that the company has the "Olive Smart Fundraising Program," an affiliate program for schools and non-profits. Olive Smart will contribute 20% of all sales that your organization sends to their website. I frankly can't stand the various types of fundraising we've had for our school and gym, it is usually stuff that I don't want to purchase but feel like I have to to support the school (or to earn prizes for the kids.) But these reusable bags are practical and stylish enough to actually make sense as a fundraising product. (To learn more, email info@olivesmart.com with the subject line "affiliate program.")

I'm glad I tried out the Olive Smart Sacks -- they'll definitely come in handy time and time again.

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Disclaimer: Olive Smart Sacks gave the attendees of the SV Moms Holiday Party a three-pack ("Half-Sack") of their silky bags. We were under no obligation to post about them and I will receive no compensation by posting twice (once in the general party write-up and once above.)

January 13, 2010

One Short (Night) in the Emerald City


Wicked: Behind the Emerald Curtain Wicked: Behind the Emerald Curtain Wicked: Behind the Emerald Curtain

Wicked: Behind the Emerald Curtain Wicked: Behind the Emerald Curtain

From left top: Kristin Chenoweth's "Glinda Bubble Dress", Elphaba baby prop, Madame Morrible dress. From left bottom: Nicolas Dromard (Fiyero), Jonathan Ritter (Swing) wearing Dr. Dillamond's mask)

Not really a Wordless Wednesday, since I could gush about it for hours... At the start of the holiday break, Husband and I went to see a behind-the-scenes presentation of the fabulous musical pictured above. Last night we actually saw the show. I had seen it before, a few years back - and had read the book (Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West ), the sequel (Son of a Witch), and have the fancy collector's book about the musical, "The Grimmerie." It was nice to see it again - and this time bring my husband. He was thrilled it actually had a plot (whereas he says Phantom does not, but he does love Rent) and he is actually interested in reading the book now. Go figure!

I love musical theater. It is just so magical to me, particularly as I remember what a thrill it was to be on a stage while I was a dancer. For awhile Phantom was my favorite. Then Rent. And sure I had that obsession with Cats many years ago, as the rest of the country did. (And yes, my dance company did a version.) But Wicked takes things to a whole new level. (I still have heavy allegiance towards Rent, which is a different animal, and moving in its own way.) I should probably admit that I've read Kristin Chenowith's biography, too, shouldn't I? (A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages)

After it was all over last night, I was really sad. It is such a treat to go to a show like this, and then such a letdown that we must leave all the glitter and song behind to go about our regular lives. It was a fabulous escape!

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Disclaimer: the Amazon links give me a few cents if you happen to purchase something on Amazon after clicking on one of them. The books I mention I purchased with my own money years ago. The kind folks from Wicked gave me the tickets gratis, with no obligation to post, nor further compensation for doing so.

January 21, 2010

Tasty Baker: A Cute Way to Serve Up Treats

PIC 006.jpgI had heard of Pop Art Toaster before, but was curious when I learned of the Pop Art 5-in-1 Tasty Baker, another product from the Pop Art Toaster team. They provided me a "media sample" of the Tasty Baker in the hopes that I might have some insight into how their product might benefit those on the autistic spectrum.

I must admit that it took awhile to get my head around the concept that a baking product could also be therapeutic. But, I can see how non-verbal or pre-verbal children (whether autistic or not) might benefit from having cakes or brownies in recognizable shapes, therefore reinforcing the various objects. The fun shapes can also be a way to entice a picky eater to try an unfamiliar food.

Tasty Baker is similar to a waffle-maker, but it can be used for breads, cakes, and brownies (or any other baked good, like muffins) I used it for a variety of different things - vanilla cake, chocolate cake, brownies, and banana bread. I must admit that it takes some trial and error to discover both the right baking time and the correct amount to put in the mold, but let's back up a second to talk about the appeal of the product:

Continue reading "Tasty Baker: A Cute Way to Serve Up Treats" »

January 26, 2010

DiGiorno 200 Calorie Portions Pizza


This is a compensated review by BlogHer and DiGiorno.

As readers of the Karianna Spectrum know, I've been trying to treat my body better. Starting last Spring, I embarked on an exercise program that has taken me literally from the couch to a 5K to several 5Ks, to two (and counting!) 10Ks, to two weeks away from doing a half-marathon. (Eep! Two weeks?!) But all my efforts with exercise would be lost if I stuffed my piehole with... pie. Okay, so I eat pie, but just a slice, not the whole thing.

DiGiorno_200_Calorie_Portions_Pepperoni_Pizza.GIFJokes aside, portion control is a big deal. We all know the "secret" to losing weight is "eat less, exercise more," but that is easier said than done. Some "experts" recommend using smaller dishes to create the psychological satisfaction of filling up one's plate without truly packing in the calories. The plates that we typically use for a regular meal are several inches bigger than they were in leaner times. (That's "leaner" both financially and physically.) And portion control isn't just about losing weight; it is about maintaining a healthy weight as well.

"Yeah, that's great, Kari," you say, "You can do that plate-trick when making meals at home, but I'm super-duper busy and can't always take the time to cook from scratch." Yeah, I hear you.

Convenience food is typically one of those categories for which portion control is a challenge. Back when "fast food" originated, a hamburger and fries were the size of what is now considered the smallest of meals. Now, such a meal looks puny. Bottled drinks have 2.5 servings-worth of liquid packed inside. And "personalized size" pizza typically has at least three-servings worth of calories.

But not anymore.

Continue reading "DiGiorno 200 Calorie Portions Pizza" »

February 4, 2010

Neosporin Lip Health Three-Day Challenge - I'm Running with it!

Neosporin_Overnight_Lip_Renewal_Therapy.gifLast Spring I took up running (much to my surprise!) Somehow, what started out as a peer-induced challenge ("Let's run a 5K!") turned into an actual hobby. While the summer months were hot at times, the autumn and winter brought the dry skin and chapped lips out in full force. It isn't surprising that I jumped at the chance to try out a different challenge: Neosporin's 3-day Healthy Lips Challenge, thanks to Mom Central. I received two products: Lip Health Overnight Renewal Therapy and Lip Health Daily Hydration Therapy.

To put it bluntly, I didn't need three days. My lips improved overnight on the very first day. The Overnight Renewal Therapy was so soft and moisturizing that on the second day I ended up using it on a couple of my toes and on one cheek that had gotten a bit of a dry patch. Both of these other body parts cleared up immediately. Meanwhile, the Daily Hydration Therapy gave me satisfyingly slick lips with a little gloss. My lips felt great, but also looked great. As a bonus, the Daily Hydration Therapy is SPF 20 to prevent further damage.

Continue reading "Neosporin Lip Health Three-Day Challenge - I'm Running with it!" »

February 16, 2010

Tassimo!

Tassimo.gif During the Silicon Valley Moms Group Holiday Party, I was giddy when I saw a Tassimo in action. I had never heard of such a product, nor seen one before. I was thrilled to observe how this individual-cup coffee maker uses "T-disks" instead of ground coffee. I was intrigued that these disks could also contain tea or hot chocolate. I watched in awe as the machine read the bar code on the disk, therefore heating the water to the proper temperature for that particular beverage, and then dispensing the proper amount of water.

I walked away from the demo with a delicious hot chocolate beverage, but also a plan: I would get my husband a Tassimo for a gift!

You see, my husband and I both have an "off and on" relationship. No, not with each other: with coffee.

Continue reading "Tassimo! " »

February 17, 2010

Disney on Ice: Worlds of Fantasy - Discount Code!

Disney_on_ice_logo.gifToday I might be co-Chairing the Science Fair, but my mind is on Fantasy. For the Fair, my youngest son did a project on "freezing and melting." He carefully tested different liquids' freezing and melting points (in a non-precise, Kindergarten-way, naturally.) A week from Saturday, we'll watch a show on ice -- and of course, ice-skating is possible because the blade melts the ice as the skater glides across the slick surface. But at that point, all my son will care about will be his favorite "cutey-cuties," glitter, and sparkles.

We had a blast when Mom Central and Feld Entertainment sent us to the Circus. And then my youngest son was completely smitten by Princesses on Ice. (My eldest son thought it was pretty cool, too, but he won't admit it.) And so, we are thrilled that we've now been invited to Disney on Ice presents Worlds of Fantasy.

This show includes scenes from Cars (wooo! cars on ice!), Little Mermaid, Lion King, Tinkerbell, and more!

Of course, like with the other shows, I'll report back after I have seen it. But, in the meantime, I have a special offer for YOU, my super-awesome readers:

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March 12, 2010

March (Disney) Magic

tinkerbell_ice.gifOn Wednesday, March 3rd I took my boys to see Disney Worlds of Fantasy, courtesy of Feld Entertainment and Mom Central. Then a day later, I was on a plane to Orlando, FL where on Sunday, March 7th I successfully completed the "Tiarathon," otherwise known as the Disney Princess Half-Marathon. (I'll pause to brag that on February 7th I ran a half-marathon, too!)

As I sat watching the ice show, I couldn't help but become emotional because I knew what I was about to do just a few days later. After months of looking forward to running like a princess, it was almost here! Of course the show was magic - from the revved-up Cars, to my youngest son's favorite princess Ariel, to Tinkerbell's antics - and the kids loved their time. And then I was definitely caught up in it all, knowing that although Mickey and Minnie were on the ice, soon I'd be running right next to them.

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April 15, 2010

Home Gardening with Triscuit and Urban Farming

home-farming.jpgThree years ago we moved from a big house with a little yard to a little house with a big yard. I had excited ambitions for planning my own garden, but my plans fell flat. Embarrassingly, the gardening work the previous owners had done was wasted when my purple thumb came along. In the midst of my farming failure out in our back yard, I noticed that the containers I planted in our front yard actually did well. A lime tree gave us limes for our beer, and an initially small rosemary plant is now enormous and can provide seasoning to whatever I happen to be cooking. (Okay, I don't cook much, but I have big plans for that, too!)

I hope to plant other easy-to-grow herbs in containers in an attempt to incorporate more fresh seasoning into my (future) cooking, and to essentially take "baby steps" towards having a more sustainable experience. Maybe I'll cook more if I know I already have basil, sage, and rosemary growing right there?

It was with a hope that I can make this a reality that I happily accepted Mom Central's opportunity to review Triscuit's Home Gardening Program. Triscuit has placed plantable herb cards in four million boxes of Triscuit crackers. I was fortunate to receive one of those boxes in exchange for spreading the word about their program.

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April 19, 2010

Roll Over! from Cottonelle

pic 013.jpgI can think of many ways that people can argue over toilet paper, but none is so polarizing than whether you "roll over" or "roll under."

Cottonelle knew such a question would get plenty of opinions. Indeed, they conducted a Roll Poll.

Not surprisingly, my side won.

Yeah, that's right. I am a roll-over!

It was with passion for my roll-over-ness that I gladly decided to participate in Mom Central's blog tour about Cottonelle. After all, I love validation, and who is to turn down free toilet paper, particularly soft and fluffy paper like Cottonelle?

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April 30, 2010

Autism and Animals: Stories Exploring the Bond

theCatintro.GIFToday is the last day of April, and thus the last day of "Autism Awareness Month." Honestly, I don't know what to think of autism "awareness" since it doesn't really make people "aware" so much as it frequently spreads unhelpful stereotypes.

Each child is different, regardless of whether he or she has a "diagnosis" and as such, their strengths and weaknesses differ.

I'm tired of the tragic stories of autism: those that focus on hardship, despair, and lost dreams. Although there are definitely aspects of a spectrum diagnosis that fall into those categories, it is much more useful to acknowledge these children's (and adult's) strengths.

Fortunately, I've had the opportunity to review two different stories about children on the spectrum, both of which acknowledge challenges, but also celebrate their subjects for who they are as people beyond the diagnosis. Both the book Cowboy and Wills and the independent lens film The Horse Boy have animals in their title. ("Cowboy" is the name of Wills' golden retriever.) This is no coincidence.

Continue reading "Autism and Animals: Stories Exploring the Bond" »

May 6, 2010

Eat. Blog. Run. Thank. Sponsors.

GMCeatblogrun 018.jpgThis past weekend I went on an amazing whirlwind of an adventure in the form of participating in The Relay, a 199-mile run from Calistoga to Davenport (near Santa Cruz.)

Thanks to the fabulous connections of several members of my Eat Blog. Run team, we ended up with some pretty spiffy sponsors who made our trip that much sweeter. Thanks to them, we had transportation, nourishment, and rest.

therelay_arcadia_GM_vans.gifOur big sponsor was GM, who graciously provided us two "red jewel" Acadias for our trek. Three fabulous GM reps took us out to dinner the night before the race to carb-load and to learn more about both the Acadia and slightly-smaller-but-packed-with-features Terrain. Our team was easily the snazziest on the road. Most of those other teams rented white vans. Our team was definitely visible in our "red jewel tintcoat." Of course our crossovers were even more visible as we drew all over them, giving shouts out to our sponsors and providing tally marks for important things like U-turns, bathroom breaks, and number of compliments we received on our sparkle skirts.

Continue reading "Eat. Blog. Run. Thank. Sponsors." »

June 16, 2010

Summer Nightastic: A World of Color, Fantasmic, and Pure Magical Fun!

Spectrum_of_Reviews_Disney_World_of_Color_Fireworks.gifLast week I had the unbelievable, amazing opportunity to attend the premiere of Disney California Adventure's World of Color. Just from the preview video I knew I'd be captivated by this new attraction.

Many years ago, my brother and his friends entertained our family in the backyard with light shows. They strung lights everywhere and carefully synced the lights with music. Sometimes one of his friends would play the piano live while my brother made the lights dance to the music. Lights are magical, as is music. World of Color has both, plus fire, water, lasers, unique projection screens, and unexpected other features, such as a hidden bubble machine and synchronization of the show with lights on other attractions and the park street lamps.

Spectrum_of_Reviews_Disney_World_of_Color_Rainbow_Water_Ripple.gifIt is impossible to use mere words to describe World of Color because it is definitely more than a light show, or a water show. Just as when the black and white Disney cartoons burst into a new dimension once color was introduced, World of Color has created a new dimension in entertainment.

Both Disney parks participate in what has been dubbed "Summer Nightastic" the catch-all term to describe how the night lights up with color, music, fire, and water. CA Adventure has "Glow Fest" and "World of Color" while Disneyland has "Fantasmic" and of course the fireworks spectacular "Magical". "Pixie Hollow Enchantment" and "TLT Dance Club" also light up the nightlife at Disneyland.

Spectrum_of_Reviews_Disney_World_of_Color_Red_Glow_Lasers.gifPeople who have seen "Fantasmic" have been introduced in part to what "World of Color" entails. In "Fantasmic," for example, high-pressure water curtains create a projection screen for scenes from popular Disney films. But "World of Color" is even bigger. (Fantasmic has its own unique elements, such as Mickey vanquishing a large dragon, and some excellent entertainment on boats. The on-board stunts for Peter Pan are especially impressive.)

The colors in World of Color - of course, are spectacular. But it is the way the water bends and flows that creates even more magic. It is mind-blowing to consider how much effort was involved in choreographing the water to match the music to match what is being projected on the water.

Continue reading "Summer Nightastic: A World of Color, Fantasmic, and Pure Magical Fun!" »

July 20, 2010

Discount on the Greatest Show on Earth.

Ringling_Bros_Barnum_Baily_Fundundrum.JPGI have been very lucky as it comes to entertainment of late. Last year my boys and I enjoyed Zing Zang Zoom!, and I was later thrilled to see the "Zingmaster" in an episode of Biggest Loser. Then we struck gold again when Feld provided us tickets to see Disney Princesses on Ice last autumn, and Disney Fantasy on Ice at the end of this winter.

Well, we're off to the circus again - and this time it is Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Barnum's FUNundrum! This show definitely looks FUN - and is a tribute to P.T. Barnum, who was born 200 years ago. The performance involves motorcycles in a spherical cage, trapeze artists, cowboys, mermaids, and even a strong man - "Mighty Meetal." From balancing to flipping to jumping through fire, these performers are likely to keep my jaw dropped. Apologies if I have to look away a few times from the contortionists!

Continue reading "Discount on the Greatest Show on Earth." »

July 22, 2010

Fly Away to Neverland

Peter_Pan_Show.gifMy family and I had the thrilling experience of witnessing the Peter Pan stage show yesterday afternoon. Sure, we had seen various movies based on JM Barrie's tale, experienced themed rides and such at amusement parks, and of course we have various toys, especially thanks to spin-offs like the various Tinkerbell shows. But, until yesterday, we hadn't experienced the magic live as a theater production.

Several months ago as my family drove through San Francisco, I saw the white tent taking form, and wondered what it was. A few weeks ago when Peter Pan PR emailed me about the show, I saw the now-familiar white tent on their website. Not only was the mystery solved, but I also became very excited!

After all, who hasn't wanted to fly?

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July 29, 2010

Oxy Clinical Acne Solutions

Win a Treatment Pack for Yourself or Your Teen!

oxy_clinical_pimple_zit_acne_treatment.gifZits. Pimples. Poppers. Blemishes. Spots. Acne.

Whatever you call 'em, they are a fact of life for most teens, and for many adults as well. What started out as almost an exciting rite-of-passage quickly became a complete horror for me. (I wanted braces, too, go figure. But of course once they were on I wanted them off.) We all have stories of the perfect date-face gone wrong at the last minute because of a horrid inflamed red bump. Or how those darn blemishes showed up on Picture Day and during the school play.

When I was a teen, I had a lot of "white-heads" and of course a bunch of "black-heads" as well. I even had plenty of bumps on my face that weren't discolored in any way, but were just not smooth. And everyone knows your skin has to be smooth to be beautiful. And you have to be beautiful to be popular or accepted in any fashion.

My mom took me to a fancy dermatologist who poked and prodded my face, and then prescribed various creams that burned my skin or otherwise didn't do the trick. I had the most consistent results simply using those familiar Oxy circular slightly-abrasive face-wipes on a daily basis. And honestly, I still use them to this day.

It isn't surprising, then, that I was happy to try out Oxy Clinical Solutions thanks to Mom Central. After all, Oxy has been a winner for me for decades. This new Acne Solutions Pack is an over-the-counter trio of treatments that deliver prescription-strength results - or at least, that is their claim!

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August 2, 2010

Breyer's Smooth and Dreamy IS Dreamy!

breyers_all_natural_ice_cream_logo.gifI love Breyers. I was introduced to them in my youth when my mom sought out all-natural, no-preservatives food for me. Many of the ice-creams and various frozen products contained varying degrees of "artificial." (Check it out - most "vanilla" products have "vanillan" instead - what a villain!) Breyers did not.

Breyer's has been a staple in my freezer from childhood up through when I started my own family. In fact, I think I only had Breyer's in my freezer and maybe some Diet Coke in my fridge when I was a grad student. (I only needed to attend nightime "special lectures" to chow down on free pizza - though the fabulous convenience and plethora of options for New York City delivery meant I had some pretty exotic take-out boxes spending time in that studio apartment as well.) These days, we purchase three or four cartons of Breyer's all at once. We use it in shakes, smoothies, and of course for sundaes or a plain ol' bowl of ice-cream.

Imagine my glee when I learned about Breyer's Smooth and Dreamy ice-cream bars and sandwiches! Oh, the excitement!

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August 13, 2010

Circus for Me, Circus for You

Funundrum_2.jpgWe had the pleasure of attending Barnum's FUNundrum, a "retro-inspired" tribute to PT Barnum. As expected, the kids had a blast. We did the requisite "oooh!s" and "ahhhh!s" and my youngest son has determined that he'll join the circus someday.

If you are interested in bringing your family, I have a Fundundrum discount code for you.

Last year we saw Zing Zang Zoom. I wondered if our experience this year would be different.

It was.

[above left: my older son can't help but create chip-smiles out of his nachos. I swear my boys have decent table manners... at the table.]

Continue reading "Circus for Me, Circus for You" »

August 20, 2010

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty_and_the_Beast_embrace_small.jpgWhen I was in college I straddled the worlds of "Be a strong woman!" and "OMG, I really want to find a husband and have kids!" As part of my whole fantasy life, I joined a Disney movie-of-the-month club in order to gather up some of those old and new favorites in which princesses got their prince. These cartoons provided fun breaks amidst all the studying.

I don't know exactly when I purchased Beauty and the Beast or even if I owned it before I played it over and over again for my charges when I babysat. (I know I owned it in grad school as I had to bide the time between harvesting cell culture.) But I can say with certainty that the movie and its accompanying songs are engraved in my brain.

My husband and I had the fabulous opportunity to have a date night in which we attended the opening night of SHN SF's Beauty and the Beast, playing now through August 29th at the Golden Gate Theater. I am grateful to SHN SF for providing me press tickets for this event.

Continue reading "Beauty and the Beast" »

August 22, 2010

BlogHer Swag

It can be overwhelming and exciting to get so much free stuff.

miraclebody_slimming_designer_jeans.gifBlogHer didn't used to be such a swaggy experience, but it has certainly morphed into a legitimate place for companies to distribute information about their products. In some cases, it is simply a brochure; in other cases, it can be something huge like a pair of slimming designer jeans, an expensive curling iron and flat-iron, or a Powermat. (All three of these were at the fabulous Getting Gorgeous event.)

I'm not going to debate the whole whore-i-ness that can accompany an experience like this other than to say that I started out as a blogger first, and a reviewer second. I decline "swag" that I know will not fit me or my audience, unless it is something that I know will benefit someone else, such as diapers (I received one this year from PlaySkool) or infant clothing (I received a sleep sack from the Mom Central suite.) I have a favorite family shelter who will happily pass on such items, including the formula I received from Similac a few weeks ago, to families who need them.

It is unrealistic that I can review all the products that I received from this year's event. Just as in years past, the effects from "swag" tend ripple rather than gush. While I might not immediately mention a product here, I may several months down the line. Plus, my purchasing habits may change based on the products I see, or the brands with which I interact. Finally, people in real life learn and see about the things that I use on a regular basis.

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August 26, 2010

EXTRA Dessert Delights Sugar-Free Gum

Extra_Dessert_Delights_Mint_Chocolate_Chip_Ice_Cream_Sugarfree_gum.gifI like gum. It is good stuff. I have several favorite brands, but for the most part, I can pick up nearly any brand and be satisfied. For me, it is more the flavor that matters than the name on the label. Most out there have similar flavor and similar consistency, so my choice is a matter of price and availability.

I never thought I'd say this, but I'm eagerly awaiting a specific gum's release to the general public in October.

That's right, I'm excited about gum.

During the hoopla that was the BlogHer convention, I got my hands some packs of Extra Dessert Delights. I have both "Mint Chocolate Chip" and "Key Lime Pie." There is also a "Strawberry Shortcake" flavor that I have yet to try.

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August 24, 2010

Short. The Book.

short_walking_tall.jpgAround the seventh grade, my doctor had some sobering news for me. Or at least, she thought it was sobering. She was a stout, portly woman who I admired. She kept telling me how smart I was, or complimenting me on the size of my thigh muscles (really, I think she meant it as a compliment.)

So when she came in that afternoon with a worried look on her face, I was all ears.

"I'm so sorry. It appears you have stopped growing." And then she smiled a little, eyes crinkling in sympathy. She patted her own belly as she talked about how difficult it would be for me to keep a slender figure with my stature.

But I wasn't really listening. After all, the little girls were the cute ones! If I were truly going to end up petite, then wouldn't I have a better chance at being a perky cheerleader?

Continue reading "Short. The Book." »

August 25, 2010

Just Eyewear is More than "Just" Simple and Stylish

Just_Eyewear.gifOne of my kids stepped on my glasses. Or maybe they sat on them. Or perhaps it was a space alien who stretched them out with his enormous bulbous head. Whatever the cause, my poor eyeglasses were bent out of shape. But, because they were fancy ($400) and my insurance only covers one pair per year, I kept wearing them, cursing each time they'd slip off my face as I bent to pick up the newspaper.

Fortunately, I was contacted by Just Eyewear to review the process and resulting product of ordering eyeglasses online. This no-risk proposition was definitely too good to pass up, especially because I love trying on new looks, and thought it would be fun to purchase something I wouldn't ordinarily, knowing that I can always buy something else through my insurance later this year.

Well, Just Eyewear didn't disappoint.

Continue reading "Just Eyewear is More than "Just" Simple and Stylish" »

August 29, 2010

Delicate Soles, Stylish Shoes.

Delicate_Soles_Silver_Rollable_Flats.gifFor the last several weeks, I've lived in Delicate Soles. And right now as I watch the Emmys, I'm willing to bet several of those celebrities have a pair in their purse (or their assistant's purse, or in their limo...) for when they slip off those high-heels and want to baby their feet while still remaining chic.

I learned about Delicate Soles through a giveaway. I was doing one of my giveaways on Prizey, and clicked around to see what my fellow bloggers were touting. Well, Delicate Soles caught my eye. I entered, but didn't win the giveaway. Nonetheless, I was interested enough to purchase a pair. I selected "onyx" since my go-to black flats are looking pretty shabby these days.

When they arrived, I fell in love. And then I purchased two more pairs: "starlight silver" and "lipstick red." The other color they sell is "pixie dust," a beautiful soft pink that I expect I'll purchase shortly.

Continue reading "Delicate Soles, Stylish Shoes." »

September 2, 2010

CheeseburgHers + McDonalds Angus Snack Wraps

McDonalds_Angus_Snack_Wraps.gifFor the past three years, one of my favorite parts of the BlogHer conference is the CheeseburgHer party. What started out as a stuff-the-suite-with-cheeseburgers event turned into a full-fledged ballroom filled with hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and McDonalds new Angus Snack Wraps. Of course there was a large cheeseburger bed in there, too. And sure, the photo booth was a great touch for my friends and I to show just how delectable we found the food.

I was intrigued by the new Angus Snack Wraps. I love the Chipotle BBQ grilled chicken wrap, so was definitely in favor of new wraps. The Angus Snack wraps come in three flavors: deluxe, mushroom & swiss, and bacon & cheese.

I tried the mushroom & swiss.

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September 7, 2010

Johnson's Naturals

Johnsons_Natural_Kids_Bath_Body_Shampoo_Wash.gifWhen I went to Johnson's Camp Baby I arrived with the perspective of someone who enjoyed their products as a child, but who had gravitated elsewhere, especially after having a son sensitive to various dyes and fragrances. Other Camp Baby attendees had similar concerns - sure, J&J's smell and look was iconic, but many moms today are looking more towards the "natural" products, and are willing to pay a premium for them.

Well, much to my delight, Johnson's came out with their fragrance-free baby lotion last year, and have just launched entire "Johnson's Natural" and "Johnson's Natural Kids" lines that are 98-99% natural, plant & fruit-derived ingredients, with "ALLERFREE" fragrance. And, every Johnson's Natural cleanser contains their gentle NO MORE TEARS® formula.

Thanks to Mom Central, I had the opportunity to test several products from their new lines: 2-in-1 hand and face wash, 3-in-1 shampoo, conditioner & body wash, head-to-toe foaming baby wash, baby lotion, and baby shampoo.

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September 14, 2010

Animal Mastermind Towers

Pressman_Animal_Mastermind_Towers.jpgBack in the old days, my brother and I had plenty of fun board games. (Well, okay, once we learned of Atari, and later Nintendo, we had our share of screen time as well.) We enjoyed the traditional favorites, including classic Mastermind. When my kids were old enough, I giddily bought both the full-size and travel-size versions. I think I even got a "challenge" version that includes some additional colors and/or extra pegs for an even more difficult code to crack.

When I saw a representative advertising Mastermind at BlogHer, I saddled right on up with a smile. Since I already had the regular game, I was interested in what else was on the horizon. Her answer: Animal Mastermind Towers.

She and I played a portion of a trial game right there on the Expo floor, but I was most excited when she said she'd send me one for my family to review.

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September 17, 2010

SOYJOY Second Chances: Win $1000!

soy_joy_natural_fruit_soy_nutrition_bar.gifDuring BlogHer I was introduced to SOYJOY. I was fortunate to attend a breakfast talk with some fabulous food (some of which was indeed made with soy) and excellent speakers who explained some of the ways we could eat healthfully with our family. And, of course, they let us know the benefits of soy, while also speaking to some of the concerns we've heard in the media about soy products. It was a great event, and I was happy to come away with a sample of their new and improved SOYJOY bars. I received banana.

Well, when I heard that Mom Central was looking for folks to spread the word about the new SOYJOY flavors and encourage entry into their Second Chances Contest, I jumped at what would be my second chance to try SOYJOY.

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October 1, 2010

Family Recipes: Muppets Kitchen with Cat Cora!

cat_cora_and_muppets.gifI have tried to be a good mom when it comes to feeding my family healthful food, but something always gets in the way. Either it is a time-crunch situation, so I order pizza; or, I compose everything beautifully, but the kids won't try it. Of course over at Grandma's house, they'll eat whatever she gives them. And their friends can get them to try new foods, too.

The times we've cooked together, my kids have been more likely to try at least a spoonful of their creation. With this in mind, I was extremely excited to learn about Disney family.com's Muppet Kitchen with Cat Cora. In specific, I was excited I was invited with my children to the Professional Culinary Institute to try out some recipes from the site. Free food and cooking instruction with my kids? Sign me up!

My younger son was particularly excited about this excursion because he adores reality-show-style cooking programs. He loves to get on his apron and expects to be a contestant when he is old enough. My older son, on the other hand, was skeptical, but I could tell he was a bit intrigued too: Muppets?

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October 6, 2010

Icing My Knee the Moji Way

moji_knee_brace_on.gifWhen I was preparing for the excellent adventure that was The Relay, I read an eat.blog.run post on the Moji Knee Brace with interest.

My right knee has been all "crinkly" ever since a car rear-ended me at a stoplight. (Instead of crashing into the car in front of me, I slammed on the brakes, thereby sacrificing my knee.) My HMO said it was just "sudden-onset arthritis" but I'm pretty sure something snapped in there. So it snaps, crackles, and pops. Sometimes it hurts, but mainly it just sounds funny. Still, after races, my knee is sore, so I often ice it.

Before learning of Moji, I used the traditional runner's bag-of-frozen-peas method. That is all well and good, but requires that I stay in one place, carefully balancing and repositioning the veggies as needed.

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October 11, 2010

My Ultimate Family Vacation

Sponsored By

Cheerios® is giving you the chance to win a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, your ultimate family vacation. As part of a paid promotion for their "Do What You Love" Sweepstakes, Cheerios® is sponsoring my post today about what my ultimate family vacation would be. Read mine, and then Enter the Sweepstakes for a chance to actually win your own fantasy family trip or one of a bunch of other great prizes.

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My Ultimate Family Vacation would be part-private, part-people-watching. I'd want comfort, but then a little chaos. I'd want beautiful scenery, but also an opportunity to just sit in one place.

iStock_000004701539XSmall.jpgI'd love to have a luxurious pool all to myself and my family. The pool would have a swim-up bar, naturally. And of course it would need a waterfall and waterslide to entertain the kids. Yes, as much as it would be fun to have a "date vacation" with my hubby, I can't help but think my kids would adore time away from home as well. Perhaps the pool would have a little cave inside, but with a lifeguard carefully watching "just in case." Sure, we'd need a hot tub, although the regular pool temperature would already be warm. I'd love to have such an experience available to us at night. The pool would have plenty of tiny lights and other visual features.

Our hotel suite would include both sleeping quarters and a relaxation area. The reading nook would be far enough away from those asleep that lights or the sound of a computer beeping wouldn't be a distraction. In a truly "ultimate vacation" I'd be allowed to have a night (or five) without work; but knowing that such a thing is unlikely, I'd wish for reliable wireless internet that would enable me to get the deeds done as quickly as possible. No tiny circle table can contain the massive electronic needs of my family, so a booth-style long table or bar-type countertop easily accessible to an outlet (or power strip) would be a bonus. No uncomfortable chairs, please; we'd want cushions, preferably leather. (Mmm, I love the smell of leather...)

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October 14, 2010

Disney on Ice: Mickey and Minnie's Magical Adventure

Are you hoping to go to Mickey and Minnie's Magical Adventure in Northern CA while they are in town? I've got a Disney on Ice discount for you!
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disney_on_ice_peter_pan_shadow.jpgWe got to see the Opening Night performance! My kids were pleased they were getting a mid-week treat. All their homework was done Tuesday night in anticipation of Wednesday's adventure. I was ready for a break, too. Both Monday and Tuesday had been pretty stressful, but Wednesday was productive in the morning and afternoon in anticipation of our evening outing.

The stars aligned, and traffic was light. I was relaxed. This was gooooood!

I had remembered to go to the ATM to have a twenty ready to hand over for parking. Except, it turned out parking had gone up to $25. Luckily I had more in my wallet. Whew!

The parking lot was nearly empty - we were early! - and I found a terrific spot. We walked towards the arena and my boys paid particular attention to the funny-looking porta-potties. That is, until they smelled them, yelped, and ran away. Diiii-sGUSTing!

They started making jokes as young boys do, but thankfully we reached the ticket office quickly. Even more thankfully, the lines were about nil, and will-call had my tickets right away. Excellent!

We ran into an interesting delay while trying to get food, but once we were seated, the excitement of the day resumed.

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November 1, 2010

Tangled: Rapunzel Lets Loose

Tangled_right.jpgOne of my favorite storybook characters was Rapunzel. Sure, she did pretty much nothing, aside from sitting in a tower. But that hair was mighty impressive. I used to put stockings on my head to simulate super-long hair. In fact, I was pretty good at wearing two at once to create an impressive braid. My favorite pair of tights to use for this purpose was dark red. Oh, to have long red hair!

Years later I did have super-long hair, but it was blonde. And then later when it was short, I dyed it red. Oh well.

Yes, the Rapunzel of my youth was beautiful, but passive. Conversely, the new film Tangled comes out November 24th, and stars a spunky, very-capable gal attached to those locks. Hey, I'd love to be kick-booty and have fabulous golden hair! (Okay, well I do have blonde hair, and am a Warrior.)

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November 2, 2010

Butterfinger Snackerz: Taking the Smooth to a New Level

Butterfinger_Snackerz.jpgWhat kind of Halloween candy is your favorite? Your answer might be none now that it is two-days-post-haul and your belly might not want to see another piece of chocolate or colored sugar for the remainder of your days. Or, you might just now be sneaking some of your kids' stash, or happily taking home some of that half-price stuff from your local supermarket.

For many years now, I've been thrilled to find that bright yellow and blue wrapper of a Butterfinger tucked into my trick-or-treating sack, or now, in my kids' bags.

It isn't surprising, then, that my eyes lit up when I saw the Butterfinger Snackerz booth at BlogHer. At first I figured the Snackerz were just a mini Butterfinger, but when I tried a sample, I learned that although the buttery-goodness is still there, the texture and taste is slightly different. The texture still has that satisfying crisp, but also includes more of a melt. And then the taste is a bit "lighter" with more of the chocolate shining through than in the original.

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November 5, 2010

Kick Away Wrinkles with Boots No.7 Intensive Line Filler

Boots-No7-Intensive-Line-Filler1.jpgI've definitely been flirting with the "I'm getting really old" versus the "I'm still pretty young" waves of thought a lot this year. On one hand, I see how quickly my children are maturing, but then on the other hand, I'm doing crazy things like jumping through fire. The kindly younger gentleman who took over as Headmaster at my high school when I first attended is now the kindly older gentleman who is retiring this year. And I realized with a shock that at age 10, my oldest son is only 8 years away from college, yet the prospective student I interviewed yesterday was only around age 3 when I was in college. I still feel young, but I'm definitely getting older.

A couple years ago, I had an abnormal mole removed on my forehead. "Don't worry," the surgeon told me, "I'll hide the scar in your wrinkles."

WRINKLES!?

Yup, I have them now. And they've been cropping up a little bit more each month that flies by. And so, when I was asked about giving Boots No.7 Intensive Line Filler a try, I happily agreed.

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November 9, 2010

Uff-Da! It is the Holiday Season Already?

grandpa_tomte_hemslojd.jpgWhen I was younger, I really got into my ancestry. Ironically enough, I'm now helping my mom with an ancestry project, but that isn't what I had in mind when I was ten and hoping that my Swedish genes would make me suddenly turn blue-eyed at puberty and kick off an impressive growth spurt so I could finally be long and lithe. Even though my hair darkened and my eyes remained a muddy brown-green, I ordered "Uff-Da!" sweatshirts and "Learn How to Speak Norwegian" cassette tapes because of course someone out there would appreciate my Scandinavian heritage.

(For those who want to know, I'm German, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian. And I got the worst parts of each of those, without the best. Heh. I'd love to be a tall blue-eyed blonde like the stereotypical Swedish gal, or a super-fast runner like Norwegian Grete Waitz. But at least I can sing funky Norwegian folk songs! And apparently folks "over there" have pig-noses just like me. At last!)

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November 10, 2010

Nasoya Tofu U - Yes U Can Cook with Tofu!

tofu-logo_nasoya.pngMy youngest son loves tofu. He has a favorite marinated style that he frequently brings as a snack to school, which drew questioning glances from his preschool classmates, but now elicits some satisfied smiles from his fellow first-graders who became accustomed to his tastes in kindergarten.

And I adore tofu. I am not a vegan nor a vegetarian, but I'll frequently order a vegetarian dish during conferences or at restaurants, primarily because they end up tasting great, and I've lacked confidence in making my own - so prefer to order from "real chefs." I recall one amazing roasted red pepper risotto that I wish I could replicate. And one of my favorite restaurants when we lived in New York served a fabulous peanut tofu stir fry. More than once a month, you can find me at the burrito place ordering a thai-world-burrito, always with marinated tofu. And my favorite sandwich at our local grocery store is... yes, marinated tofu.

It was therefore with tremendous pleasure that I accepted an invitation to learn more about Nasoya Tofu's "Tofu U" at San Francisco's amazing Plant Cafe Organic. I was particularly intrigued to go to this event because "Skinny Bitch / Healthy Bitch" (who is nowhere near a "bitch") Kim Barnouin would provide instruction on how to cook with tofu firsthand. (I was thrilled that we received a copy of Kim's new book Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook.)

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November 11, 2010

zeum: The Creative Children's Museum for the Tech-Age

Outside zeumA few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending an event at zeum, an interactive computer, television, and animation space for children. (It is actually the San Francisco Children's Museum, morphed to keep up with technology.) I was there to learn about a computer game for preschoolers, but remained in only one room of the actual zeum facility. My boys were in school during that time, so didn't get a chance to see the space. Thankfully, we were invited back to actually delve into the zeum experience itself, so my boys and I spent the afternoon today on our zeum adventure.

At first my oldest was hesitant. He wanted to stay home on his vacation day to play video games. But, I explained that he'd be producing things on his own at zeum. He loves creating his own video game levels, so it made sense that he'd enjoy creating his own animation. Once he saw zeum, he agreed that the excursion was worth it. (He's even considering holding his birthday party there.)

My youngest was game from the beginning. I had told him about zeum right after I saw it in October, so he's been eager to go ever since. He's quite the "ham" so I knew he'd be interested in putting on a show.

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November 12, 2010

Pearl-ing with pearltrees

Okay, so when I was invited to a "pearltrees" event, I envisioned something like bath beads, or - the obvious one - jewelry. I thought of an ornate wire tree sculpture upon which to hang my beautiful pearl necklaces (of which I have zero.) But, the Clever Girls Collective said that pearltrees was going to somehow help me shop, and since the event was co-hosted by Beth Blecherman of TechMamas and Cool Mom Tech, I knew it had something to do with technology. But how?

Well, here is how. Below is my very own pearl - and its little offshoot-pearls - containing my birthday and holiday wish-list. Yes, I'm one of those lucky-ducks that has a birthday in the midst of the holiday season, so I get all my gifts at once. Once I set up my (completely free) pearltrees account and downloaded the little toolbar add-on, I was able to just "add a pearl" whenever I found something I wanted to include in my list. It was really easy to learn how to do.

Karianna's Birthday and Holiday Wish List

If I add items to this tree, it will update above. So, if you read this post in a year, I probably will have deleted some pearls and added some others. Just mouse-over each item to see a little pop-up preview of the website. You can navigate to similar lists by clicking the little black pearl to the left of my face. You can even navigate backwards to see some of my other trees.

As it turns out, I've gone totally wild with pearl-ing. No, not like knit-and-purl, but rather quickly identifying and organizing websites within pearltrees' visual structure. This type of layout definitely makes more sense to me than straight-up bookmarks.

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November 13, 2010

Shout out to Skullcandy

agent_cmyk_skullcandy_headphones.gif'Tis the season for lots of work - and also for kids to be on vacation, home from school. As such, I was wearing these beauties all day today - both to enjoy some tunes as I typed, and also to block out the various brother-bickering, video-game cheering, silly-song chanting behavior of my sons. Oh sure, they are good kids - but on Day #3 of having them at home ALL DAY LONG it was definitely time to go into my own space a bit. This was definitely do-able with my Agent CMYK headphones.

Don't worry, I didn't pump up the volume too high.

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Disclaimer: I received these excellent headphones while at BlogHer this summer. I was eager to try them out, but my youngest son declared them his - because they are awesome - and uses them while doing homework on the computer. But I stole them back because they are pretty. I will not receive any compensation or commission as a result of this quick shout-out.

November 14, 2010

Ode to Nutella

nutella_yum.jpegOh, I didn't know of your existence until mere months ago. It was not until Nutella November that you made your way into my shopping basket. But now I've eaten you every day, spread upon a slice of whole-grain-whole-wheat bread: that's healthful, right?

My sons may not like you - they think your added hazelnut essence is "strange" - but I gobble you up gladly. You retain your texture even without refrigeration. You aren't as fickle as peanut butter, with its varying consistency. You aren't as slippery as chocolate-frosting-out-of-a-can. And, because you say you are a nice breakfast, I'mma-gonna pretend that you are super-good-for-me. After all, chocolate has antioxidants!

Oh, Nutella, I like your name. It ends in "ella," just like "Cinderella." And I'm a bit of a nut, too, so it is totally fine with me that your name begins as such. But why not "Choconut" or something like that? Are you attempting to deny your chocolate roots, or is the chocolate within you so far removed from cacao that you really don't think it is appropriate to acknowledge it in your name?

Fear not, I am not really judging. After all, I love you so.

I bet you'd be good on bananas.

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Disclaimer: It is nablopomo. I gotta post every day. And I love my Nutella. (No, they would be horrified if they knew I was posting about YOU. And no, I will not receive any compensation/commission for this brief brainstorm.)

November 15, 2010

Hip, Hip, Hooray - The Cool Mom Picks Holiday Gift Guide Launched Today!

CMP_holiday.gifI am thrilled that the Cool Mom Picks Holiday Gift Guide launched today. Sure, some of my glee is purely because I'm a code-wrangler there, so finishing a big project is always rewarding. But more of my excitement involves the actual picks. Although I had a list-in-progress of things that I thought I might purchase for my various relatives and friends, the CMP Gift Guide made me change my mind on a few, and certainly filled in the blanks as I considered difficult-to-purchase-for people.

I expect I'll reference the Guide way past the holidays, too. I always do. When folks have new babies, decide to grow a year older, or just need a little "pick me up," I know that I'll find an appropriate gift on one of the Guides. Of course Cool Mom Picks has fabulous ideas every day, but having the Guide all laid out all purdy (I did that!) makes it easy to pick something at a glance.

I'm not going to lie - I emptied my wallet today - but I'm pretty sure that there will be some happy faces when they open their presents from me (if I do say so myself!) I bought gifts for a bazillion people, so definitely appreciated the "under $15" and "under $10" picks on the guide. You will do.

Get shopping!

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Disclaimer: I'm on the Cool Mom Picks staff, but loved them even before I started working for them. No joke, the majority of the presents I purchase throughout the year are from a CMP guide or post.

November 16, 2010

Tires, Tow-Trucks, and (no) Tears

Well, today I got a flat tire. So, it seems appropriate that today's product/company shout out is for the three organizations that got me safely from the side of the road to driving to pick up my boys from school:

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My day could have been completely crushed if any of these companies failed to deliver. But they didn't fail. They succeeded, all with gold stars. Whew! Sure, it isn't fun to have a car problem, so it is definitely a relief when the pieces come together to get the problem fixed.

I would hate to have a job where I have to deal with problems all day. Can you imagine having to greet your customers when they are already irritated and inconvenienced? I imagine the folks at Progressive, American Tow, and Big-O have tons of upset and cranky people on their hands every single day. Their customers are primed for a fight, so even "service with a smile" can be returned with a grumpy frown. Kudos to you folks!

November 17, 2010

Learning about Energy Conservation

pge_smart_meter.gifLast week turned into One Big Teachable Moment. Or, I suppose more appropriately, it was several moments with a common theme.

I've always been relatively eco-conscious. I feel guilty if I can't find a recycling bin (and will sometimes carry an empty can around with me until I do.) I am always turning off lights in the house (except there are certain ones that I want on even though my husband turns those off!) I conserve water, and I donate items to "re-use" day.

But I know I'm not perfect. I have plenty of appliances sucking energy when they aren't in use, and sometimes I forget my cloth shopping bags when going to the store, or purchase bottled water because I neglected to wash out my re-usable bottle.

My eco-efforts are a work in progress. Similarly, the way humans harness energy and deliver it to the population is a work in progress. Last week I had the opportunity to learn about PG&E's smart meter from Silver Spring Networks during an event hosted through Mom Central.

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November 19, 2010

Tiny Prints, Big Impressions


Unfortunately, TinyPrints was purchased by a larger corporation. The way they operate is different than when I wrote the below review.

I had been a very loyal customer, and a big promoter of their company; however, they asked me to remove all links to them "ASAP" (without any compensation) as it was affecting their Google ranking. I am disappointed at their treatment of me and of other bloggers who had been so supportive of their company.

As it would hurt my own online integrity to unpublish my many posts about Tiny Prints, I am keeping them up, but with this warning attached.

More of my reaction to Tiny Prints

ornament_card_tiny_prints.jpgI have been a tiny prints customer for years. I learned about this fabulous company in 2007 and promptly ordered my holiday cards from them. I received tons of compliments on our photo cards, and ended up starting a trend amongst my friends and family. Many sent tiny prints cards the following season.

Meanwhile, I didn't stop at holiday cards. I ordered personalized stationery for myself and for my boys. This past summer I ordered my business cards from tiny prints.

And today I got to take a tour of the tiny prints corporate office. It was quite a thrill to see where the magic happens, to learn more about the company's culture, and to receive samples of some of their hot new products for this year, such as the ornament card or the flip card. (There are many unique premium cards, as well as some beautiful budget-conscious options.)

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November 18, 2010

No Lice! (Is it just a Fairy Tale?)

Fairy_Tales_Rosemary_Lice_Repel_Shampoo.gifEvery time I see a light yellow piece of paper in one of my sons' backpacks, I cringe. These "lice alerts" let me know that a child in that particular classroom has lice. Sometimes I only receive one paper. Other times, both boys bring home papers and I hold my breath. We received these notices through preschool and now during grade school. It seems as though lice is always traveling around the school.

But... knock on wood... knock HEAVILY on wood... the lice have not taken up residence in my house or on my boys' heads. (I'm seriously going to knock on wood a few more times here.) I remember dealing with lice a few times during my youth and it was absolutely no fun. I can only imagine how much worse the "mother" role is in the whole scenario.

If I were confident, I'd sing it out: "Not a louse in the house! Oh yeaaaaaah!" But I really don't want to get a puffed-up chest about this, because I fear by simply typing this post I'm welcoming the inevitable.

But for now, we're good.

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November 20, 2010

Sparkle While You Sweat

team sparkleUh, HUH. Well, today is Saturday - which could be a race day, except I slept in instead. Nothing like a little laze to start out the Thanksgiving holidays, eh? (I'm thankful for the ability to sometimes sleep in, especially because my kids are old enough not to completely burn down the house if I'm still snoozing.)

But if I were racing today, you'd better believe I'd be wearing my sparkle skirt.

I got my first team sparkle skirt while running eat. blog. run. I loved it so much that I purchased another. I am the proud owner of both turquoise and pink sparkle skirts.

team_sparkle_running_skirts.gifI've worn a sparkle skirt on trail races and through Disneyland. I've sparkled through a 6-hour endurance run and while doing San Francisco's wacky "Bay to Breakers" race. I always get compliments on the skirt. People have to smile when they see the sparkle. Sure, I can look sweaty and labored everywhere else, but if I'm sparkling, that's what people see.

I am pleased to announce that Team Sparkle can now ship your order immediately! No more waiting for two weeks or so to get your skirt sewn!

Seriously - everyone needs at least one sparkle skirt. You cyclists out there can sparkle, too, you know.

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Disclaimer: I got a free pink sparkle skirt during eat.blog.run. Two of the Team Sparkle founders were part of the relay team. I then purchased a second skirt using my own dollars. Wearing a sparkle skirt to run (or bike) is definitely worth the fun! I won't receive any commission/compensation for the shout-out - it is purely motivated by my love for the Team Sparkle gals and their product.

November 22, 2010

popchips: the healthier way to dig potato chips

One of my favorite race-bag additions is popchips. I'm fortunate that reps from popchips are often handing out free bags in the post-race area after some of the trail runs from my favored organized running company. Just as I crave a little salt, the popchips are right there. And yet, I'm not completely sabotaging my diet by partaking. You see, popchips aren't fried. In fact, they aren't even baked. They are popped!

I know what you are picturing - rice cakes, anyone? - seriously, this is much different.

popchips_popped_potato_chips.gif

Popchips have actual flavor. It is amazing to me that a single-serve bag is only 100 calories and 3.5 grams of fat. The ingredients are natural - I can pronounce every word on the bag. This isn't a chemically-laden snack food. They start with real potatoes, and POP! them. They then add seasoning using the actual ingredients they want the chip to taste like. Remember, no manufactured flavors out of chemicals!

I've always loved the original potato and barbecue potato flavors, but when popchips sent me a whole variety of flavors, I found a new favorite: cheddar potato!

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November 28, 2010

The Coolest Holiday Tech Gifts

A couple weeks ago, Cool Mom Picks launched their annual holiday gift guide. I've already purchased several items from that particular list of excellence. And then on Friday, Cool Mom Tech launched its tech-oriented holiday gift guide - whoo! As full disclosure, I was part of this project, but had to laugh when I discovered that many of the items on there are already wrapped under my tree. Er, well, they would be if we had our tree up yet.

Go check it out - there are many items on there that you simply wouldn't have considered, but that will be just perfect for that special someone on your holiday gift list. (And yeah, that "special someone" might be you.)

December 13, 2010

Family Game Night

mythbusters.gifOh, I know what you are thinking. No, I'm not talking about the type of Family Game Night where everyone is wearing matching turtlenecks with identical smiles. Yes, I know the importance of sitting down to dinner together and spending time together, but realistically it is tough.

Usually "Game Night" it is not exactly a scheduled situation. Rather, it is a spontaneous, "Hey, will you play Towers with me?" Or my two boys will start playing together, but then the first gets bored so the second asks a parent to join in. Then the first comes back. The fun catches on.

A lot of times our family gravitates towards games on the Wii, such as our latest acquisition, Tony Hawk's Shred. This game was exciting to receive because while I love Wii Sports Resort, they don't allow goofy-foot snowboarding. But Tony Hawk does!

But recently, I had the pleasure of obtaining several new board games from The Wonder Forge, the creators of ZimZala Games for older kids, and I Can Do That games for preschoolers.

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February 9, 2011

How Jabra Helped Connect Me to Family

jabra_stone.gifDuring this past autumn, I had the pleasure of attending a wonderfully informative and fun luncheon sponsored by Jabra. I was excited about several new products, applications, and new developments.

I marveled over the Clipper headset that could be used while running, because during my Project 2010k I had experiences with earbuds sliding or yanking out of my ears while running, or - in one case - with the wire actually breaking as I made a sudden movement.

And the Jabra Stone really appealed to me because I used to leave my headset in the car where it would of course lose power. The Stone charges itself within the "stone" so it doesn't require a full "in-house" charge-up for awhile. One of the presenters told us he wears his Stone around the house. Although I've mastered the "shoulder cradle" hold, it does make sense to use a headset in the house so I can multi-task. (Note: there is now Stone 2, which looks amazing!)

I enjoyed learning about applications that read email, and how some Jabra products are Skype-enabled. I realized Jabra isn't only about mobile phone calls. Email, radio, and music are all enhanced using Jabra products.

I went away from the luncheon feeling happy with all the "cool" things I had learned about and the product samples I was taking home. I thought about the products as "fun," "innovative" and "time-saving." I thought about entertainment and work-related productivity.

But what I learned is that these Jabra products ended up being vital in terms of FAMILY.

Continue reading "How Jabra Helped Connect Me to Family" »

April 30, 2011

April Shout-Outs

Now that the advertising rules have changed for my main blog, The Karianna Spectrum, I've started posting some brand-specific shout-outs on there. This blog will still be in use from time to time depending on the nature of the announcement or review. But, in case you missed it over on The Spectrum:

- I was excited about the launch of Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo's VT Luxe Collection for QVC. Affordable style is always in fashion!

- My youngest son loved Design Squad Nation's Ingenuity Day, plus he really loves the Super WHY! app (there is also a Super Why PAINT! app out now, too!)

- I learned that one of my college Christian Fellowship leaders has a new venture, The Providence Granola Project. In addition to creating yummy granola, the organization is providing valuable job skills training for refugees.

- With Mother's Day fast approaching, I recommended that readers consider sending a free e-card to their mom (or other mom-like individual) to honor them through Macy's "Thank a Mom" Movement benefiting 5 different charities (you choose which one you wish to support!)

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Disclaimers are posted on the original entries explaining when and what type of compensation was given for some of these promotions.

May 13, 2011

Cars 2 Movie - Whoo!

Cars2_movie_poster.jpgI'm fortunate to get a lot of press releases about movies. I'm asked to preview movies and then perhaps post the trailer. Most of the time I don't - not because I don't think it might be a good flick, but because I personally have no strong desire to see it. (I'm definitely an "eh, I'll get it on Netflix"-type person.)

But I went to a media event for the Cars 2 Video Game Tuesday night, and last year while in Anaheim learned about the soon-to-be-opened "CarsLand" attraction at California Adventure. And then there is the whole thing that I have two boys who are big fans of the original Cars.

So yeah, I'm looking forward to the release of Cars 2. Check out the Cars 2 trailers over at iTunes to whet your appetite. (And check out the Cars 2 video game developer diaries I posted earlier this week.)

I think this movie is one I'll take my boys to see in the actual cinema. Cars 2 hits theaters June 24th - see you there!

July 11, 2011

Psyched for this - The Muppets

Get ready for Muppet Domination:

July 23, 2011

Wedding Makeup from Mary Kay

beautiful_brown_eyecolor_bundle_mary_kay.jpgI enjoy makeup, but I'm admittedly inexperienced at how to put it on. I can do the standard lipstick-with-mascara look, but adding in things like blush and eye shadow end up tempting fate that I'll end up looking like an extra in an 80's music video. (I already have big hair.) Forget eyeliner, because I'll just look like a raccoon, whether or not I cry.

But for my brother's wedding I had to wear more makeup than usual. Not that "sister of the groom" is a huge role, but as a bridesmaid and someone who old friends would be interested in seeing, I knew I had to look at least half-decent.

mary_kay_midnight_star_blue_eyeshadow.jpgThanks to BlogHer, I received some Mary Kay samples. In particular, I got the "mineral eye color bundle: beautiful brown eyes." In it was a gorgeous blue color that looked amazing in the palette, but I wondered how I could possibly pull it off given that music-video fear. (Seriously, blue eye shadow and me aren't supposed to mix, right?)

But I need not feared. In addition to the proper blending colors, the box itself contained instructions on how to properly apply the colors for the best effect. I added the blush they sent me, and ta-dah! I was set. Both for the rehearsal dinner and the wedding itself, I wore my Mary Kay.

marykayeyeinstructions.jpgBelieve me, I was nervous that I did my own makeup for such a big weekend, but it turned out just fine. I'm definitely glad that the Mary Kay package came in the mail at the right time, because otherwise I would have just put a little blush on my eyelids (since that isn't as noticeable as blue) and called it a day. But, my eyes probably wouldn't have stood out nicely.

I was surprised at how smoothy the shadow went on, and how easy it was to carefully blend the colors together to create a look to enhance my eyes.

Thank you to BlogHer and Mary Kay for taking me outside my comfort zone with positive results!

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Disclaimer: I received some Mary Kay samples through BlogHer's promotional program. Although I was not required to blog about my experience, I definitely wanted to thank them since they factored in to a very big weekend!

July 27, 2011

The Help Movie Trailer

In a little over a week I'm going to see a preview of DreamWorks Pictures' The Help. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I haven't yet finished the book, but I'm still eager to see the movie.

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Disclaimer: I'm not receiving compensation for posting this trailer; however, I will be attending a special showing of the movie next weekend with the hope that I will provide some coverage about it. I will receive no monetary compensation, but they will feed me. (Food! is! Good!)

August 10, 2011

"The Help" Movie Needs No Assistance to Be Awesome

TheHelp One Sheet.jpgPart of the whirlwind that is the BlogHer Conference involved a very special screening of DreamWorks Pictures' The Help, which comes out TODAY, Wednesday, August 10th.

Get thee to a theater, stat!

Let me disclose something: I didn't finish the book before I saw the movie. I'm one of those people who traditionally shies away from the "popular" book, especially if marketed to women. So, I was a bit hesitant to pick up the book in the first place. I'm a visual person, so trying to keep the multitude of characters straight was a challenge. And for some reason, I just didn't get hooked in like those who raved about it.

So, I plodded through part of the book before switching to some different books that caught my eye.

When I was invited to go to The Help advanced screening, one might assume I'd be neutral on the whole thing, but I actually jumped at the chance. I figured that my visual preference might really be helped by a movie adaption, which would mean I'd be able to go back and enjoy the book.

Also, I figured as a "reluctant" reader of the tale, I might be a good test audience for the movie. Could it win me over?

Continue reading ""The Help" Movie Needs No Assistance to Be Awesome" »

July 30, 2011

Blissful Over blissmo!

blissmo_eco_conscious_organic_flash_sale_site.jpgSome time ago I was running a giveaway here. I posted it on Prizey, and while I was over there, figured I'd check out the other giveaways going on. One in particular caught my eye - for some bars from Core Foods. As a super-busy person who is always in my van chauffeuring someone to something, or at my computer with deadlines that don't involve the oven timer, I was attracted to the idea of 100% organic, raw, whole food to-go. Often convenience bars are filled with bleech, but these sounded good. And so I entered to win a case. Why not? I figured.

Well, I didn't win. But, Core Foods emailed me promoting a deal from this company called blissmo. For a deep discount I could get a sample set of all the Core Food bars, plus a voucher for an entire case of my favorite flavor.

Continue reading "Blissful Over blissmo!" »

August 9, 2011

BlogHer Bars, Take a Bow!

I don't go to the BlogHer Conference for the Expo. (In fact the first couple conferences didn't have an expo.) My main focus is to hang out with friends I've met through blogging, meet new folks, and do a few sessions that might teach me something new. But I still go to the Expo. I use products on a regular basis that I originally learned about through my blogging activities.

skinny_cow_candy.jpgThis year's Expo was pretty food-heavy. In particular, it was pretty convenience-food happy. This is fine - because after all I'm a busy person - but I'm typically pretty wary about whether such things have too many additives, or too many calories.

I was pleased to see Skinny Cow represented since I love their ice cream. I happily snacked on some of their dreamy clusters during a writing session, and then took home their heavenly crisp bar in the milk chocolate flavor, which my son proclaimed the absolute yummiest bar ever. I already knew from the tasty ice-cream that Skinny Cow doesn't lose flavor just because they are lower in calories than the traditional desserts, but the clusters and bars brought home that point. After all, who can say their 10 year old son approves of the taste of "diet food?" Well, my son is begging me to buy more.

Continue reading "BlogHer Bars, Take a Bow!" »

August 17, 2011

Frozen Yogurt! Fro-Yo! Coco-Swirl!

cocoswirl_yogurt.jpgWhenever I tweet a status update that indicates that I'm enjoying Coco-Swirl, I inevitably have friends who chuckle about how that is the perfect drag queen name. Nonetheless, I am a huge fan of this nonfat treat.

My very first "real" job (aside from babysitting and cleaning neighbors' homes) was working at our local frozen yogurt joint (which is sadly now a Subway. I love Subway, but I love frozen yogurt more.) The place was called "Naturally Yogurt," and it carried all-natural varieties of frozen yogurt that I could actually eat (on the Feingold diet) unlike the rainbow flavored/colored stuff in the more traditional franchises around town. Eventually the place was renamed "Scoops," but I definitely preferred the "Naturally Yogurt" moniker.

While an employee, I learned how to clean the yogurt machines (a task that is much cooler than it sounds) and of course I got to eat some free yogurt. Shhh, don't tell anyone, but we used to trade employees of the hamburger restaurant next door fries for yogurt. I dipped my fries in vanilla yogurt. And I also dipped carrots and celery in vanilla yogurt. (It is better than it sounds, seriously.)

And so now that I've lost all credibility thanks to my potato-and-veggie-combined-with-dessert meals I enjoyed as a teenager, lemme tell you about Coco-Swirl!

It is yummy! The End.

My kids love to go to Coco-Swirl as a treat. I love to go because I'll take my beloved frozen yogurt and then add toppings like mochi and tiny cheesecake squares. We didn't have sophisticated toppings like that back in my Naturally Yogurt days.

When I moved back east for college, I was freaked out that maybe frozen yogurt was only a California thing. Thankfully, that wasn't true, but back home Scoops did close. Although many chains ended up closing for about a decade, I am so grateful that places like Coco-Swirl are now around to feed my obsession.

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Disclaimer: I love frozen yogurt. I could live on it - and maybe also sushi - forever. Coco-Swirl did not ask me to post about them, nor will I receive compensation for this post.

August 15, 2011

More About Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure!

As if I needed more reason to be excited for the October 16th launch of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, here's a walkthrough of one of the levels that serves as a great introduction to what makes this game special:

They taunt me with the awesomeness!

This is not just a level preview, but also a pretty great explanation of the nuts and bolts of the game. For example, the narrator (Yale Miller, the game's producer) explains how there are different element characters (which of course provide different necessary benefits for certain aspects of the game) and how the game works across platforms. I love that the characters can come and go without having to wait for a "save point" on traditional games. The toys here truly do come to life! Like some similar games, each character has different attributes, but unlike those other games, each character here has the potential to unlock completely different areas of gameplay.

My kids and I are definitely eager for the game's launch on October 16th.

Preorder Skylander's: Spyro's Adventure now from Amazon!

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Disclaimer: I was introduced to Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure thanks to an event in San Diego at the beginning of August.* I mentioned how this is the winning holiday gift for this year. It truly is! The fantastic people behind this game and its promotion gave me the link to the video above. When I link to Skylanders on Amazon, I am using my affiliate code, which means I get a few cents of commission if you happen to purchase anything.

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I've written about Skyanders here:
- The Winning Holiday Gift: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
- More about Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
- It's Hard to Wait: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
- Just Another Week to Wait: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
- Skylanders - Yes, We Play it All Day!

*Update: As a pleasant surprise, the Activision folks sent me the game and some additional characters as a thank-you for promoting the game and to facilitate a review once the game was actually released! This post was written before the release.

August 22, 2011

purity.Organic Iced-Tea + Lemonade

purity_organic_iced_tea_lemonade.jpgI'm not a super-big iced tea drinker, although I'll have it on occasion. And lemonade is tasty and refreshing, but is often a bit too sweet for my tastes. Imagine my forehead-slapping surprise when I came across a solution to a problem I didn't know I had. Amongst my latest blissmo box of yummy treats was a single bottle of purity.Organic iced tea + lemonade.

Yes! People put all kinds of sweeter and lemon in their iced-tea, why not lemonade?

I tried the drink with a little skepticism, but also excitement. Verdict = yum! It is refreshing, not too sweet, and not too bitter. It is the perfect mix of flavors. It is satisfying without being heavy.

This stuff is half organic lemonade and half fair-trade black tea. It isn't from concentrate, and does't pack as high a caloric punch as many sweetened drinks. Each 2-serving bottle is 80 calories per serving, for a total of 160 calories per bottle.

purity.Organic iced tea + lemonade is sweetened with cane sugar, not any of that crazy HFCS. And there are no unpronounceable ingredients. The bottle is made of PET rather than glass because the company says it is lighter (takes less energy to produce and ship) and because it can be recycled to make many new products.

I'm definitely excited by this lemonade-iced-tea blend and will be looking for it at my local grocer.

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Disclaimer: I just happened upon this drink in my blissmobox and thought it was innovative and delicious enough to share here. I will not receive commission or compensation if you buy from purity.Organic; however, if you sign up for blissmo emails I'll get a tiny kick-back if you purchase one of their deals.

August 31, 2011

Chai Almonds

olomomo_nut_company_chai_bliss_almonds.jpgI love nuts. (I already admitted I am a nutcase!) Give me almonds, cashews, macadamias, pistachios, pecans, and walnuts. I love peanut butter, but am not a big fan of peanuts on their own. And while I like a handful of nuts, I don't really like them stuffed in deserts, unless done just so.

Most of the times I just eat nuts plain. I prefer unsalted for health concerns, although smokehouse almonds with their super dose of sodium is pretty delicious! But then I came across these chai nuts from Olomomo Nut Company in my blissmo box, and I'm smitten.

Hey, I love chai tea! It is a neat flavor that makes me think of relaxing. So what about it on nuts?

I thought these almonds were pretty tasty. It was definitely a different experience than salted or cayenne-peppered nuts. Although, I see that Olomomo Nut Company has a mango-chipotle variety that I would like to try They also have cherry-vanilla and cinnamon-cayenne, both with no sodium. Oh, yum!

Like other products I receive through blissmo, the Olomomo Nut Company is eco-conscious and socially-responsible. When products that are healthful and made by good people are also super-tasty, it is a winning situation!

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Disclaimer: I just happened upon these nuts in my blissmobox and thought it was innovative and delicious enough to share here. I will not receive commission or compensation if you buy from Olomomo Nut Company; however, if you sign up for blissmo emails I'll get a tiny kick-back if you purchase one of their deals.

August 24, 2011

I'm a Nutcase!

nutcase_bike_helmets.jpgI'm not going to lie and say I do a lot of bike-riding (although I did when I was younger!) But when I go out cycling I like to keep my noggin safe.

For years now I've been buying the helmets in the bike section of various all-purpose stores. We even got some free helmets once during a health event. But, these seemed to wear out really quickly, well before their time.

I first learned about Nutcase Helmets thanks to my eat.blog.run teammates, the same folks who invented Sparkle Skirts. I visited the Nutcase site, and immediately ordered a pretty pink one for my head.

My youngest son was insanely jealous, so stole it for himself a couple times. Thanks to the adjustable pads, it can fit his head, too.

Otherwise, here are the helmets my boys have been wearing:

Continue reading "I'm a Nutcase!" »

August 26, 2011

Tasting Room Wine Samplers

tasting_room_wine_samples.jpg

I love wine, but not so much that I want to drink a bottle (or even a half) every night. I have some vacuum savers, but even those don't work if I want one glass one night, but don't want another glass until several days later.

A few weeks ago, a Groupon from Tasting Room caught my eye. Although I usually veer towards syrah or pinot noir, I sometimes get a hankering for some savignon blanc, pinot grigio, or (gasp!) chardonnay. Tasting Room's "White Essentials 2" box seemed like a good bet for me: tiny bottles (50mL each) of some excellent white wines. Their other wine samplers sound fabulous, too.

I enjoy getting a chance to try new wines without the commitment of an entire bottle, but I also like having just a small glass of wine without risking the rest of a portion going to waste.

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Disclaimer: I bought my wine sampler using my own money and will not receive compensation or commission for this post.

August 29, 2011

I am Number Four: Power of Six

Power_of_Six.jpgI finished Power of Six on Saturday and can't wait until the next Pitticus Lore book. On one hand, I love delving into adventures like this, which continue; but on the other hand, waiting for that "continue" part is pretty difficult.

My e-book library is pretty much filled with science-fiction type things, although I hate the whole stereotype about science-fiction. If someone told me that I'd love a book involving alien races and war, I'd laugh in horror.

And yet I'm completely wrapped up in the whole Lorien Legacies series. I love the adventure. I love the mystery. I love experimenting with the themes of growing up and fitting in. (Hey, 37-year-old women can remember "growing up," too!)

Although the women are definitely attractive, I don't feel they are over-sexualized like so many of those other science-fiction books traditionally aimed at men. Neither are the men described in overly promiscuous terms. While it is clear that certain characters are very capable and easy on the eyes, the focus is on the mission at hand and the relationships that develop based on substance, not sex. There is definitely an innocence in these young characters, even if their intelligence, combat skills and sense of responsibility are mature.

I've read the first three books, and am looking forward to "number four."

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Disclaimer: I bought the three e-books with my own money. I saw a press release with the above trailer for the book released last week and decided to post it since this series is one that I've been enjoying. I will receive no compensation or commission for this post or any resulting sales of any of the Lorien Legacies books.

September 2, 2011

It is Hard to Wait: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

bash_skylanders_spyros_adventure_screenshot.jpgI first learned of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure at the Big Toy Book's Sweet Suite Event. Shortly after I returned from San Diego I posted about how Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is likely going to be the "must-have" holiday gift this winter season for elementary-school-aged boys (and probably middle-school boys, and plenty of girls, and even middle-aged women such as myself.) I then followed up with a wii walkthrough for folks who wanted a bit more information.

Well, I just got a character bio sheet that I wanted to share with you folks. Completely coincidentally, when the email with this bio sheet came in, my eldest son was asking me, "When is Skylanders coming out again?" and "How many characters are there gonna be?"

It is sad to say, but when a package arrived on our doorstep that night, my son cried because it wasn't the game. Logically, he knows it doesn't come out until October 16th, but he made a wish that it would come earlier. He just hopes that somehow the game will magically be released sooner so that he and his younger brother can partake in the adventure.

Continue reading "It is Hard to Wait: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure" »

November 13, 2011

Tiny Prints Holiday Cards


Unfortunately, TinyPrints was purchased by a larger corporation. The way they operate is different than when I wrote the below review.

I had been a very loyal customer, and a big promoter of their company; however, they asked me to remove all links to them "ASAP" (without any compensation) as it was affecting their Google ranking. I am disappointed at their treatment of me and of other bloggers who had been so supportive of their company.

As it would hurt my own online integrity to unpublish my many posts about Tiny Prints, I am keeping them up, but with this warning attached.

More of my reaction to Tiny Prints

naughty.jpgLast week I had the pleasure of attending not one, but two luncheons surrounding holiday greetings. Admittedly, I get nervous when I learn about "competing" products because I end up loving them all, and don't want to choose one over the other.

Well, I'm in luck because although I got to check out the latest offerings from one of my long-term favorites - tiny prints - the other luncheon I attended dealt with a very different product, so I won't feel guilty for profiling them both, here. (So stay tuned...)

So... tiny prints and I go waaaaay back. Seriously.

nice.jpgI learned about them way back in 2008. Family and friends gushed about my holiday photo cards that year, and so in 2009 I noticed many of the holiday cards we received had "tiny prints" on the back. Of course, in 2010 I kept up the trend, and posted about them after a tour of their digs. Last year I sent the naughty/nice flip card, and the recipients absolutely raved about it.

That makes this year's card a challenge, since I think last year's was The Best Ever. But... here are some designs that I've saved in my "favorites" at tiny prints:

Continue reading "Tiny Prints Holiday Cards" »

November 17, 2011

Be a Savvy Shopper

savvy_logo.jpgOn Tuesday I had the pleasure of being introduced to a beta version of Savvy, a shopping app that will rock your world. The updated iPhone app launches today! (Android users, hold on because December 2nd will be your lucky day.)

Have you experienced either of these situations?

Scenario One: You see something you absolutely loooove, but the price is just a tad out of your budget. You promise yourself you'll keep checking to see if it goes on sale, but you forget, or don't have time to obsessively monitor it, so end up buying something later that isn't as fabulous as that first find.

Scenario Two: You buy something you adore, but then mere days later you see it for half-off, or your best friend gushes that she got the same item for way less than what you paid.

With Savvy in your pocket, you won't lose. Here's how:

Continue reading "Be a Savvy Shopper" »

December 16, 2011

Smilebox: Your Holiday Greetings Are Moments Away

This autumn I had the pleasure of attending a luncheon to learn more about Smilebox, a service that I had heard about in passing, but truly did not understand until I had a chance to really play with it.

Smilebox is not just online pictures and not just print greetings either; it is a marriage of both.

I posted a Thanksgiving Smilebox for you to enjoy back in November, and I'll be posting some additional holiday greetings as the year wears out. But my favorite uses for Smilebox thus far has been the thank-you note and "keep relatives informed of our activities" uses. For my parents, my son created a card thanking them for taking him to Joshua Bell; he could include photos of himself playing the violin. And when we got together with family for Thanksgiving, I could create a slideshow of our adventures. My youngest son's first gymnastics meet was easy to share with people who couldn't attend in person.

Our holiday card is part-Smilebox and part-physical-paper.

Have a look at the virtual card:

Click to play this Smilebox greeting
Create your own greeting - Powered by Smilebox
This free digital greeting personalized with Smilebox


This is easy enough to share anywhere; here on my blog, on Facebook, or emailed out to specific people. This particular card has only a brief animation at the start, but some of the Smilebox cards are more involved, and many include slideshows with multiple photos fading in and out (or shifting side-to-side.)

Then, of course, friends and family who need a paper card got one in the mail. All I had to do was tell Smilebox to print out some nice cards for me. I chose the heavy cardstock, but people who like photo paper can go that direction, too. The paper quality was terrific; just as strong as the more expensive services out there. Truthfully, the envelopes were a bit flimsier than what I'm used to, but that's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

Smilebox is a tiered service: it is free to create and send virtual Smileboxes that have small advertisements on them. Premium members' creations have no ads and they can do things like upload their own music to accompany their creation or print out their creations to send them into the real world.

One fun tip I learned at the luncheon is that Smilebox will provide free premium memberships to teachers! This is super-fabulous because one of the project types at Smilebox is "newsletter." This is great for the annual family holiday letter, but even better for a teacher who wants to update parents on classroom events.

Smilebox also has an iPhone app which allows instant personalization of photos (like little speech bubbles and such) and for people to make comments on posted photos. Since I'm an Android gal, I haven't had the chance to try out the app, but I wanted to throw this out there for you iPhone folks!

As one son has more gymnastics meets, the other son has more golf tournaments and violin concerts, as we do more "thank you slide shows" for holiday gifts, and so on, I'm sure I'll be turning to Smilebox pretty frequently for beautiful, fun, instant cards. I know the relatives appreciate getting the pictures shortly after the event, and organizing them through Smilebox is sure a fun way to do so.

Who knows, maybe next year I'll actually do a "real" holiday letter using Smilebox's "newsletter" layout?

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Disclaimer: Smilebox invited me to a delicious luncheon where I learned about their product. I then received a premium membership to their service along with some free cards to distribute physically to my friends and family, many of whom have made a point to tell me how much they adore our card this year!

Double-Disclaimer: I also sent out tiny prints cards; and initially I thought I was using two competing products; but I learned that tiny prints has some designs for Smilebox - win!


Unfortunately, TinyPrints was purchased by a larger corporation. The way they operate is different than when I wrote the above line as part of my Smilebox review.

I had been a very loyal customer, and a big promoter of their company; however, they asked me to remove all links to them "ASAP" (without any compensation) as it was affecting their Google ranking. I am disappointed at their treatment of me and of other bloggers who had been so supportive of their company.

As it would hurt my own online integrity to unpublish my many posts about Tiny Prints, I am keeping them up, but with this warning attached.

More of my reaction to Tiny Prints

December 22, 2011

How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical!

Grinch_Max_Musical.jpgI adore musicals, so it was a no-brainer to accept when SHN asked if I wanted to bring the family to How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical.

The San Francisco show officially began last night and will run through 12/29.

The show clicks in at an hour and 20 minutes, which is completely do-able for kids. Since there is no intermission, there is none of that crazy trying to decide whether to use the restroom and potentially miss the start of the next portion of the show. Plus, an 80 minute show is shorter than most movies these days, so the kids won't have trouble sitting still.

Wreath_Grinch_Stole_Christmas_Musical.jpgThey also won't have trouble sitting still because they'll be so engrossed in the happenings on stage. After all, that is the point. I expected my sons to adore the show, but I didn't realize just how fabulous it would be. The cast was polished, the sets were delightfully whimsical, the tunes were catchy, and the script was divine. I found myself laughing aloud at the unexpected twists and touches.

grinch_and_son.jpgMy "cool" older son who was initially skeptical had a wide grin on his face the whole time, especially in response to a good helping of belching and farting humor, but also because of non-stinky physical humor, kazoos, and mice. He was also thrilled with the ode to green, his favorite color. The audience had opportunity to participate in the show, too, which really brings it alive for everyone. My youngest son was definitely smitten with the Grinch, and insisted on taking him home in stuffed-animal form.

After the show, we were lucky to meet with the star of the show himself, played by Stefan Karl, also known as Robbie Rotten in Lazy Town. My green-loving son of course was thrilled when the Grinch picked up on his clothing choice, "Ah-ha! You are wearing green, too! Smart man!" Alas, this son was too timid to pose with the Grinch, but his fearless younger brother (who was also wearing green) was happy to oblige this camera-happy mom. Afterwards, my oldest laughed, "Heheheh, I'm glad I didn't get my picture taken 'cause he gave YOU massive bunny fingers!"

grinch_poster.jpgHow the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical was definitely worth an afternoon of our time. Although it is in the San Francisco Bay Area this year, it might find its way to your place next year, so keep your eyes out.

Can't go to the show? There are some Grinch coloring pages and other fun things to do with your tripped-up-on-candy-canes kids, such as "Find the Grinch" or sending a Grinch-themed holiday card. These are all free and can be done from the comfort of your own holiday-hectic home!

Thank you to SHN and the cast and crew of How The Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical for putting us in the holiday spirit while letting us laugh off the pounds that we'll gain snacking on our holiday sweets!

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Disclaimer: SHN gave my family a pack of tickets to see the show for free - wheeeee! On-stage photos above are from the grinchmusical.com website.

May 2, 2012

Compassion Couture

Jordan_vegan_studded_pumps.jpgI love the look of leather. I really do. Jackets, bracelets, shoes, bags... I love it all. But, I'm not really a fan of the whole "you are wearing someone else's skin" angle. And so, I was pretty happy to find out about Compassion Couture, whose tagline is "a 100% Cruelty-Free & Eco-Friendly Boutique."

My "Jordan Pumps" arrived today, and are comfy as well as cute. [They are pictured at right.] I had my eye on several other pairs of shoes at this shop, but the studs sealed the deal for me. And also, they happened to be on sale.

The shoes were in a 100% recycled box. The Novacas brand is 100% vegan, manufactured in worker-friendly factories. Compassion Couture included a thank-you note made out of recycled paper, printed with soy-based inks.

Here are some other items I found that I'd snap up in a second if I had a bottomless wallet:

papaya_vegan_purse.jpg
Matt & Nat papaya satchel, $145

black_and_gold_clio.jpg
Cri de Coeur wedges, $380

vegan_leather_envelope_wallet.jpg
Matt & Nat envelope wallet, $65

compassion_couture_tote.jpg
Matt & Nat tote, $125

red_leopard_pump.jpg
Olsen Haus leopard pumps, $203

I'll definitely be back to Compassion Couture next time I need a new pair of shoes or a handbag (where "need" has a myriad of meanings, naturally.)

Right now there are items marked-down as they get rid of winter inventory to make way for spring/summer. Especially check out their boots; oh, how I love me some [faux] leather boots!

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Disclaimer: I learned of Compassion Couture through Blissmo, where I received a discount.

June 21, 2012

Truly UNREAL! Natural, Preservative-Free Candy for the Same Price as that Artificial Crud

unreal_natural_preservative_free_candy.jpgI wish I had UNREAL's "unjunked" candy when I was a kid. You see, back in the early 70's, the super-bright colored sugar was "in" along with that swirly polyester clothing. Of course the 80's were no better with all that neon.

When I was a young hyperactive kindergartner, the majority of the candy on the shelf was filled with artificial crud. And so, when my mom put me on The Feingold Program, I was forced to eat carob chips and other very basic items from health-food stores for a treat. Yes, we could find natural chocolate, but not combined with anything else. "Candy" was just maple sugar formed into various shapes. Halloween was not very fun, nor were birthday parties with piñatas. We later discovered that a few big-brands had some limited all-natural offerings, but many of them were special-order only. Sadly, most of those brands have since given up on being all-natural.

Meanwhile, although there is definitely a drive towards cleaner food, many of these foods end up being pretty expensive. I'm willing to spend more money for special occasions, but I admit that I wouldn't fill up my Halloween bowl with specialty chocolates.

But this coming Halloween, I'll gladly purchase UNREAL. Amazingly, UNREAL candies are the same price as the artificial crud AND have the same shelf life. UNREAL candy is made with pure cane sugar, no corn syrup, no hydrogenated oils, no artificial colors or flavors, and no GMOs. It has more fiber and protein, and fewer calories than those "leading brands."

It sounds completely "unreal" doesn't it? I'd be skeptical, thinking maybe there was some sort of catch... how does it taste?

Continue reading "Truly UNREAL! Natural, Preservative-Free Candy for the Same Price as that Artificial Crud" »

September 4, 2012

Western Digital (WD) to the Rescue

If you are a regular around these parts, you know that I've been recovering from back surgery. As such, my reviews have pretty much been put on hold.

For example, I'm eager to try out CoPilot Live Premium GPS, but since I'm not allowed to drive yet, and cannot go on long trips lest my back get jostled too much, I can't yet give it a try.

And at some point I'll try out LARK, but right now I'm trying to get all the sleep I can possibly get, so don't want to train my body yet for what will be my regular desired schedule once I'm more recovered.

But, let me tell you a little story about a series of products that will come in very handy, very soon:

my_net_home_entertainment_router_WD_western_digital_R.jpgIn mid-June (has it really been that long ago?) I was invited to a special demonstration in an underground nightclub. It was exciting to be in a space usually pulsing with lights and music - but instead, it was bloggers and some delicious food. There were cupcakes, too, but I wasn't allowed to snap a photo of them because they had the Western Digital logo on them, and at the time, I wasn't allowed to reveal the event was sponsored by them.

I learned about WD's series of wireless routers that preferentially stream to entertainment. [Read the press release for more information.] So, those games that my kids complain are "laggy" won't be trumped by an enormous upload. Or a movie we're watching won't cut in and out because some background app wants attention. On the flip side, if I want that upload to have priority because it is work-related and I'm in a time-crunch, I can set the priorities to my computer and its processes. The "My Net" series of products boosts the signal to provide coverage for larger, multi-level homes. Well, my home isn't large nor is it multi-level, but the placement of our (currently non-WD) router along with a bunch of walls means the signal from the family room seldom makes it to my room. Our current (non-WD) signal booster hasn't really helped.

Continue reading "Western Digital (WD) to the Rescue" »

September 25, 2012

Undead Dogs

Hmmm, so what is it about these undead dogs?

First, Vampire Dog comes out on DVD today, and then Frankenweenie is released in theaters a week from today, on October 2nd. There is just something about dead dogs come to life.

vampire_dog.jpg     frankenweenie.jpg

I suppose since dogs are a man's best friend, it follows that their companions would want them around as long as possible. And, what better time to test freaky-yet-enduring friendship than Halloween?

Continue reading "Undead Dogs" »

September 26, 2012

Free Entrance to National Parks

This Saturday, September 29th, all 397 national parks will offer free entrance for National Public Lands Day.

More than 170,000 volunteers are expected at more than 2,100 sites across the country on Saturday, September 29 to take part in the largest single-day volunteer effort for public lands in the United States, National Public Lands Day (NPLD).

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Other Federal agencies offering free admittance on September 29 include the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Normally, 133 national parks charge entrance fees ranging from $3 to $25. The other 264 parks do not charge for admission. The National Park Service will also waive entrance fees from November 10-12 in commemoration of Veterans Day.

It is a great time to enjoy the outdoors before winter arrives. Fresh air, exercise, and community service: excellent!

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Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post; it is just something I wished to share since all too often we forget about our wonderful public parks.

November 1, 2012

Election Education

The adults are scrambling around to decide how they are going to vote next week - both in The Big Race and for multitudes of local races. But even if the kids can't yet vote "for real" they can still learn about the election process, and how important it is for the adults to get out there and vote. Meanwhile, the kids can participate in a mock vote online:

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Here are several resources I've found that make learning about the election fun:

bashers_president.jpgMy son has enjoyed both Thud! Presidents and Basher's Presidents apps. (Sense a theme with the whole crushing?) In general, if it is made into an app, it becomes fun! These apps teach important facts to the more ridiculous tidbits.

The accompanying website for Basher's Presidents, Basher Kids' Vote allows kids to vote for either Romney or Obama while indicating which issue is most important to them. Check out the "Explore the Data" section to see how other kids are voting across the U.S. Also check out ProCon.org for "align with the candidate" quizzes and other exercises. This one has a more adult "look" but would be a good springboard for discussion with older kids. See how the candidates view the various issues that are most important to you and your children.

thud_stack.jpgPBS Election Resources for Classrooms includes materials for K-12 students, but with an emphasis on middle school and high school. Available resources include both current events for the 2012 Presidential Election and in-depth learning opportunities that can be used in any study of the U.S. government and election processes.

The Democracy Project is also from PBS, but geared towards the younger kids. Design your own campaign poster, join the sticker race, or collect Presidential Trading Cards! Oh, and find out about the candidates, too. Before you leave, be sure to step into the voting booth:

cast_your_vote_kids.jpg

Politics doesn't have to be boring or frustrating! Let your kids discover for themselves how amazing it is that citizens get a voice in our future. If they are excited about it now, then they just might be more likely to really think about their responsibility and privilege when they turn 18, and therefore get out and VOTE as an informed citizen!

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Disclaimer: I was given a review code to try out Basher Presidents. Otherwise, all other mentions are uncompensated. I will receive no commission should my readers visit these websites or purchase these apps. Just VOTE!

September 21, 2012

Math Midway

math_midway_exhibit_lawrence_hall_of_science.jpgMy sons are both talented and interested in mathematics and science. But, not all kids are inclined to excel in these subjects. Of course everyone remembers the whole "Math is hard!" Barbie doll. It is a common refrain from boys and girls alike that mathematics is difficult, or that science is dry.

Our local school recently made some changes that continue to "dumb-down" mathematics, effectively ignoring those who are high-achievers in the hopes of bringing the students who are more challenged by math up to speed. Of course we have "No Child Left Behind" to "thank" for some of these policy changes, because after all, the goal these days is to be average.

Thankfully, there are other ways that kids can be encouraged in math and science. I'm a big fan of the Lawrence Hall of Science. I went many times as a kid, and my own kids have gone to camp there. Tomorrow, "Math Midway," a special mathematics exhibit opens.

Continue reading "Math Midway" »

November 8, 2012

The Lion King

IMG_1631.JPGLast night my family was fortunate enough to be SHN's guests at The Lion King, on stage at San Francisco's Orheum Theatre through January 13, 2012.

To say I was completely captivated is an understatement. I had seen the animated movie, two different "Disney on Ice" versions of the story, and a depiction of a crucial scene during CA Adventure's World of Color, but this was my first time seeing the musical.

In The Lion King's case, the word "musical" doesn't do the performance justice. This show's experience goes well beyond the music. From shadow-play to elaborate puppets; from towering sets that seem to appear and disappear with ease, to a simple prop that holds great symbolism, this experience is joyfully overwhelming. I enjoyed the artistry in both light and dark, and soaked in the scenes filled with vibrant colors.

Lion_King.jpg

I especially appreciated the actors' amazing command of their bodies. Most wore elaborate costumes that required simultaneous mastery of puppetry and dance. Some characters required sharp movements with precise isolations while others' gestures were fluid and ethereal. The animals looked like animals. The plants moved like plants in the wind. The water rippled.

Although the designs and choreography are sophisticated, my boys were just as captivated as I was. There are definitely moments of kid-level humor (fart jokes, anyone?) but my sons no doubt also enjoyed the visual effects, even if they may not have appreciated fully the strength and coordination necessary to achieve them.

Lion_King_Embrace.jpgOf course The Lion King's story is similarly both entertaining and more philosophical. There are frightening scenes that children under six may not tolerate well, but the "darker" parts give way to plenty of light and in some cases, whimsy. Kids need not understand the whole "Circle of Life" concept to come away from this performance changed because they have experienced something new to them.

I definitely came away from the show with a smile in my heart. I adore storytelling and expression through dance. The Lion King went well beyond my expectations, and I'm thrilled that I had an opportunity to witness it in person. My younger son was especially tickled that he got a chance to meet two of the performers!

Tickets for all performances of THE LION KING in San Francisco are on sale now and can be purchased at the SHN Orpheum Theatre Box Office, online at shnsf.com and by phone at SHN Audience Services at 888-746-1799. While you are there, consider purchasing tickets for other shows this season: rumor has it that Mary Poppins is phenomenal!

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Disclaimer: SHN provided my family with our tickets in exchange for publicizing the show. I will receive no commission or further compensation should my readers choose to experience this fabulous event!

Top photo is my own; middle and bottom photographs are by Joan Marcus, courtesy of SHNSF.

November 15, 2012

Bring on the Wine for the Holidays

I'm from California, which means I have wine coursing through my veins rather than blood. My backyard just happens to have some tiny grapes growing in it. (Don't ask me the varietal: I have no clue!) I have parents who seriously considered just picking up and moving to Napa to live among the vines. (In fact, I can still smell the musky wood from the house we were thisclose to purchasing.)

Ironically enough, the year my parents thought about moving to wine country to embark upon some fantastic vineyard adventure, Bruce and Pam Boring began The California Wine Club, a home-delivery wine service that provides its own adventure through wine country. Amazingly, that was 22 years ago.

Robledo_Family_Winery_California_Wine_Club.jpg

For folks back East, "California" wine tends to be the big-name labels. If you can purchase it at your local grocery store, it probably comes from one of those enormous mass-production situations. Of course there are some wines from those "famous" folks that are quite tasty, but I'm drawn to the smaller wineries.

The California Wine Club was created to highlight these "mom and pop" type wineries, bringing its members inside stories of the winemakers and their vineyards. You won't find these gems in your liquor store. Instead, they'll be delivered straight to your door. Nifty, eh?

Continue reading "Bring on the Wine for the Holidays" »

December 3, 2012

Give 'em More than Just one Bottle

Ah, December: 'Tis the Season of holiday parties and hostess gifts. Of course the go-to gift is wine, which means 'Tis the Season for Wine! I love bringing a bottle of wine to someone's house, especially if it is from an unexpected vineyard or unusual varietal.

Last month I gushed about the California Wine Club. This month's shipment from www.cawineclub.com came with two wines dressed for the holidays. Both are slathered with award stickers.

Daniel_Gehrs_California_Wine_Club.jpg

This month's offerings are a 2009 Merlot and a 2011 Chenin Blanc, both from Daniel Gehrs. The California Wine Club's Uncorked magazine shows a photograph of winemaker Dan Gehrs posing with California Wine Club founders Pam and Bruce Boring, along with his motorcycle. See, winemakers aren't stuffy folks: Dan and his wife Robin apparently embarked on a cross-country motorcycle trip shortly after the photo was snapped. Uncorked also included a prime rib recipe from Daniel Gehrs Wines. Mmmmm, prime rib! I'm also salivating over two other recipes included in Uncorked this month: Shitake Mushroom & Fontina Crostini and Blue Cheese Mousse Parfait.

Continue reading "Give 'em More than Just one Bottle" »

November 19, 2012

What a Treat! Personalized Individual Greeting Cards


Unfortunately, TinyPrints / Treat was purchased by a larger corporation. The way they operate is different than when I wrote the below review.

I had been a very loyal customer, and a big promoter of their company; however, they asked me to remove all links to them "ASAP" (without any compensation) as it was affecting their Google ranking. I am disappointed at their treatment of me and of other bloggers who had been so supportive of their company.

As it would hurt my own online integrity to unpublish my many posts about Tiny Prints / Treat, I am keeping them up, but with this warning attached.

More of my reaction to Tiny Prints




treat_personalized_thank_you_card.jpgI'm not really a "buy a card at the grocery store" type person because many of those greetings are pretty impersonal, especially those with a long poem. After all, I didn't write that poem, so it isn't really "from me." Of course, I guess if I wrote it in my handwriting and still credited the poet, I'd feel satisfied, because at least I did something other than sign my name.

My one exception to the store-bought cards is humor cards. Those are funny. I can't come up with jokes, so those are A-OK in my book.

I've looked at some of the "send personalized email" sites with interest. I love the personalized aspect of it, but I still want something tangible. I typically don't send "thank you" notes via email, for example, no matter how "stylized" through a website. (Confession: I've sent email greetings to myself and then printed them out to send to the real recipient through snail mail.)

So, I've got to admit feeling pretty happy that I found treat, an off-shoot of Tiny Prints. I've been a Tiny Prints fan for awhile, and of course our holiday cards are from tiny prints. I love being able to incorporate photos of my kids in the cards, and use our names in the graphic design.

personalized_birthday_card_treat_greetings2.jpg

But ordering 150 holiday cards is much different than if you have a single card to create for a single person.

Or at least, it used to be different.

Many years ago, I used to print out personalized cards for other occasions. I loved the idea of having a card whose design incorporated the recipient and/or me and my family. That is exactly what treat does, but with far better print quality than my old printer, and on nice professional cardstock, unlike the thin stuff I've got here at home.

I've got a special discount for you:
use code TREATBLOGR to receive a free card from treat.

The code is only good today (November 19) and tomorrow (November 20,) so you'd better get on it!

personalized_birthday_card_treat_greetings.jpgMy birthday is Wednesday, so perhaps you'd like to send me a birthday card? Or better yet, think about who is hosting your Thanksgiving meal on Thursday, and create your thank-you card now. (That way you know it will arrive shortly after the meal gets in your belly!)

Or, maybe you've been meaning to send a card to your kid's soccer coach even though the season ended three weeks ago. Or your birthday was a month ago and you haven't yet thanked Aunt Gertrude for that awesome sweater. (What better way to thank your dear Auntie than to send her a card with you wearing the sweater on it!?) There are plenty of different cards for a myriad of occasions, so think about who you'd like to connect with in a personal way this week.

Seriously - now is your chance: Use TREATBLOGR today or tomorrow to get your free card.

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Disclaimer: I will receive credit in my treat account so that I can send some cards for free. The opinions/words above are my own.

June 20, 2013

Peace of Mind as a Present

Last summer my computer's hard drive crashed. Thankfully, I was able to restore my data, but it was tough. I had a couple external drives of backed-up material, but I hadn't done a file transfer in about six months.

I shudder to think about how devastated I would have been to lose six months of photos.

Why wasn't I doing an automatic backup to an external drive? Well, it slowed down my computer. Sometimes I need to do work late at night or early in the morning, which is when those overnight backups typically occur.

logo-backblaze-big.pngMeanwhile, we've had a rash of burglaries in our area. What if a thief takes both a laptop and the back-up drive? That's right: you've got nothing. Ditto if there is a fire or a flood.

Enter online backups, like Backblaze.

Backblaze is an automatic backup system that can either backup continuously (so the file you just changed is now backed up) or at a scheduled time. (Backblaze says it won't slow down the user's computer while backing up - I'm testing that out now, and so far, so good!) Of course the data is encrypted, and sent over an encrypted connection, but users can add a passphrase for another layer of privacy.

The data is stored at their datacenter with plenty of redundancy. That redundancy is critical: my blog went down for two weeks because my host's superficial backups were also ruined, so it took a lot of time to recover the data from their very-external backup. I certainly don't want to discover that my backup failed right as my computer was stolen! With Backblaze, that seems unlikely.

Continue reading "Peace of Mind as a Present" »

February 7, 2013

Wee Forest Folk: Gorgeous Handcrafted Mouse Miniatures

I'm not really a collector. I like "cute" things, but so much out there is just plain silly and/or cheap-looking. But, when I learned about Wee Forest Folk, I immediately requested a sample. These adorable miniatures are high-quality castings of clay sculptures that are then meticulously hand-painted. The laborious process to create these beautiful, tiny works of art is all done in New England, right here in the good ol' U.S.A. It is therefore fitting that the amazing piece I received is titled "Homegrown Stars & Stripes."

Wee_Forest_Folk_Homegrown_Stars_and_Stripes.jpg

Isn't he adorable? I love the little tail: it is actually leather!

Wee Forest Folk has a wide variety of sculptures available to celebrate any event or mood. From depicting music lessons to dancing, a garden gnome to a weight-lifter, just about every interest is profiled. I'm especially smitten with "Miss Bobbin Online" for obvious reasons! (She is pictured below, at right.) Of course there are Wee Forest Folk figurines available for every holiday. The Valentine's Day mice are adorably affectionate, the Halloween sculptures are sugary sweet, and of course the Christmas scenes depict a true winter wonderland.

Wee_Forest_Folk_Figurines.jpg

The detail of each sculpture is incredible: not only are the mice themselves beautifully constructed, but the tiny accessories are intricate and charming.

Visit Wee Forest Folk's website, Wee Forest Folk on Facebook, and of course, check out Wee Forest Folk on Pinterest to see the latest sculptures.

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Disclaimer: Thank you to Wee Forest Folk for "Homegrown Stars & Stripes." I treasure it. I will receive no further compensation or commission should my readers purchase a figurine.

November 5, 2013

A word about Tiny Prints


I had been a very loyal customer to a previously small, previously local greeting card company called Tiny Prints. (In the past, it was tiny*prints, then TinyPrints.) Unfortunately, it was purchased by a larger corporation, and as such, their procedures and formerly excellent customer service changed.

Originally, the company was generous with bloggers, recognizing our influence and the amount of time and energy it takes to thoroughly and thoughtfully review a product. Unfortunately, as it changed hands, the compensation for reviews became smaller. But, because I still "believed in" them, I agreed to review their holiday greeting cards last year. Our cards turned out fine, but I remember being disappointed that the designer review no longer exists (unless the customer pays a fee) and thus, the "personal touch" that made Tiny Prints so attractive was gone. 

Many years ago, a designer actually phoned me to double-check the spelling of my oldest son's name, since it is unusual. And then the designer personally emailed me the proof. That doesn't happen anymore. And so, last year my enthusiasm for Tiny Prints went markedly down.

I was sad then, but I'm even more so now.

I received an email today from one of the marketing people at Tiny Prints requesting that I remove links to their site "ASAP" because my support of them was hurting their Google ranking. They offered no compensation to do something that would benefit them, but harm me. 

I've inserted the "nofollow" attribute to my past links to save their precious ranking, but maintain my own online integrity; however, I've posted a disclaimer so that anyone looking at those past posts will note my disappointment with the company. 

The irony -of course- is that because I had been so prolific with my praise and support of them, the task of updating these posts was very time-consuming. I was punished for being enthusiastic about this company.

Alas, Tiny Prints has lost a customer. And, I know other bloggers who are taking their business elsewhere as well. Tiny Prints could have handled their request much better. It is a shame.

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Updated

Apparently, some bloggers have received a follow-up email saying to disregard the previous request. I did not receive that email or any other communication after the first email. 

To be clear, I understand that sometimes companies will request updates of bloggers who have posted about their products in the past, but this usually comes with a familiarity of the client-blogger relationship. But, in this case, the marketing person wrote "Our team may have worked with you in the past which resulted in links back to our site." 

"..may have"?

I've wrote about their company multiple times since 2008. Some posts were compensated in the form of free product, other mentions were completely out of the kindness of my own heart. So yes, I feel slapped in the face.

Updated #2:

Some bloggers received yet another follow-up, this one offering a small sum of money to change the links. This is insulting TWO ways: 1) That only some people received an offer of monetary incentive and 2) that said incentive is so small.

Tiny Prints' treatment of this really belittles the work that bloggers do, and is turning their backs on the dedication/loyalty we had to the company.

About Adults

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Spectrum of Reviews in the Adults category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

apps is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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