Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chari-Tea Bunco Cause Party

Recently multi-platinum, Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter, Ashanti teamed up with Johnson's Body Care to launch a new charitable program that enables real women across the country to support local charities through simply hosting get-togethers with friends.

I was given the opportunity to host one of these "cause parties" where I could kick back with my girlfriends, pamper ourselves with Johnson's new line of lotions and body washes and help raise money for a local charity.

Lucky for me, it happened to be my turn to host our monthly Bunco so I decided to partner these opportunities together and host a Chari-Tea Bunco night at my house.

My guests were asked to bring monetary and/or food donations to support the St Joseph County Food Bank. Everyone also agreed that the winnings would be given to the food bank instead of divided among ourselves for the event and Johnson's gave us $100 to start the charitable pot for our charity.

By hosting this event with Johnson's they gave us the money to put towards the food and drinks for our event so I truly got to pamper my girlfriends in style because no one had to bring a single dish to share.
I still kept to a thrifty budget, but tried to add some special touches for our group. Our centerpiece was a bouquet of flowers displayed in a teapot with a variety of special teas in my china teacups for our table. These beautiful bouquets of flowers were purchased at Sam's Club for less than $5.

Here are some pictures of the great food that we got to eat. I wanted to stick with the tea party food and dishes that would be easy to handle while playing our game.

I got a huge croissant sandwich tray that served 18 for $32 at Sam's Club. I cut these sandwiches in half and then added colored toothpicks to hold them together so people could sample different varieties of sandwiches and to make them a little more bite-sized.

For side dishes, I purchased two huge vegetable trays for $9.87 each that were prepared by Sam's Club. I made a delicous pesto pasta salad from my new favorite cookbook, "The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen," which you must check out! I then bought a variety of fruit and made fruit kabobs by skewering them for our guests out of pineapple, grapes, and strawberries. These fruit kabobs were thrown into a pretty wine bucket for everyone to grab.

For dessert, I purchased two boxes of mini creme puffs that I served on cake platters with a decaf coffee to finish out the meal.

The star of the party though was the Bunco punch that I made that was a delicious summery drink to go with our food. We also had a box of the Black Box Cabernet which was another surprising hit with many of my friends who had not had the pleasure of trying boxed wines before. Sam's Club had the best price on this with a box that was equivalent to four bottles for only $18.32. I have to say, these boxed wines are an affordable way to entertain on a budget.

On my lower level, we had a little welcome desk where my guests could sign in and my coffee table got taken over by all of the great food donations.

Each guest got to take home a really cute reusable bag filled with Johnson's products to sample and share with their friends as a thank you for their charitable efforts. Each bag contained their 24 Hour Moisturizer, 24 Hour Moisturizing Body Wash, & their Be Radiant Cocoa & Shea Butter Lotions. These products were just for us, not for our kiddos, and they smell and feel great. My favorite is definitely the Be Radiant Cocoa & Shea Butter Lotion- it smells divine!

We had the biggest turn out for Bunco ever with seventeen great women in attendance and we were so excited about all we could do for our community. With the donation made by Johnson's plus our own donations, we were able to donate $205 to the St Joseph County Food Bank and an entire car full of food donations for the cause.

With the job loss in our area, our food banks and shelters are in critical need right now and if you are able to give anything at all, I encourage you to take the time to do it.

Here are some of the items the Food Bank of Northern Indiana critically needs:

Cereal -- hot and cold
Meat, chicken or tuna
Mac/cheese, dry pasta
Potato flakes
Spaghetti O's, stews
Pork & Beans
Chicken Helper
Family-sized soups
Dry soup mixes
Juice boxes
Beans -- baked, refried
Pancake, waffle mix
Plastic containers

Individuals, clubs, churches, civic groups and local businesses can all conduct food drives. Donated food is a much needed commodity in their fight against hunger. They accept donated food between the hours of 8:00 am and 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday, at their location on 702 S. Chapin Street, South Bend, IN. If this location is not convenient to you, there are many other drop off points including all of the Martin's Supermarket grocery stores. For more information please visit The Food Bank of Northern Indiana to find out how you can help.

Throwing a cause party was such a fun girl's night out and I encourage you to do the same with your girlfriends! It is a fun and easy way to give back to charities in your community and I am so thankful that Johnson's helped us support such a great cause in our own community!

Here are the star recipes from our fabulous Chari-Tea Bunco night that you could replicate for a charity night at your house!

Pesto Pasta Salad (courtesy of "The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen") and you can visit The Farm Chicks Blog too!

3 cups bowtie pasta (about 8 oz)
1/4 cup pesto (Sam's Club has pesto for really cheap, if your garden isn't ready for pesto-making yet)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (about two medium)
1/2 cup halved pitted black olives
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts (optional)

Cook pasta as directed. Drain and rinse under cold running water and let cool. Place in a salad bowl. In another bowl, mix the pesto and sour cream together and add to the pasta, tossing to coat. Add the tomatoes, olives, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts and toss to mix. Serve.

Bunco Punch

Orange slices
Lemon slices
Lime slices
Maraschino cherries
Cherry juice or red food coloring
Metal ring mold

SIMPLE SYRUP (Prepare ahead) :
3 c. water
3 c. sugar
Combine, boil and cool.

Simple syrup, chilled
4 c. chilled cranberry juice
3 c. chilled bottled lemon juice
2 c. chilled orange juice
2 c. chilled unsweetened pineapple juice
2 qt. chilled ginger ale
16 oz. rum or vodka or wine or champagne

Create your ice ring by throwing in the citrus fruit slices and then pouring in the jar of cherries (juice and all) Top the bundt pan off with water and then freeze overnight.

To serve: Unmold ice ring into punch bowl; add juices and liquor; add ginger ale.

This makes approximately 30 (6 ounce) servings.

What are some fun charitable activities you do with your friends and/or family? I would love for you to share how you make charity a priority in your house?

Related Links:

Good Cheap Fun: Bunco

Retro Housewife Bunco

Kentucky Derby Bunco

'70's Bunco Style

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Boxed Wines: An Eco & Wallet Friendly Choice

I feel hesitant posting my personal thoughts on wine. After all, I am the girl who thought that Arbor Mist was the best you could buy for your money for years. Through the years though, my husband and I have become adventurous with trying new wines, I have been to countless wine tastings, and I love nothing better than a good glass of wine at the end of a long day with the kids.

While we both love wine, we don't necessarily desire the same kind of wine. I am a girl that gravitates more towards a good Chardonnay while my husband is a Merlot fan. Considering we are the only two wine drinkers in the house, the wine would sometimes go to waste because it was not used in the time span it should have. To me, there is nothing worse than throwing money down the drain so I have been looking into other options.

A few months ago though, I was watching the Today Show and they had a wine expert on to discuss the comeback of the boxed wine. "Boxed wine? Blech!" I thought. The expert continued on though to point out that these wines have come a long way and are a great affordable option for families.

We decided to put this theory to the test and began buying and sampling boxed wines instead. I even had the good fortune to receive a few boxes for my review from a couple of great wine companies, which helped add perspective on the different varieties that are available for families.

Why are boxed wines a better value and better for the environment?

Your Wine Lasts Longer- Remember the scenario that I shared about where I was dumping wine down the drain? Well, that doesn't usually happen when you buy boxed wine. The wine is stored in a Mylar bag with a spout attached. When you pour from the spout the bag acts as a vacuum, which means the wine doesn't oxidize. An opened box can last for four weeks rather than spoiling in just a day or two.

Boxed Wine is Better for the Environment- Top wine producers are trying to reduce their carbon footprint — that is, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the transportation of wine —and selling the beverage in alternative, lighter packaging instead of heavier glass is one way that they can make that change.These boxes of wine are ideal with some boxes reducing waste by nearly 90 percent of the equivalent bottle.

It Saves Space & Is a Hit at Parties- I took a box of wine to my Bunco night and it was the first thing to go on the table of wines. While some might consider it tacky, that pour spout is quite handy and makes filling your wine glass a breeze. These boxes can hold four bottles or more, but take up a lot less room. If you are short on space or you need something to bring to your next party, I highly recommend the boxed wine alternative.

Wine for Cooking Is Right at Your Fingertips- Many of the dishes I make call for wine in them and these boxes of wine are a cook's best friend. I no longer have to open a bottle for a dish and let it go to waste, I can now just pour it right out of the box and it costs a lot less than the wine I was buying to cook with.

Boxed Wine is Much More Affordable- You can get a box of wine for a far lower cost than you could get in a bottle. Check the side of the box to see how many bottles are contained within it and then divide that to get your cost per bottle. Some of the best boxed wines I sampled cost roughly $5-6 a bottle, making it much more affordable than even the sale prices on bottled wines.

Now that I have hopefully convinced you that it is a better deal, here are my top picks for best boxed wines on the market. I am happy to report that Epicurious also agrees with a couple of my choices!

Of all of the wines that I sampled, the Black Box wines were consistently the best of the best. The Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot are the best that they offer and they are elegantly packaged. The Cabernet Sauvignon has received a Double Gold award and the Merlot was listed in the Top Ten Best Buys by Wine Enthusiast. Best of all, this one was available at our local Walmart and I have also heard that Sam's Club members can get it for an even lower price. If I was just venturing into the world of boxed wines, the Black Box wines would be a great place to start.

Banrock Station Chardonnay is one of the best bangs for the buck and they now offer their wine in a 3L (the equivalent of four bottles) box. This Chardonnay is an excellent deal for the money and is recommended as a great budget-friendly wine by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Of all of the wines that Banrock Station offers, their Chardonnay is by far the best and is a great wine to bring to parties and a night in with friends. Even someone who is not a wine expert will recognize the hint of green apple and the crisp taste that comes through in the Chardonnay. This wine is particularly great for Pinot fans because this wine seems to mimic many of the flavors you would find in a good Pinot.

When they would run a sale on this wine, we would buy it in the six bottle quantity to get a discount at our local grocery store. I never knew that they offered this wine in a box and I will now be looking for this eco-friendly alternative to my bottles. It really is that good!

Hardys Stamp offers a variety of great tasting budget-friendly boxed wines. While we were not a fan at all of their boxed Riesling, I can say that I truly loved the Merlot. Hardys Stamp Shiraz is also well-known for offering a rich and full flavor. Epicurious shares that the Shiraz, "evokes warm blueberry pie, with hints of vanilla ice cream and toasty American oak, and just enough tannin to balance the ripe berries." Overall, I would definitely recommend sampling the red wines that are offered by Hardys Stamp because the flavor was such a great surprise and will now be added to my top list of the best of the best in the boxed wine market.

One wine that I really wanted to pass the test was the Target Wine Cubes. We tried several different wines from Target and I just was left feeling disappointed. I loved the chic packaging and I certainly spend enough time in Target to want to pick it up there, but these wines were definitely not my favorite. If you are going to pick up a box of wine at Target, go for the Pinot Grigio because it is the best that they offer. In 2007, the Wine Cube Pinot Grigio won a double gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Again, I love the packaging on the product, but the wines just weren't my favorite.

If you are a wine drinker, I would definitely recommend giving boxed wines a try! Once I started sampling boxed wines, we have never gone back to the wines in the bottle. I can't wait to continue our adventures in tasting and I look forward to more boxed wine products from future companies. I believe that more boxed wines are going to be offered as wineries begin to recognize that even the best wine drinkers love a good wine bargain!

(Photo credit: Paul Olson)

Have you ever given boxed wines a try? Please feel free to offer your recommendations for a great box of wine!

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Thank You Writers Strike Part II

Oh, it is feeling so good to get back to reading. Last time I checked in, I had been rediscovering my love of reading and I am continuing to develop my hobby more this month...thanks to all of your amazing recommendations! I added everything to my Good Reads list (thanks to my friend Jessica for sharing this site with me) and now I feel an added sense of accomplishment because I can move things that I have read to different categories and rate them. I just love that!

Several of you recommended starting the Stephenie Meyer's series so I thought I would give it a shot. I am not really into vampire books or anything like that, but it came highly recommended by you so I put a hold on it at the library. I am SO glad I did! I started with the first book in the series (of course), "Twilight." The plot was moving pretty slow for me in the beginning, but then it picked up about halfway through and the ending was such a shocker that I ran downstairs and put a hold on the next two books. I would agree that even if young adult fiction and vampire books don't sound appealing to you, that this book crosses those genres and it equals just really great reading. I stayed up until 12:30 one night so I could finish it and find out how it would end. I should have known it would be a giant cliffhanger since it is a series book, but I was thrilled to have finished it. A big thank you to everyone who recommended these! I am looking forward to reading the next two and I thank you for being so tired because I can't put them down.

The next book I read was, "The Sky Isn't Visible From Here," by Felicia Sullivan. I don't usually read memoirs so this was a little bit out-of-the-box for me, but I am so glad I read this. All I kept thinking was how I am always so worried that something I might do could potentially screw up my kids for the rest of their life and her story just put everything in perspective for me as a mother. I am not saying that I am a perfect mom, but this story just showed how strong the human spirit is and how we can overcome things in our childhood and turn out to be really great adults...no matter what type of childhood or family we might come from. I will admit, this book was hard to read. Who wants to read about abuse being inflicted upon a child or a mother that puts her addictions ahead of her child over and over again? It was a challenge for me as a mother to read a story like this, but I felt better for having read it. An interview with the author offers a lovely incentive too so I am grateful I read it so I could share her story with you! So inspiring!I also read, "One for the Money" by Janet Evanovich. Again, this is not normally my genre, but everyone kept talking about these books so I thought I would give it a shot. This series is awesome! I put the second and third one on hold at our library and picked those up this week. These were suspenseful, but also made me laugh out loud a lot. I think I was starting to annoy my husband at night since I would burst into laughter randomly while he was trying to sleep. Oh well! He knew he married a quirky bookworm when he met me. These books are so much fun!
I got my hands on an advance copy of, "Party Basics for New Nesters" By Maria McBride. This book is amazing and offers tutorials and projects for making your home a place to entertain in. The book is intended for newlyweds, but I think it is an excellent book for anyone who has trouble with entertaining. Many of the projects in it were thrifty and could be put together using items from thrift stores & yard sales so I really appreciated that element about it. I also loved the basics for how to set a table, how to press your table linens, how to arrange flowers, and what tools you need to have a party where you offer mixed drinks. I really enjoyed the basic recipes that this book offered too. I will admit that some of the projects were a little difficult for someone who isn't crafty or good in the kitchen, but my overall feel of this book was that it contained great elements that I could add to make my home more inviting to my guests. Two thumbs up! A great gift to give to a new bride or as a housewarming gift to friends! It looks like this one will hit the bookshelves on March 11th!Not to be outdone by all of these good reads, we also watched (for the first time) The Jason Bourne Collection. We actually got all three movies at the library and each night we watched one movie. Ryan's cousin had recommended this series to us and I thought we would give it a try. This was not in my normal genre of movies, but I could have eaten this up with a spoon. I was hanging on the edge of my seat, I jumped a few times at some unexpected parts, and my husband and I kept murmuring, "Now that was awesome! " over and over and over again. I am so glad that we watched them right in a row too. I am bad about remembering stuff from one movie to the next so this helped me a lot. If you haven't watched these, get them! So great!

My husband also discovered something really great for me! Direct TV customers can watch the whole first season of, "The Tudors" on their free channel. I am not sure how long they will be airing it, but I am DVR'ing it and watching the episodes in the evening. I don't know if other stations offer this, but those free channels can be great for watching shows on the expanded cable. I know what they are hoping is that you will get hooked and start ordering Showtime or HBO, but I am just going to enjoy the free stuff and then wait for the DVD to come out for the next season. I love historical fiction and this series is amazing. They have edited it and said you have to subscribe to the channel to get the full-on action or whatever. Works for me!

Sound Off: Tell me what you are reading and watching this month?

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Check It Out: The Sky Isn't Visible From Here

It was an honor and a privilege to have received a copy of, "The Sky Isn't Visible From Here," by Felicia Sullivan. I emailed Felicia and thanked her for two sleepless nights where I could not sleep because I was thinking about her book too much. I also, very boldly, asked if she would let me do an interview with her after I finished the book. I was pleasantly surprised when she said she would welcome the opportunity to share with our readers, and I am so happy to share it with you.

"The Sky Isn't Visible From Here," is Felicia's memoir of her childhood. It is the story of the neglect and abuse that is inflicted upon her by a mother who is heavily addicted to cocaine, and then a journey through her own addiction and recovery.

Felicia lived through experiences that no child should ever have to go through and then later battled her own demons with drug abuse later in her life. Now in recovery, she shares her personal story of overcoming abuse and, in the end, she shows you the strong and resilient woman she truly has become because of her difficult past.

Your memoir shared a shocking story of abuse and neglect that was inflicted upon you by your mother. How difficult was it to write about such a personal experience and how were you able to cope with reliving it through your writing?

When I embarked on this journey, I thought it would be an impossible one. For years the concept of people knowing about my past terrified me. I thought I would be judged because of my humble background, the fact that my mother was a drug addict. I felt as if I would be judged not for the person I was, but for the environment from which I came.

However, over the past few years, the most amazing thing has happened. Once I let go of the burden of shame and finally mourned losing my mother, it became easier for me to tell people the truth. My mother always told me that vulnerability is a weakness, a disease, and for the great portion of my life I wasn’t actually able to cry (unless I was drunk), and when I finally let my guard down, when I was finally honest with myself and with my friends, something entirely magical happened. All of these incredibly supportive friends emerged, and they listened and supported me without judgment. And this made crafting this book easier because I knew I had a supportive family behind me, even when I’m reliving horrific events or hearing my mother’s voice in my hair. The love and support of my father and friends made this journey easier.

In one scene in the book, you share that your mother rips up some of your stories in a rage and it seems that you are always writing or talking about being a writer. Was this your ultimate goal? Did you see this as a way to get out of the poverty you were living in?

That’s a wonderful question, although I can assure you that a career in writing alone doesn’t afford you a fabulous lifestyle! As a child books were my escape. I would sit on my fire escape after finishing one of the many books I devoured, and dream of cities, countries, characters– places and people markedly different from the ones who inhabited my Brooklyn neighborhood.

My mother’s voice was always the loudest sound and I often felt silenced growing up in her wake. Writing gave me a means of communication when there was none. I could shout! I could cry! I could be angry at the world and everyone in it. And committing these events, my life lived to paper, made inconceivable events that much more vivid and real.

Someone asked me if I didn’t have the upbringing that I did, would I still write books? I thought about that for a while and responded that I would indeed be a writer although perhaps my work wouldn’t be so dark.

Your mother never calls you by your real name in the book and only calls you “Lisa.” In some ways did it feel like you were telling Lisa’s story? Do you feel like Lisa no longer exists now that you have detached yourself from your mother?

Oddly enough, you are one of the very few to ask me about this, and it’s such an integral part of the book!!! How does one find their identity when one has no family history? When a parent routinely gives you different answers for all the same questions? When the person you are is different than the person you want to be? For me, my memoir isn’t about embracing one identity over another, rather I see this story as my journey in realizing that the woman I am today is due, in part, to the life I lived with my mother and her distorted half-truths, but that’s merely a fraction of who I am. My book celebrates the fact that my mother is no longer my “author” (as she so often claimed), while I sit silent taking dictation.

The most painful stories to read were times where your mother was using you to get what she wanted, and it is often repeated over and over again. Would you say that this is one of the worst things that your mother did to you?

One of the cruelest things a parent can do is deprive their child of that small span of time when the world is simple, beautiful and utterly innocent – before time passes and the child grows into a teenager and begins to question this terrific fiction. I never knew this time, and the worst thing I can think of my mother having done to me is this: she stole my childhood from me.

Was writing the story of your life therapeutic for you in any way? Are you now able to close a chapter on your relationship with your mother?

Absolutely! Although, I’m afraid that writing this book has made my view of her and my upbringing more complex. When I started Sky I viewed my relationship with my mother in definitive black and white terms – I didn’t love her and I was never going to forgive her for stealing my childhood from me, for always putting herself before me, for choosing men over me. Meanwhile I had also been drinking heavily, continuing my decade-long affair with alcohol. However, over the past year, I got sober and have had the advantage of clarity that sobriety can bring, to wholly understand our relationship in a way that I couldn’t have before. It was as if I had been sleeping for a long time and I suddenly woke up.

I don’t forgive my mother for the choices she made but I now understand why she made them. As an addict your choice will always be the drug. And part of me feels an unbelievable amount of sorrow for her – a single parent who never had it easy, a woman who lacked role models and support. It was us against the world, and it was a war she always had to win, but soon grew tired of fighting. Drugs made the land mines, and their inevitable explosions, easier to bear. However, my refrain is this: before the drugs she had a choice and she always chose her over me.

And as I grow older, I get a twinge of sadness when I hear friends talk about their meddling, overprotective mothers – stalwart, lovable women who are their very best friends. I ache for that maternal figure and guide, and although professional mentors, a terrific father, and friends who have served as my surrogate family, comfort me, there is nothing like that intimate mother-daughter relationship. So while I don’t miss my mother, I long for the idea of one.

I understand that memoirs are often very difficult to get published. Did you have any difficulties getting your story published or heard by others?

Not really. I’m privileged to say that my path to publication hasn’t been a difficult one. What’s proved more taxing is publication itself – more difficult than I had anticipated.

What has been the most surprising thing to you about writing this book?

I could actually write Sky and not fall to pieces.

Do you wonder if your mother has read the story?

I do wonder if she’s alive, if she’s living in New York, has read my book. But I’m more focused on the here and the now: my well-being and sobriety. I’m focused on cultivating healthy relationships and strengthening existing ones. I’m focused on being a present and loving friend, daughter, significant other.

What would you hope others to gain by reading your life story?

I wrote this book as a testament to my strength, as a celebration of my survival and recovery, to demonstrate that alternative families are possible, and that love – the most sacred of emotions – is not unconditional. I hope, really hope, that people take comfort in shared experience, and be inspired to live their best life. I also hope that it makes wonderful parents hug their children a little tighter, and, for children who have tenuous, dysfunctional relationships with their parents: you don’t have to carry their shame for it’s possible to create a new family if your current incarnation is an altogether too painful one.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m very excited about returning to fiction!!! Ideas are brewing for a novel tentatively titled Women and Children First. It’s a satire of our technologically evolved, access-hungry society. I tell people it’s White Noise meets American Psycho without all the gore.

For more information about Felicia Sullivan and her book tour, please visit her amazing blog!

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Testing The Grocery Game: Week One

This is my first week trying out the Grocery Game and really working towards building our stockpile through coupons and sale prices. I promised to chronicle my efforts here and I really appreciated all of your ideas and feedback on your coupon usage and what has been working for you.

Here we are in week one of my Grocery Game membership. Frankly, week one with this membership really stinks. I feel like I do when I go on other websites that offer a "free basic membership," but then they only extend certain offers and the premium members get all of the good stuff. The reason is, of course, because I have none of the coupons that are listed for these good deals, not because I don't have access to seeing the deal.

This week I diligently cut my coupons and then explored the official list of deals. The CVS listings were nothing new and were things that I could find elsewhere on the web. The deals for Kroger & Meijer did offer some insight into great deals that I could take advantage of...if I had coupons from January. I took note of some of the sale items that I had overlooked when I had flipped through my flier though, and decided to stock up on the items that were the best deals for the week.

A local supermarket (Martin's Supermarket for the local folk!) had a 12 for $10 sale advertised this past week so I took advantage of that as well since I am trying to build my stockpile.

In the interim, I cleaned out my purse and gathered up all of the receipts from past grocery visits and put them into my price book (Side Note: We offer a free printable one here!) It had been awhile since this had been updated and I happened to have a few receipts from Aldi to input. I put these in, since ultimately this is about whether or not I do better with coupons or with Aldi.

For this week, I stocked up on:

Martin's Supermarket:

(6) Aunt Millie's 100% Whole Wheat Bread
(6) Store Brand Frozen Vegetables (baby peas, broccoli, corn)
Total Cost: $10

Meijer Supermarket:

10 pounds of apples- $4 (Side Note- This should have been six pounds, but I thought the bag I picked was the smaller bag and told them that the price was wrong. Oops! I ended up with an extra four pounds of apples for the advertised price. I was a little overzealous in my flier efforts, not attempting to be dishonest.)
13 pounds split chicken breasts bone on- $.99 per pound
Total Cost: $17

This first week I did not use coupons, but did take advantage of listed sales that I might not have seen as an amazing deal without the assistance of the list. The coupons that I could have used for this week were for items I would not typically buy (convenience foods, frozen foods, crap foods) and I plan to stick with what I feel is in the best interest of our family's diet and what we would normally buy.

I am looking forward to week two on the program, and feel very good about updating my price book and starting our stockpile. I also am looking forward to making some great dishes with the chicken breasts. I have to also sheepishly admit that the apples look much better than my past couple of bags I have gotten from Aldi (which have went bad in just a couple of days). The kids kept saying, "They are so pretty and shiny!"

If you would like to join me in exploring the program, my referral id is [email protected]!

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Testing the Grocery Game

Our discussion on stockpiling really got me thinking about ways that I could continue to save our family money on our grocery budget. I had been wanting to test the Grocery Game program out ever since I read a story on it in a Mary Hunt publication years ago, and what better time than now to test it?

The Grocery Game is a paid membership to receive a weekly list of groceries to buy, combining rock-bottom sale prices with your coupon cutting from your weekly newspaper. "Terri's List" has a list of everything you should be stockpiling and her personal software tracks the trends of sales for each grocery store, alerting you when you should be stockpiling certain items. They offer a weekly list that tells you all of the advertised and unadvertised sales that are occurring within your local stores. This paid membership supposedly makes it easier for you to track the deals and cash in your coupons at the absolute best time.

I think it is important for me to be honest about what I am going into this program with though so here are a few known truths about Amy:

- I am not a coupon-clipper, except for the occasional CVS trip, and prefer living my life without cutting coupons. For me, I have not seen the value in it because I do so well with our money without coupons.

- Coupons, in the past, have lead me down some destructive paths and have actually ended up costing me more money than saving me. I would see a coupon for, "Hamburger Helper," for example, and then buy it...even though we didn't normally buy this product or really have a need for it in our pantry. What was supposed to save me money, actually ended up costing me more money and I came home with products that I would not typically buy.

- I am an Aldi shopper. Most of my regulars know this, but I thought I would mention it. This would mean that I would have to venture out of my safety zone and excuses that you can't beat their prices, and actually explore some other supermarkets. Aldi does not take coupons so I have never felt the urge to clip.

Now that you know what I am going into the program with, you will understand that I have some low expectations for how well I will do, but I thought it would be some great entertainment to see me struggling with my coupons and lists, trying to buy groceries practically for nothing.

I began by signing up for my membership. They offer a $1 trial program for four weeks so I signed up for that (Referral ID should-you-so-chose is [email protected]). I was a little worried how many stores they would offer in our area, but they did have listed Kroger, Meijer, Walgreens, & CVS. I signed up for those stores and got all of my information plugged in to begin my account.

The cost for a membership after the $1 deal is broken down by the amount of lists you would sign up for. The pricing is, $10 every 8 weeks for the first store list you choose, and $5 every 8 weeks for each additional store list (if more than one store list is available in your area). Example: 1 store list: $10 every 8 weeks, 2 store lists: $15 every 8 weeks, 3 store lists: $20 every 8 weeks.

It begins with an introduction to the program and basically states that it will take approximately 12 weeks for you to really build your initial stockpile. It also will take 12 weeks for you to be able to cash in on all of the coupon deals because they will be referring to coupon packets from the months previous, so when you begin you don't really get the full benefits of the program. You are just supposed to keep clipping and clipping each week and stockpiling what you can through those initial weeks until your coupon file is as fat as it needs to be and you can really begin cashing in on the program.

I plan to primarily shop at Meijer and CVS because our Kroger was shut down. There is one nearby, but it would require more of an effort on my part. My new list will be published on Tuesday so today I clip all of my coupons, in preparation of my first list.

I am dusting off the old coupon organizer and getting my trusty scissors out- let the games begin!

Edited to Add My Updates:
Grocery Game Week One
The Grocery Game Conclusions

Sound Off: Do you have any experience using a program like this? Do you coupon?

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Space Heater Recommendations

It is that time of year again and I got our space heater out last night to warm our downstairs family room. Would you believe that this is the third edition of this space heater in our house in less than a year, and it has once again OVERHEATED?!! The first two I had returned, all for overheating, but now I am past the return policy on this one. I really loved the design of this heater because the air blew at just the right height, but now I just want one that works.

Do you guys have a space heater that you could recommend? One that has some lasting qualities to it? I am looking for one with an automatic shutoff.

Boo to Lasko for releasing such a bad product! Shame on you!

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Monday, November 05, 2007

The Motherloot!!!

We are finally live with our product review site, "The Motherloot". I still need to work on guidelines and specifications for companies that would like to be featured, but we now have a separate home for these and I hope you can visit it!

Recent additions to the site include:

Family Facts Organizing Products


Let us know what you think and how you like the design! Many thanks to my designer for making this possible!!

I will be working on more reviews and am hoping to include lots of holiday shopping ideas for the families.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Interview with THE Jessica Seinfeld

I shared in an entry last week, my true love for the new cookbook, "Deceptively Delicious" by Jessica Seinfeld. You may have doubted my opinion on how awesome it really is, but now Oprah has given her golden seal of approval and this little seal gives Mrs. Seinfeld an instant hit on the bestseller list. Jessica appeared yesterday on Oprah's show and discussed her recipes and ideas for getting her children to eat healthy.

Last week, I had discussed interviewing Jessica with her publisher, Harper Collins. When I saw she was on the show yesterday, I was really worried that she might become too busy to share with me her experience with writing the book. Who can compete with a successful interview on Oprah?

Lucky for me, Jessica is truly a class act and had emailed me the answers to all my questions this morning. I was so incredibly excited and I hope that you will enjoy this interview with her as much as I enjoyed asking all of my questions.

Question & Answers with Jessica Seinfeld

Pardon if I gush a bit, but I adore your new book! Is this something that you have wanted to do for a long time? What/who inspired you to create this book?

I wish I could say there was a thoughtful and grand plan behind this book! The truth is that it came from desperation. Hiding vegetables in my children’s food was the only way I could get through mealtimes without arguments and stress. My children were certainly the motivation – their refusal to eat vegetables was the problem that had to be solved - but my inspiration was my own mother and grandmother. They were both working mothers who managed to put home cooked meals on the table every night. They taught me how to cut corners, prepare efficient and healthy meals in under 20 minutes, which is now the model I replicate in my own home. Now it’s a way of life.

Has healthy eating always been important to you or was this a new lifestyle change since children?

I grew up with a very health conscious mother, who has shopped at farm stands and food co-ops since I can remember. Eating healthy foods has always been second nature to me - it’s how I was raised. But I’m also desperately concerned about what I read about child obesity and related diseases and illnesses in this country. I became determined not only to not take care of my own kids, but to try to be part of a broader solution to a growing problem.

What is your biggest challenge with getting your children to eat healthy? How did you overcome this challenge?

The biggest problem I face daily is the prevalence of junk food that seems to follow all kids everywhere they go. I have to be vigilant and firm, but it’s hard to compete sometimes. Even if you can manage to avoid fast food and get to the grocery store, many supermarkets try to rope you into buying foods that have no nutritional value.

There’s a few things I do to try to cope.

- I won’t bring home food I don’t want my children to eat - chips, candy, sugared drinks. It sounds obvious, but the habits I set at home tend to get followed by my kids when they’re at school or playing with friends.

- I bake healthy treats. I’m not anti-treats – in fact, I have a sweet-tooth. But there’s no reason why great tasting cookies and brownies can’t be laden with things that are good for kids.

- I try to be smarter than the supermarket marketing executives. I shop carefully, read labels, and look for whole grains and non-processed food.

- Puree, puree, puree.

As a mom who is on the go a lot, what are some of your suggestions for getting your kids to eat healthy when you are running from activity to activity?

I try to always keep my purse stocked with food that’s healthy and balanced and never get stuck with hungry kids and limited options. That’s when bad food decisions get made. Being a mobile health-food store has it’s down side, of course - the crushed-up oat bran pretzels and string cheese wrappers at the bottom of my purse don’t exactly make me so fabulous - but at least I know my kids are getting a good snack.

If you could pick one thing that you want moms to walk away with, from reading your book, what would it be?

What you feed your kids matters. Don’t give up on yourself or them. You can have peaceful, healthy and delicious meals, and you can also never say, “eat your vegetables” again. With an ounce of preparation and the will to change, anyone can do it.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Product Review: Play Along Dolls

As a mother of a daughter, I would like to throw some interesting facts out to you:

- In a recent survey, 1010 mothers with preteen daughters expressed their feelings about the array of inappropriate dolls invading their kids' playrooms. 90% of these mothers expressed a desire for a wider section of dolls that were positive role models for young girls. 85% of the mothers said that they are fed up with the "sex pot" playthings available (USA Today).

- "Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girl or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed for 4-8 year olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality"(American Psychological Association).

- "We usually have a great time checking out new toys, but we were totally put off by many of the doll lines for 2007- trash's the word that comes to mind. And it's not just us. The American Psychological Association found that all these sexualized images of young girls are seriously harmful to a girl's self esteem and healthy development" (Parents Magazine)

I guess I am not alone in believing that these dolls are highly inappropriate and am discouraged by the choices that are offered. This is not a RELIGIOUS thing, this is a MOM thing!

I received a package from the Play Along company and was so encouraged by what I found. This is a company that is going against the popular trashy dolls and taking a stand to work towards bringing back good old-fashioned dolls.

These dolls still enjoy fashion, but it is modest and they resemble a modern version of the Cabbage Patch dolls. The dolls are poseable and come with different outfits and something fun that you can do with your doll (shoelaces to make bracelets, chalk to play hopscotch, etc...) Currently they offer three cute little girl characters and accessory packs that you can purchase separately. The "Olivia Reese" doll is sporty and loves nature. The "Sophie Kate" doll is an artsy girlie girl." Finally, the "Zoe Madison" doll is hip & trendy. All of the dolls have a suggested retail price of $19.99.

The accessory packs (purchased separately) can build on the wardrobes and things that you can do with your doll. The packs include a trendy outfit, an interactive themed activity, and a poseable Play Along Club pet. The suggested retail price on these accessory kits are $12.99.

The dolls are very well made and are just the type of dolls that I grew up with. I love the idea of returning to the good old-fashioned fun things in life and dolls that my daughter can relate to and will have a positive influence in her life.

We thank the Play Along company for sharing their dolls with our family! We stand behind their choice to offer fun & positive role models for our girls! They will be launching their new website for the dolls this fall.

Sound Off: What do you think about the dolls on the market today? Do you buy these dolls on the shelves or do you not buy them? What are some positive dolls that you have bought for your daughters?

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Product Review: Signing Time! Products

The Signing Time! company sent us some of their products for review for the website. Included in my box of goodies were Signing Time videos and music.

Let me preface by saying that we have incorporated signing with our children since my son was around eighteen months old. Ethan had a speech delay and it was a very frustrating time for him and for myself. He made no audible sounds and would not even turn towards me when I would say his name.

We started speech therapy with him and the speech therapist encouraged us to sign with Ethan. She gave me a book on signing and asked us to start implementing sign language in our home. We were open to anything, but I had big reservations that he would rely on signing instead of talking to us. I was worried that this would delay the process longer, but within a week we noticed a remarkable difference in our son.

The tantrums stopped and he began to sign and tell us what he needed. Gradually, he began saying the words with the signs. Then he stopped signing and began just speaking. Who would have thought this is what we needed for him?

Since then, I have been a big believer in signing with your kids. Emily seems to have a speech delay, but we know how to use signing with her and I feel like I have a better idea of what I am doing this time.

Our family really loved these movies from Signing Times! Rachel Coleman, the star behind the series, sings beautiful songs and teaches children through her music how to sign. She wanted to do the series because she had a deaf child and then a daughter born with spina bifida & cerebral palsy. Both of her children struggled with communication and she began the series to try and teach them (and later other children) how to communicate through sign language.

These videos are an invaluable teaching tool and are used widely by educators, pediatricians, homeschoolers, speech therapists, public schools, daycares, libraries and families. They offer a wide array of products from babies until eight years old.

Rachel's hopes come from a personal goal, "My hope is that everyone will know a little sign, just as most people know a little Spanish- so when your child seems my child at the park, there would be no awkwardness, no communication barrier- just three signs... 'Hi-Friend-Play' that is all it would take to change her world."

We thank the Signing Time! company for giving us the opportunity to review their products. We would highly recommend their products to any family who would like to begin incorporating sign language in their homes.

Sound Off: Have you used sign language in your house? What have been your favorite teaching tools?

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Deceptively Delicious- A MUST For Healthy Eating

I was able to get my hands on an advance copy of the new cookbook, "Deceptively Delicious" and I would recommend either checking this book out from the library or buying a copy when the book is released (set release date of October 5th).

If you haven't heard the buzz about this book, author Jessica Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld's better half) shares smart ways to sneak veggies and fruit into your children's diet. As a mother of three children, she knows how difficult it is to get your kids to eat their fruits & veggies so she shares a technique for pureeing these foods and mixing them into fun recipes. Everything from dip to breads to donuts...all of her dishes contain an element of healthy eating with sneak attacks from the four food groups.

It is smartly written and beautifully designed. Included are tips for creating all of your purees, how to stock a healthy pantry, and easy nutritional guidelines for children. She even shares her family's opinion on the dishes with cute little retro pictures of each of them (even Jerry!)

The idea is very simple- fill your children's foods with the good things in life so that they can live a long and healthy life!

I am looking forward to adding some of her recipes to my next menu planner and am looking forward to trying some of her puree techniques on my children. My kids are pretty smart, but maybe I can fool them! If the pictures are any indication of how good these dishes taste, I know they will enjoy them throughly.

Many thanks to Harper Collins and Jessica for giving us this sneak peek into such a cool cookbook! We wish Mrs. Sienfeld much luck with the launch of her book and look forward to trying her dishes in our kitchen!

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Product Review: "Rockstar Princess" from Aunty E

Music has always been very important to me and I am trying to make it important to my children too. On Sundays, I have made a jazz playlist of music to listen to, on Fridays we listen to music that you would hear in coffee shops, and when I am cleaning I have fun & fast paced music on. Wherever we go, I try to always have good music on in our car and we often use the music stations that are available through our satellite television station.

My children also have some musical heroes of their own which include Laurie Berkner, anything from the Disney films, and Raffi. We often listen to the Kid Tunes available through Yahoo Launch (commercial free for folks that use their internet service and with commercials for those who don't).

My children's favorite shows right now are Yo Gabba Gabba (Nick Jr) and Jack's Big Music Show (Noggin Network), two shows that teach children about musics (although they are each very different). These shows focus on all types of musical appreciation and my kids sing right along with the words. It brings me a lot of joy to hear their sweet voices.

We recently were sent a new CD to review entitled, "Rockstar Princess" from a band called Aunty E. This group has earned great notoriety in their native Texas and they are now gaining a fan base in other areas of the country.

If your children love the more recent styles of children's music that have come out, they will really love this disc. The tracks incorporate many different variations of music including pop, soul, country, and blues. The music is targeted to the age group of four through eight, but even my (almost) two year old was dancing right along.

Despite the name containing princess (and the pretty pink cover!) the disc is not mean to aim at just girls, it is meant for all children. Aunty E sings along with Grammy award wining artists like Joe Blondell & Floyd Domino, encouraging children through her lyrical stories.

Her music can be found on Apple iTunes, Napster, MSN Music and more information can be found on their website.

And since everyone loves a freebie, they offer free ringtones for wireless carriers.

What are your children's favorite artists? Any music that you can recommend to us?

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Caring for Stainless Steel Appliances

We have been gradually making the switch over to stainless steel appliances. The cost on these is higher, but I have been doing bargain shopping to get the best prices on these. I am hoping that when we sell our home that it will make our kitchen look a little higher end and I love the look of the appliances for our family.

My best friend also has stainless steel appliances and when she found out that I had gotten a stainless steel stove, she told me she was going to bring a special gift over for my new stove. She showed up on my doorstep with a bottle of her favorite stainless steel cleaner that she had sworn by. She had picked up a bottle of Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaner & Polish that she had purchased for me from Wal-Mart. She said it was the best cleaner out there and instructed me to spray a very tiny bit on a soft cloth and wipe the appliance off going with the grain of the steel.

Thanks to this little bottle of cleaner (and my extremely smart friend!) I have been able to keep my appliances gleaming clean, requiring very little cleaner and effort on my part. The bottle of cleaner was $5.99, but I have had it for over two years and have barely made a dent in it.

Scotch-Brite recently contacted me though to see if we would be interested in reviewing a new product that they had come out with for stainless steel appliances. They recently came out with two new cleaners, their Stainless Steel Cleaner & Cook Top Cleaner. These cleaners have handles for gripping, making it easier to get in all of the nooks and crannies of your appliances. They are ergonomically designed and offer streak-free cleaning.

After trying these out, I was impressed with how it could into all of the grooves of my stove and I was able to deeply clean the crevices of the appliance that had not been ever cleaned. There was definitely some hidden areas that needed attention and the handle made the cleaning very easy.

Unfortunately, the Scotch-Brite pads are not reusable and would require additional refill purchases, much like the Swiffer systems and other similar products. I am not as big on products that require additional purchases and this is why I stay away from systems such as these.

The Scotch-Brite pads would be great for someone who just wants to do a quick touch-up, but with starter kits at $6.99 and refill pads an additional $3.99, this is not the most cost-effective option.

Scotch-Brite is offering a $1 coupon on their website though, if you would like to give their new products a try.

I am pretty hooked on the Weiman cleaner, but would be interested to hear how you all care for your stainless steel appliances. Do you use any special cleaners? Do you have any tips that you have found work the best for your appliances? How about cook tops? This is an area that I know nothing about!

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Check It Out: An American Hedge Fund by Timothy Sykes

Timothy Sykes sent me an advance copy of his new book, "An American Hedge Fund" for review. We were so thrilled to have our review included in his new book. We wish the author much success with his book launch and hope that you can get an opportunity to check this book out!

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to play the stock market? In, “An American Hedge Fund” Timothy Sykes takes you on a roller coaster of ups and downs, sharing his wild experience of how he was able to make two million dollars as a stock operator and by creating a hedge fund.

Timothy takes you on the journey from the beginning, sharing his passion for making money quickly at the tender age of twelve. With hopes of making money with his baseball collection and then trying his hand at stringing tennis rackets to make some extra cash, Timothy always possessed a desire to make money fast and had the entrepreneurial spirit to make it happen.

While his classmates were making dates and planning for their prom, Timothy was dreaming of investing money and winning the stock market game. With his $12,415 Bar Mitzvah money, he was able to turn this sum of money into $1.65 million dollars in the course of just four years, all while finishing his high school career and beginning his college career at Tufts University.

Timothy shows how his good research and great gut instinct gave him the skills to know which companies to invest in and when to pull that money out. He shows how he was able to obtain his financial success, but also is wise enough to share his mistakes and what he wishes he would have done differently when looking back upon his youth.

I loved this book for a number of reasons, but the one thing that I really appreciated about Timothy’s story was that playing the stock market was a game for him, not necessarily that he wanted to be wealthy. He seemed to enjoy the thrill of investing and winning the game, but did not seem to be trying to achieve great wealth or notoriety. For him, investing was a fun hobby and his parents supported his dreams, but also wanted him to stay grounded and levelheaded about his fame and fortune.

This really struck a chord with me in my own financial journey. For me, saving money isn’t necessarily because I have to, but it is a game for me to see how much I can save by making changes in my life. It is not necessarily that I have to make my own bread, for example, but when crunching figures I find deep satisfaction in knowing how much I could save by making that small change in my life. For me, it is about saving money and the satisfaction I get from keeping money in my account. For Timothy, it is about how he can take that money and make that money grow by making wise financial investments.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in seeing how to work the stock market and also how one young man was able to turn a small investment into an amazing career as a millionaire hedge fund manager.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Product Review: New Suave Products

Boy, did I feel pampered when Suave contacted me to see if we would be interested in sampling some of their new products. I have always been a Suave girl so I was up for the challenge of testing out some of the new items that they have put on the market. They included Suave Professionals Extreme Strength Hair Products (shampoo, conditioner, and daily leave-in treatment), Suave Exhale Inspiring Body Lotion (in Lime Verbena) and Calming Body Wash (in Lavender Vanilla), Healthy Curls Anti-Frizz Cream, and Suave Kids Cowabunga Coconut Shampoo.

All of the products were excellent, but I have to say that the children's shampoo and the lavender body wash were my most favorite. My children's hair smelled so good that even my son commented on how good the shampoo smelled. The shampoo also contained a conditioning formula within it, so no need to try and deal with tangles in my daughters hair or an extra application of conditioner.

The lavender body wash was the perfect conclusion to a stressed out day. The lavender and vanilla smelled delicious and it was a great way for me to unwind after another crazy day with the kids.

The suggested retail price on the Suave Exhale Calming Body Wash is $2.50. The suggested retail price on the Suave Kids Cowabunga Coconut Smoothers 2-in-1 Shampoo is between $1.92-$2.49. I consider this quite affordable and that is something that I have always appreciated about the Suave products.

Suave also sent me an in-depth report on a survey they did of mothers with children under the age of fifteen. The survey was called "Motherhood vs. Womanhood" and the results were very interesting. A quick summary of some of their findings were:

- Moms put family first, but agree that they should take care of themselves
- Moms agree on the importance of taking care of themselves, and most wish they could do more
- Two things moms would like to add back to their days: exercise and sleep
- Moms would like to improve their hair care

It was a very interesting survey and I found myself shaking my head, "Yes, yes, yes!" to all of their results. I wish I had some time to myself, but do feel selfish carving that time out when I could be doing something for someone else.

If you have difficulty carving time out for yourself and you live in the Los Angeles area, then I have just the freebie for you! Suave is offering a nice freebie to their L.A. moms so here are all the details on this...

Suave Back to Beauty Moms-Only Field Trip. LA-moms are invited to treat themselves to a FREE day of pampering, complete with beauty makeovers from celebrity hairstylist, Luke O’Connor, and his team, a gourmet lunch and more.Bring your friends, and you could win $20,000 for your school! Suave will award a $20,000 grant for after-school programs to the school with the most moms who sign up.

When: Monday, October 1st, 2007, 9:00 AM - 9:00 PM

Where: LuKaRo Salon, 323 North Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

More: Appointments are strongly recommended and available on a first-come, first-served basis. To register, moms can book a free appointment by September 15 by:

- Calling 1-877-SUAVE-411
- Emailing [email protected] Please be sure to include your name, school, contact information and time preference.

Once again, I would like to thank Suave for being so generous and giving this tired mom an opportunity to truly treat herself!

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Check It Out: Playful Reading by Carolyn Munson-Benson

I just got back from the library this evening and I have been searching for great books that would foster a love for reading in my son. I am addicted to reading and I attribute that to my trips to the library with my father. He always was reading and it made me want to read too. As far as I can remember, I have had a true love of reading and that is why it is such a priority in our house.

I found an excellent book called, "Playful Reading: Positive, Fun Ways to Build the Bond Between Preschoolers, Books & You" by Carolyn Munson-Benson, that was exactly what I had been looking for.

In this book, the author shares great books for preschoolers (including a short synopsis about what they are about) and then she shares activities and recipes you can use to go along with the book that you are reading.

My son's favorite book in the world is, "How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?" by Jane Yolen. In fact, he loved that book so much that we created art for his room out of the book jackets. I decided to look up this book and see what the author had suggested. Here were some of her ideas for this book:

- Return to the illustrations and together find letters that spell out the name of each featured dinosaur. You will see the letters on items such as a wall pennant, a line of alphabet blocks and a bed's headboard.

- For fun, act out the meaning of verbs such as mope, moan, sulk, or demonstrate for the child how readers can find the exact meaning of a word by looking it up in a dictionary.

- Talk about your favorite dinosaurs and their reactions in the book.

- Turn inexpensive plastic dinosaurs into props that stimulate use and growth of language. Print their names on index cards and make a museum. You can also make a landscape backdrop for the dinosaurs out of boxes, crayons and construction paper.

- Have the child arrange the dinosaurs by size, type, and number. Then have them group them by similar characteristics (e.g. meat eater) or in groups of their own kind.

- Let your child tell stories about the dinosaurs, but don't be shocked by gory or gross stories because this is developmentally normal.

- Visit a museum and learn more about the dinosaurs.

This is just one example of the great activities and books that have been chosen for this book. I am writing down a lot of notes for this book, which might mean that it would be a nice addition to our own family library.

I plan to do the dinosaur story with our son this week and incorporate some of the activities. I also thought Michelle, from Scribbit, had a great idea for chiseling artifacts that might be a fun assignment to go along with our story.

Sound Off: What is your child's favorite book? Do you have any books that you could recommend for helping your child learn to read or developing a love of reading in them?

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Product Review: BusyBodyBook Organizers & Fridge Sheets

I have been seeing these organizers everywhere and was so excited when the About Our Time Company contacted us to see if we would be interested in reviewing their BusyBodyBook products. Considering they have been featured in everything, from Redbook Magazine to Parenting Magazine, I was very anxious to get a chance to see what all of the fuss was about.

These organizers are made for moms and come in two different formats and four different chic designs. They offer an Aug '07-Sept '08 (for the mom who wants to be on track for the school year) and they offer an organizer from Jan-Dec 2008 (for the mom who has made it her New Year's resolution to be organized).

These organizers are roomy and have a weekly grid format with a spacious side by side view of your schedule. Each family member can get their own column of activities, making it easy to see who needs to be where (Side Note: The column accommodates up to five family members on each page).

In addition to your standard calendar, the organizer offers extras like a planning calendar for birthdays and anniversaries, another calendar for the next year's appointments, shopping lists, pockets to store items, a bookmark to mark what week you are on, and plenty of places to leave extra notes. This organizer is priced at $16.95.

While I loved the organizer, I was even more psyched about the fridge sheets they offered. No more questions about who was going to be gone on the evening. This seven column organizer makes it easy to see exactly where everyone will be for the day. It also includes a roomy area on the side to leave notes to each other. This is magnetic and is priced at $11.95.

We thank the About Your Time company for giving us the opportunity to review their great organizational tools for moms.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Product Review: Snack & Play Travel Tray

The Family Travel Gear company contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing one of their most popular products, a Snack & Play Travel Tray. I am always interested in trying out any product for our children so my daughter Emily was the happy recipient of this awesome product.

This tray is very versatile because it will fit on your car seat, the stroller, or it can be used on an airplane. It is made of all nylon with a foam core, so it would not injure a child in an accident. It has handy mesh pockets on the side to store anything you would like to bring along with you on your travels. The pockets would easily accommodate books, crayons, sippy cups, and any snacks that you would like to bring along for your child.

The tray simply has a plastic fastener that belts around the place they are sitting. It hooks together just like my daughter's booster seat and can easily be adjusted to fit perfectly with your child.

I think the best part about this tray is that it has a lip around the outer edge so that all of your child's items will stay in place when you are moving. Snacks and toy cars won't fall off of the tray making the trip much smoother for you. I can't tell you how many times I have almost wrecked our car trying to reach for a tiny toy that has been thrown overboard by my daughter.

So far we have used the tray while waiting for my son to get out of school, used it on our stroller during a hospital visit to see a family member, and I have whipped it out during long errand days. My daughter enjoys coloring and reading her books in the car, and this makes the perfect surface to do that!

This company offers a variety of products for all of your travel needs and they have extended a special discount to our readers. You can receive ten percent off of your order by using the coupon code welcome.

We thank the Family Travel Gear company for giving us the opportunity to test their product. Both my daughter and I give your product two thumbs up!

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Parenting Magazine Editors Share the Baby Must-Haves

The editors at Parenting Magazine have recently come out with a new book called, "Baby Must-Haves: The Essential Guide To Everything From Cribs to Bibs" and wanted to know if I would be interested in reviewing their new book.

This book would be a great guide for a new mom or for an expecting mother because it covers everything your baby would/could need and what items are just a plain waste of money. Included is information on the best stroller, what every mom should keep in her medicine cabinet, how to outfit your nursery, and the essential safety gear that moms will need. They also have mom tips, from the real-life mom experts, on things that they have done that have made their lives easier.

I got the opportunity to interview the editors about their new book and here are some of my questions that I thought our readers might find helpful.

When it comes time to outfit the nursery, what is the one item that you feel it is a good idea to splurge on? Do you have any recommendations for where to purchase this item or what brands you feel confident in going with?

A Baby’s crib should be a safe haven—a place where she can sleep or play comfortably, without any dangers of getting hurt. This is one necessity that moms shouldn’t feel guilty about splurging on, as the child will use it every day (several times a day!) for the first couple of years (it’s not time for a toddler bed until your child is 35” tall, or the top of the side rail is below mid-chest level).

Many of our Mom-Tested retailers, such as Babies ‘R’ Us (babiesrus.com) and Buy Buy Baby (buybuybaby.com), feature countless styles of cribs that meet moms’ highest standards – safety, solid construction, durability and sleek design.

One brand that gets high marks for quality is Pottery Barn Kids (potterybarnkids.com). The “Kendall Crib” ($599) is available in a wide range of baby-safe finishes and combines style, functionality and the highest safety standards. Built of solid pine, the crib can be converted into a toddler bed. This allows mom to truly create a room that grows with the child, and justifies the splurge.

One mom in our survey raved about the durability of her Babee Tenda Crib (babeetenda.com). A mother of five, she attests the crib is just as sturdy for her youngest child as it was for her first. Another tip? Always splurge for a new mattress.

- When moms find the glider of their dreams but debate over splurging on the matching ottoman, it may be worth it: Elevating the legs can help take pressure off the back, especially while nursing. And besides, it just feels good!

Most ottomans sold as accessories to specific gliders also glide, making it easy to keep that gentle movement going. Expect to pay around $200 for an ottoman.

What are some items that parents tend to buy that they really don't need? Are there any good substitutions for these items?

- Organic bedding and clothing have gotten a lot of press lately. They may be better for the environment, but you don’t need them—some organic fabrics, like wool, can actually irritate delicate skin. Just stick with 100 percent cotton that’s soft and lightweight.

- You’ll spend a small fortune on bottle sterilizer contraptions that steam-clean bottles, nipples, pacifiers and such, but tossing those things into the dishwasher and setting it to “heat dry” will kill germs just as effectively and so will boiling them for a few minutes on the stove. Save the bucks for a date night instead!

- Several companies are turning out infant tubs that come with spray attachments—but they are pricey and tend not to work very well. A plastic pitcher or cup is just fine for rinsing.

You feature tips from real moms in your book. What is one of the best "Mom Tips" that you have received?

While there were a number of really useful “Mom Tips” featured in the book, three of our favorites are:

• Buy a car seat for each car: Once it’s positioned correctly, you’ll never want to take it out again. Spending the extra money will save lots of time and annoyance for everyone. (Pg 151)

• In the store, see if you can lower the crib rail with one hand (which you’ll need to do if you’re holding your baby). Also, make sure it raises and lowers silently so you’ll be able to move it without waking a sleeping baby! (Pg 14)

• When making up the crib, layer on two crib sheets, with a plastic mattress cover/liner in between. That way, if your baby spits up or has a leaky diaper in the night, you can just strip off the top layer without having to change the whole bed.

When it comes time to give baby gifts to your friends and family, what are some frugal baby gifts that are always a hit?

-Brilliant Basics™ Snap-Lock® Beads by Fisher-Price are only approximately $5. Snap them together and pull them apart, over and over again. Babies love repetitive play, and these brightly-colored beads offer stimulating fun while strengthening developing skills. There's even a bright, shiny surprise with rattling beads inside!

-A number of moms in our survey swore that teddy bears that make womb noises (like a heartbeat) soothed even the fussiest newborns. Check out the super soft and cuddly Womb Sounds Bear, approximately $20, available at Target.

- Ocean Wonders Aquarium by Fisher-Price ($30). For many moms, this is just dreamy! The crib toy resembles a small aquarium, in which sea creatures swim calmly in sync with mesmerizing aquatic sounds and music.

- Changing a crib sheet can be a challenge: You practically have to lift the entire mattress out of the bed to get the sheet on. This gift could come to the rescue: The Quick Zip Crib Sheet from cloudsandstars.com ($33) a fitted sheet with a rectangular panel that zips on and off for laundering

With September being Baby Safety Month, what is one of the most overlooked areas in a home? Can you offer some inexpensive solutions for keeping your little ones safe?

The best way to approach childproofing is both room-by-room, and age-by-age. Ensure that you cover every room in the home by getting down at kid’s-eye level, going through your entire house looking for potential hazards. Moms should repeat this process as the child grows: What's dangerous for a crawler will be different than what's dangerous for a walker.
Some Mom-Tested products to try:

• KidCo Adhesive Mount Magnet Lock Starter Set ($16; kidco.com). A magnetic key gives you—but not your child—easy access to cabinets and drawers.

• First Alert’s Tundra Fire Suppressant ($20; firstalert.com). This compact fire extinguisher will put out small household fires, including cooking oil flare-ups.

• Summer Infant’s Turtle Spout Protector ($5; summerinfant.com). Moms and babies alike love this adorable way to protect from bumps and scalds during bath time.

What are the top three items that every mom should have in her medicine cabinet?

1) Thermometer

It is important to have a thermometer that is both accurate and easy to use; especially in the first 3 months when even a slight fever could be serious. A rectal thermometer is the most reliable. As neither mom nor infant will be pleased with the task of sticking one in baby’s bottom, opt for a digital one that registers quickly and is fail safe.
Try the Timex Acrobat Bendable Thermometer with Indiglo rectal thermometer for $16.

2) Pain and fever relievers

Simply; your choices are acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil). Parenting suggests that you keep both as each one has its pros and cons:

Acetaminophen is gentler on the stomach and can be given to newborns, but only lasts about 4 hours.

Ibuprofen lasts about 6 to 8 hours and may be a more effective fever-reducer, but is only approved for babies 6 months and older.

It is fine to use generic brands of both, as long as they are labeled for infants or children. Of course, check with your child's pediatrician before giving her any medication. A great mom tip? Check out the Web sites for particular drugstore products. Many offer printable coupons, often for at least a dollar.

3) Rehydrating solution

These are drinks that can help to replace fluids in a child who has been vomiting or had severe diarrhea. The most popular, Pedialyte, comes in liters, single serving sizes and freezer pops.

Sound Off: What do you think is the most useless baby item? What are you glad you splurged on?

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Product Review: Silly Billyz Bibs

The Live Love Dream company sent me one of their Silly Billyz Bibs to try for my daughter. I explained that our Emily was a very messy eater and that I would welcome any bib that could keep her well covered and mess free.

In response, the company sent us their Silly Billyz Long Sleeved Bib in a pretty pink. I knew my daughter could put this bib through some rigorous testing and she did not fail me.

When I got the product I was impressed with how lightweight it was. My first concern was that she would be hot, but the sleeves and neck are both made of a very light nylon. The front of the bib is made of a fleece material that does not pill or stain. The bib attaches with Velcro in the back, but is open to keep your baby nice and cool.

Emily ate pizza in it, smashed up some peas into it, and smeared her peanut butter and jelly all over this bib. With a quick swipe of my washcloth, I was able to take all of the food off of it, with no staining left on the fabric. The bib has also survived several rounds through our washer and is showing no signs of wear or tear.

I would highly recommend this product to any mom who is looking for a bib that will cover their entire baby and especially for any mom suffering through those beginning stages of self-feeding. These bibs are great when you are out and about because they will tuck neatly inside of your diaper bag. They are also great when you have baby all dressed up for church or pictures and want to keep them looking clean and fresh.

The bib is priced at $12 and can be ordered through their website or at one of their listed boutiques. They come in large or small sizes and can be ordered in a variety of colors.

We thank the Live Love Dream company for giving us the opportunity to review their product!

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Product Review: Family Life Organizer & Planner

I have a lot of scraps of paper laying around our house with things that I really need to remember, but I rarely can find them. Our fridge is overflowing with appointment cards and important phone numbers, but sometimes those can get misplaced. Luckily, Pam Socolow, an organizer on HGTV's "Mission: Organization" came up with a family organizer that can contain all my messy piles and transform them into a very organized format. She offers a Family Life Organizer & Planner that can contain even my giant messes.

Honestly, I was surprised at the quality of it and the thoughtfulness that went into this product. There is a section for everything from health care to carpool schedules. It contains a three year calendar with large boxes that offer ample room for writing down everything you need to accomplish for the day. There are over one hundred sheets that you can fill in with information like the house and car details, kids' information, household repairs, and insurance information. There are also fun sections where you can write down books you would like to read or wines you want to try. It also contains a pocket folder for each general section and pouches for tucking receipt. In the back is a business card organizer to store all of those important cards that seem to get lost in the shuffle.

I got this calendar a couple of weeks ago and since we had so many car troubles these past few weeks, I was so proud to be able to whip out the receipts and information that we would need at a moments notice. The pockets have also been great storage for keeping track of my rebate receipts and checkbook.

This Life book is huge so it is not intended for you to carry it around, but just something that you can keep in your house to contain the mess and track the activities going in your house. It would be a great addition to the kitchen and a useful resource for babysitters

The only thing that is missing from the Life organizer is a menu planner, but I noticed on their website that you can purchase additional sections for an additional cost.

You can also print out your own free binder through Organized Home, which is something that I have done in the past. In fact, I might print out some of those printables to add to this

This book is available through Barnes and Noble or through Pam Socolow's website for $19.95. We thank Pam for sharing her organizer with us and giving us the opportunity to share it with our readers!

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Product Review: Halo UVX Ultraviolet Vacuum

Seven years ago, Ken and Carrie Garcia were blessed with the birth of triplet boys. Like many multiples pregnancies, the triplet boys were born prematurely at 30 weeks, weighing approximately 2.5 pounds each. They spent the next two and a half months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before being released weighing approximately five pounds.

Doctors warned Ken and Carrie that if the boys became ill during the next year, they would need to be immediately hospitalized again given their under-developed immune systems, and any illness could be life threatening. Wanting to do everything possible to prevent another hospitalization, they researched how they could provide the healthiest home environment for their triplet boys.

In addition to good home cleaning and disinfection, the research and doctors recommended that they rip up the carpeting in their home, as it was the one surface in the home that could not be disinfected, and as a result, all carpeting harbored millions of germs and dust mites. The time and expense involved in tearing out their carpet was just not a feasible option. In addition, studies showed that children can develop life-long allergies in the first 24 months of life when they are exposed to high levels of allergens.

Through research, Ken and Carrie learned that ultraviolet light had been used for decades in various industries to produce some of the world’s cleanest environments. For example, they learned that ultraviolet light had been used to disinfect hospitals and sterilize drinking water. Why couldn’t this technology be utilized inside the home – where people and their children spend so much of their time? If the power of ultraviolet light could be harnessed to use in the home, parents could experience a whole new level of comfort knowing their homes were truly clean. The culmination of years of research and design created Halo Ultraviolet Vacuums; the first and only vacuums in the world that incorporate ultraviolet light to kill germs in the carpets where they live.

When the triplet boys came home from the hospital, extra hands were necessary to get everyone fed, changed and rocked to sleep. Now those extra hands include the Halo Ultraviolet Vacuum. The triplet boys are happy and healthy living in their Halo Home!

I got the opportunity to test-drive this new vacuum and was amazed at the features and the research that was involved in creating it. The company operates under the motto of, "Clean What You See, Kill What You Can't" and has been featured on the Today Show, as well as many other television programs and newspapers.

The vacuum has many special features that my collection (yes, I did say collection- I am a bit obsessed in this department!) of vacuums does not offer. This includes a height adjusting telescopic handle, a 31' power cord (much longer than the cord on my current vacuum), a gear driven system, the UV technology, and a HEPA filtration system.

I have been enjoying disinfecting my house with the new vacuum. There is something so cleansing, knowing that you are kill dust mites and bacteria that are living in your carpet. This is the type of product that I wished I would have had when my daughter was crawling around on the floor.

The vacuum literally propels itself and requires very little maneuvering on the operator's part. I have a lot of back problems, and this vacuum seemed to take some of the work off of me by the way that it moves on its own.

The downside of the vacuum is that it does not come with any tools to get in the crevices of your carpets and you cannot use the vacuum on the stairs. This makes it inconvenient when cleaning the house because you have to switch to using another vacuum when cleaning these areas. Also, one of the places that you really would want to use this type of technology is in those areas of the home and on your mattress.

I would recommend this product for any family who is suffering from severe allergies or have severe health problems in their home. I think it would help to bring peace of mind to parents who have lots of carpeting in their home or who are living in a home with older carpeting.

The retail price on this vacuum is $399. For ordering information, please visit their website.

Sound Off: What is your favorite vacuum? Are there any vacuums that you are dreaming of owning one day?

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Product Review: Febreze Candles

What does a little apple spice & delight smell like? Well, it smells just like a freshly baked apple pie in the new candles from Febreze.

Like all of the products from the Febreze company, these candles are meant to eliminate odor and offer a fresh scent alternative to your home. The candles come in a variety of scents which include meadows & rain, spring & renewal, linen & sky, vanilla & refresh, and the apple spice & delight scent. All candles offer thirty hours of burn time and come in an attractive glass jar.

You know when you walk by the Yankee candle store and can smell the strong candles throughout the entire mall? People pay for that strong scent because you can actually smell them versus some of the cheaper brands on the market. These Febreze candles are just as strong as the Yankee candles and can take out any foul odors in your home.

I have been lighting my candle in the evening to eliminate the lingering smells of dinner or the smell of smoke coming into the house after we have had a bonfire outside. It definitely clears the air, but the scent can be overpowering at times. To eliminate odors quickly though, I would highly recommend these candles.

The suggested retail price is between $7-8, making it less pricey than the Yankee candles, but higher than the other drugstore brands. Possibly combined with a Sunday flier coupon, this would be an affordable alternative.

We would like to thank Procter & Gamble for being among the first to review this great product! As someone who formerly worked in a marketing department, I have to just say that your presentation was GREAT! The packaging and information included made for a very fun review!

Sound Off: What is your favorite brand of candle and your favorite candle scent?

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Monday, July 23, 2007

How I Finally Cleaned Out My Closet

I got the opportunity to check out, "It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff" by Peter Walsh. I was excited to read this book because I love to read up on organizing the items in my home. Unfortunately, the book focused more on the psychological aspect of people who cannot part with their clutter, rather than a book that is geared towards an enthusiastic clutter-buster.

I would highly recommend this book to someone though who is not living a life that they desire and feel consumed with the clutter in their home. He shares a lot on achieving the life that you have always wanted by taking action and parting with the "stuff" in your life that isn't benefiting you, but is hindering you from enjoying your home and your life.

The fact is, I am the type of person that feels attached to very little in my home. It isn't that I don't appreciate what I have, but the desire to keep items for sentimental reasons has never been big on my priority list. I have memories of good times...not items that represent those good times.

I don't like to collect items because I don't like to maintain and dust collections of things. I don't like to hang on to things that I think I might need in the future because I would rather free up the space in our home.

Don't get me wrong, my house has true areas of chaos. Our garage is a disaster and our basement is in disarray. These are projects that I need to devote some time and thought to and seem to be the dumping stations when clutter starts to consume our house. We have definite areas that we need to work on in order to make our home more spacious and to create more organization in my life.

The one area that I have always really struggled with is my closet and the clothing in it. I hate to turn away clothing when friends and family give me things (even if I don't look good in them) and I have hung onto my work wardrobe for no other reason than the fact that I spent a mint on it and thought I could use it when I returned to work.

The simple fact is that I have no idea when I will be returning to work and the pieces in my wardrobe are already beginning to look dated. By the time I return to work, I will still need to invest in a new wardrobe, and I will also need to get rid of the items that are taking up closet space. Why should I wait until then and just free it up now?

Since our closets are small, and the space there is so premium, I decided to use one of the tips that Peter Walsh had recommended when promoting his book on Oprah. He suggested hanging your hangers the opposite way and flipping them when you wore (not just trying on) an item. Whatever hanger did not get flipped at the end of the specified time, got the boot.

This season I was able to get rid of thirty items in my closet. I loaded them up in bags and took the stuff over to our local thrift store. Not surprisingly, this was very freeing for me and I felt really good about the small accomplishment I made.

My clothes are now sighing with relief because they can breathe a bit. Now that I have room to move my hangers and see my wardrobe, I am able to enjoy the items I have and am noticing all of the the potential outfits in my closet that I had never seen before.

Sound Off: Do you get emotionally attached to your belongings? What is your problem area in your home?

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Product Review: OxiClean Products

The OxiClean company sent to me a big box of their products to try. They included their detergent as well as several different types of stain removers. Most notably, in the box, was their new pocket-sized stain remover, OxiClean Spray-A-Way Instant Stain Remover. This product is intended for moms on the go. The stain remover would be perfect to stick in your purse or diaper bag for all of those emergency stains that seem to come up when your family is out and about.

OxiClean also offers great products targeted towards moms who have to endure numerous baby stains. They offer Baby Stain Soaker and their Baby Stain Remover. A couple of my other favorite products are their Carpet Spot and Stain Remover and the Outdoor Professional Stain Remover.

I love all of the OxiClean products and have had great success using them on new and old stains alike. The price is a bit more than some of the other stain removers on the market, but I don't have to use as much of the product to accomplish the tasks for cleaning items. I was most impressed with their Baby Stain Remover that they offer. I love to keep a bottle of this handy near our hampers so that I can spray items before they are thrown into the hamper for wash day. I also love to keep the small pocket-sized removers with my bibs and other feeding items for my daughter, so when a stain arises, I can get right to it and not waste any time letting the stain set in.

The only drawback I have found with the baby stain remover and laundry stain remover products is the trigger that is on these bottles. I love a spray that uses more of a spritzer action, rather than the soaker action that is on these bottles. It would be nice if you had the choice between a straight spray and a spritz.

These stain removers are great, but they are much more powerful than many of the traditional stain removers on the market. Make sure you read the directions carefully, to preserve the beauty of your clothing and the color in your items.

Many thanks to the OxiClean Family for sharing their products with me and giving us the opportunity to share our experience with our readers!

Sound Off: While we are on the subject of stain removers, what is your favorite stain removing product? Do you have your own secret formula for removing stains?

Related Readings:

How to Construct an Airing Rack

Should You Buy Brand Name Detergent?

The World's Greatest Stain Remover

Demystifying the Great Laundry Detergent Dilemma

Washing Your Child's Lovie

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Product Review: Munchkin Fun

The Munchkin company sent me a package of some of their products to try for review. All I can say is, "WOW!" They offer some really great products and I find them to be very affordable. Included within the box were the following products:

TravelWare Re-usables-Munchkin’s re-usable cups, bowls, spoons, and meal time sets have stepped it up a notch with improved Dora Diego and SpongeBob graphics that will fascinate your child and encourage them to play favorites. Ideal for meals on-the-go, they are durable enough to wash and re-use, yet affordable enough to lose. Bowls include snap-tight lids to prevent spills and cups are perfect for home-made juices.

Snack Catcher Available in four bright colors, the new and award-winning Snack Catcher cup keeps bite-sized snacks inside the container until little fingers pull them out, even if it tips over so less spills in the car or plan! The soft flaps make it easy to access and the little finger cleaning bumps are a special plus for keeping nearby surfaces cleaner. This is one snack holder that will catch mom’s attention and keep messes to a minimum while traveling.

Bling Pacifiers- Your baby’s eyes will sparkle at the sight of glittering BLING™ pacifiers. Besides looking cool, they feature a silicone orthodontic nipple and breathable shield that reduces skin irritation. These sparkly, fun pacifiers are oh-so-fitting for your little prince or princess! Check out all the available styles!

iCrib Sound System- A 2006 JPMA Innovation Award Winner! The iCrib™ is a compact crib sound system that lets you choose the music that soothes your baby to sleep - because some kids are a little bit country, and others a little bit of rock 'n roll.

Of all of the products, I loved the iCrib Sound System and the Snack Catcher the most! All of the products were really neat, but the snack catcher was a great item that we use a lot with my daughter. The snack catcher is the perfect size for little hands and gives her the opportunity to have snacks, just like her brother, somewhere other than the table. We take this with us a lot of places because of the convenience of the size and how much our daughter likes it.

The iCrib Sound System is very cool for the hip parents. You can download lullabies onto your iPod and it attaches via a small cord inside to make a small baby sound system that can be attached to your baby's crib. The Munchkin website also offers Baby Mozart downloads to get your collection started.

We want to thank the Munchkin company for giving us the opportunity to try the products and hope that you have the opportunity to check them out at your local stores! They are neat and innovative products for parents today!

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happa What?

I was so excited to finally get a chance to head over to Michael's and check out the new Martha Stewart line that they are carrying. All of the trademark colors and quality crafts were there. The price was better than some of her other lines, but a bit steep compared to some of the other items that the store offers.

We are combining a Fourth of July family get together with my son's fifth birthday. It was an easy way to still get together for the holiday and also enjoy a birthday party with our family. I hunted through the birthday goodies at Michael's and found this beautiful birthday garland and some fun puppet crafts (no glue required!) for my nephew and son to do.

When I brought up our purchases to the cashier, I asked that the coupon be applied to a Martha Stewart rubber stamp set that I wanted to use for my thank you notes & invitations. The girl informed me that the store is not allowed to use the store coupons on the Martha Stewart line. She said that Martha had made a stipulation that she would carry the line on the condition that none of the items go on sale and none of the store coupons could be applied to the purchase. Then, muttered quietly under her breath, "She is SO greedy!" Disappointment set in, as I had many things from the line that I had planned to purchase utilizing the coupon. The quality on these items was there...or so I thought!

This morning, I was bustling around trying to get ready for our big event, I went to put the birthday garland together. The ribbon to the garland was already frayed and falling apart and the garland didn't even have the right letters in it.

Would a five year old notice that his big banner said, "HAPPA BIRTHDAY" or would he be content with how it looked? Considering the purchase was made to be used more than once, I marched back in there and showed the girl what had happened. She told me that I could replace it and as I was walking away, I heard her say, "This is from the MARTHA line! I guess even she makes mistakes!"

I doubt I will buy anything else from the line, if this is a taste of the quality and craftsmanship that will be going into these pieces.

Regardless, HAPPA BIRTHDAY, Ethan! You are loved more than words and we hope to make your day extra special!

And for the rest of you have a HAPPA FOURTH!

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Too Cool for School Momma Tees

With a tag line like, "Motherhood doesn't define us. We define it" what is not to love? PeaceLoveMom is a great t-shirt company that offers fun phrases of motherhood on their t-shirts, which have made them a popular choice among the celebrity mommies.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a mad obsession for funny t-shirts. Among my favorite in my collection are my Martha is My Homegirl (with Martha Stewart surrounded by pretty spoons), my Drop It Like It's Hot (with a waitress holding a heavy tray), & my Hip Hop You Don't Stop (with a bouncing kangaroo) shirt. The funnier the t-shirt, the better.

PeaceLoveMom has great trendy mommy t-shirts that are still tasteful, but show that you have a witty and fun personality. The offer a variety of choices that express motherhood in a fun way.

The company sent two of the cutest shirts to add to my collection. I now have a "Happy Mom" t-shirt, which THE Cindy Crawford has been seen wearing around town & a "Carpool Candy" tank. Their shirts are made out of the softest cotton, making it a quick favorite in your wardrobe, and the sizing is made for women and not teens. That means no post-baby body hanging out the sides of your jeans and we love that!

Not only is the sizing spot on, but the phrases are too. They let people know that you are not just another mom thankyouverymuch, but that you are a super fun and super cool mom so TAKE THAT. You might be driving around in your minivan, but that doesn't mean you can't still be too cool for school.

PeaceLoveMom has generously offered our customers free shipping utilizing the promo code, "momadvice" on any order that you place.

Thanks so much to PeaceLoveMom for giving us an opportunity to review their products and to add such fun t-shirts to add to my collection!

Want to see your name in lights? Email me at [email protected] and tell me about your company. We would love to try and review your product for our growing readership!

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Product Review: Fruity Cheerios

I got the opportunity to try a newer product from General Mills called Fruity Cheerios. Yup, it is the same old favorite that you grew up with as a kid, but now with a fruity kick! I was so excited to try these because one of my favorite cereals is Fruit Loops and I was hoping that these would be a similar (but healthier) version of this.

These are absolutely delicious! They still have the original Cheerios flavor, but have a fruity coating on the outside. I would eat these every day of the week if I could!

The children loved these too, but I hid them away and was stingy with them because as a mom, there are few things in life that are just for me. I now see why my mom was always hiding food around our house for herself because nothing is just for you when you have little ones constantly wanting whatever you are eating.

I would highly recommend this cereal to anyone who is a Cheerios lover, or a Fruit Loops lover. They are sweet, but not too sweet. They are still healthy, but a bit more sugary then their original version.

Your kids will love these, so be sure to hide a box for yourself!

As a side note: Modern Mom is currently running a Fruity Cheerios photo contest and they have picked their ten finalists. The winner is chosen based on the number of votes, so please head over there and help to pick the winning picture.

Many thanks to General Mills for this product review opportunity!

Sound Off: What was your favorite cereal growing up? Are you currently hiding anything in your cupboards or fridge? Shhhhh...we won't tell!

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Saving Grace for a Family Vacation: School Zone Products

I feel very blessed to get the opportunity to review so many great products, and the School Zone company had contacted me in May to see if I would be interested in reviewing some of their products for them. I replied that I would welcome the opportunity and hid the box away for our upcoming vacation day. I wanted to have something new for them to do while we were on the train, and these fun activities seemed like just the ticket.

School Zone sent us a variety of products, tailored to fit the ages of our children- 4 & 1 years of age. For our daughter (our one year old), they sent the Happy Faces Infant Cards, the Peek a Boo Bunny Guess Who? cards, and the Fuzzy Animal Discovery cards.

The cards are educational cards that provide texture and bright colors for your little one. They are intended to build cognitive development by providing sensory-rich experiences for baby. Emily really enjoyed the Happy Faces cards, which had a mirror on it and then fit the animals around the cards. Each time she would look at the animal, she could see her face and I was able to share rhymes and activities with her using the cards. Their Fuzzy Animal Discovery cards, had an animal on each side and incorporated foil and tuggable fabrics for baby to interact with. Emily's favorite cards were the Peek a Boo Bunny cards, which had a plush bunny that had magnets built into its hands, to cover the eyes for a game of peekaboo. Each of the cards had a flap and had a hidden animal behind it. She sleeps with her two little bunnies, so the bunny activity proved to be the most fun for her.

For Ethan, he received a 3D Preschool Magnetic Tin. This was, by far, the highlight for both of our children. This tin included 76 number, letter, and shape magnets. It also include 3D animal magnets. The tin created a magnetic surface for the children to stick their magnets on and several worksheets that could create a playing and learning surface for them. Emily could also play with these, while being closely supervised, and the kids both wanted to play with this set more than anything else. It is a great set for traveling or for quiet times at church service. We will be taking these a lot of places with us. He also received some really great flash cards and a peg puzzle book! The book is being stored away for a rainy day, but he did enjoy the flash cards. The winner with him though was most definitely the magnetic tin!

School Zone offers so many great products and we aren't the only ones who think so. They won a record of nine iParenting Media Awards for their efforts. Jonathan Hoffman, CEO of School Zone Publishing Company, said, "We are thrilled with our record win of nine iParenting Media Awards for Excellent Products of 2007. From our president to the designers, engineers, sales staff, and more, School Zone is passionate about developing great educational products for children. Many times, we only have the sales numbers to validate our creative efforts. It is affirming to learn that our products shined when reviewed by experts!”

Please visit School Zone for more information on their educational products. We thank the company wholeheartedly for giving us the opportunity to share these products with our children, and for making our trip much more bearable!

Sound Off: Do your children have any favorite toys that incorporate learning activities into them? What is your favorite "quiet" activity for your children to do?

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Check it Out: Women & Money

I just finished reading the book, "Women & Money" by Suze Orman. Reading it is really an understatement...I actually devoured it in one sitting.

I don't know why I have never been that keen on Suze Orman. I seem to be more drawn to Mary Hunt & Dave Ramsey's writings, but I saw this book and figured it might be worth my time to read it.

It was definitely worth my time, as we have been contemplating writing a will for some time, but just have not had the financial means to tackle this. I would really like to have all of this in place, in the event that something should happen to us, but paying a lawyer is just not in the equation for us right now.

Suze Orman recognizes that many people can't afford to have this paperwork in order and offers her own will planning software, available on her website for a mere $13.50! The software (according to her website) includes:

  • An easy-to-answer questionnaire that will automatically
    select the correct must-have documents for you
  • Audio and visual explanations taking you paragraph by
    paragraph through the four must-have documents
  • 10 electronic guidebooks, that cover all aspects of your financial life
  • Free automatic updates, so your documents will always be current (Internet access required)

It’s like having your own financial planner and personal trust attorney at your fingertips!

  • Personalize – Fill in the questionnaire, and the program will automatically select and populate all the essential documents to fit your unique situation.
  • Print – Listen to or read a step-by-step explanation of what you need to know. Then print out the relevant documents.
  • Protect – To complete the process, follow the instructions that print out with your documents. (In some cases, forms will need to be witnessed and notarized.) Then store them in a safe place.
I am planning to try out this software for our family and get these documents taken care of. There is nothing more frightening than knowing that our financial documents are not in order and this could jeopardize the financial future for our children.

We are in our late twenties and pray that nothing ever happens to us. Unfortunately, life is uncertain and it is important to do this for our children and for our own peace of mind.

Other than that, much of the advice given was to teach women how to understand money and all of the financial terminology and accounts that should go with it. She encourages women to start taking action and has a five month plan to get your finances back in order. Some of it I skimmed over, as it related more to a woman who is in the work force, but a lot of it applied to me.

Her encouragement to save money was taken a step further because she partnered with Ameritrade to get women to open an account and start a nest egg for their future. You will need to actually purchase the book to get the code needed to activate this offer, but with the book cost being under twenty dollars, it would be worth it to make the investment.

If you set up an account between now and 03/31/2008 and automatically deposit a minimum of $50 each month into the account, after twelve months the Ameritrade company will deposit a $100 into the account to reward you for your saving.

I have yet to establish a nest egg for myself, another worrying factor for me. I am not working so I do not have the benefit of a 401K or a paycheck coming to me. I am not sure how long I will be staying home, but I would like to be proactive about my finances and get something established for myself sooner rather than later.

I am wondering how many of you have a nest egg for yourself? How many of you have a will in place for your family? Are these financial matters taken care of or are you sitting around worrying about them too?

I hope you will check out this book. It is a great read for all women and has a great plan for getting your financial life back in order!

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Friday, May 18, 2007

The HP TouchSmart Computer: The Best Family Organizer Ever

I have been in absolute heaven this past week, literally floating on air, since we received the HP TouchSmart PC to review. It is the ultimate mommy organizer and has everything that a mom could ever want included on it. I am not technical and I have a hard time figuring out things like this, but this computer was the easiest gadget I have ever used, as everything is clearly labeled and easy to use.

Here are some features that I would like to highlight:

Touchable Screen- The computer comes with a remote, a stylus pen, & a mouse (all wireless) that you can use to make your selections, but the ultimate tool is using just your finger to select anything on the screen. This makes it user-friendly for the little ones in the house, who aren’t able to master a mouse yet, but want to feel like a big kid using the computer themselves. They can use their finger to draw pictures or pick the music that they would like to listen to. This makes it a great selling feature for families of small children.

Family Calendar- The family calendar is very user-friendly and you can organize the calendar for the entire family or by each family member. On your calendar, there is a feature where you can leave post-it notes to each other, which can be written using your finger, the pen, or typed into the computer. The kids can draw a picture for daddy or you can just leave your hubby a sweet note like, “Put the trash out TODAY or else!” You can record notes to each other, as well, which can be a great feature when you don’t have time to write out a note.

Music Library-
The music library was the biggest selling point for me. Our family has a huge music collection and you can find discs scattered and scratched up all over our house. When I thought I had money, I was buying music for myself all of the time so we have over three hundred discs missing their cases, tossed in the car, or stuck in random players all over the house. I can never find the music I am looking for and I can’t remember the names of the any of the songs. The TouchSmart Computer allows you to quickly copy the disc onto the drive and then stores it in a library for you. You can scroll through the covers of all of your discs and pick the one you would like to listen to. You can cue the disc to go along with family photos or utilize the visualization feature on the computer. You can make playlists for entertaining or make fabulous dinner music. The screen is beautiful to watch and makes it a great feature for having the best parties in town. It is flat screen and high definition, what could be better than that?

Don’t like your music collection? The PC comes with the wires needed to listen to the radio too. The sound is clear and tuning is easy.

Television/DVD Player-
We did not want to pay for another satellite box or for cable in our kitchen, but an HDTV antennae (for approximately $30) is a great way to utilize this feature and be able to enjoy watching live television. It has built in DVR, so you can tape and watch all of your favorite shows just like your DVR or TiVo box. You can play all of your movies through it, although I wouldn’t recommend doing this at the dinner table, which can be fun for a mom who likes to watch chick flicks by herself while she is making the family dinner.

Family Photos-
Your family photos can be quickly organized, edited, and printed all in one place. The touch screen feature makes it feel like you are at a kiosk at your grocery store and you can do this all from your home. Unfortunately, the printer is not included with the PC, but needs to be purchased separately.

My only complaint about the product is that the touch screen can be difficult to maneuver, as you need your finger is just the perfect spot in order for it to do what you need it to do. At times, using the mouse or stylus pen is easier than utilizing the touch feature.

The design is sleek, and the keyboard fits neatly underneath the monitor in a little stowaway spot. The printer, can be set in the back where it is not even visible, making this very streamlined and elegant looking. It looks more like a television than a computer, but you have all the function of a computer.

I can’t rave about this product enough! The price tag is $1,849.99, so it is not the most affordable option for most families. If you needed a new television, a new computer, a DVD player, and a stereo, this would be a good bang for your buck and keep the clutter in your home under control. No more stacks of discs, no need to have fourteen appliances, and no more missing your appointments.

The best price listed online is currently through Amazon.

We thank HP for giving us the opportunity to share about their product and allowing us to express our opinions on it. It is a fabulous piece of equipment that would make a wonderful addition in any home!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Adobe Photoshop & Premiere Elements

I got the opportunity to try out the Adobe Photoshop & Premiere Elements software package that Adobe offers. Since I am a mom and I love to take pictures and video footage of my children, they knew that they had the right person to send it to.

These award winning photo and video-editing products are great for any mom who is looking to get there photos edited and organized in a way that you can actually find the picture you are looking for. Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements are very user-friendly and help organize, edit and share your most valued pictures and home movies. Not only that, but you can also use their software to create photo albums, scrapbooks, flash online photo galleries, making invitations and DVDs.

I haven't gotten to toy around with this software as much as I would like. The user manuals for each of these products is over two hundred pages long, which tells me that the software offers a lot that I have yet to figure out.

I did some photo editing with the software and was impressed with all that you can do to edit the photos. The options are numerous and the process can be as complex or as simple as you would like to make it. For someone who enjoys editing her own photos, it is a fabulous software package to use.
In my opinion, one of the best features is that you can remove red eye with one click of the button. No need to zoom in on each eye or make sure your mouse is in the right place, just one simple click.

This product has received stellar reviews, and is definitely worth checking out! Learning the programs is time consuming, but worth the effort if you are interested in taking professional looking photos and capturing your memories in a fun way.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sneak Peek- HP Touchsmart PC

Guess what I am going to be reviewing? An HP Touchsmart PC! I can hardly believe it!

The HP company contacted us to see if we would be willing to give it a test drive in our house, and of course we said yes! You can imagine how much my husband (the computer guy) is geeking out about this right now. He keeps trying to explain how awesome it is going to be for me, but I am anxious to try it to see for myself.

If you would like to try this out and are in the Las Vegas area, the HP Touchsmart is currently on display at the 2007 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show. Please visit the link for more information about this show!

Here is some of the information about the product, courtesy of HP...

The Internet Home Alliance Research Council (IHARC), which includes Hewlett-Packard (HP), recently conducted a survey to determine what new products/services homeowners would like to add to their future kitchens. Study results were used to create a prototype of an ideal digital kitchen, which is currently on display at the 2007 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas. Conveniently installed in the kitchen is the HP TouchSmart PC – this placement supports findings for consumer interest in a digital calendar and access to weather updates in the kitchen. Why the kitchen? Well, as you’re probably aware, it’s one of the busiest and most social rooms in the house.

The HP TouchSmart PC helps simplify family life by providing one-touch access to entertainment, communication and information. It also comes equipped with programs that allow busy families to keep track of schedules/appointments, view real-time weather updates, watch live/recorded TV and/or leave digital post-it notes or voice recordings for family members — all possible by the PC’s unique touch-enabled screen

We are looking forward to sharing our product experience with you all! Stay tuned for an in-depth look at what the HP Touchsmart system offers!

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

For the Mom Who Has Everything: Exclusive iPod Gift Set

What could be better than a brand spanking new iPod? How about an iPod and some chocolates to go with it? Best Buy is offering an exclusive gift set for Mother’s Day that will be available starting May 6th and will only be available for a limited time with limited quantities available.

The gift set includes the following:

- A pink or silver 4GB Apple iPod nano, slim enough to fit in mom's pocket, purse or palm

- A variety of pink-foiled milk chocolate meltaways

- It is packaged in a mod polka-dot-patterned box inspired by the prism of iPod nano colors and this spring's hottest accessory: dots!

I got the opportunity to review this lovely gift set and all I can say is that if your sweetheart gets you this gift, he will be the man of the year! The iPod makes such a fabulous present and the chocolates are a great bonus to satisfy any mom’s sweet tooth.

This iPod has 4GB versus the 2GB that were previously available in the first generation of iPods. The battery is twice the size of the original and Apple boasts that it can go play twenty-four hours of music or five hours of photo slideshows before needing a charge. It has an aluminum exterior, which makes it resistant to scratches, and comes in a fun hot pink color or a striking silver shade.

I have never owned an iPod before so this is my first experience with the Apple Company. Since I have never had one of these, I really had no expectations going into it. I was really surprised though how much I love this gadget, as the sound on it is absolutely incredible and is far superior to other mp3 players out on the market.

The iPod also includes lots of other fun little gadgets like games, a calendar, a stopwatch, and a small screen to view your pictures.

The difference between the iPod & other mp3 players is that iPods do not have a radio available on it and all of the music needs to be converted into iTunes before it is playable in this player. Fortunately, iTunes is easy to install and the process is not tedious, but just an extra step towards having a player with incredible sound. The radio feature can be added by purchasing additional accessories, but it is not a necessary item for most people who would just like to listen to the music of their own choice.

The retail cost for this gift set is $214.99 and is available at your local Best Buy store. Feel free to point your husband and children towards this review to really give them a hint of what you want this year! I am wishing you all whatever you are dreaming of for your special day and hope you all have a fabulous Mother’s Day!

Many thanks to the Best Buy company for giving me the opportunity to review this product!

While I am on the subject of iPods & mp3 players, here is my question for today...Who is currently on your playlist? I am sure we can all use some ideas for new artists and give me some of your good old favorites. I am always looking for a little creative inspiration!

On Amy's Playlist:

Norah Jones
Jack Johnson
Amy Winehouse
Paolo Nutini
Regina Spektor
The Killers
The Fray
The Shins
Matt Kearney
Justin Timberlake (no comments please!)

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Check It Out: The Dangerous Book for Boys

A cross between a Boy Scout’s trusty guide and a throwback to the old days of really cool encyclopedias, “The Dangerous Book for Boys” by Conn & Hal Iggulden is a wonderful book for any boy in your life. The book is meant to be a handbook for boys, guiding them on all the cool things every boy should know about. With sections devoted towards making paper airplanes, how to skip stones, how to tie knots, and answers on questions about the world, this book offers a wealth of knowledge for every little boy.

My favorite part about this guide to a boy’s life is just the feeling of nostalgia that one gets from reading it. The pictures and design of the book give it such timeless beauty and the photographs and diagrams for making things create a great reference book for little boys.

There was a time where fathers taught their sons how to do many of the things listed in this book, but it seems the digital world and the fast pace times have changed things a lot. It is now considered dangerous to give our sons a pocket knife, in these troubled times, and the Dangerous Book for Boys brings you back to the days where your father went fishing & hunting with you, taught you all about the world around you, and bonded with their child in that good old-fashioned way.

The book contains a guide book on the different types of trees and bugs, with a picture guide that explains about each of these living things. There are great guides on building things too on things such as tree houses, batteries, & periscopes.

Upon your son completing each stage in the book, he can pick up his free printable badges at their website.

You can also read an interview with the author and read more about the idea for the book here.

I wonder what good old-fashioned things your husbands do with your sons. Do they camp together? Fish? Hunt for critters? Share what fun father & son activities go around in your home!

Once again, many thanks to Harper Collins for giving us the opportunity to review such a great book! It is a wonderful addition to our son’s book collection and one that I think he will enjoy for years and years to come!

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Why Being Thankful is So Important

I just began the greatest book called, “For the Love of Letters” by Samara O’Shea. It is a guide to the art of letter writing and I am totally in love with this book already. The book is filled with ideas for writing every kind of letter you can imagine- an apology, a letter of thankfulness, a message of sympathy…any kind of letter you could ever dream of is in this book.

Growing up I never had a choice about writing letters of thanks for things that we received in our life. It was always ingrained in us that writing a thank you letter was just essential. Only those who are thankful and express their gratitude can graciously receive something else in their life.

As I have grown up though, the written word has been disappearing. Letters have been replaced by digital media and cell phones. Why take the time to write a letter when you can just shoot off a quick email and get on with your life? I imagine that this is going to be one of those things that I will have to work extra hard on with my children, as text messaging and chatting in code has replaced the formality of actually penning a response.

One of the most practical reasons for being thankful is because the act of being thankful makes people want to give to you again. And again. And again. A handwritten note, a special phone call to thank someone for something they have given you, a small token of gratitude for what they do for you- this is not only thoughtful, but also a necessary part of your life.

One example of a time of gratitude in my life was when we were expecting our second child. When we found out we were having a little girl, I was so thrilled, but I also knew that many of our boy things would have to be replaced by little girl items. I had that nervous feeling about our finances and how we were going to swing an entire new wardrobe. I knew that we could make it work, but I also knew that starting over can be pretty expensive. Cue the windfall of clothing. Do you hear it? People from all over started just giving me things. I had a girlfriend who loaned me her daughter’s entire wardrobe for the first year. Then I got that nervous feeling again. Cue another windfall of clothing from someone that was a friend of our family, and feel that sense of relief again.

When my grandmother brought over a bag of clothing from someone who didn’t really even know me personally, I wept. I was so touched that someone would give us so much and not even ask for anything in return. I called her as soon as she left and thanked her, blubbering the whole time. I asked what I could do for her- if I could offer her a gift card or a sum of money. She did not want anything from me, but thanked me for calling. I sat down and penned a note to her and thanked her family for what they did and sent off a couple of handmade hair bows to her daughters. It was a small gesture compared to the enormous gesture she offered me, but it made a positive impression. She later told my grandmother how nice it was to give to someone who was so appreciative and that she planned to give us her children’s clothing as her daughters outgrew them.

Had I just took the clothes with an open hand and never sent her a note of gratitude; I would not have received anything again from her. She would probably give the clothes to someone else, someone who would have acted like they cared & appreciated what she was doing for them.

I see this often in my life, and I try to keep this in the back of my mind.

Writing a letter of gratitude is also a great, great thing when you work from home and are trying to build your business. When someone sends you something or does something for you in your business, you should always send them a note of gratitude. It leaves the other person with a positive impression of you and also makes them want to do more for you in the future. Imagine that you are laying bricks for a pathway to your house and each letter is one of those bricks. That pathway will eventually lead you to many great things. Those positive connections will be wonderful for references or networking in your home business, or serve you well when you return to the workplace.

Have you ever received a letter that you never forgot? Do you still write letters to people in your life?

I hope you can check out this book! Not only is it a beautiful book for your coffee table, it is also a great guide to pulling off a letter of thankfulness or any other type of letter you can imagine!

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Product Review: Philips Digital Picture Frame

Philips contacted us and gave us the opportunity to review their 9" Digital Picture Frame, which we were extremely excited to try out. A digital picture frame has been on my Mother's Day gift list for a long time so we were excited to receive one of these.

Philips is a fabulous company and one thing that I really appreciate about them is their knack for design. This photo frame is sleek looking and has nice clean lines. The stand is made to to lock into the two positions depending on how you want to stand it. Overall, it is just an amazing looking frame.

Unfortunately, I am technically challenged and I was very anxious to begin loading our pictures onto it when I received it, but the software was extremely confusing for me. I waited until my tech-savvy husband got home and had him try his hand at it. I had resolved it was due to my poor technical skills, but he was in agreement that transferring photos was confusing and the software that is included was not user-friendly. We had a lot of trouble figuring out how to transfer the photos from our PC. An easier option would be to transfer your photos to a memory card, which can then be stuck in the back of the frame, which simplifies the process compared to utilizing their software.

Once we figured out how to load the pictures, we could plug it in and begin displaying them. I was extremely impressed with the quality of the picture and how vivid the colors were on the screen. Not only were the colors extremely bright, but the transitions between photos were well done and did not have too long of pauses between photos or any hokey transitions between the photos.

This frame will store up to sixty photos on it, which can reduce a lot of cluttered frames in your home without taking up too much space. You can keep the frame running on a provided AC cable or on the rechargeable battery that is included with each frame. The frame also includes a very smart feature that will allow you to only run the frame at certain times of the day, like only when you are home, to save on electricity.

The Philips digital picture frame would make a fabulous gift for the grandparents, a wonderful Mother's Day or Father's Day gift, or a gift for a special graduate in your life. The frame is currently on sale for $199.04 with free shipping through the provided link above.

Many thanks to Philips for giving us the opportunity to review such a wonderful product. We were not disappointed!

If you would like us to review a product for your company, please send inquiries to [email protected]. We look forward to reviewing products that mothers would love to hear more about!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reynold's Slow Cooker Liners

The Reynold's company contacted me and asked if I would be game to review their Slow Cooker Liners that are now part of their product line. As someone who uses her slow cooker regularly, I was very anxious to give this product a try and see what I thought about it.

Reynolds Slow Cooker Liners are made of heat resistant nylon and designed to make slow cooker cleanup fast and easy. The liners help you avoid all that soaking and scrubbing that is associated with slow cooking. All you have to do is place the liner in the slow cooker bowl, add ingredients, and cook as you normally would. After cooking, remove meal from the lined-slow cooker, allow to cool, and simply toss the liner. It’s that easy!

Reynolds Slow Cooker Liners are 13"X21" liners, optimally-sized to fit 3 to 6.5 quart round or oval slow cookers. There are 4 liners in each carton.

For my review, I decided to roast a chicken in the slow cooker. This is one of those messier meals that I don't enjoy cleaning up at all. I wanted to really put these bags to the test and cleaning up after roasting a chicken is one of my least favorite tasks.

I was not disappointed at all, as the product actually did contain my entire dinner in the bag with no mess on the outside for me to clean up. I was able to easily take the chicken out and pour the drippings into a pan to make gravy.

To be honest, I don't usually mind cleaning out my slow cooker so this is not a product that I would buy regularly. This would be a great investment for entertaining though or for really messy dishes (like red sauces),where cleaning up can be more time consuming.

Be sure to visit our One Month with Your Slow Cooker article, where you can get an entire month's worth of yummy recipes for your family. You can also visit the Reynold's website where they have a special section dedicated to slow cooker recipes.

For step-by-step directions on how to use these liners, you will find a picture tutorial on the Reynold's site.

Much thanks to Reynold's for giving us this opportunity and encouraging families to eat together at the dinner table!

Try to stop over at the Reynolds No Scrub RV Club site and enter their current sweepstakes! They are offering several freebies for the first entries and gift certificates for a photo contest that they are running.

Feel free to share your own personal experience with this product- I am sure that the company would appreciate the feedback.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Nature Valley Oats N' Honey Cereal

I received a box of Nature Valley Oats N' Honey cereal to sample and we were excited to give it a try. I have always been a big fan of the granola bars that this company puts out and was looking forward to a big bowl of this cereal.

We, unfortunately, did not enjoy this cereal at all. When you first bite into it the cereal has a great crunchy taste and texture that their granola bars are known for and it tastes really good. After swallowing the first mouthful though, you are left with a nasty aftertaste in your mouth that will not go away.

I was disappointed with this product, but I do appreciate Nature Valley giving me the opportunity to review it. I will continue to purchase their yummy granola bars, but will shy away from the Oats N' Honey cereal.

Nature Valley does offer two varieties of cereal though and I am wondering if the Cinnamon flavor offers up the same aftertaste.

Thanks to Nature Valley for giving me the opportunity to review their product and I am sorry that I was not able to offer up a stellar review on this cereal.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Should You Buy Brand Name Detergent?

I received a package from Tide which included some samples of their new Tide Simple Pleasures Vanilla & Lavender scented laundry detergent for review. It was a nice little package including a Tide To Go pen (a necessity for any mother’s diaper bag!) and two cute Tide retro t-shirts that had their logo on the front and a, “You’re Dirty” message on the back. You have to love a company that has a sense of humor like that!

I admit that I never buy brand name detergent and getting enough free brand name detergent to accomplish my laundry this week was a nice surprise. Since I never buy the big name detergents, I was very curious to see how this detergent would perform against my usual generic.

The first difference that I noticed, for me, was how great the scent of the detergent was. With my generic detergent, there is usually a scent when I throw it in, but rarely a scent when it comes out. In fact, the scent of my clothing remains neutral after being washed and dried. The clothes washed in Tide held their scent throughout the washing and the drying, and they just smelled cleaner. Environmentalists would say that this is a poor indication of a good detergent, and to aim for detergents that do not contain fragrances, but I secretly enjoy the scent of a good detergent.

The second difference that I noticed was the amount of lint in my dyer was considerably less with the brand name detergent. When I would use the generic detergent, I could practically make a blanket out of the lint that comes out after doing a load of laundry. When I used the Tide, however, the amount of lint was minimal and I almost didn’t need to even clean the vent at all. This indicates to me that this detergent might be easier on my clothing than the generic detergents.

I am no expert though, so I looked to Consumer Reports for the real scoop on laundry detergents. Consumer Reports performed the studies under controlled conditions and washed clothing in a variety of stains that every mother would cringe to see listed- chocolate syrup, blood, grass, coffee, purple grape juice, spaghetti, mud. If you see these items regularly, can you please raise your hand? They ran the clothes through rigorous testing and pitted the brand names versus the generics to see which would perform the best.

In the top three listed, Tide was listed the best for performance. Their top three products were Tide with Bleach, Tide Cold Water (washed in cold water), and Tide HE. To my surprise, the powders topped the charts over their liquid competitors. As someone who has always purchased the liquid detergent, this was very interesting to me.

Unfortunately, Tide is also listed as the tops for cost per load at $.33, $.31, & $.36 per load for the top three choices. Consumer Reports did name Great Value Ultra Mountain Fresh liquid (Walmart), Kirkland Signature Ultra HE (Costco), or Ultra Plus with Fabric Softener HE (Sears) detergents as achieving very good ratings and named those brands the Consumer Reports Best Buys for detergent. The cost for loads was between $.09-$.14 per load for these best buy winners.

My normal detergent, Purex, was near the bottom for their performance report and received pretty bad reviews overall. The cost was the same as the ones I listed for best buys for detergent, so buying this brand doesn’t really save me any money and it does not perform as well.

Whether you buy the name brand goods or the generic, you can always reduce the amount of detergent you use and see if it performs the same as the recommended amount. You can also wash your clothing in cold water and save yourself ten cents per load. Throwing a cup of vinegar into your fabric softener dispenser will save you on the cost of the softeners and will allow you to omit the fabric softener sheet altogether. A cup of baking soda is also a great addition to help the cheaper brand perform better. I just sprinkle this on top of my load and run the cycle.

I thank Tide for giving me the opportunity to try their new scent! This new fragrance is neither too floral nor too strong. The vanilla and lavender complimented each other well and the clothes smelled wonderful. This is great for the scent-conscious consumer and, as noted above, Tide is the best there is when it comes to the performance of detergents!

Share your thoughts on detergents. What is your favorite? Do you have any money-saving tricks when it comes to washing your clothes? How about any homemade stain fighting remedies?

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Fighting The Continous Battle of the Cheerios

I have no idea how I ended up with such a messy kid, but my daughter is the messiest eater ever. She has grown accustomed to dumping a plate of pasta on her head and throwing dishes in protest. Her main protest is that she wants to be removed from her high chair. When this kid wants out of her high chair...She. Means.. Right. This. Second. Not a moment less than that!

Every day I bust out my Shark Cordless Sweeper and go to town cleaning up the mess. That sweeper has been a Godsend to a mother who doesn't have the energy (or inclination) to whip out her sweeper four times a day.

Imagine my dismay when my two year-old Shark decided to stop working. I figured it might need to recharge so we plugged it in. For two days. Nothing happened...and so I began the quest to find a replacement.

I love cordless sweepers, but the fact is, very few are made very well. If you look on Amazon, you will usually find a bunch of unhappy reviews about cordless sweepers. It just doesn't seem like anyone can get it right.

Determined to replace our old sweeper, I headed over to Target and pulled every single sweeper down. I pushed it around through the aisle (Yes, I do know this is weird) to test the weight of them and the design. I read through all of the descriptions on the boxes and aisle tags. After careful reading and buzzing through the aisle like a maniac, I made my choice. My mind settled upon the Dirt Devil Vibe Cordless Sweeper.

It needed to charge overnight and I couldn't wait until I could test run this. Lucky for me, my daughter is a willing participant and she just let me have at it today. She threw her plate and tossed crumbs, her mashed sandwich, and a hundred Cheerios all over the floor.

This sweeper has two settings- the carpet or the hardwood setting. To be perfectly honest, I find the carpet setting worked best in both location so I just used that setting rather than switching back and forth.

I zoomed over to Emily's high chair and watched in amazement as it scooped everything up. I have included before and after pictures (please ignore the fact that my hardwood is in need of a good cleaning!) of what the results were.

All in all, I am really happy with this purchase and I am hoping that this sweeper lasts me a little longer than the last one. The cost on it (currently) at Target was $49.99.

If you are thinking about purchasing a cordless sweeper, I have a couple of suggestions for you:

1. You will be much happier with whatever you are purchasing if you can test drive it. Borrow one from a friend or just take them through a spin in the aisle. It would be ideal if you could use it, but if you can't just try pushing it around to see if it glides easily.

2. Pick a store that has a good return policy. I knew that Target is pretty good about returns, so I picked that store. In the case of the Shark, I read a story of one lady who had went through three in a month so it is good that the return policy would allow her to do that.

3. Online stores are great and might have more affordable pricing on these, but the pure and simple fact is, if it is defective or you just plain hate it, you have to ship that back. Who wants to be running a sweeper over to the post office? Physical stores are better in this case.

4. Sometimes extras (which cost extra) aren't worth it. Stick to the basic functions and look for ones that offer the best sweeper for your money.

5. Just like all things, the highest price does not make it the best. Some of the higher priced models had a lot less power than the one I purchased.

Do you have a cordless sweeper? What has been your experience with these?

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Product Review: FruitaBu Twirls

We recently got the opportunity to review the new FruitaBu Twirls. As my son loves anything that tastes like a fruit snack, he was more than happy to oblige and do his own personal taste test.

The FruitaBu Twirls look exactly like a fruit roll-up. Miles of smooshed fruit in various flavors are available. What kid could resist this kind of product?

Ethan was not disappointed and has been enjoying the Grape flavor most of all. As the smooshed fruits before, these contain minimal sugar, no artificial flavor, and no preservatives. Because the fruit is in a format that kids love, this product is ideal for those picky eaters who aren't getting enough from the food groups. These make a great snack or can be part of any lunchtime meal.

Much thanks to FruitaBu for giving us the opportunity to sample their new products. We have become big fans of this company and their endeavors to enable us to eat more healthy. The best part about this company is that they do not sacrifice the taste factor in the process.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

What is this Secret?

I mentioned today in my blog that I got the opportunity to go to a viewing of the movie, “The Secret” which was recently featured on an Oprah episode. I had decided to not watch the episode on her show and go into the movie with an open mind. I understood the idea behind it, but wanted to make sure that my heart was open to what the movie could teach me. Being a Christian, I also did not want to compromise my beliefs or feel as though I had strayed from what I had been taught. I had heard that the movie could help me be a more positive person though and who could not use a little of that in their lives?

Although I did not believe everything in the movie, there were elements within it that really made me think about the way I have been living my life and how I could improve myself as a mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend. For example, I try to be positive, but find that I am easily strayed by the negative. I want to change the world, but I focus on what I dislike about the world, rather than the positive things that I could do to improve it. I can be very pessimistic when a more positive attitude would be more beneficial to me. Of course I could go on and on about things I have done wrong, but we are focusing on the positive, right?

Many of the principles within the movie are harmonious with what I have been taught to be as a Christian, but hearing them reiterated in a new way made the ideas fresh for me and helped me in a way that I really needed at this point in my life. Here are some basic ideas that I would like to incorporate within my day…

Gratitude- I need to be grateful for what God has already supplied for me. I have so many great things going on in my life and I need to focus on my gratitude for those things, and less on the things that I don’t have. The suggestion for a journal of gratitude is certainly not a new idea, but it served as a reminder to me that I need to do this and start writing down the things I have been given.

Focus Board- They had suggested putting together a focus board of the things that you want in your life. Although I thought too much of the movie focused on the material things, I think there are words and images that I could use within a focus board that I could use to inspire me. I talked about this idea with my husband last night and suggested that we actually do this project together, rather than separate. I told him that I want our goals to be ones that we set together. His goals should be my goals and vice versa. I would like to put on the board the amount of money that we will need to be financially free and focus on that number daily. That is just one example of something we would like to put on our board. Once our board is put together, I will take a picture of it to hopefully inspire you to do your own board!

Ask & Patiently Wait- I have no problem asking for things in prayer, but then the waiting patiently part is the one that I have a hard time with. In a culture where we want everything NOW not later, I have been conditioned to not wait patiently for a response. In the movie they say that if you ask it and believe it, that you will receive it.

Be Positive- It is such a simple idea and yet it seems so hard to do. They do focus on energies and life forces, but what I drew from it is that I radiate what I feel onto other people. If I constantly am consumed with self-doubt and don’t believe in myself, no one is going to believe in me. Yet, if I can radiate confidence and self-worth, people will see that and be drawn to that.
The ideas within the movie are simple ideas, as are the ideas within the Bible. Do unto others, ask and you shall receive, you reap what you sow…yet, sometimes simple is good and simple is what you need.

What an awesome mom I could be if I could teach my children to do these things too. When our children get older we could have them also do gratitude journals and posters of the things that they want in their life. Teaching our children to surround themselves with positive people and to believe that they can be anything that they want to be are great things that I can do for them. Again, they are not new ideas, but gentle reminders that I am not doing enough of this.

I do encourage you to view this movie as it was such an amazing experience for me. Sometimes you need these little reminders and nudges in your life. This served as a great reminder for me and I look forward to implementing these ideas in our home.

If you have seen the movie and would like to share what you have gained from the experience, please chat away! Each person, I am sure, takes something different from it. I took from it what I needed to incorporate within my own life.

I would like to thank WSBT-TV for giving me the opportunity to view this movie!

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Making Your New Year's Resolutions Work: Light Chocolate Chip Cookies

I recently ran across a recipe in my Redbook magazine for a light chocolate chip cookie. I was intrigued by the ingredients because there were no fat substitutes or sugar substitutes and only four tablespoons of butter. How could a cookie with no substitutes and little fat actually be yummy?

That is the goal in Nick Malgieri’s new cookbook called, “Perfect Light Desserts.” He makes fabulous cookies, pies, and more made with real butter, sugar, flour, and eggs. What a concept, huh? This is the kind of cookbook I have been looking for and all of the recipes are under three hundred calories per “generous serving.”

I was able to check the cookbook out from my library and I was not disappointed at all. The desserts are exactly what I would want if I was trying to eat better, and have no replacement ingredients that leave you with a nasty aftertaste in your mouth.

First, I had to share a picture of my new dessert set of plates & mugs that my best friend got for me for Christmas. Each of the plates has a different design on it and they came with a matching little espresso mug & napkins. Aren’t they so cute? She knows me so well!

Back to my review… I made these Light Chocolate Chip cookies and they were absolutely divine. Not too soft, not too hard, chewy, but not too chewy. Mine did come out a little flatter than I had hoped, but that second tablespoon of whole milk, probably ended up being four tablespoons so I fault only myself.

Each cookie contains a mere 114 calories and five grams of fat. This made me think…how much fat were in the ones I was eating before? I shudder to think! These are perfect if your New Year’s resolution is to lose that extra baby weight or just to eat healthier. (Chocolate chip cookies are healthy, right?)

Hope you can give these a try. Feel free to post your impressions of the recipe under our comments section!

David’s Skinny Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups (about ¾ of a 12-ounce bag) chocolate chips
2 cookie sheets lined with parchment or foil

Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt together and set aside. Beat the butter and sugars together by machine with the paddle attachment on medium speed until well mixed (about one minute). Beat in the egg and milk until they are absorbed and then the vanilla. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled, the flour mixture will smooth it out. Scrape down the bowl and beater and beat in the flour mixture on low speed. Use a large rubber spatula to fold in the chocolate chips. Chill the dough in the bowl for fifteen minutes to keep the cookies from spreading too much while they are baking. Form the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls or use a small ice cream scoop to form the cookies. Arrange the balls of dough 2 inches apart all around the prepared pans. Bake the cookies for eight to twelve minutes, or until they look dull on the surface, have spread, and are still quite moist. Cool the cookies on the pans on racks for five minutes. Slide the papers to racks and cool the cookies completely. For storing: keep the cookies between sheets of wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.

Per cookie: 114 calories, 5 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 2 g protein, 17 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 11 mg cholesterol, 85 mg sodium

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Product Review: Kashi Kashes in With Moms

Don’t you just love that play on words in the title? I hope you didn’t miss it! In all seriousness, I was never familiar with the Kashi company or any of its products. The supermarket that I shop at does not carry their products, so I was excited when a representative from Kashi sent me an email asking if I would try their new frozen dinners and give my opinion on them. Assuming that they had planned to send me some coupons, I told them I would be more than happy to try their new frozen meals if they would direct me where to purchase them since I had never tried any of their products before and wouldn’t even know where to look for them.

Imagine my delight when two short days later I receive not one large box, but two large boxes full of Kashi products to try. They sent me five different kinds of cereals, Fruitabu snacks for my son (which reminded me of a fruit leather minus the sugar factor), crackers, granola bars, and nine different frozen dinners to try. Our family was in Kashi heaven! We spread the box out and acted like we had never eaten before. My husband tried two kinds of granola bars and a bowl of cereal within the span of ten minutes. My son begged for the FruitaBu saying how much he enjoyed his new candy (can you tell that we don’t give our kid very much sugar?) and I devoured a bowl of cereal myself.

This past week I have tried almost all of the frozen dinners, which was the whole reason Kashi contacted me in the first place, and they are delicious! I will be the first to raise my hand when saying that I don’t buy frozen dinners very often because they aren’t very good for me and I don’t find them to taste very flavorful. I am not going to waste my money on more junk food for our house, but these dinners really tasted delicious and were packed with whole grains, protein, and lean meats.

The nine flavor choices are: Pesto Pasta Primavera, Chicken Florentine, Lemongrass Chicken, Black Bean Mango, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Southwest Style Chicken, Chicken Pasta Pomodoro, Lime Cilantro Shrimp, & Lemon Rosemary Chicken.

Of all of the flavor choices, the Chicken Pasta Pomodoro, the Lemon Rosemary Chicken, & the Chicken Florentine were my favorites. They all tasted amazing though and incorporated some really great flavor combinations.

I do also want to mention that the FruitaBu is about the best thing that has ever hit the fruit snack world. My son has been begging for these every chance he gets. He calls them his, “special treat” and I don’t mind giving him these as they actually use real fruit. These contain minimal sugar, no artificial flavor, and no preservatives. Best of all, they are not messy. Anyone who has ever had to take a vacuum to the back of their car because their child had a party in the back mashing up Cheerios can totally relate to where I am coming from. They are thin so they take up very little space in a lunchbox and would be perfect to stick in your child’s backpack for a special snack.

We thank Kashi for the opportunity to review such great products. It was truly our pleasure to review such great food and we applaud them for encouraging families to eat healthier, without sacrificing the flavors that we love.

For more information on Kashi, please visit their website.

If you would like us to review a product for you, provided it fits with our audience of moms, please email me at [email protected] .



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Sponsored Post: Chefs.com Helps Moms With Dinner

Here is a familiar scenario in our house. It is five o’clock and my husband is on his way home from work. He is looking forward to a delicious meal and I am looking for the fastest way I can get something on our dinner on the table, without a clue in the world what that something is going to be. This is usually one of those days towards the end of the week where I am drained of ideas and energy. Where can a mom like this go to get some answers?

Chefs.com is providing a lot of answers to my questions with a very well-designed site full of recipes for nights just like these. Check out their Quick & Easy Recipes section for dinners on the fly. They also have recipes to entertain with so you can stop dreading all of those potlucks and bring a really unique dish to your friend’s table.

With forums, a cooking blog, podcasts and information on culinary schools, this site is geared towards the most experienced chef and the mom who never was a chef, but is skilled in the art of Kraft ala Macaroni & Cheese.

This site has everything that I love about a good cooking site- interaction, a recipe box to store my favorites, reviews from other chefs, and it is very well-organized.

I hope we have found a new favorite site for you and when that five o’clock dinner hour rolls around, you can really shock your hubby with a really spectacular dish! Microwave Salmon, anyone?

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Product Review: Innovative Electronic Soundbooks for the Budget-Minded Parent

Publications, International Ltd has released a new set of electronic books for children, appealing to the budget-minded parent. These electronic books include a book, but also an electronic gadget for children.

The company contacted us to see what we thought about their product and sent us three wonderful books to get our opinion on them for their company.

These books are hardback and durable. As a mother of a child who enjoys chewing things and tearing paper, I find board books are the best bang for our buck right now. These books are durable and will last through several of my child’s beatings, but also include handy gadgets that mimic those of their parents that are also durable and made with a child in mind. Things like cell phones and digital music players are attached to the book in lieu of the push button sounds that usually are accompanied on the side of these types of books.

They have many types of books to choose from including all of your child’s favorite characters. Some of the ones you can choose from are Elmo, The Wiggles, SpongeBob Squarepants and Strawberry Shortcake.

To be honest, I love just a plain good old-fashioned book, but it seems to be the craze to release electronically formatted types of entertainment, rather than the plain paper books of my youth. I have been known, however, to spend a pretty penny on the LeapFrog books & cartridges because I knew how much it would interest my child and I want to foster loads of learning in our home.

The bottom line is that no matter what format you present these books to your children, the one thing you want them to walk away with is a desire to read. Publications, International Ltd seems to know this and they have come up with some creative books to help instill the love of reading within your child.

While LeapFrog products will run you twenty bucks and up (just for the books, not the media to make them work), these books are made for the budget-minded consumer and are priced under twenty dollars, perfect for a parent that wants to give this type of book to their child but doesn’t have the funds to do so.

Out of all of the books, our personal favorites were the Fold & Go Car Books. What little boy would not love to create a vehicle and then have it make sounds as they push it along? This was an instant favorite in our house.

Here are some of the options available:
Cell Phone Book (Ages 3-8)

The Cell Phone Book features a removable cordless flip phone with working number buttons and an LCD screen that simulates a real camera/video-phone by featuring both still and moving visual images. Fifteen number and function buttons (including camera, movie, on/off and voicemail), allow the child to view and “call” different characters shown in the book. The camera button mimics cell-phone photography with a flash of light and a pixilated image related to the 10 different spreads in the book, while the movie button plays one of 10 different animated sequences related to the book.

An envelope symbol on the phone screen prompts the child to “check voice mail.” When the child does so by pressing the corresponding button, he/she hears a character’s message. The Cell Phone Book also features a cradle for storing the cordless phone, a volume control, and a speaker located on the back of the phone to ensure safe use by little ears. The Cell Phone Book titles will include Elmo and Dora the Explorer and will sell for around $20.

Digital Music Player Book (Ages 3-8)

Also new for 2006 is the Digital Music Player Book, a portable-music-player-and-book combination that blends the learning aspects of reading with the entertainment of music. The 11”x11”, fully illustrated, hardcover board book features a detachable music player that looks and plays like an MP3 player. The technology allows kids to “download” up to nine melodies by pressing the player’s code reader against carbon barcodes on one of five spreads in the book. The music player features an on/off switch, shuffle mode, forward/back arrow buttons and nine light-up, colored icons that correspond with illustrations in the book. The player can be stored in a holster mounted on the book cover. The Digital Music Player Book titles will include The Wiggles, SpongeBob Squarepants and Strawberry Shortcake, and will sell for around $16.99.

Fold and Go Cars Book (Ages 3-6)
The new Fold and Go Cars Book is an interactive soundbook featuring a built-in electronic “chassis,” complete with sound effects that correspond to cars in the book. Kids can pop out five perforated cars from pages of the book, fold them along scored lines and slide them – one at a time – onto the chassis mounted on the front cover. When the wheels trigger a mechanism in the chassis, the book makes sounds specific to the vehicle. The Fold and Go Cars Book is filled with vehicle facts and stories and will sell for around $12.99. NASCAR, Scooby Doo and Tonka versions will be available.

ActiveMinds® Bilingual 30-Button Book (Ages 3-8)
The ActiveMinds® Bilingual 30-Button Book offers kids aged three to eight the unique opportunity to learn and read in two languages, with added sound effects to enhance the learning experience. Ten spreads in this colorful, educational book feature icons that correspond with a 30-button sound module to the right of the text, which is shown in both English and Spanish. Kids can flip a switch to hear the word in either language for a total of 60 sound triggers, and after each word a meaningful sound effect plays to reinforce the word used. Four titles of the ActiveMinds Bilingual 30-Button Book, “Let’s Go to School,” “My First Words,” “I Can Count” and “The Magic Book” will be available and sell for around $12.99.

For more information on these books, and other books offered by this company, please visit their website.

We want to express many thanks to Publications International for giving us the opportunity to review their wonderful product.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Product Review: Insignia 2GB MP3 Player

We have been in the market for an MP3 player for quite some time. I had been checking Ebay, the Apple website, and comparison shopping for months now. I was trying to find an affordable MP3 player that actually had some bells and whistles on it. Unfortunately, an MP3 player with the features that I wanted was going to cost us a lot of money, and we just did not have it.

As luck would have it, Insignia contacted me and gave us the opportunity to review their 2GB MP3 player. This player actually has all of the bells and whistles and is just over the hundred dollar mark. In the MP3 player world, that is quite a bargain! If you are looking for an MP3 player, but don’t have a lot of Christmas cash, I would highly recommend this player.

This player, in all honesty, is everything I could want out of an MP3 player. It is super light, weighing in at only 2.4 ounces, and has a nice sleek design to it. 2GB of storage translates into approximately 500 songs, 2,000 photos, 25 audiobooks, or 7 movies. It also has a spot for a memory card, should 2GB of storage not be enough for you.

This player is well-designed and adding music to it was as simple as downloading a CD of software and attaching the USB cable to our computer. Within minutes, I had uploaded a good portion of my music collection and it was ready to go.

As a mom, who rarely has any quiet time to myself, I had to create times for myself to actually be able to listen to it. I figured that while I was out battling the crowds, doing my holiday shopping, would be a great time for me to actually have some peace & quiet. It was perfect and I was able to tune out all of the chaos, making waiting in lines at Walmart much more pleasurable for me. I admit, I did receive some funny looks, but I held back the need to burst into song out in public.

My husband may not agree that he has enjoyed the player as much because he bears witness to my theatrical singing (which is truly a treat, I am sure!), but he doesn’t complain. Only a fool would complain when I am trying to make scrubbing pots or washing kid’s clothing enjoyable.

The Insignia 2GB MP3 player is a great bargain and a wonderful treat for any mom. For more information on this product, please visit this link to get the full scoop. It does many more cool things, but the main thing for me was to be able to listen to my music collection. Those looking for other features, like being able to watch movies or view pictures, will not be disappointed with this player. These are just added bonuses for this mom!

Many thanks to Insignia for allowing us to have the opportunity to enjoy such a great product!

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Real Review of Restaurant.com

Restaurant.com - $25 Certificates for only $10

I wanted to take an opportunity to review Restaurant.com because it was one of those deals that just sounded too good to be true. How can a company offer $25 gift certificates to restaurants and only charge you $10 (or less if a coupon is involved) and actually be a deal that is for real? I was a skeptic, but was willing to take a gamble on it to enjoy an evening out with my husband.

We purchased our gift certificate for $25 for a mere $4 because they happened to be running a great sale on the gift certificates. When we typed in our zip code, it popped up a few restaurants in our area that were participating. Last year when I had checked there had not been restaurants in our area, so this was a pleasant surprise.

We chose a nice Italian place for dinner and I purchased the gift certificate. I did read through the terms of the gift certificate before purchasing it and still was a little puzzled by all of it. For example, this gift certificate had said that I needed to spend $35 to get a $25 gift certificate. Did this mean I needed to spend $35 at Restaurant.com or did this mean the restaurant itself? Only when I received the gift certificate did I understand that I was supposed to spend $35 at the restaurant and not the website. Would have been nice to know so I thought I would mention this in case anyone else has the same weird confusion.

I purchased the gift certificate for one particular restaurant and a copy of the gift certificate was emailed to me as well as available immediately for printing. You have the ability at this time to make a reservation through the website. This is not required, but I thought it might make the process go smoother and alert the restaurant that I was using one of these certificates (remember I said that I was a little concerned that this was a hoax?) Within a minute of placing the reservation I received an automated call from Restaurant.com to thank me for placing my reservation and that they were confirming it.

We went to dinner that night and had two entrees and two glasses of wine. The total bill was over the amount needed for us to use the certificate so meeting a $35 minimum purchase at the restaurant was not a problem at all! When we received the bill, we tucked the certificate inside and waited for the manager to come out and tell us that we couldn’t use it.

The waiter came out with our bill revised with the $25 removed from the total tab. Now we could let the excitement really begin because it was the real deal! Our evening, including our tip and the $4 purchase price) was about the cost of one entrée at the restaurant.

Now why in the world would a restaurant be open to doing this? Well, if it is a small mom and pop shop, this is a great way to get new faces in the door and let them know about your restaurant. For example, the place we went to was so great that I now want to go there for my birthday. Mission accomplished by the restaurant to get me to be a reoccurring customer. This is also a great way for a new restaurant to get their name out there. The places that were offered were great and they probably know that they are great. They know that they are so great that they can give you food (practically free) and know that you will probably come back and pay top dollar for the same entrée.

Here are a breakdown of the positives & negatives of the gift certificates:


· It is a very inexpensive way to try out a restaurant without paying a lot of money.

· The certificates are instant- no waiting for them to be put in the mail to you.

· The company guarantees the certificates. If, for some strange reason, you are having trouble with a particular restaurant they will refund your money.

· The website provides pictures of the restaurant and it includes the menu so you know exactly where you are going and what they have to offer.

· You can get gift certificates as gifts for other people. You do not have to decide which restaurant they should go to (unless you wish to do this) so when they receive their certificate they can pick the place in their area that fits them best.

· The certificates can also be used for online retailers that have partnered with Restaurant.com


· There is fine print on these certificates. The things that stood out for me were that you are only allowed to redeem one of these per month per restaurant, you are not allowed to use two certificates at the same time (even if you have separate checks), and each individual restaurant has the choice to decide whether your alcohol tab can be applied to the gift certificate.

· The choices in smaller towns may be minimal or not at all. They seem to be expanding, but the big city folks definitely get more choices.

· When given as a gift, the recipient needs to know that they will be responsible for a portion of their bill (remember the $25 off of a $35 purchase) and that they can only use one certificate at a time.

The reason I mention these is that they do make excellent gifts. Giving someone fifty dollars in gift certificates when spending a fraction of the price is a great thing for frugal folks like me. These would be great for a college student (as they could apply this in their area) or could be used when you are traveling and want to be able to dine out without spending a bunch of money.

If you do decide to get one of these, I would love if you clicked through our banner above on our site. We have become affiliated with this program and would appreciate the credit for it.

The current coupon code (good through DECEMBER 10th) is Code#: 73515. When totaling your bill enter the code and then hit, “Recalculate” and this will give you fifty percent off of the price of the gift certificates.

If you have had experience using Restaurant.com, feel free to share it…good or bad!

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Parent Product Review: Philips LCD Digital Baby Monitor

Philips Baby Monitor The folks over at Philips Company contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing a new baby monitor that they were coming out with. Despite the fact that I already had a baby monitor in my possession, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to accept the offer and see what the differences were between my old monitor and the new one that they could send me. Seriously, how different could two baby monitors be? Don’t all monitors do the same thing? Don’t they just tell us if our little ones are crying?

I received the package in the mail and opened it up. Boy, was I ever wrong about baby monitors. My monitor must have been invented in the dark ages, or Phillips is ahead of the times because this monitor is AWESOME!

Let me begin with the design aspect because that was one of the coolest parts. This monitor looks like an iPod. It is white and bright yellow- not ugly nursery room colors. It is sleek and, much like a cordless phone, has a charger that you can charge it up, but no cords to be dragging it around. The first powering up happened overnight and then in the morning the monitor was fully charged. The receiver in the baby’s room can also be battery operated, but we decided to plug that one in.

I browsed through the handbook and my husband and I had a great time trying out all of the features. One thing that I have always wanted is to be able to talk back to my little girl when she is fussing. Being the super cool parents we are, my husband starts talking into it and we make up all these little scenarios that we are going to start saying into it to Emily. He leans into it, presses the button and goes, “YO, BABY! Stop your crying.” Laughter erupts and then we start acting like we are fifteen again. Can you figure out when our last date night was? This was probably the highlight of reading through the instructions.

The things that I absolutely loved about this monitor:

It has a little nightlight on it, which makes it visually interesting to our daughter

It plays lullabies for her. It has lots of lullabies on it, or you can make a "mix tape" of all of them for your baby. We tried it out while she was eating her dinner and she stopped eating and started smiling the biggest smile. They are not annoying lullabies and you can adjust the volume. You can also start the lullabies up from your own receiver and play them into the baby’s room without coming into their room to do it.

You can talk to your baby. This remote feature and the talk feature were so nice when I was taking a shower and she started to fuss. I cued up her music, told her she was fine, and hurried up and got out. I do feel like I am Oz or something. I am sure part of her stopping crying was her looking for where the heck I was? Whatever! It worked for us!

It has a cute carrying case so you can take it on trips with you. It is not a cheap pleather case either, it is well made and holds the units well.

It monitors the temperature in the baby’s room. At first, I thought this was a bit excessive because I am not one of those people that puts television monitors in our room to watch our baby or sound alarms on her mattress if movement is undetected. Despite thinking it was a little bit over the top, I actually began to realize just how brilliant this idea was. Should there ever be a fire in our home, I would know because the monitor would sound a warning beep and let us know if her room became too cold or too hot.

This monitor will not interfere with your neighbor’s monitor because it finds and searches through channels until it finds a channel that is not in use. I don’t fully understand this, but what I am getting from this is if I am talking about Mr. Wilson across the street and the fact that I think he has made his grandkids slaves to his perfectly-perfect lawn, he won’t be able to pick that up on their monitor at their house.

Because the design is not baby monitor ugly, you could actually use it later as an intercom in your home when you no longer need it for your baby. This way, instead of me yelling down the stairs that dinner is ready and to get their rears in gear if they want to eat, I can now just shout it into the monitor. That is going to be *so* nice!

The things I disliked about the monitor:

The lullabies sometimes end abruptly when you choose to play them all. It almost starts into replaying the first song again, and then switches after the first beat.

I wish this had white noise on it or the lullabies played continuously. It is listed as a feature that the lullabies automatically go off, but we are a white noise kind of family. My son has a white noise machine, we have a white noise machine, and our daughter has one. It kind of sounds like a thunderstorm in the Amazon among a trickling creek, should you venture upstairs while we are sleeping…which would be creepy and weird…so please don’t!

If you are interested in learning more about this super cool monitor, you can find out more at hearmybaby.com.

Thanks to Phillips for allowing me to test drive this! Our family greatly appreciated the opportunity and we think your monitor rocks!

If you are a company that would like a product review on my blog, please contact me at [email protected] to discuss it with us. We love to share these reviews with our readers.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Frugal Momma's Review: Folgers Gourmet Select Coffee

I received an email a couple of weeks ago, asking if I would be interested in trying and reviewing the new Folgers Gourmet Select coffees. As we all know- 1) I am cheap and 2) I love freebies. I decided to take them up on the challenge and was looking for my envelope in the mail.

Imagine my surprise when the postman delivers an enormous box to my home. Inside were three full size packages of their new coffee. Within the box was a letter that requested I review the coffee honestly (even if it was bad) and to share it with the company and in my blog.

I drink Aldi coffee so, of course, I was excited to get a chance to drink the real deal. I will admit that I was skeptical that it would be *that* good or that I would want to buy it. I am satisfied with Aldi coffee and my occasional trip to Starbucks.

I decided to open the Vanilla Biscotti first because that sounded delicious. I poured the coffee into my handy little French Press coffee mug and had a big swig. I swear, it was like drinking a cookie. Usually when I buy store brand coffees, I can barely taste the flavoring that they have in the coffee. I knew exactly what I was drinking and it smelled divine.

Let me also say that this coffee can double as an air freshener too. We went to the Air Zoo (taking advantage of National Museum Day) and I drank my coffee on the way there. We were in the museum for four hours and when we opened the door to my car, the car even smelled like a cookie. Now how in the world did they accomplish that?

I haven’t had a chance to sample the other two yet, because I am too addicted to the first coffee that I have tried. It has even curbed my urge to hit the drive through at Starbucks and that says a lot!

The Folgers Gourmet Selections line includes a range of eight ground varieties: Morning Cafe, Espresso Roast, Lively Colombian, Lively Colombian Decaf, Vanilla Biscotti, Chocolate Truffle, Hazelnut Crème and Caramel Drizzle. The Lively Colombian, Vanilla Biscotti and Hazelnut Crème varieties are also available in whole bean. Folgers Gourmet Selections will be packaged in premium bags (depending on the specific variety in 10 to 12 oz.).The suggested retail price is $5.99 a bag, which turns out to be much cheaper than my trips to Starbucks.

If you are interested in enjoying a cup of this coffee, you can get a free sample of Folgers Gourmet Selections. You will receive your sample within six to eight weeks.

I love you, Folgers! You can continue letting me be your guinea pig anytime!



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Thursday, September 07, 2006

One Club for Games & Movies

Here is my secret confession... I love to play video games with my husband. My love for this started when we were in college at Purdue University. We would go bowling and they had an arcade next to the bowling alley. My husband thought it would be fun to challenge me in a game of Tekken. I ended up beating him in the game and then beat the arcade game itself. I had a crowd of guys surrounding me, whispering in awe that they couldn't believe how good I was. They all became witness to my gaming glory days. Many of our date nights consisted of playing a video game and just spending time together.

Now that we are supposedly "grown-ups," we haven't gotten a chance to share our hobby as much as we used to. A few weeks ago though, we did get an opportunity to do this when our kids were enjoying an evening at grandma and grandpa's house. We picked up a game and two movies from Blockbuster for the evening. I pulled a ten out and the total bill came to sixteen dollars! I had that cold sweaty feeling (only a truly frugal person can relate to this) and felt a little sick as I handed over my debit card. I figured that I would be able to make the correction once I had a glance at the receipt, but no such luck. The cost to rent a game at Blockbuster is a whopping eight dollars. I was pretty upset that we had spent that much and it took a lot of reassuring from my husband to convince me to let it go and enjoy the evening. He kept pointing out that we hadn't been able to do this since college and to try and not let it ruin our night.

To make a long story short, we rent a lot of movies. I do try and get them from the library, but the ones that I really want aren't there and it is usually after library hours when I want to pick one up. We decided to try out a movie club. We originally signed up with a two week trial using Blockbuster. I loved that you got the movies and two coupons for in-store rentals. I thought this would be perfect because we could rent two video games and movies for ten bucks a month. When I went to cash in my coupons, however, I discovered that Blockbuster would only let me use the coupons for movie...not for games, as I had intended to use my membership. I sent a note of complaint and cancelled our subscription. I do know that if you buy the higher plans, that you can use the coupons for both games & movie rentals. I did not want to spend more than this and was disappointed with how slow their service was (only received one movie after sending it back the next day during the entire two weeks).

I decided to do some research to see if I could find a plan that would fit our needs a little better. I ran across a great company called GamezNFlix.com and I decided to give this company a shot. They had a great plan where we could get any game or movie, two out at a time (unlimited) for $12.99 per month. We decided to give it a shot this month and have been extremely pleased with how timely the movies have come to us and the selection that they offer.

If you are looking for something like this, I highly recommend this company. If you use the provided link, I do get credit for a referral, but promise that I wouldn't refer you to something I wasn't proud of.

If you have had an experience (either positive or negative) with a movie club company, please share away by clicking on the comments button.



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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Comparing Gas Prices Made Easier

In one of my past blog entries, I talked a little bit about GasBuddy and how this program allows people to share low gas prices that they spot in their local areas. I have used this a few times, but found it difficult to find the best price close to me. At times, I would go to the gas stations, only to find out that the price was inaccurate. Then I later blogged a bit about ways you can keep your gas consumption down. This is something that I am still trying to do.

Now I want to share with you another great site for comparing prices on gas. Leave it to MSN to come up with a better way of tracking gas prices! According to MSN Auto, they check every night and analyze prices from over 90,000 gas stations and you can search in your local area for the cheapest gas.

On their homepage, they have listed where the cheapest gas is (today it is Morehead, KY at $2.04! Lucky!) and the highest price for gas (listed today is Kanukakai, HI at $3.93 per gallon- ouch!)

I typed in my zip code and found a close gas station that is selling their gas for $2.59 a gallon, which is a steal these days!

In our area, $2.59 is the lowest, $2.69 is the highest, and the average price per gallon is $2.64.

Check this site out for the best prices in your area and feel free to sound off, in our comments section, how much you are paying for gas & how you save money.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Store Brand Diaper Reviews

Have you ever wondered if the Target diapers are actually as good of quality as the Pampers or Huggies? One of my favorite bloggers over at Baby Cheapskate, actually answers this question and reviews each of the off-brand diapers in her two part series on her Diaper Odyssey.

Store Brand Savings & Quality: A Diaper Odyssey Part 1
Store Brand Savings & Quality: A Diaper Odyssey Part 2

If you have ever considered buying an off-brand diaper, be sure to visit this site to get the scoop on who has the best bang for your buck.

We are cloth diapering our daughter, but we did do disposable with our son. I found the Smiles brand of diapers (carried by Sam's) to be our personal favorites. This was both for cost and for quality!

Included in the reviews are Target, Walmart, Costco, CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, and Publix.

Are you looking for free diapers? If you write a store brand diaper review for Baby Cheapskate, they will pick up the tab. You can read more information on this opportunity here.

This is a MotherLoad must read!

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Getting the Cheapest Shipping

I have just started selling some items on Ebay. We are cloth diapering our daughter (am hoping to write an article on that soon!) and we sold her small diapers to move up to the medium diapers. This was my first experience with shipping on Ebay. I made a guess on the shipping (thankfully, I overestimated!), boxed everything up, took both the kids to the post office, and had an awful time waiting in line. Why? Well, my son decided to run around and befriend everyone, then he began holding himself and saying he needed to go to the potty, then my daughter started screaming because she was hungry, then my son started playing in the trash, then I turned around to yell at him, and then my postage stuck to the wrong place...Are you starting to get the picture? When I had to bring the box up, to have the poor lady correct my postage placement, she then asked me if I wanted this type of shipping or this type of shipping. Did I want this insurance or that type of insurance? I had no idea- heck, I just want you to ship the dang box quickly. I came out of there, with both kids screaming, vowing to never ever go to the post office again.

There has to be a better way than this...and guess what? There is! I found this great site called RedRoller, that actually spits out exactly how much your shipping costs will be and compares them against each other. If you invest in a little postage scale (there were some on Ebay for under ten bucks), you can just do your own shipping from home. I input everything into the RedRoller site and it told me that I could ship my item for $6.60, to the listed destination. You can create an account, have it link to your Ebay account, print your shipping label from your computer, and then just have the carrier pick it up from your home- how cool is that? The nice thing about it linking to Ebay was that it automatically updated my Ebay account and let the buyer know that the item was shipped. Total time spent to ship the package- about five minutes.

The best part for me was that I didn't have two screaming kids waiting in line with me and I knew I was getting the best deal that I could....you know me and a bargain!

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