Friday, October 26, 2012

Walgreens Introduces Balance Rewards

If you haven't been to Walgreens recently, you may not know about their new Balance Rewards program. Walgreens is just down the road from us, so I'm there all the time for shampoo, vitamins, moisturizer, and of course prescription medications.

While I've always liked Walgreens for their product selection and great prices, I've wondered why they didn't have some kind of loyalty club like other stores. A loyalty club isn't going to make me switch where I shop, but with the right incentives it might encourage me to shop more at a store I already like.

Apparently they were listening to my thoughts, because just recently Walgreens launched their new Balance Rewards program. This new program is so easy to use, and just by shopping for the products you already use you can earn points to redeem towards cash off coupons.

Points are awarded for purchasing certain featured items each week, and you can combine offers to earn thousands of points in a single purchase. You always earn 500 points for any prescription or immunization. Plus there are sale prices that are available only to Balance Rewards members.

For example, this week (sale ending tomorrow) I can earn 1000 points for buying two bags of select  Halloween chocolates (Mars, Hershey's or Nestle). I needed to buy Halloween candy anyway, so why not get the bonus points, too? My daughters' vitamins are also currently on sale for buy one, get one half off, plus get 1000 bonus points. On sale AND I get extra Balance Rewards points!

You can earn points on or in-store. Once you reach 5000 points, you can redeem them instantly for a $5 reward - good for anything in the store - or continue saving for greater rewards.

I've already been earning lots of points without making any unnecessary purchases and I love it. I get points for my prescriptions, points for buying our everyday items, and I can even earn points for logging any walks I take using the Walk with Walgreens program.

Signing up is simple and FREE. You can sign up in the store, online, or download the mobile app and register right from your smartphone.

 There are several cool features on the app.

With Christmas shopping getting closer, I need to get the most out of every purchase I make and save every dollar I can. The Walgreens Balance Rewards program makes saving money a little easier for me, and I'm stockpiling my rewards for Black Friday shopping. If you have a Walgreens or Duane Reade near you, stop in and see just how fast you could be earning rewards!

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Walgreens as part of a partnership to promote the Balance Rewards program. All thoughts and opinions stated above are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Walgreens. But my local Walgreens will tell you just how often I'm there buying that "one more thing" I need.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo: Cinderella Is Back!

When I was a little girl, before Disney had the long string of Princesses for girls to choose from, Cinderella was the one everyone loved. Unlike Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, she wasn't a princess to begin with. She was a mistreated girl who worked hard yet never let it crush her dreams, and then with the help of her fairy godmother met her Prince Charming and fell in love. Most little girls loved the story and, at least in some way, identified with Cinderella.

The movie has just been released again for the Cinderella: Diamond Edition on Blu-ray, featuring a digitally remastered version of the film along with loads of extras.

I watched it again with my daughters and realized how much of the movie I had forgotten. Everyone remembers the iconic fairy godmother scene, and of course Cinderella at the ball, but both of these happen much later in the movie than I had recalled. The stepmother's cat, Lucifer, has a larger role than I remembered, as he and the mice take up a large part of the subplot, even involved in the final rescue attempt to unlock Cinderella from the tower.

The movie has a slower pace than many of the newer Disney films, a hallmark of the time it came from. A lot of time is spent showing the audience the daily life that Cinderella endures, giving us plenty of information to make our minds up about the nature of her evil stepmother and stepsisters. Even the songs are slower and dreamy in quality. It was fantastic to relive my memories of the film while watching it with my two daughters.

Beyond the film itself, the Diamond Edition Blu-ray is filled with additional fun. The best extra (in my opinion) is the addition of the Tangled Ever After animated short. If you liked Tangled, you'll love seeing how their wedding day was nearly a disaster but, like many moments in Tangled, all turns out OK in the end.

There's also a never-before-seen alternate opening sequence, showing a series of storyboards that detail one proposed opening for Cinderella, and two deleted scenes. I also really liked the feature on the new Disney Princess Fantasyland being built at Walt Disney World. The amusement park is expanding to bring the worlds of Disney Princesses to life and it looks amazing. The first section just recently opened - I can't tell you how excited I was to see the new attractions, especially since we're planning our first family trip to Disney in the spring!

This Blu-ray also includes the Disney Second Screen experience - you can download the app onto your computer , iPad or iPhone and then sync the app with the start of the movie when you're watching it. This lets you interact with the film as it's playing: see additional information about scenes, play games and more.

Overall, the Cinderella: Diamond Edition Blu-ray is a great addition to any collection. It's fantastic nostalgia for parents and grandparents, and a sweet fairy tale for kids. Who doesn't wish their fairy godmother might pay them a visit someday and make all of their dreams come true? OK, it's probably won't happen, but that's no reason to stop dreaming, right?

Cinderella is available on DVD and Blu-Ray just about everywhere now for a limited time before it's back in the vault again!

PS - Want some coloring pages for your kids, too? Click the button below for some free Cinderella coloring sheets!

Download Coloring Pages!

Full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this Blu-ray to facilitate my review. All opinions expressed here are my own. And if I could get a wish granted from my fairy godmother, I'd ask her to cover the costs of our trip to Disney next year, because vacations aren't cheap.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Getting Into The Fall Spirit With Lee

Can you feel that subtle shift in the air? While it's still warm most days, here in Ohio the air at night has taken on a crisp, chilly quality that we all associate with the arrival of fall. Even the warm days have lost the oppressive humidity of summer, making the sky a deep blue and bringing the horizon into sharp focus without the haze.

While I always mourn having to give up my sandals (I'm not a closed-shoe type person), I do love getting back to warm sweaters and jeans. Capris are fun and cool in the summer, but the right jeans can give shape to your legs and make them look like they go on forever.

Right before BlogHer, I received a pair of jeans from Lee's new fall collection to get the season off on the right foot. The Ivy Slender Secret bootcut jeans are a dark wash with flap back pockets. I wore them for a couple of days at BlogHer because I loved the fit so much.

Look at these jeans. Gorgeous, right? They fit snug, but not tight, through the hips and thighs, lending shape and smoothing out any bumps, then flared to a cute bootcut that gave me the appearance of skinny legs.

I love that they fit my curves so well. The jeans accommodate my hips while still fitting my waist without any gap. The one thing I tell people over and over about Lee jeans is how well they're designed for a woman's body, curves and all. I can bend down with no worries of flashing my underwear to everyone behind me.

Unfortunately, this particular pair of jeans isn't available online. It's a design made exclusively for their Lee outlet stores. (Ohio locals: I can successfully report that the Ivy Slender Secret bootcut jeans can be found at Lodi Station Outlets for a price so low you'll probably buy two pairs!)

If you want to know what to look for online or in retail stores, though, I have another recommendation for you: the Nina bootcut from the all-new Curvy Fit line.

I bought a pair of these a few weekends ago, and I love the new style! They're a little stretchier and appear to sit a little lower on the waist, and they have the same great fit that curves with your body. I love the darker color, too. (I also love that I bought these in a size 8 and they FIT!)

I'm always a little skeptical of any line of jeans that claims to be a "curvy" fit after several bad experiences with other brands that proved to me that we have very different definitions of curvy. This line from Lee, though, finally makes me a believer in a true curvy fit pair of jeans.

When it comes to durability, my Lee jeans have held up to the test. I wear jeans nearly every day in cooler weather, so they have to withstand a lot of abuse. The only reason I've had to replace any of my jeans at this point has been due to losing weight and needing a new size.

You will notice the Slender Secret and Curvy Fit jeans lose some of their shape over repeated wearings between washings (admit it, you wear your jeans more than once before you wash them) due to the stretch denim already being stretched from wear. But the shape comes right back as soon as you wash them. I have yet to notice any problems with shape/stretch that a wash didn't fix.

With fashion and fit like this from Lee, I'm ready for fall. Bring on the cold weather!

Full disclosure: I was provided with a pair of the Ivy Slender Secret jeans by Lee to facilitate this review. The Nina bootcut jeans were purchased with my own money. All opinions are my own. It should be no surprise that the ones I spent money on are just as awesome as the ones provided for review.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tales of Supernatural Friendship in Scholastic's "Ghost Buddy" Series

Our second grade daughter is a librarian's ideal child. She has a love of reading that sometimes borders on obsessive. For example, never did I think that as a mom I'd have to order my daughter to put her book down and eat her dinner. Or stop reading while walking so she doesn't hurt herself.

This has also resulted in her developing a reading ability far above her grade level. We can't keep up with her desire for new books to read. She likes fantasy and some mild science fiction, as long as it isn't too scary. So when Scholastic asked us to try out the new "Ghost Buddy" book series, I hoped the idea of a ghost as a main character wouldn't be too scary for her. 

The “Ghost Buddy” series focuses on two main characters. William C. “Billy” Broccoli, and his ghost friend Hoover Porterhouse III. Both boys have a series of problems. In Billy's case, it's that he is physically small and decidedly uncool. He has just moved into a new house with his mother (the principal at the local Junior High), his step-sister (the very popular 7th grader Breeze), and his step-father (Bennett, a dentist). He's starting sixth grade, has a room that is painted purple and lilac, and he has no idea how to make friends.

“Hoove,” as the ghost normally calls himself, is Billy's total opposite. He was 14, and is incredibly cool and stylish, without even trying. He's also been dead for 99 years, and that's where his problem comes in. In order to be able to move on outside the boundaries of his family's former ranchero, he has to pass his Ghost Report Card. He's managed passing grades on haunting skills and invisibility, and is easily passing personal hygiene, but his grades in “Responsibility” and “Helping Others” are abysmal. And if he can't get a passing grade from helping out Billy, he'll never move on.

The first book, Zero to Hero, focuses on Billy and Hoove's first meetings, and we are introduced to the core cast for the upcoming books. In addition to Billy, his family, and Hoove, we also meet Ruby Baker (Billy's presumed love interest), next-door-neighbor/law-enforcement enthusiast/bully Rod Brownstone, and cool kid and potential new best friend for Billy, Ricardo Perez. Hoove and Billy manage to forge an unlikely friendship as Hoove helps Billy defend himself from Rod's bullying and helps him earn some modicum of respect in his new school.

The second book, Mind if I Read Your Mind? centers around a public speaking competition at the school where Hoove sets Billy up to win by demonstrating his powers of mind-reading. Conflict arises when Billy spends more time paying attention to his mortal friends than Hoove, and Hoove ends up feeling unappreciated.

Both books are written with an easy, breezy style that will appeal to younger readers, although I think that some of the language may be on the edge of their vocabulary levels. Billy is a compelling protagonist, very much a Peter Parker-esque figure who nothing can go right for, and who most readers will see something of themselves in. And the Hoove is an irascible rogue whose heart is, ultimately, in the right place (shades of author Henry Winkler's old role as The Fonz, in fact).

As the series progresses (these are the only two books out so far), it is clear that Billy will continue to grow and evolve beyond needing Hoove's assistance, and Hoove will finally get his passing grade in Helping Others and Responsibility, and be granted his freedom to go and visit every baseball stadium in America.

The books are thoroughly fun, and quick reads and I think that Winkler and Lin Oliver have another successful series on their hands. I read both in a single afternoon, so the average grade-school kid should be able to manage them without too much difficulty.

Our second-grader read the first in a single day of bus trips to and from school. She likes the books, calling them "fun and cool, but a little creepy." We'll need to work on her review style, I think.

Win a set for yourself! (Or your kids!)

Want to give these books a try? I've got two sets of the first and second "Ghost Buddy" books to giveaway from Scholastic.

To enter: leave a comment below telling me your favorite childhood book. Please be sure to leave a way for me to contact you if you're the winner, too.

Entries will be accepted until 11:59pm ET Wednesday, September 26, 2012. One entry per person, US mailing addresses only. Two winners will be chosen at random after the giveaway closes. Winners must respond within 48 hours or alternate winners will be selected.

Good luck!

Full disclosure: I was provided with a copy of each of these books from Scholastic to facilitate my review. All opinions are my own, and those of my daughter, who thinks that having a ghost for a friend is just a little odd.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lee's Motion Comfort Khakis for Men: Style, Comfort, and Easy Care Combined

My husband appreciates looking good, but he's also not one to stay on the top of fashion trends. Like me, he usually spends his days off in jeans, but for work he has to dress a little more professionally. Those same work pants must first get past children and a slobbery dog before he can even get out the door, though, so he needs durable pants that will look good, stand up to the abuses of stains, and preferably not need ironed. (The last item is my request.)

Lee recently sent us a pair of their new Motion Comfort Khakis for him to try. I've been wearing Lee jeans, shorts and pants for quite a while, but he's fairly new to Lee. His previous dress pants and khakis have been different, pricier brands with a hit-and-miss reputation. Some stood up well to wrinkles and stains, but looked too baggy and high-waisted for a guy his age. Others had a great modern fit, but wore out too quickly.

The Motion Comfort Khakis boast of being wrinkle-free, iron-free, and stain resistant. Right away I'm sold on the idea if it makes my laundry routine a little easier! The twill fabric is mostly cotton with a little bit of stretch to create a comfortable fit as you move.

My husband received a pair of the navy pants to try out. His first impression is that they do run a little on the small size, so consider that when ordering. He was just at the upper end of the lower size, and it was far too tight in the waist. One size up, however, fit perfectly.

Since I didn't wear them myself, I'll have to relay his impressions on these pants. He thought they fit more snug than many of his other pants, but appreciated that they aren't baggy. The lower waist is a plus, too. The waistband is comfortable and has a slight stretch in it. He said the most surprising feature to him was the double pocket on the right side - most of his pants don't have the extra pocket. The pants are lightweight and keep him cool on even the warmest late summer days.

When it comes to the care of the pants, I can provide my opinion here. They really are a dream to care for. These pants require no ironing, show few wrinkles, and may be the best pants he's ever had at repelling stains. Most anything that gets onto his pants (including dog drool) comes right off with just a dab of water on a towel. Anything that doesn't come off right away is gone after a trip through the washing machine.
He's worn the Lee Comfort Fit Khakis for several weeks now (at least twice a week and through several washings), and they still look brand new. There are no signs of wear to be found, and even when washed and dried there has been no shrinkage in the length, either.

Took me forever to get a photo of him in the pants. I had to block the door as he was leaving for work, with our dog serving as backup.

To sum up, my husband is very pleased with the performance of these pants. They look good for work, and they're still tough enough to wear when out with the family, too. He likes the versatility and comfort, and I like the easy care of the fabric. (And I think he looks good in them, too. That matters.) I'd call it a win-win.

And yet again, Lee has won over another member of my family. They just know how to make good-looking pants that fit well. 

Full disclosure: We received the Comfort Fit Khakis from Lee to facilitate this review. No further compensation was given, all opinions are my own. (And my husband's opinion, too, in this case.)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hallmark Reveals New Keepsakes For Fall & Winter

While at BlogHer '12 in NYC just over a week ago, I had the chance to join friends to visit Hallmark for a sneak peak at what was new for the holidays this year.

There were some awesome new products that we sampled, but of course my first interest is always seeing what's new for the Hallmark Keepsake ornaments. Our Christmas Tree/Hanukkah Bush (it's what we call it) is the ultimate geek tree, and there's always at least one new Hallmark ornament selected for the tree each year. I think the oldest Hallmark geek ornament is my Star Trek shuttlecraft ornament with Spock's voice. My mom got that for me years ago - when I was a teen, I think - and it still works just as well as the day I opened it.

Looking over the new ornaments, I immediately saw the ones Aaron and I would want:

Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, The Amazing Spiderman

They also will have an Avengers set, but it wasn't on display. I'm sure my mom will get that set for us - she gets Aaron a superhero ornament every year.

For the kids, there were several new items. I loved the interactive storybooks that actually wait for a child's response and customize the story based on what option the child picks. It's like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books, only these are digital and voice responsive. Mira is going to love trying out one of these books - she always wants to have a say in the story.

Along the same line are the Interactive Story Buddies - they're plush animals who come with their own books. When you read the book out loud, the plush animals "listen" and then respond to key words in the book. The voice recognition is amazing, and it feels like the toy is listening to the story as well. (And chiming in just like any kid who wants to add a little more to the story!) It's quite possible that Nugget and Watson will find themselves at our house very soon.

In their back-to-school line was a cute little bug called Bug 'Em. It's a pint-sized plush that can hold cards and other tokens of encouragement and give an unexpected lift to any youngster’s day. My two girls have already claimed this little guy and asked that I use him to hide rewards for them when they've had good days. So I do - if they find him sitting out, they know they've done something good and look inside to see what goodies he might hold. They're so excited when he appears on the table or the couch!

Hey there, I've got a happy surprise for you!

Another cool kid product I got to try out was Text Bands. Text Bands allow kids to send text messages from wristband to wristband, expressing themselves and spreading encouragement in a fun, new way. How? Kids enter up to 10 characters into the screen on the band and bump fists or shake hands to pass the message. The bands light up and the messages transfer from band to band. They look and feel like an 80's flashback to me - but a good kind of flashback.

Getting a sneak peek at some of the new Hallmark products was so much fun. I love how they're working interactive technology into many products for kids - it's fun, educational, and gives kids a chance to feel like they have some control over their stories. And I know we'll have some new superheroes to add to our tree this year, taking their place among all of the other older ornaments.

Full disclosure: I was invited to attend a gathering with Hallmark to see the new products and received a gift bag with a sample of some of the items we tried out. All opinions are my own.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Summer Slim Down with Slim-Fast (& Giveaway!)

What's that? It's nearly time for back to school? Not around here it isn't!

August is usually the hottest month here in Ohio, and that means beach weather. Our family is planning a trip to Lake Erie in August, and I'm already a little nervous about knowing I'll have to be in a bathing suit for part of that trip. As much as I'd like to wave away body concerns and say it doesn't bother me, the truth is it does. Not as much as it used to, but I still want to look and feel my best when swimming and building sand castles with my daughters.

Slim-Fast is helping me reach my summer slim down goals by providing me with nutritious shakes, meal bars, and snack bars that are delicious, filling, and help me keep my calories and cravings under control. I used Slim-Fast earlier this year to shed ten pounds and get myself right on the edge of a healthy weight. (And I've kept it off!) Now I'm counting on Slim-Fast again to help me lose a few more pounds and get me to my goal weight before I step into that bathing suit.

The Slim-Fast plan is simple. One shake or meal bar in the morning, one at lunch, and then a balanced 500-calorie dinner. You also get three snacks to keep cravings at bay between meals, and you can either try one of their 100-calorie snack bars (which taste like indulgent candy bars!) or any other 100-calorie snack that you like, such as a cheese stick, small cup of nonfat yogurt, a piece of fruit, a handful of almonds, or any other treat that suits your tastes!

If you add up the calories you'll see the plan budgets for about 1200 calories a day. I try to work in running or strength training a few days a week, and for me I usually increase my calories by 100 on those days. (I've found that's what works best for my metabolism - you may need to find what best works for you in those situations.) The shakes have 10 grams of protein in them, which helps me feel content between meals. The snacks, for me, are really all about indulging and feeling like I'm getting a treat.

I've been back on the plan for a little over a week now and have already lost one pound, which is a big deal for me. This close to my goal, I have to fight hard for every pound lost. I'm excited to see the scale moving down again - Slim-Fast makes it so easy for this busy mom to have nutritious meals no matter how much is going on in my life. I can't wait to WOW everyone next month!


Enter to win one of TWO Slim-Fast “Summer of WOW!” Swag Bags. The bags have everything you’ll need to turn heads on the beach, including a $20 gift card to a top department store to add to your WOW! wardrobe, a bright beach tote, a premium infuser water bottle and a sampling of Slim-Fast products designed to help you look your best before you hit the beach.

To enter, just follow the Rafflecopter instructions below. Two winners will be chosen after the giveaway closes on Thursday, July26.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: This post was created in connection with my appointment as an Ambassador in the Slim-Fast® Summer Slim-Down Challenge. Visit to join the conversation.