Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Last Minute Gifts

Christmas is less than a week away, and Hanukkah is already in full-swing. I don't know about all of you, but I'm terrible at trying to buy gifts ahead of time. With only two days until my in-law's Hanukkah party, and a few more days after that until Christmas, I still have a lot of shopping to do. If you're a last-minute shopper like me, here are some ideas for holiday gifts.

First up, I was sent an Insignia 2GB mp3 player to try out. This mp3 player not only plays music, but also can hold photos and play full color videos. My husband has a video iPod, and while I like it, there's no way I'm spending that much on one for myself. So trying out this (cheaper!) Insignia player was going to be a treat.

When I first opened it, I thought, "Wow, this thing is tiny! There's no way the screen resolution is going to look that good." And it is tiny - only 0.6" thick, and the screen takes up about 2/3 of the face. It has a click wheel similar to many other mp3 players, and the battery was already charged and ready to go, so I turned it on and started playing with it right out of the package. It comes loaded with some sample songs and videos, and it also has an FM receiver in it for listening to the radio.

I can now say with confidence, I love this little thing! My initial thoughts were so wrong - the screen has amazing clarity and bold colors. I couldn't believe such crisp video could be displayed on something so small (2.2"). It took me no time at all to learn how to use it, and the controls were so user-friendly that I only had to look at the instruction manual once. The sound is clear, and the volume can easily go to ear-bleeding levels. Best of all has to be the price: you're getting something that has sound and video quality equal to an iPod, but for only $120.

It does have some limitations, of course. The memory is only 2GB, although it has a slot to expand the memory using a microSD card. The radio reception is a little fuzzy indoors, too. Plus when you install the software, it wants you to try Best Buy's music service, which is just a personal pet peeve of mine (I don't like installing extra "junk" on my computer), but others may enjoy. Still, for the price and the features, the Insignia 2GB is a perfect gift for someone who wants an mp3 player.

Now, if you know someone who loves electronics, but already has an mp3 player, you may be stumped as to what to get them. The Philips company has introduced this website to help you search for last minute electronics gifts. You can search by person and by age group for recommendations on gifts that they might enjoy.

Thanks to Philips, Aaron will be trying out the Philips Norelco Bodygroom razor in the next few weeks. (Check out the link - I can never get through that commercial with a straight face.) And if he likes it, I might even try it out on a feminine area to see how well it works for us women, too. I'll report back with the results.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Even Santa Has a Blog

Cordy is still too young to care about Santa, but I know lots of other kids are really looking forward to a visit from the jolly gift giver on Christmas Eve.

Well, Land's End has teamed up with Santa to provide the details of Santa's preparations for the big night. Kids can visit Hi Santa now through Dec. 25 to listen to a daily story, read Santa's blog, download coloring pages, and post their own holiday stories and photos for a chance to win more goodies. They can even find out the daily weather report for the North Pole.

And if you don't let your kids online, or they're too young to take part, you can still hear Santa's story of the day by calling 1-800-HI-SANTA.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Toys To Learn With

It is my firm belief that anyone who buys a loud electronic toy for my child, especially one without an off switch, clearly hates me. Not only are they annoying, but I don't think toys like that add much to helping a child learn. They tell the child what the toy should do, not what the child thinks it can do, limiting the imaginative play for the child.

Some of Cordy's favorite toys are the old-fashioned, simple toys, like blocks, wooden puzzles, stacking cups, and crayons with blank paper. Which is why I'm so happy to have found, which features developmental toys selected by both child development experts and moms. These toys are creative, foster imagination, and are sturdy enough to hold up to years of play.

The really interesting thing about eBeanstalk is their package program. Instead of buying one toy every few months, you can purchase a package of toys. The package includes four toys, one sent every three months, and each appropriate for the age your child is when the toy is sent. You pay once for the package, and eBeanstalk takes care of remembering when to send each toy. They offer a variety of package prices, and you can customize each package if you want.

This is a great idea for grandparents or other relatives for the holidays - instead of overloading a child with a bunch of toys all at once, why not spread out the joy, giving them a new toy every three months? If a package isn't your thing, you can still purchase toys individually as well.

Right now, you can get 10% off your total order at eBeanstalk using the coupon code M2 PFT (be sure to include the space between the 2 and the P!).

(And if any of my relatives are reading this, Cordy would love the 2yr. old's Mom's Favorite gift set package for Christmas!)

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Gift For The Busy Mom

Know a mom friend who can barely keep it all together? Is her house full of post-it notes, reminding her of one kid's soccer practice, another one's swim lessons, and her husband's travel schedule for work?

Well, this might be a good gift for her. The BusyBodyBook is the perfect organizer for an entire household. With categories for each person, it makes it easy to keep track of everyone's schedules, all on the same page. And by having it all in one place, double-bookings are less likely to happen, and mom's sanity is saved. I have one of these, and even with only one toddler and a husband to keep track of, it is a wonderful timesaver.

During the month of December, you can get 25% off of a BusyBodyBook (runs Aug. '06 - Dec. '07) if ordered from their website. Just use the code BBBLOG when ordering anytime between now and Dec. 31.

And hey, at that price, pick one up for yourself as well!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Land's End Baby Contest

I don't know if you've ever tried Land's End clothing, but they're one of my favorites. I especially love their outerwear, and I live in the All-Weather Mocs they sell. The quality is outstanding, and while the prices are higher than Target, everything I've bought from them has more than earned its worth. If I had more money, I'd certainly be wearing more from them.

This week I discovered they're having a holiday photo contest for babies. If you have a child under 24 months, don't miss entering the Land's End Most Memorable Moments Baby Contest. Simply submit a recent picture of your cutie doing something simply adorable, and you could win a $250 Land's End gift certificate, plus have your child's picture featured on the Land's End website.

So dig through all of your digital pics and submit one to the contest. If Cordy was only two months younger, I'd have entered by now.

EDIT: The November contest is now closed, but as soon as Dee Dee told me about it closing, they just launched the December contest! So there is still time to get your entry in.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Win Cool Stuff!

Everyone loves to win prizes. It's even better when you actually win cool stuff, and not just that hand crocheted toilet paper cover someone donated to the craft fair raffle.

That's why I'm totally excited about Design Mom's new contest. For an entire month, beginning today and ending Dec. 15, she's giving away one cool item a day. This hip mama hand picked several beautiful items from different designers to give away, making sure each met her standards for good design.

How do you enter? All you have to do is leave one comment on the day's post before midnight, and you're automatically entered in the drawing for that day's prize. Check back each day, and you can enter to win each giveaway.

Today's entry is starting the month-long frenzy with a bang, too. Gorgeous, not-your-average, Christmas cards are up for grabs today. Why are you still here? Go enter!

Monday, November 06, 2006

I Think I'm In Love...With a Baby Monitor

When Aaron and I got married, we received several very nice gifts. I remember opening the gift boxes and wrapping paper and getting downright giddy at the sight of a new silverware set or kitchen towels.

Pre-marriage, I never, ever, saw myself getting excited over household goods. To the pre-married me, a spoon was a spoon: whether it was plastic or silver, it got the job done. But somewhere in the wedding planning, I picked up the domestic gene that made me jump for joy at the sight of a new set of bed sheets.

The same has been true of baby gadgets, too. At my shower, I was so excited to get all of the interesting little gizmos and doo-dads to make raising a child easier. Which is why when I got a new baby monitor to try out a few weeks ago, I found myself in that same giddy state I was at my baby shower.

We already had a monitor, but I was generally unhappy with it. When we put it on our registry, it was listed as one of the best, and it was by a brand we trusted (rhymes with "kiss'er twice"). But for all the hype on that monitor, it proved to be a real pain. First, the static is nearly unbearable. We had to learn to sleep with the hiss of static in order to hear Cordy if she woke up at night. And switching channels (it only has two channels) didn't help, because the other channel was great at picking up the cordless phone conversations of our neighbors.

However, that old monitor is now going to find itself a new home, for I now have a monitor I love. The Philips Babycare digital monitor simply rocks. When I first opened it, I'll admit I was a little scared of all the menu options and buttons, but I can now say it is simple to operate, and works far better than our old monitor.

The best advantage - no static!! I swear, no static! It has several channels to choose from, and automatically searches and finds the best channel for you. If another device in the area starts using the same frequency, it changes to an unused one right away. No effort is required on your part to find a channel that no one else in the area is using.

Another advantage is you can control the sensitivity of the microphone. If, like me, you don't want to hear every sigh loud and clear, you can turn the sensitivity down so it only picks up the important stuff, like your child yelling, "Mommy, mommy, mommy! Out!" Going along with that, the volume control is also very easy to use, and gives the option of turning the sound off and using only the sound indicator lights instead.

For those with infants, the Babycare digital monitor features several lullabies that you can select to play from the parent handset, along with a nightlight you can turn on and off with the handset. The sensor also tells you the temperature in the baby's room, and allows you to set temp. limits, sounding an alarm if the room temperature gets too hot or cold.

The parent handset is battery operated and rechargable, leaving you the option to keep it docked in the recharging cradle or carry it with you. And finally, if you're traveling and need to bring your monitor with you, they even provide a carrying case to pack it all in.

My only complaint with the Philips Babycare digital monitor is that only one parent handset is included. I would have preferred two, so I could keep one docked upstairs in our bedroom, and the other downstairs. Still, I would rather carry the handset around in the evening than try to sleep with all the static from our former monitor.

Sleeping without the static and mystery noises waking me up has sold me on this baby monitor. To see more about this monitor, along with the technical specifications, click here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fun Shapes Baking Results

I got my set of Fun Shapes baking tins this week, and decided that today was the perfect dreary day to bake cupcakes.

My baking experiment can be found here. Understand that this is the first thing I've baked in many, many years, so the results were tasty, but not as pretty as the Reynolds web site.

If I can make ghosts that actually look like ghosts, anyone can.

Last chance to enter the contest to win a large bake sale kit of Fun Shapes! Enter before Monday!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Not Your Mass-Produced Standard Gift

You may not think Christmas is getting close yet, but retailers would like you to think it is right around the corner. I walked into Target this morning, only to be assaulted by aisles of gaudy Christmas ornaments and cheap trinkets. While not present yet, soon the remaining Halloween aisles will be conquered and overrun with "gift baskets" and other mass-produced junk, begging to be purchased for those you love.

I say save that junk for those you feel obligated to buy gifts for (the wife of your boss, your second cousin who insists on getting you something each year, etc.). Instead of buying the same old gift for your friends and family, check out the Etsy site.

Etsy is like going to one giant craft fair with thousands upon thousands of crafters selling homemade items. Anyone who makes handmade items can list their products on this site, getting a free online shop and being noticed as part of the Etsy community.

I browse Etsy weekly, looking for cool new items. You can find jewelry, clothing, toys, ceramics, furniture, candles, and anything else you can think of there. Given the choice, I'd rather support a small-time crafter than support Wal-Mart's factory in China. Besides, a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry just seems more thoughtful than a Campbell's soup gift pack with soup mug and warming plate. And you know that whoever gets that gift won't get another one like it from someone else.

So once you start your holiday shopping, try spending a day browsing through Etsy and see if something catches your eye. It's sure to be less stressful than waiting in line at 4am the day after Thanksgiving only to miss out on buying TMX Elmo.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Brownies With Style

I don't know about you, but every time I see a bake sale, I have to stop. Something about the sweet aroma of brownies and cookies draws me in every time.

But then when I get to the table, I'm nearly always disappointed by the display. Baggies full of boring, lumpy, shapeless cookies and standard rectangle or square brownies. Certainly baked goods can have a little more style than this without being made by Martha Stewart, right?

Then I was tipped off to these. Reynolds has introduced Fun Shapes baking cups and cake pans. Sure, you can buy cookie cutters anywhere, but now you can have mini-cakes, brownies, and thick cookies in the shape of stars, hearts, and seasonal shapes, like ghosts for Halloween. Suddenly those boring brownies aren't so boring anymore.

And best of all? You can have one snazzy bake sale without spending a fortune (just think how expensive Wilton cake pans are - and they don't come in small sizes like this).

For a person like me, with no kitchen skills whatsoever, I'm thrilled at the possibility of making fun desserts for Christmas this year, instead of buying them at the grocery and trying to pass them off as my own.

Want to win everything you would need for a great bake sale (or just a fun party)? Reynolds is giving away 60 bake sale kits this week and next. To enter, click here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Real Animal Stories

A few months ago, I was contacted by Randy at The Benefactory and asked if I would review her company's books. We're a family of avid readers (OK, so I don't read as much as I used to, but I have a 2 year old excuse.), so I jumped on the chance to try out some new books for Cordy.

Randy sent us three books: Chessie, The Travelin' Man, Ruffle, Coo, and Hoo Doo, and Norman to the Rescue. Each softcover book is the true story of a real animal. Chessie is about a manatee who likes to roam up and down the eastern seaboard, Ruffle, Coo, and Hoo Doo are two green parrots and a great horned owl who co-exist in the same tree in Bridgeport, CT, and Norman is a blind shelter dog who saves a little girl from drowning.

I think what impressed me the most was the beautiful artwork. Each page is filled with bright colors and beautiful renditions of these animals. While the stories are aimed at somewhat older children, Cordy still enjoyed looking at the pictures and talking about what she saw. (Yes, I got to hear, "Itza kiiiiii!" each time I turned a page when reading Norman to the Rescue. Someday Cordy will learn what a dog is.) Many times I barely had time to read everything on the page, but I know that as she grows older she will be more willing to listen to the story.

Best of all, I've read these to Cordy several times now, and I still enjoy reading them. The stories are interesting, and the authors dig into the emotions of the events. I actually learned things from them as well - I had no idea that a manatee would swim in the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean, much less go as far as New England! I also love that there is a photo in the back of each book featuring the real animal the story is based on.

The Benefactory has books on lots of other animals, also, including condors, wolves, bears, loggerhead turtles, and more shelter kitties and dogs. Each story stresses the importance of animal protection.

So, if you like animal stories, I'd suggest giving The Benefactory a try. They get two thumbs up from me and a sticky high five from Cordy. (She can't do thumbs up yet. But high fives are high praise.)


As anyone who is around me much will tell you, I'm an opinionated person. I willingly give my thoughts on nearly any topic, especially anything that involves spending money.

I've been wanting to post more reviews on A Mommy Story, but I couldn't find the right places to do so. Instead, I created this sister-blog as a chance to finally sound off on all the things I love, like, and hate. Expect to see product reviews, my thoughts on upcoming products, things I wish manufacturers would make, and contest offers.

If you are interested in having your product reviewed, please e-mail me for information.