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.