Thursday, October 30, 2008

Get Ready For Winter With Lands' End

With this week's arctic blast chilling me to the bone, I've been forced to dig out all of my sweaters, long-sleeve shirts and thick socks. As I pulled out my winter coat, I realized that I no longer have an "everyday" winter coat. My only coat is a long black wool coat - somewhat formal for playing in the snow or taking a walk. So when Lands' End offered to let me try their women's Weatherly Jacket, I quickly agreed.

Cordy has worn a Lands' End winter jacket for the past two years, and I love that it keeps her warm in the coldest of conditions. The Weatherly jacket also promises to keep you warm in temperatures as low as -10 degrees F when worn over layers.

The first thing I noticed is how lightweight this jacket is. Using PolarThin insulation, the jacket isn't puffy like others, and feels very smooth when putting it on. You can adjust the waist tabs in the back to create the perfect fit, and the cuffs have adjustable velcro straps to keep the cold from rushing in your sleeves. A pull cord at the bottom adjusts the hem.

What I love: First, I love all of the pockets on this jacket. There are two storage pockets on the front, with two smaller, fleece-lined pockets that serve as hand-warmers. Inside, there is another pocket plus a smaller pocket to hold your mp3 player. I also love the tall sherpa fleece collar. The outer fabric of the jacket has a coating that allows water to bead up and roll off - very useful during last Friday's downpour.

I have very few complaints about this jacket. I would prefer to see it slightly longer for those of us who are long-waisted. A hood might be nice, too, although this does give me the chance to show off some fun winter hats.

Overall, I'm a big fan of the Weatherly jacket. It's warm, it's lightweight, and I don't feel like the kid in A Christmas Story who can't put his arms down in his bulky snowgear. It comes in a rainbow of colors, too - I chose garnet red, since I do live in Buckeye-country. Pair it with the Lands' End women's Chalet shoes and you'll look stylish at the sledding hill this year!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Don't Forget To Backup Your Data

Last week, Aaron's computer was attacked by a root kit virus. I don't know if you've heard of them, but they are mean little computer viruses that infest the deepest levels of your system. Often the only way to get rid of them is to completely erase your hard drive and start over, and after trying several options, Aaron had to erase everything. Thankfully, he had a backup of some of his data, but he still lost several programs and files.

I know the importance of backing up our data, and we have an external drive that we share to back up our files. But I never know which files to back up, aside from the obvious photos and iTunes songs. I also can never remember when I last backed up files, so I can't be sure it's all on the drive.

And then I received an e-mail about the Clickfree HD 801, and after reading the description I asked to try it out. This portable backup device requires practically no effort - just plug it in and sit back as it creates a backup of all of your files automatically. There is no software to install, and no settings to fuss with. (Unless you really want to.)

I was doubtful of the claims of this drive being truly "clickfree", so I connected the USB cable and waited to see what happened. The drive automatically started up, scanned my system, and began backing up files. I didn't have to do a thing.

It did take a very long time, but I have a lot of files to backup. Two weeks later, I plugged it in again, and it quickly scanned my system for new or changed files, updated them to it's hard drive and was finished within minutes. It's also small and easy to stash in a drawer between uses.

I have to say I love my Clickfree backup device! This is honestly the easiest electronic device I have ever owned, and it serves a very important purpose. As long as I can remember to update it every week or two (which, as I said, is very easy), I know my files will be safe in case of computer viruses or a massive hard drive failure.

The Clickfree HD 801 holds up to 160 GB of data - enough for two computers for some families - and can be purchased at Amazon.com.

Kroger Brings The Savings To You

In these tough economic times, I've been looking for savings everywhere I can. And lately I've been having great luck with our local Kroger for saving money on my groceries and more.

Every week I scan our local Kroger ad to look for the weekly deals and plan our meals accordingly. I love the Kroger Fuel Rewards program, which give you a minimum of $0.10 off of gas at any Kroger-owned gas station when you spend at least $100 at Kroger in a month. (I spend about four times that much, so the gas savings really add up!)

I've also taken advantage of the Kroger Pharmacy's $4 prescriptions twice in the past two months, since we're currently without insurance.

And I've recently started taking advantage of the Kroger.com website to help me save even more. While I'd like to be an avid coupon-cutter, the truth is I'm not so good at remembering to do it. And when I do remember, I often forget to bring the coupons I need with me to the grocery. Kroger.com provides downloadable coupons to print, and if you don't want to worry about carrying coupons, they also have partnerships with P&G's eSaver and Shortcuts, both of which let you pick the coupons you want and have them automatically added to your Kroger Plus card. When you go to the grocery, the coupon discounts are automatically added to any of the selected products you buy when you scan your card. For someone who is forgetful of little paper coupons, this is a HUGE service to me!

Win a $25 Kroger gift card!

Want to win a $25 Kroger gift card? Leave a comment on this post between now and Friday October 31 at 11:59 pm Eastern time. Be sure to leave a way for me to contact you if you win. One winner will be chosen at random (Via Random.org) after Friday.

Kroger gift cards can be used at any Kroger Co. store, including Fred Meyer, Ralph's, and Food 4 Less.

Also, be sure to enter for a different $25 Kroger card over on my other blog as well!

(This contest is part of the Bloggy Giveaways carnival.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Got Allergies? You Might Want To Try This Spray!

Around here, we're an allergy-type family. I have general hayfever, Aaron is extremely allergic to ragweed and slightly allergic to pets, Cordy has sensitive skin and food allergies, and Mira...well, she hasn't shown any allergies yet, lucky thing. Even one of our cats is allergic to dust, mites, dogs, and several foods.

I decided to try out a sample of the new Clorox Anywhere Anti-Allergen Fabric Spray to see if it could help keep the allergens under control. It boasts that just by spraying it on common items we all use - the couch, fabric chairs, our bedding, etc. - it can break up many of the allergens that lead to our sneezing, watery eyes, or itchy skin. The bottle specifically mentions cat and dog dander and dust mite matter, and it claims to be completely safe for kids and pets. I wondered about this last claim, since my family is fairly sensitive to any chemical products.

It's really easy to use - just spray a fine mist on any fabric surface and give it a little time to dry. As it dries, it breaks down any allergens on the fabric, making it safer for you to lay your head down on the pillow or relax on the couch. I especially like that it has no strong odor, or any odor at all, unless you put your nose directly down to the fabric right after spraying it. The very light scent is fresh and clean. It's even safe to use on stuffed animals.

I misted down most of the furniture in our living room and all of our beds. It dried in under five minutes, and left no odor behind. This isn't our peak allergy season right now, but I can say that there haven't been any serious allergy attacks in the past week or two. The cat even seems to be doing well - dust mites really bother him, and I can't wash all of the areas he lays on constantly, so the spray is helping him. And no one has had any kind of reaction to the spray, either.

More long term testing is needed in this house, I think, but so far I think the Clorox Anywhere Anti-Allergen Fabric Spray has potential to be a very useful tool in my cleaning. The lack of any strong odor and the fact that it is safe to use around kids and pets is a big plus for me, too.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What's Better Than Dancing Puppets?*

*Mira would tell you that NOTHING is better than dancing puppets.

Most of you already know that I'm a bad parent who lets her children watch TV. Mira, suffering from second child syndrome, is very familiar with all of the offerings of the TV at only 16 months. Once Cordy was in school, we tried showing her only videos made for her age group, like Baby Einstein, but she had already sampled the older kids shows and while she loves puppets, those puppets moved too slow for her.

When I received the My Baby A to Z - Come Explore Shapes With Me DVD from Parent Bloggers, I worried it would be just as slow and she would have no interest in it. The puppets on the cover looked cute, though, and everything deserves a chance, so we put it in one morning when Cordy was at school to try it out. Cordy is a little smarty pants who already knows all of her shapes, so I decided Mira would be the only test subject.

Mira's attention was immediately captured with the dancing puppets on the title screen. As it started playing, she climbed onto my lap and continued to stare at the screen. The DVD features two puppets who serve as hosts as they explore different kinds of shapes with the audience. It's not too fast or slow paced, but just right to keep toddlers engaged and following along. There are plenty of opportunities to interact with the video, too: the puppets go out into the world and explore to find shapes, asking the children to find the shape, and sometimes asking the children to move their bodies to mimic certain shapes, like the roundness of a circle or the angular nature of a triangle.

Other puppets also join in to help demonstrate the shapes, as well as occasional clips of computerized stick figures creating shapes and playing with them. Mira loved all of the puppets, but she was especially fond of the two primary ones.

My favorite part has to be the occasional moments when the puppets announce "It's time to move!" and then groove to the music. It's a reminder for kids to get up and move instead of sitting passively watching TV. All I can think when they say this is "STOP...Hammer Time!" and I'll confess I'm saying that every time to get Mira to dance along. I love the random dance party segments, and think more videos for children could benefit from move 'n groove time.

Cordy, who is 4 years old, did see the DVD a few times, and she thought the puppets were cute. But as expected, she already knew all the shapes and was pointing them out before the puppets. Like I said - smarty pants. They recommend the DVD for ages 2-5, but a 4 or 5 year old might be beyond the subject matter.

Mira is just at the age where she can learn the subject matter, so this video is perfect for her. She's just beginning to notice different shapes, and My Baby A to Z - Come Explore Shapes With Me helps reinforce what I'm already teaching her. I'd recommend this DVD to anyone with children as young as 15 months. And for adults, I can report that I've seen this several times, and I'm not sick of it yet - a very important measure of a DVD for children.

Win a copy! I've got an extra copy of My Baby A to Z - Come Explore Shapes With Me to give away to one reader. To enter, leave a comment below by the end of the day on October 27, telling me your favorite puppet or muppet from your childhood. (Mine has to be Animal from the Muppets.) One winner will be chosen at random on October 28. Make sure I have a way to contact you if you win. And if you want more chances to win, check out Parent Bloggers - they're giving away 20 more as well!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Revisiting The Potty Struggle

It's been a full two years since we first tried to introduce the idea of using a potty to Cordy. We've tried nearly every technique to get her to use the potty, and while she will use it and stay dry at school now, she still resists at home and won't do it at all on the weekend.

I was offered the chance to review the old favorite Once Upon A Potty from Parent Bloggers, and decided that it was worth a try. The book has been around for years, and I think nearly everyone has heard of it, but we still didn't have it.

The book is actually two books - one designed for a boy, and one designed for a girl. The girl book follows the story of Prudence, as told by her mother. It tells of how Prudence has always used diapers since she was a baby, but now she's been given a potty to use and at first is very confused. But with a lot of patience and a lot of sitting, she eventually figures it out.

I really like that the book begins with a very brief and age-appropriate anatomy lesson of where each bodily excrement comes from. It was also nice to see that Prudence was allowed to play with the potty at first while she tried to figure out what it was, even wearing it as a hat in one picture. The images are simple but clear and get the point across easily.

Cordy enjoyed reading the book, listening all the way through and then asking to read it again over and over. She especially loved the part where Prudence sat and sat and sat...she giggled and repeated it with me as we read an entire page of "sat and sat..." And she showed a lot of understanding about where everything comes from.

She didn't recognize the potty in the picture at first, insisting that it wasn't a potty and it didn't look anything like her potty. The potty in the story is a little old-fashioned looking - it looks more like a Victorian chamber pot than the plastic potty you might find in a store. I also changed the words a little when reading it to her - the book refers to Wee-Wee and Poo-Poo, but I preferred to call them pee and poop, since those are the words we use.

Has the book helped at all with her potty training? While I'd love to report she's completely potty trained, that still isn't the case. But it has shown her that sometimes she has to sit for a while before anything happens, and she'll now give it a minute or two before declaring she's done and asking to leave the bathroom. And more importantly, her little sister Mira has been following along as well, and now follows me into the bathroom to sit on the potty (fully-clothed, but still) every chance she gets. I think Mira might be potty trained faster than Cordy.

The book also comes with a CD, including the Joshua and Prudence Theme song, The Potty Song, and a read-along of the book. The songs are very jazzy in nature - not bad at all, but Cordy also wasn't very interested. She did like the read-along, though.

There's a reason Once Upon A Potty is one of the most read potty books over the years - it's clear in message, it explains the process without pressure, and it helps make the idea of the potty less frightening.

Want to win one? If you have a boy, or know someone with a boy of potty training age, leave a comment below to win the boy version of this book and CD. One winner will be selected at random after Friday, October 24.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Trying to Green Up My House

You may have noticed the new little icon in my left sidebar. I'm currently participating in the Green Works 30 Days to Natural experiment. In the past few years I've been wanting to make better choices for our family that helped us live healthier and protected the environment.

For this challenge, I'm trying out the Clorox Green Works line of cleaners, all made with biodegradable ingredients and free of phosphorus, bleach, and other toxic chemicals. None of the products are tested on animals, also. I'm replacing the remaining harsh cleaners we had with Green Works products to see if they clean just as well as the old products. I've already been using them, and so far I can tell you that I'm liking what I'm seeing. (And smelling!) Reviews will be coming soon.

The 30 Days to Natural website encourages you to sign up for an account, and in return provides you with a wealth of tips to live in a healthier, more environmentally-friendly way. You can have daily tips e-mailed to you or sent to your cell phone. And you can watch videos from three moms who are vlogging their 30 day transformation to a greener household.

It's been fun so far, and several of the daily tips have been useful and reminded me that it doesn't take a lot of effort to make eco-friendly choices.

Win A Lands' End Fleece Pullover!

*Contest has ended. Congrats to the lucky winner, Firemom!

Cold weather will be here in a matter of weeks, so if you haven't started pulling out your winter gear, you might want to think about it. I'm going to have to buy some new winter gear this year because I've lost some weight since last winter's postpartum blahs.

If you're looking for some new winter gear, too, why not start with winning a pullover? I'm giving away a Lands' End Women's ThermaCheck 100 Half-Zip Pullover to one lucky reader this week. These pullovers are made from a special fleece that is not only very soft, but the only permanent antistatic fleece out there. That's right - no shocking someone just by walking across the room, and no looking like a lint trap after a week or two. It's also incredibly lightweight, making it perfect for layering in the winter.

To enter the contest, visit Lands' End and decide what color you like best, then leave a comment on this post telling me which color is your favorite no later than Monday, October 20 at 11:59pm EST. One winner will be chosen at random (random.org) after Oct. 20.

And if you're in the mood to shop, be sure to take advantage of free basic UPS shipping at Lands' End now through October 20. (My advice? Check out their shoes. The Chalet Shoes look so cozy, and they're on sale, too.)

Free Shipping Code: OUTERWEAR
PIN: 1013

Good luck!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Lands' End Contest & Free Shipping Code!

Did you ever wish you could get all your family together - you, the kids, maybe the grandparents, too - and all go on vacation together? (OK, I also wish I could go on vacation without all of them, too, but that's beside the point.) With the economy tanking right now, vacation money is hard to come by, but you could always try to win your vacation.

Lands' End's Great Get Togethers contest is running through noon, October 30, 2008 for an all-expense paid vacation to The Resort at Paws Up in Montana.

The grand prize is 7 nights of fun at the resort for up to 12 members of your family. This includes not only the resort stay, but also airfare, meals, four half-day wilderness adventures, and a set of Lands' End Windfall outerwear for each family member. I've never been snowmobiling, but I'd be willing to learn for a vacation like that!

Second and third place winners get a Lands' End clothing package, also for up to 12 family members.

To enter, visit Lands' End and fill out the Great Get Togethers contest entry form, including a 300 word essay about your most memorable family get together. Winners will be chosen after October 31, 2008.

And if you're starting your winter outerwear shopping like me, you should take a look at Lands' End this week for some great sales and free shipping. Using the code below at checkout, get free standard UPS shipping on any order from now until October 20!

Code: OUTERWEAR
PIN: 1013

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Review For The Bedroom

Let's begin by asking all members of my immediate (and not so immediate) family to please click away at this point. Trust me, you don't want to read a review that discusses my sex life. Those who also really don't want to read about sex might want to click away to a happier place for you, too.

OK, just the rest of us now? Good.

We may not talk about it as much as we did when we were wild and childless, but moms do have sex, too. While the public would prefer to place moms in the holy Madonna category of women, the truth is that we're just as sexual as our childless friends. Well, maybe we're more tired and as a result we don't have sex as much as we did, but when we do we want it to be good. I'm not saying that things are boring between my husband and I, but we're both open to trying new things to keep it from ever becoming boring.

I was invited by a fellow mom blogger to try out a product from Eden Fantasys, and encouraged to not let modesty hold me back. So I decided to go for it, asked my husband to help me pick something, and selected the Abelio vibrator.

The first thing I was impressed with was how discreet the packaging was when it arrived. A plain box, with no identifiable information about where it was from. I actually had no idea what the package was until I opened it.

The Abelio is a great looking vibrator. If I have a toy that will be used solo as well as with my husband, I want it to not look so realistic, if you know what I mean. This vibe looks so nice you could have it standing on the table in broad daylight and mistake it for some modern art piece. There is no large dial at the bottom, either - to turn it on, push the base and hold for a couple of seconds. To switch between different vibrations, just tap the base again.

Pros: It has several settings, ensuring you'll find just the right one for you. It's also made of medical grade, velvety-soft silicone, making it one of the safest toys available (no PVC, or jelly-like material that can harbor bacteria and be hard to clean). It's not waterproof, but it is water resistant so it can be used in the shower. Vibrations are strong but not numbing or jarring. It also makes a quiet humming noise, enough to hear in the room but not behind a door.

Cons: While it can be used internally or externally, I found only a couple of the different vibration settings were strong enough for external use. It's also really easy to tap the base when using it, which switches the setting it's on.

Overall, the Abelio is a really nice toy to add a little spice to our sex life, and we're very happy with it. I'm also pleased with Eden Fantasys. The site is easy to navigate, there are reviews of many of the products to help you decide, and if you're still having trouble, there is a forum where you can ask questions without fear of sounding weird. If we should look into any new bedroom toys in the future (likely), I think this will likely be the first place we look.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Cordy & Daddy's Egg-cellent Cooking Adventure

Did you know that Oct. 10 is World Egg Day? I didn't either, until Parent Bloggers asked me if I would like to help celebrate by making a recipe that features eggs and preferably has a world theme to it. The Egg Board is trying to get the message out about World Egg Day by featuring egg recipes from around the world.

This of course, was a challenge for me. First, I'm a lousy cook. Second, I'm the only one in my family who eats eggs. Cordy and Mira have both tried eggs and turned their noses up at them. I had to find something that used eggs but didn't look like eggs, and it had to be simple enough that Cordy could help and I wouldn't burn the house down.

So what did we make? French toast! OK, so it's not exactly international, but hey, we even printed out a French flag for inspiration. That counts for something, right?

The one problem with the traditional french toast recipe is that it contains cinnamon, which Cordy is allergic to. So we used Jenna's cinnamon-free french toast recipe for this experiment.

Here are the ingredients:

Wine in the background not an ingredient, yet as many parents know, always necessary...

2 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 2 tbsp brown sugar, slices of bread, and a generous sprinkling of nutmeg

Step 1: Put eggs and milk into a bowl and beat. Or stir, if you want it to take forever. Cordy preferred to stir, so we had to help her.

She loved stirring. (And see the French flag on the stove?)

Step 2: Add vanilla, brown sugar and nutmeg and stir. This can take less than a minute, or a full 5 minutes if you have a child who loves to stir.

Stir the vanilla in...

Add in brown sugar (Mira's only task in this process)...

Stir some more...

Add in nutmeg, and then - you guessed it - stir some more!

Step 3: Now comes the fun part. Heat up your griddle, or in our case, use a frying pan with the burner set at medium high heat and a spoonful of butter added. Dip the bread, covering both sides in the mixture quickly, and place in the frying pan or griddle until both sides are lightly brown.

If your child is in charge of dipping, keep a close eye on her to keep her from dipping it too early. One piece of french toast turned out a little squishy due to being drowned in the mixture when left in for over a minute.

Dipping is tough when you have sensory integration disorder, but she was very brave. She even got her fingers into the mixture a few times and didn't get upset.

Aaron does the cooking to ensure this remains a safe experiment

Here's our dipping process in action:

video

Step 4: Add powdered sugar and syrup.


Step 5: Eat! Yum!

And now the moment of truth: will she eat it?

Thumbs up!

We had a lot of fun making french toast, and Cordy got to try a new breakfast food that has a lot more protein than a waffle, thanks to the eggs and milk. And now that they've had eggs in this form, maybe we can move up to scrambled eggs soon.

If you like eggs, go find a new egg recipe to make for your family for World Egg Day on October 10. The Egg Board has several recipes available that look delicious. Who knows, you might just find a new meal for your picky child, too.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Party Supplies and A Chat With Elmo

Right before Cordy's birthday party, I was contacted by the Solo Cup Company, asking if we would like to try out their new line of Sesame Street cups, bowls and plates. Specifically, I was asked if I had an upcoming party that needed supplies. I replied that Cordy was having a birthday party that weekend, and we didn't have any supplies yet. Candace then overnighted me a box of cups and bowls to use for the party.

The kids loved the cups and bowls! We used the bowls to serve ice cream and cake, meaning less was scooped off plates onto the floor or small laps. I liked that they were strong bowls and the cups held up all day long, despite several refills with ice. The cups also came with tops and straws to minimize spills. At the end of the party, we had a large bag for people to throw all of the paper products into for recycling, making clean-up a piece of...well...cake. The Sesame Street paper bowls and cups were perfect for the party.

Also, right now Solo is putting a toll-free number on each package of Sesame Street party products. Dialing that number will put your child in contact with Elmo, which if your kid likes Elmo will make you officially Coolest Mom of the Year. Sure, it's a recorded message, but will your child care? Probably not. The Solo Sesame Street website also has activities to print off, including recipes and coloring pages.