Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Night Light That Keeps Kids In Bed - No, Really!

Cordy has always been an early riser. There have been good times when she would sleep until 6:30 am, and not-so-good times when she would be up for the day at 4:30 am. We don't like her to be out of her room when we're not awake (safety issues, obviously), and we really don't want her waking us up at times when no sane human should be awake.

Winter is especially hard, because we can't use the old "when the sun comes up you can come out of your room" explanation. We recently tried buying her a digital clock, and teaching her to stay in bed until the clock says "6" is a great idea until she comes into your room at 4:36 am with a chipper smile on her face as she exclaims, "Mommy, there's a six on my clock!" Beyond that, teaching a five year old - or at least our five year old with autism - the intricacies of 6:00 versus 6:30 is also difficult.

But we've found a solution that works now. I was invited to try out the Good Nite Lite, a night light that also functions to teach children when it's nighttime and morning. It has a small clock in it that you can program to set a bedtime and set a time when it's OK to get out of bed.

Here's how it works: plug the Good Nite Lite into the wall, and when the internal clock reaches the time you set for bedtime, the nightlight turns on to reveal a glowing blue moon:

While bright at first, the moon dims after the first hour. The moon stays on all night, lending a soft blue glow to the room that isn't too bright to disturb. When it's time to get up in the morning - according to the time you set - the moon changes to a yellow-orange glowing sun:

The sun stays on for only two hours before it shuts off for the day to conserve energy. The beauty of this system is that you can change the times whenever you need, so if you are trying to retrain an early riser to stay in bed longer, you can reset the time in slow increments over days or weeks.

Does it work? I'm amazed and thrilled to say that it does! Cordy understands the sun and moon concept far better than telling time on a digital clock. She loves to see the moon on at night, and really does stay in her room until it switches to a sun.

A quick example: Aaron set it to switch to the sun at 6:15 am each day. He accidentally reset it to 6:45 am one night, and the next morning Cordy didn't come out of her room until 6:45. Her sister was awake and out of her room before Cordy, encouraging Cordy to join her in the hallway, and Cordy refused to come out of her room until she saw the sun on her night light. We are stunned at how easy this has been - never before has she stayed in her room so easily.

Are there any negatives? Well, programming the clock is a little complicated, but the instruction guide does provide fairly clear directions. Just remember to be quick, because if you wait 10 seconds, the time returns to the previously set time.

At this point I'm declaring the Good Nite Lite a brilliant product that I wish I knew about two years ago. I'd gladly sign a petition to make this a required item for new parents. (I'm already considering a second one for Mira - she's starting to be an early riser now, too.)

I don't think Cordy will be giving up her Good Nite Lite for a long time. And I think Aaron and I will be getting more sleep now thanks to this wonderful night light.

Full Disclosure: I was given one Good Nite Lite for review. No positive review was guaranteed or expected. All opinions are my own, and no further compensation was provided.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dazzle At Your Holiday Parties With Lane Bryant

**Contest is closed - thanks to those who entered! Winner will be announced soon!

I've never been the gal who loves to dress up. My style is very casual, but I know that holiday parties often dictate a slightly dressier fashion. Part of my problem is I don't like to draw attention to myself - I want an outfit that is practical without standing out too much, and I want it to fit me well.

Years ago I didn't know about Lane Bryant, and being a plus-sized woman, I struggled to find any clothing that would 1) fit me, and 2) not look like something my 60-year old babysitter wore in the early 80's. However, three years ago I walked into my first Lane Bryant store and realized it was possible to look good even if I wasn't a size 6.

Right now Lane Brant has so many gorgeous outfits available for holiday fashion, with many items under $50. Many of their sweaters are on sale for $19.99 and up, and all jewelry and Cacique bras are buy 1, get one half off. My favorite Lane Bryant staple item - their Right Fit bootcut jeans - are also only $49.50. (An amazing deal when you consider they are quite possibly the world's perfect, best-fitting plus-size jeans around.)

So what did I buy for my holiday party? Being crazy practical, I started with a pair of pants that will serve me well for the party and for many other dressy occasions:

Next up was a top. I tried on so many of their sweaters, and loved some of the larger tunic sweaters, but I know that at a party I tend to get warm. (Does no one think to lower the thermostat when they invite 40 people into their house?) Then I found this amazing lightweight sweater:

...and paired it with a matching silver cami to wear under it:

The sweater and cami are perfect together, and with a little bit of silver jewelry (that I already own) I have great, understated outfit for the Christmas Eve party I'm going to. Best of all, it fits well and is incredibly comfortable to wear. I won't need to spend the night tugging or pulling at various parts of my outfit whenever I move.

Go Shopping On Lane Bryant!

I'm going to make it a little easier for one person to pick out her holiday outfit. I've got a $50 Lane Bryant gift card to give to one lucky reader! Here's how to enter:

Go to LaneBryant.com and tell me what item(s) you'd love to buy. You can leave a link to the clothes in the comments, if you'd like. Be sure you leave a valid e-mail address so I can contact you if you win.

One entry per person, US residents only.

Entries will be accepted until Friday, December 18 at Noon, EST. One winner will be chosen at random (using random.org) after that time. Winner has three days to respond or a new winner will be chosen.

Good luck!

Full Disclosure: I was given a $50 Lane Bryant gift card for my personal shopping spree, along with the $50 gift card to give to one reader. No review, positive or otherwise, was guaranteed or expected. All opinions above are my own. Your mileage may vary.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hickory Farms Makes The Holidays A Little Tastier

The holidays are not kind to those of us watching our weight. So many parties, and an endless selection of food. I can't resist party foods, and one of the areas I always hover over is the meat and cheese tray. Sure, the sweets get their fair share of attention, too, but a girl needs her protein before all that sugar.

So when Mom Central asked if I would like to review a gift basket from Hickory Farms, I nearly drooled on my keyboard while hitting the reply button. When I was younger, it was common to have Hickory Farms sausage and cheese as an appetizer at our family holiday gatherings. It's been awhile since I had the chance to savor those treats, and I was curious if they tasted as good as my memory tells me they did so many years ago.

I received an impressive selection of sausage and cheese, all packaged in an awesome "Hickory Handyman Tool Bag" set. My husband took one look at the tool bag and started planning how he could use this bag. I was more interested in the food, of course. Included were three different summer sausage, three sausage snacks, four blocks of cheese, two boxes of crackers and a container of hot mustard.

We decided to start with the mini beef sausage snacks while watching TV one night. My memory had clearly not failed me in this matter - the bite-size sausage snacks were spicy, juicy, and full of flavor without being too salty.

We brought the summer sausage and cheese to a party, and everyone loved the spicy beef and creamy cheeses. (I nearly kept the Hickory Cheddar all for myself because it was so tasty.) I only got a bite of each myself - it was all gone before I could go back for seconds! I wish I could have had another bite or three of the ham summer sausage, a new favorite of mine when combined with a little dab of hot mustard.

This holiday season, Hickory Farms will donate $5 to Share Our Strength for each Party Planner Gift Box sold. Share Our Strength is a leading national non-profit organization working to end childhood hunger in America. Additionally, 40 of the gift items available on the Hickory Farms website have free military shipping, allowing our troops across the globe to share in holiday traditions.

Hickory Farms sausage and cheeses are not only great choices for your holiday party spread, but they make great gifts for friends, clients, and families. With gift baskets and boxes of all sizes and selections, you're sure to find the right gift for several people on your list.

Full disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Hickory Farms and received a Hickory Farms gift basket to facilitate my review. No further compensation was provided, and a positive review was neither promised nor guaranteed.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Cookie Dreams & Brownie Wishes

Contest is now closed. Thanks to those who entered! Winner will be announced soon!

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a blogger event at Cheryl&Co. What? You've never heard of Cheryl&Co? OK, for those who don't know: they are the makers of perhaps the best cookies ever, EVER made. Cookies with real buttercream frosting that are perfectly soft and creamy, melting in your mouth with each bite. Cookies that you would willingly take from a baby, knowing that their limited experience is not enough to appreciate just how incredible these cookies are.

Each Christmas, my aunt brings a large box of individually wrapped Cheryl&Co. cookies to our family dinner. I quickly dive in and find all of the Citrus Frosted Cutouts, claiming them for myself while others pick out their favorites. When friends visit from out of town, we often stop at the Cheryl&Co. store in Tuttle Mall so I can introduce them to the world's tastiest cookies.

Knowing all of that, you can guess I'm biased towards Cheryl&Co. - but I was in love with them long before they invited me to this event. Of course I couldn't wait to get a tour of the facility and learn more about the business behind the cookie, and now the brownie. Yesterday happened to be National Brownie Day, and Cheryl&Co. wanted us to try their new frosted brownies while we were there.

The event started with a very nice lunch, heavy on the fruits and veggies. (Good choice - better to start with healthy foods to offset the sugar that was coming later.) After that we all donned hairnets and aprons for a tour of the production facility.

Jenna makes hairnets look good.

I was honestly surprised at how small the production area was - there were three cookie-dough mixers, and only a couple of machines that put the buttercream frosting on the cookies. While on the tour, I learned that each cookie is still hand-frosted, just like when they started. A machine deposits the right amount of frosting on each cookie, but staff hand-spread that frosting across the cookie.

Any cookie that doesn't meet the quality standards for size, shape, or frosting is set aside and later donated to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. On average, 172,000 cookies are made each day!

Hand-frosted goodness!

After our tour, we then were taken to the test-kitchen to try our hand at decorating while learning a little bit more about how long it takes to test out new products and bring them to production. I also discovered that I will never have a future as a cookie designer:

I may be smarter than a 5th grader, but they'd kick my butt in brownie frosting.

At the end of the day, we were given another bag of goodies to go with our own creations from the test-kitchen, and we were encouraged to give them feedback on our experience with their products.

What I love about Cheryl&Co: first, they're a local Columbus company, and I like to support local business. Second, they really do know how to make a delicious cookie and brownie. Third, all of their products are made with real ingredients: eggs, milk, sugar, butter, wheat flour, real vanilla, etc. You're not going to find corn syrup in these cookies. They also make sugar-free and kosher cookies.

What I don't like: Generally I like nearly everything about their business. My only complaint is that they still use artificial colors to dye their sprinkles and tint some of their buttercream frosting. We've found that my daughter, Cordy, can't eat artificial colors without having a reaction, both in behavior and skin. She's not alone in this - many kids on the autism spectrum have these reactions.

I brought up these concerns at the event, and was told that natural colors were tested several years ago with poor results. But they did admit that there have been advances in natural colors and it might be something to revisit. Should they choose to try again, my daughter will be first in line to try the new products - she'd love to eat a Cheryl cookie that wasn't a plain frosted cutout.

Finally, I appreciated getting to see so many bloggers I know and love at this event. I spent a lot of time reconnecting with my friends Jenna from Stop, Drop and Blog and Heather from Domestic Extraodinaire, both kind enough not to judge me on my poor brownie decorating skills. Special thanks to Vanessa (Chef Druck) and her husband for putting the event together with the staff from Cheryl&Co!

Now that you're hungry...
So, you didn't think I'd chat about cookies and brownies without giving you the chance to have some too, right? I'm going to share the love with you - one reader will win the Cheryl&Co. Ultimate Brownie Assortment! This is a boxed gift set of 18 individually wrapped brownies, including the new buttercream frosted peanut butter, classic vanilla and hot fudge brownies, along with favorites like toffee crunch, classic fudge, blondie and oatmeal scotchie. This gift set is a $50 value!

To enter:

1. Visit the Cheryl&Co. website, then leave a comment below telling me your favorite sweet treat from their site. One comment per person for this method of entry.

2. For an additional entry, follow me on Twitter (@mommystory) and Cheryl&Co. (@CherylandCo) and tweet "I want to win an Ultimate Brownie Box from @CherylandCo and @mommystory! http://tinyurl.com/ycgcbqk" then leave a link to your tweet in a separate comment on this post. One comment per person for this method of entry.

Entries will be accepted until Wednesday, December 16 at 11:59pm EST. Be sure to leave a valid e-mail address in your comment. One winner will be chosen at random (using Random.org) on December 17 and contacted via e-mail. Winner has three days to respond or another winner will be selected. Brownies will be shipped from Cheryl&Co.

And if you're not the lucky winner - or just can't wait until next week - use the code BRN10 to save $10 off any purchase at Cheryl&Co. from now until 1/31/10.

Good luck!

Full disclosure: Cheryl&Co provided all of the goodies for this event, including lunch, brownies to decorate, an apron, a gift bag with cookies and chocolates, gift cards, and the ability to provide this giveaway to you. I provided my own transportation, and I was not required to blog about this event. But c'mon, how could I resist?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Win Lee Jeans in December!

December marks the 120th anniversary of Lee Jeans, and they're celebrating by giving away 120 pairs of jeans every day this month.

How do you win a pair? Become a fan of Lee Jeans on Facebook and fill out the entry form (under the Promotions tab). 120 winners are chosen each day to win a free pair of jeans.

Obviously, you need a Facebook account to enter. But hey, I think odds are pretty good at winning a free pair of jeans. And if you've read my previous reviews of Lee, you'd know I like that they have jeans that fit women with hips.

I've already won my free pair - have you?

Full Disclosure: While I am a Lee Ambassador, I was under no obligation and was provided no compensation to inform you about this promotion. I won my free pair just like everyone else - by filling out the form and getting the luck of the draw.