Friday, December 30, 2011

Listerine Oral Care Challenge: The Results

See my first post for the full details of our challenge.

So here we are. We finished 3 weeks of the Listerine Oral Care Challenge, and while we didn't all come out with gold medals, I think I can confidently say that we've seen an improvement in our overall oral care!

The challenge was simple: brush, floss and use mouthwash twice a day, for the entire family. Since mouthwash often isn't recommended for Mira's age, we decided she would be exempt from mouthwash. Listerine sent us a challenge kit with everything we needed for our three weeks: new Reach toothbrushes, Reach floss, and Listerine mouthwash for adults and kids.

I had no trouble with brushing twice a day - it's a habit I've already had and one that will easily continue. Mouthwash wasn't too difficult to incorporate into my routine - most days I managed it twice a day, but there were a few days when I forgot. As for flossing...well, no gold star for me. I know I need to do it, but when I'm in a rush it always gets forgotten. I did floss a number of times, but certainly not every day.

My husband also got in his twice a day brushing, along with mouthwash. He had a cold during our challenge, so he sometimes used mouthwash more than twice a day - that minty-fresh feeling helped him feel a little better when his nose was clogged. But like me, he was a slacker on flossing. We now know what we need to work on in the year ahead.

For the kids, what I expected ended up being the complete opposite. Cordy may be the older child, but her autism often makes her hesitant to try anything new. She was happy to continue brushing her teeth as she usually does, but refused anything else. I thought she might be a little resistant to mouthwash, but I underestimated her fear of the new.

There was crying. And screaming. And refusal. And that was even before she had tasted anything. We attempted to coax her to try it several times, but the idea of putting a liquid into your mouth and then spitting it out was horrifying to her, and we eventually had to give up. I plan to try again in six months or so, and hopefully she'll reach a point where she'll try.

But Mira - the child who didn't need to use mouthwash - BEGGED us to let her try! She insisted that she could use it without swallowing it, so we let her try. She swished it around her mouth like a pro and spit it all out without any problems. And after that, she was hooked. She now uses mouthwash each day and she is incredibly proud of how well she's caring for her teeth. She's asked to start flossing soon, too. She tried all three of the kid mouthwashes, and the Listerine Smart Rinse Batman one is her favorite, although she likes that the Listerine Smart Rinse Barbie one is pink in color. (And she's using the Barbie Reach toothbrush.)

So the winner of the Listerine Oral Care Challenge in our house? The four year old! Despite having none of her adult teeth yet, she's doing a great job at making oral care habits that will hopefully last her for a lifetime, and guarantee dazzling pearly whites! She's also become the oral care coach (dictator, really) for the rest of the family: "Cordy, you really should twy moufwash." "Mommy, did you fwoss?" "Hey, I can't go to bed witfout bwushing my teef!"

I'm glad we had the opportunity to do this challenge. It helped us see the importance of caring for our teeth and gums, and showed us where we're lacking in our routine. After three weeks, my teeth definitely feel healthier and I've noticed they're not as sensitive as before.

Thank you, Listerine, for helping us establish new habits! I'd encourage everyone to take their own three week oral care challenge to find where your family can improve your brush-time habits like we did!

I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Listerine and received product samples to facilitate my review and a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Monday, December 26, 2011

High Quality Entertaining Without Breaking the Bank At Aldi

Suppose you were planning a holiday gathering, and needed to buy some food for the event. Not a lot of stuff, but a few items to munch on, and possible some dessert and adult beverages. (Let's also say you're unable to cook anything from scratch, either because you're short on time or inept in the kitchen like me.)

So you go to the store with this list:

- cheese cubes
- whole grain crackers (the round entertaining-type - 2 pks)
- soft cheese (Brie)
- apple pie
- cheesecake sampler
- chocolate truffles
- after dinner mints
- 2 bottles of wine

How much would you expect all of that to cost you? I priced these items out at one of our local grocery stores, and the cost was at least $75. The wine alone was $10 a bottle for decent wines.

So when I was invited to take a list like this to Aldi and spend less than $50, I wasn't convinced I could do it. First, Aldi sells wine? And second, would the quality be as good as I'd expect from my usual grocery store?

Well yes, Aldi does sell wine in select stores. Their wines include several award-winning wines for very reasonable prices. Known for its premium exclusive brands, ALDI offers more than 1,400 of the most frequently purchased grocery items for up to 50 percent less than traditional supermarkets.

Customers can get all the holiday essentials for less, including everything from wines and appetizers to main courses, side dishes and desserts, making holiday meals and family gatherings warm and memorable. During the holiday season, ALDI stores also carry an additional line-up of more than 100 seasonal items at unbeatable prices.

I did get all of the items on my list, along with some chocolate covered gingerbread cookies and a frozen pack of grilled chicken strips. Total cost for everything: $50.19.

As for the quality? Outstanding. Everyone loved the cheese, the crackers, and the desserts. The truffles just melted in my mouth. (And I probably ate far too many!) The only item I didn't like was the gingerbread cookies, but my kids liked them.

The two wines I bought were the Landshut Riesling and the Villa Malizia Pinot Grigio - both award-winning wines. I poured the wines for my family at our Christmas gathering and didn't tell them where they came from. Once everyone had tried the wine - with several comments about how I picked good wines - I then told them I bought the wine at Aldi and each bottle was $4.99. The surprise was evident!

This one was my fav!

I admit I've never been to Aldi before this trip. My mother occasionally shops there and has always liked it. In our area, Aldi has the stigma of being more of a lower-quality grocery store, but I've found this is far from the truth! Just because Aldi offers private brands doesn't mean the quality suffers in any way. They put a lot of thought into the quality of their food, with the result being great taste at a low price.

I'm impressed at the amount of food I was able to purchase for $50, but I'm even more impressed at how tasty it was. The wines were truly outstanding, proving that pricier wines aren't necessarily better. I've already added the Landshut Riesling to my next grocery list.

If your budget is being stretched thinner and thinner, consider Aldi for your grocery purchases. In case you've never been before, here are a few tips: the grocery carts require a quarter to remove from the corral, but you get your quarter back when you're done. (And ensure no dings in your car from runaway carts in the parking lot.) Aldi also saves money by charging you for grocery bags - ten cents a bag. But bringing your own bags is free and encouraged. You could say they were promoting eco-friendly practices before it became popular!

Full disclosure: I participated in this blog campaign on behalf of Aldi and Mom Central Consulting and received a gift certificate to facilitate this review. No guarantee of a positive review was promised nor required. All opinions are my own. And so are my truffles - go buy some for yourself.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's A Dance Party With Just Dance 3!

What did we ever do before the invention of dancing games? When I think back to holiday family gatherings from years past, I remember the same old board games brought out year after year. If the game was too advanced, the younger kids couldn't join in, and the adults didn't want to play anything aimed at the little ones.

But now that there are games like Just Dance 3, any gathering can quickly turn into a dance party for all ages. The first dance game I ever tried was the original Just Dance for Wii (and recented ABBA You Can Dance), and despite my eternal lack of coordination, I was hooked. The enthusiasm spread quickly, too: at Thanksgiving this year, my mom and my aunt joined me for a dance-off in my living room. Never until now would I have imagined them joining in for a dancing game!

Just Dance 3 has all of the fun of the original Just Dance, with even more music and a greater variety of modes to keep the game interesting. Lots of current hits can be found in this game, but for people (like my mom) who don't keep up with the Top 40 and have never heard of LMFAO, there are plenty of older hits to choose from as well like Boogie Wonderland.  (Some songs have to be unlocked via game play, and others can also be downloaded to your console.)

Let me be clear: you don't have to be good at dancing to play this game. You only need to be able to hold the Wii remote in your right hand and try your best to follow the moves of the dancer on the screen. That's it.

You won't match every move, you'll laugh at yourself trying to do some of the poses, and at the end of a song you'll find yourself saying, "Oh no, we're doing that one again, and I'm going to ace it this time!"

We tested the game with all ages, from my older relatives to my four year old. There's the standard quick play mode to get you right into the action, and there's also Just Sweat mode for some serious cardio while burning up the dance floor. If you're not picky about songs, you can set it to Shuffle mode. Dance Mash-up is a new way to play that lets you have up to four players each with their own, separate dance moves to do. You have to carefully follow your selected dancer on the screen, but when done well it's a really awesome choreographed dance number.

Our friends and family have loved playing this game. The number of songs included with the game means it's hard to ever get bored, and the Dance Mash-up provides a fun new way to dance as a group. Beyond the fun - we're also getting our exercise while we play!

And while I've said I'm uncoordinated, there are those few (short) moments when it all comes together and we suddenly look like we know what we're doing:

(I said SHORT moments, people.)

I highly recommend this game. Dance alone for fun and exercise, or hand your friends and family Wii remotes and make your holiday party a dance party. As for us, I know we'll be burning off those Christmas dinner calories with a little Just Dance 3 this weekend!

Just Dance 3 is available for Wii, XBox 360 and Playstation 3.

Full disclosure: Thank you to Ubisoft for sponsoring this blog post. Please click here to learn more about Ubisoft. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. All opinions (and sore muscles from too much dancing) are my own.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Be The Dancing Queen With ABBA You Can Dance

Let's get one thing out of the way up front: I'm not the most coordinated person you'll meet. Far from it. I can usually trip over my own feet on a smooth flat surface. So when it comes to dancing, I'm generally the one hiding in the back to avoid looking like a fool or taking out a group of dancers with one wrong move.

The rise of dancing video games, however, has given me the chance to practice my dance skills a little more in the comfort (and privacy) of my own home. But when the time comes to play a game as a group, I suddenly get shy and encourage everyone else to go before me.

I've found one dance game, however, that simply needs a party. Why? One word: ABBA.

If you know nothing of ABBA, then you are likely under thirty years old or avoid musical theatre. ABBA was one of the great disco groups of the 1970's and their music has persisted well beyond that decade. Even in college in the mid-90's, we could count on the song Dancing Queen being played at every sorority dance. Eventually a Broadway musical was made using only songs from ABBA, and Mamma Mia! quickly became a hit that still tours the US today. (It's actually in Columbus right now!)

When I received my copy of ABBA You Can Dance for Wii, I expected it to be like many of the other dance games available. And in many ways, it is. You can select the song you want to dance to (all ABBA, of course), choose up to four players to dance, and then try your best to match the dance moves on the screen for a high score.

But this is ABBA. These songs are party songs - disco songs that you can't help but move to and sing along with. When you've got songs like that, dancing by yourself is a crime - you need a group.

To properly try out this game, we went to my brother-in-law's house for a proper dance party with friends. I also received a small gift to help set the mood:

Disco time!

The result? We had a blast! We won't be winning any dance competitions anytime soon, but we laughed and sang and danced ourselves silly. 

Even Mira joined in for some dance time.

Some of the songs feature a single set of dance moves, while others have you select a character to follow and your dance moves won't always match those of your fellow dancers, giving you the feel of a choreographed performance. This is especially fun in Mini-Musical mode, where you can live out your Broadway dreams by dancing in a sock-hop style musical. Adding a USB microphone lets you sing along if dancing isn't your style.

While we weren't dancing queens, with practice we did have a few moments of being in sync. Very short moments, of course.

ABBA You Can Dance is a great Wii game for all ages, and perfect for any party. Whether you're a loyal ABBA fan or have never heard them, the songs are fun, the dancing is challenging without being too difficult, and there's plenty of entertainment to keep the party going for hours.

Thank you to Ubisoft for sponsoring this blog post. Please click here to learn more about Ubisoft. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. All opinions are my own. And I have to brag that I was AWESOME at Super Trouper.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Hickory Farms - A Perfect Compliment To Any Holiday Celebration

One of the best parts of the holidays is the food. I don't know about you, but at our Thanksgiving meal on Thursday I ate so much I forgot to have dinner that night. And then dove into leftovers the next day.

Growing up, I remember having Hickory Farms smoked sausage at our holiday meals. Strangely, I only ever remember it during holiday meals - it was like a special treat to eat slices of that yummy, spicy smoked sausage during the colder months. It's probably the reason I still look for a meat tray at any Christmas party.

Hickory Farms' wide selection of signature sausages and savory cheeses are still a part of many holiday traditions. I recently received a gift basket of delicious Hickory Farms foods and intended to bring it to my family's Thanksgiving dinner as a hostess gift for my aunt. Plans changed, however, and Thanksgiving was switched to MY house! This gift basket suddenly took center stage as the appetizers while the turkey cooked.

Prior to being devoured.

We sliced up the beef summer sausage and the farmhouse cheddar cheese and set them out along with a plate of veggies and dip. It didn't take long for the delicious sausage and cheese to disappear. I nearly forgot to include the olive oil and rosemary crackers, but did get them out before the cheese was gone. We kept the fruit (including some amazingly juicy pears!) in the basket until the end of the day, and sent some of the fruit home with relatives, as we were all too full for another bite.

My grandmother remarked that it had been a few years since she's had Hickory Farms foods, but they still taste just as good as they did when she was younger. It reminded me of holidays as a kid, too, peering up onto the kitchen counter to sneak a quick piece of summer sausage before my mom was finished slicing it up. While I didn't get to present this basket of Hickory Farms foods as a gift like I intended, it still served as the ideal warm up to a fantastic holiday meal. As for the basket itself? It's being filled with pine cones to serve as a festive centerpiece on the table for now.

Once again this holiday season, Hickory Farms will donate $5 from each Party Planner gift box sold to Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry Campaign, a national nonprofit that is working to end childhood hunger in America. In addition, Hickory Farms provides free shipping on select products to APO/FPO military addresses across the globe, allowing loved ones overseas to share in holiday traditions.

If you order online, be sure to take advantage of their $3, 3-day shipping option on the website, with no minimum purchase to qualify!

Hickory Farms summer sausages and cheeses are a great addition to any holiday party, or the perfect gift for that hard-to-shop-for friend or relative. We love having Hickory Farms foods as a part of our holiday traditions!

Full disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a campaign by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Hickory Farms and received a product sample to facilitate my review. All opinions expressed in this review are my own - if you want an opinion on it you'll have to get your own summer sausage 'cuz I'm not sharing. Yum.