Friday, October 26, 2012

Walgreens Introduces Balance Rewards

If you haven't been to Walgreens recently, you may not know about their new Balance Rewards program. Walgreens is just down the road from us, so I'm there all the time for shampoo, vitamins, moisturizer, and of course prescription medications.

While I've always liked Walgreens for their product selection and great prices, I've wondered why they didn't have some kind of loyalty club like other stores. A loyalty club isn't going to make me switch where I shop, but with the right incentives it might encourage me to shop more at a store I already like.

Apparently they were listening to my thoughts, because just recently Walgreens launched their new Balance Rewards program. This new program is so easy to use, and just by shopping for the products you already use you can earn points to redeem towards cash off coupons.

Points are awarded for purchasing certain featured items each week, and you can combine offers to earn thousands of points in a single purchase. You always earn 500 points for any prescription or immunization. Plus there are sale prices that are available only to Balance Rewards members.

For example, this week (sale ending tomorrow) I can earn 1000 points for buying two bags of select  Halloween chocolates (Mars, Hershey's or Nestle). I needed to buy Halloween candy anyway, so why not get the bonus points, too? My daughters' vitamins are also currently on sale for buy one, get one half off, plus get 1000 bonus points. On sale AND I get extra Balance Rewards points!

You can earn points on or in-store. Once you reach 5000 points, you can redeem them instantly for a $5 reward - good for anything in the store - or continue saving for greater rewards.

I've already been earning lots of points without making any unnecessary purchases and I love it. I get points for my prescriptions, points for buying our everyday items, and I can even earn points for logging any walks I take using the Walk with Walgreens program.

Signing up is simple and FREE. You can sign up in the store, online, or download the mobile app and register right from your smartphone.

 There are several cool features on the app.

With Christmas shopping getting closer, I need to get the most out of every purchase I make and save every dollar I can. The Walgreens Balance Rewards program makes saving money a little easier for me, and I'm stockpiling my rewards for Black Friday shopping. If you have a Walgreens or Duane Reade near you, stop in and see just how fast you could be earning rewards!

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Walgreens as part of a partnership to promote the Balance Rewards program. All thoughts and opinions stated above are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Walgreens. But my local Walgreens will tell you just how often I'm there buying that "one more thing" I need.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo: Cinderella Is Back!

When I was a little girl, before Disney had the long string of Princesses for girls to choose from, Cinderella was the one everyone loved. Unlike Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, she wasn't a princess to begin with. She was a mistreated girl who worked hard yet never let it crush her dreams, and then with the help of her fairy godmother met her Prince Charming and fell in love. Most little girls loved the story and, at least in some way, identified with Cinderella.

The movie has just been released again for the Cinderella: Diamond Edition on Blu-ray, featuring a digitally remastered version of the film along with loads of extras.

I watched it again with my daughters and realized how much of the movie I had forgotten. Everyone remembers the iconic fairy godmother scene, and of course Cinderella at the ball, but both of these happen much later in the movie than I had recalled. The stepmother's cat, Lucifer, has a larger role than I remembered, as he and the mice take up a large part of the subplot, even involved in the final rescue attempt to unlock Cinderella from the tower.

The movie has a slower pace than many of the newer Disney films, a hallmark of the time it came from. A lot of time is spent showing the audience the daily life that Cinderella endures, giving us plenty of information to make our minds up about the nature of her evil stepmother and stepsisters. Even the songs are slower and dreamy in quality. It was fantastic to relive my memories of the film while watching it with my two daughters.

Beyond the film itself, the Diamond Edition Blu-ray is filled with additional fun. The best extra (in my opinion) is the addition of the Tangled Ever After animated short. If you liked Tangled, you'll love seeing how their wedding day was nearly a disaster but, like many moments in Tangled, all turns out OK in the end.

There's also a never-before-seen alternate opening sequence, showing a series of storyboards that detail one proposed opening for Cinderella, and two deleted scenes. I also really liked the feature on the new Disney Princess Fantasyland being built at Walt Disney World. The amusement park is expanding to bring the worlds of Disney Princesses to life and it looks amazing. The first section just recently opened - I can't tell you how excited I was to see the new attractions, especially since we're planning our first family trip to Disney in the spring!

This Blu-ray also includes the Disney Second Screen experience - you can download the app onto your computer , iPad or iPhone and then sync the app with the start of the movie when you're watching it. This lets you interact with the film as it's playing: see additional information about scenes, play games and more.

Overall, the Cinderella: Diamond Edition Blu-ray is a great addition to any collection. It's fantastic nostalgia for parents and grandparents, and a sweet fairy tale for kids. Who doesn't wish their fairy godmother might pay them a visit someday and make all of their dreams come true? OK, it's probably won't happen, but that's no reason to stop dreaming, right?

Cinderella is available on DVD and Blu-Ray just about everywhere now for a limited time before it's back in the vault again!

PS - Want some coloring pages for your kids, too? Click the button below for some free Cinderella coloring sheets!

Download Coloring Pages!

Full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this Blu-ray to facilitate my review. All opinions expressed here are my own. And if I could get a wish granted from my fairy godmother, I'd ask her to cover the costs of our trip to Disney next year, because vacations aren't cheap.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Getting Into The Fall Spirit With Lee

Can you feel that subtle shift in the air? While it's still warm most days, here in Ohio the air at night has taken on a crisp, chilly quality that we all associate with the arrival of fall. Even the warm days have lost the oppressive humidity of summer, making the sky a deep blue and bringing the horizon into sharp focus without the haze.

While I always mourn having to give up my sandals (I'm not a closed-shoe type person), I do love getting back to warm sweaters and jeans. Capris are fun and cool in the summer, but the right jeans can give shape to your legs and make them look like they go on forever.

Right before BlogHer, I received a pair of jeans from Lee's new fall collection to get the season off on the right foot. The Ivy Slender Secret bootcut jeans are a dark wash with flap back pockets. I wore them for a couple of days at BlogHer because I loved the fit so much.

Look at these jeans. Gorgeous, right? They fit snug, but not tight, through the hips and thighs, lending shape and smoothing out any bumps, then flared to a cute bootcut that gave me the appearance of skinny legs.

I love that they fit my curves so well. The jeans accommodate my hips while still fitting my waist without any gap. The one thing I tell people over and over about Lee jeans is how well they're designed for a woman's body, curves and all. I can bend down with no worries of flashing my underwear to everyone behind me.

Unfortunately, this particular pair of jeans isn't available online. It's a design made exclusively for their Lee outlet stores. (Ohio locals: I can successfully report that the Ivy Slender Secret bootcut jeans can be found at Lodi Station Outlets for a price so low you'll probably buy two pairs!)

If you want to know what to look for online or in retail stores, though, I have another recommendation for you: the Nina bootcut from the all-new Curvy Fit line.

I bought a pair of these a few weekends ago, and I love the new style! They're a little stretchier and appear to sit a little lower on the waist, and they have the same great fit that curves with your body. I love the darker color, too. (I also love that I bought these in a size 8 and they FIT!)

I'm always a little skeptical of any line of jeans that claims to be a "curvy" fit after several bad experiences with other brands that proved to me that we have very different definitions of curvy. This line from Lee, though, finally makes me a believer in a true curvy fit pair of jeans.

When it comes to durability, my Lee jeans have held up to the test. I wear jeans nearly every day in cooler weather, so they have to withstand a lot of abuse. The only reason I've had to replace any of my jeans at this point has been due to losing weight and needing a new size.

You will notice the Slender Secret and Curvy Fit jeans lose some of their shape over repeated wearings between washings (admit it, you wear your jeans more than once before you wash them) due to the stretch denim already being stretched from wear. But the shape comes right back as soon as you wash them. I have yet to notice any problems with shape/stretch that a wash didn't fix.

With fashion and fit like this from Lee, I'm ready for fall. Bring on the cold weather!

Full disclosure: I was provided with a pair of the Ivy Slender Secret jeans by Lee to facilitate this review. The Nina bootcut jeans were purchased with my own money. All opinions are my own. It should be no surprise that the ones I spent money on are just as awesome as the ones provided for review.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tales of Supernatural Friendship in Scholastic's "Ghost Buddy" Series

Our second grade daughter is a librarian's ideal child. She has a love of reading that sometimes borders on obsessive. For example, never did I think that as a mom I'd have to order my daughter to put her book down and eat her dinner. Or stop reading while walking so she doesn't hurt herself.

This has also resulted in her developing a reading ability far above her grade level. We can't keep up with her desire for new books to read. She likes fantasy and some mild science fiction, as long as it isn't too scary. So when Scholastic asked us to try out the new "Ghost Buddy" book series, I hoped the idea of a ghost as a main character wouldn't be too scary for her. 

The “Ghost Buddy” series focuses on two main characters. William C. “Billy” Broccoli, and his ghost friend Hoover Porterhouse III. Both boys have a series of problems. In Billy's case, it's that he is physically small and decidedly uncool. He has just moved into a new house with his mother (the principal at the local Junior High), his step-sister (the very popular 7th grader Breeze), and his step-father (Bennett, a dentist). He's starting sixth grade, has a room that is painted purple and lilac, and he has no idea how to make friends.

“Hoove,” as the ghost normally calls himself, is Billy's total opposite. He was 14, and is incredibly cool and stylish, without even trying. He's also been dead for 99 years, and that's where his problem comes in. In order to be able to move on outside the boundaries of his family's former ranchero, he has to pass his Ghost Report Card. He's managed passing grades on haunting skills and invisibility, and is easily passing personal hygiene, but his grades in “Responsibility” and “Helping Others” are abysmal. And if he can't get a passing grade from helping out Billy, he'll never move on.

The first book, Zero to Hero, focuses on Billy and Hoove's first meetings, and we are introduced to the core cast for the upcoming books. In addition to Billy, his family, and Hoove, we also meet Ruby Baker (Billy's presumed love interest), next-door-neighbor/law-enforcement enthusiast/bully Rod Brownstone, and cool kid and potential new best friend for Billy, Ricardo Perez. Hoove and Billy manage to forge an unlikely friendship as Hoove helps Billy defend himself from Rod's bullying and helps him earn some modicum of respect in his new school.

The second book, Mind if I Read Your Mind? centers around a public speaking competition at the school where Hoove sets Billy up to win by demonstrating his powers of mind-reading. Conflict arises when Billy spends more time paying attention to his mortal friends than Hoove, and Hoove ends up feeling unappreciated.

Both books are written with an easy, breezy style that will appeal to younger readers, although I think that some of the language may be on the edge of their vocabulary levels. Billy is a compelling protagonist, very much a Peter Parker-esque figure who nothing can go right for, and who most readers will see something of themselves in. And the Hoove is an irascible rogue whose heart is, ultimately, in the right place (shades of author Henry Winkler's old role as The Fonz, in fact).

As the series progresses (these are the only two books out so far), it is clear that Billy will continue to grow and evolve beyond needing Hoove's assistance, and Hoove will finally get his passing grade in Helping Others and Responsibility, and be granted his freedom to go and visit every baseball stadium in America.

The books are thoroughly fun, and quick reads and I think that Winkler and Lin Oliver have another successful series on their hands. I read both in a single afternoon, so the average grade-school kid should be able to manage them without too much difficulty.

Our second-grader read the first in a single day of bus trips to and from school. She likes the books, calling them "fun and cool, but a little creepy." We'll need to work on her review style, I think.

Win a set for yourself! (Or your kids!)

Want to give these books a try? I've got two sets of the first and second "Ghost Buddy" books to giveaway from Scholastic.

To enter: leave a comment below telling me your favorite childhood book. Please be sure to leave a way for me to contact you if you're the winner, too.

Entries will be accepted until 11:59pm ET Wednesday, September 26, 2012. One entry per person, US mailing addresses only. Two winners will be chosen at random after the giveaway closes. Winners must respond within 48 hours or alternate winners will be selected.

Good luck!

Full disclosure: I was provided with a copy of each of these books from Scholastic to facilitate my review. All opinions are my own, and those of my daughter, who thinks that having a ghost for a friend is just a little odd.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lee's Motion Comfort Khakis for Men: Style, Comfort, and Easy Care Combined

My husband appreciates looking good, but he's also not one to stay on the top of fashion trends. Like me, he usually spends his days off in jeans, but for work he has to dress a little more professionally. Those same work pants must first get past children and a slobbery dog before he can even get out the door, though, so he needs durable pants that will look good, stand up to the abuses of stains, and preferably not need ironed. (The last item is my request.)

Lee recently sent us a pair of their new Motion Comfort Khakis for him to try. I've been wearing Lee jeans, shorts and pants for quite a while, but he's fairly new to Lee. His previous dress pants and khakis have been different, pricier brands with a hit-and-miss reputation. Some stood up well to wrinkles and stains, but looked too baggy and high-waisted for a guy his age. Others had a great modern fit, but wore out too quickly.

The Motion Comfort Khakis boast of being wrinkle-free, iron-free, and stain resistant. Right away I'm sold on the idea if it makes my laundry routine a little easier! The twill fabric is mostly cotton with a little bit of stretch to create a comfortable fit as you move.

My husband received a pair of the navy pants to try out. His first impression is that they do run a little on the small size, so consider that when ordering. He was just at the upper end of the lower size, and it was far too tight in the waist. One size up, however, fit perfectly.

Since I didn't wear them myself, I'll have to relay his impressions on these pants. He thought they fit more snug than many of his other pants, but appreciated that they aren't baggy. The lower waist is a plus, too. The waistband is comfortable and has a slight stretch in it. He said the most surprising feature to him was the double pocket on the right side - most of his pants don't have the extra pocket. The pants are lightweight and keep him cool on even the warmest late summer days.

When it comes to the care of the pants, I can provide my opinion here. They really are a dream to care for. These pants require no ironing, show few wrinkles, and may be the best pants he's ever had at repelling stains. Most anything that gets onto his pants (including dog drool) comes right off with just a dab of water on a towel. Anything that doesn't come off right away is gone after a trip through the washing machine.
He's worn the Lee Comfort Fit Khakis for several weeks now (at least twice a week and through several washings), and they still look brand new. There are no signs of wear to be found, and even when washed and dried there has been no shrinkage in the length, either.

Took me forever to get a photo of him in the pants. I had to block the door as he was leaving for work, with our dog serving as backup.

To sum up, my husband is very pleased with the performance of these pants. They look good for work, and they're still tough enough to wear when out with the family, too. He likes the versatility and comfort, and I like the easy care of the fabric. (And I think he looks good in them, too. That matters.) I'd call it a win-win.

And yet again, Lee has won over another member of my family. They just know how to make good-looking pants that fit well. 

Full disclosure: We received the Comfort Fit Khakis from Lee to facilitate this review. No further compensation was given, all opinions are my own. (And my husband's opinion, too, in this case.)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hallmark Reveals New Keepsakes For Fall & Winter

While at BlogHer '12 in NYC just over a week ago, I had the chance to join friends to visit Hallmark for a sneak peak at what was new for the holidays this year.

There were some awesome new products that we sampled, but of course my first interest is always seeing what's new for the Hallmark Keepsake ornaments. Our Christmas Tree/Hanukkah Bush (it's what we call it) is the ultimate geek tree, and there's always at least one new Hallmark ornament selected for the tree each year. I think the oldest Hallmark geek ornament is my Star Trek shuttlecraft ornament with Spock's voice. My mom got that for me years ago - when I was a teen, I think - and it still works just as well as the day I opened it.

Looking over the new ornaments, I immediately saw the ones Aaron and I would want:

Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, The Amazing Spiderman

They also will have an Avengers set, but it wasn't on display. I'm sure my mom will get that set for us - she gets Aaron a superhero ornament every year.

For the kids, there were several new items. I loved the interactive storybooks that actually wait for a child's response and customize the story based on what option the child picks. It's like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books, only these are digital and voice responsive. Mira is going to love trying out one of these books - she always wants to have a say in the story.

Along the same line are the Interactive Story Buddies - they're plush animals who come with their own books. When you read the book out loud, the plush animals "listen" and then respond to key words in the book. The voice recognition is amazing, and it feels like the toy is listening to the story as well. (And chiming in just like any kid who wants to add a little more to the story!) It's quite possible that Nugget and Watson will find themselves at our house very soon.

In their back-to-school line was a cute little bug called Bug 'Em. It's a pint-sized plush that can hold cards and other tokens of encouragement and give an unexpected lift to any youngster’s day. My two girls have already claimed this little guy and asked that I use him to hide rewards for them when they've had good days. So I do - if they find him sitting out, they know they've done something good and look inside to see what goodies he might hold. They're so excited when he appears on the table or the couch!

Hey there, I've got a happy surprise for you!

Another cool kid product I got to try out was Text Bands. Text Bands allow kids to send text messages from wristband to wristband, expressing themselves and spreading encouragement in a fun, new way. How? Kids enter up to 10 characters into the screen on the band and bump fists or shake hands to pass the message. The bands light up and the messages transfer from band to band. They look and feel like an 80's flashback to me - but a good kind of flashback.

Getting a sneak peek at some of the new Hallmark products was so much fun. I love how they're working interactive technology into many products for kids - it's fun, educational, and gives kids a chance to feel like they have some control over their stories. And I know we'll have some new superheroes to add to our tree this year, taking their place among all of the other older ornaments.

Full disclosure: I was invited to attend a gathering with Hallmark to see the new products and received a gift bag with a sample of some of the items we tried out. All opinions are my own.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Summer Slim Down with Slim-Fast (& Giveaway!)

What's that? It's nearly time for back to school? Not around here it isn't!

August is usually the hottest month here in Ohio, and that means beach weather. Our family is planning a trip to Lake Erie in August, and I'm already a little nervous about knowing I'll have to be in a bathing suit for part of that trip. As much as I'd like to wave away body concerns and say it doesn't bother me, the truth is it does. Not as much as it used to, but I still want to look and feel my best when swimming and building sand castles with my daughters.

Slim-Fast is helping me reach my summer slim down goals by providing me with nutritious shakes, meal bars, and snack bars that are delicious, filling, and help me keep my calories and cravings under control. I used Slim-Fast earlier this year to shed ten pounds and get myself right on the edge of a healthy weight. (And I've kept it off!) Now I'm counting on Slim-Fast again to help me lose a few more pounds and get me to my goal weight before I step into that bathing suit.

The Slim-Fast plan is simple. One shake or meal bar in the morning, one at lunch, and then a balanced 500-calorie dinner. You also get three snacks to keep cravings at bay between meals, and you can either try one of their 100-calorie snack bars (which taste like indulgent candy bars!) or any other 100-calorie snack that you like, such as a cheese stick, small cup of nonfat yogurt, a piece of fruit, a handful of almonds, or any other treat that suits your tastes!

If you add up the calories you'll see the plan budgets for about 1200 calories a day. I try to work in running or strength training a few days a week, and for me I usually increase my calories by 100 on those days. (I've found that's what works best for my metabolism - you may need to find what best works for you in those situations.) The shakes have 10 grams of protein in them, which helps me feel content between meals. The snacks, for me, are really all about indulging and feeling like I'm getting a treat.

I've been back on the plan for a little over a week now and have already lost one pound, which is a big deal for me. This close to my goal, I have to fight hard for every pound lost. I'm excited to see the scale moving down again - Slim-Fast makes it so easy for this busy mom to have nutritious meals no matter how much is going on in my life. I can't wait to WOW everyone next month!


Enter to win one of TWO Slim-Fast “Summer of WOW!” Swag Bags. The bags have everything you’ll need to turn heads on the beach, including a $20 gift card to a top department store to add to your WOW! wardrobe, a bright beach tote, a premium infuser water bottle and a sampling of Slim-Fast products designed to help you look your best before you hit the beach.

To enter, just follow the Rafflecopter instructions below. Two winners will be chosen after the giveaway closes on Thursday, July26.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: This post was created in connection with my appointment as an Ambassador in the Slim-Fast® Summer Slim-Down Challenge. Visit to join the conversation.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

McDonald's Is Changing Up The Face of Fast Food (& Giveaway!)

About a month ago, I had the chance to meet with McDonald's Head Chef Daniel Coudreaut, aka Senior Director of Culinary Innovation. That's a really long title that means he's the guy in charge of creating all of the new menu items for McDonald's.

Now, I know that when you think of health food, McDonald's probably isn't the first thing to pop into your mind. It probably doesn't even make the top ten. Chef Dan is working to change that perception, however. We sat down for lunch together where he explained to me and the other bloggers and media present how his goal is to make the McDonald's menu more nutritional while still making it a great choice for fast, tasty and reasonably priced meals.

Before we go any further, I want to add: there are a lot of tasty-yet-not-so-healthy food options at McDonald's. I know this, and I'm in no way trying to claim that McD's is THE place to go for health food. My family visits McDonald's about once a week, and the kids consider it a treat. I strongly believe it's all about moderation, and while I'm featuring some of the new, lower cal and all-natural menu items here, I'll add that I don't believe there's anything wrong with treating yourself now and then, either. You'll never take away my french fries...I'll just have a small size instead of a large now.

Many of the newer menu items have been developed with an eye for more fresh produce, natural ingredients and fewer calories. Chef Dan's most prized creation thus far, he said, is the oatmeal - packed with whole grains and already a popular breakfast item.

Chef Dan explaining the process of developing a new menu item

We got to sample the summer fresh Blueberry Banana Nut oatmeal (only 290 calories) and I have to admit it was really good. Sweet, but not too sweet, and not at all soupy or mushy. The oats had a great consistency and the blueberries were ripe and perfect. I never would have considered fast food oatmeal before trying this, but now I can see choosing this for a quick breakfast on the road without the guilt of greasy breakfast food.

After the oatmeal we were introduced to the Grilled Chicken Southwest Salad with a spicy Southwest dressing. The salad has a roasted corn and black bean salsa with tortilla strips and a lime wedge. It was deliciously spicy with flavors of pepper and cilantro. 

 Words cannot describe how sinfully delicious this is.

Chef Dan explained that not only was this a tasty lunch item, but the premium salad contained three cups of vegetables in a serving! I couldn't even finish my salad even though I really, really wanted to. Since then this salad has become a regular for me when my family has a dinner out at McDonald's.

The biggest shocker for me, though, was the new Cherry Berry Chiller. I love this blended fruit juice and ice drink, but the bright red color made me leery of giving it to my children. My oldest can't have artificial colors and I generally steer clear of artificial flavors, too. Chef Dan's shocker for me: the Cherry Berry Chiller is ALL NATURAL! No artificial colors, no high-fructose corn syrup, no artificial flavors. Just fruit concentrate, ice, fruit and vegetable juice for coloring and citric acid - that's it! Suddenly I feel guilty for not sharing with my kids. (Well, only a little...these drinks are delicious!)

Cherry Berry Chiller paired with a fruit & yogurt parfait

I love that McDonald's is creating new foods for their menu that are packed with whole grains and natural ingredients. Yes, they'll always have the Big Mac and french fries, but the emphasis is about choices, not forcing nutrition on people. It's great that I can go to McDonald's now and put together a meal under 500 calories that is tasty and filling, or I can still choose to have a double cheeseburger if I want.

The changes to Happy Meals are another decision I can fully support. All Happy Meals now come with a kid-size box of fries (we call them a "shot" of fries) and a bag of apple slices. My kids no longer have to choose between two sides that they like, and the combo shaves nearly 100 calories off of the old meal with fries alone.

Providing greater variety in a fast food setting is a great idea and I love many of the new selections coming from Chef Dan and McDonald's!

Want to try McDonald's new oatmeal for yourself?

I have three coupons for a free McDonald's oatmeal to give to three lucky readers. (Note: they expire in August 3, so please be aware of timing.)

To enter, just leave a comment below telling me your favorite food item from McDonald's - easy-peasy, right? Make sure you leave an email address so I can contact you if you're a winner.

One entry per person, US residents only. Entries close on Tuesday, July 10 at 11:59pm ET. I'll randomly select 3 winners and then get your free oatmeal coupons in the mail for you to enjoy!

Good luck!

Full disclosure: I enjoyed a complimentary lunch while talking with Chef Dan, as well as coupons to redeem for other free menu items. I'm also a member of McDonald's Family Arches Community and have received free food items in exchange for feedback. All opinions are my own, including my wish that there was an addiction support group for the cherry berry chiller.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Arm & Hammer's New Laundry Detergent for Sensitive Skin - With Fragrance!

We're a family of sensitive skin. OK, maybe not my husband - his skin can withstand anything. But both of daughters inherited my rash-prone skin that reacts to any tiny affront. Our skin erupts into an itchy rash at chemicals, fragrances, grass...too many things to list. As a result, we can't use lotions with fragrance or too many chemicals in them, we have to sleep on cotton sheets, and we need laundry detergent that is completely dye and fragrance free.

Or so I thought.

Mom Central asked if I was interested in trying the new Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Plus Skin-Friendly Fresh Scent laundry detergent, and beyond the long name, I was intrigued by the product's claims. Unlike other sensitive skin formulas, which are usually dye-free and fragrance-free, this one has an added "fresh scent" that is designed to keep sensitive skin free of irritation. Pretty big claim for me, so I was willing to put it to the test.

I've appreciated that our other previous laundry detergents kept us itch-free, but I'll admit I do regret that they don't leave my clothing with that fresh laundry scent. But keeping our skin safe has always been my first concern, and with no clothes lines allowed in our neighborhood I've resigned myself to laundry with no scent when clean. (Which I guess is still better than dirty scented laundry.)

I tried the detergent with a load of my own clothing first, choosing to play the guinea pig before taking the risk of making my girls uncomfortable. As I poured in the liquid detergent, I was surprised at how strong the scent was. At first I was worried that this might be a bad idea, but added my clothing and hoped for the best.

After washing and then drying, I pulled my clothing into a laundry basket and took a deep breath over the pile of warm clothing. The strong scent of the detergent had mellowed out quite a bit, leaving behind a light, fresh scent. (In case you were wondering, I used a fragrance-free laundry softener in the washer.) It was actually quite nice.

The moment of truth was putting on my first set of clothing from this load of laundry. Thanks to an unusually hot few weeks, I put a lot of sweat into the outfit (which often makes reactions worse for me), but had no difficulties with itching or redness. Yay!

After a week I switched my kids' clothing to the Arm & Hammer laundry detergent. They spent the past week out in the hot, humid weather every day with no issues at all. My five year old told me she liked that her dresses smelled "pretty" now.

As for the cleaning power of the laundry detergent, I saw no noticeable differences between it and my previous detergent - both did an excellent job at stain fighting. 

So for us it's been a success. We're nearly all the way through the bottle of detergent that we received and no reactions so far. I know it can sometimes take a few exposures to see a reaction, but after two weeks I'm ready to declare it safe for us.

I appreciate that Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Plus Skin-Friendly Fresh Scent laundry detergent has a pleasant scent that is safe for sensitive skin. (Finally!) I also like that the scent is very light on dry clothing - you'll notice it when you put something on, but it won't be overpowering and will fade after a bit against your own skin.

For more information on Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Plus Skin-Friendly Fresh Scent laundry detergent, check out the product page on the Arm & Hammer's website, or visit their Facebook page

Full disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a campaign by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Arm & Hammer and received a product sample to facilitate my review and a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Friday, June 15, 2012

My (Geeky) Father's Day Gift Roundup

Yes, Father's Day is Sunday, and so this is kinda last minute, but I thought I'd share a few items to consider for that fatherly figure in your life, whether it's your own dad, a man who has been like a dad to you, or the father of your kids. You may not have time to get them for this Father's Day, but hopefully these suggestions will spark some ideas for the geek dad in your life.

Darth Vader and Son - What would daily life be like if Darth Vader was parenting a 4-year old Luke? Adorable picture book for any geek dad to read with his Jedi (or Sith) wannabe child.

Tools - Oh, your geek dad may not be all that handy with a real screwdriver, but chances are he'll know just what to do with a Sonic Screwdriver. Instead of trying to decide which brand of tools to get him, you'll be faced with the harder decision of 10th Doctor or 11th Doctor? Choose wisely.

Power - For the dad who spends a lot of time in the car, yet also spends a lot of time on his electronic devices, this coffee cup charger is a must. Plug it into your car (in what used to be the cigarette lighter), pop the cup into a cup holder, and you've got two outlets and a USB charging port. He'll keep everything fully charged and never run out of battery life when on the phone with you!

Clothing, for when he has to look presentable - There are times when dad has to take off the Superman t-shirt and just be a super man, but he probably doesn't want to spend a lot of time caring for his good clothing. So when he has to put on the button up shirt and tie, he can be comfy in these Lee Motion Comfort flat-front pants. They're wrinkle-resistant, stain-resistant and even have wicking technology to keep your guy cool when the temperature rises. These pants are about as carefree as they come for the guy who'd rather spend his mornings checking his Zombie Farm on his iPhone instead of ironing his pants for work. (My husband will be sharing a review of these pants soon - will let you know what he thinks!)

Accessories, for when he has to look presentable - So his boss insists that bow ties aren't cool and requires a standard long tie for everyone. Unless his boss knows binary, only dad will know that his ThinkGeek tie is secretly making a statement while he conforms to dress code. For a slightly bolder statement, try these "more than meets the eye" Transformers cufflinks.

Clothing and accessories, for when he can just be his geeky self - Oh, there's too much to even link to in this category. Just browse through the ThinkGeek clothing section to find dad's particular geek obsession - there's sure to be something for whatever he likes. My current favorite? The Iron Man Power Bands, exact replicas of the ones from The Avengers. I also wouldn't mind seeing my husband in the Captain Jack Harkness replica coat.

Geek food/drink - For those long XBox Live gaming sessions, he'll need some caffeine to keep him going. One of the tastiest options I've tried is RootJack Pirate Root Beer. Not only is there 120mg of caffeine in each bottle, but also a full daily serving of Vitamin C. You know, to prevent scurvy.

So there you are, my suggestions for the best geek Father's Day gifts. Not exactly the lists you'll see everywhere else, but then the geek dad in your life isn't like the other dads, is he?

Chances are he'll love any of these gifts far more than a set of golf clubs...unless he's practicing his swing in preparation for a zombie uprising.

Disclosure: Any products linked to Amazon have my affiliate code in them, meaning if you buy anything through clicking that link I get a few cents for sending you their way. All other links have no affiliate connection, although ThinkGeek is welcome to contact me at any point for future promotions considering how much we love them. All opinions shared here are entirely my own.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Horse Haven: For Every Little Kid Who Never Got A Horse

When I was a little girl, every shooting star and birthday candle and wishlist to Santa contained the same request: a horse. Despite living in town, I still wanted a horse of my very own to ride and brush and love. It's probably no surprise that I never got that horse, and it's probably a good thing I didn't. I don't have the money or time for a horse, and while I still enjoy riding, I'd rather visit a public stables and pay for a ride rather than be responsible for my own horse.

Recently, I was introduced to the Facebook game Horse Haven, where you can keep and care for your own virtual horses. Horse Haven is a game where you are the sole inheritor of your uncle's run-down ranch. You start with a single foal and a lot of weeds and broken buildings, and quickly begin turning the mess into a successful ranch by feeding and caring for your horse, growing treats for your horse, and training your horse to enter competitions.

You can also buy more horses and develop a full working ranch, complete with breeding stables to produce more foals, training pens, and a stable full of horses of all colors and types. Once your horses are trained, they can visit other towns to compete for trophies and awards.

As you level up and get more awards, you can visit new places.

One unique feature of this game is that by playing with your digital horses you can help Angel Acres Horse Haven Rescue, a real-life non-profit horse rescue center in Pennsylvania. Certain items you can buy for your farm provide direct donations to the charity, ensuring that you're giving back while indulging in your imaginary ranch.

So what do I think of it? Horse Haven is a fun resource management game. You have to balance training your horses with building up your farm and clearing away debris. There is a limited amount of energy to do each task, and you can quickly run out of energy, leaving you to either buy more energy or wait until you can build up more energy again.

This is my ranch and two horses. It's a work in progress. 

Raising and caring for the horses is a lot of fun. My daughters saw me playing and suddenly it was a group game - they like helping me pick out what to add next to the ranch and never fail to tell me when I have energy again to attend to my horses. If you have friends who play the game as well, you can visit their ranches and help them out with chores to gain rewards for yourself. You can also send game gifts to your friends and put out requests for items you need.

The downsides to the game are that it can take a long time to get up enough energy and horse bucks to get very far in the game. If you're willing to spend real money, you can get there faster, but without spending real money you have to be dedicated to advance quickly. Also, you get a lot further in the game if you have friends playing as well. There is a computer generated character who serves as your friend if you don't have any Facebook friends playing with you, but real friends are almost needed to get you all of the items you need.

The game's theme is cute and perfect for anyone who ever wanted a horse as a kid. The graphics are bright and kid-friendly and the mini-quests are interesting and help in building your ranch. I also like that some in-game purchases will also result in donations to the Angel Acres horse rescue center.

So if you like Facebook games and still remember closing your eyes tight and wishing for a horse on the first star every evening, give Horse Haven a try. Even if you can't have your own horse, these horses won't complain if you ignore them for a day and you're still helping other horses through the game.

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 are my own. #UbiChamps

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cosmo Gives Seal of Approval to Cesar Treats For Dogs

No, no, not the magazine. The Cosmo I'm referring to is my dog.

It's hard to believe that it's been less than five months since we adopted our first dog, Cosmo. We adopted him at nearly five months old as a medium-sized, skinny puppy who narrowly escaped death row by only a few hours. We thought he would remain medium-sized. And since that time, our wonder pup has doubled in weight - now an 80lb, 10-month-old puppy!

Hey there, I'm Cosmo.

And yet even though it's been five months, it feels like we've had him forever. He quickly found a place in our family, blending in as if he's always been here with us. I can't imagine a day without him now. Even though I planned for him to never be on our furniture, I've relented and enjoy having my pup laying next to me with his head on my lap. He's a good companion and a lot of fun to have around.

Working from home, he's with me throughout the day, serving as my assistant and occasionally urging me to put down the computer for a short meeting concerning the state of belly rubs in this home office.

Your assistant would please like a few minutes of your time?

Beyond ear scratches and belly rubs, though, he loves his treats. He was found starving as a puppy, so naturally he's very food motivated. Being a spoiled pup, of course we want the best dog treats for him, since not only should they be tasty, but also small enough to be good motivators to use for training.

Due to his unexpected size, though, we have to be careful with his treats. The vet has determined that he may have hip issues due to bad genetics, and she's cautioned us to keep his weight down as much as possible to reduce the strain on his joints. Which means our large puppy needs to be fed like the medium-sized dog we thought he was going to be.

I recently was sent a sample of the new Cesar Cookie Crunchies treats for dogs for Cosmo to review. We received two flavors: Rotisserie Chicken and Filet Mignon. These dog biscuits are small and crunchy with a strong meaty smell that Cosmo really enjoys.

The treats are great because they're large enough that even my bigger puppy considers them a significant treat to crunch up, yet each cookie is only 10 calories so I don't feel bad giving him several. We use them as rewards for good behavior and as training rewards when teaching him commands. He's always willing to focus and listen when we hold up the treat.

 Look at that focus as he waits for the command to eat his treat.

The Cesar Cookie Crunchies have three cute shapes and have the consistency of a typical dog biscuit. If your dog is a messy eater, this could result in crumbs on the floor from crunching up the cookie, but if your dog is like Cosmo (with the motto of "no crumb of food shall go uneaten") then you have nothing to worry about and any stray crumbs will be quickly suctioned up.

My only complaint is that, as I said before, the treats have a strong odor. While Cosmo would tell you (if he could talk) that the smell is simply perfect, it's a little strong for my non-canine nose that isn't always seeking out the smell of meat. It's a minor complaint, though, and considering how fast Cosmo will snap to attention when he catches a whiff of these treats, it's easy for me to look past.

The features I love the most are the small size, making them the perfect treats for small dogs to big dogs, and that they're only 10 calories each. For a dog who needs calorie counting to keep a slim physique, it's nice to be able to give him several smaller treats instead of one big one. And anyone who has been on a diet knows that several smaller treats (even when they add up to the same as a big treat) feels like we're getting more.

Whether your dog is big or small, he'll probably love Cesar Cookie Crunchies treats for dogs. Cosmo gives them two paws up for flavor and crunch.

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

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Springtime Comfort & Style With Lee Jeans! (Giveaway!)

I've said it many times, and I'll say it again: I live in my jeans. I know many moms love their yoga pants, but this mom needs a little more structure to her bottom half, without the need to dress up the top half to match. Jeans are the perfect middle-ground - dress them up or down, they're always ready to go.

But now that spring is here - and the temperatures have finally caught up to the season - my full length jeans are being stored away as I break out the capris and shorts.

If you're read my blog for any length of time, then you know there is only one brand of jeans I rely on for comfort any time of the year: Lee Jeans. You've probably experienced my story: you try on a pair of jeans, and if they fit at the waist, they're too tight in the hips. If they fit well in the hips and seat, you've got the dreaded waist gap in the back.

So when I tried on my first Lee jeans a few years ago, I expected them to be just like the others. Wrong! They have room for women with hips, the waist neatly nips in with little to no gap, and there's just enough stretch to give you room to move without the jeans then losing their shape.

These are simply the best fitting jeans I've ever tried, and they're the only jeans I know that take into consideration that women have curves. (I've been told that there are some expensive jeans that also fit a curvy body, but who wants to spend $150 on a pair of jeans when I can get just as good of a fit for under $50?)

What I love most, though, are the styles. These aren't "mom jeans" - they're on-trend with the current fashions and look great on any age.

(And OMG could we get rid of the "mom jeans" = ugly assumption in pop culture. I'm a mom, I wear awesome jeans, therefore my mom jeans are awesome!)

Lee recently sent me two of their new Spring styles to try out, and I'm in love all over again. First up is the Stevie Slender Secret Capri:

What I love most about these is the contrast stitching against the dark wash. It looks fantastic dressed up or down, and really stands out in the evening. These are also part of the Slender Secret line, meaning there's extra shaping built-in so you look even slimmer!

Then there were the Comfort Fit Dean Walk Shorts:

I've never been one for denim outside of the normal blue, but this red is hot! They fit like a dream and the inseam is long enough to prevent any fabric creeping while walking. I've already received so many compliments on these shorts.

To sum up: Lee provides affordable denim that is fashionable, fits real women, and holds up so well through my daily life. The new Spring offerings have only renewed my love with Lee!


If you're not already a fan of Lee jeans, I'm confident that there's a good chance you will be. And to help with that, I'm giving one reader a pair of capris or shorts (your choice of style and color) so you can start the warm weather season off in style!

To enter, use the Rafflecopter widget below, which will give you all of the options for this giveaway! Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Full disclosure: I received the capris and shorts mentioned above from Lee to facilitate my review. All opinions stated here are my own, and as no two bodies are the same, your mileage may vary. But really, if you have any hips at all, you'll love these jeans.

Friday, May 04, 2012

The Avengers: Making Everyone Love Superheroes

Note: Please welcome my husband, Aaron, as he shares his review of The Avengers. We were given preview passes earlier this week, and he's been counting down the minutes until he could tell the world about this film! I agree with nearly everything he says here - this is a must-see.

The road to The Avengers begins back in 2008, when Marvel Entertainment announced the creation of their film division. No longer would we see Marvel's comic-book heroes brought to life on screen by third parties – instead the publisher would produce their own films in-house. First up was Iron Man, and frankly, it was a gamble. Let's take a mostly unknown superhero, gather high-profile actors to play the supporting cast, and stick Robert Downey Jr. in the lead.

It was incredibly risky. There were any number of reasons it could have failed. But it didn't. Instead, it launched Marvel Studios as a powerful entity in its own right, and soon after, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and finally, Captain America: The First Avenger followed.

And all of it leads up to this. As the four title heroes, joined by the Black Widow and Hawkeye, and assembled by Nick Fury, Chief of S.H.I.E.L.D., band together to stop Loki and a horde of invaders in Marvel's The Avengers.

The Film
The film picks up where we left off at the end of the previous films, with Thor returned to Asgard, Loki banished, Captain America newly re-awakened in the modern world, Doctor Banner in hiding, and Tony Stark doing whatever he darn well pleases. S.H.I.E.L.D. has been studying the Tesseract, last seen in the hands of the Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger, and then being studied by Dr. Selvig at the end of Thor. Loki returns, steals the Tesseract, and begins a reign of terror. At which point Fury realizes that he needs the team of heroes, and one by one, brings them into the fold.

There are subplots a-plenty, as each hero has at least one bit of baggage to unload. The Tesseract itself changes hands several times, the heroes suffer several major setbacks along the way, but when all is said and done, the Avengers assemble to fight off Loki and his army. And what we get along the way is one of the greatest superhero team stories ever told on film.

There was reason to doubt. Joss Whedon, despite being a geek god, has only one feature film director's credit to his name. Could a film balance four superheroes who had each carried their own film, in addition to adding in two more? Would the threat feel like it was big enough, especially when it used a villain who had been defeated by a single hero in a previous film? Would characters be shoved off to the side? Fortunately, Whedon and company rose to the challenge in answering each of these questions, and the film comes together beautifully.

In the end, we're left with a film that feels far shorter than its' 2 hour and 24 minute run time – not because anything feels rushed, but because it grabs you by the collar and never lets go as it races towards the climax.

The Good
There are so many excellent moments in the film, it is hard to narrow this down. “The Good” could easily cover most of the entire film. Let's start with the cast.

Five of the six heroes who make up the Avengers have played these characters before, although Scarlett Johannson's Black Widow and Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye only appeared as supporting cast members of earlier films. Wisely, the film gives us a lot of time getting inside their heads, and in many ways, this film could have been the basis for a Black Widow feature. Robert Downey Jr. gives us the same effortless charm that has made us love his Tony Stark since the beginning, Chris Evans' Captain America gives us both the somewhat na├»ve “Man out of Time” vibe, while still providing inspiration and leadership to the team, and Chris Hemsworth looks like a Greek (or Norse) god come to life. Samuel L. Jackson returns as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, supported by fan-favorite Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and newcomer Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).

The real gamble in casting was Mark Ruffalo. As the third Bruce Banner to hit the big screen in the past decade, he could easily have been the weakest link. Instead, as both Banner and as the Hulk (who bears a greater resemblance to Ruffalo than any earlier Hulk did to its' respective actor), Ruffalo steals the screen whenever he appears. Not a small man, Ruffalo manages to make himself small and cowed by the world around him – and his fear of the beast inside. When the Hulk is unleashed, he commands attention, and ends up with two of the funniest moments in the movie.

Whedon's trademark elements as both a director and a screenwriter are on display in this film, in terms of the overall plot, and most importantly, his characteristic witty dialogue – not to mention the ample amount of screen time devoted to the Black Widow. What is a pleasant surprise is that, while his trademarks are there, they're not pushed front and center. This feels like “The Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon” instead of “Joss Whedon's The Avengers.”

Loki's plot is also suitably epic. His alliance to the alien invaders makes this feel big, and there is every reason to believe that if the team cannot stop the invaders within New York, the world will soon fall.

Visually, the film feels big. This is not a small, personal drama. This is about six superheroes saving the Earth. And that scope is conveyed both through dialogue, action, sight and sound.

The Bad
The Avengers is not perfect. While I was extremely pleased with the film, it never had a moment where it blew me away. There's nothing completely new here. We've seen these heroes before. We've seen a team of heroes before. We've seen comic characters brought to life in a way that doesn't apologize for being based on a comic.

The Avengers kicks it up a notch, and does so masterfully, but it doesn't bring anything entirely new to the table. This is not a mark of shame. There is nothing wrong with setting out to make a great action film that honors the source material, gives us a tight plot, good characters, and keeps us entertained for two and a half hours, and succeeding admirably. If it fails to do something “new”, that speaks to the strength of the superhero film over the past decade rather than a weakness in the film.

And yet... I somehow wanted more. More of what I don't know, but I wanted something more.

There is also a lack of female characters in the franchise – which is surprising considering the prominence of Black Widow, the addition of Maria Hill, and the return of Pepper Potts. All three of these women (and the amazing actresses who portray them) are excellent – but I'm fairly sure that they never exchange a line of dialogue with each other.

My other gripe is the use of the alien race chosen for the film. They are remarkably generic, and despite the stinger during the credits (because there is always a stinger in the Marvel films), they never feel unique or important. This is a shame, considering that the Marvel universe is ripe with interesting alien races, any of which could have served as Loki's army.

Finally, and this is entirely a personal preference, but for me, the 3D was an unpleasant addition to the film. 3D often makes a film get blurry during the action sequences, and that was on display in full force during the final battle between the Avengers and the alien forces.

Final Thoughts
The Avengers is an incredible film. It is tightly scripted, deftly plotted, smartly written, brilliantly directed, amazingly well cast, and just a lot of fun. This is everything we want a summer blockbuster “popcorn” film to be. It shows off the strengths of its cast, and of Joss Whedon as director, script-writer, and ensemble builder.

As alluded to above, stick around through the credits. There is not one, but two “stingers” during the credits. The first hits midway through the credits, and gives us our hint to the villain of the next The Avengers film (and there will be one, be assured of that – with Thor 2 and Iron Man 3 both on their way, we can expect Marvel to announce plans for the next Avengers before 2020). I won't ruin the reveal, but it won't come as a complete surprise to anyone who has read Marvel Comics, or has paid close enough attention to the previous films. The second stinger occurs at the very end, and may be the funniest moment yet in any of the Marvel features.

Is it my favorite superhero film of all time? I'm not sure. Not yet. But I am certain I loved it, and will be seeing it in the theaters again.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Mother's Day Gift That Shows You Really Care

Mother's Day is coming up fast, and my inbox is being flooded with emails about what moms really want for Mother's Day with tips for finding that perfect gift. I don't think the talented people who wrote these gift guides have ever met my family, however.

A sentimental gift? Nope, that won't do for my mom. She generally doesn't like a lot of stuff, feeling it's just one more thing to clutter up her house. As for me, I like some sentimental gifts, but I'm also in the process of purging a lot of useless junk from my house, so... not so much at the moment.

A spa day? Yes for me, no way for my mom. She has never liked anything girly, preferring a simple shower to get the dirt off of her after a day of working hard in the garden than anything involving smelly lotions or people touching her.

It's taken me years to figure out my own mother. When I was younger I tried everything to get her to have that big WOW moment with a gift, but I never managed more than a "oh, how nice, thank you," that was in many ways sincere, but clearly indicated it was nothing she really wanted.

As a mother myself, I now understand what I can do to really show how much I care for my mom. Mother's Day now is usually about providing a service for her in some way. She's amazingly talented - she could teach you how to grow the perfect garden, clean your house, shoot a gun, balance your checkbook, cook a fantastic meal, and gather honey from hives without getting stung by a bee. But even though I used to think there was nothing I could ever do that my mom didn't already do better, I've found her one weak spot.

I'm my mother's technical support.

It sounds funny, I know, and probably not very sentimental. But helping my mom build a laptop with everything she needs, or configuring her wireless network so she can take that laptop anywhere in her house, or walking her though the steps to set up her Netflix account? Those offers of help mean a lot to her and make her life easier.

She's done so much to teach me throughout my life, and now I finally have a skill I can teach back to her so she can enjoy all of the advances in technology that she wants to embrace but doesn't fully understand.

So this Mother's Day, I'm setting up an iTunes account for her and teaching her how to use it so she can download her own apps on the iPhone I gave her recently. (It was my old iPhone - she didn't want to spend a lot on her own iPhone.) She's genuinely thrilled about this upcoming event, and can't wait to learn how to get her own apps. My mom doesn't need a lot, but this simple task for me - which is something she would struggle with - shows her just how much I care about her.

As for me? I'm slowly becoming more like my mom each year. Instead of objects, I want someone to do something for me that I can't do myself or provide a service for something I don't like to do. A massage would be nice to help with all of the stress I store in my back. Or a Maid Service gift certificate to unburden me from my least favorite chore, leaving me time to devote to things I enjoy. Or a Time Lord to take me back in time to give me more hours in the day.

Honestly, house cleaning is my ultimate weak area. Not only is my house a wreck, but I hate cleaning more than just about any other chore and I'm sure I'm not alone. Yes, I'm sure there are some people who truly take pleasure from a job well-done in making their house spotless, but many of us don't count ourselves in that group.

This year, not only am I getting what I want for Mother's Day, but you can get the same special treatment!  I'm giving away a $100 gift certificate to Molly Maid so one reader can also relax in a clean home, spending more time on the things she really cares about than scrubbing the toilet.

Giveaway Rules
Win a $100 gift certificate toward a cleaning from Molly Maid!

Please note that Molly Maid does not offer service in the following locations: Louisiana, Wyoming, Vermont, West Virginia, Maine, Montana, and Alabama. Also Molly Maid does not have coverage in the following Metro areas: Madison, WI, Green Bay, WI, Buffalo, NY, and Syracuse, NY. If you live in any of these locations, you can still enter to win, but will not be able to have a home in those areas serviced. Home cleaning estimates will vary. Winner may use gift certificate toward total cost.

This giveaway will end May 7 at 11:59PM PT, so enter now! A winner will be selected randomly from the comments on May 8 and contacted via email.

Enter up to four times by doing each of the following:

  • One Entry - Tweet about the Molly Maid contest (you can even use the handy-dandy Tweet below, if you like) and leave a comment here with either the Tweet or the URL to the Tweet. Please be sure to tag your Tweet with #MollyMaid4Mom.
  • One Entry - Post about this contest on Facebook, and leave a comment here saying what you posted. Please tag the post with the #MollyMaid4Mom hashtag.
  • One Entry - Write a blog post about the contest and -- you guessed it -- leave a comment here with the URL to the blog post.
  • One Entry - Just leave a comment on this blog post!

Sample Tweet: I just entered to win $100 toward a cleaning from Molly Maid! You can too! #MollyMaid4Mom

Good luck, and may we all get exactly what we want on Mother's Day!

Full disclosure: Sponsored posts are purely editorial content that we are pleased to have presented by a participating sponsor. Advertisers do not produce the content. I was compensated for this post as a member of Clever Girls Collective, but the content is all my own.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

ZeroWater Means 100% Pure Water and Zero Chemicals

When I was a kid, I hated drinking plain water. Our small town's tap water always tasted of chlorine with a slightly metallic aftertaste. My mom would push me to drink water instead of sugary drinks, but drinking our water felt like a punishment rather than a healthy choice.

It wasn't until the rise of filtered and bottled water that I found myself willing to drink plain water and even like it. As an adult, when I bought our first refrigerator, I made sure to pick one that featured a filter for our water dispenser. Convincing our kids to drink water, however, has proven to be almost as hard as it was for me. My oldest is sensitive to the slightest change in tastes, and she often says water tastes "icky" to her.

Even with filtered water, I often worry about just how filtered it really is. Does the filter really remove all chemicals, minerals, and other trace particulates? It may taste better, but is it really pure?

I recently was invited by Mom Central to try out the new ZeroWater 10-cup filter-pitcher. This pitcher is like many in that it has a filter reservoir built in to the pitcher to filter the water before it reaches your cup. But that's about where the similarities with other filter-pitchers ends.

ZeroWater's patented 5-stage water filter system is the only system certified to meet the Food & Drug Administration's standards for Purified Bottled Water. That means you can count on crisp, great tasting water every time. And if you're not sure if it's really removing all dissolved solids in your water, ZeroWater includes a laboratory-grade TDS (total dissolves solids) tester to prove just how well it works.

The pitcher is sleek in design and fits well in my side-by-side fridge. Not only can you pour a glass of water from the top of the pitcher, but there's a handy push-button spout at the bottom of the handle if you don't feel like pulling it out of the fridge. (Or have kids who have trouble lifting a full pitcher.)

Back to the lab-grade TDS tester for a minute: this thing is so much fun, and a little scary. I of course wanted to see just what kind of difference was made between water from our tap and the ZeroWater pitcher. Could it really remove all dissolved solids?

First, I tested water straight from the kitchen faucet:

283 ppm (parts per million)

Then I tried water from my built-in fridge filter. (Note: the filter needs to be replaced, so I'm not too surprised that there wasn't much of a difference.)

200 ppm - not much better!

Finally, I poured a glass of water from the ZeroWater pitcher and tested it:

Yep, it says zero. I checked it twice!

OK, I'll admit I was surprised. I was not expecting it to read zero after the other two were so high. As for the taste? Perfect. It tasted like...nothing, just as water should taste. Cool, refreshing, and no hint of aftertaste. Even my older daughter is willing to occasionally drink water now. It's a work in progress with her, folks.

(By the way, you'll find yourself using that water tester everywhere. I've even tested water at restaurants with it. I have yet to find anything under 100ppm.)

My only complaint? The pitcher takes longer than other filter-pitchers to filter the water. If its empty, I fill the reservoir, then wait about 3-5 minutes, then fill it again, place the top on and place it in the fridge. The reservoir and filter take up a lot of space in the pitcher, so I often need to refill it frequently because I like to drink a lot of water.

Overall, I really like the ZeroWater pitcher. The design is great, the water tastes fantastic, and I have peace of mind knowing that this is the purest water I can provide to my family. The included tester is both fun and informative.

You can find the ZeroWater pitcher at Amazon and several other national retailers, including Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Walmart, Home Depot, Meijer and Fry's. You can also save 30% off a 10-cup ZeroWater pitcher at the ZeroWater site with the special coupon code MC30.

ZeroWater also has a Facebook page where you can find out more information about their products.


Want to try ZeroWater for yourself? I've got a ZeroWater 10-cup filter pitcher to give to TWO lucky readers!

To enter, visit the ZeroWater site and enter your zipcode to get your free TDS reading for your area. Once you get your reading from the free TDS lookup tool, come back here and leave a comment telling me what the results were. Be sure to include your email address so I have a way to contact you if you're selected as a winner. One entry per person.

This giveaway is open to US residents only and will be open until Monday, April 9 at 11:59pm EDT. After that time, two winners will be randomly selected and contacted by email. Winners have 48 hours to respond or alternate winners will be selected.

Good luck!

Full disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of ZeroWater and received a water pitcher to facilitate my review, two pitchers to giveaway, and extra filters to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It's Time To Play The Music, It's Time To Light The Lights

If you're not already singing the theme song to the Muppets in your head, then you must not have grown up in the US in the 70's or 80's. As a child I loved the Muppets. They were funny, they had great music, and they were a gentle yet smart show for a child to watch, with endearing characters and creative puppetry. (Or muppetry, as the case may be.)

We have some of the old show on DVD, and the kids have watched several of the Muppet movies, including Muppet Treasure Island and A Muppet Christmas Carol. So when it was revealed that a new Muppet movie was being released, I was thrilled at the chance to go see it in the theater with our daughters.

We did go see it, and loved it other than missing the last 10 minutes due to an accident in the theater. We never had another chance to go see it, so instead I anxiously awaited the release of the Blu-ray.

Well, that day is here, and I couldn't be happier! The Muppets was released last week, and in true Muppet fashion they went over-the-top to produce an extravaganza of a product. The Wocka Wocka value pack includes not only the Blu-ray and DVD copies of the movie, but also a digital copy for your computer or tablet and a copy of the soundtrack, along with a ton of extras including commentaries, deleted scenes, the "Longest Blooper Reel Ever Made (In Muppet History)" and much more.

The story of this Muppet movie takes place long after the Muppets fame has faded. Walter, the world's biggest Muppet fan, goes with his brother Gary to Los Angeles to visit the Muppet Studios, only to find it falling down and about to be bought out and torn down by greedy millionaire Tex Richman. Walter makes it his mission to find Kermit and round up the old Muppet crew to convince them to put on a Muppet telethon to raise the money to save the Muppet Theater. (And I'm sure you can guess that there's a happy ending and the Muppets are reminded just how much people still love them.)

We were so happy to finally see the last 10 minutes of the movie. Like the old Muppet Show, there were several celebrity guest appearances and lots of music, including the Academy Award winning song, Man or Muppet. And the movie proved that the Muppets are timeless - even when competing with CGI graphics and blazing special effects in other movies, our daughters fell in love with the Muppets just like we did when we were kids. The humor is silly, with plenty of moments breaking the fourth wall and speaking to the audience, the songs are sweet and keep everyone humming along, and adults will love the nostalgia while kids develop their own relationship with Jim Henson's greatest creations.

As for the extras on the Blu-ray: you need this set for the blooper reel and the theatrical spoof trailers. Oh, the other extras are great, too, but I guarantee you'll be watching these two features more than once.

There are many movies that I like that I really don't need as a part of my collection. The Muppets, however, is one I absolutely recommend to own. If your house is anything like mine, this movie will get a lot of play time, and the extras make it even more fun. (See how fast you end up having a sing-along in your car to the soundtrack!)

The Muppets is now available at Amazon and most major retailers.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this Blu-ray set to facilitate my review. No further compensation was received and all opinions stated are my own. Also? My favorite Muppet is still Animal.