Entries Tagged 'Reccomendations' ↓

Insect Lore Ant Hill Review and Giveaway

A couple years ago, my oldest son was given an Insect Lore Ant Hill for his birthday. And do you know what I did with it? I immediately gave it away.

You see, ants and I have never been friends. We get fire ants here in Florida. Lots of them. And they bite and leave big welts. And I had some run-ins with some over-sized scary mean ants in Africa as a child. So ants, in abundance, were not something I wanted in my home particularly.

Fast forward  to a few weeks ago when I learned we were getting the same Insect Lore Ant Hill to review here. Being “professional” and all, I sucked it up. I can handle it. I assured myself there was a way to “enjoy” ants while educating my children. Plus, what kind of animal, wildlife lover was I if I couldn’t handle a few ants? Sheesh. So I awaited their arrival. …I was excited! Swear.

We got the Ant Hill first. But then I learned that the ants come separately. In fact if you purchase an Ant Hill, be prepared to send away for your ants with an additional $4.00. In the meantime, you are instructed to set up your Ant Hill and have it ready to go as soon as they arrive.

A week or so later, my ants arrived safely in my mailbox tucked into a puffy envelope. I ignored the heebie jeebies running up and down my spine and ripped it open while my son cowered behind me (I’ve done a nice job protecting him from my ant issues it seems). Luckily, the ants were carefully secured in two tubes. We still had to transfer them into their new digs, however (which we translated as “setting them loose”). Thank goodness for instructions because Insect Lore suggested that we refrigerate the ants for five minutes which will “calm” them. Because these ants bite too. So into my frig they went. Once they were good and “calm”, I popped open the Ant Hill lid, slid the ants inside, and shut it. No ant escapees and we were in business.

To my astonishment, these ants have become my family’s most recent obsession. We are utterly fascinated with their daily progress. They are always busy. We’ve found new tunnels, ants carrying and depositing sand, ants eating and carrying food, interacting, job sharing – it’s all pretty amazing. After school, my son rushes through the door and into the kitchen to see what they’ve done while he’s been gone.  I think we all have a new appreciation for ants and all that they do. I never thought I would say this but our Ant Hill is one of the most interesting and educational products we’ve had in our household in a very long time.

One bit of advice, however? Read the instructions carefully. They are very thorough and will help you understand and care for your ants best. The instructions also include some fun activities and facts for your kids so that you can continue to make this project as educational and interesting as possible.

Oh and I almost forgot! As I do with every item I review for Insect Lore, I get to give some away. Insect Lore will send one winner two Ant Hills – one for you and one for your child’s school. Yep, you too can suck up the courage to bring some ants into your home. Because, take it from me, you and your kids will find yourselves more mezmerised by their comings and goings than any all day The Santa Clause movie marathon. As will your child’s class.

Giveaway Rules

What do you need to do? Between now and Monday, December 20th, leave a comment below telling me about how excited you are to share an Ant Hill with your kids. OR you can comment about how fearful you are to bring a bunch of ants into your home but are willing to come to terms with those heebie jeebies for the sake of your children’s educational development. Of course. (I promise, as an ant fearing parent myself, they aren’t so bad!)

A tweet can count as an entry too (maybe something like: “I entered the @MorningsideMom @insectlore Ant Hill #giveaway here because she swears that ants are a good time. http://wp.me/ptpXZ-10N “). Just leave a comment here saying you tweeted.

UPDATE:

Congratulations to Jen and her six year old son! They have won the ant hill giveaway. I hope you enjoy it as much as we have! And thanks to everyone else for your entries. This contest is now closed.

And in the meantime, are you curious to hear what my seven year old thinks of this Ant Hill? Here is a quiet conversation between the two of us while we watch our ants. It’s a little blurry but you can see them hard at work, carrying sand and moving through tunnels. Also, I called this product a “toy” in this video. Upon later review, my son corrected me. “Mom, it’s NOT a toy. It’s ants living in their house.” Right.

Full Disclosure, as always: I am a paid Blog Ambassador for Insect Lore since they do advertise on my site. That being said, my reviews for their products are entirely my own unbiased opinion.

Somebody Needs to Sing a Christmas Carol

So I’ve been feeling kind of cruddy. Just some stupid cold. It’s not like I’m dying or anything – regardless of what horrible hacking noises I make from beneath my jumble of blankets in the morning.

But I’ve been needing a little holiday pick me up.

Because all of these half unpacked boxes of Christmas “cheer” just seem to translate into Christmas clutter when I’m feeling all sick and sorry for myself. And that’s just not acceptable. Not with two wide-eyed wondering children in the prime of their Christmas magic years.

It’s time to buck up.

So after my husband bustled the boys off to school this morning, instead of going to my to-do list of blog tasks, writing tasks, and (holy unbought Christmas gifts) holiday tasks, I made a hot cup of tea and opened up my itunes. What was I looking to do? Well. Create the perfect Christmas music mix of course.

Because my Christmas cheer must be found. I NEEDED A CHRISTMAS CAROL…

SO. I made my Christmas mix. And you know what? I DO feel better. Buddy was right.

Speaking of Buddy, the Elf soundtrack is on my list of top ten Christmas albums. Wanna hear what my top ten list of Christmas albums are? Well, SURE YOU DO!

(A big BY THE WAY. While I was considering this post, I thought “Gee, if I only had an associates page so I could link my recs… Wait a minute. I should make one!” So I did. Each album is linked to it. But whatever. No need to click or buy or anything like that. Just sharing my favorites, that’s all…)

10. Now That’s What I Call Christmas!

Ok, so there are a few cheese-balls in here (maybe its just me, but Shaggy tunes don’t exactly scream holly or jolly – just saying). But the first part is fantastic – a nice overall collection of the must-haves.

9. Harry for the Holidays

While not quite a Rat Pack crooner, there are some beautiful songs on this Harry Connick album. He sings a really fun big band version of “Frosty the Snowman” and then a really pretty “Mary’s Little Boy Child”.

8. Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

What feels more Christmasy than Burl Ives? His “Holly Jolly Christmas” is the one from the animated “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” TV movie we all grew up with. (Which I own and force my kids to watch every December…)

7. White Christmas

Want to get your parents all misty with memories of Christmases past? Shoot, I well up hearing Bing Crosby croon “White Christmas” or “Silver Bells”. I think we had this original album once upon a time.

6. A Charlie Brown Christmas

Speaking of nostalgia, are you kidding me with this? Oh how I love the songs on this album, especially their version of “O Tannenbaum” and then the wonderful “Christmas Time is Here”.

5. Nutcracker

My mother used to take me to this ballet every Christmas. I remember patent leather shoes and a grand theater and peering into the orchestra pit to watch them warm up before the show. This music IS my childhood Christmas.

4. Barenaked for the Holidays

BNL rocks the holiday season out in this album. And I could not adore the BNL, Sarah McLaughlin “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” more. There are traditional tunes and fun, upbeat versions of old favorites. The whole album is terrific.

3. Christmas with the Rat Pack

Yes, this is the big band, crooner, collection of holiday favorites you’ve been looking for. I adore this entire album from start to finish. And let’s take bets on how many eggnogs were passed around for the live version of “A Marshmellow World”.

2. Christmas Portrait

Ok, you all may not share my adoration for The Carpenters but TRUST ME. Karen Carpenter has the voice of an angel. And this album gets me all kinds of choked up every year. Play “Christmas Waltz” or “Merry Christmas Darling” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and YOU TRY not to get all melancholy and hold your loved ones close and appreciate the wonder of this season. I dare you. (P.S. Skip the first three tracks. They’re cheezy 70s soft jazz stuff I’m pretty sure her brother did and are totally lame compared with the rest of the album.)

1. The Elf Soundtrack

For all around fun, upbeat and jolly tunes – you have to get the Elf Soundtrack. I adore it. I do. It has something of everything. And oh SWOON for Zoey DesChanel’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. And Ella Fitzgerald’s “Sleigh Ride”? Perfection. Love it. Burn it. Buy it. Whatever. You gotta have it.

Oh and just as as bonus consideration, I did check out the new Glee Christmas Album. I don’t own it (yet). It seems pretty good though, especially if you are a fan of both the show and holiday music. Some tunes seem a bit over the top but it might be worth adding to your collection.

Ok, so that’s it from me. Here’s hoping the incessant holiday music in the stores doesn’t drive you mad or force you to repel all of it all together. Christmas music always added to the magic as a child. And now sometimes, somehow, music can bring whatever magic there is left in this holiday right back. Enjoy it.

Insect Lore: Introduction, Buzzerks and Giveaway

If you’ve been a reader here awhile you already know I happen to have my own slice of the wild kingdom in my backyard. But if you think this is some kind of complaint, it’s not. Because I love my backyard beasties. I truly do. I consider it value added to my property. Some like a two car garage and vaulted ceilings, well I love watching a heron light on my back pond or a butterfly make its way through my yard.

And while, sure, we even get the big stuff that should make me gather up my children, lock the doors and spray some sort of repellent haphazardly – I don’t. I try to teach my children about what we see and hope they learn what to do when they see it again. Because, no matter how much repellent we could buy or how often we have to call the gator hotline, these beasties live here as much as we do.

Lizards to ladybugs, bring them on.

Now, if you’ve been here awhile you also probably know that I am fairly picky about the sorts of reviews I do. But when they make sense for my blog, and I am supportive of the company behind the product, well, then I’m game.

The company Insect Lore approached me this summer and asked if I would be interested in working for them over the next year. What is Insect Lore? Simply put, they are in the business of bug and animal education. They sell educational toys aimed at teaching kids about insects and outdoor wildlife.

Which is kind of perfect for this beastie loving blog.

So what will I be doing with them? Once a month, Insect Lore will send me and my boys an educational item to review. And once a month, I will post my review here. While I do receive a small compensation as a brand ambassador of sorts, I promise that each review will be 100% honest. So stay tuned for upcoming Insect Lore reviews about cool stuff that we can haul outside and try on our backyard.

Because I heart wildlife. And I heart educational toys that teach kids more about wildlife.

So here we go. What did we get this month?

Buzzerks Eye Wear.

These bug glasses with flip-on compound eyes are pretty fun to play with. And I caught my boys super cute reactions in the vlog posted below, so check it out. Apparently hornets can play some decent baseball.

But quickly, here are my pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Fun and creative. They are great for make-believe. The kids loved zooming around the yard pretending to be bugs.
  • Durable. Yes, even though we had three pairs for two boys, we still had a couple skirmishes over who got to wear which pair when. Twice a pair was smashed to the ground and both times they survived unscathed and ready to be buggy for another day.
  • Optional compound eye piece. I’m glad the compound eyes are something you can try but then flip back for long term wear.
  • Life like. I think they do a pretty good job of looking like the real things and educating my kids about the faces of each bug type.
  • Biodegradable Packing Peanuts. I really appreciate this extra eco-friendly addition. And? The kids loved dissolving the packing peanuts in water almost as much as wearing the Buzzerks themselves. Almost.

Cons:

  • Optional compound eye piece. The kids were iffy on the compound eyes. My 7 year old got the idea and even thought it was cool, but he kept reminding me how “blurry” everything was. My 4 year old did not like the compound eyes at all and still won’t flip them down. I don’t think he believes any bug could see through compound eyes – which is probably an odd concept for him to grasp anyway.

Giveaway Alert!

So, you’ve seen what I have to say and seen what my kids think (watch below), and now you would love a pair for your little beastie. Well, you can have some. And so can your child’s school. Insect Lore will send you two sets of Buzzerks (each set includes the Fire Ant, the Hornet and the Mantis) – one for your family and one for your child’s school.

What do you need to do? Between now and Wednesday, October 27 2010, leave a comment below telling me your favorite animal or bug story. A tweet can count as an entry too, just leave a comment here saying you tweeted.

UPDATE:

Congratulations to Tree who has won the Buzzerks giveaway! I hope your children enjoy them. This contest is now closed.

In the meantime, watch my kids open up and try out Buzzerks in my backyard.

What I’m Doing

So I thought I would fill you in on some things I’ve been working on outside of posting here.

Yes, I do things other than just parent and unravel it all here for your reading pleasure. Yes, I can multi-task. Yes, it might mean I slack here now and then.

No, it most certainly does NOT mean I love you any less.

So here’s whats up.

(And forgive me if this comes across a little pluggy. Just sharing what I’m doing. Yeah I’m paid at these places but a little something in exchange of some writing is a good thing, right?)

Dr. Smith’s Ointment

So sure, I haven’t had a baby in diapers for just over a year (cue frantic cheering and hoorays heard for miles around…). Nevertheless, I was approached by a fantastic company called Dr. Smith’s Ointment for a little writing gig. What is this company about? A few decades back, a very nice man named Dr. Forest M. Smith saw a need for an effective diaper cream. He created his own product and shared it with his patients. Dr. Smith’s Ointment has now evolved into a family-friendly homegrown company based in San Antonio, Texas. The team of folks working there are committed to connecting with parents and reaching out via their blog and social media. That’s where I stepped in along with a small group of other moms who were hired to share their parenting tips and start a dialogue with their readers.

And who else will be on their site sharing parenting tips? None other than Heloise herself! I’m totally NOT kidding about this either.

So if you check out their site or “like” them on facebook, you’ll be hearing more from me over there. But I wouldn’t hate on you if you went over there primarily for Heloise. I get it. I do. She kind of knows… well, everything.

Savvy Source Savings and Scholarships

You all probably know I am the Tampa City Editor for Savvy Source. Recently they’ve started up a new program over there called Savvy Savings and Scholarships. So what is that exactly? Well it’s going to work a little bit like “groupon”. If you sign up (and it’s free to do so), Savvy Source will send you updates about local family spots with discounts from 50-90% off memberships or admission.

As a blogger, I actually earn a teeny percentage of those who sign up under me. If you are a blogger, you can join the fun and earn too. Just sign up here.

I’ve been checking in with local Moms Clubs, etc. to share this info. but please feel free to share it on your own. Some pretty amazing savings are anticipated not only in Tampa but in cities all over the country.

Other Stuff

And now that I have more time to myself, I am reaching out to folks for more freelance writing projects. And they are slowly trickling in which thrills me to NO end.

(Again, cue frantic cheering and hoorays heard for miles around…)

Because, finally, I am contributing a little more around here (apart from, yes, the invaluable gift of parenting, blah blah blah…). If it’s the equivalent of a trip to Publix or tank of gas at a time, so be it. But I am doing something, dammit.

Ok well, I hope you enjoyed this bit of chitter-chatter and blatant plug fun. See you later here, there and a little bit of everywhere.

Review: Lenevo A70z All In One PC

I’m going to talk computers again. Because a new one has arrived at my home and I’ve been asked to review it. And how do you get this stay-at-home blogging writer mom all kinds of excited? Just send her a computer in the mail. And watch what happens.

Fanning self, staring lustily at hard drives, boot them up, watch them run, look at my blog go, open pictures, speed, plug ins, lots of clicking and dragging. Dang, I need a cold shower.

While I am disclosing this all right up front however, you should already know by now that I am no computer guru. I don’t know the benefits of one processor from another. But I am a user. Obviously. I am also running my own blog which some might consider my own business. I have kids using computers everyday. I have a husband reviewing film for work on computers on many evenings. I have family members who come over and log on and friends who are curious about what we use and a brother who actually is a computer guru kicking the tires on every PC he comes across. We’re users and we’re shameless about it. So let me tell you about this particular PC and how I think it could be, well, used.

The lust-worthy PC that was magically dropped on my doorstep a couple weeks ago is a Lenovo A70z All in One PC. I know, a PC! So many of us use laptops these days. They fold up and go with us. Easy. So why would anyone want to invest in a stand alone PC?

Well, here’s the thing about the Lenovo. It has a lot of the benefits of a laptop, and maybe a few more.

Pros and Cons

1. The hard drive is built into the back of the monitor. The advantage?

  • It takes less than 5 minutes to pull out of the box and set up
  • It saves a ton of space
  • It’s easy to put just about anywhere – you could even mount it on the wall

2. The screen is big – 19″. I don’t know about you but sometimes I just miss a nice big open screen when I use my lap top. Also this makes for great display use since it’s something everyone standing around you can see.

3. It’s easy to pack up. All it has is the monitor, the keyboard and the mouse. If you want to bring it on vacation with you, technically you could without much fuss.

4. It boots up fast. Really fast. Just push the button and it turns on like a TV. Nice.

5. Six USB hook ups, 500 GB of space, CD/DVD drive/burner, a web camera, optional Wi-Fi, and great speakers make this usable right away.

6. It’s Energy Star 5.0 compliant – which matters to this user for sure. Not many PCs can compete with that. Plus it came with a reusable bag instead of the usual extra plastic packaging which is their bit to do something more for the environment.

7. It’s affordable. Depending on the type of processor and other features you select, you can buy it for as little as $500 or for as much as $729.

Some disadvantages? Many users are getting used to thinner screens. While this PC is great in that everything is IN the monitor, it still feels a bit bulky. I think it would feel better if its mounted rather than relying on the kickstand in the back. There is also no SD card slot. My brother (aforementioned computer guru) argued that small businesses wouldn’t need this feature. But I do. Just saying.

Please note that said computer guru gave this PC the thumbs up. He mumbled all sorts of positive sounding words about core processors and nice speed and decent space – I think he even called it a “nice little box”. (Now that I think about it, perhaps he too needs that cold shower. But I digress.)

Who can use this?

Well, obviously this would work very well at a business with a kiosk for customers to use. It would work well for small offices needing to save space and money. It would work well for offices that need to move their equipment efficiently.

But I’m a mom and blogger at home with my kids. So let me tell you how I think this works well for a family too.

This PC is ideal for children. Why? It’s easy to set up in a family area without taking up much room. I like the idea that I could have this set up in a public space and WATCH my children online. The screen makes it easy for me to see what they are doing. It’s also very sturdy and seems to stand up well to children pointing, using, typing, putting disks in, skypeing with Grandpa, playing games online, checking scores, watching movies, doing homework and the rest.

And you know which other family members would do well with this PC? The grandparents of the household. This PC is very easy to set up. It’s user friendly. Everything is built in. Plug in and go. My father certainly doesn’t know much about processors either but this nice big clean screen, fast boot up time, built in webcam for skype (a priority for him) with easy to use Windows 7, and regular sized keyboard would make his user experience much more intuitive and comfortable compared to the day to day frustrations he has with his old, cranky, hard to read laptop.

All in all, I’m impressed. It feels very dependable, fast, quiet and easy to use. It’s got what you need, it is practical, it takes up very little space, it’s energy efficient, it’s no fuss. All of these things make this user happy. For all that it does for the price, it makes an ideal family work station.

So that’s my two cents. I get to keep this puppy around for awhile on a long term loan so if you have questions, feel free to post them. Thanks to Lenovo for the chance to check out this fabulous PC.

By the way? Stay tuned for a giveaway. Yep, get your cold showers ready. One of these may just be yours soon. So check back here later.

In the meantime, some other great reviews of this PC can be found here:

Gear Diary

Slash Gear

FTC disclaimer: A Lenovo All in One A70z PC was sent to me on long term loan for review purposes.

They Might Be Giants Live with My Kids

Live music has its way with me. No, it’s true. I don’t care what I’m hearing live: a local marching band, typical piano bar music, some hoaky cover band. Love them all. But seeing live music that you AND your kids absolutely adore? Well, that’s just about as close to total rock and roll mommy perfection as I can get. My boys and I saw They Might Be Giants live in Orlando yesterday afternoon – and I am still spinning in a star struck TMBG haze. I think my kids are too.

A few years back, when my eldest was a wee two year old watching Playhouse Disney at dawn while I stared half awake over my bowl of Cheerios, TMBG had managed it’s way in between Higglytown Heros (gah!) and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (oy…) for a few musical interludes. Somehow (and it took a great deal I tell you), I perked up. I probably paid more attention initially because these guys were on my college mix tapes. Oh yeah. TMBG. They’re doing kids music now. Cool.

But it was more than that. Their kids music was actually GOOD. And my two year old thought so too – staring, dancing, and staring again. This music wasn’t campy, not sing-songy, not condescending. It kept their usual ironic, quirky, intellectual flair – but styled it just right for kids.

Really, it makes so much sense. TMBG translates perfectly into children’s rock tunes. In the tradition of what they’ve always done for the past 25 years, they wind kooky story lines in and amongst educational concepts. And kids, who totally get kooky story lines, line up to hear about paleontologists and the periodic table and the vowel family. No they do, for real. It’s utter TMBG kid music magic.

I ordered TMBG’s Here Come the ABCs soon after hearing them for the first time. Finally. Music I could bear and my two year loved. Truly, he loved it. “Go for G”, “E Eats Everything”, “C is for Conifer”, “D is for Drums”… we couldn’t get enough.

(For the record, C has never been for cookie but always for conifer. And when we saw an actual conifer – look out, it was a crazy big deal. And you thought Santa was the only Christmas celebrity.)

Some years passed, I had another son and when he was about two years old, well what should come along?  Here Come the 1,2,3s of course. “Infinity”, “High Five”, “Figure Eight”. More magic. And suddenly, lo and behold, both kids loved their music. I was finally the proud mommy of two TMBG fans. Score.

This Christmas, Santa brought the most recent TMBG creation to the Morningside household: Here Comes Science. “I Am a Paleontologist”, “The Bloodmobile”, “Electric Car”. Crank it up, we were all jamming out once again. It’s a bit more mature this time, but isn’t that convenient – so are my kids.

And now both kids are old enough to take it upon themselves to jump online to watch bookmarked TMBG pod-casts, they know it all word for word, they’ve studied whose who in the band, “no Mommy, Marty plays drums and Danny plays Bass. Sheesh.” True kid fans.

So when tickets went on sale for a special family show in Orlando at the Hard Rock Cafe? I’m fairly sure I may have rattled the house with a jarring TMBG groupie squeel. And I was on ticketmaster’s site in no time.

They Might Be Giants! Here comes my family!!!!

(Well, minus my huz. He was away in NC. And he was missed. He would have been there rocking out with us in a heartbeat.)

So yesterday was the day. And in true groupie form, I made T-shirts for my boys and I. My 6 year old helped me design them, carefully over-seeing the entire process. I could have painted my car too. And made signs. But I didn’t. I’m totally not that TMBG freaky, mmmkay?

But the kids were so fired up. Their first rock concert. It was kind of a big deal.

Oh wait! Another total bonus to our TMBG experience was meeting up with Maria from Mommy Melee and Colleen from The Mess Potential is Exponential. We met at the Hard Rock and decided on lunch there. As fab as the company was, let me just leave you with these words of advice. If you want to eat somewhere before a Hard Rock concert in Orlando, the Hard Rock Cafe restaurant itself probably isn’t a great choice. We had a whole slew of issues. It’s a long story but just take my suggestion for what it’s worth. *Disappointed sigh*

Anyway, so in we went after lunch and we were over-joyed to find that our early purchases for TMBG tickets meant fourth row seats! Rock and roll, baby!

(Yes, yes, I’m such a mommy dork, but humor me alright? This was a big deal for my fam.)

Predictably, when the lights dimmed and Marty, Danny and the “Johns” all ran on stage… dude. Consider me totally star struck. And as they started in with the “Alphabet of Nations”, it all became surreal, crazy – my years as a parent actually flashed before my eyes. We’ve listened to these songs ceaselessly on repeat in my car and on the computer and on the DVD player and anywhere my kids will beg to have them on. And now live, before our very eyes, here were TMBG.

They played a ton of our favorites: “Never Go to Work”, “Meet the Elements”, “Electric Car”, “Seven”, “I am a Paleontologist”. Their sock puppets even showed up – but sporting their new “avatar” looks. Hysterical.

I tried to take a few pictures. But they suck. Want to know why? I was afraid I’d get booted for taking pictures so I took them far too quickly. I know. SO bad ass rock star of me.

So we watched and rocked and swayed and clapped and danced. My three year old stared, wowed – often asking “What songs next?” And my six year old remained in “wheels turning, soak it all in, must process this whole damn experience” mode. He said very little. He clapped only when appropriate. He never lost focus. Seeing his favorite band was serious business. And after retelling a few of his favorite moments in the car ride home, he has insisted that we try to see them again. Twist my arm.

Anyway, forgive this hella long post, it was clearly written in a fan crazed froth.

I’m just so happy I got to experience this music with my children. This music, so woven into our days and trips around town and moments home together, has become part of our lives more than I think I even realized. These are the moments, this is when you realize all the groundhog days are worth it, this is when parenting can rock you and roll you with your kids jamming along side.

Hold your lighter up to that and sway to it, yo.

(Oh yeah, disclaimer time. Apart from the free sandwich I got due to bad service at the Hard Rock Cafe, I received nothing for writing this. It was my pleasure entirely.)

Maghound Review and NYC Trip Sweepstakes

So its been a long time since I saddled up and got a magazine subscription. Not sure why. Maybe it was the cost or maybe it was never wondering where the best place to sign up was. Where was the best deal? And then, what if I got sick of that magazine? I’ve had subscriptions that I didn’t enjoy after I signed up and felt later I had wasted my money. Anyway, so, I haven’t had a magazine subscription in a really long time and just wind up grabbing them in the supermarket line and paying full price.

I know. I’m SUCH a smart shopper. I mean, only three or four full price magazines and the subscription is paid for…

Anyway, cue some magazine providence to solve my issue. My favorite peeps at the PR group Ivy Worldwide (the very same peeps who brought me to NYC in February) asked me if I wanted to be part of a promotion for Maghound. logo_maghound_all

What’s Maghound?

It’s kind of the perfect magazine subscription management site.  Basically, you pick three or more magazines and then replace, cancel or add new magazines at any time. Get sick of one magazine, replace it with another. Or stop one all together. Or add more. And then stop the whole thing if you want. Oh, and if your magazine isn’t monthly, you can substitute it with another while you wait. And the best part? You pay a nominal monthly fee – for three magazines, you pay $4.95 a month. Plus you don’t have to commit long term.

A couple catches. Sometimes you have to pay a little extra to substitute if the substitute magazine is more expensive than the one you are replacing it with. But its usually very little and it is clearly marked if you will need to pay more.

Because that’s the thing. The website is easy to use and manage your subscriptions. You can even change the names on the magazine to say your child’s name if you want. A cute touch.

Thanks to Ivy Worldwide, I have been given a free year of subscriptions. I’m looking forward to playing around with the site and seeing how it works as I start getting magazines in. I’ll keep you posted.

Anyway, of COURSE I wouldn’t be plugging something that didn’t have some benefit for my readers as well. So there are two very cool ways to get in on this.

1) Go here and blog readers get an exclusive one month free trial plus 20% off the first six months.

2) Maghound is offering a MAGnificent Makeover Sweepstakes for blog readers. Grand prize winners will win a trip to NYC, a $1,500 shopping spree and a People StyleWatch makeover.

splash-sweeps

Wow, right? New York City? A $1500 shopping spree? A makeover?

See now, I hook you all up. Sure sure, its all over a few magazines. But these are magazines with no commitment, a serious discount to try it out and possibly a grand prize trip to NYC with a $1,500 shopping spree – all for blog readers. Not too shabby.

Good luck to the entrants!

I’ve Got Their Back

Sometimes I don’t feel like posting. Sometimes, I’m just having a bad day. In fact, if it gets quiet around here – that’s usually why.  Dragging out and rehashing those feelings here every time I have them just gets old. So instead, I’d rather focus my energy on things I want to support! Positivity! For everyone! Including PMSing mothers on the verge of tears because her child is tantruming but not really since it’s really because her mom died a month and a half ago. Yeah them too. Yay!

So stick with me here. I have some shout outs I’d like to give. Pay attention. Because if I do say so myself, they are truly worth your attention.

Never Too Late For College

A good blogging friend and I both have background in college administration. She is from the guidance side of things and I spent many years working in college admissions. So one day we got to talking and she had a fabulous idea of starting a site where she could post content supporting students who have decided to return college. People like us with families and jobs and busy lives who might also be looking to pursue a degree. And like us, these very same people are probably stressed about how they will squeak one more thing into their lives, how will they afford it, how long will it take. Her site is brand new but I do think she is on to something there. I hope to guest post soon and support her any way that I can. If you are thinking about going back to school and are concerned about how you will balance it all – go check out Never Too late For College. Give Mary a shout out – she has some amazing content on there right now.

Savvy Source in Tampa- Join!

If you’ve done any background stalking on me (like checking out the buttons posted to the right), you’ll know I’ve been working for Savvy Source for the past year. I post about events, activities, and general fun things happening in Tampa for preschool aged kids. Recently, our site had a make-over and we are now introducing a very cool option for our readers. For those who join (which is FREE), members can personalize the site to their children’s interests. Also we (well not ME but the Savvy Source brains behind all of this) have added a new social networking feature. In fact we have a Tampa area group and I (clearing my throat, looking quite proud) am the moderator. What does that mean? Well, I’m in charge of the party and will be doing my damnedest to bounce any spammers or lame-os who disrespect any great conversations happening. If you’re a parent living in Tampa – JOIN! I need someone to talk to…

Cancer Sucks. Children with Cancer Sucks Even More.

Did you know that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month? No? Well, its time you did. Click on over there and meet Peyton and her mom Anissa. Cancer happens all the time, and it happens all the time to babies and children who don’t get why they spend months in and out of hospitals, getting poked and feeling horrid. And then when they’re better, no one is ever sure it won’t come back. And have you ever thought of what kind of effects the drugs that put children into remission might have on a child’s development? And how does a mother cope wondering when the next shoe might drop. Remission. It sounds an awful lot like the word dormant. Quiet for now but who knows? Be aware, learn, share, donate.

My Mom

And while I’m having one of those “on the verge of tears days”, I may as well give a shout out to the Susan G. Komen Foundation where I’ve set up a memorial fund for my mom. She was in remission from cancer too – for 15 years. Sure, she didn’t die from breast cancer but she was extraordinarily changed by it. She knew it could come back at any moment. She knew we needed to stay proactive about cancer and do what we can to beat it. She participated in walks, she was a part of many research groups, she did her part. So, yeah, she didn’t die from cancer but she cared about it. So I care about it. And have set up this memorial in her name.
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All right, my friends. Thanks for reading. I hope you’ve checked out these sites and learned a little something. Now back to what you were doing and I’ll get back to wallowing for as long as I can before someone who claims he’s potty trained decides – for today only – why bother?

Tampa Blogger Florida Aquarium Tweet Up

As you all know, sometimes Blogging has its benefits. And while I hardly blog for those few and far between benefits alone, I love ‘em when I get ‘em. And what perk came my way this weekend? A free afternoon at the Florida Aquarium for Tampa bloggers, tweeters and social media folk alike.

And you know how much I love where the wild things are.

So with a gleeful kick of my heels, I packed my two boys and willing husband into the car spouting promises of lots and lots of fishies. “It will be better than the fishies in the aquariums at Walmart!” Oh. Ok. Now THAT got their attention. Better than Walmart fishies? They were IN.

tampaflaqtweetupWhen we were arrived, we were escorted into a conference room filled with fellow social media peeps. They too had brought their families, so we milled about and kept our kids from reaching into the lone fishtank found at the front of the room. After some welcomes and introductions, the Florida Aquarium staff brought out a few beasties to check out: one snake and one small gator. I felt right at home while my 6 year old waited patiently to pet each.

Next we walked out into the Aquarium and spent well over an hour walking from tank to tank. I appreciate how they have laid out the Aquarium. Visitors start in the Wetlands and meet the sort of wildlife you might find in your own Florida back yard (alligators, turtles, otters, birds and the rest). And as you walk through each exhibit and move through various stages of water, you experience the underwater wildlife you might find in mangrove swamps off the Florida coast or in the deep waters of the gulf.

tampaflaqtweetup1My children were besides themselves with glee. They ran from tank to tank to tank to tank. “Look at this one Mommy!” “WHOA! Mommy, Daddy, look at THIIIIS!!!” They got to touch star fish, climb on displays, interact with educational technology, step over sharks and play under schools of fish. We all came to a screeching halt and were mesmerized by the floor to ceiling panoramic window displaying an enormous tank full of fish. The kids loved watching a diver interact with and take questions from visitors.

A highlight was certainly the penguin encounter. While I had to hold back my two year old by the scruff of his shirt (“I wub it mommy, I wub penguin, I wanna huuuugggg!!!”), my 6 yo listened intently to the Penguin handler. He promptly reported back to me what he learned later too: “Did you know penguins can poop 4 ft. away!?!” That’s great, babe.tampaflaqtweetup2

We had a wonderful visit. The staff there were phenomenal. The vibe was child-friendly and relaxing. (That being said even though we never even made it out to the Caribbean Cantina tiki bar or splash park for kids set up out back.)

My only frustration? It is expensive to go very often unless you invest in a pass. Adults are $20.00 and children are $14.95 each. However, an annual pass is $140 (which includes parking) and is probably worth the investment if you and your children do love underwater wildlife and think you might like to visit the aquarium and their splash park more often.

Many thanks to Tampa Bloggers and the Florida Aquarium (on twitter at @floridaaquarium) for a fabulous family afternoon with Florida wildlife!

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My Interview with Grey’s Anatomy Star Chandra Wilson

chandra_twcSo I am quite sure by now that I do in fact have a blogger guardian angel. No, I do. And I need to light a candle on her behalf every night and thank her for all she brings my way.

So what is it this time?

Well. I was emailed by a friend/colleague/reader of mine the other day and asked if I would like to be part of an phone interview with (here it is, folks…) Chandra Wilson. She is the enormously talented actor who plays Dr. Bailey on “Greys Anatomy”. It turns out she is a spokesperson for the Treat With Care Campaign and is working with the Consumer Healthcare Products Association to advocate for the safe use of children’s over the counter medication. Would I be interested in participating in the call and interviewing her as a mom blogger?

Um. Yeah. I think so.

Some quick back story here. Now, like households everywhere, I watch “Greys” regularly. It’s a fabulous show. But here’s the thing. Of ALL the characters (McSteamys and McDreamys included), my stand alone, top of the pile, absolute favorite character on that show is Dr. Bailey. Her character is an incredible example of a smart, witty, relatable hard working mother who digs in and scraps for what she believes in. I stand by Dr. Bailey with every episode. Just ask my husband. When the credits roll, I clutch a couch pillow to my heart and confess my solidarity with Dr. Bailey. She simply rocks that show.

And last Friday I got to interview her.

That couch pillow? Yeah, it kind of got thrown in the air a bit.

Ok. So down to the nitty gritty. What is the Treat With Care Campaign all about?

Before we start, I must confess something. I am not sure if this deems me as being highly unprofessional, but I didn’t write down the conversation word for word so I could transcribe the interview exactly as it went here. Sorry about that folks. Color me a wee bit star struck, I got caught up in the convo – talking and writing just wasn’t going to happen. But I did take notes and will do my damnedest to do it all justice here for you. So here we go. (And its a little long but like I care. It’s Chandra Wilson for pete’s sake!)

Once we all called in, we heard a little bit from the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA). They are a non-profit, consumer focused association supported by the makers of many over the counter medications (OTCs). The Treat With Care Campaign is their initiative to encourage the safe use of children’s OTCs. The USFDA recently changed its OTC recommendations and now suggests they be used for children 4 and older (as opposed to previous labels recommending use for ages 2 and older). And with that, Chandra Wilson was introduced to us as their spokesperson for the Treat With Care Campaign and we were welcomed to ask her questions.

Chandra greeted us all and I couldn’t help but smile. I know that voice! She was very encouraging and certainly seemed happy to speak with us. So, as I gathered myself, rallying whatever bit of professionalism I had, I couldn’t help but think the following:

“Its Dr. frigging BAILEY!!! Ok, she sounds cool. In fact, she seems a whole lot sweeter than what I expected. Like the softer, gentler, more relaxed twin of Dr. Bailey. And shes a mom! And here she is just chatting away with us! Bah! Must not freak out but I SO TOTALLY AM!”

Breathe.

So then it was my turn to ask a question. Anxious, shameless and a little bit starstruck, I jumped right in. As a mother of a 3 year old, I asked her how this campaign has changed how she cares for her son when he has a cough or cold.

She explained to us it has changed her life a great deal. Before, she never thought twice about about treating her child’s cough or cold the way she might treat her own. But since becoming involved in this campaign, she has learned the following tips:

  • Read labels and never give your child more than the recommended dose
  • Store medications out of reach AND out of sight of your children. The flavors can be enticing, so she even turns the labels with the cute grapes inward
  • Never use an OTC for children younger than the recommended age of four or under (unless prescribed otherwise by a doctor)
  • Never use adult medications for children
  • Never use any medication for the purpose of making your child sleepy

(Can I just say here that as she was carefully listing these tips, I started slipping back into a “Greys” state of mind. Since she is clearly informed about this topic, she suddenly sounded a little more like Dr. Bailey and I had better listen to these points or else she was going to get the Chief involved and make us interns pay! …Oh for crying outloud. SNAP OUT OF IT CAROLINE! Sheeesh.)

She then talked about how she works hard to focus on nutrition and hydration when her child is sick. And when her little one is truly miserable, she always refers to her Pediatrician for cough or cold medications.

So with the new OTC recommendations, I know that I have been nervous about using any OTCs at all for my children. Are they really safe?

Well, she explained that the problems have occured when parents have misused OTCs or children have taken OTCs on their own and over-dosed. In fact, the FDA found this was occurring more often with children under the age of 4, hence the changes on labels. She told us that this campaign is simply just a good reminder to everyone about how to use OTCs – they are safe if they are used correctly.

So should we always ask a pediatrician before we use an OTC, even if the child is over 4?

(Ugh, duh, was this a stupid question? Whatever. I asked it.)

She said that we should use our common sense as parents. But yes, certainly discuss the use of any meds with our pediatrician. She has found that since she has been involved in this campaign, she always contacts her pediatrician whenever she is in doubt – it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

The other bloggers asked questions too of course, and she was so nice to everyone. (Although I do feel a bit guilty. Maybe I asked too many questions? Maybe I jumped in there too often? My apologies to the other bloggers, I think I sort of lost my mind a bit. Ok. Let it go.) But ultimately, she came back to the same points I’ve already mentioned and made sure to underscore the importance of using OTCs safely. Then the CHPA rep asked us if we had any further questions.

Heh. I did, of course. (Shocker of all shockers.)

I asked Chandra that I was pretty sure all of our readers would love to know how she balances being a mother with such a demanding career.

She explained that she has a great support team in place. She has a day to day schedule and tries to stick with it. And while she has a plan in place, she always makes room for the human factor. Things can change daily and she tries to accommodate accordingly. Sometimes her kids might come to work or maybe one has to get to camp – whatever it is, she just tries to make room for it just like we all do.

And with that, it was time to say good-bye.

Ack. So what did I do? I couldn’t help myself.

While I was thanking her, I just had to get a little gushy. (Groan.) I blurted out that I really appreciate the character she plays since she is a hardworking mother, and she sets such an important example. She said that’s why she loves Dr. Bailey too – she’s real, strong but certainly not perfect. I told her I think that shes fantastic in her role and thanked her for it. And she was so damn nice back. She really was. Did I make a fool of myself gushing a bit there? Eh, maybe. Probably. But who cares. You know why? She has brought such a great character to my Thursday evenings, she SHOULD be thanked you know?

(Ok, Chandra? If luck would have it and you are reading this? I really mean it. Thank you. Dr. Bailey is a fantastic character. And sure sure, its because there are amazing writers for Greys but REALLY. It is *YOU* who makes Dr. Bailey who she is. YOU bring this character to life. You have reached so many people with your fabulous acting and I just have to say it again. Thank you.)

Stop laughing at me, readers o’ mine. Its ok, I can gush NOW. Its my blog, so I can be out of my mind now, its kind of what I do here, right?

But really, the best part of the whole conversation was just how real and relaxed it was. Because she is not a doctor, she is a working mom just like so many of us. We laughed about our kids, we swapped stories, we talked about how important it is to protect our children. And at the end of our half hour, I was a little sad to say good-bye.

So, if you want to see more of Chandra, here are a couple clips you should watch. First, here is the Treat With Care OTC PSA.

And then, this is the real “non Dr. Bailey” Chandra on Ellen. How cool is she? No, really! She is so damn cool, a mom like us, she loves her soaps and she doesn’t know how to work her TIVO. Yup, I really heart her. (I know, enough with the gushing, but I can’t make any more of a fool of myself here than I already have right?…) – so… rock on Chandra!!!

Thank you again, Chandra Wilson and CHPA for this opportunity.