Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Travel with Kids: Road Trip

We left for a road trip on Sunday.  We headed to California, where we're spending a few days at Disneyland and then our last couple days on the beach. It's a trip we've planned for almost a year, and a great one to be our last trip of 2010.

Our kids are great travelers.  Without any prompting, Lydia packed her own backpack for the trip.  She chose to bring baby dolls who are smaller, because they fit easily into the backpack.  She packed her iPod Touch and headphones, as well as her favorite blankie and a few lollipops. Exactly what I would have packed for her. (and have packed for her numerous times in the past.  It's so nice to see that she was paying attention.)

The boys did the same, bringing things that would easily fit in their backpacks and keep them entertained on the road and at the hotel. They both packed their own clothes as well, and while Bo went through them to check, very little needed to be changed or added (Nate underestimated his need for underwear . . . but otherwise they would have been fine.)

The car we took on the trip is smaller than our minivan, and we weren't sure how the kids would do sharing a single backseat.  To my delight, they did just fine sharing a small backseat for the 7+ hours we spent on the road.  They kept busy playing with their electronics for part of the trip, looking out the window for part of the trip, and we all listened to an audiobook for a few hours.  The only frustration was the delay caused by road construction -- nothing within our vehicle.

I planned in advance, knowing we would have a refrigerator at the hotel, and brought 3 bags of snacks and food as well as drinks.  The food I brought has given us the freedom of not freaking out over the cost of eating out, since we have only had to eat one meal out per day. It's not easy to eat inexpensively within Disney, but since I brought breakfast items, lunch items and snacks I've been able to keep the food costs low on this trip. Bringing food from home has also lessened any frustration from my picky eater refusing to eat restaurant fare. If necessary, he can order just a drink while we enjoy a meal, because I know there is peanut butter, crackers and apples waiting in our room for him to eat.  On the other end, eating out just once per day allows my adventurous eater the freedom to try new foods because if he doesn't like them, there's peanut butter and crackers back in the room! 

The kids have settled into the routine of staying in a hotel with no problems.  Lydia immediately came into the room and unpacked her small bag into one of the drawers. The boys knew they needed to make an ice run and scouted out the ice room as we headed to our room the first night.  Everyone jockeyed for position in one of the 5 sleeping spots, but there were no arguments or complaints -- just simple discussion about who was a bed hog and who kicked off the covers.

I started 2010 with a wish to travel more as a family, and we definitely spent a lot of time traveling this year (both as a family and Bo & I independently for work.)  I am grateful that I'm raising 3 kids who are excellent travelers, and I can't wait to see where life takes them.  In fact, I can't wait to see where 2011 may take us!

Review: Tap and Teach: The Story of Noah's Ark for Nintendo DS

Lydia (3yo) had a chance to try out a game for Nintendo DS -- Tap and Teach: The Story of Noah's Ark.  It's a new release from South Peak Interactive for kids ages 3 - 6.  Lydia is my little tech-baby, comfortable using her own iPod, our iPad and a few other video games. Until now, we didn't have any DS games that were appropriate for her, so she was excited when I let her use my pink DS to try this one out.

The game has a narration of the Noah's Ark story, which she enjoyed (all my kids love audiobooks), but her favorite part is the coloring pages.  The game also has a few games included to help with reading and music, but she mostly played with the coloring pages and the narrated story.

The graphics are well-done and the game is easy for a 3yo to navigate (granted she's been navigating video games and apps for over a year, but I still think it's easy to navigate.)  I shot a video of her playing with it recently, and I can tell you that it's a big hit.  I look forward to seeing what other titles they add to this series!

(And, I know that's not a pink DS in this video.  That was on the charger, so she was using her Dad's.)

*Disclosure: I received an advance copy of the Nintendo DS game, Noah's Ark to facilitate this review.  No additional compensation was received.*

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Review: Pop Chips (and giveaway)

We go through lots of snacks in this house.  I'm always on the lookout for snacks that are healthy, but also appealing as a snack.  I admit that when I first saw Popchips, I didn't pay much attention.  I took a closer look and found that they are potato chips that are neither fried nor baked.  They are "popped" by heating them up to high temperatures.

The next question is, of course, how do they taste?  They are yummy!  I sampled a variety of the flavors and liked every one.  The flavors are definitely strong, and the kids didn't care for salt & pepper or sour cream & onion, but they did like the cheddar and the original flavors.  As a bonus, the original flavor is marked as vegan -- which means my sister who is allergic to dairy can enjoy them.

Each .8 oz bag has 100 calories and 3.5g of fat. The chips are made from all natural ingredients, and no preservatives are added to the chips.  They meet my healthy desires, as well as my snacking desires!

I have a variety pack of single serving bags of Popchips to give away to one of my readers!!  You can enjoy these great snacks if you are chosen by random.org as the winner.  In order to enter the giveaway, please CLICK HERE to go to the giveaway form.  Then, fill in your information as well as the mandatory information below.

**Winner has been chosen & notified! Thank you!!**

I will choose a winner on December 6, 2010 (Happy St. Nick's Day!) so you should be snacking before Christmas.  Good luck & thanks for reading!

*Disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of popchips and received a “Get Popped” box of popchips and a $30 gift certificate to thank me for taking the time to participate.*

Review: Whole Foods Gift Box

I was excited when I saw that Whole Foods was offering gift boxes, and even more excited when I received one of my own to review! This video shows you the gift box I received.  Visit Whole Foods Gift Boxes for details on all of their great boxes.

You'll have to forgive the slightly-shaky camera work, apparently Nate had an itch that he was trying to ignore!  Also, I mention wholefoods.com in the video -- which will take you to their site, but it's actually www.wholefoodsmarket.com.

*Disclosure: I received the gift box pictured in the video for review.  No additional compensation was provided.  All opinions are my own.*

Wordless Wednesday - Zombie Christmas

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Need To Talk . . . Apparently quite a lot

Bo is my best friend.  He's the one I want to talk to when I'm having a good day, a bad day, or any kind of day in between.  I need to share my thoughts and ideas and frustrations with someone, and he's usually the recipient of most of it because . . . well, because.  He's my husband and my best friend. The one who understands me more than anyone else, even though I don't think anyone can understand anyone else completely.  He usually sees what I need, and does his best to provide it -- whether it's a mid-afternoon nap or a big hug.

This past 10 days has been difficult for me communication-wise.  First I was gone and while we texted and spoke to each other, we didn't have any long conversations as there was much going on.  And now he's gone and very busy and our opportunity for conversations has been extremely limited.  Okay, non-existent.  I've done my best to wait for his calls . . . and then they've been quick "How was your day. Fine. And yours? Oh, wait, I've got another call . . . I'm expected somewhere . . . I am distracted by shiny things and need to hang up but I'll call you back" and then he doesn't.

I'm not angry, but I am lonely and missing his companionship.  Because I do have a need to talk and communicate and share and he's not here and not available either. So while I'm not angry, I'm frustrated.  And, I realize that even though I've always said I wouldn't re-marry I think I would go crazy if I didn't, so I'm not going to say that anymore.  Sorry, babe. 

Sunday can't come soon enough.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tell Me Thursday - Hospital Bill

When I was in Wisconsin last week, my mom & I were looking at some old photographs and this bill was included with the pictures.  It's the invoice from my mom's birth and I found it fascinating!

My grandmother stayed in the hospital for 7 days with my mom, and the total bill for those 7 days came to $92.10!

When I gave birth to Colin in 2000, the hospital bill was around $35,000 -- but that was an emergency c-section.  In 2002, Nate's bill was right around $10,000 for a natural delivery.

I stayed in the hospital 3 days after Colin's birth and around 36 hours after Nate's birth.

It almost makes me wish I had saved those bills!  I can't imagine what my grandchildren's births will cost!

I used the Dollar Times inflation calculator to see what $92.10 would be in 2010, and came up with $849.95.  That's a far cry from $10,000!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review: . . . Featuring Norah Jones

I recently received Norah Jones' new CD, titled . . . Featuring for review.   In fact, I just received it as it was in the pile of mail I came home to on Sunday.

It's been a hectic week. Lydia & I traveled, then came home with enough time to have lunch with Bo before he left for a week.  Lydia and Nate have both been sick, I've had commitments I had to meet, the usual things in our schedule and all without the support of another adult in the house.

Nothing too crazy, but the equilibrium is definitely upset this week.  So, this CD has been a welcome addition to the sounds of the week.

It's mellow, as can be expected from Norah Jones.  It also has covers of some of my favorite songs from childhood -- like Baby It's Cold Outside (with Willie Nelson!! one of my grandmother's favorite singers) and Blue Bayou (featuring M. Ward, who I don't know, but it's a cover of a Linda Ronstadt tune that I remember my dad playing when I was a kid.)  Those 2 songs make it a comforting sort of background noise, but every song on this CD is enjoyable.

The songs were recorded from 2001 to 2010, and this CD is a compilation of duets and collaborations with musicians of diverse styles. I really like this CD and am happy to have it in my collection!

*Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this CD to facilitate my review.  I was also entered into a drawing  for a gift card in exchange for posting within a certain time frame, sponsored by One2One Network.  All opinions expressed are my own.  No additional compensation was provided.*

Interview with Michael Chiarello!!

I was excited about the opportunity to interview Michael Chiarello!  My work schedule didn't mesh with a live video chat, but he was kind enough to answer my questions and send me the video.  As I mentioned before, he is one of my favorite chefs and I have been reading his latest cookbook, Bottega, over the last couple weeks.

I asked him a few questions about holiday cooking, and love his ideas about roasted brussel sprouts and also pumpkin brulee.  The simplified turkey cutlet is something I plan to try as well! I hope you enjoy the interview!

*Disclosure: The interview was arranged by Progresso. I received no compensation or product in exchange for posting.*

Wordless Wednesday - Hospital Bill

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Travel with Kids: Wisconsin

At Betty Brinn, in the space shuttle area
Last weekend,  my sister, Lydia and I took a trip to Wisconsin to celebrate my and my mom's birthdays. We went last year in November, too, and were pleasantly surprised when the temperatures were at least 20 degrees warmer than last year.

Lydia still proves to be an excellent traveler, and I think it is just her personality that makes it easy.  Her iPod Touch and our iPad definitely helped pass the time, and I'm grateful for the amazing apps that people create, and how easy it is to load episodes of kid-friendly shows.  I also absolutely love that Netflix has a streaming app for the iPad, because when we had wifi, she was able to watch things straight from our queue.

The trip was short, but we were able to spend some great quality time with my parents, visit downtown Waukesha (including the gelato shop) and the Fox River, visit the Betty Brinn Children's museum (where they accused my brother of being a pedophile since he arrived before we did -- that was fun!!), saw my in-laws and even visited a dairy farm, thanks to my brother's girlfriend.

Even though she wasn't feeling great (she has a lingering cold), it didn't stop her from being gregarious, independent and a delight to everyone around her.  We packed carefully so that we didn't have to check any bags, and she was great about carrying her own backpack through the airports.  She didn't even complain at being woken at 4:30AM so we could catch our early morning flight home.

She said a lot of amusing things, but she kept asking about things in "this world" and how they were different in "our world."  Things like the leaves falling off the trees, and the dreary, gray skies.  I wasn't sure why she was thinking we lived in different worlds, until I came home and continued reading The Magician's Nephew by CS Lewis to the boys.  I have been reading it as a read-a-loud for a couple weeks, and there is much talk of different worlds.  It makes perfect sense that she would see the landscape and lives of those in Wisconsin as a completely different world as the one we live in here in Arizona. 

Traveling with one child is much simpler than traveling with three.  It helps that she is an easy traveler!  (Doesn't mean I didn't miss my boys though!)

(ETA: I realize this post is a grammatical nightmare . . . but I'm exhausted (Did I mention that I came home in time to see Bo off to Minnesota for a week? And that Lydia is sick? And so is Nate? And I have work commitments like crazy to take care of?) and I wanted to get this up before too much time went past because mostly I wanted to remember about Lydia and her worlds.  So, forgive me. )

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Happy Birthday Colin

I am flying back to Arizona early this morning and will land about 10AM.  Bo will meet me at the airport with our boys and we will head out to a birthday celebration lunch for Colin before we head back to the airport to drop Bo off for his work trip to Minnesota.

It's hard to believe that 10 years ago, our eldest was born.  Looking at the picture, it's even harder to imagine the young man in my home with long legs was once that tiny.

He was my miracle baby and I am thankful for his place in my life each and every day. We had been told that our chances of having children was so slim that I ignored the various pregnancy symptoms until I landed in a doctor's office complaining that I had to pee ALL THE TIME.  After the examination, he looked at me funny and said "Well, when you're pregnant you do have to pee quite a lot."  Then he looked at me even funnier when I said "Pregnant?  I'm not pregnant.  I can't get pregnant!"  He examined me again and said, "Well, I think there's a 6 month baby inside, but let me run a test anyway."

I sat there, wondering how I was going to tell Bo I had cancer, when the doctor returned to let me know that I was most definitely pregnant.  An ultrasound the next day let us know we were going to have a son.  Twelve weeks to the day that I found out I was pregnant, I delivered a beautiful, red-headed, full-term baby boy.

Our life has been richer ever since.  Colin is a young man that is a conscientious and devoted big brother, a voracious reader of fiction, an imaginative and playful child.  He is kind, caring and loves his friends and family.  Even though they fight at times, his brother is his best friend and they still create elaborate games and worlds that exist only for them.  He loves to learn, and currently is interested in space. When he grows up, he would like to work for NASA.

He made me a mom 10 years ago, and I love him.  Happy Birthday, Colin!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tell Me Thursday - Over 40 years ago

Some of you knew that yesterday was my birthday.  The picture is one of my baby pictures -- maybe 6 months old? If you compare my baby pictures to my mom's baby pictures, we look almost identical.   I always thought I'd have a baby girl that looked just like me, and then I got a little blondie that is the image of her father.  Life and genetics work in funny ways.

As you read this, I'm 2000 miles away from home so I could celebrate my birthday with my parents -- and celebrate my mom's birthday which is in a few days.  Colin's birthday is Sunday, so I must be home again for that!

Although I'm writing this a few days early, I'm confident that my birthday was lovely.  My sister, Lydia and I flew out yesterday morning.  I only hope I brought enough warm clothing! 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Rushing Here & There

I think we're doing pretty good with most things, except that dinner times are still a struggle.  There is often too short a time between coming home and leaving for sports/music/dance to eat, and then everyone is starving by the time we come home.  I need to figure out a solution in the next month or so, because I'm tired of fast food and eating out, then I think I'll be happy!  Our schedule is pretty frantic some weeks, but I'm not sure if there is anything I would cut.  I count ourselves lucky that the boys are close in age and like the same things!

During one week, we attend 3 sports practices/games for the boys, 1 music lesson (the boys each have their lesson at the same time, but the studio is 30 minutes from home), 1 dance class for Lydia, 1 afternoon Chess Club for the boys, 1 soccer practice/game for Lydia.

The boys attend school daily. Bo's schedule is pretty set Monday - Friday with his new job.  My teaching schedule is ever-changing.  Some weeks I don't work at all (that's rare though), some weeks I work 5 days and most weeks I work something in between.  When I'm not in front of a class, I still have to prepare for classes and learn new software, so my job doesn't end when I walk out of the classroom door.  And I can't forget the few writing assignments I have and the quest to find more. I haven't traveled for a couple months now, but I'm wondering if that may pick up again in January. 

These are just the constants.  Throw in the extras -- like a chess tournament, or a special event, and things get even busier.  I'm always on the lookout for that rare afternoon or day that nothing is scheduled.  We could cut out the extra-curricular, but I don't think 1 sport and music lessons are too much, especially when considering the benefit.  I think it just makes us appreciate the downtime that much more.

What about your family?  How busy (or not) is your schedule? How do you handle meals with a busy schedule?  I'd love some new ideas!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Do You Recycle?

Where we live, we pay for private trash pickup. They have never offered recycling options, so we would take our papers to our church for their paper drive and take the cans to a recycling spot where we got back a few cents.  I admit that we've gone through times when we've been lax about it, so when I found a door hanger for a new company offering recycling pickup, I called them right away.

A couple weeks ago I signed up for the service (there's a subscription cost, but a few months ago we switched trash companies for a better deal, so I'm back to paying close to the same amount).  They delivered a bin, and I talked with the kids about the list the recycling company sent with the things we could put in the recycling bin.  We had a bin that we had used for papers before, so I moved that into the kitchen and we started filling it.

I knew that we were throwing out things that could be recycled, but until we started recycling in earnest, I didn't realize how much! We now fill the recycling bin and our trash bin is only half-full.

My biggest concern was the amount of water I was using to rinse plastics that held food.  I laughed (kinda) when I thought that the water we were saving with our new toilet flushers was now being used by washing our recyclables. This weekend, I had the chance to talk with one of the managers of the company and found out that rinsing was fine, but washing wasn't necessary.

The kids are great about sorting the recyclables and also taking them out to the larger bin.  We all feel good about keeping more out of the landfill!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Tell Me Thursday - Ducks

This is Lydia's collection of rubber ducks.  She loves them, and has a variety of both Christmas, Halloween and a pink one at the moment.  Last Christmas, whenever asked what she wanted, she always replied "rubber ducks."

She arranges them herself on the top of a bookshelf in her room, and carefully keeps them separated from the horses that live on the other half.  She does play with them, but they are always placed carefully back home.

Her favorite duck is the pink one!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Ducks

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Progresso & Michael Chiarello's Cookbook (Giveaway)

I enjoyed watching Bravo's Top Chef Masters and Michael Chiarello was one of my favorite chefs during his season. I loved his humor and thought how I'd love to visit one of his restaurants some day. (Or, heck, even sit down with him and enjoy one of his meals!)

When his latest cookbook, Bottega,  arrived on my doorstep (thanks to Progresso & MyBlogSpark), I was thrilled. It is a beautiful book, full of gorgeous photographs, stories and of course, recipes. 

Chiarello has teamed up with Progresso and shared some of his favorite recipes using their light and crispy Panko crumbs. You can visit the Progresso site for additional recipes, tips for cooking with panko, video and a coupon for $1 off any panko flavor.

I love these crumbs as they stay crunchy, even when reheating.  I mix them with a few spices, some grated parmesan cheese and love to coat chicken tenderloins with them.

I am excited that I can share this gorgeous cookbook (with his signature inside!) and a box of Lemon Pepper Panko crumbs with one of my readers. Please fill out my GIVEAWAY form (do not leave your entry in the comments.)  On the form, fill out your name, email, the name of the giveaway and your answer to my mandatory question.  I will choose a winner with the help of random.org on November 9, 2010.

**Winner has been chosen & notified! Thank you!!**
Good Luck!!

After you enter my giveaway, be sure to check out the Progresso's Wine & Dine with Chef Michael Chiarello Sweepstakes. Until December 31st, you can enter for the chance to win a trip for two to Napa Valley to attend the Spring Bud Break Party, an annual dinner and wine tasting event taking place on May 7, 2011. In addition to two tickets to the party, the grand prize also includes roundtrip airfare and hotel accommodations. Visit www.progressobroth.com for the sweepstakes rules and entry form.

*Disclosure: I received a prize package from Progresso and My Blog Spark, in addition to one to give away. No additional compensation was provided.*

Betty Crocker Mashed Potatoes Giveaway

I love mashed potatoes, and I'm a bit of a snob.  When we eat out, I often ask if the potatoes are "fresh" because I do not like the taste of instant potatoes.  I had the opportunity to try the Betty Crocker instant mashed potatoes last summer and was pleasantly surprised!  While they don't taste EXACTLY like freshly made mashed potatoes, they are pretty close and definitely don't have a funny aftertaste that many instant potatoes have. They are quick to make and since everyone in my house will eat them, I keep a box for those nights when we need to get a dinner on the table as fast as possible.  Last time I served them, the boys didn't even know they came from a box!  (Bo knew, only because mine tend to be lumpier.)

My BlogSpark sent me a gift pack with 2 boxes of Betty Crocker instant mashed potatoes (each box has 2 pouches), a beautiful bamboo serving bowl, a silicone trivet and the classic red Betty Crocker spoon.  I have another pack to give away to one of my readers!

To enter the giveaway, you must CLICK HERE to enter your information on my GIVEAWAY FORM.  (Entries left in the comments will not count!)  Check the link to the right for my giveaway rules. On the form, enter your name, email, the giveaway name and your answer to the mandatory question. I will use random.org to choose a winner on November 9, 2010.

**Winner has been chosen & notified! Thank you!!**
Good Luck!

*Disclosure: I received a prize pack from Betty Crocker via My Blog Spark. I also received one to give away to a reader.  No additional compensation was provided.  Images were provided by My Blog Spark.*

Listerine / Reach October Oral Care Challenge

Listerine and Reach partnered together to encourage everyone to participate in an Oral Care Challenge! The Challenge was set for October, but we are doing it in November to start after the Halloween candy! We received a box full of products to help keep everyone's teeth clean and healthy.

The boys regularly use Listerine Smart Rinse and they were happy to see the Batman logo on the bottle we received. Lydia hasn't used the Smart Rinse before, but when the bottle with Barbie showed up, she was ready to start.  Smart Rinse helps loosen any remaining particles and also helps protect their teeth (and it also helps that the bottle says they can't eat for 30 minutes after using it, which means they are better about asking for snacks BEFORE brushing their teeth before bed!)

We do our best to brush and floss twice a day, and this challenge added a little fun to it. The kids received new tools (fun new toothbrushes, too!), and I admit that we need some reminders to floss. We received a chart to keep track of brushing and Lydia enjoys putting the stickers on the chart each day for all 3 children. 

We are fortunate that we currently have a dentist the kids love and dental insurance to help care for their young teeth.  Listerine and Reach have also teamed up with America's Toothfairy to raise awareness of pediatric dental disease and help provide life changing care to underserved children. Please visit their site for more information.

“I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by Mom Central on behalf of LISTERINE and REACH and received products to take the Oral Care Challenge. Mom Central also sent me a Global Giving gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.”
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