Megali - adjective, noun - adjective 1. great or big in Greek -noun 1.. A nickname derived from my first and middle names

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gifts


Gift giving.  Not my picture.  Wanna know how you can tell?  Those gifts are wrapped.  I don't do that.  But I want to try my hand at making that cake for the next birthday in the house

Save New Year's, the holidays are over.  The gift giving ones anyway.  Aside from the nasty tradition we've unwillingly adopted of getting sick as often and awfully as an Oregon Trail family (you have died of dysentery) whenever R's home for a period of longer than two days, they were enjoyable.   I'm particularly proud of how little I spent!  I didn't track it exactly, but the present tally for Slim and Curly was right around $200.00.  Next year I hope to spend less.  I accomplished this by purchasing most of their gifts at the Here We Grow Again consignment sale.  I also perused Craigs List for months, trying to find specific items.  Santa found a fantastic grab bag deal for $9ish at the Kansas City Zoo and the animal/zoo themed calculator stocking stuffers were the second favorite toy!  I didn't get as much on Etsy as I had originally intended, but am already arranging a little something with an Ohio friend's SewAppealingShop.  Yup, I'm getting a jump start before 2012 has even hit!  And honestly, the main reason I am able to keep spending down is because they don't get much.  Each boys gets one present each for seven of the nights of Hanukkah and Santa typically brings two big toys intended for sharing.

Here's a few of my personal favorites from this year:

Slim, in his red and blue cape

Curly wouldn't model for me.  His cape is blue and cranberry

The coolest Hanukkah present were these spectacular capes.  Please check out DiscoveryDenim on Etsy.  The price for her Blank Little Hero Capes went up since I made my purchase, but they are so worth it, even at the new price.  Definitely quality made - I love the material and the snap closure is a thoughtful touch.


All the Craigs List scouring paid off, because Christmas meant a used, wooden kitchen that didn't scream, "No Boys Allowed" and came complete with a lot of wooden food, tin pots and pans and play cleaning supplies.  Plus a grocery cart thrown in for good measure.  I've already experienced several gourmet meals the kiddos whipped together.




The best gift wasn't one, not in the traditional sense anyway.  Have you ever been overcome by God's presence, or, for the non-religious, complete calm and serenity with existence?  On Christmas Eve, the fifth night of Hanukkah, while watching the candles burn down, I was overwhelmed by such a sense of peace. I felt thankful and filled with love. I said out loud to R, “I love the world. I love you. I love the boys. I love God. I am just so in love right now.”  It was a temporary feeling, but while it lasted, I was glad to think all was right with life.  I seem to have two modes - sickeningly sweet and overly PC as R describes it, though I prefer to jokingly call it acting Canadian or psycho hose beast from PMS hell.  So I'll take the divine moments when I can get them and recognize them for the gift they are.

On that note, I'll just leave this quote here.

Each day provides its own gifts.
- Marcus Aurelius

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Raising Ethical Children

I hope you're not reading this hoping for answers on how to raise ethical children because I have absolutely no clue. I'm just stumbling my way through parenthood.  But I have goals that I strive for as a mother.  And my biggest intention as a parent?  To raise intelligent, happy, well adjusted, and contributing members of society.


Thanks to my Mom and Gran, I have a soft spot for the British Royals.  As an American, I know little to nothing about how they are truly perceived and imagine a fair bit of press about them is propaganda.  However, I've admired how Princes William and Harry opted for military careers and continue involvement in charities like their mother.  The above photo is from a visit to a London homeless center.  I can't think of any American celebrity who has served in the military since WWII off the top of my head, can you?  And while some Hollywood stars are active in charity work, I don't know enough of their past to say whether that was a quality bestowed from their parents.  Princess Diana did well as a mother in this regard - her boys make a difference through their efforts. 

Frankly, I don't think I'll know if I'll have done as well until my boys are adults themselves.  The ways I try to instill this behavior is through living by example, taking advantage of teachable moments, and encouraging respect of the world and empathy for fellow people.  Which is great and all written out in mission statement-like form, but how?

I think kids (mine anyway) learn best through hands on involvement.  Hanukkah ends tonight, but it is a perfect example of how I utilize holidays to facilitate a volunteer attitude.  We incorporate tzedakah, a concept I talked about in my last post, in every holiday and try to too in everyday life.  Whenever gifts are received, as they are this time of year, we donate existing ones and talk about how some kids don't have any toys and it's great to give and make them smile.  And one of the eight nights is dedicated to giving back.  This year we are getting some items from Heartland SPCA's wishlist.  They want to give the animals who have yet to find a forever home toys to play with while they await their new owners. We've planned out a mini shopping spree at PetSmart tomorrow.  This is especially meaningful to Slim and Curly because they know we adopted Emmett from this very shelter. 



Which leads me to the next way I have managed some success - make a connection.  I know that I want to give money to organizations that mean something to me.  BzzAgent was generous and sent me a handwritten holiday card with a gift card to make a donation to a charity of my choice via JustGive.org.  What an amazing thank you idea, very pay it forward!  I searched the charities in the database (which seems limitless) and selected one that means a great deal to me: La Leche League, in honor of my former nurslings. Likewise, I see my guys more excited about volunteering when it means something to them.  They like to help when it has to do with other children, or animals, and for a while there, Slim was quite the Captain Planet - all eager to recycle and plant flowers and veggies, thanks to the school garden at his JCC Preschool in Florida. 

They genuinely do seem to care about other people.  I hope that the foundation I'm attempting to lay will also help them care about making the world a better place one kind action at a time.

What ways do you encourage responsible stewardship of the Earth and charitable actions towards people, animals, and places in your children?  I'd love to hear your success stories!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

From the outside looking in - my perspective on Hanukkah

As of now, this is my favorite Hanukkah memory.  Slim was so proud of the menorah he made.
Happy Hanukkah!  I am not Jewish.  But R is.  And Slim and Curly are. 

I don't know what I am now. Aside from an amalgamation of beliefs.  I do know that I love God. Who R likes to envision as Mr. Wizard. And I know I love learning about and celebrating Jewish holidays and that doing so has enhanced my life. I'm thankful we are raising the boys Jewish, but I will respect their choices if they decide not to be. R and I joke that they can be anything - just dont let them be punks with their jeans belted around their upper thighs and their damn underwear showing. Excuse me, I think my #getoffmylawn! is showing.

I gotta admit, this picture helps me see R's point.  Mr. Wizard does look rather God-like here.

I grew up as a Presbyterian.  We still celebrate Christmas in our household.  In a secular way and as a way to teach them about my side of the family.  They know that they have Jewish grandparents and Christian grandparents and aunt, uncles, and cousin.  The best way I ever heard how we do things was described as follows: kids are smart enough to know that when they go to a friend's birthday party, it is not their birthday.  But it's still fun to attend.  Likewise, kids are able to recognize that Christmas may not be their holiday, but it is important to people in their life, and therefore nice to share in the festivities.

I'm doing a lot of reflecting on the holiday thanks to Hanukkah Hoopla, a collection of 16 Jewish bloggers' reflections and ideas.  "Each ... agreed to write something Hanukkah-ishy.
Taken together, you will see [they] represent a broad range of Jewish experience. Some ... are Reform. Others are Conservative. Some are Orthodox. Some ... have converted to Judaism.  Two ... are rabbis!  Some ... keep kosher; others, not so much."  Whether you are Jewish or not, please be sure to read each day.  I've found their experiences helpful, funny and touching in turn.  Plus, there are 16 chances to win a #HanukkahHoopla gift pack. 

video

On Twitter, @SmartBitches shared how the shamas, or "helper" candle used to light the menorah (the tall one in the middle and why there are nine candle spots when there are only eight nights of Hanukkah) has an extra purpose - reminding us that we can and should help one another every day.  It is messages like this that have caused me, an outsider, at times truly on the periphery, at others actively participating, to embrace Judaism.  Strangely and funnily enough, I think my religious beliefs, what I believe God has commanded of us, can be summed up in a quote from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, "Be excellent to each other."

And so, we try to incorporate tzedakah into each holiday and our lives in general.  One night of every Hanukkah in our household is dedicated to giving back.  This year, Emmett, our second dog and newest shelter pet, inspired our charity recipient: Heartland SPCA. 

There is so much beauty in the world, if only we could see it.  I've been married to R for nearly nine years, with him for nearly 14.  Without him, my eyes would never have been opened to the beauty inherent in Judaism and the opportunity to have a dynamic and growing faith in God.  It is the greatest gift he has ever given me.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

MommyParties Hosted by Oral-B Stages

All of the great items before getting packed in goodie bags!
Recently, I held a Pajama Party and a Morning Movie at my home through my mothers' group.  It was all thanks to Mommy Parties and hosted by Oral-B Stages.  Mommy Parties are a mashup of social media and playdate.  Companies utilize Mommy Parties for the power of reaching moms and spreading word of mouth in a natural and engaging way. 

Attendance was lower than we'd hoped; December sure is a bustling month, plus illnesses and a sudden visit from out of town family dwindled the expected numbers.  We ended up having five children ranging in age from 9 months to five years and three moms.  Interestingly enough, all the kids were boys!  I don't recall the last time having a get-together without it being mixed gender. 

A closer look at our guests' gifts

Toothbrushes, toothpaste, and child body wash

My Oral B Stages party kit included:
  • 11 Oral-B Stage I Brushes
  • 11 Oral-B Stage II Brushes
  • 11 Oral-B Stages Pastes
  • 11 Bottles of Disney Lavender Wash
  • Disney's Winnie the Pooh Movie DVD
  • Recipe & Activity Ideas (that would be the flash cards featuring the happy kid and toothpaste with Pooh Bear above)
  • Balloons
  • Popcorn for guests
  • Guest Gift Bags
Slim and Curly were super eager to have friends over - from the time they woke on the morning of the event, they were jumping up and down asking if it was pajama party time!  Because I'm weird, I changed them out of their actual pjs after breakfast and into a fresh pair.  Then, it was time to set up.

The boys wanted to decorate with the bears they made at the previous week's bear themed storytime & craft we hosted.



Our menu directly tied in to the film we'd be viewing, 2011's Winnie the Pooh.  We served:
  •  Winnie the Pooh popcorn
  • Rabbit gummies
  • Kanga cookies
  • Hundred Acre Wood trail mix
  • Backson (a key part and character of the movie) box juice
  • And for the moms, coffee or tea with hunny

Table set up to welcome our friends
Goodie bags were stocked, balloons were blown up, and my personal favorite,


the giant toothbrush and plastic dental teeth model were displayed so that everyone could practice their toothbrushing skills.

Curly making a comfy, cozy spot for himself
Our guests arrived, and given everyone's mood, we started off by playing the movie.  However, the lure of toys not theirs called the other guys and we soon headed downstairs to the playroom.  I will say, as the photos below attest, that what was watched was greatly enjoyed!


While the kids played, the moms socialized.  We talked about our child(ren)'s sleep patterns, how differently we handle a second or later kid, and past and upcoming events of the mothers' group.  Of course, we also discussed Disney's Winnie the Pooh, Oral-B Stages and taking care of our sons' dental health.  I have often argued that I don't understand why movies geared towards kids have to have such incredibly scary and dramatic moments or such evil bad guys.  Frankly, Slim does not care for movies that scare him.  So, even though he is five and likely aging out of the Winnie the Pooh targeted age group, their innocence and mild scares are much more up his alley.  My mother-in-law took him to see Winnie the Pooh in the theaters this Summer and the Zooey Deschanel song, "So Long" has been an oft requested one ever since.

 

One of the other moms said that Winnie the Pooh was her two year old's first going to the movies experience and he loved it!  She was amazed at how easily it captured his attention for the entire film.  At this point, we started talking about how things like character toothbrushes help our children get more into wanting to brush their teeth.  We agreed that anything that could aid the process along (some of our kids have or still do fight brushing teeth) was a plus.



Taking the playroom from immaculate to well-played in and many rounds of jousting in which, surprisingly, no one was hurt, the boys worked up a big appetite.


Despite the varied menu, the Rabbit gummies (from Annie's) were the runaway hit snack.

Before our friends went on their way, we gave each child a goodie bag and I allowed the moms to select a toothbrush appropriate for their son's age.  Even though Slim and Curly knew what was in each bag, they took items out with great anticipation.  Just goes to show, that dental hygiene can equal fun!



Thursday, December 8, 2011

Root Candles Product Review

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post as a way to attract BzzAgent's attention and earn a spot in the Root Candles BzzCampaign.  They liked what I had to say and I received three candles in exchange.  Since then, I have been declaring my (already existent, but further deepened) love for them and suggesting Root Candles as a perfect holiday gift in person, on Facebook and Twitter.

Adding both visual and olfactory appeal to the season

The three scents that arrived on my doorstep were:




I Tweeted right away that the box smelled so good and I hadn't even opened it yet.  Seriously, so good.  All three are great, but my favorite is the Lemon Frosted Scone.  R and I jokingly call scents flavors and it is apt in this case because it smells mouthwatering.  Even reading their description, "Sour-sugared, fresh-bright lemon, clove and subtle lavender melded together with buttery bakery notes, caramelized sugar and creamy whipped vanilla." makes me say, "Yum.  I want that flavor candle."  I didn't care for the scent of the unlit Pinot Noir at first.  It was thisclose to being cloyingly sweet.  However, burning it made all the difference in the world.  I am a wine loving gal and the way they tell you about the candle feels like a wine aficionado recording their tasting notes, "Bright effervescent red-grape notes drop down to touches of raspberry and currant as strong tannin notes mix with dry, woodsy oak and cedarwood."  Much like how I don't taste the subtleties of apricot in my current star Chardonnay, my nose doesn't pick up on all this either, though I would certainly explain it as a rich, berry scent.  If Lemon Frosted Scone was good enough to eat, then Pumpkin Spice Latte is good enough to drink.  It was ideal for those crisp, Fall days.  I adore the way they utilize scent memory by listing the ingredients, "Espresso blended with sweet notes of creamy milk mix with nutmeg, cinnamon and the traditional spiced-blend of warm baked pumpkin. Notes of rich butter and vanilla sugar warm the deep, black coffee notes." - change the words a bit and you could imagine this written on a cafe menu.

I won't rehash all the history of Root Candles, as I had posted about that before.  But I do want to address their logo, the BEST candle in America.  I can tell you several reasons why they deserve that title.  Their stunning, inspiring flagship store in Medina, OH.  When I lived there, the staff was darling and helpful.  They are an American company.  I have never, ever been a gung ho buy American person.  I likely never will be.  But I have absolute respect for products that are made in the USA.  I also must direct you to the Root Candles blog.  Love.  The blog writer also handles the company's Twitter (and Facebook and other social media I think too, but definitely Twitter).  And her name's Meghan.  Spelled with an "h" like me.  It's the little things sometimes.  Her blog post, a picture tour, showcases Medina in a way that, to me, demonstrates how the town and the company are uniquely and perfectly linked in awesomeness.

If you're encouraged to go and get some Root Candles for your home, as a present, for me *hint hint*, through 12/12 using Promo Code (now expired) you can spend just $5 standard shipping on any order.  Or use the store locator to find a retailer that carries their fragrances near you.  Seeking suggestions aside from the three above? Now that we're swiftly approaching Winter, I tend towards scents that evoke Christmas and Victorian Fantasy does just that and  is available at a 25% reduced price because it is the fragrance of the month .

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Green Mountain Coffee Fair Trade Review

BzzAgent has been good to me the last few months.  At one point, I was in six active BzzCampaigns simultaneously.  And while it's true that they "reward [the] most active and influential BzzAgents with access to even more campaigns", entry into a campaign is also dependent upon demographics.  BzzAgent courts companies with the promise of accelerating sales via word of mouth and sometimes those companies want people of a certain age, gender, income level, or location.  Thankfully, I was selected for the Green Mountain Coffee Fair Trade BzzCampaign.

I don't remember when I first started drinking coffee.  Before I liked coffee as a drink, I loved coffee ice cream.  Mmmmmm, Springer Chip!  Basically, I liked stuff that tasted like coffee to be incredibly sweet.  Even today, R jokes with me, "Want some coffee with your sugar?"

Oh, but now.  Now I would fight anyone threatening to take away my Keurig.  I rely heavily on my two cups of coffee in the morning to help get me through the day.

And what better way to start your day than knowing you're making a positive difference?  Green Mountain Coffee features the most Fair Trade Certified coffees in the United States.  People say that life isn't fair.  But those committed to Fair Trade goods and products are trying to ensure that adage doesn't apply.   Just as so many of us are removed several generations from thinking about where the meat we eat comes from, we also don't really ponder the people and communities making the gifts we buy and harvesting the coffee we consume.  We can't take for granted that the workers receive a living wage, that the workers aren't children as young as Slim (age 5), that the companies aren't abusing the resources of the land the workers call home without regard to how it impacts the environment.  As it states in the embedded Fair Trade: Every Purchase Matters YouTube video, "When you buy Fair Trade Certified Goods, you're making a choice that means quality products, improved lives, and protection of the environment."  Receiving fair trade certification means adherence to environmental, labor, and developmental standards.  The goal?  That with fair trade, they get a fair deal.  Green Mountain puts it simply, "Coffee is more than just something to drink. It connects us to each other, and to the rest of the world."





Look for the symbol to the left to ensure you're buying a Fair Trade Certified product. 





Green Mountain offers a wide selection of Fair Trade coffees.  Amongst my favorites are Vermont Country Blend, available year round and Pumpkin Spice, a coffee that embodies Fall, which is a limited edition only available in the, you guessed it, Fall.  Perfect for the upcoming holidays and snowy Winter days are their limited edition Gingerbread and Spicy Eggnog flavors.  Start your day with a cup and help brew a better world.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Burt's Bees Natural Skin Solutions Review



I'm pretty darn loyal when it comes to products that I love.

When I buy cosmetics, the place I turn to most often is Clinique. Why? That's where my mom and my bff's (or bfts anyway - best friend that summer) mom took us to welcome us to the world of makeup before we started sixth grade.

Other favorite companies include Aveda, Origins, and Burt's Bees.

I was invited to be part of the BzzAgent Burt's Bees Natural Skin Solutions for Sensitive Skin BzzCampaign. Obviously, I was super excited.  If you're not familiar with Burt's Bees, please go to your local grocery store and pick something to test out - in different stores across the country, I've noticed they're ordinarily placed at an endcap by the pharmacy. Some of the reasons that I'm such a fan are because Burt's Bees takes social responsibility, the environment, and as they put it, the Greater Good seriously. Admirable.  Plus, they make things for me and the kids that I vastly prefer over the competition.  Their Beeswax Lip Balm Tube beats Chapstick and the Baby Bee Diaper Ointment is one of the best smelling (as in, I would totally wear a lotion that smelled like it - hint, hint Burt's Bees!) and fast healing "heinie creams" (what we call it in our house) I've tried on the kiddos.



The haul from BzzAgent was pretty impressive - I received a full size Sensitive Daily Moisturizing Cream, a full size  Sensitive Facial Cleanser, product samples of the moisturizer with a coupon, and regular coupons. 



After using these almost exclusively for more than a month, I can say that I mostly love them, but would totally love them with some minor tweaks.  The moisturizer lives up to its name!  I used it before sitting down to write and just now, as I was typing, I rubbed my cheeks.  I want to say they feel silky and smooth, but then my brain automatically starts reciting the Adam Sandler bit where he fights with himself about shampoo and conditioner.  So, instead I'll use a cliche - they feel as soft as a baby's bottom.  I wish there was SPF included though.  I'm also not gung ho over pump dispensers because I feel that there's always stuff left at the bottom that won't pump up.  However, their Web site states their "packages are designed to hold just enough product for you to use up before it expires, so you don't end up throwing out half used tubes and jars."  I haven't finished the container yet, so I can't verify that claim.  The cleanser is a soap-free creamy cleanser and makes a complements the cream well.  I've attempted to eliminate Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which is a lather producer that is never on Burt's Bees ingredient list.  Even without lather or soap, it removed my makeup and any dirt accrued through my day, but I don't know that it cleansed away oil, as I had some pimples that required enlisting other products.  Perhaps I'm spoiled by the Burt's Bees mirace worker Natural Acne Solutions Targeted Spot Treatment and expected the same results.

Each product deserves a trial, particularly if you have sensitive skin.  The Sensitive Facial Cleanser retails for $10.00 and the Sensitive Daily Moisturizing Cream lists for $15.00.  They can be purchased online or check the locator for nearby stores.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Mary Pickford.  Source: WikiCommons/Taken from the Alfred Cheney Johnston Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress

While at the gym recently, I came to a realization: I have a serious case of body dysmorphia ... in reverse.  I'm not blind to the fact that I'm overweight, but the reflection I see doesn't quite match the me that is captured on film.  I still see the thinner me from a few years ago despite not fitting in those clothes anymore; I still feel like the me who can run for miles and miles even if I haven't even been running much lately.  I was doing lunges and watching my form in the mirror and my focus was on my strong legs when it hit me.  Sure, I know that I'm heavy, but oftentimes the positives that I remember outweigh (ha! pun not intended) the negatives that exist and I feel imbued with confidence.  However, when I see pictures I'm in, I'm smacked with reality. Maybe I wouldn't necessarily call it reverse body dysmorphic disorder.  It's probably more akin to denial.

I'll be the first to admit that as a tired mom, I don't always put the greatest care into my looks anymore.  Between two kids, five animals, and being a virtual single mother during the workweek as R travels from state to state, I seldom get a full night's sleep lately.  Being exhausted means I don't always want to put on makeup or style my hair.  Motherhood doesn't negate beauty, but I feel that being a zombie mom can.  I don't want to lose sight of outward displays of femininity as a factor in who I am/somthing that's important to me.  Worse still, fatigue sometimes means I don't have the desire to exercise.  Which especially stinks, because when I do workout, I don't regret it - I feel better and actually increase my energy! Stupid Catch-22.

To break out of the situation I've become ensnared in, I'm setting some goals so that I can fit my mental picture of myself.  I want to be dedicated towards improving my health and living my definition of beauty.  And here's some of the ways I'm going to do that:

- Participate in the Heartland 39.3 Series next Spring.  Training for three half-marathons that occur in the space of one month will be good for my body and for some meditative time to myself.
- Go to the beauty counter and buy new makeup.  I honestly cannot remember when I last bought cosmetics.  I think updating my style and getting out of this beauty rut will do wonders for my perception of my appearance.
- Find a motto that works.  Right now, it's "Go Forward!"  It was taken from an article that I read about Alison Sweeney in a fitness magazine this past Summer.  I don't recall which magazine it was (but this online article tells me it was SELF).  Don't say, "‘I want my body back!’ ... ‘Why go back? Go forward! Be the best you that you can be today. That might be thinner and more toned than ever.’!”
- Only eat what I love AND eat only when I'm hungry.  As one of my favorite bloggers, Tricia of Endurance Isn't Only Physical, says, "It's pretty easy to splurge on junk simply because it's in front of you."   Do I love cake?  No, not really.  Pie is much better.  Holding out for the food that I truly enjoy and paying attention to my body's hunger signs establishes better eating habits.  It also means I can stop finishing the boys' leftovers just because they're there. 

What beauty, fitness, and/or weight loss goals have you set?  What's worked and what hasn't?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My 'I love you" ran away to Texas

I've got to get this down before I forget it.  I just had an amusing conversation with the boys on the drive home from Parents' Night earlier this evening.

Curly says, rather grumpily, "Mommy, I'm mad at you."

I respond, "Oh really?  Why are you mad at me?"

"Because I'm mad at you."

Well that was enlightening.  "Are you a little mad or a lot mad?"

In a gruff voice, "I'm three mads, no, three, four, five mads."

So I say, "I'm sorry to hear that.  But guess what?"

No guessing from the back seat.

"I love you!"

Still nothing from Curly.  But it gets a laugh out of Slim.

"I love you when you're mad. I love you when you're happy ..."

In a frustrated voice, Curly interrupts, "No, I'm happy.  I'm mad!"

And then, Slim interjects, "But your 'I love you' ran away."

"Huh?"  I'm puzzled.

"Mom, take your 'I love you' out of your mouth", Slim commands nicely, if you can command in a nice way.

I say, "I love you" out loud and make a show of reaching in my mouth as though I'm taking the words out and then I pass them back to Slim.

Slim shouts, "Boo!" at my hand.  "I scared your 'I love you' away and now it ran to Texas."

With indignant laughter I tell him, "You can't scare my love away!"

"Yup, I did.  The 'I love you' is in Texas eating, and drinking, and playing."

And now I want to turn this whole conversation into a book.  I won't, but I want to.

Bil-Jac Review and Coupon Giveaway

First, the standard disclaimer - I'm a BzzAgent, which means that I test products for free and give companies my honest feedback, all while spreading buzz because word of mouth marketing is super effective!  Proof that my input is honest and not just false hype is right here in this review, which is rather negative.

I am a part of the Bil-Jac Dry Dog Food BzzCampaign.

Price is my first concern when it comes to food, then quality, then whether it will be eaten by our ten year old mutt (any guesses on her breed(s)?  the best guess I've heard yet is Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, or Toller) Hannah.



Let's address the first and third of those.

For me, and those that I talked to about this BzzCampaign, the price is unappealing.  Bil-Jac does claim that because the food is higher quality, dogs get fuller on less, which means a bag of food would stretch out for longer and hopefully stretch dollars further.  However, with prices ranging from $16.99 for a six pound bag to $46.99 for a thirty pound bag at your local PetSmart, that's a fair amount of money to spend out of my pet food budget on faith alone.

As to whether Hannah will eat Bil-Jac? The Two Bowl Challenge video below answers that question!  She has never been picky about her food.  However, ordinarily we put food in her bowl and she grazes throughout the day.  With Bil-Jac, she gobbles her bowls right up!  The Bil-Jac Dry Dog Food she is eating is the Reduced Fat version because since she's become a senior dog, she has a tendency to gain weight.



But here's the rub - upon research, I've found the ingredient list has potential health hazards for your pet.  When Bzzing about this dog food, friends of mine who raw feed their animals had nothing but bad things to say about Bil-Jac and expressed concerns about me exposing Hannah to the carcinogen BHA.  I'll admit that despite making it a priority to feed my family healthy foods with an emphasis on those that are not processed, are organic, and/or local as much as possible, I don't extend that courtesy to our four pets.  As mentioned above, the first factor in the pet food I buy is price.  I don't usually peruse the ingredient lists on bags of dog or cat food.  When I say that quality is a concern, mostly it means that I'd like to avoid foods on the recall list.  So, what's in Bil-Jac, aside from the ""4 lbs. of fresh chicken used to make a 6 lb bag"?  Chicken by-products are first on the list, with the advisement that those by-products are organs only.  It does contain BHA like my friends warned.  BHA is a chemical preservative that is potentially carcinogenic.

Bil-Jac is also not rated highly by the independent canine nutrition review site Dog Food Advisor.

Between the cost and the concerns about the ingredient list, I don't see us buying Bil-Jac again.  I also don't know that I'll follow the rule for the fur members of our family that I've instituted for the humans: "eat from pronounceable ingredients with the most frequency."  I can see adopting another rule of mixing a high quality food with a low quality food so that they still get the necessary nutrients.  After all, I don't always make healthy food choices!  Hannah does like it, so I'll let her finish the bag we got with the free coupon in the meantime.

Perhaps you feel differently than I do and have more of an affinity for Bil-Jac.  If so, I still have coupons to save $10 on any size Bil-Jac Puppy, Select, Reduced Fat, Senior, Large Breed, Small Breed or Sensitive Solutions Dry Dog Food that I'd be happy to send your way.  Just comment if you're interested.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

End Malaria

If you use Twitter, it's likely you've seen tongue in cheek tweets with the hashtag #whitepeopleproblems.  You know, stuff that the privileged and entitled suffer like hot tub water splashing on your cigar and having to turn up the TV when the dishwasher is running.  Sometimes, as in the second example, they're interchangeable with #firstworldproblems.

Want to know what's not a white or first world problem?  Malaria.  Frankly, I, ensconced in my Midwestern home, haven't thought much about malaria, as it is so far removed from me geographically.  "The global geography of malaria is increasingly disproportionate. The vast majority of malaria cases and malaria-related deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, which the director-general of the WHO, Margaret Chan, has called, 'the heartland of malaria' Meanwhile, 'outside Africa, the malaria map is shrinking, as more and more countries eliminate malaria from their territory,' says Chan." - Source

But, just like when you first get pregnant and you notice pregnancy everywhere, foundations and volunteers seeking to eradicate malaria are popping up in my line of sight.  It all started with BzzAgent, interestingly enough.  Yes, the same network I've mentioned in the past that facilitates word of mouth marketing for companies: I talk honestly about products I receive for free or at a discount.  One of the BzzCampaigns I am part of is for The Domino Project.  Created by Seth Godin, The Domino Project seeks to change the way books are published and shared.  BzzAgents who are part of the campaign receive each new book prior to its release.  Until this month.  Instead, it's been encouraged to buy the current title, End Malaria, as $20 from the sale of every copy goes to Malaria No More, an international advocacy organization working to end malaria in 2015.



In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't yet bought the book, so I can't tell you if its worthwhile (outside of supporting a good cause.)  The Amazon reviews are positive though.  The book itself is not about malaria; in it, 62 leading writers and thinkers share their tips about great work.  It's a motivational book figuratively wrapped with that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you do something good.  When I do read it, I'll be certain to share my review.

If you don't want to buy the book on Amazon, but still feel compelled to do something or make a donation, research what feels right to you.  I suggest reading about the work Mandy Moore is doing.  I learned about her involvement with the cause via her Twitter feed.  She's worked together with PSI (Population Services International) as an Ambassador and helped distribute life-saving mosquito nets to "the Central African Republic (CAR), a country with one of the highest childhood death rates in the world and where malaria is a primary cause of illness and death."  Another resource in malaria prevention is Nothing but Nets, a foundation that espouses, "Send a net.  Save a life."

Look, maybe you're like me and have causes that you support already.  But that doesn't mean that we can't find new issues to become passionate about.  I believe strongly that we are global citizens and have a responsibility to make this world a good place to live for all.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

You're So Much Like Me. I'm Sorry


This post is a ramble about gender neutral parenting, my sons' personalities, and how I see me in them.  Not just Slim's hair or Curly's dimple, but in their walk and their talk.  Occasionally, when they wake in the morning, I sing a warbled, out of tune, modified, rise and shine version of Ben Folds' Still Fighting It:  "Good morning son.  I am your mom.  Wearing hospital pants for pjs.  You want a hug?  Maybe a kiss?  How about some pancakes for breakfast?  It's okay.  We're gonna have a great day.  I just can't wait!"  In the real version, there's a recurring line in the song, "And you're so much like me.  I'm sorry."  I love my children, flaws and all, but I sure wish that some of the flaws they have weren't inherited from me thanks to nature and nurture.  It's scary knowing how potentially harmful my influential traits might be.  Thankfully, they're not all me.  They're them.

Curly is physical and charming and one step away from disaster that he almost always manages to avert. I joke that he's smart enough to figure out how to get out of a situation he got himself into nine times out of ten, but it's the tenth time you have to watch out for! Thankfully, as his mother, who spends day in/day out with him, I am immune to his irrepressible, dimpled grin that defies discipline. This boy could likely be described as a mama's boy because he loves snuggling with me or winds up hiding behind my metaphorical skirts when he feels timid. However, he might just turn that hug into a wrestling move if you're not careful. I couldn't help but shake my head in embarrassment and resigned mirth as he tackled his brother to the ground. On the floor of the grocery store. While I was paying. He lives joyfully and he wants you to too.

Slim is intelligent and analytical in a way that outwits me and R - and I don't think we're at all dumb (even if motherhood has killed more brain cells than I'd care to admit.)  The kid is BIG TIME into dinosaurs .  He revels in the mud and dirt and sand, drawing pictures with his fingers in the transient medium, looking for creepy crawlies, often with a magnifying glass in hand.  He gravitates towards people in such a sincere, friendly way that I can't pull off.  Since we've moved,  Slim insists on introducing himself to everyone. And his spiel is, "Hi, I'm Slim. I'm a four year old. But on my next birthday, which is mumble mumble, not sharing his birth date here, mumble mumble, I'll be a five year old. We just moved here from Florida. Did you just move here too?" To ev-er-y-oneI love how personable he is, but it is hard having an extroverted child when I'm so not.

And Slim's favorite color is pink.

And I've seen them both breastfeeding dolls.  Slim was convinced that he could make chocolate milk come out of his nipples when I was nursing Curly.

And Curly probably cleans better than I do.  I call him my little Danny Tanner because he is so adept at picking up.





Yeah, my son has a pink (and blue) butterfly on his face. But so what?  I didn’t encourage his face painting choice, but I didn't discourage it either.  In doing so, I showed Slim I honor him.  I showed Curly I honored him by asking if he wanted his face painted too and not forcing him when he shook his head vehemently.

When I talk to them about love and marriage and family, I frame it in gender neutral terms (except son.  Unless that changes one day in the future, right now, they are my sons.)  I tell them that I hope, one day, they find a partner who loves them and respects them.  That it's best to start a family with that kind of person.  Because who doesn't want that for their child?  A partner in life.  I don't care if that's a man or a woman or if Slim or Curly realize that they are transgender.  I. don't. care.  I want my kids to know that I love and support them and if I can set up that framework of love and support now, so that if they were to come out, they would feel safe to do so with me, all the better.

When we walk around Target or Toys R Us, I gently correct them when they say, "That's the girl toy aisle."  "You know guys, there's no such thing as toys that are just for girls or just for boys.  Boys can play with dolls and girls can play with cars."  People?  My sister is the reason that our younger brothers had a huge Matchbox car collection.  My brothers also played with our castoff Barbies.  After cutting off their hair and stripping them naked. 

When I was pregnant, we got Slim an older brother present of a toy stroller and baby carrier.  Because guess what?  Dads are nurturing too.  When Curly watches me put on makeup and asks for some, I indulge him by swiping my brush blush on his cheeks.  I'll admit, I say things like, "Not all men wear makeup" or "Other boys may not like a pink car for a gift", not to dampen their spirits, but to give them a little taste of the outside world from a trusted source.



I think they're going to be okay.  They're going to get hurt; not just physically, but emotionally.  They'll look back on childhood fondly (I hope), despite some bad memories.  There will be things people don't like about them.  But none of us are unscathed by Life.  And who they are?  As I described them to you today?  I reiterate - I think they're going to be okay.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tabula Rasa at Rosh Hashanah

Dear Me,

Once upon a time, a high school English teacher discussed the theory of Tabula Rasa and ever since, it's resonated with you (and, hey, it was even the name of an episode of your beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)  While it's not the philosphical concept, but rather the accepted translation of the phrase, know it's an amazing gift you've received today: a clean slate!


Make it a good and sweet year/life.  So many new things and second chances have opened up for you recently.  Now it's time for you to live boldly!

Love,
Super excited but will kick your heinie if you squander this opportunity

(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday





I implore you: take care of your family photos.  Also?  Label them with date, location and the names of people in them.  Future generations of your family will greatly appreciate your efforts!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Root Candles

BzzAgent is a word-of-mouth marketing firm and they "love helping awesome people try awesome products and share their awesome opinions about them."  They've launched a new feature called The Daily Bzz, in which you prove you deserve a spot in an upcoming campaign by doing something, well, awesome!  Today's Daily Bzz is one I'd love to be in on: Root Candles


"Since 1869, Root Candles of Medina, Ohio, has been an industry-leading, family-owned company renowned for innovative ideas, aesthetic enhancements and the highest standards of quality. Now in its fifth generation, the Root family continues to extol the virtues of honesty, integrity, and diligent craftsmanship. These qualities were exemplified by Root Candles founding father and American original, Amos Ives Root.
His tradition of excellence, along with a genuine commitment to customer satisfaction and service, defines and fuels Root’s strong brand loyalty today. Root Candles devotion to purity, honesty and quality is renowned. Each Root candle is carefully handcrafted using processes mastered through five generations of craftsmanship combined with the latest in manufacturing technologies. The results are pure and simple: Root Candles are highly regarded for complex bouquets of subtle fragrances and sophisticated color palettes, important factors for discerning candle lovers.

Today, Root Candles can confidently lay claim to making 'The Best Candles in America, Made in America Since 1869.' " - Root Candles History

I'm jonesing for the Root Candles campaign because for a little while I lived in Medina, Ohio, where Root Candles are made. Their flagship store and factory outlet are spectacular! In fact, if you received a present from me in 2008, odds are it came from either the flagship store or factory outlet.  I take great pride in whatever town I've been able to call home, even if it is only temporarily, and the town and people of Medina are still held fondly in my heart.  While I can find Root products in area stores, it's not quite the same.  Earning a spot would be like a little piece of my old home delivered right to my door. I have yet to attain a Daily Bzz campaign, so my fingers are crossed for this one!




Amos Ives (A.I.) Root, the founder of Root Candles, left an indelible print on Earth.  The Medina City School District's mascot is the Battling Bees, in honor of A.I. Root's affinity for bee keeping and subsequent moniker in fifteen languages, "the bee man."  Were we still living there when the boys reached middle school age, they would have walked to a school named after him.  The company continues to promote the science of bee keeping via Bee Culture.  Given concerns like colony collapse disorder, such a resource is incredibly important.  I was surprised to learn that A.I. Root influenced people from the history books, like Helen Keller and the Wright Brothers.  As quoted above, starting with the company's founding father, Root Candles is still a family-owned and operated American business, in its fifth generation!

As one can see straight from their What's New page, Bzz Agent and Root Candles go hand in hand: "We love our Social Media Busy Bees, and we show that love by letting you know about new innovations first!"



What makes your current or previous town special?  Are there any products you associate with the place you call or called home?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Love

A short little post dedicated to a warm weather phenomenon.  Given that the temperatures in my part of the world have dropped from the 100s and 90s to the 70s and 60s this September, I don't imagine we'll be seeing him again until next year.

I'm talking about the ice cream man.

When we last heard the tell-tale melody announcing his arrival, the boys sprung up and out the door.  Slim did an amusing little dance on our lawn; he wanted to be sure he caught the driver's attention!

I remember when my Dad and I chased down the ice cream man for several blocks when I was around Slim's age.  Did we get into the car?  I'm not certain, but even 20-odd years later, a warm, fuzzy, loving feeling surrounds that particular memory.  One thing my parents taught me is that life is better when you have a good time - and bring others along for the ride!
The memories enhance this experience with my own children.

Getting an ice cream sandwich for the last time this season was the simplest of things.  But sometimes it feels good to show love simply.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

School on the Steps

Since Slim is not currently enrolled in preschool, I've started doing some structured schooling at home.  Yet, I'm reticent to call it homeschooling.  I've even named my favorites folder School at "Home (but not homeschool)"  I'm not anti-homeschool.  And before I sound like a stupid bigot and spout, "I have friends who homeschool", I'll just stop there.  Except I didn't.  I said it anyway, didn't I?  Well, I'm genuinely not anti-homeschool and if pressed, couldn't answer why I'm reluctant to say I'm doing a homeschool preschool for the boys.  It's all in the semantics.  Ask R - I'm big on semantics. 

I have a school area set up at the bottom of the stairs in our finished basement.  Thanks to where we're doing the learning, I've titled our school at home homeschool school at home oh, just get over it already and figure out what the hangup is school, School on the Steps

I'm trying to have movement, literacy, science, and math.  Our first lessons were about the letter A

- We sang the ABCs
- Talked about the sound the letter A makes
- What animals start with the letter A?  Slim immediately shouted, "Ape"  Other A animals he came up with were, ants, antelope, alligator
- What foods start with the letter A?  apple
- What family member has a name that starts with the letter A?  Auntie A
- What transportation starts with A?  Airplane
- Drew the letter A with sidewalk chalk on our back patio
- Wrote some words and had Slim identify and circle the letter A
- Made an alligator craft with clothes pins, green glitter paint and googly eyes and then sang about teasing monkeys and sneaky alligators
- Brain Quest tracing writing A
- Manipulated our fingers and stretched our bodies into the shape of the letter A





I've made a felt board and am eager to incorporate that into our lessons.  I'm taking a lot of ideas from Slim's old Montessori preschool and the handy dandy internet.

Here's some of the sites I imagine I'll be resourcing most:

- Montessori for Everyone free downloads

- The Artful Parent

- Counting Coconuts

- Preschool Alphabet

- Midwest Homeschoolers Kansas City area field trip ideas

- 1+1+1=1 ... Tot Trays

- home is wherever I'm with you


Make new friends, but keep the old ...


As you know, we recently moved out of state and I miss my friends terribly!  Thankfully, the Midwest is proving to be wonderful - I truly love it here, but as I said in a text to a treasured Florida friend, "I miss ... friends.  We're in that blah stage where we've met people, but no real friends yet." I am desperately seeking interaction for me and the boys, adult conversation, friendship.



The push pedal tractors were a huge hit with the boys!
It is SO hard to move to a new area where I don't know ANYONE and it takes a great deal of courage for this self-described homebody to venture out and meet other moms, attempt to have a conversation that goes beyond small talk, approach an existent circle of friends in a moms' group.  But I do it.  For my sons, I do it.  And for me too.


I didn't like who I was in Florida that much.  Most of our time there, I was rather depressed.  I relish the opportunity for a fresh start, to be a new me, the real me.


I have a method of making new friends down pat at this point.  Googling local mommy groups, Meetup, Big Tent, volunteer work, PTA/PTOs, Gymboree Play & Music classes are all great resources for meeting people.  In fact, my treasured Florida friend and I met at Gymboree.  Well, actually, we met after dropping our older ones off at a Gymboree sports class, walking our younger ones down the shopping center to a little consignment shop, then (I promise I wasn't stalking you J!) heading in to a coffee shop, where we ended up talking and were blown away by our similarities.  Our sons are both around the same age.  We were both new to the area.  Her family is Jewish, as are my husband and sons.  We enjoy running and working out, although neither of us is in the shape that we currently wish to be in.  In short, she is awesome and it's a situation that I don't know if I'll ever replicate.  But I'll try.

Barns and gardens galore

I've been making sure that I've been proactive in forging relationships out here.  I invited a mom whose company I enjoyed to a gem of an attraction in our town called Deanna Rose Childrens Farmstead earlier this week.  I'm having difficulty uploading pictures of the fun time we had there, but I've included a couple pictures straight from the web site.  Another mom asked us to lunch after a Music with Mar class.  As we drove there in our separate minivans, her daughter asked, "Mom, where's my boyfriends?"  :)  Apparently, she'd never said such a thing.  Supercute.

Here's a challenge for you: the next time you are somewhere other moms congregate (the park, a museum, your child's school), start a conversation with a mom you don't know.  If you hit it off, whip out your phone and add their phone number and email to your contacts.  Be like me, if you're the forgetful type, and add their kiddos' names and a description of where you were when you met them to the notes.  Are you part of a MOMS Club or other playgroup?  Give them that information!  Be welcoming. Be kind.  A simple hello may turn into a lifelong friendship.  I love you J - thank you for teaching me so much about friendship!  And for introducing me to K - I want to be 60-something years old and still doing girls' weekends!



An old-fashioned General Store