Tuesday, May 24, 2011

tiny sunbirds, far away giveaway

every day we make decisions. 

some of our decisions are simple.  what do i want for lunch today?  leftover pizza sounds good; i'll have that.

other decisions are more complex.  in which school should we enroll tessa?  does she need something more challenging, or is she just fine where she is?

some decisions are based on what we want.  what color streamers should we put up for zoe's birthday?  her favorite color is green so i think we will go with green.

other decisions are based on necessity.  we need to find a job in the next year or so.  we will have to move wherever the job is, whether we like it or not.

in tiny sunbirds, far away, blessing's father abandons his family for another woman.  financial need necessitates a move to live with blessing's grandparents.  the effects on the family are life-altering--in both good ways and in tragic ways.

i think this novel should be a must-read for everyone.  i didn't realize how much i had to learn until i started reading it.  it has certainly made me think about the decisions that i make for my family and the impact those decisions may or may not have on their futures.

i have the fabulous opportunity to offer you the chance to win a copy of this book for yourself.  simply leave a comment for me telling me about a significant decision you have had to make.  i will choose a winner using random.org on june 1.  if you subscribe to this blog, you may leave a second comment telling me you have done so.  make sure i have your email address so i can contact you when you win!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

thanks to shutterfly, i'm now a scrapbooker extraordinaire...

 i have long had hopes of waking up one morning to discover that i have become a phenomenal scrapbooking mama.  zoe is almost nine and that still hasn't happened...until now.

shutterfly has come up with a new custom path for their photobooks that has given me the ability to scrapbook with the greatest of ease. 

if you want to commemorate baby's arrival, baby's first year, the school years, a special family trip, mother's day, father's day, summer vacation, a wedding...okay, the possibilities are endless.  any special occasion is an opportunity to collect your photos and turn them into a photo book worthy of coffee table status. 

to get started, simply go to shutterfly, select the custom path and simply follow the steps to create any size photo book you like.  shutterfly will help you collect pictures from your desktop, or directly from your iphoto, iphone, google picasa account, or facebook.

once you have your photos collected, you can choose either to fill your pages automatically or fill them yourself.  I recommend letting them fill your pages for you.  they get grouped by date and/or subject so it is easier to go ahead and rearrange the ones you like after they have done most of the work of sorting for you.

depending on the theme you pick, stickers and other embellishments will be added for you.  again, you can go in yourself and pick any others you wish to add, from any of the other themes that shutterfly has available.  honestly, think of all the money you will save now that you don't have to haunt the craft stores trying to find just the right stickers for your scrapbooks, not to mention the time you once spent shopping around. 

shutterfly's custom path gives you the ability to change layouts, move pictures, text and embellishments, just like you would with an actual scrapbook page.  once you have everything adjusted just the way you like, just click "save" and you are ready to purchase. 

at this point, you have a variety of sizes (5x7 to 12x12) and covers (soft photo cover to faux leather with photo cutout) to choose from.  prices start at $10.39 and go up to $69.99.  of course, to get to this point, i have to be capable to making final decisions.  the selection is so vast and varied, i'm wondering if i will ever get to the point that i am completely satisfied!  i'm trying to tell myself that i can just make another book since the custom path process makes it so easy...

for one of you faithful readers, i have a code for you to print your own 8x8 beautiful creation along with free shipping.  just leave a comment below telling me what occasion you would like to celebrate with a book and who could be the recipient of that book.  i will choose a winner using random.org on may 25.  you can have an extra entry if you subscribe to this blog.

happy scrapbooking...

i was invited to be part of a shutterfly "tea" to learn about the new custom path and to offer feedback on the new process.  i received my own free photobook code as a thank you.  regardless, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are purely my own.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

we enjoy the ride in a chevy traverse...

there is nothing i like more when the kids have a break from school than to visit family. i hate that our kids' time with extended family is so limited because of distance.

if there is one thing i do not look forward to every time we travel it is the amount of time we have to spend in the car.

thankfully this was not the case for this year's spring break, thanks to chevrolet. as part of their "our town, our heroes" program, we were given the use of the traverse for the week.

the traverse has many features that make it truly a delight to drive. our eight-hour trip to tennessee gave us the opportunity to take advantage of just about all of them.

this crossover vehicle is great because it has more style than a minivan, but it is still able to seat 7 or 8 people depending on the model. the kids felt like they had more leg and head room than they do in the van. everyone was seated very comfortably for the trip.

when we left early on monday morning, we were surprised to discover snow on the ground. i quickly turned on the heaters that are built right into the seats to stay warm with my shorts on. i appreciated how quickly the traverse heated up in back as well. our van takes a lot longer to heat up, which means i have to listen to a lot more complaining usually!

as we made our way south, the outside temperature rose. soon i was ready to change the setting for our seats' temperature to "cool." i don't like to have cold air blasting in my face, but i don't like to feel hot. i was able to set the temperature of my seat to a nice temperature that cooled me off without making me feel cold.

bill and i also appreciated being able to set different temperatures for ourselves since he is usually hot when i am cold and he is cold when i am hot. we each regulated the temperature exactly how we like it, and even set a third temperature for the kids in back.

one way to cut the tedium when traveling on a long trip is to watch a movie. in the past we have struggled with how to enable everyone to see the movie screen from wherever they are sitting. with the installed dvd player, everyone could clearly see the screen. wireless headphones enabled everyone to hear the movie even when lilianna started fussing.

when the movie was done we enjoyed listening to the wide variety of stations on the satellite radio. when the kids complained, i plugged my ipod right into the sound system so they could pick what they wanted to listen to. i was glad not to have to pack our full selection of cds and audiobooks. i had everyone's favorites readily on hand when temper tantrums started brewing.

we were well on our way when we realized that we forgot to bring our gps with us. rather than panicking, we just pushed the onstar button and asked to for directions to be sent to our vehicle. the operators were so nice and very helpful. within mere minutes, step-by-step directions were sent directly to our vehicle.

the gas tank for this vehicle must be very large because we didn't need to stop for gas nearly as often as we do with our van. this helped us make excellent time on our trip.

once we arrived in tennessee, it wasn't long before the driveway was swarming with our kids and their 6 cousins. thanks to the rear view camera on the back of the traverse, we never had to worry about who was behind us when we were backing up. we had a clear view of the entire rear of the vehicle displayed on our rear view mirror whenever we were in reverse.

as much as we love the traverse and would love to own one ourselves some day, it is unfortunately impractical for our family of six. in spite of the fact that it boasts more cargo room than other vehicles in its class, there is no way we could pack enough for more than a few days into the back cargo space. i packed very minimally for this trip, and bill still needed to finagle our items very carefully to get them all to fit. for the trips we take at christmas with all our winter gear and presents, we would need to come up with alternative storage outside of the vehicle.

other highlights of the vehicle include wifi and an outlet for times when one needs to get work done in the car. the traverse's computer provides an amazing amount of information, including exactly how many miles are left based on the amount of gas in your tank (except when you are about to run out; then it just tells you you are "low"). the side view mirrors each have an additional "blind spot" mirror that enables you to see much more clearly what is around you. tate's favorite part was that the middle window rolls down all the way. he hates not being able to roll down his window in the van!

overall we loved our time with the traverse. tate is still hoping someone will decided to give us one to keep. anyone want to help us out with that?

if you know someone in the midwest that you feel is deserving of a new vehicle (besides us, of course!), check out the driving the midwest website for details about the "our town, our heroes" program.  every two weeks, chevrolet chooses someone to receive a new vehicle in gratitude for the heroic actions in the community.

i received the use of a chevrolet traverse for our spring break trip without any obligations or qualifications.  in gratitude, i chose to write this post.  regardless, the thoughts and opinions are purely my own.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

the dopple ganger chronicles: the secret of indigo moon review

 you may remember my review of the first in the dopple ganger chornicles series, now saskie and sadie dopple, along with erik morissey ganger return in a second installment entitled, the secret of indigo moon.

the press release has the following to say about the book...
erik morissey ganger, famed explorer and detective (well, in his dreams), and his mischief-making sidekicks, twins sadie and saskia dopple, didn’t go looking for a secret tunnel beneath the school. they never intended to make the acquaintance of a shifty private eye with a nose for trouble. it wasn’t part of the plan to come face to face with an old enemy, one with an agenda of his own that could destroy them all. and unraveling the “secret of indigo moon” was the farthest thing from their minds.  at isambard dunstan’s school for wayward children, these things just seem to happen.

if you remember this series combines graphic novel style art and text with regular book-style text. it takes a little getting used to as you read. i'm used to skipping over the pictures to focus on the text. in these novels, the pictures actually move the plot forward so it is important to give time and attention to the illustrations.

i can see how this style of novel would encourage a reluctant reader. rather than doing a lot of work to picture characters and action in your head, the artist helps you along with the graphic portions of the book. tessa and tate are already interested in these types of books in the pre-reading and early reading stages.

i think that zoe is ready to handle the content of these novels but i would definitely wait to introduce them to anyone younger than eight. the bad guys have guns and a definite intent to kill. of course all's well that ends well, but i really don't want my kids to get a cavalier attitude about guns, particularly living in this area of chicago.

overall, i think the story is pretty good. it is full of suspense, similar to lemony snicket's a series of unfortunate events. i think zoe will really enjoy reading the collection. for the rest of the kids, i will definitely wait until they are older.

i received a free copy of this book for the purpose of this review because of my participation in the tyndale blog network. regardless, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are purely my own.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

design squad nation

as a mom, i feel good about my commitment and attempts to instill a love of reading in my kids. we go to the library multiple times during the week, we own more books than we have shelf space for, and we have a variety of books on cd.

i do not feel good about my ability to develop a love of math, science and technology in my kids. my own interests lie heavily in the area of the liberal arts. how do i develop their interests in other areas?

with this in mind, i find myself thankful for a new show on pbs (and an accompanying website) called design squad nation.  this is what i have learned about this show:

design squad nation, produced by wgbh-tv, is a spin-off series of the award-winning design squad series, and its main goal is to get kids excited about engineering…which we know is so important, as american children are lagging behind other countries in subjects such as math and science. design squad nation co-hosts judy lee and adam vollmer travel across the country and around the world working side-by-side with kids making their dreams a reality.

design squad nation takes a kid’s passion, combines it with engineering, and shows how to create an array of engineering feats—a cake that is part delicious, part electronic, and part mad scientist for the cast party of young frankenstein: the musical; a pedal-powered bike organ; a human-powered flying machine, and more. wish you could help the world conserve water? have a dream of an invention that can improve someone’s life? design squad nation shows kids that if they can dream it, they can build it.
we received two kits in the mail from design squad nation to try out some of these ideas at home.  zoe was quite excited to tackle the given problem and try to come up with a good solution.

the first problem we had was called "pop fly."  using duct tape, paint stirrers, a ping-pong ball, a wooden block or spool and a 3 oz paper cup, our objective was to launch a ball high enough so that we could catch it.  zoe pretty quickly came up with the idea of a lever.  together we tried different combinations until we came up with one that accomplished the objective.

it was fun for us to have a project to work on together, something that would allow zoe to develop problem-solving skills as well thinking about things from a more scientific standpoint.  where was the best place to put the spool so that we could have the most effective lever.  how long should our lever be?  would length affect the height of our ball?

i also appreciated that the materials were all things that we could fairly easily collect, if we didn't already have them around the house.  i hate it when zoe wants to work on a project that requires a lot of materials we don't have.

this summer, as i try to come up with ways to keep my kids' brains engaged so they don't lose 90% of what they learned this past year, i would like to incorporate some of the projects from design squad nation into our weekly plans.  i want the kids to have the whole world of opportunities available to them when it comes to choosing their interests and, ultimately, their careers.  i feel like design squad nation can help me fill in some of the gaps that i have as a parent.

i received two project kits from design squad nation as a thank you for letting you know about this new show.  regardless, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are purely my own.

snap fashion jewelry studio review and giveaway

 every year, zoe asks for some kind of craft kit for her birthday.  this year, she will be receiving the snap fashion jewelry studio, and i can already hear her oohs and aahs of delight.

smartlab toys has come up with a fun kit that allows kids to accessorize in a variety of ways.  kids can make rings, bracelets, necklaces, pins, barrettes, and key chains; they can adorn belts, gifts, cards, and purses.  Truly, your child's imagination is the only limit to what can be done with the various snaps they create.

each kit ($24.99 at smartlab toys, amazon and other retailers) comes with a snap maker, 16 fabric circles, 12 jewels, ribbon, 5 bases, 2 rings, 25 snap domes and backs, a transfer sheet, connector, tracing ring and a 5ml bottle of glue. in addition, the kit comes with a book filled with ideas for making a variety of accessories, mementos and keepsakes.

a lot of the projects suggest ways to use fabrics, flowers and beads that you might find around the house, or may require an extra trip to the craft store.  i know that zoe will want to use fabric we have around the house in addition to what is included in the kit.  we may also have to scrounge up some silk flowers so she can make the rings that are shown on the box cover.

i know that zoe is going to love getting this for her birthday and she will have a lot of fun putting all the various buttons together.  i just have one concern.  at this point, there are no refill kits available for purchase.  once she has run out of snap domes and backs, she will pretty much be done with the kit.  the company will take requests and send you refills if you ask for them specifically, but they don't have plans to release a refill kit for purchase until this fall.  i also think that some of the project suggestions are rather ugly.  i am going to do my best, however, to be a supportive and encouraging mom, and let zoe make whatever she thinks is beautiful.

smartlab toys is offering a 25% off discount for all you loyal and wonderful readers.  simply add the code BLOGBUZZ when you check out (good through 6/30/11). they also have a page of free activity ideas on their website that may be helpful as you battle boredom this summer.  if you follow smartlab toys on twitter or like their page on facebook, you will also have access to more ideas and free stuff.

i also have the opportunity to give away a toy from smartlab toys to one of you.  just leave a comment below telling me which toy from smartlab toys you would pick and who you would love to give it to.  i will choose a winner using random.org on may 25, 2011 in honor of zoe's birthday.  you can have a second entry if you subscribe to this blog.

this is a mamabuzz review.  i received the snap fashion jewelry studio from smartlab toys for the purpose of this review.  regardless, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are purely my own.


we have a winner of the boysterous action figure...
lili tankersley!  congratulations lili.  i hope this eases some of the pain from the stress you had this past weekend (her son was hospitalized while her husband was away).  now you will just have to choose which of your three boys gets the action figure!

you can also find me here

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