Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Free Stuff From BlogHer '10

So, you know the Blogher '10 conference? Yes, the one that happened six weeks ago, in August? I'm just now getting around to writing this post about the free loot I picked up there. Here are some of the things I got for free at BlogHer and my reaction to them:

(And lest any swag-loving future BlogHer attendees get crestfallen, this is a tiny fraction of the stuff I could have lugged home. I didn't check a bag and didn't care to ship anything, either.)

1) Play-Doh pack. My kids, like all other children in America, needed no convincing that Play-Doh is wonderful. TSA, on the other hand, had a different view. They confiscated my original Play-Doh and Hasbro kindly sent me a replacement.

The kids opened up the pack themselves and enjoyed many hours of play. Even though we often make our own Play-Doh, I have to break ranks with the crunchy granola moms of the world and say that real Play-Doh is better. It lasts longer, feels better on the hands, and that chemical smell is a Proustian reminder of my own childhood.

2) Mr. Potato Head. I think this was branded Toy Story 3 or something. Again, my kids were familiar with the toy and enjoyed it. They did not notice the branding and are not interested in the movie because, like practically every feature film that comes out, it has been deemed “scary.”

3) Scrabble Slam, Uno and Fancy Nancy card games. These are still in the boxes, so apparently they have not elicited much interest. (Wow, I did not realize until I did the links that this loot was all from Hasbro.)

4) Assets, a cheapo version of Spanx by the same brand. At first I thought that these were just for making your ass look firm, as the name implies, but when I put them on I was happy to see that they suck in your belly too. However, I had a Liz Lemon moment when I tried them on to go to a meeting downtown. As I walked to the train, my jersey dress stuck to them like Colorforms to a felt board. The problem was so bad that I had to duck into Macy's downtown and, when the bathroom was under construction, I used a men's dressing room with a broken door that wouldn't even close anymore. Fortunately no one tried to enter as I peeled off the Assets and stuck them in my bag.

Now, I'm not sure that other “shapewear” wouldn't have caused the same problem, but I think the more expensive (and brutal) girdle-type garments I've worn have a slicker surface. So, I would recommend trying Assets, but not with a jersey dress.

5) Sugar-free gum. I don't eat sugar free, so I gave it to my parents. It was mint-chocolate flavored, from Wrigley's Extra Dessert Delights.

6) Aquaphor Lip Repair lip balm. This is a new product, coming out this fall. I was very excited because I am a lip balm addict and we use Aquaphor on Nutmeg's eczema. I've even put Aquaphor on my lips in a pinch, but it's not quite right. I tried it immediately and pronounced it good. Really no different that the Vaseline brand balm that comes in a similar little squeeze tube. Not as good as my favorite lip balms, like Lipsyl or Burt's Bees, but nothin' wrong with this stuff.

7) Big can of Metamucil. Grandma was thrilled! I got this in a suite that featured a famous poop doctor, but I did not sign up to speak with him.

8) Weebles! This was my gift for Toth, and I was happy to hear that Hasbro is bringing them back. To be honest, though, they have generated zero excitement among the children of the house and I'm not sure where they are anymore.

9) Coffee mug from Tim Horton's, which I think is a coffee chain in Canada. Came with a coupon for a free fill-up, if you can find a location.

10) Some scrubby and microfiber sponges which looked really useful -- if only I could get the adhesive paper off them telling me the brand. Which makes it extra ironic that I can't remember the brand at the moment.

11) Coupon file from RedPlum. I haven't used it yet, but it looks perfectly serviceable though a little floppy.

To the many, many other companies whose stuff was on the Expo floor, in goodie bags, etc., sorry. You didn't make the cut. Winnowing down my stuff to fit in the one extra tote I was ballsy enough to carry onto the plane was hard.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tag Junior Winner

I sort of let things slip this weekend what with driving to Milwaukee to attend a wedding and an to Kenosha for an aebelskiver breakfast, and I didn't do the drawing until tonight. But never fear! has picked a worthy recipient of the hardly used Tag Junior: Felicia!
Felicia, I have emailed you so you can claim your prize. Congratulations.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Leapfrog Tag and Tag Junior Reviews and Giveaway


UPDATED AGAIN: Through 10/16 only, use code TAGJFS to get a Tag Junior for 20% off and free shipping on the Web site, or code TAGJBOOK for 20% off a book.

Tag Junior Book Pal, $34.99 (books cost $10.99 each), ages 2-4
Tag Reading System, $29.99 (books cost $13.99 each), ages 4-8

Recently Leapfrog sent me both the Tag Junior and the regular Tag for the girls to try out. I'm going to tell you what I think and then at the end I have a modest giveaway for you.

Leapfrog is an interesting company for me. In general I shy away from the concept of "educational toys" -- after all, all toys are educational in their own ways. I don't feel like my kid needs to be learning the ABCs or counting from a talking toy when they are busy trying to play dolls or trains. They're already learning about imagination or family lif or, physics, and to have a little battery-operated voice shouting the alphabet seems like an inappropriate distraction.

HOWEVER. For educational toys, Leapfrog definitely makes the highest quality available. For one thing, the sound recording is so much better than in other toys, and that makes a big difference to those of us adults who have to listen to the sounds over and over until the batteries run out and we "forget" to replace them. In a few months I'll be hauling out the Leapfrog Learning Table for Toth, and I can't say I dread the return of the jazzy lady who sings "onetwothreeforfivesixseveneightnineten." Much.

So, the Tags. The short review is that -- in a direct reversal of my expectations -- 5-year-old Nutmeg immediately embraced the Tag but 2-year-old Pebbles was slower to warm to the Tag Junior.

And for the long reviews, we'll start with the Tag Junior, which is the new product Leapfrog is promoting right now.

The Tag Junior is a chubby little gnome-shaped thing that toddlers are supposed to use to "read" special Leapfrog books. Hold the Tag over the text and you hear the text. Hold it over a picture and you get a little sound or song.

My main impressin of the Tag Junior is that it is better than the Little Touch Leappad. When Nutmeg was a baby, we had the Little Touch Leappad, which was similar in that little kids were supposed to touch certain parts of books and hear the text or sounds, music and games. With that product, we had frustrations in getting the book to line up on the right place of the machine and stay in place, problems with the cartridges, etc. Too many moving parts. Also, the Little Touch Leappad was this big lap-desk sized thing that demanded a whole bin of its own on the toy shelf.

This product is much easier. All the content is self contained in the handheld thingie. It's easy enough for a 2-year-old to handle nicely and to turn on and off by herself, and now that I showed her what it's all about, Pebbles can use it independently.

I know all these educational toy manufacturer's say they want the parent to sit down with the child and have a learning experience together, but personally I feel the same way about toys like this as I do about TV: If I was going to sit down and spend time with my kid, I wouldn't need it. A regular book is perfectly sufficient for sharing a story with my kid, and we use regular books in this way several times a day. When I turn to technology, it's because I'm desperate to have something to keep my kid occupied for a few minutes while I change the baby's diaper or make an appointment with a guy to gut our upstairs bathroom before water leakage causes the dining room ceiling to cave in. You know, Me Time.
So at first I was a little disappointed that my 2-year-old didn't use the Tag on her own for more than a minute or two. But today for the first time she asked for it, and then sat down and used it on her own. It really bought me some time to upload the video for this review this morning, actually.

All in all, I think this Tag is a big improvment over the Little Touch Leap Pad, and I would recommend it for other parents, especially parents with a long car ride, plane ride or the like coming up. For your sake I hope it babysits your kid longer than it babysat mine. If you're one of those parents who actually wants to sit down with your kid and play with an electronic toy together, then you'll probably love it because it works seamlessly and there seems to be lots of content in there to discover.
The only thing I didn't like about it is that the chubbiness of it tends to block the text from view when you are hovering over it. You can get around this by quickly touching the text, then moving the thing to the side -- once it starts reading the passage, it will keep going even if the thingie is moved.
Oh, I also noticed that if you put the reader near a book for the big kids' Tag Reader, it prompts you to download the content to it online. So does this mean your kid can graduate to the big kid books without having to buy the regular Tag? I hope so. That would be a good value.

Now for the regular Tag Reader.

I was hesitant to give this toy to Nutmeg, because she can already read fluently. I feared that the Tag with its reading to her, and the picture books that come with it, would insult and bore her. I was very wrong.
My 5-year-old quickly figured out that there was a lot more to the Tag Reader than just listening to the story. She did listen to the story a few times, which was great.
The story, "The Amazing Spiderman: The Lizard's Tale," included some pretty advanced vocabulary. Since my daughter is very into reading indepently these days and usually doesn't want to be read to, she often picks up new words but pronounces them incorrectly. It's something that happened to me a lot as a kid and sometimes happens still, and it's embarrassing whether you're 5 or 50. The tag gave her the thrill of independent word acquisition, without the embarrassment of saying it wrong.
She also loved the games and activities that the Reader contained. Being the lazy hands-off parent, I was happy to see she was able to access these games without any explanation from me. The Tag Reader is so interactive it is really like playing a computer game, but to me it's more asthetically pleasing because I like seeing a kid in front of an open book much more than I like seeing one staring into a screen. It's also much more portable than a computer game -- making use of the headphone jack, this would be a great toy to bring along on a flight or in the car. My kid gets car sick, so I don't know if I would use it there -- I could tell her to just let the thing read her the whole story without looking at the pages but she wouldn't have that kind of will power, and before we knew it I'd be sponging barf off the pages of the Tag book.
Now for the giveaway: Leapfrog accidentally sent me two Tag Juniors, so I can send one winner one along with a copy of the book "If I Were." The packaging has been opened (little maniacs live in my house, remember) but I think I can get it back into the packaging before I mail it to you.

So, if you want to win an open but not used Tag Junior, leave an email here. I'll use to pick the winner.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The No-Baby Report

So, I just got a call from the midwives' office to say that the midwife who's supposed to be on office duty is at her second birth of the day and can't do appointments. They're having me come in for a non-stress test monitored by the nurse, though.
This means that the alternative birthing center is occupied and the midwife is getting tired (first birth was at 5 this morning). Thunderstorms are heading in this evening.
Sounds like the perfect day to have a baby, right?
So I'm kind of happy to report that I'm not feeling much of anything out of the ordinary this morning. More update -- but hopefully nothing of substance -- when I get back from NST.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

More Pics of Life @ 40 (Weeks)

OK, my kids have left me for fun times in Wisconsin, and I really should be finishing setting up the baby's changing/dressing area, but I felt the need to be on the couch for awhile. Don't worry, I've been on my feet plenty throughout the day, trying to shake that baby out, but he seems resolute about hanging in there awhile. So here are some pictures to pass the time.
At Wrigley Field. Back row: Pebbles, Grammy, my Grandpa Bobby and Grampy. Front row: Me and Nutmeg.

Nutmeg and I "marching" in Oak Park's tiny little parade. Nutmeg saw and waved to about 100 kids she knew. I saw our family doctor and got to remind her that she'll have to come to the hospital to check out a new little patient very soon. I love this little town!

(By the way, those shoes I am wearing? Best. Pregnancy. Sandals. Ever. Mootsie's Tootsies, $30 on sale at Rogan's Shoes in Kenosha. Why are they so great? Stretchy back strap allows me to put them on with no buckling, no heel, and I can't slip out of them.)

40 Weeks, the rear view. Nutmeg took this picture of me this morning while I was fielding one of those "have you had the baby yet?" calls. Except for my wide stance -- really, I walk around like that these days -- I agree with those who say it's not that obvious that I'm pregnant from behind. Then again, I assure you you would NOT want to see this view right now without the nightie. Cellulite city, according to the mirrors at the local pool locker room.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Buy Wise Bread's Book Today

As I might have mentioned, oh, a few times, I have a couple of blog posts in a new money saving book called "10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget."

Their big sales push is today, so they're offering some incentives to those who buy it online today. You can win a Flip cam and get $15 from EBates.

I know it may seem silly to pay good money for content that is archived free online, yet, since I received my promo copy of the book I have read all kinds of posts I never saw on the site. It might help that I was able to take it on the El with me and that it's now in the bathroom. Blog posts make great bathroom reading, and yet SOME people object to having the family laptop brought in there.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Joovy Caboose Review

I have been using a Joovy Caboose($170 at Amazon) almost daily for two years now, so I'm pretty qualified to review it. This is not a freebie review -- I'm just sharing my experience for some other moms who have asked:
First, I love being able to say I'm "putting my kids in the Joovy" to push them around town. Hilarious name. The thing drives me crazy pretty much daily, and yet I don't really think any comparable product on the market would be better.
The things that drive me crazy are that it's a little hard to turn and push (partly because my axles are pretty rusty, though -- if you don't leave it out in the rain as much as I have that won't be so bad) and it's heavy to lift. It's hard to hang a purse or a bag on the handle, and since the basket is so small that's annoying. It also has no cupholder which annoys the crap out of me. You can buy one to hang on there but I have not done that.
Also, the front seat is pretty small and so now that my baby is 2, even tho she's small for her age, her feet hang past the footrest. Soon, of course, I'll have my new infant in a carseat in front and the toddler in back and the then-5-yr-old will just have to hoof it or she'll be at school.
It is not an all-terrain stroller and doesn't handle bumps or snow particularly well. In fact, if the little one is riding in the back seat not strapped in, going over a big bump has sent her flying right out of her seat.
I have pushed it through a lot of snow on sidewalks (with mighty effort), but when we get to the pile at the corner we're in trouble. I'll make the kids get out and lift it but that's not great either.
It has a lot of good points, though. The whole sit and stand concept works like a dream -- both my 4-yr-old and 2-yr-old love being able to hop on and off the back seat. They fight over the back seat now. Also if you have a couple bigger kids with you, they can both stand up on the step together and you can push them all. I can get a surprising amount of groceries on this stroller by hanging bags off the side handle things, and since the frame is metal it easily takes all that weight.
I feel quite comfortable in stores with it, since it is about as compact as you are going to get for something that holds 2 kids -- nice and narrow and not terribly long either. It fits fine in the checkout aisle of the grocery store.
My dad pushes it a lot when he takes my kids to ice skating, and he dislikes it so much he wants to get me a fancy new double stroller for a new baby present. I'd take a jogger that handles snow better, but I'm sure he'd pass out if he saw what those cost.