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Category Archives: Favorite Things

Chihuly Beauty

Because it needs to be shared.

From the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. The sculptures are set on a floor of glass, then you can go to the level underneath to lay on a revolving bench and look up at the wonder. Awesome. If you ever get the chance to visit, do it. If you ever have the chance to see a Chihuly exhibit, go.

Photos taken with my Droid X smartphone

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2011 in Favorite Things, Photography, Random Fun

 

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The Importance of Reading: Making a Difference

That’s Jenna when she first came home from the NICU. We had already instilled such a love of reading that she couldn’t wait to dive into some meatier classics! Hehe!

In all seriousness, reading is an immensely important skill. More than any other single skill, the ability to read – and read well – allows a child to succeed in school,  learn about the world, function in society, and someday have decent job options. Kofi Anan said it well when he said:

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.”

Go read my guest post at This Blogger Makes Fun of Stuff to find out how you can help build that bridge.

 
 

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Sparking a Love of Reading

I’m pretty sure reading has always been magical to me. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love reading (thanks Mom & Dad!). I’ve been so excited to foster the same magical excitement in Jenna. We have read to her since she was in the NICU as a baby, and she LOVES hearing stories. We started a routine of reading two stories before nap and again before bedtime at night, and it was a wonderful thing when she started bringing us books at all other moments of the day to snuggle down for a story. I still waited for that magical moment when she would start to get excited about reading on her own.

When she turned 4, I started working with her more by pointing to words and sounding them out. She quickly got irritated and frustrated and told me to “just read the story, Mommy!” She just didn’t seem interested in learning to do it herself. I backed off, watched and waited. I was thrilled last fall (at just past 4 and a half) when she spontaneously started sounding out words on signs when I was driving! She became infatuated with her Spinny Speller and she LOVED building words with this. I was excited for her. This continued for 2 or 3 months, then, somewhere around her 5th birthday, it seemed to shut off. She’s back to being frustrated & impatient when we sound things out, she says she doesn’t WANT to read it herself and insists that she just wants us to read to her. What happened?? I have no idea. None. And I’ve thought about it A LOT.

I began trying to think of ways to gently spark that magical excitement again. I say gently because I ASSURE YOU that any sort of pushing will be immediately met with her stubbornly applying the brakes. She needs to do things at her own pace. At some point, I started thinking about how much kids learn through modeling and imitating our behavior. I realized that I very rarely (almost never) pick up my OWN book and read when Jenna is around/awake. My reading time is while she’s sleeping. I decided to try initiating a “Quiet Reading Time” where we set aside time where the rules are no talking allowed and we BOTH spend time reading our own books. I knew that she wouldn’t be able to actually read on her own, but was hoping that this might push her into practicing sounding out words on her own again as well as reigniting her spark of interest in learning to read. She was excited about the idea. I set a timer (for just 15 minutes at first, so she doesn’t get to frustrated), and it became clear instantly that I was on the right track during that very first session. She got a teensy bit frustrated at first and stated that she couldn’t do it, but I gently encouraged her to just look at the pictures and try sounding out words if she wanted to. She quickly became engrossed, and now, two weeks later, she’s asking me more and more about words and sounding things out on her own. Hooray! That first day, she proudly told Daddy when he came home from work, “Guess what, Daddy? I’m doing Quiet Reading Time with Mommy every day now! Because I’m big!” We have Quiet Reading Time every day before naptime, now, and I’M loving it because I’m actually getting in some reading time of my own! Here’s what today’s session looked like:

Engrossed

 

Excited

 

Proud

What kind of stories do you have about reading with your kids? What got them excited about reading? What worked and what didn’t work for you? Do you read with your kids every day? If you don’t, I encourage you to give it a try. There’s nothing more magical and fun than snuggling down with a favorite little person to open a world of adventure simply by opening a book!

P.S. I should note that she independently declared today “Fancy Day” and just as independently chose her outfit & accessories! There’s also a tutu under that book!   🙂

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2011 in Family, Favorite Things, Jenna, Parenting tips

 

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Get Some Cash Back by Shopping Online. Really.

Money, cell phone and sodaphoto by espensorvik

Quick tip:

If you shop online, you can earn cash back from hundreds of popular sites by simply signing up for ebates! I’m usually somewhat wary of these sorts of claims and figure there’s a catch or that I’ll be inundated with spam email. I decided to give ebates a try and have been pleasantly surprised. I only get very occasional email notifications, and they’re specific to ebates, not spam. I’ve been signed up for a year, and I haven’t found any sort of “catch.” There’s no cost to sign up. You simply register at the ebates site, then, when you want to shop online, you go to the ebates site FIRST and click through to the retailer you need to order from. It took me a while to get used to going to clicking through the ebates site first, but getting cash back is a pretty big memory motivator! I just received a cash back check for $35! (Mostly from my online Christmas shopping) You can’t beat that.

To sign up for ebates, click this highlighted link.

It doesn’t get much easier to save a little money.

 

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2011 in Did you know?, Favorite Things

 

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The Secret of a Good Day

photo by Derek Harper

Yesterday, Jamie at Simple Homeschool posted this quote by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous.

I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized.

If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

It really struck a chord with me, and it’s something I need to always remember.  Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone realized this secret??

Choose your path wisely.

 

My New Favorite Coffee

Found this coffee at our local co-op and I love it!  It’s a blend of light and dark roasted fair trade, organic, shade grown coffee from Bolivia & Mexico, and, like the label says, it’s rich, smooth and chocolatey.  The artwork on the bag cracks me up.  If you can’t see it, there’s a quote from Mark Twain that says:

Get a bicycle; You will not regret it if you live.

Ha!  The coffee is perfect in my french press (coarse ground) and tastes absolutely heavenly.  If this roast doesn’t sound like your style, you can find many different blends and roasts at the company’s website.

One of the things I love most is the fact that their coffees are not only organic, but also fair trade and shade grown.  That combination isn’t easy to find.  I love the transparency the company offers to see their contracts with the growers, how they work, and where every cent of the dollars you spend actually goes (this part is printed on the bag!).

What fair trade coffee means:

  • It comes from democratically controlled grower cooperatives, not single owner estates
  • Contract information, including price paid to growers, is made available to anyone
  • Growers commit to sustainable agricultural practices and roasters commit to minimizing their impact on the world
  • Growers and roasters commit to long term relationships
  • Growers have a voice in determining the price per pound and this price never drops below a certain level

If you’re not buying this coffee, I encourage you to consider looking for other fair trade, organic coffees.  Just this one choice can make a difference in the world.

Just Coffee is located in Madison, WI.  If you live there, the bag says it’s “bike delivered in Madison.”  I’m not sure if that’s to all local buyers or just stores and cafes, but it’s pretty cool, no matter what.

*Disclaimer: Again, no reimbursement of any kind for this review (although I’m willing to work something out if Just Coffee’s reading…).  Just another one of my favorite things that I wanted to share with you.

 

Best Droid Apps

droid_xphoto by Remolacha.net

I recently switched from an iPhone to the Droid X.  I absolutely loved the iPhone, but the sad fact is that AT&T service was absolutely horrible.  We don’t have a land line, so this was my primary phone.  I could only get on the Edge network (no 3G) with 1 bar of signal strength in my house.  If I walked around, I constantly dropped calls.  In my kitchen, beside the refrigerator: NO SIGNAL. This would not do.  I heard good things about the Droid X and decided to switch.  Major pros:  8MP camera with a flash that takes incredible pictures!!; video recording; large app database; can serve as a WiFi hotspot for 5 devices; large, crisp touchscreen; Swype technology for messaging/text that allows you to swipe the word on the keyboard instead of typing individual letters; and Verizon service.  I had it one day and was completely in love.  I’ve had it for a week now, and couldn’t be more happy.  My only minor complaint is about those tiny navigation buttons on the bottom.  You have to push them far too often for any kind of navigation, and they’re just too small.  If you’re listening Motorola/Droid people: It’d be great to have that navigation interface right on the touchscreen like the iPhone does, with one, LARGE central button for returning to the home screen.  It’s a pretty minor complaint, and I’ve already adjusted, but a girl can always dream, right?

I’ve spent any spare time I could whittle out this past week researching apps and came up with a working list that I thought I’d share.  If you have favorites you don’t see here, I’d love for you to leave a comment!  I’ve tried to roughly categorize them, and, please note that Jenna is 4, so many of the “kids’ apps” are geared for preschool, but many are fun for kids of ALL ages too!

Special thanks to Mo at One Ping Only for her contribution to this list and helping me find some of the great ones!

General:

  1. Advanced English & Thesaurus
  2. Barcode Scanner – scans barcodes and looks up prices and reviews
  3. Bathroom Finder (by BeTomorrow) – Helps you find a bathroom wherever you are
  4. Battery Monitor – battery status without being in standby mode
  5. Congress – Info on elected officials – bios, how they vote, etc.
  6. Craigsnotification – Craigslist
  7. Droidlight LED Flashlight – lights up flash to use as a flashlight
  8. ebay
  9. Evernote – I love this for all kinds of lists/notes, task manager, etc
  10. Find Dunkin Donuts – in case there’s no Starbucks to be found.  Or you need a donut.
  11. Find a Starbucks – because OBVIOUSLY!
  12. FM Radio
  13. Google Sky Map – uses GPS – you hold phone to sky & it shows what constellations to look for there.  AWESOME!
  14. Google Shopper – scans bar codes and adds to your list (Maybe this came on the phone? Can’t remember)
  15. Grocery IQ – grocery list-maker.  Can scan barcodes to add
  16. I’m Hungry – vegetarian recipes
  17. iPharmacy + Med Scanner
  18. Indian Recipes
  19. IMDb – Movie and movie star database – look up info, reviews, parental cautions, etc.
  20. Hospital Intel – info on area hospitals
  21. Huffington Post
  22. iSyncr – to sync from itunes to droid
  23. JetVD – supposed to make it easy to download movies/clips from YouTube
  24. iTranslate – translates using voice or typing
  25. Kayak – find cheap travel rates (flights, hotels, etc.)
  26. Mabilo Ringtones – great database of ringtones
  27. MyFitnessPal – lookup/track calories, fitness goals, etc.
  28. Note Everything – just to……note everything  =)
  29. NPR News
  30. NYTimes
  31. ONN – Onion News Network (from The Onion). Satire
  32. Open Table – for making reservations at restaurants
  33. Pandora – radio
  34. Photoshop Express – for photo editing on your phone
  35. Public Radio Live
  36. Recipes
  37. Relax & Sleep – ambient noise with many choices
  38. Retro Camera – takes awesome, retro/square pics (like Hipstamatic on iPhone) & makes it easy to share them
  39. Shazam – identifies songs you hear playing in stores, offices, etc.
  40. Soup Recipes
  41. The Weather Channel
  42. Time Mobile – Time magazine
  43. Tippy Tipper – helps calculate tips
  44. TuneIn Radio
  45. TV.com – TV streaming
  46. TripAdvisor – hotels, restaurants and area attractions
  47. Twidroyd – Twitter app.  Have this AND TweetCaster & haven’t decided which one I like best
  48. TuneIn Radio
  49. Unit Converter (by Sunny Moon) – converts temps, velocity, power, pressure, cooking, distance, weight, volume & a ton of other ones
  50. USA Today – news
  51. Voice Recorder
  52. Wapedia – Wikipedia for droid
  53. White Noise – great for background sound
  54. Whiteboard – simple whiteboard for drawing/doodles
  55. WordPress – for blogs/blogging
  56. Yelp – restaurant ratings – look up or add
  57. YouTube (maybe this came with droid??)
  58. Geodelic – finds restaurants, retailers, attractions near where you are using GPS (haven’t tried yet)
  59. Around Me – Similar to Geodelic.  Had this on my iPhone.  Search for pharmacies, pubs, gas, coffee shops, restaurants, hospitals, etc. Works well.

Just for Fun:

  1. Australian slang
  2. British slang
  3. Comics
  4. Dilbert
  5. Jewellust – ADDICTIVE – like Bejeweled
  6. Kindle
  7. Labyrinth Lite – moves a metal ball around different wood mazes
  8. Line Up
  9. Nook – B & N eReader
  10. Solitaire – several different styles of solitaire
  11. Sudoku
  12. Seinfeld – Seinfeld one liners & jokes
  13. United States Constitution – the entire Constitution – you know – for “just-in-case”  =)
  14. Vocab Builder – match words to definitions
  15. Word Drop – like Bejeweled & Boggle had a baby
  16. Word Search
  17. Wordsmith – like Scrabble
  18. WordUp!

Kids/Games: (* denotes fun for grownups, too)

  1. Balloon (by Spigo) – See how many balloons you can pop
  2. Bubble Burst Free*
  3. Color Drips*
  4. Connect Four
  5. Disney Fairies Puzzles
  6. Drop*
  7. Finger Bowling*
  8. Find Differences*
  9. Glow Puzzle
  10. Hello Kitty Puzzle
  11. Google Sky Map
  12. Jokes for Kids
  13. Kids Connect the Dots
  14. Kids Numbers
  15. Kids Drawing
  16. Kids Piano Lite
  17. Kids TV Pro
  18. Memory Master Kids (they have a grownup edition, too)
  19. Paint Pro
  20. Puzzle Blox Arcade
  21. Shapes
  22. Tangram*
  23. Touch! 4Kids
  24. Tic Tac Toe Free
  25. Thumb Maze 3*
  26. Toss It* – throw a wad of paper into the trash can in many different settings
  27. Traffic Rush*
  28. Traffic Jam*
  29. Unblock Me Free*
  30. Whiteboard
  31. xPiano
  32. Yo Princess2 Puzzles
  33. Kid Mode – lots of games, puzzles, activities (assorted)
 
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Posted by on October 24, 2010 in Favorite Things, Product Reviews, Random Fun

 

Love Coffee? French Press Reviews

Love Coffee

photo by Ahmed Rabea.

A few months ago, my coffee maker started dying.  I’m a daily coffee drinker, and, although I don’t like to admit it, I don’t think I function well in the morning without it.  Obviously, immediate action was necessary.  I started researching various options including those fancy Tassimo and Keurig machines.  The more reviews I read, the more I felt guided toward a french press.  Coffee connoisseurs everywhere I looked claimed that this is the best way to brew coffee and bring out the best flavor.  I also liked the idea of eliminating a machine on my counter top, and it seems a little more “green” since it doesn’t require electricity or paper filters.  After reading MANY reviews, I settled on the beauty below from Frieling.  Sure it was pricey at $79.99, but I was expecting fine German quality and a lasting & beautiful press.

It arrived and I was in love.  It made FABULOUS coffee!  The best I think I ever made in my home!  Woohoo!  Plus, it was pretty.  Right?

Fast forward almost three months exactly.  A tornado touched down half a block away from our house (I kid you not), and we were without power for 50ish hours.  I needed coffee.  But that beauty above? Broke.  The press mechanism on the inside has a screen/filter that screws onto the plunger stick (these are NOT official part names).  The threads were stripped and they would no longer go together.  After TWO MONTHS!!  So I emailed the company.  I told them that I had only purchased the press three months earlier, that I loved it, and was very disappointed with this problem.  A lovely customer service representative responded with this curt email message:

It is a normal wear and tear. You may order replacement parts by calling us at 800-827-2592. I’ve attached a parts list for your reference.

Seriously.  That was the extent of the message/service.

Excuse me?? Standard wear? After three months? I sent another email, basically saying: So, you’re telling me that I can look forward to purchasing this $6 part (plus shipping) every three months if I continue to use your product since this is “normal wear & tear”??  I remain disappointed.  Their response:

I don’t want  you think that our products are not of high quality. Please let me explain. Being that the treads on the French Presses are small, if taken apart on daily basis it can strip them quicker. It is not necessary to take the plunger assembly apart after each use to clean. You can put the attached assembly in the dishwasher  or even wash and rinse by hand without taking it apart each time. This will help prevent premature stripping. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Notice they’re still essentially saying it’s my fault (after only three months).  I responded with:

I’ve had it for 3 months and took it completely apart twice. I think it should stand up to that kind of use MUCH longer.  It also seems like you should stand behind the parts at least a year.  I remain disappointed.

Their response:

I was only trying to troubleshoot. My goal is you make you a happy customer, not disappointed. Generally, the part that we see get stripped is the “Y” shaped bottom plate. We will send you one at no cost to resolve the problem. If for some reason it doesn’t resolve the issue, please contact us and we will work on getting it resolved. Please provide us with you complete mailing address and we will get this out to you ASAP.

Um….Frieling people? TROUBLESHOOTING means asking more questions and offering to help immediately.  Not after 3 messages. TROUBLESHOOTING would have initially asked, “How many times have you taken the press apart for cleaning in three months?”  EXCELLENT SERVICE wouldn’t have asked any questions and would simply stand behind the product by immediately offering a $6 replacement part at no charge since it had only been three months.

Sigh.

So, I had no idea how long I needed to wait to get this part, and I need my coffee in the morning!  I decided to give Starbucks new Via instant coffee a try.  I trucked to Starbucks to check it out.  I was skeptical about the taste of instant coffee from the get-go, but when I saw the price of Via, I seriously began reconsidering.  While I was debating, I noticed this Bodum press for only $19.99.  Notice the price difference from the Frieling ($79.99)?  Yeah.  I was concerned about the Bodum’s quality, but decided to give it a try.  I decided I could buy this for the cost of buying two packages of Via, and I could either keep it as a backup press, or sell it when the Frieling parts came.

 

 

Surprisingly, I love the Bodum more than the Frieling! It presses smoothly EVERY TIME.  The coffee NEVER splurts out the spout when pressing.  I never have floaty grounds in my coffee.  It’s super easy to clean.  The interior press mechanism seems to go together and STAY together much better than the Frieling.  The coffee tastes just as amazing.  After I press it, I pour it in an insulated carafe, and it stays warm all day.

Moral of the story?  Buy the Bodum.  Save some bucks.  Enjoy some wonderful coffee!

You’re welcome.

 

*Disclaimer: I was not paid in any way for this review and I have no association with either company, other than the products from them that I purchased.  The views expressed in this post are simply my opinion based on personal use and experience.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2010 in Favorite Things, Product Reviews

 

Something Very Close To My Heart

One day… all babies will be born healthy

Today… too many moms and families know the heartbreak of having a baby born fighting to survive

We’re marching again this year, and we’re making it a yearly event. This really is something very close to my heart.

We’re marching in memory of Maddie, my friend Heather’s 17 month-old daughter, who lost the strength to fight and passed away last year. Her bright smile might be gone from this earth, but it still lights up many hearts and inspires us to continue fighting in whatever ways we can. Maddie’s beautiful face is on the widget above.

We’re marching because our daughter, Jenna, was born with a birth defect and has spent her four short years of life fighting. We feel so blessed to have her in our lives, but we also know firsthand the struggles and sorrow that other families have to face.

We’re marching to give all babies a fighting chance.

The March of Dimes champions the needs of moms and babies in local communities and across the nation. The money we raise for March for Babies will help:

  • support all-important research offering preventions and solutions for babies born too soon or with birth defects
  • educate women on things they can do to increase their chances of having a healthy baby
  • provide comfort and information to families with a newborn in intensive care
  • push for newborn screening and health insurance for all pregnant women and children

Please help by donating today!

It’s easy, safe and secure – just click to make your donation. Help us make a difference. Every dollar counts.

P.S. You would make me the happiest woman in the world if we could blow that $250 goal out of the water! 😉

 

Easy Gift Idea

This year, we decided to try to simplify Christmas as much as possible.  We decided to not only work to save money, but also to (hopefully) be a little more “eco-responsible” than we have been in the past.  We decided to try to think of ways to give of ourselves and our talents in the form of services or products that can be consumed/used up instead of simply cluttering up space (and eventually landfills).  Today, I mixed up a batch of my homemade bath salts and thought I’d share the idea here, because it’s so easy, and always well-received!  They’re simply made from Epsom salts and organic essential oils.  That’s it!  Epsom salts are great for soothing tired, stressed muscles, and you can customize the scents for each individual.  My favorite essential oils are grapefruit (refreshing) or vanilla (soothing/calming).  You may prefer lavender, rose, tea tree, or many others. One small bottle of essential oil will go a LONG way!

I bought the Bell® jars in the picture above at Meijer as a package of 4 for $5.  These were a little fancier than you would have to use, and there are cheaper options in canning or jelly jars available.  I try to reuse glass jars and lids whenever possible, and am always on the lookout for unique jars at resale shops, garage sales and Goodwill.  Just make sure they have a lid, or some way to close.  I found a great bottle with a unique shape at a resale shop with a cork in it that was one of my favorites.  Epsom salts are readily available at any pharmacy, and are very cheap.

I love this project for several reasons.  First of all, there’s no exact science.  Simply fill your container with Epsom salts and add drops of essential oil until you are happy with the scent.  Remember that it’s always easier to add more!  You can’t really remove the oil once you’ve added it, but you CAN add more salts to tame the smell.  I also love it because Jenna can help!  She helped scoop the salts, add the drops (Careful with this one – toddlers tend to go a little crazy.  Stay close!), and then LOVED shaking and shaking the containers once the lids were firmly screwed on.  Finally, I love how pleased people are when they receive their gift.  I think you will too.

Today, I bottled four jars like you see pictured above.  Total time for the project?  Twenty minutes!  And that’s with a toddler helping.  It could go a little faster even, if you’re doing it without pint-sized helpers, but it’s a great opportunity for them to get to help.  What a wonderful way to teach about the spirit of giving (instead of simply the spirit of shopping).

Happy giving!

P.S. This makes a great gift for year-round giving, too!