Thursday, February 27, 2014

Links From My Mailbag

You may have noticed that a few months ago, I added an email address button to my toolbar (see those pretty green buttons on the right?).  Not soon after I opened that email account, my first product review request appeared in my mailbox.  Some of the emails I've received are just product announcements - for example, there's a new parenting app out there that lets your child use a plush toy to interact with your ipad.  Whoopie.  Other letters are from bloggers themselves, asking to do a guest post (I suspect, although I might be wrong, that these are mostly PR / Marketing representatives and their "guest post" would include a large dollop of product placement and advertising).

For the most part, I use this blog to write about my family and to moan about how many hours I spend in my car, but you'll remember that on one occasion I accepted the invitation to review the Green Biscuit Practice Puck (click on these words to read that post).  That review was a ton of fun, I'm not going to lie.  The kids loved the pucks, I had an easy time reviewing the product and we all enjoyed giving two free pucks away to my readers.   After that experience, I decided that my blog would mostly be a family blog, but if any other product review opportunities came along, I would consider them on an individual basis.  It's my goal to only review products that my family would actually use or have use for.

And while no product has really fit those criteria (with the exception of one item called the UrbMat which I'll tell you about in a minute), there have been some interesting review requests finding their way into my in-box.  I can't write individual posts about products that I haven't tried, but I figure it wouldn't hurt to write one big post with links to the various products so that if you, my beloved readers, see something of interest, you could click directly onto that company's website.

This post's topic is obviously going to be void of any photos of my children, so I'll stick one in to keep the grandparents happy.

Awww.  Look at the Elliots, all tanned and pretending to be loving.  Don't believe your eyes, they are actually quite pale and cranky.

But back to my mailbag.  

I'm dividing this post into three categories:  A Product For Children Who Are Younger Than Mine, A Way For You To Help Further Academic Research and One Stand-out Product That I Think Looks Wonderful.  

Let's get started.

Products For Children Who Are Younger Than Mine

Parents these days are really inventing up a storm.  I've had tons of blog post mention-requests from a host of internet app companies who promise that their ipad app will raise your infant's IQ by 50 points or keep your child fully occupied while you work a full day from home.  These products didn't really appeal to me.  But one email from a woman who makes stroller clips, caught my eye (probably because it was well-written and personal).  If you are looking for a stroller clip follow This Link to Amazon and check out her reviews.   The woman who emailed me is named Febrina Tanghal and her company is called BabyBubz Inc.   She is offering my readers a discount of 40% (not too shabby!) on your purchase.  The coupon code to use is PQ6MUHDW

Here's a photo from the website:

I think that the photos of the clips in action on the stroller - which you can see on Amazon - are better, but I couldn't figure out how to take a photo from Amazon.  I'll have to ask my 8 year old when she gets home.

It's been a long time since I pushed a stroller, but I would imagine that clips like these would come in handy when walking home from the grocery store (those stroller baskets are not that large), or for hanging a diaper bag while you are at the play ground.  I would also imagine that they would make good baby gifts - especially when you factor in that 40% off coupon.

A Way For You To Help Further Academic Research

I got an email the other day from Lauren Zimmerman, a graduate student at the University of Georgia. Lauren is working with Dr. Malissa Clark (Assistant Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies) and they are looking for women who voluntarily left their jobs for one year or more to complete an on-line survey.  The survey is quick (I filled it out in about 5 minutes) and it centers around your decision to leave the workforce, your feelings about leaving a paid job and your thoughts on re-entering the workforce in the future.  

Maybe it's the Anthropology Major / Women's Studies Minor in me, but this topic is right up my alley.  In fact, I did my Major Thesis in college about professional women and the problems they encounter as women/mothers in the workplace.  A whole lot has changed for women since 1993, but the topic is still a good one and one that I imagine is relevant to the majority of my readers.  

For more information and to participate in the survey, Click on THIS LINK which will take you to the study's website.  You could also email Lauren Zimmerman at if you had any other questions.

And now, finally, 

One Stand-out Product That I Think Looks Wonderful
(and does some good for humanity)

My absolute favorite product review request came from Phil Weiner, Founder and CEO of UrbnEarth.  UrbnEarth is "a social venture and a community dedicated to empowering urban dwellers to live a healthier lifestyle."  Interesting, right?  I thought so.  

I clicked over to the UrbnEarth website and was even more impressed.  UrbnEarth's product is called an UrbMat and it is a garden-loving, apartment-dweller's dream.  I think that Phil is probably better at describing his product than I am, so here is some information from the email that he sent me.

"Some highlights of the UrbMat are that it:

· grows 12 types of non-GMO herbs, vegetables, and flowers
· is only 3' x 2' so it is great for urban spaces
· has a built-in irrigation that helps conserve water
· includes a weed barrier and companion planting to keep away pests
· makes a great gift, class projects, and educational tool for teachers, parents, and kids!"

I don't know about all of you, but my children are thrilled with almost any activity that involves dirt.  We've attempted some minor gardening, but with limited success.  I am certain that the UrbMat would be a perfect fit for both our family and our tiny garden space.  And I'm even more certain that this would be a fabulous activity for a classroom school project.  I also really liked the fact that UrbnEarth is donating 2 free meals to hungry children in the United States for every mat sold.  You can feed your family and feed the family of someone less fortunate all at the same time.  It's win-win!

I plan to order my own UrbMat and I'll keep you posted on how the girls and I do with our veggie-growing, but in the meantime, please consider buying a mat of your own for your family - or as a gift for your child's classroom.  To order click HERE and use the coupon ELLIOTWAY to get 15% off your purchase.  If you want any addition information or if you just want to read more about the UrbMat and UrbnEarth, click HERE

And that, my friends, is the bottom of my mailbag and the end of my public service announcement.  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bend and Bake

The girls were off for winter vacation last week.  The girls were off, but the boy was not.  Henry still had school which meant early morning wake-up calls (for henry and me) and then afternoon pick-ups (just for me).  Since we didn't have the entire day free to do fun things like go to museums or take day trips, Georgia and Josie and I made do.  We got our nails done, we saw an omni-max movie, we did a little shop and we worked on a craft project one afternoon.  

I bought the following Bake & Bend clay last fall.  

I'm not sure why it's called Bake & Bend - it should be called Bend & Bake, as that is the actual order of the process.

Georgia was eager to make that cute giraffe on the cover and Josie wanted to make a turtle.

The first step was the kneading...

.... followed immediately by the sculpting.  

The girls were having fun:

I was impressed with the results.  Josie's turtle was jolly and Georgia's flying giraffe was adorable:

The next step is to bake the clay figures for 20 minutes... and that is when disaster struck:

Next time, we will have to prop up all sitting creatures before putting them into the oven.

Good to know.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

When Life Gives You Snow...

You might as well go sledding.

That's what we did last week after our third big snow storm.

You need to take a break from shoveling every now and then.

Happy Sunday!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Visit From Mr. Lincoln

Last Wednesday was Spirit Day at the girls' school.  Like all school theme days, this one came with a dress code:  Lincoln school gear or red, white and blue.  This is our fourth year at Lincoln - can you believe that we own not a single piece of Lincoln School gear?  We own about four t-shirts with the name of our old school on them, but nary a headband with the name of our new.  It made me feel a little guilty, if truth be told.  

At least we have ample amounts of red, white and blue.

Parents were invited to come to morning assembly and watch the "real" Abraham Lincoln say the Gettysburg Address.  

I was lucky enough to catch Josie and her class going into the gymnasium.

I'm sad to say that I didn't get very clear photos of Mr. Lincoln.  He was pretty far away from where I was standing and I had to use my telephoto lens.  But I got enough evidence that he was there:

He was shorter than I imagined him.

Josie and Georgia both thought that his hat was not tall enough.

He did a good job of reciting the Gettysburg Address, though - even with the absence of great stature and while wearing a historically-inaccurate chapeau.

Abraham Lincoln left morning assembly and visited the fifth grade classes.  Yes, I know that the fifth grade classes are studying the American Revolution and therefore probably didn't have too many questions for Honest Abe quite yet.  

It was still fun.  

I like special events like this one.  I think any random change in schedule is a healthy thing for children.  It's always a good thing to mix things up a bit and get their brain moving.  Good job, school!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Winter Raking

You might think that if you live in the artic wilds of New England that winter would mean a hiatus from your outdoor home-maintenance duties.  But you would be wrong.  We may not have to rake leaves or prune flower beds, but there is plenty of work to be done outside of the home during the brutal New England winter. Especially if you have a house with a mansard roof like we do.

This has been a very snowy winter.  We barely finish one snow storm when the next one arrives and unfortunately, the extremely low temperatures mean that there's no opportunity for snow to melt before the next 8 inches of snow falls on top.  

The first winter that we lived in our house, we learned the hard way that our roof shape (along with lack of insulation in our attic) causes ice dams (click HERE, HERE, and HERE to read about those trying times) - which are not at all fun.  We installed insulation in the attic, gutter heaters in our gutters, and heated panels under the first few shingles on our roof, but we also bought a roof rake and we use it frequently after snow storms.

Gordy has more success with the roof rake then I do because he's taller than I am and can reach the top most roof:

I can only reach the mansard part of the roof, but trust me, that's better than nothing.  Last Saturday, we got almost a foot of snow - and that was on top of the foot that was already on the ground.  Bright and early on Sunday morning, Gordy plowed the driveway and began raking the snow off the roof.

If it's a cold day (and it always is here in February) and the sun is out, the snow on your roof will begin to melt.  Melting snow does not evapporate into the air, it turns into water which falls to the bottom of the snow pile and rolls down the roof shingles underneath the unmelted snow on top.  As that water reaches the edges of your roof, it often turns into back into ice.  The idea of the roof rake is to remove the snow from the last foot of your roof and your gutters, so that as the melting snow (water) comes down from under the snow on your roof, it is has room to run all the way into the gutters.  If instead it hits a wall of snow and ice, the water remains where it is, with the pressure of more and more melting water flowing behind it until that pressure gets so great that it escapes inside the house instead of outside where it can do no damage.  

I do not want water inside my house ever again and that is why, we bought a roof rake.

The roof rake is incredibly heavy and awkward, but it's worth the hassle for a little piece of mind.

Never in this California man's dreams did he EVER foresee that he'd be spending his Saturdays raking snow off his roof.

Or wearing a parka while he did it, for that matter.

The sun is out today, but it's 15 degree (F), so there's not much hope that the snow will be melting anytime soon.  At least we hope not... if the snow IS melting than it means that our attic insulation isn't doing it's job!  

Winter is a whole lot of work, isn't it?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Valentine's Day

This year's Valentine's Day was the holiday that almost wasn't.  The third grade class was the only one of our three represented grades to celebrate Valentine's at all and they were scheduled to celebrate the holiday on the thirteenth since Friday the fourteenth was our elementary school's Health Fair.  And then we had a snow day on Thursday and it looked like the Valentine's Day celebration would be cancelled.

The storm had other plans, though, while it was set on taking away a perfectly happy summer vacation day from us all, it wasn't about to dash a young girls' dream of a heart-filled school party.  On Friday morning, the snow was still coming down and our superintendent called a delayed opening.  The Health Fair was cancelled and Valentine's Day was back on!

We would have had our own family celebration anyway.  In the morning (long after Henry had gotten up and been driven to his school) the girls opened their Valentine's Day presents from Gordy and me.

Josie's present was a pink cardie (bought on mega-sale at J. Crew Kids the week before):

and Georgia got a pair of green flower earrings:

Josie happily posed holding her Valentine's Day crafts before we left for school:

In her left hand, she holds her homemade Valentines and in her right, she holds her Secret Admirer Letter (a mandatory assignment).

She also let me take a photo of her Valentine's Day mailbox:


And front.

Since it was a delayed opening, the girls came with me to my early morning pilates class and then we went to Dunkin Donuts and the girls enjoyed a treat before school.  Fridays are busy for us and so it wasn't until long after school ended that we had time to regroup and Josie was able to show me her Valentines.

Children aren't allowed to give out candy anymore, but most Valentines include some sort of small gift - a rub-on tattoo or a pencil.

It's crazy to think that in just five years (the time between Henry's third grade party and now), we've completely removed all sugar from Valentine's Day.

We had one more part of our Valentine's Day celebration, though.  Josie wrote us all "poems" as a school assignment.  Here's the one she wrote for Georgia:

I only included this one since, basically, all four were the same.  This is the first year of MCAS for Josie, so her teacher has been diligently working on similes, proofreading techniques and other essay-writing skills.  Maybe that's why they end Valentine's Day celebrations in third grade - the third grade teachers need all the essay-writing occasions they can get!

We hope you had a happy Valentine's Day, too.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Georgia Researches Abigail Adams

Fifth grade at our local school is different from every other year.  Up until fifth grade, school is really a place to learn academics, practice getting along with others, figure out how to keep a schedule.... everything is all happy and hunky-dorey until fifth grade arrives and suddenly the student finds him/herself with an endless stream of art projects (masquerading as history and science assignments), endless "Bond Quickly Before You Are Thrown To The Wolves In Middle School"-type special events followed by a quick, five-minute instruction on how to organize a binder and take notes.  

If I were designing a fifth grade curriculum, I'd throw out the art projects and spend just a tad more time teaching those ever-so-important organizational and study skills.  And I'm pretty sure all parents would applaud me.  It's not that I don't see the value in an occasional art project, it's just when they occur every week and I find myself at Michael's Craft store once again spending my Mini Cooper fund on art supplies for my child, that I start to grumble.

For the last three weeks, Georgia has been working on her big colonial project for social studies class.  The assignment is to pick a topic that interests you, do some research (but don't bother to write any of it down or keep any sort of bibliography - we'll just expect the kids to learn all that by osmosis next year) and create a model or a poster which relates to your field of study.

Georgia wanted to do her project on a woman in the American Revolution and she was completely uninterested in writing about Betsy Ross (our school's only concession to Women in the Revolution - a subject so vast that I took an ENTIRE college course on the subject, but hey, who am I to suggest a little gender equality in our academics?).  Instead, Georgia chose the very interesting, uber-feminist Abigail Adams (click on these words to read more about this choice).

Georgia started her project on the internet:

Before moving on to the tea bags.

Wait, what?

Georgia decided to do an oral presentation (which she wrote on her computer, citing absolutely no sources - see above).  But she also made a visual component - a replica of Abigail Adam's desk with a copy of the letter that Abigail wrote to her husband John about being sure to specifically mention equal rights for women when he wrote the constitution.  

And in order to make an authentic-looking copy of Abigail's letter, you need to use thick paper which you will then use a sponge to cover with strong tea so it looks really old. 


But that's not all.  To make the letter look REALLY ancient, you have to burn the edges a little bit using a match:

The final product looked pretty darn good.  

Georgia used double-sided tape to secure the letter to her "wooden" desk (which was really a poster board covered in a wood grain wrapping paper) and she glued a feather dipped in black ink on the side.  

Georgia also taped an ink well to the board as an added bonus.


I thought Georgia's project looked great and I thought her oral presentation was well-written.  

I helped Georgia bring both items into school on their due date.  

Every fifth grader was buzzing around in excitement.  Everyone had been talking about their projects for days and were eager to show them off.

I only saw a handful, but I was impressed by most.  I didn't see a single one that looked like a parent had completely taken it over and that's a good thing - but later at dinner (when I shared this fact with Gordy), Georgia told me that the ones that had obviously been done by adults were in the library and that's why I didn't see them.

Here is Georgia's friend Ally's handwritten Declaration of Independence:

Yep.  She copied that thing by HAND all by herself.  I even watched her do some of it the other day when I was picking Georgia up from a play date.

I also saw this model of Benjamin Franklin, which at first I thought was a ridiculous example of parental over achievement, but then I noticed it's actually one of those architect mannequins wearing a home-made outfit which was obviously child-created.

I also admired this replica of the Liberty Bell:

And this homemade cabin made out of ginger bread and wheat chex....

and one project on the history of quilt-making which I thought was pretty spiffy:

Georgia should only have three or four more projects left in elementary school.  We'll all breathe a sigh of relief when they are over.  And then we'll just have to hope that she doesn't get on the "project" team in 6th grade! 

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