Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Public Service Announcement: Beware PC Security Virus 2012

I have not been blogging or emailing or doing anything much computer related because the past few weeks we have been dealing with a computer virus. Why are there evil programmers out there who make viruses? I can understand if they are attacking businesses or really wealthy people but they have nothing to gain by infecting my computer!

If you get a popup window that says anything like "Microsoft Security Center 2012" or "XP Internet Security 2012" do NOT click anywhere on it. Just do a ctlr-W to close that window. I was completely FOOLED and thought it was the Microsoft anti-virus software that came with the PC. It said it had detected a bug and recommended a full scan to get rid of trojan horses and spyware. I was distracted with Baby E in one hand and the phone on my shoulder and clicked. The virus infected everything. I couldn't even open word or folders. Stewart was able to get rid of the virus after much ordeal. And I'm writing this blog entry from the past because he had to use time machine to put the settings on the computer pre-virus.

The virus was the final straw that made me run to my iPad and order an iMac. So the next blog entry you see will be from our iMac that hopefully comes today. A friend of mine who also switched from PC to iMac said once you use an iMac, you can never go back to PC. I hope this is true and that I will be completely wowed. (Of course, that would support the paranoid theory that the virus was propagated by Apple engineers who used an algorithm based on the fact that I have multiple Apple products to figure out I would order the iMac if attacked with this virus.)

The nerd in me says--Farewell to Arms blogging on PC. Hello Brave New World of iMac.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Three Year Old Field Trip: Christmas at Ardenwood Farm

H never had a single trip during his three years of preschool. I love him dearly, but I think the preschools he attended understood that part of the reason I put him in school was so I could have a break from him and his frenetic activity. But for some reason, the preschool R attends believes that I put him in school solely for his enrichment, which includes field trips. It never even occurred to me that a preschool would go on field trips so I hadn't asked before enrolling him. I found out the first day of school that he had a field trip the next week (I enrolled him mid-year). Of course, once he started it was easier to keep him in the program as opposed to switching to another school. So far we've done pottery at Color Me Mine, played at the water park, picked pumpkins for Halloween, and this past Monday we went to Christmas on the Farm at Ardenwood Historical Farm.
Anyone who lives in East Bay and wants to visit a working farm should consider a trip to Ardenwood in Fremont. The Regional Historic Landmark opened to the public on July 28, 1985, and includes a farm, a large forest and a mansion now called the Patterson House which was first constructed in 1857 by the farm's original owner, George Washington Patterson. The field trip with R's class involved a litany of activities and a strict schedule that Teacher Grace had us follow. First we toured Patterson House all dressed up for the holidays. They told us before we went in that all the things were old and we shouldn't touch them. I was thinking, maybe ten 3 year olds shouldn't be going in then. I underestimated the power of Teacher Grace. The children were very respectful of the artifacts, even in the toy room. Maybe the scary doll wasn't so inviting to touch! They were allowed, though, to touch and eat the cookies that the volunteer had baked in the wood-burning oven.

Next was a craft in the old granery followed by a visit with Jiggs the horse. Two minutes with Jiggs, then off to the train ride through the monarch butterfly forest. I think the guide was saying that there were 10,000 butterflies there but I couldn't be sure because of course, that's when Baby E decides she needs to eat lunch. The guide on the train ride cut up some eucalyptus for us to smell. It must have had something to do with the butterflies but again, not quite sure. The field trip ended with a visit with Father Christmas. R wouldn't follow my pleas to please look at the camera so there aren't any that I can use for our Christmas card. So I'll share them here. As you can see, Baby E did a much better job!

The park hosts many events, a Celtic festival, an Independence Day celebration, the Washington Township Railroad Fair on Labor Day, a Renaissance Faire in September, The Harvest Festival in October, a Zydeco concert, and many Halloween celebrations, complete with a haunted railroad. It's definitely a place to check out with kids if you are looking for something to do one weekend. Although, chances are, your kids will probably come here on a field trip sometime during their elementary school years.

I think what R likes the best about field trips is telling H about them afterwards. H always gets upset because he wasn't able to do it, even if it's something he's done before. We had a pretty good time even though R couldn't spend as much time as he wanted visiting with the animals because we had to rush back to pick up H from school. I'm seriously thinking of switching R's school next semester, not just because of all the field trips. Right now he only goes two days and I think I need him to go all day every day. Well, at least three half days. Field trips can wait till kindergarten!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Safeway Shop Along Giveaway Winner and Additional Q&A

We had some questions at the event that the Safeway folks recently answered for us and I thought I'd share the helpful information with my readers:

Q: Regarding the benefits of low-grade fevers, what is the threshold? At what temperature should you take action and call the pediatrician or go to the ER?
A: According to Mayo Clinic,a fever is usually a sign that something out of the ordinary is going on in your body. For an adult, a fever may be uncomfortable, but fever usually isn't dangerous unless it reaches 103 F (39.4 C) or higher. For very young children and infants, a slightly elevated temperature may indicate a serious infection. But the degree of fever doesn't necessarily indicate the seriousness of the underlying condition. A minor illness may cause a high fever, and a more serious illness may cause a low fever. Usually a fever goes away within a few days. A number of over-the-counter medications lower a fever, but sometimes it's better left untreated. Fever seems to play a key role in helping your body fight off a number of infections.

Anun explained fever is greater cause for concern in infants and in children than in adults. Call your baby's doctor if your baby has a fever of 101 F (38.3 C)or higher.

Q:How long can a virus live outside the body? For example, if I have the flu and sneeze into my hands, if I don’t wash them, how long can the virus live?
A: According to James M. Steckelberg, M.D., Mayo Clinic Internist, it varies, depending partly on where the germ-laden droplets fall. Experiments with specific cold and flu germs have shown potential survival times ranging from a few minutes to 48 hours or more. How long such germs remain capable of infecting you in day-to-day life is harder to say.

Researchers have repeatedly found that cold and flu germs generally remain active longer on stainless steel, plastic and similar hard surfaces than on fabric and other soft surfaces. On any surface, though, flu viruses seem to live longer than cold viruses do. Other factors, such as the amount of virus deposited on a surface and the temperature and humidity of the environment, also have effects on how long cold and flu germs stay active outside the body.

The best way to avoid becoming infected with a cold or flu is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water or with an alcohol-based sanitizer. Also, try to notice and stop yourself when you're about to rub your eyes or bite your nails. And — most important — get a seasonal flu vaccine every year and the H1N1 (swine) flu vaccine when it's available. Some people will always be careless about spreading their germs, but you don't have to catch them.

Q:Is there a link between chamomile tea and liver health (positive or negative)?Can you have a liver-involved allergic reaction to chamomile?
A: The only valid relationship between chamomile tea (or chamomile in other forms) and the liver is that chamomile might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. Combining chamomile with some medications that are broken down by the liver can increase the effects and side effects of these medications. Chamomile is sometimes mixed with other herbs and taken for liver disease, but according to the NIH, there's insufficient evidence to rate its effectiveness for liver disease or any disease or condition, for that matter. Most often, people use chamomile for sleeplessness, anxiety and GI conditions like upset stomach, gas and diarrhea. It can also be used topically for skin conditions and mouth ulcers related to cancer treatment.

Studies have not shown a liver-involved allergic reaction to chamomile. Allergic reactions associated with chamomile are typically limited to people with ragweed-type allergies, since chamomile is in the same plant family. Those reactions are more related to skin reactions, shortness of breath, throat swelling, etc. - nothing liver related.

Research of this question as well as other information can be found on the websites for the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Library of Medicine and ConsumerLab.com (which reviews and tests effectiveness of supplements).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Safeway Winter Health Shop-Along-$50 GC GIVEAWAY

After our successful blogger lunch in Palo Alto, Baby E and I were emboldened to broaden our horizons and travel north up to El Cerito last week. We were invited to the Safeway Winter Health Shop Along at the recently opened "lifestyle" Safeway near the El Cerito Norte Bart station. The eco-conscious team at Safeway had planned the event there so bloggers could come by Bart. It turned out that we had all driven, which ended up being a good thing because we each got two grocery bags full of healthy food to take with us--more on that later.

The event was a walk through Safeway so we could discuss some of the ways that we could keep ourselves and our families healthy this winter season. Officially winter starts on December 22 this year, but any mom can tell you that it really starts when you have to take out the warm jackets and hats and when the cold and flu season starts. This week is the first week that we've needed to wear winter coats so it was perfect timing for the Safeway event.

We started off at the pharmacy where Dr. Risa Vatanka, Safeway pharmacist, spoke to us about the importance of getting an annual flu shot. One thing I hadn't known before is that there are healthy carriers of flu virus. Just like people who are naturally immune to other diseases, there are people who can carry flu in their bodies and not get sick. Since they feel fine, they don't take precautions to not spread it around to other people. They go around shaking hands and touching doorknobs, not realizing they are potentially making other people sick. So that is why it is so important that healthy people who don't get sick from flu also get the flu shot. That way if they ever get the flu virus, the antibodies in their immune system from the flu shot will kill the virus and they can't spread it.

Two other things I learned about the flu shot that I hadn't known before: 1) it takes 2 weeks for your body to build up the immunity after the shot, and 2) for children who have not had the shot before, they need to have two shots, a month apart, for full effect to take hold. My health care provider had failed to mention this, so it looks like I need to be taking in R for a second shot asap!

Next we moved to the soap and tissue aisle. What I learned here was interesting--there is no need for antibacterial soap. Dr. Risa said it best, "who cares if the bacteria on your hand are alive or dead when you wash them down the drain?" I'm definitely not paying extra for antibacterial soap in the future. She did agree that antibacterial hand sanitizers were useful for when you can't get to a sink.

Three things are really important when you are getting well from cold or flu: hydration, rest, and nutrition. Kerry Neville, registered dietitian and Safeway nutritionist, talked about ways to stay hydrated and get proper nutrition. Not only are decaf teas and coffees great for staying hydrated, they also contain antioxidants we all need to stay healthy. Also a great source of both hydration and nutrition are soups. There is something in chicken soup that shortens the length of a cold. I put this to the test immediately when I got home by making chicken noodle soup with the vegetables and chicken broth from the Safeway shopping bags. R had shown signs of the sniffles that morning and both he and H love chicken noodle soup. We had soup once or twice a day for the past four days and it was amazing. Usually R's colds can go for up to two weeks but by the end of the third day on soup, he was 90% recovered. Try it!

Back to the tour and Dr. Risa at the pharmacy. She spoke about the dangers of brand extension and overdosing children with over the counter medications. For example, if the doctor says to get some Triaminic and Tylenol, many parents don't realize that there are some versions of Triaminic that already contain acetaminophen (the drug in Tylenol). Too much acetaminophen can cause liver damage (and too much ibuprofen can cause stomach ulcers) so making sure you and your kids get the proper dosage of these drugs is very important.

Some of the bloggers were getting flu shots after the shop along tour. The pharmacy had a very nice enclosed waiting area. I had noticed that the two Safeways closest to my house had pharmacies that were undergoing renovation and I was pleased to see what they would look like. Instead of feeling a bit unsettled by getting a shot in plain view of shoppers in aisle five, now people could have the privacy of a clinic setting behind pharmacy doors. Right now there is a promotion at Safeway that if get your flu shot there, you will get a coupon for 10% off groceries. If I had an insurance plan that would have allowed me to get my shot at Safeway, I would definitely have taken this deal!

As you can tell I learned a lot from this event, and could write a post even twice the length of this one but I think the best way would be if you go to your local Safeway and pick up a few of their helpful health and wellness materials available at the pharmacy. One lucky Random Mommy reader will have the chance to pick up healthy foods and drinks courtesy of Safeway with a $50 gift card (good at any of the Safeway family of stores including VONS and Dominicks)!

HOW TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:  Contest period runs from Sunday, November 20, 2011 at 1:30 PM (Pacific) until Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 at 11:59 PM (Pacific). Enter by leaving a comment on your favorite cold remedy, and leave your e-mail address OR sign in to comments using your Blogger ID, making sure your Blogger profile is public and includes your e-mail address.

Bonus Entries (leave a separate comment for each entry, it counts if you've done any of these so leave a comment for each one)
1) Follow me on Twitter
2) Tweet this contest and leave the tweet url (once per day)
3) Follow my blog with Google Friend Connect by clicking on the sidebar

If you don't leave a qualifying comment and your e-mail address or public Blogger profile, your entry will be disqualified. I reserve the right to extend the contest period. At the end of the contest period, I will utilize Random.org to randomly choose the winner. The winner will be contacted by e-mail and will have 72 hours to respond to my e-mail. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, the prize will go to the next place winner as decided by Random.org. This contest is open for US Residents onlyGood luck and have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

I did not receive compensation for this post. I did receive a Safeway giftcard and product samples to facilitate my review.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Baby E's First Blogger Event: Tiny Prints 2011 Holiday Party

When I received the invite from Tiny Prints to their Holiday 2011 Blogger Party, I was hesitant to accept because I didn't know whether I should or could take Baby E. She behaved fabulously at BlogHer (a blogger conference not a singular event), but would she be equally well-behaved as a more awake four month old? I decided I didn't want to use her as an excuse not to do something so bravely RSVP-ed "Yes"! I know, something crazy like projectile vomiting or a diaper explosion could have happened. She could have cried nonstop or been disruptive in another way. But I trusted her past performance to be indicative of future results and I'm glad I did because she was the perfect lunch partner.

Baby E slept through most of the event so I was able to listen to and see the Tiny Prints marketing team present the 2011 Holiday Cards. There were some beautiful cards that really captured people's characters rather than the typical family pose. I really liked the ornament cards and the ones that incorporate design on top of the photo. The ornament card called Red Lantern (above) was designed by Bridget Moynahan for the Epidermolysis Bullosa Medical Research Foundation. Finally, a holiday card for charity that looks great! This is only one of the Celebrity Cards available through Tiny Prints this season. There are also many designs that overlay the design on top of the photo (right). I think cards like these say to the recipient, "we really thought about how we wanted to share our family with you this year."

The team at Tiny Prints also shared a really great idea for displaying holiday cards that they made from some thick posterboard. I am going to copy it as a craft that my boys and I can do during the Thanksgiving Break (no school all week!). I'll be using the scissors and then I'll have them color and bedazzle the tree! Then we'll tape the tree to the wall instead of the cards. This is such a perfect idea for displaying Tiny Prints cards because many of them have images on both sides that you want to be able to ooh and ah over throughout the holiday season.

Ed Han, the CEO of Tiny Prints, was at the event and spoke to us about the new Tiny Prints photo books. I didn't know this, but Shutterfly acquired Tiny Prints and its sister company Wedding Paper Divas earlier this year. (The M&A lawyer nerd in me was thinking, "what a synergistic transaction!") So it only makes sense that photo books are now available on both these sites. I used Tiny Prints and Wedding Paper Divas earlier this year to order invites for a baby shower and my sister's bridal shower, respectively. I was really impressed by the ease of the design process, quick turnaround and the high quality products I received. I expect that the photo book process would be similar and can't wait to make the one provided us by the company in our gift bags.

Ed talked about how he made one as a time capsule with his kids and that they would make one every ten years to document their lives. I LOVE that idea! I think that will be the project the boys and I will do during Winter Break. Baby E woke up after Ed's talk and he came over to say hello to her. Her first CEO photo opp! She took it all in stride. All in all, the Tiny Prints Holiday 2011 Blogger Event was a really great time for me to connect with other bloggers and with a company of which I have been a long-time fan. Thank you Tiny Prints for a delicious lunch and a fun event!

I was not compensated for this review. I did receive a gift bag at the event and will receive product samples as a result.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Holiday Vacation Days Approching: Explore Winter! Review

Lately I've been thinking of home schooling because everyday H complains about being bored at school. I vowed I would never do it (I'm not a very patient teacher), but if I don't help him be the best that he can be, then why am a SAHM at all? Last year when H had school break I was happy to let him play because his preschool was really academically focused so he needed the break. This year, I am determined to teach him something during those off days so his brain development won't stagnate even more. If it goes well I will think about home schooling more seriously. If it doesn't? Well, then I might have to go back to work full time so I can pay for him to go to private school! 

 Luckily just as I've been having all these thoughts, I was given the opportunity to review one of the books from Nomad Press. Nomad Press is an educational publisher located in Vermont, dedicated to sparking the interest of young readers in the fascinating world around them. Nomad Press books promote independent and interactive learning with fun, hands-on projects that help kids explore the history and science behind a wide range of topics. H and I looked through their catalog of books and he chose Explore Winter! as one he'd like to try. It was absolutely the perfect one for us to try during the upcoming Thanksgiving and Winter breaks.

Explore Winter! starts off with a discussion on winter and why the seasons change. Each of the chapters explores a different aspect of winter. H can read, but this book is a little advanced for him so it worked best if I read it to him. Older elementary school children could definitely read this on their own and do the activities with minimal parental interaction (of course you can interact more if you want!). I decided the boys would like to start with the hibernation chapter because they love to play in boxes. We talked about which animals hibernate and discovered many new facts. Did you know that some amphibians freeze solid under leaves on the forest floor? Or that the word for reptile hibernation is brumate and they do this by letting their bodies grow cold which means their hearts beat only once every few minutes? Fascinating stuff!

The boys had great fun with the activity. Contrary to what most people believe bears don't hibernate in big caves. They hibernate in spaces that are just barely big enough for them to fit inside so it acts as insulation. So the boys and I found a box for them that they could barely fit. Then they each wanted a box and flashlights and played hibernation on and off all day. The boxes were destroyed by the end of the day! I'm looking forward to teaching the other chapters and doing the activities during the upcoming no school days. I know they will LOVE the chapter that involves making ice cream. This is such a great book I've decided to give it and other Nomad Press titles as Christmas gifts. Wish me luck in my teaching endeavor!

I did not receive compensation for this post. I received a product sample to facilitate my review.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What do I get my FIL for his birthday: Wikets Search Feature

I have run out of ideas on what to get my father-in-law for his birthday. Past birthdays and Father's Days we've gotten him belts, shirts, nature DVDs, golf balls, and even a large screen LCD TV for his 60th. I don't want to get him something we've already gotten him so I am getting a bit desperate since his birthday dinner is on Friday. (He doesn't read my blog so writing about it here won't ruin the surprise.) If only he were on Wikets, then I could figure out what he likes (that I could afford). I actually don't like the Amazon wishlist because when someone buys me something off the wishlist, it means they didn't have time to think about what I would want on their own. With Wikets, you can see what your friend likes and get him/her something similar. You can look at their recs and even search by category either from their profile page or through explore.

Beyond the gift idea, maybe you really trust your friend's opinions on something or know that you guys have similar tastes. I have to admit, seeing that Barney Greengrass was one of the alpha testers of Wikets made a huge impact on my decision to sign on to the project. BARNEY GREENGRASS! Anyone who loves deli food in NYC knows who I'm talking about. Barney Greengrass is THE place to get bagels and lox on Saturday mornings on the UWS. Just seeing his name made images of my NYC life flash before my eyes. And I could now see what he likes through Wikets! He's actually a descendant of the Barney Greengrass that is the restaurant's namesake (the deli is over 100 years old), but he still has connections to the NYC restaurant scene that would make any foodie green with envy. So of course I trust his restaurant recs. Meaning, the next time I'm in NYC I will be trying one of these restaurants that I found through this Wikets search!

But that still doesn't help me with my current dilemma. I only have three shopping days before the dinner. What can I get my FIL that is not hackneyed and overdone? I thought I had the best idea ever when I saw a book on Amazon entitled Best American Poetry 2011. MY FIL is a published poet in Korea and I know he also reads poetry in English. But then I read the reviews, which were not so good. I don't want to give him something that he would just put aside as not being up to par. Making him something with the grandkids photos on it has already been done and there are only three days left anyway! If you have a suggestion on what I can give a golf-loving poet, please share. Better yet, rec it on Wikets and I can buy it and get us both points!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My link to Steve Jobs: Connecting the Dots to Wikets

After Steve Jobs passed away, like so many other people I listened to his famous Stanford commencement address. Something he said resonated with me, "Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

Ever since I started blogging I've wondered on more than one occasion why exactly I was blogging. At first it was to record my life and times as a SAHM but then it seemed to take on a life of its own. When I started, one of my good mommy friends who was also a blogger told me that the LA Moms Blog was looking for writers at the time. Once I joined the SV Moms syndicate (now a part of Technorati), I was invited to all sorts of blogger events. The boys and I had great fun at these events; I met a lot of fabulous women and learned about the blogging world. But my motivation in blogging? It wasn't to become the next Dooce or STLMommy or Momfluential. I had no ambition to crush the world of mommy blogging. It was an education, but to what end? And then this past August, a couple of days after BlogHer, it all sort of came together.

One of my best friends told me her husband was launching an iPhone app and he needed someone to work with him to reach out to women bloggers. I told him that I wasn't an expert by a long shot, that I only knew just enough to call myself a blogger without embarrassment. I heard his pitch and the app seemed interesting. Even though this man had driven me to the hospital when I was in labor with R, that alone would not have been enough to convince me if I didn't see value in the project. After all, I didn't spend all those years valuing companies for corporate M&A transactions for nothing. I took the plunge and signed on as a consultant to Wikets. It was only after I read the words from Steve Jobs' speech that I realized that the dots had connected. Since then (which in tech time seems like ages ago), I've been working on this project that launched last night at midnight. Of course, the connection to Steve Jobs is also made complete by the fact I'm working on an iOS app.

Wikets is the first social mobile commerce application designed to enable anyone with a mobile device to share their best recommendations for products and places with people they trust. For launch it has been designed for the iPhone (iPad users can also download it but will be using the iPhone interface), but it will become available to other platforms down the line. It's like Twitter in that there is a feed that shows a certain number of characters per rec. But unlike Twitter, that rec can expand out to a mini review that captures more of what someone has to say about a certain product or place. Also unlike Twitter, Wikets is designed to be about your social community; you follow only the people whose recs you trust.

What made it compelling for me was that I would have my friends available to me at all times via their recs. How many of us have wondered what a friend would recommend for something at the very last minute? Like you land in Austin or you're at Best Buy and you want your friend Corey to tell you where to eat or what computer to buy and the timing doesn't make sense for you to call/text/email/FB Corey. Well, if you and Corey are both on Wikets, you can just look up Corey's recs! A couple of weeks ago, I had to buy a present for Stewart's niece who was turning 7. It was near midnight, when I do all my shopping online, and I thought, I wish I could ask Nellie, my friend with the 7 year old daughter, what she would recommend. Of course, she lives on the East Coast so it was 3 AM her time and there was no way for me to ask her since I had to buy the present at that moment in order for it to get to Stewart's niece on time. If I could have found her recs on Wikets, that would have been perfect!

What makes this app so great for busy moms is that you can store all your favorite things in one place. Unlike some of the other apps that have recently launched, it's not about rating the most delicious dishes on the planet or finding the most beautiful things on the internet and getting someone to notice that you found something extraordinary. Wikets is a way for us to share our favorite kid-friendly places, doctors, toys, books, music, snacks, and anything else with each other to make our lives easier and better. For the product recs, it even comes with the ability to buy those exact things through our phones to save us time. So if someone finds a great deal on diapers on Amazon and recs it, you can buy through the app and get it right then instead of going to your desktop or going to Amazon through your phone's web browser.

And, wait for it, the best part of the app is that you get something out of it every time you use it! Making a rec and re-recing/wishlisting someone's rec come with points. One point for each action. Then if someone buys through your rec, you and that person get the amount of points for the sale price that the product. 2500 points = $25 gift card! So when you are playing the mom waiting game those times when your baby falls asleep in the car, you're outside the school to pick up the kids, or you're standing on the sidelines at soccer practice, you can make recs and get points that will ultimately get you something that you can use to buy something for yourself. I like it because it's something that's easy and fun that I can do in as many minutes as I have. I get to read my friends' recs and re-rec or wishlist if I'm not up for making recs myself, but if I have a little more time then I can make recs that are related to what I'm doing or not. I made this rec at the Grove last weekend because I saw the restaurant and remembered the great breakfast I had there, even though I wasn't eating there that day.

So if you are open to trying a great new app on your iPhone or iPad, use the promotional code "randommommy" for 200 bonus points when you sign up for Wikets. It's free and it's available at the app store right now. I will be blogging the rest of this week about more features of Wikets so come back to learn how to maximize the app and your points!

I was not compensated for this post. I am a consultant to Wikets as their blogger outreach manager but the opinions in my blog are my own.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

From Left to Write: Lost Edens

In Lost Edens, author Jamie Patterson struggles to save her marriage which may or may not be already over. Keeping her attempts a secret from her family, she attempts to mold herself into the wife her husband wants her to be. As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book for review. You can read other members posts inspired by Lost Edens by Jamie Patterson on book club day, October 27 at From Left to Write.

After reading this book, I was really happy that Jamie was able to leave her husband and get a divorce. I don't think that sentence is a spoiler because she wouldn't have been able to write this true story if she were still with the abuser. After reading it, I wanted to find her husband and get revenge for her. Visions of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill were the first thoughts to pop up. But as the saying goes, the best revenge is living well, which Jamie seems to be doing. I am really happy for her.

Reading the book made me think of a close friend who needs help. She is an adult who has withstood years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her father. Her father has called her stupid, dumb, all sorts of hurtful names. He's screamed at her for being overweight and once ripped a cookie out of her hand because she didn't stop eating it fast enough. During her childhood years he threw things at her, but now his abuse is mostly verbal and manipulation through guilt trips. I want to tell my friend to quit her father. A man who does that to a child is NOT a father, he's a sperm donor. Of course, it's not my place to tell her to do that, so all I can do is support her until she can come to the realization that she needs to be free of him.

A battered spouse without children can leave her spouse and break off all ties. But what does a battered child do--especially if the abuser also abuses the other parent and the other parent is unable to leave? My friend wants to maintain her relationship with her mother. If she doesn't answer the abuser's phone calls and doesn't comply with his wishes, he blames the mother and takes it out on her. So she feels like she's stuck. She also thinks that her father has a mental illness stemming from a long-diagnosed hormone disorder, which he won't seek treatment for because he doesn't he doesn't have medical insurance. So what can she do? When she tells me what is happening to her, I get so angry and want to call the police. But what would I tell them? That an old man is badgering his grown daughter? If she were under the age of majority, there would be help out there for her. But since she's an adult, the state no longer has the ability or desire to intervene.

A lot of what is going on is cultural. My friend is Asian. The Confucian society of her background places filial piety as one of the first virtues of their culture. The father-son relationship is one of the five human relationships that define all of life. To be a good son or daughter is a value that is instilled from the very beginning of life. There is a joke(?) that goes something like, if your mother and your wife are drowning, who would you save? The answer is obviously your mother because you can always get a new wife. People think that they lose stature if their neighbors think that their children are not treating them right. If a parent commits suicide, it is because the children did not do their duty. My friend is carrying the weight of all this cultural expectation on her shoulders as well as her love for her father in her heart. My friend, if you are reading this, know that I feel so sorry for what you are enduring. I hope things change for you soon. You are a good daughter. You are the BEST daughter.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Technology as Friend: HTC Rhyme Review

Stewart will tell you that technology is not my best friend. I once tried to get the wireless router at my in-laws house to work so I could watch a bar exam review lecture and managed to bring down the entire system. I had a smartphone for work but didn't use the data feature for a year and a half because I was scared that I would break it. Even something as simple as scanning a check to deposit it online has been something I've been avoiding for some time. But as my mid-life crisis age approached, I've decided that I need to be more adventurous and find my inner tech geek. I downloaded skype and talked to Stewart while he was working in France. I signed up and started reading Mashable. Then when HTC contacted me to review the new HTC Rhyme (available only through Verizon), I signed up to do it because I did not want to simply be comfortable with my old people phone!

The first thing that made me like the phone was that it came in PURPLE. I have long been a lover of all things purple and having a purple phone, even for a little while, to match my purple purse and my purple pea coat was fabulous! When I turned on the phone, one of the first things I noticed was that the screen is bright and vivid. The 3.7” size is more than adequate to allow you to watch video or a quick clip on Youtube without feeling a pressing need for more space. The slick user interface known as “HTC Sense” is an added layer of software that actually enhances the user experience. It allows for quick access to your camera, contacts, friend updates, and any multimedia you might have, and more importantly, doesn’t appear to bog down the operating system or performance in any way. The 1 gigahertz processor readily handles all the tasks that I’ve asked of the phone, including streaming video, without much of a hitch.  This phone doesn’t have access to 4G, but 3G seems to handle all the data requirements I’ve asked of the phone.

I’m pretty impressed by the quality of the camera (5 MP 28mm f/2.2 camera with auto focus and power LED flash).  Outdoor shots look beautiful with vibrant colors.  Indoor shots tend to require more light, but in the right settings, can do the job. The HTC Rhyme takes much better indoor photos than my old people phone. There is an added LED flash in the back of the phone which does provide some additional light when needed. H had fun with the HD 720p video recording feature. The phone comes with 4 GB onboard memory, 768 MB RAM, and 8 GB microSD pre-installed so you can take a lot of photos and video before you have to download to your computer. (The photo on the left was taken with the HTC Rhyme.)

The primary operating system, Android Gingerbread 2.3.4 feels more polished that previous versions of Android. Among my favorite apps that come with the phone is the Google Maps Navigation, which I’ve found to be the most accurate and easy to use GPS systems. That reason alone is almost compelling enough for me to select Android over iOS, which doesn’t not come with a native GPS system.  Sure you can download one on iOS, but I recently had a melt down when Stewart told me to use it and I couldn't figure out how.

I like the fact that the phone comes with great accessories. When you open the box, you’ll see the Tangle–Free Headphones, a multifunctional Docking Station, and the Charm Call Indicator. When your headphones are in the bottom of your purse, they have the tendency to get so tangled up you just decide to forego untangling them and put the speaker on low. The HTC Rhyme’s Tangle–Free Headphones remain untangled, despite the jostling you put them through so the person working out next to you won't get annoyed. It also comes with a multifunctional Docking Station, which is a charger, an alarm clock, and external speakers for your Rhyme phone. For some reason, the alarm clocks in hotels hate me and I can't figure them out. With the docking station, I wouldn't have to anymore! And what mom hasn't missed a call or text because you can't hear the call or notifications over the chaos of a playground playdate? The Charm Call Indicator dangles discreetly from your bag or purse. The Charm illuminates whenever you get a call or text, so nothing or no one goes unnoticed.

I have to return the phone next week so that ends my purple matchy-matchy ensembles. I'm glad I had a chance to be one of the hip next generation phone people! Thanks HTC for expanding my tech horizons.

I was not compensated for this review. I was provided the HTC Rhyme to test for a two week review period. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Freschetta Proud to Support Pink GIVEAWAY

If weren't aware of the meaning of all the pink ribbons in the supermarket, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States, other than skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), an estimated 192,370 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed among women in the United States this year. An estimated 40,170 women are expected to die from the disease in 2009 alone. Today, there are about 2.5 million breast cancer survivors living in the United States.

As a member of the Freschetta Fresh Connection Community, I'm happy to share information about how Freschetta is doing its part to support breast cancer research. From September 25th-October 31st when you purchase specially marked-packages of Freschetta pizzas and Artisan Pizza Crusts you will be helping the company reach its goal of a $50,000 donation to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Specially marked packages are printed with codes that you can enter at the Proud to Support Pink website. For each code entry, $1 will be donated to this center to support breast cancer research. The site also has a place for people to share their breast cancer journey or the journey of a friend or loved one. 50 pink iPod Shuffles will be given away each week in October as part of a giveaway on the site with an additional 50 pink iPod Shuffles being donated each week to four cancer centers for use by breast cancer patients during treatments.

To encourage Random Mommy readers to check out the Proud to Support Pink website, Freschetta is offering a fun giveaway of a coupon to try any Freschetta pizza and two pairs of Freschetta Proud to Support Pink earphones--one pair for you and one pair for you to share with an IRL pal or family member as a reminder of proactive health. I will also pick two additional winners to receive the earphones I received from Freschetta!

HOW TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:  Contest period runs from Thursday, October 6th, 2011 at 12:01 AM (Pacific) until Friday, October 14th, 2011 at 11:59 PM (Pacific). Enter by leaving a comment on your favorite type of pizza, and leave your e-mail address OR sign in to comments using your Blogger ID, making sure your Blogger profile is public and includes your e-mail address.

Bonus Entries (leave a separate comment for each entry, it counts if you've done any of these so leave a comment for each one)
1) Follow me on Twitter
2) Tweet this contest and leave the tweet url (once per day)
3) Follow my blog with Google Friend Connect by clicking on the sidebar
4) Like Freschetta Pizza on Facebook
5) Follow Freschetta Pizza on Twitter

If you don't leave a qualifying comment and your e-mail address or public Blogger profile, your entry will be disqualified. I reserve the right to extend the contest period. At the end of the contest period, I will utilize Random.org to randomly choose the winners. The winners will be contacted by e-mail and will have 72 hours to respond to my e-mail. If the winners do not respond within 72 hours, the prize will go to the next place winner as decided by Random.org. This contest is open for US Residents onlyGood luck!

I did not receive compensation for this post. I did review product samples to facilitate my review.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Baking is Back: Pillsbury Cookie and Brownie Mix Review

The boys and I used to bake a lot. From scratch. They love to measure out the teaspoons of baking powder and vanilla and mix up the batter. We especially love to make cookies. This all, of course, was pre-Baby E. Dragging out all the baking ingredients, the time it would take and the mess are just too much for me to handle right now. So I was especially happy when my friends at Pillsbury contacted me about their new baking products. Would I like to try them out? Yes, yes, yes!

We received three products from the new line: cookie mixes in Holiday Funfetti and Perfectly Pumpkin flavors and a family size brownie mix in dark chocolate. I didn't specify which flavors we wanted so it was as if Pillsbury read our minds as to what would be a good fit for us. R LOVES sprinkles, one of the few flavors that H would tolerate in sweets is pumpkin, and Stewart will only eat dark chocolate. We were so excited we decided to try the pumpkin cookie and brownie mixes out as soon as we received them!

H&R had a great time mixing everything up. Since the mixes don't require many more additional ingredients, just butter/oil and egg, it didn't create much of a mess. I really liked the fact that the cookie mix asks for butter. I don't like the way that refrigerated cookie dough cookies taste because they don't use butter to make the dough. The box gives the consumer the choice of whether they will use butter or some alternative. You could go super healthy and even use something like Benecol! The boys tasted the cookies as soon as they were out of the oven and cooled down enough to touch. When H likes something, he says, "MMMM..." When he doesn't, he immediately makes a gagging sound and runs to the trash to spit it out. No gagging sounds here.

The brownie box says "13x9 Family Size," and it really did fill the entire 13x9 pan. Usually when I buy brownie mixes they only fill a 9x9 pan and then I feel like I have to buy two because Stewart can eat an entire 9x9 pan by himself in one sitting. The box actually delivered on its promise. I later checked out the baking aisle at the supermarket and no other brownie mix makes this claim. And the taste? They were delicious. They didn't have the overpowering, cloying taste we've found with other mixes so this is definitely one I will buy again. I had to stop the boys from eating them because we wanted to share them with our church community group the next day. The boys were really proud that they had made the treats. Both brownies and cookies were a huge hit and every last one was eaten! 

From September 21 through November 30, 2011, fans of Pillsbury baking mixes, frostings and flours can visit the Pillsbury website to enter the Pillsbury People Celebrate More Photo Contest. Fans are asked to submit a photo capturing an everyday family celebration, plus a brief description (200 words or less) describing the moment and how the family experience made them feel. Ten finalist photos and captions will be chosen and posted on the site for a nationwide online vote to help decide the winner beginning in January 2012. The winner will also be invited to the ultimate hometown celebration for the Pillsbury Doughboy’s birthday this spring in Celebration, Florida. The Random Mommy family will be entering!

If you are looking for an easy way to bake, with or without kids, cookies and brownies that have a more authentic from-scratch taste, the Random Mommy family suggests you try out Pillsbury baking products. Next time you're at the supermarket, look out for the new flavors:
  • Mocha Fudge and Dark Chocolate Pillsbury Brownie Mixes
  • Pillsbury Cookie Mixes in Chocolate Chip,Chocolate Funfetti and Sugar Cookie 
  • Sugar-Free Moist Supreme® Cake Mix in Classic Yellow and Devil’s Food
  • Sugar-Free Brownie Mix in Chocolate Fudge and Milk Chocolate
  • Pillsbury Sugar Free Creamy Supreme®Frosting in Chocolate Fudge and Vanilla  
Thank you Pillsbury for a fun-filled afternoon of baking!

I did not receive compensation for this post. I received product samples to facilitate my review.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

From Left to Write: Cleopatra

In Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff digs into the history books to share with us who the true Cleopatra was. As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book for review. You can read other members posts inspired by Cleopatra: A Life on book club day, September 27 at From Left to Write. I need to emphasize this post is not a review of how well the book was written, but simply thoughts springing from what I learned from the book.

I didn't really know much about Cleopatra before I read this book. I had this vague notion that she died tragically but I had no idea at what age or why. I think like most people my age or older, if someone mentions Cleopatra, I immediately think of Elizabeth Taylor (need to watch that movie!). I learned from the book that Cleopatra was 39 years old when she died, having ruled Egypt for 22 years. During her life, she committed all sorts of atrocities to stay in power, but she also enjoyed peace and prosperity in her realm for the most part, unlike any previous Pharaoh. She is one of the earliest examples of a working mother who reached the pinnacle of success in her profession. But how her life ended makes me really angry.

Instead of facing utter humiliation by walking down the streets of Rome in shackles as a prisoner of war, she chose to kill herself. Sorry, but to me that erases all the incredible things she did during her rule and makes all the things she had done utterly meaningless. At this stage in my life I need inspiration from history and today on how to be a good mom, whether that be a good working mom or a good stay-at-home mom. Killing yourself and leaving four children behind, three of them under the age of majority, is not being a good mom. Even a bad mom is better than a dead mom. H&R have both told me that I'm a bad mom on many occasions but when I offer to let them exchange me for someone else, they don't take me up on it (most of the time).

Being a mom of three young children, I am constantly reminded of how fragile they are and how much love they need. Because I chose to bring them into the world, I have a sense of responsibility that I need to take care of them. Yes, it's true, as a leader Cleopatra suffered the ultimate defeat of losing the sovereignty of her nation to another. But she still had her responsibility to her children. If she had stayed alive, who knows, perhaps she would have found a way to save her son Caesarion, instead of his life being cut short at the hands of Octavian. Because of her selfish act, her three younger children became orphans and were raised by her lover's wife. I can't help but feel sorry for those kids--if they ever wondered why they weren't enough to keep their mom from killing herself.

Yes, I'm judging this woman harshly and she may have acted within reason in the world she inhabited. But when I look at my newborn daughter and I feel the love just surging out of my heart, I just can't understand how any parent could commit suicide and leave their baby. Yes, sometimes it's difficult and some people truly can't cope with life, but there is help out there. If you're a parent and you need to get healthy mentally or financially or overcome substance abuse before you can be a parent, there are resources that can help you and your child. Even if the best decision for your child is that you give your child up for adoption, don't end your life and leave that child with a lifetime of unanswerable questions. 

When you have a child, you lose the right to do whatever you want all the time. No more late nights at the club, drinking with your buddies till dawn. If you have school age children, you can't just take vacation whenever you want (unless you home school, of course). You can't spend your (or your spouse's) entire paycheck on designer clothes and handbags and meals at celebrity chef restaurants. And you can't kill yourself! That's just my opinion and, I'm sure, not the takeaway that Ms. Schiff intended with this biography. I plan to reread this book in ten years when I'm at a different life stage. Hopefully by then I will be a good mom.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Homework Needed: ClickN Kids Review

H has been in public school kindergarten for two weeks now and I'm conflicted. If you've read my latest post on Technorati, you know that I have reservations about whether to move our family to another school district. The first week, H's homework assignment was to write his name. He's been writing his name for three years! The second week, his homework was the letter A. One of the pages had him draw lines from the top of the page to the bottom of the page. I could see that he was not going to learn anything anytime soon. I had asked the teacher what was required to move him up to first grade. She said that he would have to be evaluated by everyone in the school, including the district psychiatrist. I knew that meant it was not going to happen.

Last night was back to school night at H's school. I was hoping that I would learn in the presentation that things would pick up quickly and he might start to be challenged soon. Unfortunately I didn't hear anything that disabused my notion that H would not be learning anything this year, at least academically. It's my fault really--I put him in a pre-school that teaches one level ahead so he's already gone through the entire kindergarten curriculum. I put that to the test by having him read the list of 50 sight words I brought home from the presentation last night. He nailed every single one. So what to do? It's either put him back into his *expensive* private school or teach him outside of school.

Thankfully, I recently signed up to do a review of the ClickN Kids online learning products. There are three of them on the market right now: ClickN READ Phonics, ClickN Spell, and  Looney Tunes ClickN READ Phonics. H has been going through the lessons for a couple weeks now and it's definitely helped him keep up his skills and learn new things. In addition to learning the underlying reading and spelling content, the programs are helping him master computer manual dexterity and learn where letters are on the keyboard.

ClickN READ Phonics teaches the entire kindergarten to 3rd grade phonics curriculum taught at US public schools through 100 interactive cartoon animated online phonics lessons. Any child can learn English, and learn to read correctly, in a phonics game-like environment that is great fun and easy to use. The phonics program is designed for children as young as 4 years old learning to read English for the first time, older children struggling to learn to read, learning disabled children and even adults learning English as a second language.

All phonics lessons begin in the Letter Sound Chamber. The onscreen teacher, "ClickN KID", gently guides your child through interactive phonics sound exercises as they learn to read. Children learn all of the letter sounds and their corresponding letter shapes required for reading mastery as well as spelling and keyboarding skills. Each phonics lesson introduces a new sound which is then practiced along with five previously introduced sounds. Next, your child is automatically taken to the Listening Cube which systematically incorporates the letters taught in the first Letter Sound Chamber into beginning, middle and ending sounds in words. Those same sounds are then incorporated into a word blending exercise which teaches your child how to decode the individual sounds in a word and learn to read the sound of the word.

The Reading Room now incorporates the letter sounds and word blends, learned in the first two reading skills environments, into new words and progressively builds your child's ability to read complete English sentences and short stories with ease. Following the Reading Room, your child enters the Speed Chamber where all letter sounds and words taught in the lessons are reviewed and practiced. Your child must make as many correct responses as possible within a user set number of instruction minutes. This environment builds the automatic decoding skill mastery needed to learn to read. H really likes the Speed Chamber because it's a contest against himself.

Looney Tunes Phonics takes the ClickN Read Phonics program and links it to the zany antics of Bugs Bunny, Daffy, Taz, Tweety, and more to enhance children's engagement and motivation to read. The Looney Tunes gang entertains your child and kids will delight in meeting the new character Professor Wizbot, the on-screen instructor in Looney Tunes Phonics, who teaches one click at a time®. The program lesson control settings allow the teacher or parent to precisely match each child's individual needs for motivational content and positive feedback:
  • Full length: Maximum motivation. Features entire curriculum and all entertainment content
  • Medium length: Medium motivation. Features entire curriculum and reduced amount of entertainment content
  • Shortest length: Minimum motivation. Features entire curriculum with extra entertainment content removed
"Entertainment content" refers to the additional animation that occurs between educational modules that is designed to entertain and also reward users throughout the lessons. No matter the setting, the curriculum portions are identical and no educational pieces have been changed. H preferred the shortest length of entertainment content. He actually is a bit afraid of the Tazmanian Devil (maybe it reminds him too much of R?) and is more comfortable with the original ClickN Read Phonics program. I could see, though, how the Looney Tunes platform would be helpful to motivate kids who aren't as interested as H is in the outer space and space travel features of the original ClickN Read Phonics.

Click N Spell uses the same outer space platform as the original ClickN Read Phonics. It is a spelling program for PreK through 5th grade that teaches the 800 most commonly used words in the English language. It is based on the educational research on the use of Copy, Cover, Compare spelling instructional practice proven effective. H really enjoys these lessons and is very proud of himself when he gets a 100% on the quiz at the end of each lesson.

All three programs come with the industry's best progress reports. All mouse and keyboard entries are saved and can be viewed any time from any online computer. The cumulative results report combines all Individual Reports into one easy to understand summary report customized for each user. Parents can see scores as a percentage and compare them to other users and also easily identify the exact areas in which your child may need help and then see the specific lessons to repeat if necessary. Individual lesson reports are shown at the end of every lesson showing exactly how each child performed on that lesson. Reports for all lessons (even repeated lessons) are auto-saved and can be viewed online any time.
ClickN Kids programs are among the World's Most Advanced Learn To Read Phonics And Spelling Software Programs. Guaranteed to teach children to learn to read and spell or your money back! Visit ClickN KIDS web site for more information and free trial lessons for each of the three programs. I'm so glad H has these programs to help keep his mind engaged during this school year.

I did not receive compensation for this post. I received product samples to facilitate my review.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Huggies Little Movers Slip On Diapers Review and GIVEAWAY


We went to Baby E's two month check up yesterday and I was pretty stunned when the nurse said she weighed 15 lbs 12 ounces. I knew that she was big but I didn't think she would weigh that much. Although I should have known since my sister looked at her photo and immediately thought the word "giant." It was all the confirmation Stewart needed to push us past the size 2s and onto the size 3 diapers. So it was perfect timing, I thought, when I was contacted by Huggies to review their recently released new Little Movers Slip-On diaper. Huggies Little Movers Slip-On diaper is the first and only disposable diaper that slides on just like underwear, providing a simple and easy-to-use solution to baby’s kicks, twists and contortions during changing time. The new Slip-On diapers have stretchy sides for quick changes; a close, comfy fit and trusted leakage protection moms know and expect from Huggies diapers; and tear-away sides for quick and clean diaper changes.

The drawback to having a giant baby is that she needs size 3 diapers when she still doesn't move much. So the effort in diaper changing with the Little Movers Slip-On diaper wasn't altogether different from using a regular diaper. The diaper did fit very nicely, though, and I learned that Baby E definitely needs size 3s! The good thing about having a lot of friends with babies is that I knew an 8 month old who is on the verge of walking, meaning she's very squirmy and doesn't like to stay still for diaper changes. I drove over with the diapers to her house and handed them off to her very appreciative parents. They were able to change the baby's pee diapers while she was standing, which she preferred over having to lie down to get changed.

If you have a little one or know someone who does that might want to try out the Huggies Little Movers Slip-On diapers, here is an opportunity to try them out for free. My generous friends at Huggies will provide one Random Mommy reader with a Huggies Little Movers Slip-On Diaper Prize Package of diapers and a $25 gift card to use at any of the following stores that carry the new diapers: Jewel-Osco®, Albertsons®,Cub®, Farm Fresh®, SHOP ‘n SAVE®, Shoppers®,Hornbacher’s ®, Lucky® and Shaw’s®.

HOW TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:  Contest period runs from Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 12:01 AM (Pacific) until Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 11:59 PM (Pacific). Enter by leaving a comment on whether you wore disposable or cloth diapers as a child, and leave your e-mail address OR sign in to comments using your Blogger ID, making sure your Blogger profile is public and includes your e-mail address.

Bonus Entries (leave a separate comment for each entry, it counts if you've done any of these so leave a comment for each one)
1) Follow me on Twitter
2) Tweet this contest and leave the tweet url
3) Follow my blog with Google Friend Connect by clicking on the sidebar

If you don't leave a qualifying comment and your e-mail address or public Blogger profile, your entry will be disqualified. I reserve the right to extend the contest period. At the end of the contest period, I will utilize Random.org to randomly choose the winner. The winner will be contacted by e-mail and will have 72 hours to respond to my e-mail. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, the prize will go to the next place winner as decided by Random.org. This contest is open for US Residents onlyGood luck and have a great week!

I did not receive compensation for this post. I did receive a product sample to facilitate my review.