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.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

H's First Day of Kindergarten!

Yesterday was H's first day of kindergarten. There were no tears or nervousness on H's part. I think I must have had some because I had a hard time falling asleep. Why? Because of all the stuff that I don't know about the system. People think I'm paranoid and tell me that there is no secret parent society in which you learn the secrets of how to ensure success for your child in public school. Most of the time I believe them but then there are some times when things happen or I hear things that confirm my suspicions. Yesterday was one of those times.

We arrived at the school with plenty of time before H's class started at 11:40 for the afternoon kindergarten. At first I was quite dismayed to find a sign on the gate stating that parents would not be allowed to walk their children to the classroom but had to leave them at the gate. This seemed really odd to me--I was expected to leave my child in the hands of a teacher that I had never met to go into an environment that I had never seen? Luckily an administrator came by when the bell rang and said the parents could go in since it was the first day. Then it became clear why only few other parents were grumbling about the sign in the first place. Apparently there had been a meet and greet with the teacher on Tuesday. This wasn't in the school newsletter that had arrived in the mail the previous Friday or in the stack of papers they had given us at enrollment in January. So yes, there must be some secret parent society to which I have yet to receive an invitation.

The teachers (H is in a work-share class where two teachers share the job) said a few words and then it was time to leave. I said good-bye to H but he was unfazed. He's been in preschool since 2 years 3 months so his attitude was that this wasn't the first day of school for him. I left without thinking much of it since I had to feed R lunch, then go to the library and supermarket and make it back by 3:00 PM. My attempt to pick H up on time was foiled, however, when R refused to leave the house after we dropped off the groceries. Why doesn't anyone tell you that the second one may be affected by the first one going to big kids school? I finally convinced him we had to go. We were the last to pick H up and I had forgotten again to bring the bag of "voluntary" supplies that every parent had been asked to bring on the first day.

That night I asked H if he had liked my note in his lunch box. He said, "I didn't know it was a note so I threw it away." Sometimes I try to do the things that a good stay-at-home mom does, like putting loving notes in lunch boxes. Most of the time these efforts go completely unnoticed. I told him that made me a little sad because it had said "I love you. I'm so proud of you." First he said he would read the note if I put it in his lunch box tomorrow. But this morning he said, "don't give me a note. The other kids don't have notes so I don't want a note." Ah, the power of peer pressure (well not actually pressure since they didn't tell him to throw the note away) and the need to conform to be like everyone else. I knew it would start on the first day but I had hoped that it would have been in the form of them shaming him NOT to come to our bed in the middle of the night EVERY night.
Today I had to let him go on his own at the gate and was surprised when I started to tear up. That kid walked away with his over-sized backpack and bag of supplies and didn't even look back once. I'm happy for him that he's made such an easy adjustment to this new stage of his life, but a part of me wished that he had needed a last hug or at least glanced backward. Of course, I told myself to keep it together since I didn't want to freak R out. Plus, none of the other mommies were crying. The need to conform doesn't leave you once you've outgrown the schoolyard.

I'm hoping that the secret parent society will issue me an invite soon. There must be something I'm missing because the newsletter stated that changes in class assignments would not be considered until enrollment had become firm after the first few weeks. This suggests to me that kids do get switched around. But how do the parents know to which class to switch their child and how do they know the differentiating characteristics of each teacher? And how do they know that they have to use certain phrases like, "my child needs more math enrichment" which really means "my child needs to be in Ms. Kim's class"? Next week is the PTO Back To School BBQ--where I will track down the secret society president. The joys of public school.