Friday, July 30, 2010

S'mores Road Trip to BlogHer

Like I have to review s'mores, right? They're squooshy, they're delicious, they're super fun to make...

What's not to love?

Well, I personally don't love the marshmallows (but my kiddos do). I tend to eat them with just the graham crackers and chocolate.

Well, Hershey's is sponsoring the train trip I am taking to get to and from BlogHer this year, and as part of that trip, they sent all of the riders ingredients for s'mores.


My kids aren't strangers to having awesome things appear in the mail, but when I showed them what was in the Hershey's box, this was their reaction:

Seriously. I didn't tell them to do this.
My kids love s'mores. Whenever we go on vacation, some of the high points are always when we roast marshmallows over the fire and make s'mores. Even though we didn't have a fire today, I constructed some s'mores and put them in the microwave for a few seconds to make them all gooshy.

Yum!

My kids were so excited to have s'mores at home.

Jack is a very focused s'mores eater.

Sam is thorough. Here is he licking his dish.

Quinn is kind of a full body s'mores eater.

Hershey's will be holding a "Snacktivity" Suite at BlogHer in suite 4233. They will be giving out S'mores branded bags while suplies last. The suite will be open August 6 and 7 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. All BlogHer attendees are welcome to attend.

Honesty Clause: As part of the S'mores Road Trip to BlogHer, I will receive a round trip ticket on Amtrak to the convention and was also mailed a selection of Hershey branded items (chocolate, graham crackers, marshmallows, and some great marshmallow roasting forks).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cowboy & Wills by Monica Holloway

Warning: If you read this book, you will be reduced to a sobbing mess by the end.

Cowboy & Wills by Monica Holloway is a charming memoir about Holloway's son, Wills, who has autism, and the pets that she buys to cope with the hard times that come their way. The Cowboy of the title is a cute little puppy that the Holloway family acquires about halfway through the book. More on her later.

I'm often a little skeptical of books about autism. I'm not looking for stories of parents who have found a cure or miracle treatment against all the odds. That goes against my personal mission to raise my autistic son as a proud, autistic person. I was happy to discover that this book is not that. Instead, it is a lovely story of the friendship between a young autistic child and his dog.

The book starts with Wills' autism diagnosis and the tailspin it sends his mother into. Holloway manages to describe her love and hard work for her child with humor and self-deprecation. Her acquisition of hamsters, hermit crabs, rabbits, and other small pets is an obvious coping mechanism, but one that I found endearing. I like animals, so it was fun to read about another mom who obviously does as well and who sees, like I do, the joy they can inspire in a child.

There is a lot to love in this book. While Holloway obviously struggles with her son's autism diagnosis, her attitude of acceptance is wonderful. My favorite passage in the memoir comes about two-thirds of the way in as she writes about her son:
"...I wouldn't change one freckle, one misunderstood moment, one tiny piece of him for anything in this world. I would change myself. I would change the things that other people said or thought out of ignorance or fear. I would change so many things, but I would absolutely never, in a million years, change him."
This is the kind of woman I can get behind.

Cowboy is introduced as a friend to her son, one who helps him make friends and experience love. She is not a perfect dog and causes more than her fair share of trouble, but she becomes a vital member of the family.

Not everything is wonderful however. I'm not going to ruin anything here, but suffice it to say that Cowboy is not the healthiest dog in the world. Holloway takes you on the sad journey through vet visits, treatments, and the emotions behind caring for a furry family member who is not well.

I meant it when I said you're going to cry. But if you're like me, you will also laugh and enjoy this lovely book.

Honesty Clause: I received a free review copy of Cowboy & Wills. The paperback version sells for $15.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wolf Trap's Children's Theatre-in-the-Woods

Today I headed out to Wolf Trap's Children's Theatre-in-the-Woods with my 8-year-old, Sam, and my 5-year-old, Quinn. There were two performances this morning: The Maryland Youth Ballet's Caroline Goes to the Zoo and Bob Brown Puppets' Dragon Feathers. We planned on attending both.

I have to say, I was a little worried about how the morning was going to go. I knew that there were two performances, separated by about 45 minutes. I knew we were going to have to walk a ways to get to the stage. I didn't know how my often antsy children were going to react to the performances. I was also a little concerned about time considering I had to rush home to pick my middle child up off of his summer school bus.

I shouldn't have worried. Our morning was FANTASTIC!

The walk was about a 10-minute jaunt into the woods to a shaded seating area in front of a small stage. We had brought a blanket, but didn't need it, as there were benches to sit on. Even though we arrived a couple of minutes late, there was plenty of room to sit. I also appreciated that the venue didn't require silence from the audience. As it is theater intended for children, the performance grabbed their attention. Furthermore, exclamations and comments from kids in the audience were no big deal.

The ballet was wonderful, with dancers acting as different animals. My kids, and especially Sam, were enthralled. After the performance, the company came out and answered questions from the audience. It was lovely.

We had met a friend for the morning, and she was smart enough to bring snacks for the time between the performances. Even though you are only allowed to bring water into the theater area, you can picnic off to the side a smidge between shows.

As much as my kids liked the ballet, they loved the puppet show even more. Bob Brown is amazing. My kids (and I) laughed a lot as he put his little dragon puppets through their paces. All three of us were sad that we had to leave a little early to get home to pick up my other kid.

Quinn was so excited. He ran to find his own stuffed monkey puppet as soon as we got home and told me he wanted to take it to show the puppet guy. Bob Brown definitely has a new fan.


Much as we had fun, I was so sad that my middle son hadn't been able to come with us. He would have LOVED the puppets. But we had so much fun that I think we're going to go back next week when Project Trio presents From Hip-Hop to Bach and Wolf Trap Opera Studio presents Instant Opera! (The following week the Dance Institute of Washington will be performing West Side Story and Rocknocerous will perform.) I also know that we will be checking their schedule early next summer and will definitely attend several of the shows.

Children's Theatre-in-the-Woods runs Tuesday through Saturdays, with the first performance at 10 a.m. and the second at 11:15 a.m. Tickets are $8 each for one show or $10 each for both shows on the same day. Definitely worth checking out!

Honesty Clause: Wolf Trap provided me with free tickets to today's Children's Theatre-in-the-Woods performance.

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Stimey is reading The Passage by Justin Cronin. This book might have been less creepy to read had my power not been off whilst I read much of it. Lights figure strongly in the book. I cannot recommend this book enough. Five stars. Two thumbs up. Must read!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Parenting Anthology: From the Heart

From the Heart is a new anthology featuring stories and poems about parenting to benefit children's charities. You might even find lil' ol' me (Jean Winegardner, a.k.a. Stimey) in there. Following is a Q&A by Beth N. Davis, editor of the book.

Q: Tell me a little bit about this project.  

A: From the Heart is the brainchild of the ladies at Write for Charity.  After finding out that her youngest daughter needed surgery, our chief editor, Beth Davis, felt a driving urge to make a difference in the lives of children, particularly sick children.  The idea of writing a book for charity had been thrown around our office for some time, but she jumped in with both feet to get it moving.

Understanding that writing a book in a short period of time would be an unrealistic task, the ladies went full steam ahead in search of collaborators.  They searched magazines, the blogosphere and writers groups from around the country for the best and brightest writing talent they could find, extending invitations as they went.

After sorting through over 300 submissions over the course of several months, From the Heart was born.  The book is a creative collaboration of nearly 100 different stories and poems from all aspects of parenting.  July 1st was the kickoff to our 90 Day Challenge and we’ve been moving ahead with book sales ever since!

Q. What is the 90 Day Challenge?  

A: The 90 Day Challenge is a book sales drive that represents a goal that we set for ourselves and the collaborative authors who are choosing to participate.  The goal is to jumpstart sales of From the Heart in the first 90 days by selling 10,000 copies of the book and raising a large lump sum of money for charity immediately.

The book is currently only available for sale on our website at www.writeforcharity.com, but it will be available at many other retail locations following the 90 Day Challenge.

Q: Why not make it available through a national distribution channel during your 90 Day Challenge? 

A: We elected to sell the book at www.writeforcharity.com during 90 Day Challenge and wait to distribute the book into bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders and on website like Amazon.com due to the costs associated with a distributor.  By selling the book on our website, we are able to control in house costs, raise profit margins and, in turn, donate more money to our selected charities.

Q. Who will benefit from this project?

A: The desire to contribute to children’s charities has driven this project from the very beginning.  Since the minute we decided to publish this book, we knew that children’s hospitals and juvenile disease research foundations would be the beneficiaries when it came to fruition.  All of the profits from this book will be split between various Children’s Hospitals and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Center.

Q: So, 100% of proceeds from this project go to charity?

A: One hundred percent of profits will go to our selected charities.  Obviously with a project like this, you have printing costs, but other than that, we have committed all of the funds to our selected charities.  Our authors have donated their work, our editors have donated their time and our graphics people have donated their talent.  We are very lucky to have such a wonderful group of talented people involved in this project.  For a list of contributors, visit www.writeforcharity.wordpress.com/the-authors

Q: Tell us something we don’t know about your project.  

A: Well, the biggest thing would definitely have to be the caliber of our contributors.  We have several nationally recognized writers in our group of nearly 80 contributors and many of our contributors have been featured in nationally distributed publications, on popular websites or on television.  Their willingness to donate their work to our cause is admirable and I know that everyone who reads this volume will enjoy their poems and stories.  Together with our contributors, we have begun a grassroots effort to raise funds for our wonderful charities that is growing by the day.  Their eagerness to help get the word out about the book is admirable and we appreciate their support.

Q: What’s it in for me to support this project?

A: The charity situation on a national level has taken a severe beating as of late. Many incidents of run ins with unsavory “charities” have appeared in the media in the past several years.  Many individuals and companies have completely lost trust in those trying to do good work because of a few “bad eggs.”
Many individuals have contributed time and effort to put this project together.  Our authors contributed their work out of the kindness of their hearts and our editor, layout artist and designers all contributed time as well.  Because they believe in the mission behind this project, to help children in need, we hope you will take the time to support us and purchase a copy of the book.  The book in itself is a fantastic product and by purchasing, you are helping a good cause.

Q: How can I support Write for Charity’s From the Heart?

A: There are a number of different things you can do to support the project.  First and foremost, you can click here to buy a book!  On our website, we have the ever popular blog buttons which I have starting seeing crop up all over cyberspace.  You are welcome to download the “supporter” button for your own website if you are so inclined.

This is the first anthology we have done and with the success we are already seeing with it, we know it won’t be the last.  Contact one of our editors at press@writeforcharity.com for more information on how you can contribute to one of our upcoming projects or help to support our current project.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Shrek Forever After Video Game

My kids have been trying out the new game based on the fourth Shrek movie, Shrek Forever After: The Final Chapter, and they love it.

The game is an adventure game, where your character explores, fights battles, and solves puzzles to outwit Rumpelstiltskin. You can play as Shrek, Fiona, Donkey, or Puss in Boots, with the option to switch to another character by pressing one button at any time during the game.

The game is pretty easy. My eight-year-old finished the game in just a few days, which surprised me. I thought it would be longer. He is more than pleased to replay it, however.

The game has a fun little sense of humor, much like the movies, and keeps players entertained. For instance, the character that reads the subtitles (which is something I highly approve of because it lets non-readers follow along), is some sort of German pig. I'm sure if I were a bigger fan of the movies, I'd know who he is. He amuses me nonetheless.

The game also uses some of the pop songs from the movies to make the battle scenes more energetic. It's fun.

My favorite feature of the game is that four people can play, provided you have controllers for all of them (in the Wii version, which we played, you need a nunchuck for each player as well). Second, third, and fourth characters can pop in and out at anytime with the touch of a button. I love this because all three of my kids can play at the same time.

Another great feature is that it auto saves at certain points in the game, so you don't have to worry about it.

My kids all liked it, and it was entertaining enough for my 8-and-a-half-year-old, yet still easy enough for my five-year-old. When I asked the older kid what he liked about it, he embarked on a fifteen minute explanation about special powers. He loves it.

Probably my biggest complaint is that a game that costs as much as this one shouldn't be so easy to finish. I feel like it should have taken my son longer to get through it the first time.

Shrek Forever After sells for $49.99 (except for the DS version, which is $29.99). It is available for the Wii, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Nintendo DS, and PC.

Honesty Clause: I was sent review copies of Shrek Forever After: The Final Chapter.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Lovin' Scoopful Low Fat Premium Ice Cream

About a month ago I won a giveaway of Lovin' Scoopful ice cream that SoCal Mom hosted on her blog. I was thrilled because, you know...ice cream! I was even more excited because the ice cream is gourmet light ice cream with half the fat and a third of the calories of regular premium ice cream.

But the best thing about this ice cream is that the company, Lovin' Scoopful, gives 25% of its post-tax profits (with an annual minimum of $50,000) to the Special Olympics.

The worst thing about Lovin' Scoopful is that it is not available in the DC area, where I live. So now I have a lot of coupons for ice cream that I can't use. Fortunately, I've since been in touch with the people at Lovin' Scoopful for a column I wrote for Autism Unexpected, and they sent me three tubs of ice cream to try out.

Seriously, you should have seen Quinn's face when I opened the box that came to our door and dry ice smoke billowed out followed by his very favorite food in the entire world: ice cream. It completely blew his little mind.

I convinced him to put aside the ice cream for a few
minutes while we played with the dry ice.

We tested What the Fudge, Oh My Blueberry Pie, and Baba's Butter Pecan Brittle. Even though Lovin' Scoopful is light ice cream, you would never know it when you're eating it. We started with What the Fudge and I completely forgot that it was low fat. It was one of the richest chocolate (and fudge) ice creams I've ever had.

This ice cream is really good, it's low-fat and low-calorie, and you know when you buy it that you are donating money to the Special Olympics through your purchase. That's a pretty cool thing, and something I can totally get behind. Now we just have to figure out a way to get my local store to carry the brand.

Lovin' Scoopful has a thriving Facebook community, where you can take a quiz to find out what ice cream flavor you are. (Evidently, I am Yummy Cake and Cookie Dough, which means I am "cheerful, honest and fun-loving. Your good-natured humor and honest demeanor make people like you. You are an agile and inventive thinker but are sometimes to shy to speak up when a great idea pops into your head." Huh. For a quiz about ice cream, they're not far off.)

I actually have a lot more to say about this ice cream company, which is a brand I could really get behind. Check out my Autism Unexpected column about Lovin' Scoopful based on an interview with co-founder Dan Samson.

Honesty Clause: I won coupons for free ice cream, a t-shirt, and a tote bag from SoCal Mom as a giveaway. Lovin' Scoopful sent me three containers of ice cream to help with my "research."