Category Archives: Review

Best Summer Toy

When summer comes, keeping the kids entertained without allowing marathon TV watching or breaking the budget can seem daunting to near impossible. We have taken many trips to the dollar store as a result and while we do get many fun items, most of the toys do not last the riggers of active children for very long. My kids can break even the most indestructible toys. It seems like they are playing a game called “Titanic” and they are the iceberg.
Thankfully, I have found a fantastic toy that the kids love and is relatively inexpensive. When the neighborhood kids come to visit they love it too, and it provides large blocks of time for me to read without interruption clean.

This wonderful toy is the Gazillion Bubble Hurricane Machine.  It seriously produces a ton of bubbles! For $9.99 plus tax, each summer I can get anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour of the kids playing outside everyday without constant parading back and forth inside the house.  They really enjoy running through all the bubbles and play together nicely in the process.   An added bonus is that the kids don’t play with the machine itself, just the bubbles it produces so the likelihood of it breaking is decreased.  You see I said decreased, because my kids will find a way.  It think it is one of their superpowers.

A strong word of caution, use Gazillion Brand Bubbles and don’t refill with cheap bubble solution. Like many other things it pays to buy the real thing.  I will never be convinced that the generic version of toaster pastries tastes as good as the Pop Tart brand and similarly, not all bubble solutions are the same.  We used up the 4oz bottle that is provided in about 30 minutes and I added some cheap bubble solution from the dollar bin and was surprised at the difference in the production of bubbles.

Also, it does require 6 AA batteries that do not come included.  Either have some on hand or be sure to pick up a pack at the same time so that you don’t have disappointed kiddos.

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I do need to replace it every summer because we leave it out on the back patio all year. The bubble well is open and I don’t want it carted through the house.  After awhile of sitting out in the elements the innards get a bit goopy.   Plus, it collects bugs like a pitcher plant and who wants that mess in their house?  That is just crazy talk.
Bubbles! 012 editedPinAs you can see, this bubble machine works for me and my kiddos! Check out those gazillion bubbles!



Hope is a Wish With a Little More Clout

Hope Card scaled image with wmPin

This little card was a long over due “Thank You” and “Thinking of You” card for a truly sweet and giving lady.  She was married to my uncle but was also my Sunday School Teacher for many years as I was growing up.  She would give us scraps of fabric and lovely buttons to sew and then would read to us the story of Joseph & his coat of many colors.  The sewing would take us awhile and would illustrate the care that it took to make Joseph’s fine coat, but also the care that God has in taking care of us.   Even while I was in college I would receive lovely care packages from her.  One included autumn leaves in contact paper with a magnet on back which lived on my fridge for years.

A few years ago she was diagnosed with a particularly virulent type of cancer and she lost her battle last month.  I made and sent her this card only two weeks before her passing.  She loved hand made and crafty items and never met a bottle of glitter that she didn’t like.  I am glad that I followed through and sent the card, otherwise, she might not have known how much each of those care packages and Sunday School lessons meant to me.

I hope that I can always thank those folks in my life who have shaped and influenced me in this life.


Sixlets – Made in a facility that does not process nuts.

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When you or someone you love has a peanut or tree nut allergy you may struggle to find chocolate treats.  As I was shopping for Valentine’s Day treats for my mom’s treat box to mail to her, I came across Sixlets.  We had a phone conversation about them just the day before because I bought pink ones for baby girl’s upcoming  birthday party.  My mom said she had never seen any so when I found them in the dollar bin at my local Target, I had to add them to her Vanlentine box.  I also bought a bag for Baby Girl because it is safe for her and chocolate flavored.  (Hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right?)

What I found amusing is the wording of the allergy label, “Made in a facility that does not process nuts.”  It was the first time I had seen a label with that particular wording and I read it several times because it threw me off.  Usually, I see “Made in a Peanut Free Facility” or “May Contain Peanuts or Tree Nuts.”  It seemed peculiar to me but it just points out that there is really no standard format for allergen labeling by the FDA when it concerns cross-contamination.  Many manufacturers include a warning that the facility does process allergens but it is not required to do so.  The FDA requires  labeling only if the product contains an allergen as an ingredient.  So for now, I am thankful for all those companies that include allergy advisory labels.

And Sixlets are pretty tasty too!

Confession: My Christmas Tree is STILL up!

Baby Girl hid the Christmas Tree remote in the Advent Calendar!

How bad is it that my Christmas tree is still up?!  A part of me (the child-like part) is reasonably happy and content to have the tree still up.  She says that the tree is so pretty and should stay up all year. Besides, it was so much trouble to drag all that stuff down from the attic and will be even worse trying to put it away.   Why is it that the decorations never go back into the boxes exactly the same way?   The adult (anxiety-ridden) part of me is going crazy and won’t open any of the blinds for fear that the neighbors will see and know!  We normally leave the tree up till Epiphany but that has come and gone, as has my excuse to keep the tree up.

But it is such a pretty tree and I am having a hard time parting with it.  Right now, I am just consoling myself by telling myself and anyone else who looks at me askew when they notice or ask if my tree is still up that I am just breaking it in.

It is a new tree.  I just bought it this November on Black Friday from Sears and it is fabulous!  It is a 7.5 foot Sonoma Spruce Color Switch Plus with 800 pre-strung warm white and multi LED lights.  The diameter is 54 inches at the base and a rotating tree stand although we did not make use of that feature.  The kids however loved the remote control switch which allows for turning on the three functions,  solid multi, solid white, or flashing back and forth from multi to white.  Baby girl loved the remote so much that she hid it from her big brother in one of the compartments of the advent calendar.  We were still able to turn the tree on and off at the switch underneath the tree but one gets spoiled with a remote control.  My only wish for this tree is to have it twinkle white light only or multi light only as well.   It has realistic branches that are soft plastic, not the rough, stringy pieces that you see on most artificial trees (note that the inside does have those for filler but the vast majority are the realistic branches).  I think the bottle brush (2183 PE/PVC branch tips) look nicest.  Overall, very happy with this tree but unfortunately, it will come down today!

Merry January!

Our tree with multi lights on
Our tree with clear lights



The New Starbucks Caramel Flan Latte… I like it a Latte!

Caramel Flan Latte from StarbucksPin
Caramel Flan Latte from Starbucks

First off, apologies for the horrible pun!  It is late and I have been enduring 2nd grade knock knock jokes for a week so my threshold for good humor is dangerously low.

What is Caramel Flan you may ask; it is a creamy custard with a caramel sauce.  If you haven’t had the actual dessert stop what you are doing and head to your nearest Mexican restaurant and order the #10 and for dessert, the flan.  If you are counting calories, skip the margaritas and order dessert, it is that good!  (Unless you are my husband and think that dessert must have some chocolate component.)  Sadly for chocoholics, there is no chocolate in traditional flan.  It is a concoction of condensed milk, evaporated milk, sugar, eggs and vanilla.

I can see how Starbucks was able to translate most of the ingredients into a latte.  I had one the other day from my local Target Starbucks barista.  It was sweet and creamy and had a rich caramel sauce not unlike a Caramel Macchiato.  The Caramel Flan Latte is much sweeter and the barista said that the caramel sauces are different.  It was tasty, rich and nice for something different but it will not replace my two favs … the Caramel Macchiato and the Peppermint Mocha.

So, if you like sweet and creamy lattes this might be a worth a try.  If you have tried it I would love to hear your thoughts!


Shutterfly Photo Cube – New Dimensions in Cool Gifts

Facebook is one of the universe’s newest conspiracies against my time management plan.  I find that in those few moments that I have before running an errand or picking up the kids from school, I have a choice; fold the clothes that are rapidly turning into a mountain on my couch or pick up my iPhone and check on Facebook.    Facebook usually wins.  However, just before Christmas an ad popped up on my feed from Shutterfly; 20% off of Photo Cubes.  I am a huge fan of Shutterfly and have been for years.  I have bought photos, calendars, frames, and phone covers but never saw photo cubes before.  Instantly intrigued, I hopped on over to their website and was so excited at what I found.  The description said that you could take your photos and turn them into a 3 dimensional decorative wooden display.  The example looked great and upon reading further, I saw that one can choose from several different designs.

The photo cube is 4×4 and allows for 5 photos .  The coolest thing was that I could display 5 photos in a compact and unusual way!  I finally had a wonderful display option for those incredibly expensive boutique photos that I had bought the digital images (and rights to reprint them, of course).   It didn’t take long to upload my photos and assign them to a panel.  In no time I had that bad boy in my cart and was ready to have it shipped.

When it arrived, well before Christmas, I was pleasantly surprised.  The cube itself was a bit bigger than I had imagined.  What I wasn’t expecting was the missing 6th panel.  Remember back to your high school geometry class or if that is too traumatic remember your kids building blocks.  For a true cube, there are six sides but the Shutterfly Photo Cube is missing the bottom plane.  It is hollow which makes for a lighter product.  Be aware that the wood is really more like MDF (no splinters, I guess) and the pictures have a photo effect on them that is pearlescent.  Perhaps it serves as a protectant for the pictures or is simply an effect of the lamination process.  Whatever the cause or reason for it the pictures tend to lose some sharpness from the originals.  It isn’t unpleasant but just don’t expect really sharp pics on your cube.

Inside of Cibbit's Shutterfly BoxPin
The missing sixth plane…

The cubes are normally $29.99 plus tax and shipping but like in my case, Shutterfly is known to give discounts and even free shipping.  If you have time to bargain shop before you need your cube, you can always check Shutterfly’s web site regularly to see what specials they have or like them on Facebook  and see what specials pop up in your newsfeed.

I really like my Shutterfly Photo Cube.  It was a great conversation starter during the holidays.  I can see so many great gift ideas for this: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, to document a special birthday or event.  Because mine turned out so lovely, many of my friends and relatives may get these for gifts this year!  For once Facebook may have proven more fruitful than otherwise thought.

My finished project!

Visit Shutterfly and check out the photo cubes!

Pillsbury Gluten Free Pizza Dough Kid Friendly

Yesterday I posted my experience with Pillsbury Gluten Free Cookie Dough.  Today, I will talk about my experience with the Pillsbury Gluten Free Pizza Dough.  When we were nons (a non allergy family) I would make a kick-butt BBQ chicken pizza using Publix pizza dough.  If you haven’t tried it and like to make homemade pizza, I implore you to try Publix’s pizza dough which can be found in the refrigerator case in the bakery. It is more than just a conduit for cheesey, sausey goodness.  The Publix dough is tasty, soft and bubbles up nicely.  Dare I say that it is better than many frozen pizza crusts out there that can taste a bit like cardboard.  In short it is yum, but like 99% of things sold in any grocery store bakery my daughter, who has a peanut and tree nut allergy, cannot eat it.  Those pesky warning lables always remind us that anything in the bakery may have come in contact with peanut and/or tree nuts and we always err on the side of caution.  After buying Pillsbury’s gluten free cookie dough and being happy with it, I was happy to see Pillsbury has gluten free pizza dough.  I made a cajun shrimp pizza with a creamy white sauce and the topping was delicious!  The kids liked the crust especially my non-allergic son but my husband and I were not crazy about the crust.  It was hard on the outer edges and gummy toward the center.  The dough had a sweetness to it that I attribute to the tapioca starch, brown sugar, and rice flour which was somewhat pleasent but the texture was too much for me and I just ate the toppings off the crust.

In all fairness, it may be user error on my part.  I used a pizza stone and the directions did not address the use of one.  Also, the dough is very sticky out of the tub, reminiscent of cookie dough.  The directions instruct you to oil your hands, the surface you roll the dough on and the dough itself.  Perhaps I overdid it on the oil.  The dough warms up quickly and gets even sticker then.  It was unworkable at one point and like normal pie crust, I balled it up and put it back in the fridge to chill.  Perhaps that rendered the death knell.

I might try it again, if I had a coupon.  These gluten free products are not cheap…they run in the $4.00 – $5.00 price range depending on your region and store for a 15oz tub.  I would not use the pizza stone this time and I wouldn’t re-chill the dough which means I would need to work quickly.  Like I said, the kids enjoyed it and that would make it worth it.  Perhaps mini pizzas for the kids would be a fun way to go.

It is worth a try and perhaps you’ll have better luck with it.  If you try it, let me know how you like it!

Pillsbury Gluten Free Guilt Free too?!

It seems that now in virtually every Wal-Mart, Publix and Kroger one can find gluten free items in the most mundane of grocery stores. Our favorite and most trusted companies have begun manufacturing gluten free products for our ease and enjoyment, like Pillsbury’s new gluten free chocolate chip cookie dough and pizza dough. This became pretty important to me when my then 17 month old daughter was diagnosed as having a peanut and tree nut allergy. It has been a whirlwind learning experience (that is never over) and requires constant vigilance to read labels and ask questions. I am sure that at times I do look like Mad Eye Moody to our family members, waitresses, and whomever else tries to feed my daughter. What I have learned in the last year and a half is that many times, gluten free can be safe for peanut and tree nut allergy sufferers. This is not always the case so I highly recommend that with all products you must still read the label! With Lydia’s allergies I thought it would be nearly impossible for her to ever eat a chocolate chip cookie. If you or a loved one has a peanut and tree nut allergy then you know that chocolate in most of its normal encantations is made in a factory that also processes peanut or tree nuts. That means no chocolate chips. It was heartbreaking for me. My first word was “cookie” then “dada”. Priorities, I know! When I found the tub of gluten free chocolate chip cookie dough in the refrigerator section at the grocery store my heart skipped a beat and I really think I held my breath as I read through the ingredients and allergy warnings. As luck would have it, there were no warnings and that little tub found it’s way into my buggy and into my refrigerator. I have bought these cookies twice now and am pretty pleased. Are they a Nestle Toll House? Not exactly, but they are yummy and my nephews at Christmas ate up almost a whole batch and never seemed to notice. At Christmas, so much of what is a holiday tradition is not safe for my allergic girl and it was nice to have out a holiday treat that was safe for her and that the nons (what I call us with no allergies) enjoy as well. They can seem a bit grainy but overall the dough makes good cookies. They fooled my very picky nephews and were all gobbled up at Christmas. Depending on the size of your cookies, it makes just over a dozen. I usually use a cookie dough scoop or a tablespoon for drop cookies. My mom baked them this last time and was able to shape the dough into a log and slice the cookies, which gave us a bigger yield. I recommend that you try the gluten free cookie dough from Pillsbury and would love to hear how you liked it.