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Friday, December 31, 2010

Winner drawn in HomeGoods giveaway

homegoodsgiveawayThanks for all the great gift suggestions, you guys are awesome!! We had entries from #2 through #219 for the $50 HomeGoods giveaway, and I used random.org to pick the winner, which was commenter #5.

Congratulations to Kay’s Mommy who said: “My sister in law takes the most beautiful pictures that I could never compare to. Picture frames are always a fool proof gift because I know she always has something waiting for a frame. Your girls are adorable! My 5 year old is also on a fairy kick!”

I’ll be emailing Kay’s Mommy in a sec. Thanks everyone and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Two winners in the Hallmark recordable storybook giveaway

Two winners were chosen in this giveaway, by generating random numbers at random.org.

Congratulations to Becky, who was commenter #98 and said “I would give a Hallmark book with my voice to my nieces who live several hours away.”

And congratulations to commenter #17, Susan, who said “I would love to have our daughter record the book for my mother, who lives in another state.  Last year we sent her a mother's day card with our daughter's voice on it, and Mom keeps it by the couch where she can replay it whenever she wants to hear her voice. But that thing is going to wear out soon!”

I’ll be emailing both winners in the next few minutes. Thanks everyone for entering!! Loved reading your comments.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Review and giveaway: Hallmark recordable storybooks

Does your family have a Hallmark recordable storybook yet? We do, actually we have two. One that we bought last year and one that Hallmark just sent us to review. These books have built-in voice recorders to let you personalize each page and are just the neatest things!

We give the books two thumbs up, and actually plan to buy a few more. They’re perfect for the holidays and make wonderful gifts. You can record your own voice, your childrens’ voices, or (our personal favorite) grandparents’ voices reading these classic stories. My folks recorded The Night Before Christmas for Ro and Ree last year, and when we head to Texas for the holidays, we’re going to have TubaDad’s folks record Frosty the Snowman. That way Ro and Ree will always have their grandparents’ voices reading to them. What a treasure!

Ro and Ree love these books and carry them everywhere. They’re a special part of our holidays. They listen to the stories over and over and giggle and cheer with every page turn.


The giveaway: If you’d like your own Hallmark recordable storybook, please enter our giveaway. Two salsa readers will win a Hallmark recordable book, which will be mailed to you before Christmas. See the full selection of books here. To enter the giveaway, fill out this form:

Giveaway entries can be viewed here. Comments on this post are closed so that all giveaway entries will go to the above form. If you’re planning to do any shopping at Hallmark this weekend, by the way, bring this $5 coupon with you.

The rules: Promotion begins 12/3/2010 and ends 5:00 p.m. (PST) 12/8/2010. No duplicate comments. You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:
a) Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt in the above form
b) Blog about this promotion and leave the URL to that post in the above form
This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.

Disclosure: I was given one Hallmark recordable book in order to write this review. All opinions are my own.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Review and giveaway: HomeGoods holiday gift hunt

This is a compensated review by BlogHer and HomeGoods.

I was recently invited to review the HomeGoods store by participating in a $50 gift-shopping challenge. As a veteran HomeGoods shopper I know that the store carries practically everything under the sun at crazy affordable prices, so the answer was easy: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!!

The girls and I set out one afternoon and breezed into the store.DSC_0276LR

We kept an open mind and figured we’d know the winning gifts when we saw them. Hm, perhaps not the best strategy when the absolute first thing we saw was the BIGGEST LOLLIPOP IN THE WORLD. Ro and Ree screamed and ran over to it hopping and gasping and trying to convince me that they might perish on the spot if they didn’t get this gift.DSC_0277LR

Steering resolutely away from the giganto pop (which I suspect TubaDad is going to get for his sweeties the second he reads this review), I managed to refocus them on our task, and we went on find some really cute gifts. We found some adorable soft, sparkly sugar plum fairies for the girls’ friends (I think their whole gang is nuts about fairies this year).DSC_0282LR

We found an entire aisle of pink stuff – oh the squealing and twirling and leaping. I was laughing so hard I almost forgot to take a picture. Pretty much everything in that aisle was perfect for Ro and Ree’s buddies:DSC_0284LR

DSC_0291LRAnd we found really affordable stocking stuffers around every corner! I may or may not have grabbed a few chocolate snowmen, and one of them may or may not have been devoured already during the writing of this review. There’s really no need to discuss it any further, right?

Let’s see, what else? Oh! We found the best frames and mirrors. I was so tempted to walk out with a wall-sized mirror for my living room (oh man it was gorgeous), but left that one for another shopping trip and picked up a few of these fun, brightly colored iron frames instead. Nice price!


In the end, our $50 gift challenge was met with the following seven gifts:
2 sugar plum fairies: $14
2 Nutcrackers: $18
3 iron picture frames (to fill with pics for the grandparents): $18

Oh, and can you guess who the Nutcrackers are for? Hee. Yes, Ro and Ree each got to pick out a gift for themselves.


One of my favorite things about the store, by the way, is the check-out system. You get in a single-file line, and once you get to the front of the line an automated system calls out the number of the next available cash register. Such a relief for someone like me who ALWAYS picks the slowest line if given a choice. We went to the store in the middle of Black Friday weekend, and the huge line you see in this picture took us only 4 minutes to navigate (yes I timed it). Sweet!DSC_0290LR

If you need any gifts this holiday, head to your nearest HomeGoods and I’ll bet you’ll find plenty of neat stuff for everyone on your list (and you’ll even have money left over to buy yourself a few gifts!).

The giveaway:

You can also enter our giveaway to win your own $50 HomeGoods giftcard. To enter, just leave a comment with a great gift idea for someone who is hard to buy for (I have so many of those on my list!). For more chances to win, see the other bloggers’ reviews.

(Comments on this post are closed so all entries go to the above form. View form entries here.)

The rules:
Promotion begins 9:00 a.m. (PST) 11/29/2010 and ends 5:00 p.m. (PST) 12/29/2010. No duplicate comments. You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:
a) Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt in the above form
b) Tweet about this promotion and leave the URL to that tweet in the above form
c) Blog about this promotion and leave the URL to that post in the above form
d) Read the official rules for alternate form of entry.
This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected. Full text of the Official Rules is available here.

Disclosure: I received a $50 giftcard from HomeGoods in order to complete my gift challenge and was compensated by BlogHer for writing this review. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Psst, want a cool site for Christmas presents? (review of Novica handcrafted art web site)

I always have the hardest time finding great presents for friends and family. I am just not a very creative shopper (unless you’re talking about little girl clothes, hee!). So when the folks at Novica contacted me about a product review, I checked out the web site, was very intrigued, and instantly saw a solution to my gifting dilemmas.

Novica is associated with National Geographic, and they provide a global web site for artists around the world to sell their handcrafted art. They have the most beautiful products, from ceramics and furniture created in the Andes to apparel and ornaments from Thailand to baskets and instruments from West Africa. And each item has a fascinating description of the artist.

I browsed for almost an hour (not even kidding) before selecting an Alpaca Wool Wrap in Brown Tweed from the Andes to review. It was designed by Alfredo Falcon, a third-generation weaver whose life has been changed by Novica. His story is typical of many of the artists.

DSC_9814LR_srgbI’ve been wearing the beautiful wrap for a couple of weeks now and love it!

It’s kind of become my go-to cool weather accessory. It’s warm, cozy, fun to wear in different ways, and SO much more stylish than my boring old cardigans. Now if I was on America’s Next Top model, I’d figure out a stunningly awesome pose to show the wrap off, but I’m just a mama, so the pic to the left is what you get. Smile

And here’s the back view – isn’t the wrap fun-looking from any angle? Thanks to TubaDad for taking these photos, by the way:DSC_9818LR_srgb

Here’s a close-up of the yummy browns:DSC_9820LR_srgb

And here’s one of our littles, who just had to try it on. Can you guess which girl this is?:DSC_9809LR_srgb

The Novica web site is chock full of interesting artists and art that would make a perfect gift (for a friend or for yourself!). If you want a wrap of your own this winter, check out the amazing selection here. They've also got jewelry, corporate gifts, green gifts, unique gifts, holiday items, and even a microfinance section where artists can get loans without interest. It’s just plain neat. And I’m planning to do a whole bunch of my Christmas shopping there.

Disclosure: I was provided with a Novica product of my choice (the Alpaca Wrap) for the purposes of this review. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. No additional compensation was received.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Winner for PlasmaCar giveaway!

Oh my goodness, thank you for all the fun entries in the PlasmaCar giveaway!!! This was BY FAR the most popular giveaway we've ever hosted. Wow. We had over 400 entries (see them all here), with 394 entries in before the giveaway cutoff time. I used random.org to draw the winner, and the winning comment was at 8/24/2010 15:40:21 from ali, and she said simply "RED". Heh.

Ali, I'll send you an email shortly. The winner has 48 hours to respond or I'll have to draw a new winner.

Thanks everyone, and thanks PlaSmart.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Have you tried a PlasmaCar yet? (review and giveaway – now closed)

DSC_7856LRa You know when you see something and wish like crazy that YOU had been the one to invent it?! Well that’s how I feel when look at the PlasmaCar.

It’s seriously one of the neatest toys I’ve ever seen (and boy oh boy have we seen a lot of toys at this house). The PlasmaCar is a ride-on car that magically moves forward when you twist the steering wheel back and forth. No batteries, no lights, no noise -- just pure coolness and unbridled kid power. Wow!

Awhile back, I contacted the maker, PlaSmart, and asked if we could do a product review and giveaway, and they agreed! Whoooohoooooo! A few weeks later, Ro and Ree and I opened the front door to find a big ole box that had us dancing with glee.DSC_7789LRa

On review day, Ro (left) and Ree (right) picked out quite interesting riding outfits (a weird layered combo of PJs, leg warmers, and who knows what else) and ripped into that box, even though I tried and tried to get them to wait for TubaDad (the chief toy-and-furniture assembler in the family).

To my surprise, the girls and I could easily handle the assembly by ourselves. Basically the toy comes in 5 parts (body, two back wheels, front wheels, steering wheel) that easily snap together.DSC_7795LRa DSC_7798LRa

They were ready to roll in a matter of minutes and I just stood back and watched the fun.DSC_7801LRa

Oh the giggles!! They instantly figured out how to move the little cars around. Ree also quickly figured out she could propel the car with her feet and was smug smug smug:DSC_7840LRa

The design of these futuristic cars just makes me grin. Aren’t they neat-looking?!DSC_7825LRa DSC_7829LRa

We’ve had races, time trials, different courses all over the house, and hours of fun, fun, fun:DSC_7860LRa DSC_7864LRa

And, being the twinados, they immediately figured out how you probably aren’t supposed to ride it:DSC_7873LRa

Then we had a house full of kids (8 visiting cousins, ranging in age from 2 to 10) here for a week and those little cars were the most popular toys in town. I don’t think those wheels stopped moving even once. By the way, PlaSmart says the cars aren’t recommended for hardwood floors, and ours did start to show some marks after we had 10 kids riding them inside for four straight days.

The bottom line:

The PlasmaCar gets high marks from everyone in our family, the bigs and the littles. We adore these little nifty cars, and know that they will continue to be popular around our house for years to come. When I asked Ro and Ree for a quote about the cars, they said (almost in unison): “Mama, we YUV them!!!”


The giveaway:

PlaSmart is giving away one PlasmaCar to a lucky salsa reader!! Just check out their website, then leave a comment using the form below telling me your favorite PlasmaCar color. Entries will be accepted from 1:30pm on August 24 2010 until 5pm on August 31 2010. You may receive an additional entry by blogging about this contest and leaving another entry with a link to your post. This giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents only. Winner will be selected via random draw, and will notified by e-mail. You have 48 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected. View entries that have been submitted so far here.


Disclosure: I was provided with two PlasmaCars for the purposes of this review and PlaSmart is providing an additional PlasmaCar to be offered in a giveaway. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. No additional compensation was received.

Winner in McDonald's giveaway #2

I used random.org to draw the winner tonight, and out of 42 comments that were submitted before the close, #25 was the winner:

sunniejane said...
I pledged 120 minutes to chalk with my family!

Congratulations sunniejane! Please email me back and I'll get you set up with your family fun prize pack.

Thank you everyone who pledged time with your families and helped the Ronald McDonald House Charity.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How do you make the most of family time?: introducing the new McDonald’s “Every Minute Counts” widget

This is a sponsored post from BlogHer and McDonald's.

This is the second and final part of our McDonald’s trip review and I’m excited to talk about family time and charity. Y’all know that TubaDad travels quite a bit for work. Oh so much traveling… So when he’s back in town we do the happy dance and make THE MOST of our family time. We’re not picky about what we do, as long as we do it together. Seriously, the tiniest little things make us grin. Like giving each other makeovers with cheap Claire’s makeup the other day. Oh man this made us laugh (and yes, we took the girls out of the house looking like that).

DSC_7633LRaDSC_7576LRaDSC_7591LRa   DSC_7615LRa


We hang out together and do slightly more conventional family time activities too:

  • Traveling at the drop of a hat: say it with me, ROADTRIP!! 
  • Listening to music (lots of tuba, of course), dancing, and singing
  • Playing at parks, amusement parks, or the beach
  • Watching movies
  • Or just hanging out in the backyard or the pool

DSC02204 DSC02545LRLRa IMG_4182LRa IMG_0491LRLRa IMG_0789LRa IMG_4847LRa_anon

Yeah, we enjoy spending time together. That’s probably not a shocker to anyone reading this, is it? Heh. Now, though, there’s a simple way to turn this family time into a charity donation. We learned about this when our family visited McDonald’s corporate headquarters and a Ronald McDonald House Charity® back in June, and were all pretty psyched for them to roll it out. Here’s the deal: McDonald’s has just introduced a new online tool to promote family time and raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities® (RMHC®). Basically, this widget collects family-time pledges. And McDonald’s will donate 1 penny to RMHC® for every minute of time a person pledges to spend with his/her family, with the goal of reaching 1-million minutes. This widget is part of a new national fundraiser the company launched that also includes their Happy Meals. For each Happy Meal® and Mighty Kids Meal® sold in the U.S., a portion of the sales will be donated to RMHC – McDonald’s “Charity of Choice” for more than 35 years.

Now you might be thinking (like me), that a penny is a teeny amount that won’t make any difference. But these pennies and minutes add up fast. Last year, those little spare-change-donation boxes that you see on the counter of every McDonald’s raised nearly $20 million for local RMHC Chapters. Not bad! So make a family-time pledge today, and feel good about spending time with your family and helping charity. Shoot, do what we’re going to do and tell your kids about the RMHC and get them to pledge what they’d like to do as a family.

The giveaway: 

One winner will be chosen to win a McDonald’s Family Fun Prize Pack, which includes a McDonald’s smile tote bag, surprise set of Happy Meal toys, $25 McDonald’s Arch card (can be used for any purchase at a McD’s), McDonald’s Vintage Character T-Shirt, Pen-Buddy notebook, Organic Lip Balm, McDonald’s Stainless Tumbler, and a Just-Give gift card for any charity of the winner’s choice.

To enter the giveaway, pledge family time on the McDonald's “Make Family Time Happy Time” widget (above) and let us know what you pledged in the comment section for a chance to win! (You don’t have to sign up, register, or give any identifying info in the widget.) We’d also love to hear if you have a favorite family memory tied to McDonald’s.

  1. Giveaway opens at 9:00 a.m. (PST) August 11, 2010 and closes at 5:00 p.m. (PST) August 24, 2010.
  2. To get one extra entry, either blog or tweet about this promotion and leave an additional comment with the url of your tweet or blog post (two entries allowed per person).
  3. You can view the BlogHer.com special offers page for 9 more chances to win or to read their awesome reviews.
  4. Check out the full text of the official rules.
  5. Entries/comments must be on topic and not offensive or derogatory.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Winner for McDonald's Family Fun Pack

I've drawn a winner for the McDonald's Family Fun Prize Pack giveaway. We had 139 great entries (thank you!) and the winner was comment #93:

Ashley said...
I like that my son can get chocolate milk which he loves instead of juice or soda at McDonald's.
ashleymcdermott at gmail dot com
August 01, 2010

Congratulations Ashley, I'll email you as soon as I post this. If you didn't win this time, there's one more McDonald's giveaway that opens tomorrow. Thank you everyone for the awesome comments, suggestions, and tips!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

McDonald's family-time happy-time trip: musings, pictures, and giveaway

This is a sponsored post from BlogHer and McDonald's.

Is it ironic that I'm writing this McDonald's Family-Time Happy-Time trip review in a McDonald's restaurant? Heh. Seems a tad ironic to me. It's just that our family has been traveling the entire summer, and this week is no exception. We're up in Tahoe (again) and there is no internet access to be found in these mountains except at the local McD's. Funny. Anyhow…

A few weeks ago, McDonald's invited 10 blogging mamas and their families to corporate headquarters in Chicago and told us to bring every question we had because we would have access to everyone and everything. And boy did we! We got to meet with Jan Fields (President of McDonald’s USA), as well as the heads of Strategy, Menu, Human Resources, Marketing, Nutrition, and employees at every level from every group, it was a fantastic opportunity! You should have seen the mamas and their questions. I loved the fact that we met with Jan in a McDonald's restaurant instead of a fancy boardroom, by the way. I don't know, something about that just tickled me.D3X_9778_(1) IMG_1545LRa

One of the most popular presentations was with "The Chicken Doctor," whose real title was VP of Live Operations and Processing of Keystone Foods. There were SO many excellent questions for him, and I have to say that he faced the room full of mama bears with great humor and answered all of the questions very well. I'll let the other bloggers address these questions, since mine were mostly around menu options (below).

The questions I kept asking:

My wishlist was all about healthy options for kids. The Chicken McNuggets/Apple Dippers/Milk Jugs are a great start for Happy Meals  (they said one-third of the Happy Meals sold are this configuration – and that’s the only way the meals are advertised, which I appreciate), but wouldn't it just be awesome if McDonald's offered a wider variety of healthy options? Specifically, more fruit, vegetables, and non-fried items. I'd love to be able to order any of these for the twinados: applesauce cups, tiny bags of baby carrots or grapes, mandarin orange cups, mac and cheese, mini bags of snap peas and ranch dip, toasted cheese sandwiches, corn niblets, cups of rice, etc. I know that comes as no surprise to anyone since these are featured in so many bento meals that I pack for the kids. The McDonald's execs said they had actually test marketed almost all of those choices and ran into two problems: 1) there are strict choking hazard laws in the US and 2) even though people say they want healthy options, they don't buy them, and if a product doesn't sell, it is dropped from the menu. I can totally understand the choking hazard problem, but doesn't that just mean that some products need to be sliced or cut before packaging? A cut grape must be similar to a sliced apple, right? And we know the sliced apples are currently offered. In addition, and this is one I believe passionately in: there must be a huge monetary worth that would be attached to even the perception that McDonald's offers the widest variety of healthy options of any fast-food chain. Say if they offered five healthy alternatives in the Happy Meal menu -- no one could touch that, right? Some percentage of mamas (like me!) would be ecstatic and would snap these options up. For the rest, just call it an advertising fee, something like the "Get Healthy Eat Healthy Campaign."

Here's what I like:

1. McDonald's restaurants, anywhere that we travel, and we travel a lot (so far this summer we've been to Hawaii, Tahoe, Chicago, Utah, and back to Tahoe twice), are 100% consistent. We know what we're getting, we know what the kids can and will eat, and TubaDad and I know exactly what we can eat there that's on our diets (grilled chicken, salads, fruit and yogurt, eggs, etc.). It's iffy if we go somewhere else, especially in airports or on the road. We're not eating McDonald's every day (is anyone?), but I'd guess that we take the kids there two times a month and easily make healthy choices while we're there.

2. I also reallyreallyreally enjoyed visiting one of the Ronald McDonald Houses during this getaway weekend and seeing the daily operations. Wonderful place, wonderful concept, and it is helping so many families with sick kids. McDonald's pays for all of the administrative costs of RMHC, in case you're curious about the connection, like me. Here’s a video of our group in one of the houses: you can see that Ro and Ree fell asleep on the comfy bus and we carried them in:

IMG_1625LRa3. Pssst: I was grinning big during the sneak preview we all got of the new Fruit & Maple Oatmeal that's being test marketed right now. Yum, that stuff was awesome (which is saying a lot coming from someone who eats oatmeal for breakfast almost every day -- you'd be hard pressed to find a pickier oatmeal consumer) and I cannot wait until it’s available near us.

Here's what the girls like:

1. Chicken McNuggets (about the only fast food they'll eat, before this trip or after – no exaggeration).

2. All of the fun family-time events that McDonald’s packed into this trip. They loved the family bbq, scavenger hunt, paddleboat rental, sensory taste testing, and especially the chance to cook with Chef Dan in a McDonald’s kitchen. Here’s a short video McDonald's made where you can see Ro and Ree and all the kids making fruit kabobs and smoothies (that's me talking in the beginning of the video):

2. "That silly guy" (AKA: Ronald McDonald). Heh. They were so happy to hang out with TubaDad and I (and the other kids and the super-fun McDonald’s kid staffers) all weekend and get to meet the silly dude at each event. Yeah, they're pretty easy to please.IMG_1665LRa

The bottom line:

We're pretty healthy eaters in our family. No surprise there – you can see the kinds of meals I serve my kiddos on my blog. And we take our kids to McDonald's and choose healthy options for them and ourselves every time. I'm guessing you can make healthy or unhealthy choices anywhere that you go, from a fast-food chain to a five-star restaurant. I give McDonald's huge props for hosting a big bunch of mamas and giving us total access to their execs, test kitchens, and restaurants. I learned a lot, they did a great job of listening to our concerns and answering our questions, and now I'm going to click "send" on this review and go order a diet coke and a grilled chicken snack wrap. Heh.

The giveaway:

mcdonaldsprizes copyOne winner will be chosen to win a McDonald’s Family Fun Prize Pack, which includes a McDonald’s smile tote bag, $25 AMC gift card, $20 McDonald’s Arch card (can be used for any purchase at a McD’s), fleece blanket, frisbee, french-fry playing cards, Monopoly Junior Board Game, Organic Lip Balm, McDonald’s Vintage Character T-Shirt, a McDonald’s Stainless Tumbler, and a surprise set of Happy Meal toys.

To enter the giveaway, please help TubaDad and I in our travels and leave a comment letting me know about any healthy options you've found in any fast-food restaurant.

  1. Giveaway opens at 9am (PST) July 27 2010 and ends 5pm (PST) August 10, 2010.
  2. To get one extra entry, either blog or tweet about this promotion and leave an additional comment with the url of your tweet or blog post (two entries allowed per person).
  3. You can visit the other bloggers for 9 more chances to win or to read their awesome reviews. I just loved meeting all these folks.
  4. Check out the full text of the official rules.
  5. Entries/comments must be on topic and not offensive or derogatory.

Good luck everyone! Feel free to leave any questions you might have about the trip or McDonald’s here as well and I’ll try to get the answers.  Thanks!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Standing under the golden arches

Yeah, this is cool. McDonald’s flew a posse of bloggers and their families (all members of the BlogHer publishing network) to corporate headquarters just outside of Chicago and we get to spend the rest of the week getting behind-the-counter peeks, talking with McDonald’s execs, giving lots of feedback, having fun, and visiting the Ronald McDonald House charity.

The girls are just tickled pink, and so are TubaDad and I actually. These folks sure know how to make families feel welcome. Whooooeeeee! More details to come later – all the bloggers will be writing full reviews about our experiences, questions, and feedback (the good and the bad) in July. In the meantime, here are a few sneak preview pictures.

IMG_1478LRPSLR (Ro brown shirt, Ree pink and white striped shirt)


photo IMG_1492LR IMG_1497LR IMG_1501LR IMG_1505LR IMG_1510LR