Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mastermind toy review and GIVEAWAY! WINNER!!!!

Mastermind is a privately owned retailer of high quality toys for all ages based in Toronto. They have eleven stores as well as an online store. I was delighted when I was contacted and asked to do a review, because so many toys seem to be cheap plastic (ahem my daughter's entire Christmas list) or be low-quality workmanship. I've been looking for well-made, fun toys that teach things as well as hold their interest for my kids this Christmas, and I'm pretty sure I've found a new website for my favorites.

They sent a toy for each of my children. Rosey was so excited about her Wobble Deck that she played with it for fifteen minutes before I even turned it on.
Highly scenic batteries not included.
It reminded me of that electronic game Simon (anyone else as old as me and remember this?) where you would push colored lights in sequence - but this you did standing up. By throwing your weight in a direction, you tip the board down so that the colored edge touches the ground. It was challenging and fun! Add to that three different games (match-the-color, speed play, and freestyle) a variety of sounds, and a high-low volume switch (such a nice and often overlooked toy feature!) and we were sold. Rosey can take it outdoors on the porch or on a hard flat surface, or it's small and inside-friendly enough to play with indoors. It stores easily and takes up very little room.

Cass's choice was a Rubic's 360, an update of the familiar Rubic's Cube from my childhood.
Picture from the Mastermind site.

This is a sphere, (inside a sphere, inside a sphere) with colored balls that have to be maneuvered into their proper place. And just like the original Rubic's Cube, this one sounds like it should be easy - and it's not. Cass's Sphere lives in his bookbag, where it travels back and forth to school, play dates, appointments, and errands. He usually brings it out when we're in the car, and flicks and twists it, trying to get those balls into their small cubbies. (So far, he's got two. It's a really challenging toy!)

And now, for the really good stuff -

Mastermind is allowing me to give away a toy! Yes, the winner can pick either the Rubic's Sphere or the Wobble Deck, and they will ship it to either the United States and Canada. Let's say leave a comment here before midnight, 10 December, and on the eleventh, I'll break out a random number drawer (or get Rosey to take one out of a hat) and the lucky person will get to have one of these toys for their very own!

(I would love to be able to guarantee that you'll get it for Christmas. But I can't, really. Presents in January are wonderful things too!)

Leave me your email address, please, or make sure I can find it if I have to go to your blog and look for it.

Full disclosure: I was sent two toys, one Wobble Deck and a Rubic's 360 Sphere. I was given these things with the clear expectation that I would blog about my experience, good or bad. I was not otherwise compensated for this post. The winner of the giveaway will receive from Mastermind either the Wobble Deck or the Sphere, your choice. Mastermind will pay for shipping. You must be willing to give me your name and your actual address to pass on to Mastermind so they can ship your prize out to you.

....And the winner is:

Here are your random numbers:


Timestamp: 2009-12-11 20:54:22 UTC

Number 4, witchypoo! Congratulations! I'm going over to your blog now to leave you a note!

Thanks for playing, everyone!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Clorox Green Works products

Recently I had the opportunity to try the new Green Works Cleaning Line, from Clorox. I was sent laundry detergent and a spray bottle of the Natural All-purpose Cleaner. The first thing I noticed was that the laundry detergent smelled fantastic. Light and attractive, the scent lingers through the wash, the dryer, and even into my kids' dresser drawers!

So now I knew it smelled great. And after a few loads of soccer-stained jeans and mud-encrusted jackets, I knew it worked. It made cleaning my clothes easy - cutting through grease, grime, and dirt easily - and I liked the way it was made with plant-based cleaning agents and essential oils.

I was also sent a bunch of samples and coupons to pass out to my friends - with very positive results! One really liked that it could be used in her HD washer. Another raved about the ingredients - how all the cleaning ingredients come from renewable resources, are biodegradable and free of petrochemicals. And a lady next to me in the check-out line told me that she'd found her four year old son with his nose buried in the towels in the bathroom.

The spray cleaner worked well. The scent was slightly different - oddly more soapier than the actual laundry soap - but it brightened and cleaned my kitchen and bathroom quickly and easily. I would recommend the Green Works line to anyone (and have!) and have started using them in my home.

The Matchstick Company, a Toronto-based PR firm, contacted me to do this review. In return for any of my readers doing this short survey based on your experiences with Green Works products, Matchstick will donate $2.00 to The Redwood Women's Shelter, a Toronto-based safe haven for abused women and families. Survey link here.

Full disclosure: I was sent a box of Green Works products, including Laundry Detergent, Natural Cleaner, a reusable shopping bag, a delicates bag, and a whack of coupons and samples to pass out to my friends. I was given these things with the clear expectation that I would blog about my experience, good or bad. I was not otherwise compensated for this post.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Character Is The Key

Character Is The Key, taglined How To Unlock The Best In Our Children and Ourselves, is a new parenting book by Sara Dimerman. This book is full of examples and exercises, plans and detailed lists, all aimed at showing parents how to exemplify good character and help their children grow and develop into persons that model fairness, honesty and integrity.

Twenty chapters, in fact, defining what to do between birth and the teen years.

I did not like this book, which made it hard to do a balanced review.

While it reads (wordily but) reasonably well and has enough examples and case studies to break up most of the usual self-help monotonousness, I found the book to be written like a textbook with kernels of truth or life-changing quotes in every paragraph. In other words,a book made to be read with a yellow hi-lighter. Which would be great if I was taking a class or wanted a book to keep on the night table to refer to - for the next fifteen years? I find this style of writing - the kind that tries to give talking points every paragraph tiring to read.

I also found the author's use of the word modelling (her spelling, archaic but correct) on almost every page grating. There's really nothing like stumbling over a word to interrupt the meaning of words and your concentration. And then re-reading pages makes me impatient, which isn't very good modelling for my children.

While this book does say many good things about building character in your children and has some tips and tricks that I will try to enforce in my household, (I appreciated the Short and Sweet section and the abundant Online Resources listed) and is worth a quick read, Character Is The Key will not be the parenting bible it tries to be. Instead, I'll sneak short peeks at it every once in awhile and try to be the best parent I can.

I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Character Is the Key: How to Unlock the Best in Our Children and Ourselves and received a gift certificate to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Nestea Viteo

A few weeks ago, I received three cases of Nestea Viteo to try. Three flavours - Fuji Apple Green Tea, Acai Blueberry Red Tea, and Mandarin Orange White Tea. Classified in Canada 'as Natural Health Products (NHP), are defined as vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies, homeopathic medicines, traditional medicines such as traditional Chinese medicines, probiotics, and other products like amino acids and essential fatty acids. Since NESTEA Vitao™ is enhanced with vitamins (C, E) and minerals (calcium), it is classified as a Natural Health Product rather than a traditional beverage.' (source)

So good for you and good to drink. It could only be a win-win.

Well, kinda.

Chilled, all three varieties looked and smelled attractive. The Fuji Apple tasted like fresh, crisp apple juice with a distinct-but-not-un-tasty tea aftertaste that quickly became the favorite of my family. My husband took it to work and declared it better than his usual soda, my children smacked their lips after a hot day at play. Viteo came with us to swimming lessons, on long car trips, and coffee breaks. In a tall frosty glass, it was appealing and delicious.

The apple got rave reviews, the Acai Blueberry Red Tea seemed a little sweet to me (and a bit murky - almost grape-flavoured?) but was great for my daughter, and my husband loved that it had both rooibos and blueberry extracts.

The Mandarin Orange White Tea was a bit of a disappointment. Not quite orange-y enough to seem like orange juice, with a flat (metallic?) aftertaste, not even pouring it over ice in a chilled glass rescued it from being relegated to the back of the pack. The recipe booklets sent with the product, with everything from Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Black Tea Reduction to Red Tea Panna Cotta had me thinking about how I could use drinks to cook with and garnered oohs and aahs and 'why don't you cook that??s from my family.

We were sad when they were all gone and will be buying more of the Fuji Apple Green Tea soon.

Thanks, Coke Canada!

Full disclosure: I was sent three cases of Nestea Viteo to my house for myself and my family to consume, with the expectation that I would blog about my experience, good or bad. I was not otherwise compensated for this post.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Little Stranger

I don't usually read old house/foggy night/things that go bump in the night books.

But I'm glad I read this one, because it sucked me in the first few pages and swept me away with a tale twisting with logic and despair. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters is a swooping ride that begins with an old memory of a childrens tea at a grand house and broadens to encompass a young doctor and the nearly-penniless family that still lives in the ruined manor.

Something is changing the people of the house. Something...strange. The author wends the spell carefully, dropping hints here and there, never giving you too much information at once, always with the scent of something's not quite right rising from the pages.

There was a point at which I had to close the book and go find my husband downstairs, half-convinced that if I looked too closely at the corners of the room I would espy something.

Something -or someone, casting a pale light.

The ending, while tidy, wasn't the firecracker tell-all I expected - but while it wasn't as exciting as I'd hoped, it certainly brought the entire book to a close well and set me back in the real world with a thump.

I'd be interested in what you thought of it!

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

Saturday, June 6, 2009

mom central blog tour

I'm in! I get to be on the Mom Central comes to Canada Blog Tour this year!

What does this mean to you? I get to tell you about Mom Central and the chance to win 1 of 5 Canon PowerShot cameras, along with many more giveaways in the near future.

· Mom Central is a one-stop online resource dedicated to providing busy moms with smart household and parenting solutions.

· At Mom Central, you'll find information on everything from toddler toys and baby-proofing to household finances and green living.

· Check us out here at

The best part for moms - the Mom Central Testing Panel! This is where Moms get to test out the latest and greatest products and services and have their voices heard by companies who care about their opinion. Moms can get involved today by clicking here to register for the Canadian Mom Central Testing Panel. If you sign-up during the month of June, you'll be entered into the draw to win 1 of 5 awesome Canon PowerShot cameras.

Contest is open to Canadian residents only. Contest runs from June 1, 2009 to June 30, 2009. Draw date will take place on July 6, 2009. Winners will be notified by email.

Friday, April 3, 2009

In love with a genie in a bottle (I think that's what he is)

I have always loved Mr. Clean. It works well, is easy to use and just makes your house smell deeply, nose-bustingly clean.

The original stuff was great. But now they've added Febreze. Mmmm. Now my house smells clean and fresh - a hard thing to pass up!

I also tried the new Mr. Clean Power Multi-Surface Wipes. These are thick and readily take on any mess - including counter tops, the top and front of the stove, and even the inside of my fridge.

(I have a lovely new fridge that goes oddly manky at times. But this took care of the smell, and also scrubbed up all the bits and sticky things.)

The Mr. Clean Erasers? Take years of neglect off lawn furniture. They clean walls. They're amazing.

Now, I need to close this and go find ways to use the Lavender and Comfort Multi-Purpose Spray. Mmmm.

Thank you, P&G!

Go here. At the bottom of the page, choose what country you're from. People from the States, there are coupons, and Canadians? There's a great giveaway.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Direct Red, by Gabriel Weston


It's been awhile since I sat down and devoured a book. And this was full-blown sssh I'm reading pipe down kids kind of concentration, full of sighs and irritated looks at my spouse when he asked me questions that took me away from the page. Questions like 'What did you want to have for supper?' Not picky. 'Is Cass going to that birthday party tomorrow?' Uh-huh. 'Isn't tomorrow Max and Ruby day?' Hon, ask her. 'But...' Bear! I'm reading here!

Exploring the de-humanizing and re-humanizing of a resident training to be a surgeon, this sucks you in from the beginning:

I am about to faint. Methylene Blue. Acridine Orange. I have been holding someone's neck open for seven hours.

and doesn't let go. Ms. Weston uses mercilessly taut phrasing to inform about how being a doctor doesn't mean you automatically know what to do in all situations, exclaim over examples of cockiness, and describes how teeth-gritting it is being treated like the token female by condescending male surgeons.

Full of clear-eyed commentary, this was fascinating. The author has a quick wit and obviously cares about her patients - the glimpses she lets us have of her life are amazing and will haunt you for a long time.

Direct Red, by Gabriel Weston
. Check it out.

cross-posted from daysgoby

Thursday, March 26, 2009

dream box

Lately, it seems like my computer time is very limited. Since the unfortunate demise of B's laptop (although a friend is waving his magic wand over it this weekend, cross-your-fingers) I've been sharing the big computer with him.

And then the kids both (both!) clicked in that maybe they should horn in on the action too.

They both use computers for learning at their respective schools, and so we introduced them to PBSkids and other sites that seemed appropriate.

And they love them. And we do responsible limits, blah blah blah, but I'm just sayin' it gets a bit squeezed when I want to work on something at the computer.

And then C figured out one day in school if he typed Transformers into the Google box a page would come up and he could play games. (Much to the surprise of his teacher, who glanced across the room to find he wasn't working on his math skills but racing cars instead.....)

Internet games. Some of which were banned by automatic mom veto, because, my god, have you seen how violent some of those things are?? /rant

But it was clear we needed a program that would suit everyone.

Enter DreamBox. An online Kindergarten thru Grade 2 math learning game that suits both of my kids (a minor miracle in itself) with different games and characters that need your help on adventures. Adventures that can include pirates, dinosaurs, fuzzy baby animals, elves and fairies or lots of other things - your child can choose which characters to hang out with and then complete an adventure with them. For example, Cass had to find the Mama for the crying Baby Dinosaur, and that meant solving problems (I think that was a 'multiples of 10' challenge) and exploring the game area with his avatar. After an adventure ends, they are awarded tokens which they use at the carnival to win prizes for their avatar.

It sounds like many other games - but this one engaged both my kids, had pretty good graphics, and sent me e-mails about their progress. That was impressive. Who wouldn't like getting an email about how Rosemary is learning number groups and did a fantastic job on sorting? It also thrills Cassidy when I print out the certificates that come to my email praising him for finishing an adventure!

DreamBox isn't a free game, but you can sign up for a free two week trial here.

Of course, this doesn't solve my no-time-for-me problem. At all, really. Sigh.

But at least they're having fun.

Ooh, and if you go here you can enter to win three months of DreamBox free!