Monday, October 31, 2011

HEXBUG Micro Robotic Creatures Halloween Party {#HEXBUGHalloween}

HEXBUG logoWhen it comes to all things spooky, I can handle dark, stormy nights, bats, and ghost stories. Scary movies, on the other hand, are not my thing... at least not if I want to sleep for, well, ever.

The other thing that sends shivers down my spine? Bugs.

It's something about their legs and the way that they scurry and move and... blech. Just thinking about it makes my skin crawl.

This Halloween, however, my view on bugs is different. Instead of only thinking of them as creepy little creatures, they've been welcomed into our home and our lives thanks to the endless micro-robotic fun of HEXBUG.

HEXBUGTraditionally our Halloween parties have included games, sweets, pumpkins, and more, but this year we were thrilled to have an extra special addition to our spooky soiree: Limited Edition HEXBUG Nano Halloween Zombie bugs, Glows in the Dark Nano bugs and Habitat Sets.

When the big box of HEXBUG Bugs and Habitats arrived, the kids were thrilled as we peeked inside. Having never seen this micro-robotic favorite before, being introduced to their traditional items as well as their new spooky new arrivals was perfect for Halloween and any dark and scary evenings we had planned.

We put together a table of yummy snacks for the kids, including some tasty Pumpkin Muffins...

Pumpkin muffinsKeep an eye out for the recipe soon - yum!

...set out some decorations, including our Limited Edition HEXBUG Nano Halloween Zombie bugs complete in their own coffins...

HEXBUG Zombie bugs...and put together one of the HEXBUG Glows in the Dark Nano Habitat Sets. We started with a simple triangle of the four curved pieces, three straight pieces, and three hexagon pieces, just to get a feel for the fun of these bugs.

HEXBUG Glows in the DarkBut let me tell you, by the time the party started we had busted out the other HEXBUG Nano Habitat Set as well as the big guy: the Glow in the Dark HEXBUG Nano Elevation Habitat Set.

Featuring 52 easy connect pieces and a multi-level spiral ramp that raises things to a second level, there seemed to be no limit on the variety of customizable playgrounds the kids were able to create. Suddenly there were bugs zipping up, down, around, and everywhere!

HEXBUGHEXBUGHEXBUG Elevation SetThe spiral ramp in the Elevation Habitat Set was a fun addition, as it not only allowed the bugs to move between the upper and lower levels, but watching the bugs navigate it was especially humorous. When they would head down the ramp, they picked up enough speed that kids would "wheeee!" along...

HEXBUG Elevation HabitatThe white blur in the middle is the zooming HEXBUG Nano as it shoots down the ramp at top speed

...and when a bug attempted to make its way up the ramp, it was almost as if you could hear it saying, "I think I can, I think I can," and the kids got into the action by encouraging and cheering them on!

HEXBUG rampYou can do it, Bug! You can do it!

I have to admit that although the party was mainly for the younger crowd, I also became quite a fan of HEXBUG pretty quickly. It's just so entertaining seeing them shake and buzz as they move, all the while watching the kids' eyes light up as they find delight in each colorful little robotic creature.

My favorite part? When two (or more) bugs met head-to-head on the track and the way that they jumped and maneuvered and somehow always managed to squish past each other. It made me laugh every time!

hexbug traffic jamThe kids, on the other hand, couldn't seem to come to a conclusion on what they liked best, as it seemed like pretty much everything HEXBUG entertained them. Although I had been initially concerned about each child being able to "keep track" of their particular bug, it ended up not being an issue.

Instead, everyone took turns with the Nano Galileo bugs and the Nano Mutant Zombie bugs and just had a giggling, shrieking blast with them all. It didn't seem to matter who removed the Zombie bug from its coffin-shaped packaging, all that mattered was that it had a creepy exoskeleton and could zip around with the rest of the bugs!

Everywhere I looked, there were bugs scurrying this way and that and little hands that would shoot out, grab one, and move it somewhere else...

HEXBUG fun...all the while with various conversations about bugs going to school, bugs needing a nap, bugs stopping for lunch - the creativity and imagination was going full throttle!

Plus, even better, we brought some of the older kids into a darker area of the house with a bunch of the bugs and some of the track and they had a great time seeing everything give off an eerie glow.

HEXBUG Glow in the DarkThis was one Halloween party that won't soon be forgotten and I have no doubt that we'll be having friends over to play with our HEXBUG pals more throughout the year. After all, even though they are designed for eerie Halloween fun, that doesn't mean that we can't have a great time playing with them any time of year. I never thought I'd say it, but I have found bugs that I like and enjoy!

Visit HEXBUG online (and on Facebook and Twitter) for information about their huge selection of micro robotic creatures, Habitats and much more. Be sure to keep an eye out at your local stores (such as Toys 'R Us) or on Amazon for most of these unique creatures and stop by Radio Shack to pick up the limited edition HEXBUG Nano Halloween Zombie bugs in their coffin-shaped packaging before they're gone!

(Other than the HEXBUG party pack I was provided by HEXBUG and MomSelect, I was not compensated or enticed to do this review in any way. This review is solely my honest opinion of this website and their extremely fun products.)

Wilton Carousel Cake Set {Review & Giveaway - 3 winners!}

Wilton logo{This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations, gnwg, Rebecca Graham and amweeks!}

Some of my most-appreciated childhood memories are those of my birthday parties. From traditional slumber parties to taking over the roller skating rink, I had parties that were small, large, and everywhere in between.

And even though some of the specifics have grown a little hazy in my mind, one aspect that I will always remember is the cake. Ahh, the cake.

At the time I didn't realize how much effort and work my mom must have put in to make a themed cake for me every year (my initials, a roller skate, a teddy bear, etc) but now I know that it surely took a whole lot. But, really? What's a birthday party without a great cake?

Fortunately for me, I'm lucky that when it comes time for my own kids' birthday parties that I can have a little help making sure that my girls will have cakes they will remember as well thanks to Wilton.

Wilton cake decoratingHelping families celebrate for the past 80 years, Wilton is undoubtedly the industry leader in cake decorating, quality bakeware and food crafting. Whether you are looking for a specific cake pan or just need some inspiration for your next occasion, you'll find everything you need all within a few easy clicks on their website.

But Wilton doesn't just send you on your way wondering what to do with your new candy mold, they are there to help you with any questions you might have while concocting your next creation. No wonder they are known as the number one resource for nationally-located decorating classes as well as providing step-by-step information online and thru their publications to help you make your celebration special with beautiful cakes, cookies, cupcakes and candy.

And for Big Sister E's recent Carnival Birthday Party, I can honestly say that it wouldn't have been as special without Wilton. Not when nearly every guest that came over, took one look and began raving about the cake:

Circus cakeIs that not the coolest Carousel Cake ever?!

Having never worked with fondant or created a multi-level cake before, putting this together started the night before the party with the baking of two traditional round cakes. The next morning my mom and I looked over Wilton's Carousel Cake Set, Rolled Fondant Primary Colors Multi-Pack, Piping Gel, and Star Cut-Outs.

Wilton reviewAdding in two packages of Wilton's Ready-To-Use White Rolled Fondant that I picked up at the store, the directions found online and with the Set made it easy to get started. First, there was the covering and stacking (using the Separator Plate) of each round cake...

cake fondant...followed by easily assembling and attaching the horses, pillars, and tent top. By connecting them together and then pushing the pillars right down into the cake, the whole thing was together and ready for decorating.

white cakeHaving the Primary Colors Multi-Pack of fondant made the decorating much easier than having to mix or knead in colors in hopes of getting bright, vivid results - what a convenient item! Instead, we rolled it out and used a knife and the Star Cut-Outs to make crisp, clean strips, shapes and designs.

colored fondantWith time running low and the party about to begin, my mom did an amazing job getting this carousel put together and decorated. I'm not sure anyone but a professional baker could have created what was shown on the box and, really? We didn't need to. Big Sister E loved it!

creative birthday cakeThere was comment after comment from adults as well as kids and absolutely everyone had to have a slice to see if it tasted as good as it looked.

cut the cakeThe party wouldn't have been the same without this cake! Having never tried something like this before, both my mom and I learned quite a few things along the way in terms of how to work with fondant and just how long cake decorating truly takes. However, thanks to Wilton, our amateur skills still ended up looking pretty dang good!

Whether you are shopping for professional decorating bakeware, getting ideas for delicious autumn treats, looking to learn cake decorating or much, much more, Wilton has everything you need to make your next celebration special. I have high hopes that Big Sister E will always look back and remember the Carousel Cake at her 5th birthday with fondness!

With a retail price of $24.99 for the Carousel Cake Set, I'm looking forward to using this again in upcoming years, as Wilton has already given me great ideas for how it could be used for a princess or cowboy theme and more! And, thanks to their generosity, three people will be soon planning for their next party in style, because...

Three lucky people will win a Carousel Cake Set from Wilton!

Carousel Cake SetTo enter to win: Visit Wilton and tell me another of their unique items that you would like to try.

Extra Entries (available after the mandatory entry above is completed; please leave a separate comment for each entry in order for them to be counted).

1 Extra Entry (per method) if you follow Wilton on Twitter and/or Like them on Facebook.
1 Extra Entry (per giveaway entered) - Enter any (or all) of the giveaways running on Thanks, Mail Carrier for the duration of this giveaway.
1 Extra Entry if you follow me on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway by copying and pasting the tweet below and leaving me the link. Tweet daily for an extra entry every day!

WIN a Carousel Cake Set from Wilton (3 winners!) for a memorable party treat! @thxmailcarrier #giveaway #win

2 Extra Entries (per follow method) if you follow me publicly with Google Friend Connect, subscribe to my RSS feed, subscribe to Thanks, Mail Carrier by email, become a fan on Facebook, and/or add Thanks, Mail Carrier to your blogroll.
3 Extra Entries if you put my cute button up on your blog. Please leave an address where it can be found.
3 Extra Entries if you blog about this giveaway linking back to this post. Please leave an address where it can be found.

Giveaway will end on November 21st at 11:59pm CST. By entering this sweepstakes, you are agreeing to these official rules. No purchase necessary, void where prohibited by law. Do me the favor of leaving an email address or making absolutely sure it is visible in your profile, I have to have a way to contact the winner. The winner will be chosen by and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to contact me or respond to notification or a new winner will be chosen. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and must be 18 years of age or older.

A big thank you to Wilton for providing the aforementioned products for me to review as well as a Carousel Cake Set for three lucky giveaway winners. The opinions shared are my own and honest and if you really need to see more, click here to see how I roll.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Kashi TLC Peanutty Dark Chocolate Layered Granola Bars {Review}

Kashi logoWhen it comes to our weekly playgroup, we've done a wide variety of activities and have met at nearly every child-friendly location around our area. From the zoo to the park to the library to various indoor gyms to our houses... and the kids truly have had fun at each one. Really, as long as they're together and able to play, that seems to be all that matters.

Well, almost all that matters. As well as being free to interact and be with their friends, there is one more thing that is nearly just as important: food.

As we have always met in the late morning, the kids know that the playdate is nearing its end when we stop for lunch. Every week they crowd around a picnic table or sit on a blanket or find a spot wherever we may be and take the time to sit and eat together, marveling at things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, string cheese, fruits, veggies, and more.

Recently, the kids were thrilled when the girls and I showed up with something new to share with everyone: Kashi TLC Peanutty Dark Chocolate Layered Granola Bars.

KashiThanks to Moms Meet, I was provided with a selection of Kashi items that we were thrilled to try out both at home and with our friends. From cereal to granola bars, Kashi's products are known for being both healthy and delicious, so we couldn't wait to try these out!

KashiThis doesn't even show all of the granola bars, there are many more in the bag!

For more than 25 years, Kashi has stood up for real food, offering all sorts of naturally nutritious foods and educational resources for everyone to enjoy. They offer a variety of all natural foods — cereals, bars, waffles, frozen entrees, and crackers — that are nourishing and satisfyingly delicious to pull out at any point of the day and we couldn't wait to share that with our playgroup.

But first, the Kashi Cinnamon Harvest Cereal and the Kashi TLC Kashi cereal barsSoft-Baked Ripe Strawberry Cereal Bars were put to the test here at home. Considering that they both disappeared almost immediately, it's pretty safe to say that we were big fans!

From the bite-sized organic whole-wheat biscuits that were lightly sweetened and baked with real organic cinnamon in the cereal to the toasty, golden crust filled with real fruit and wildflower honey in the cereal bars, it all tasted delicious. Not to mention the health benefits such as receiving over 20% of our daily fiber requirement with the Cinnamon Harvest Cereal or 11g of whole grains in the Strawberry Cereal Bars... what’s not to love?

When it came time to bring our Kashi TLC Peanutty Dark Chocolate Layered Granola Bars with us to share, I already had no doubt that they would be a big hit. Made with Kashi's signature blend of Seven Whole Grains, these bars feature the smooth taste of peanuts with rich, dark chocolate for a sweet and savory flavor combination that I knew the kids as well as the adults would like.

KashiWhat a hit! Every child there was extremely excited about this fun new snack and ate every last bite!

KashiThe chocolate and peanuts go perfectly together and the granola bar underneath complements them both just right. Plus, knowing that Kashi's products are natural, minimally processed, and free of highly refined sugars, artificial additives, and unnatural preservatives just makes them even more of a perfect snack.

As Kashi is on a mission to help kids eat better while actually enjoying it, granola bars like these are just one example of their good-for-you foods that taste great too. Our entire playgroup couldn't be happier with just how much the kids loved them!

Retailing for $3.89, Kashi TLC Peanutty Dark Chocolate Layered Granola Bars can be found at most major grocery stores nationwide. You can also find out much more about these and all of Kashi's great products online as well as on Facebook.

I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms Meet program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms Meet blogger, I agreed to use this product and post my opinion on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of the product.

The True Story of Puss'n Boots {Review}

The True Story of Puss'n Boots logoWhen it comes to movie night around here, we're always looking for titles that will entertain the whole family. After all, finding the line between something that will be too boring for adults and a story that is appropriate for a 2- and 5-year-old isn't always the easiest feat.

Having heard that The True Story of Puss'n Boots is available from Phase 4 Films on DVD and Blu-Ray now, I took one look at that cat and knew that Big Sister E and Little Sister B would be thrilled. After all, I wasn't going to resist something that cute and how could we go wrong?

The True Story of Puss'n BootsUnfortunately, we could.

Based on the famous Puss'n Boots character by Charles Perrault, The True Story of Puss'n Boots is the tale of a young farmer's son that inherits a strange talking cat with magical boots. With Puss' cunning wit, tricks and humor, he is able to help the boy win the heart of the Princess while battling devious suitors that are after the throne.

The True Story of Puss'n Boots reviewAlthough on paper the plot isn't too complex, on the screen this movie left much to be desired. Starring Emmy and Golden Globe winner William Shatner as the voice of Puss, this animated CGI film does have an underlying positive message about accomplishing your dreams no matter who you are. However, having previewed this film before showing it to my kids, I'm pretty certain that if they had a chance to see it that they wouldn't end up taking that away from it.

Instead, the strange, dark humor and the creepy, evil characters overpowered most of the movie and the lesson of finishing first no matter who you are is lost behind the devious acts, underhanded plotting and outright lying.

Filled with ogres, monsters and "bad guys" of all sorts, maybe older children wouldn't have been frightened by the various characters that loom and plan devious acts, but we're far from being at that point.

Puss'n Boots reviewI also don't think that I would have wanted to explain why the King and Queen seemed extremely intoxicated throughout the entire film, causing her to stumble and slur her words and him to sleep through 95% of his time on screen. But maybe that's just me.

Puss'n Boots reviewNeedless to say, The True Story of Puss'n Boots isn't making it to our movie night schedule anytime soon. I found myself watching the full 79 minutes with a mixture of puzzlement and downright confusion, often baffled at the outright strangeness of it all and knowing that it just wasn't something that I had any desire for my kids to view.

Although I couldn't find a rating for this movie, its Facebook page has it listed in the Children's Animated Feature genre, which I feel needs a clarification for older Puss n Bootschildren. The animation was truly interesting to watch, particularly that there are 3D aspects to it (that don't require glasses), but I didn't feel that made up for just how dark and wicked it was overall.

Possibly I'll revisit this movie in the future and find that my kids are old enough to ignore the lying and pessimism enough to grasp the lesson that "children can make a success of their lives even if they're not top of the class" (according to the director), but for now it would be lost in the translation.

The True Story of Puss'n Boots DVD features exclusive interview footage with William Shatner as well as a slide show and the official movie trailer. The Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack is available for $24.99, while the DVD is available for $19.99 (or $17.49 on Amazon). For more information visit the The True Story of Puss'n Boots website or Facebook page.

(Other than The True Story of Puss'n Boots DVD that I was sent in conjunction with my membership to Team Mom, I was not provided with anything or enticed to do this review in any way. This review is solely my opinion of this movie.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pumpkin Carving Tips from Zippo {Flex Neck Utility Lighter Review}

Zippo logoThe month of October has flown by and Halloween is nearly here already! Around our house we've been excitedly talking about costumes and parties for a while, but, as usual, the pumpkins have been left until the end.

Fortunately, with the beautiful weather we've been having, we still had time for our family to take our annual trip to the pick-your-own pumpkin patch that is 15 minutes away and spend a sunny afternoon deciding which pumpkins were going to make the best jack-o'-lanterns.

pumpkin patchApparently testing out whether they make good chairs is very important as well.

But choosing the pumpkins is only have the battle, right? With only one weekend left before the big day, we were happy to be invited over to some good friends' house for a Pumpkin Carving Party just in time to get our pumpkins carved up and ready to go for Halloween night.

Thanks to the experts over at Zippo, we were prepared and ready with easy-to-follow tips to ensure that our pumpkin carving would be safe and easy.

Things You'll Need:

  • Pumpkin (keep in mind the smaller the pumpkin, the smaller your design needs to be)
  • Newspaper (keeps the clean-up to a minimum!)
  • Marker
  • Stencils (if you really want to get creative, search online for some cool stencils)
  • Sharp knife and spoon (tools of the pumpkin carving trade)
  • Small tea light candle (light up your design so your neighbors can see your creation!)
  • Zippo Flex Neck (with a flexible nozzle, you don’t have to worry about burning your fingers when you bring your carving to life!)
Zippo Flex Neck


  1. Place a pumpkin flat on its bottom, on a flat surface (so the stem is at the top)
  2. Draw a circle around the stem with a marker – make sure the circle is large enough so that you can fit your hand through it!
  3. Cut around the outline with a long, sharp knife
  4. Lift the newly made lid and remove the flesh of the pumpkin with a spoon – if you’re a fan of pumpkin seeds, you can roast them later on for a healthy snack!
  5. Rinse the interior, clearing out the remaining flesh, and tip away the waste
  6. Draw your design on the front of the pumpkin with a marker or draw around an already-made stencil – have your kids sketch out their designs on a scrap piece of paper and ensure they’re happy with it before they transpose it on the pumpkin
  7. Insert the tip of your knife into the lines drawn and begin carving your design
  8. Once your masterpiece is complete, place the small tea light candle inside the pumpkin
  9. Save your fingers from any unnecessary burns by lighting it with a Zippo Fleck Neck. The long, slim, adjustable nozzle will fit right in between the carvings so that you don’t have to remove the candle to light it.
Along with the food, fun, and laughter at the party, we had a great time pumpkin carving! After opening the tops of their pumpkins for them, Big Sister E and Little Sister B participated in the flesh-removal, all the while making comments about the squishy, eeew-ness that they found inside.

pumpkin carvingEven though the girls didn't come up with anything too complex for the designs (which actually made it easier for my husband to have to cut out), they still had a great time participating.

Back at home, we've already been able to see just how much easier it will be on October 31 to light all of our jack-o'-lanterns using the Zippo Flex Neck. Right out of the package, I was amazed at just how flexible this lighter truly is!

Zippo Flex Neck reviewIn less than a minute, I had checked the fuel supply window on the side to ensure that the Flex Neck needed to be filled and easily was able to pump the Premium Butane Fuel right into the bottom.

Zippo lighter fuelOnce that was done, we were nearly set to go! The convenient adjustable flame dial right on the bottom made it so that I would have just the right height flame and I appreciated that Zippo made the Flex Neck wind resistant so that there is no trouble being outside with it.

What is really great, however, is that with the tremendous range of bending and turning that this lighter is able to accomplish, there's no need to remove the candle from inside the pumpkin ever again. Instead of burning my fingers trying to drop a lit tea light down into the base, I can simply reach right in through the design!

Zippo Flex Neck Utility LighterWith the patented child-resistant safety button, I have no worries of using the Flex Neck around my kids and that they'll hurt themselves with it if I put it down within their reach. Being this easy and convenient to use, I have no doubt that this will be a tool that I will pull out for many more Halloweens to come!

For this holiday and beyond, your fingers will thank you for choosing Zippo's high quality, innovative and affordable products. Retailing for $19.95 for the Zippo Flex Neck Utility Lighter and $3.30 for the Premium Butane Fuel, these are welcome additions to our Halloween traditions. Zippo products can be purchased online or at many retailers near you and you can keep up with their latest on Twitter and Facebook as well.

(Other than the Flex Neck Utility Lighter and Premium Butane Fuel that I was sent by Zippo, I was not provided with anything or enticed to do this review in any way. This review is solely my opinion of this company and their high quality products.)

SignUpGenius: Making Event Planning Organized and Easy

Sometimes I think that in a past lifetime I might have been a party planner.

Probably not for something as stressful and large as a wedding (no thanks, Bridezillas!), but more on the smaller end for things like potlucks, family reunions or elementary school events. There's just something about the organizing and scheduling and list-making that I get satisfaction from... not to mention seeing the results after hosting or running a get-together and the fun and happiness it can provide.

Or maybe it's not a past life I'm thinking of and I have a future leadership position with my kids' PTA. Only time will tell!

But as much as I enjoy all of the arranging and brainstorming and preparation for an event or activity, the communication with others involved can often be difficult. Sending out written or online invitations, waiting for RSVPs, hoping that a potluck won't end up with 10 plates of cookies but 0 fruit plates... there's just a lot to keep track of when it comes to support.

Fortunately, that's where and their FREE online tool for creating and managing group sign up lists is the perfect solution.

SignUpGenius logoSignUpGenius is, well, genius! It easily allows users to customize sign ups to organize people, coordinate events or collect items. Instead of constant letters or emails, it eliminates the need for paper sign-ups, reply-to-all emails, and phone trees.

Focusing on six main categories (Home & Family, Schools, Churches, Non-profits, Sports, and Colleges), creating your form is fast and easy. SignUpGenius provides plenty of simple templates to choose from and there are even video tutorials to help you get your sign up completed. There is never any worry about who can see names or contact information because SignUpGenius provides several privacy settings so the form creator can determine who has permission to sign up.

Once you've created your account (free!) getting started takes only moments:

SignUpGeniusEasy, right?

Everything from a Sports Team Snack List to Class Registration to a Holiday Party (and many more) can be created, organized and sent out to everyone involved.

sign up lists
I really appreciate the way that SignUpGenius allows you to customize each sign up so that it works for your particular event and that it will send out automated email reminders to everyone involved so that you aren't spending your time doing it. At the same time, the creator of the list is able to send emails to all group members of a sign up right from the site, so keeping everyone informed is never a problem.

As an added bonus, SignUpGenius remembers previous groups that you have made and allows you to choose one of them for each sign up (or create a new one, if you would rather). That way when it comes time for the next potluck or community festival, you're already partway done!

online sign up formsWhether you are ensuring that classroom donations aren't all boxes of tissues or that your next party will have more than only bags of potato chips, it only takes a few clicks for busy folks everywhere to have their event organized and under control. Head over to SignUpGenius and see just how easy planning your next event can be!

You'll love the prompt and personalized support and assistance you can receive if needed, the free planning resource articles with tips on coordinating volunteers that they offer, and even the contests that they hold to engage and reward site users. Then just sit back and enjoy the party! thanked me with a gift card for honestly reviewing their site. The gift card was not dependent on a positive or negative review of the site, but was compensation for helping to spread the word.


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Thanks to everyone who entered these giveaways, have a great Halloween weekend!