Archives for June 2010

Not-So-Wordless Wednesday:

Two Princesses

I took Lucy and Ashley to see Beauty & the Beast on Saturday night. Lucy was mesmerized by the entire show, and didn’t make a sound… until the part where Gaston sets off to kill the Beast. She started yelling, “Don’t kill the Beast! He’s nice now! You can’t kill him!” It took me forever to assure her that everything would be ok, and things did not go well when it appeared that the Beast had died. Lucy burst into tears at that point. But then, the Beast changed into a man, and all was right in Lucy’s world again.

After the show, Lucy got to meet Belle. As we were standing in line, she told me, “Mom, I’ve waited my whole life to meet Belle.” It made her day to sit on Belle’s lap and talk about the show.

What a fun night. Definitely one I’ll never forget.

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Bloggy Time Out

Do you ever have those days when you feel like you will never catch up? Like no matter how hard you try, something will always come along and put you 12 steps behind where you were before?

I am stuck in a plethora of those days. I have reviews to be written that are stacked 12 feet high on my desk. I’ve got 15 clients who need me to help them. I’ve got stuff to do for MOPS, stuff to do for church, and stuff to do around the house. Too much stuff.

So, today, there will be no witty banter or any kind of product review from me. I am pooped, and I am officially taking this afternoon off. Everything will still be here when I get back tomorrow – unless the Lord returns, and then it won’t really matter, because I won’t be here.

I hope you all have a wonderful day. I’m off to enjoy my bloggy time out.

WNBA: Not What You’d Expect (Review)

Anyone who knows me – I mean really know me – knows how much I love basketball. I started playing in Junior High, and it quickly became an obsession. I had a basketball in my hand every chance that I got. I dreamed of playing basketball for the rest of my life. But, at that time, the only option I had was to go on to play college ball and that was it. There was no WNBA…… yet.

In 1996, Team USA in women’s basketball won the Gold at the Olympics in Atlanta. That same year, the creation of the WNBA was announced, and on June 21, 1997, the first game WNBA was played.

I remember watching that first game on tv. I was pregnant with Ashley at the time, and I remember thinking to myself how great it would be that she could grow up in a world where even girls could play professional sports.

Unfortunately, Ashley did not inherit my athletic ability. She loves to watch sports, but playing them is not really her thing. But, that hasn’t stopped us from keeping tabs on the WNBA or enjoying it together.

Recently, the One2One Network gave me the opportunity to catch a local WNBA game. I was thrilled – to say the least. I’d never been to an actual basketball game, (aside from high school), and I have always wanted to go.

My original plan was to take Ashley, my oldest, and several of her friends to the game. And then it dawned on me that she and most of her friends would be away at camp that week. Hubby didn’t have the day off, so what now? My second plan was to take the 4 youngest kids to the game by myself. However, it didn’t take long for me to decide against that. 4 kids under the age of 6 – by myself – in downtown Atlanta with thousands of other people? Yeah. Right. So that plan was scrapped. That left me with all these tickets and no one to share them with. I called everyone I knew, hoping they could join me.

Finally, I ended up finding one of my Ashley’s friends to go with me. She had been planning to go to camp, but got very badly sunburned the day before they left, so she had to stay home to recover. Lucy, (my 3 year old), really wanted to go to the game, because she wanted to see girls “play basketball for real.” (A girl after my own heart!) I loaded up the truck with Ashley’s friend, Lucy, and Parker, and we headed to Atlanta.

We got to the Philips Arena, found parking, and headed to our seats. I couldn’t believe it when they said that we were down on the floor! After never having been to any kind of professional game, I was stoked!

Our seats were amazing. We were literally 4 rows back from the action, and right at the end of the court. The first half, we were up close and personal with the Atlanta Dream scoring basket after basket right in front of us. The second half, we watched as the Dream defended themselves against the Tulsa Shock.

I have to tell you how absolutely awesome the game was. The teams were perfectly matched, and it made for one very exciting game. I was certain the Atlanta Dream would either win or lose by 2 points, just because the teams were both so strong.

There was never a dull moment in the game. During every time out, every break between quarters, and all through halftime, something was always going on. Add to that the enthusiastic crowd, the music, and the cheering, and it was awesome.

The Atlanta Dream ended up winning by a score of 96 to 90. I told you it was close! And for those of you thinking that girls can’t play basketball, I challenge you to head to a WNBA game near you and see for yourself how truly incredible these women are. It’s time to give these girls some credit and get out there and support them! They rock!

Everything about the game was amazing. From the moment we found out seats until the moment we found the exit, I was completely and utterly blown away. I’m already planning on taking Ashley and her friends to game soon. I know they’d love it, and you can’t beat the ticket prices!

Speaking of which, don’t forget to check out this post where I highlight some of the best deals for the WNBA teams. And, you can head to TicketMaster.com/wnba and enter the promo code WNBABLOG and experience the exciting, affordable and family-friendly entertainment of the WNBA with your family and friends.

If you live in Atlanta, here’s the deal you can expect to find:

20%-40% per ticket depending on the price range:
$10 tickets will be discounted to $8.
$19 tickets will be discounted to $12.
$25 tickets will be discounted to $15.
$55 tickets will be discounted to $30.
$60 tickets will be discounted to $35.

Just go to http://bit.ly/WNBADreamTix , enter promo code WNBABLOG to purchase tickets and experience the WNBA’s exciting, affordable, family-friendly, entertainment! You will need to create an account in order to use the code, simply enter your email address, create a password – and discount!

My favorite part of the entire experience, though, is knowing that these women are MOMS. Just like me. Well, maybe not just like me, since they’re much taller and way more in shape. But, really? It all points to the fact that anyone – Moms included – can do anything if they put their mind to it. Click here for some photos of these moms in action.

If you want something to do this summer, or just trying to find ways to beat the heat, go to the WNBA website and find the schedule of the team near you that’s playing. Then, head to the game and have a ball!

Thank you SO much to the One2One Network, Tonya Alleyne, Director of Media Relations for the Atlanta Dream, and Jordan (who checked in on us throughout the game), for the chance to see the Atlanta Dream play and tell my readers about it. Lucy still hasn’t stopped talking about the game, and it’s great that she looks up to these women with such awe and admiration. They are role models I’d love for my girls to have!

To see pictures from our experience, visit our facebook page and check out the WNBA Album.

Disclaimer: I wrote this post while participating in a blog tour with the One2One Network on behalf of the WNBA. I was sent tickets, t-shirts, and several small gift items in order to facilitate my honest and thorough review and truly experience a WNBA basketball game. I was in no other way compensated for this post, and the complimentary products in no way influenced my opinion.

Mark My Time – Digital Bookmark (Review & Giveaway – Closed)

I love reading. If I weren’t so busy, I’d constantly be sitting somewhere with a good book in my hand. Right now, though, my reading time consists of an early-morning visit with my Bible or reading time with the kids throughout the day.

One thing that I encourage my kids to do is take some time every day to read. While we read books (sometimes all day long, and it’s the same books over and over again) during the day, Ashley and Zander are each required to put in 20 minutes of quiet reading time per day. I take that time to read to Lucy, Jace, and Parker.

I recently had the opportunity to test out the digital bookmark from Mark My Time. Before I get to our review, here’s a little information about Mark My Time from their website:

mark-my-time, LLC, is a Phoenix-based designer and developer of innovative educational products designed to facilitate the learning process. We are committed to supporting educators, librarians and families in their effort to make learning easier and more enjoyable.

The company’s premier product—the mark-my-time digital bookmark—was introduced to the mass retail market in 2004. The company’s products are sold through a number of leading retailers and can also be ordered directly through the web site. 

My Review of Mark-My-Time
Mark My Time sent me two of their digital bookmarks. One to review (pink) and one to giveaway (green). As I stated above, reading is a very big deal in this house, and I love anything that encourages my kids to read more.

While Zander wasn’t too thrilled about using a pink bookmark, he did love that it has a clock on it, and you can set it to time how long you read.

There are several modes to the digital bookmark: A clock, a timer, and a count up setting. The clock is great just for when you need to see what time it is. The timer is perfect for when your child doesn’t necessarily want to sit down and read. The little alarm that sounds at the end of the set time is great for letting them know their time is up. The count up setting is perfect for setting larger goals – weekly or monthly – and helping kids achieve them. That’s how Zander likes to use the bookmark. He set a goal of reading 4 hours in one week. (His goal, not mine.) He used the bookmark each day to track his time. He ended up passing the 4 hour goal in just 3 days! He ended up with just over 8 hours of reading time – more than doubling the goal that he’d set for himself. (Yes, he loves reading.)

If you are struggling with getting your child to read this summer, I’d encourage you create a reading chart. Grab a Mark-My-Time digital bookmark, set a daily reading goal, and then reward them when they’ve filled up their chart. It’s a great way to get them reading more, and it will help aid with spelling, grammar, and their writing skills. And, it’s just a really great way to spend some quiet time together.

The Mark My Time digital bookmark can be found at the following locations (taken from their “Where to buy” page):


Internet sites

Target.com

Amazon.com

Catalogue Sales
Really Good Stuff
203-261-1920 x194
Calloway House, Inc
717-299-5703 x323

www.callowayhouse.com

You can also check to see where to purchase it locally on their “Where to Buy Page.” Just select your state in the box, click “Go” and a list of local retailers will pop up.

We love the Mark-My-Time digital bookmark here in the Vinez house. It gets 2 thumbs up from all of us!

Now, we get to share this fantastic product with you! We’ve got a bright green Mark-My-Time digital bookmark to give away to one of our 5 Vinez Monkeys readers.

To Enter
Leave a comment here and tell me ways that you encourage your children to read during the summer
.
*Mandatory. If this is not done, you cannot win. 

Want Extra Entries?

  • Blog About this Giveaway. Be sure to include a link to 5 Vinez Monkeys. (5 extra entries)
  • Subscribe to us via email. (2 extra entries. Subscribing to feed in a reader no longer counts.)
  • Become a fan of 5 Vinez Monkeys on Facebook. (Leave your Facebook first name and last initial, please.)
  • Share this giveaway on Facebook. (Once per DAY – just leave a link, or copy/paste text that you posted with your Facebook User Name.)
  • Write a review of 5 Vinez Monkeys on Alexa. (3 extra entries. Leave your Alexa profile name, please.)
  • Follow 5 Vinez Monkeys on twitter. (Leave your twitter id and a link to your tweet here, please!)
  • Tweet about this contest daily. (1 Tweet Per DAY.)
  • Grab our button and put it on your blog. (Leave us a link to your blog, please!)
  • Add us to your blog roll. (Leave a link to your blog, please!)
  • Follow our blog publicly  – either through Google’s Followers Gadget or through Facebook’s Networked Blogs. (Leave a comment for each one that you do. Anonymous following doesn’t count.)
  • Stumble this post. (Once. Please leave your stumbledupon username.)

Fine Print: Contest is open to US Continental Residents ONLY. If you already do any of the above, you qualify. Please leave a comment for each of the extra entries you complete. However, you must first leave the required comment as stated above. Giveaway will end on July 14th at 11:59pm (EST), and the winner will be selected via random.org. Winner will be notified via email upon selection, and will have 48 hours to claim their prize.  
 
Disclaimer:  I was contacted by a PR rep from Falls Communications on behalf of Mark-My-Time. I was sent the products necessary to create this review and giveaway. I was in no other way compensated for this post, and all opinions expressed are 100% my own.

What I Love About Yoursphere

For the past few months, Ashley and I have spent lots of time getting to know Yoursphere. We have had a ball checking out the site, and I wanted to share some of the things we love about the site, and some changes we hope Yoursphere will consider making.

Here are some things I love:
1. Yoursphere’s commitment to child safety. I cannot stress enough how wonderful it is to have a service that is so dedicated to keeping my kids safe online.
2. The parent dashboard – I *love* being able to keep track of what Ashley is doing online, who she’s talking to, and what she’s saying. It’s a great way to introduce kids to the internet and make sure they understand that once something gets put on the www, it’s out there for the entire world to change.
3. Mary Kay’s Blog. Talk about need to know info! Even if you don’t have kids on the web anymore, this blog gives excellent safety tips, information, and more for keeping yourself, your family, and your information secure. Thank you, Mary Kay, for putting so much time and effort into this! (Make sure you read my follow Friday post for today!)
4. The games. Seriously, they are addicting. There have been quite a few times over the last few weeks that I’ve logged into the site just to play a few games and give my mind a rest from reality. 🙂
5. I stated it in #1, but I have to say it again: I don’t have to worry who my daughter is talking to when she’s on yoursphere. I can trust that she is safe to play, have fun, and make friends. All of which she’s done over the past 2 months. (If you haven’t read my post on the Importance of Online Internet Safety for Children, please do so.)

What I wish I could change:
1. Change up the homepage. Or make the video that plays optional. I’ve bookmarked the sign-in page just so I can avoid the homepage altogether.
2. That’s it. I really can’t think of anything else that I would change personally.

Things Ashley loves:
1. The friends that she’s made. She’s found lots of kids that she has things in common with, and she’s had fun chatting with them, playing games, and more.
2. The contests. She’s had so much fun entering them. One of these days, she’s gonna win! 🙂
3. The games. (Wonder where she gets it from!) She loves getting on and earning more “flow.”
4. That I actually let her get online and play. Usually, her web surfing time is limited to dictionary.com or something else that has to do with school work. This breaks up the monotony for her a bit, and she loves it.
5. Everything. She thinks it’s just a great site all the way around, and she’s so glad we were introduced to it!

Things Ashley would like to change:
1. The homepage. She doesn’t like that video, especially since she’s not allowed to listen to that kind of music.
2. She wants clearer, better instructions on how to level up. She’s tried for weeks, and we can’t get past level one. Neither one of us has any idea what we’re doing wrong, and we can’t find any clear instructions on what we need to do to level up. Apparently, everyone else can figure it out, though, because we’ve seen kids on there that are on Level 25! Help!

There really isn’t much we want to change, because the site really is great the way it is. We both love stopping by, and Ash loves getting some time to herself to just chill out on the computer. It’s perfect for both of us!

I’d really like to thank Mom Central for introducing us to Yoursphere, and thank Yoursphere for being so committed to keeping my kids safe while they’re online. It won’t be long before Zander is signing up for his own Yoursphere account. This blog tour has been absolutely amazing, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to take part in it!

Head on over to Yoursphere and sign your kids up today. Don’t wait another minute! When you sign up, be sure to use the referral code YSMC-0031 to let them know you found Yoursphere through 5 Vinez Monkeys. You won’t regret it!

Disclaimer: I wrote this review while participating in the Yoursphere Test Drive program by Mom Central on behalf of Yoursphere. I received a free lifetime Gold membership on Yoursphere.com, Yoursphere t-shirts, and a $50 American Express gift card to facilitate my review.

Follow Friday: Week 32

This week, I want you all to head over and follow the Yoursphere for Parents Blog. Written by Mary Kay, the mastermind behind Yoursphere, this blog gives parents the information and tools they need to help put their child’s online and social networking safety first. It’s about time we found something like this on the web, right?

Here’s some information about Mary Kay, taken from the Yoursphere for Parent’s site:

Mary Kay Hoal is a married mother of five children (both biological and adopted) ranging in age from 6 to 19 years of age. She is an accomplished media professional who took it upon herself to leave a successful career and take action to make safety and privacy a key priority for children online. She founded her own company, Yoursphere Media Inc., and launched Yoursphere.com and YoursphereForParents.

Originally motivated by the concern that registered sex offenders plague social networks and have access to children, after immersing herself in numerous online communities, Mary Kay found that many sites didn’t abide by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), nor did they leverage all the wonderful benefits of the Internet and social media: the connectivity, the creativity, the education, the fun. Instead, she found that children were exposed to content, people, and a culture that was of deep concern and left little regard for a child’s safety, privacy and their well-being.

Mary Kay knew there were other parents like herself that wanted something better for their children and that every child deserves to have access to the best the Internet and social media has to offer them.

As you can tell, Mary Kay is passionate about keeping kids safe online. That is something that is so important to me, considering the experience I had years ago.

Even if you don’t have kids that you have to worry about online, the Yoursphere for Parents Blog is still an excellent resource for keeping your own information safe and secure. It’s chock full of tons of information that everyone needs to know – no matter what their age. (Parents – also make sure you check out the monthly parent’s newsletter for even more information.)

If you’re concerned about online safety – whether it’s your child’s or your own, head on over to the Yoursphere for Parents Blog and subscribe. Or, add them to your blogroll and then check in often. (Be sure to leave them a comment and let them know how you found them!) Then, head back here and leave a link to a blog you love, or check out the links others have posted and leave your pick in the comments.

Mary Kay, thank you so much for Yoursphere and everything it stands for. I love that I don’t have to worry about what Ashley is exposed to when she logs into your website. And thank you for the parent’s blog. The information is so helpful to parents who may not understand just how dangerous the internet can be.

Is there a blog that you think deserves to be followed? Leave a link here, and I’ll consider featuring it in a future segment of Follow Friday. (Be sure to leave a comment and tell me why you think it’s “Follow Worthy.”)

Disclaimer: While I am participating in the Yoursphere Test Drive program by Mom Central on behalf of Yoursphere, and I received a free lifetime Gold membership on Yoursphere.com, Yoursphere t-shirts, and a $50 American Express gift card to facilitate my review of the website, I have selected the Yoursphere for Parents Blog as my follow worthy blog of the week because I feel it is full of important information that parents (and grown ups and kids!) need to be aware of.

Plan Your Own Staycation & Win! (Giveaway – CLOSED)

With 5 kids, we don’t get to go on vacations very often. It’s just never in the budget. So, instead, we take some time and do a “staycation.” If you don’t know what a staycation is, here’s how Wikipedia defines it:

A staycation (also spelled stay-cation, stacation, or staykation) is a neologism for a period of time in which an individual or family stays at home and relaxes at home or takes day trips from their home to area attractions.

Living where we do, we have tons of options for staycations: Pigeon Forge, TN; Gatlinburg, TN; Atlanta….. tons and tons of options.

Earlier this year, hubby and I ventured off on a staycation without the kids. We spent a couple of nights in an Atlanta hotel and spent one day visiting the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coke. The next day, we caught Motocross. It was so nice to get away from the stress of everyday life and just relax. We didn’t go far away at all, and it sure cost a whole lot less than if we had gone away on a vacation. No plane tickets, no extra luggage fees, no taxi cabs, no rental cars. Just the two of us, having a wonderful time.

To help encourage you to plan a staycation of your own this summer, I’m giving one lucky winner a fabulous staycation prize pack. Here are the goodies included:

  • $25 Kroger Gift Card (to purchase the items needed for a road trip: Sodas, bottled water, snacks, and more – not pictured)
  • Coca-Cola Shot Glass
  • Coca-Cola Coasters (20 pack)
  • Coca-Cola Photo Frame
  • Coca-Cola Playing Cards

This is a fabulous little prize pack that I just know you’re going to love!

To Enter
Leave a comment here and tell me where you’d like to go on your Staycation
.
*Mandatory. If this is not done, you cannot win. 

Want Extra Entries?

  • Blog About this Giveaway. Be sure to include a link to 5 Vinez Monkeys. (5 extra entries)
  • Subscribe to us via email. (2 extra entries. Subscribing to feed in a reader no longer counts.)
  • ***NEW*** Vote for Parker in the Ronzoni Taste Test Photo Contest. (3 extra entries in each giveaway each time you vote. You may vote once per day.Not valid after voting ends on 6/25)
  • Become a fan of 5 Vinez Monkeys on Facebook. (Leave your Facebook first name and last initial, please.)
  • Share this giveaway on Facebook. (Once per DAY – just leave a link, or copy/paste text that you posted with your Facebook User Name.)
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  • Follow 5 Vinez Monkeys on twitter. (Leave your twitter id and a link to your tweet here, please!)
  • Tweet about this contest daily. (1 Tweet Per DAY.)
  • Grab our button and put it on your blog. (Leave us a link to your blog, please!)
  • Add us to your blog roll. (Leave a link to your blog, please!)
  • Follow our blog publicly  – either through Google’s Followers Gadget or through Facebook’s Networked Blogs. (Leave a comment for each one that you do. Anonymous following doesn’t count.)
  • Stumble this post. (Once. Please leave your stumbledupon username.)

Fine Print: Contest is open to US Continental Residents ONLY. If you already do any of the above, you qualify. Please leave a comment for each of the extra entries you complete. However, you must first leave the required comment as stated above. Giveaway will end on July 10th at 11:59pm (EST), and the winner will be selected via random.org. Winner will be notified via email upon selection, and will have 48 hours to claim their prize.  
 
Disclaimer:  I am sponsoring this giveaway. Coca-Cola and Kroger are in no way affiliated with this post. Coca-Cola® and the Contour Bottle are registered trademarks of The Coca-Cola Company.

Wordless Wednesday: Cheeeeeeeese!

Cheeeeeeeeese!

If you’re participating in Wordless Wednesday, sign in here!

Thanks for your Support!

I was really worried about how my post about putting my kids in public school after homeschooling would go over. I have this complex that causes me to worry too much about what other people think, and even though I’m working on it, I still worry.

However, my readers have proven to be some of the greatest people on earth. Out of all the responses I got, I only had 2 that hurt my heart (and neither of them are listed in the comments – one came via email and the other came face to face). One suggested that I never should have considered homeschooling in the first place – in all capital letters. The other was a homeschooling mom of 5 herself who couldn’t understand why I would throw them into public school. Two very opposite ends of the spectrum, that’s for sure. And even though those responses did hurt, I must – and will – stand by the fact that I know that this is what God wants me to do. It doesn’t matter that I want to keep them home and shelter them for the rest of their lives. He wants me to let them go. To allow them to live their lives as a light for Him. It’s now my duty to make sure I’m being a light to them – and in front of them – so that they know how to shine in this dark, dark world. I am so proud of my kids, and I have full confidence that they will do well. There will be heartbreak, and tears, and tons and tons of homework, I’m sure. But through it all, I will be there for them, and will support them in any way that I can.

I just wanted to thank my readers for your support, love, and comments. I truly mean it when I tell you that you are the best readers ever. You have become my friends, and I care for each one of you. {Yes, even the ones who don’t agree with me.}

I also wanted to share a bit of wonderful news. On Sunday night, Zander, my almost 7 year old, got saved. He went forward during the invitation and asked Jesus into his heart. He made this one Father’s Day none of us will ever forget. His Bible lessons have been dealing with grace and the blood of Jesus a lot lately, and he’s been under conviction for weeks. I didn’t want to push him, because I wanted to be sure that it was God leading him and not me. But, Sunday night, he couldn’t hold back any longer. He wanted to know that he was safe and that Jesus was in his heart. Thank you, Lord, for making salvation so simple that even a child can come into Your hand.

Anyway, I’ll close this post now, but I wanted to thank each one of you for your kindness. I hope you’ll continue to stop by and say hello!

Zebra Pens & Pencils – Putting the FUN in Functional (Review)

As most of you know, I’ve been homeschooling my kids for the past 2 years. Even though I’m about to send them off to public school in August, we’re still working on finishing up this year of school work. That means lots and lots…. and lots of writing.

Finding pens and pencils that can keep up with the demands of writing and grading can be difficult. I hate the regular yellow pencils, because I can never, ever find a sharpener when I need them. And a red pen? It disappears every time I need to grade something. Every time! It’s like the red-pen-eating goblins come out at night and steal all of my red pens.

Luckily, the Zebra Pen Corporation heard my prayers for good quality writing instruments at a price that won’t leave me in the poor house, and answered them. They sent me a whole pack of goodies that included the Cadoozles Mechanical Pencils, the Regal Roller Ball Pens (in both sizes), and the new Z-Grip Daisies Ball Point Pens.

I have put these pens and pencils through some major tests, and I am so proud to say that they have exceeded all expectations.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: “It’s a pen.” I totally get that. But you have to actually try these pens out for yourself to understand what I’m saying. These pens are phenomenal. Really!

Take, for example, the Cadoozles Mechanical Pencils. Most mechanical pencils you buy have 2 problems: 1. They’re boring. 2. They’re not a number 2 pencil lead. The homeschooling curriculum we use requires the use of a #2 pencil for tests so that the Scantron can pick it up. We’ve been using those silly yellow pencils for the past 2 years, and I hate them. The first time we used the Cadoozles, we all instantly knew this would be the only pencil we would ever buy again. No need to worry about sharpening them, because the lead is always there. Just click the eraser when you need a little more lead. And, the pencils are just fun. With the funky designs (like ice cream{!}, sports, space, and more), Zander actually gets excited about sitting down to do his work with his “fun” pencil.

Then, there are the pens. I must confess that I am a self-diagnosed pen addict. If you look in my purse at any given moment, I have a minimum of 10 pens. Why? Because I am notorious for leaving them places and being stuck with no pens. Finding a pen that is “purse-worthy” though is a challenge, so the fact that the Regal Arrow Tip pens and all of the Daisies Ball Point Pens have replaced my former purse-worthy pens is amazing. And the only reason the Regal Needle Tip pens didn’t make it into my purse is because they’re in my homeschooling bag to be used for grading purposes only.

I know that it sounds crazy to gush over pens and pencils, but if you’ve ever been writing and had your ink come in and out, or scribbled furiously just trying to get your darn pen to write on a funky piece of cardboard {or napkin, or business card, or so on}, you need to try Zebra pens.

I have already decided that teacher gifts this coming school year will be a gift set full of Zebra pens for all of the kids’ teachers. After all, who uses more pens than a teacher? And, I’m starting my kids out right for the next school year, and I will pack their school bags full of Zebra pens and pencils.

Want to know where to buy these fantastic pens?
Well, I’m happy to say that you can find them just about anywhere. Walmart, KMart, Dollar General, Office Max, Office Depot, Family Dollar… the list goes on and on. In fact, you can view the entire list of retailers on the Zebra website “Where to Buy” page.

Also, be sure to follow Zebra Pens on twitter and become a fan of the Zebra Pen Corp. on facebook to keep up with the latest happenings.

Disclaimer: I was contacted by a representative of BML Public Relations on behalf of the Zebra Pen Corporation. I was sent the items stated above to get my honest and thorough review. All opinions expressed are 100% my own. I was in no other way compensated for this post.

Backyard Safari Outfitters – Gear Up For Adventure! (Review)

Summer is here, and the one place my kids love to be most is outside. Living in the middle of nowhere, and on the side of a mountain, we’ve got more wildlife, birds, and bugs than this city girl has ever experienced before.

Thanks to Team Mom, I had the opportunity to receive several items from the Backyard Safari Outfitters to test out and review with my kids. Zander was definitely up for the challenge, and I can’t wait to tell you his reaction.

Before I do that, though, here’s some need-to-know info about Backyard Safari Outfitters:

Backyard Safari Outfitters equips young explorers with all the essential gear they could possibly need for scoping out local “wildlife” from insects in the grass to birds flying overhead to frogs in a pond – and even more! The possibilities are endless when you’ve got the right gear.

Kids can choose from a vast array of fun gear and tools, including the practical and very snazzy Cargo Vest, the super cool Bug Vacuum, the Mega View Periscope – and dozens of other must-have items.

Included in each Backyard Safari Outfitters kit is a detailed Pop-Up Field Guide. It’s small enough to fit into almost any pocket, and the guide if full of rich illustrations, information on nature, bugs, fossils, the solar system – almost anything related to being outdoors.

Not only does the gear encourage kids to get up and get out, it also heightens adventure and peaks kids’ interest in science. Learn while having fun!


Our Review of Backyard Safari Outfitters
When the box arrived in the mail, I knew my kids were going to flip! Zander still loves to pretend and dress up in costume, so the Cargo Vest was an instant hit. He put it on right away, and he still asks me every single day if he can wear it. He has even decided to leave the cardboard cut-outs of other products attached to the vest until we can buy the real ones. (In his words, the cardboard ones look cool, and you have to have them on the vest or the vest won’t work right.)

I got him all geared up, and he, Jace, and I headed outside to see what we could see with the Mega View Periscope and grab with the Bug Vacuum.

Now, I must confess: I don’t like bugs. At all. And neither does Zander. So, I was kind of curious to see how he would do with the Bug Vacuum. But, he really surprised me. He was all for sucking up bugs and looking at them. He found a bunch of really big black ants, and immediately sucked one up. He then had to run back into the house, (with me shouting “Don’t let the bug out in the house!” behind him), to show his Daddy what he had caught. They spent some time looking at the bug through the built-in magnifying glass and talking about how big the ant was. I’m happy to report that no bugs were released into my living room. The boys then spent an hour taking turns sucking up bugs, looking them over, and then releasing them back into “the wild.”

After taking lots of time with the Bug Vacuum, they wanted to try out the Mega View Periscope. Because our house is surrounded by a cow pasture, the grass doesn’t get mowed often enough around our side of the fence. That gives us some really tall grass that was perfect for testing out the periscope. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as well as we had hoped. Our goal was to lie down in the grass and peek above it with the periscope, but we couldn’t get the periscope to stay expanded all the way up. When we went down into the grass, the periscope came down with us. I wish there were some kind of locking mechanism to keep the periscope extended.

The kids have had a ball with the Backyard Safari Outfitters gear, and they’ve used it almost every day that we’ve had it. They’ve taken it to Maw-Maw’s house and used it there, and all of their friends at the apartment complex just had to test it out too.

I am super impressed with the quality of the products, and how much my kids love them. It’s so great to see them outside playing and actually sharing. The Backyard Safari Outfitters collection of toys is an instant hit in my book!

To see all of our photos for the review, head to our Facebook Page and check them out: 5 Vinez Monkeys Review Photos for Backyard Safari Outfitters

Want to Try Backyard Safari Outfitters for yourself?
To Buy: You can find Backyard Safari Outfitters products at Toys R Us, Wal-mart, Barnes and Noble, Target, on the Summit Toys website. and on on Amazon.

And also be sure to follow Backyard Safari Outfitters on twitter and become a fan of Backyard Safari Outfitters on Facebook.

Disclaimer: I wrote this post while participating in a blog tour with Team Mom and Backyard Safari Outfitters. I received the items necessary to facilitate my review. All opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. I was in no other way compensated for this post.

YourSphere from A Tween’s Perspective

I’ve asked Ashley, my tween to write the following blog about the fun she’s been having on Yoursphere. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read what she has to say about this fantastic website for tweens.

From Ashley:

I am having so much fun on yoursphere. It’s a great site just for kids! Yoursphere has tons of really fun things to do. One of my favorite things to do is play in OurWorld. OurWorld is a place where you have an avatar. Then, you use that avatar to play games. You can dress your avatar any way you want to, and design your very own condo. I also love joining spheres. I’ve found lots of kids that love the same stuff I do, and I’ve made quite a few new friends. I wish I had more friends, though, so if you join, make sure you add me as a friend. (Send an email to my mom to get my username.)

Since I’ve joined yoursphere, I’ve learned how to do so much! I’ve made my own sphere, I’ve joined lots of other spheres, I’ve played in OurWorld, and I’ve found some great new games. (Don’t tell anyone, but I think my mom is almost as addicted to some of the games as I am. I’ve caught her playing on yoursphere quite a few times. That’s ok, though, because it means she’s earning me more flow, and the more flow I get, the more cool stuff I can do.

I still have a lot to learn. I need to figure out how to level up and earn more coins on the site so I can purchase new stuff for my condo. And what on earth do I do with the flow once I earn it? If you figure any of that out, could you let me know?

I really think yoursphere is a fun site for kids, and I definitely think you should let your kids join if they haven’t already.

Thanks, Ash for writing up what you thought about Yoursphere. And, you’re totally right about the games. I do love them! I know how much you love the site, and I love that I don’t have to worry about what you’re doing while you’re on there. I can keep track of what you’ve been up to from my hand dandy parent dashboard.

Head on over to Yoursphere and sign your kids up today. When you sign up, be sure to use the referral code YSMC-0031 to let them know you found Yoursphere through 5 Vinez Monkeys.

(And if you haven’t read my post on the Importance of Online Internet Safety for Children, please do so.)

Disclaimer: I wrote this review while participating in the Yoursphere Test Drive program by Mom Central on behalf of Yoursphere. I received a free lifetime Gold membership on Yoursphere.com, Yoursphere t-shirts, and a $50 American Express gift card to facilitate my review.

Toy Story 3 – Go See It!

My tween is heading off to camp next week, so we spent yesterday picking up the must-have items for her trip. Since we were buying Ash a bunch of stuff and focusing on her all day, we wanted to make sure that the other kids got to do something fun as well.

We decided to take everyone to see Toy Story 3. Now, let me tell you, with 5 kids, we don’t go to the theater often. And to go on opening day for a movie? Well, let’s just say that I don’t remember the last time that happened.

I purchased the tickets in advance because I figured there would be 8 bazillion people there, and I didn’t want to miss our opportunity to get in. Turns out, the theater was half empty for the show. People just didn’t know what they were missing, I guess! But, we had great seats and the kids were mesmerized by the big screen. (Remember, we don’t get out much!)

I have to say that if you are a fan of Toy Story, you MUST see this movie. I love both of the previous movies, but this one tops both of them. Oh, and moms? Take along your kleenex. I cried like a baby. It even brought Zander to tears! I don’t want to blow the movie for anyone, but I’m telling you that you NEED to go see this movie. (We saw it in 3-D which made it even cooler. Parker kept trying to grab things in front of him.) The new characters are a hoot! Ken made me laugh out loud – several times. And Mr. Pricklepants? Absolutely adorable. Get to know all of the characters on the Toy Store website.

All in all, it was the best movie I have seen in a very long time. We’ll be buying it the second it comes out on DVD, too, because it’s just.that.good.

If you’re debating whether you want to see the movie in the theater or wait until it comes on DVD, don’t wait. Head to the theater now and watch it. You won’t regret it!

By the way, I’m not being compensated for this post in any way. We just loved the movie and wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it!

Eat! Move! Play! Book Winner

Time to announce the winner of the Weight Watchers: Eat! Move! Play! Book Giveaway!

Here’s the number that Random.org selected:

That means our lucky winner is…….

Congratulations! I’ve already sent an email your way. Please respond by Monday at noon EST with your information, or a new winner will be selected.

Thanks to all who participated, and a BIG thank you to Krupp Kommunications and Wiley Publishing for sponsoring the giveaway.

Follow Friday: Week 31

My Follow Friday pick for this week is Parenting Pink. If you have one daughter or 10 daughters, you need to follow this blog, subscribe to this blog, heck, just get over there and read

Here’s just a bit about Parenting Pink and the purpose behind it:

We’re the web’s #1 source for parenting girls! At Parenting Pink, we believe in raising strong, resilient girls – together. Parenting girls brings with it unique challenges, issues, and joys. We’re here to give you advice, offer lots of support, and share a few laughs along the way! Check out our latest pink topics, connect with other parents in our Parenting Pink Forum, or browse our “girl” book and product selections. We’ve got the 411 on all things PINK and now you will too!

I’ve been a faithful reader for quite some time now, and I just adore this blog. Elizabeth, the blog’s owner, creator, and author, is truly amazing. She and her team (consisting of parents, professionals, and experts) are really dedicated to providing support, answers, and the means to give your daughter the best foundation possible.

If you’re looking for a great new blog to follow, head on over to Parenting Pink and subscribe. Or, add them to your blogroll and then check in often. (Be sure to leave them a comment and let them know how you found them!) Then, head back here and leave a link to a blog you love, or check out the links others have posted and leave your pick in the comments.

Elizabeth, thank you so much for the Parenting Pink blog. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I have learned from it. My girls benefit every day from the information I find on your site. You are encouraging, uplifting, and truly a pleasure to know and read. I’d be honored if you’d put this on your blog:

Is there a blog that you think deserves to be followed? Leave a link here, and I’ll consider featuring it in a future segment of Follow Friday. (Be sure to leave a comment and tell me why you think it’s “Follow Worthy.”)

Homeschooling No More

With a heavy heart, I spent yesterday registering my kids for public school. It’s something that I swore I would never do, but I feel that it’s something that needs to be done.

I did not rush into this decision lightly. In fact, the very opposite. I have spent hours on my knees in prayer, begging for His direction. I’ve cried more tears that one would even think possible. I have gone over the pros and cons with my husband about a million times. And after all that, I know that I’m doing the right thing for my family.

So, what makes someone so certain she should homeschool her family break down and register her kids for public school? There are several reasons:

  1. The lack of social skills and activities. While my kids have quite a few really good friends at church, my kids need more time during the day with other kids. I want them to have sleepovers, play sports, and participate in the social activities that other kids get to do. I’ve watched Zander sink farther and farther into his shell over the past 2 years, and I want to pull him out of that. I want him playing, learning, and being with kids his own age. Same goes for Ashley and Jace. I think it will do them both good to be back in a school social setting.
  2. Ashley’s grades this year have proven to me that she is too easily distracted and is not paying attention when I teach her. I think it has to do with the fact that I am her teacher, and she’s a tween. It’s hard enough to get her to listen to me about normal stuff, getting her to listen during school is even more difficult. But after watching her grades dip into the toilet, it’s time she get back into a structured school setting.
  3. I need a break. There. I said it. I’m human. I need 10 minutes to myself here and there. As it stands, I am with all 5 of my kids 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is exhausting. Does it mean I don’t love my kids? Not at all. I adore every single one of them. But, I love ice cream, too. Doesn’t mean I’m going to eat it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I can already feel the flames from the other homeschooling moms. Yes, I gave up. Not without a fight. Believe me, if I could keep my kids at home and see them learning and progressing in the right way, I would have continued homeschooling forever. But, the cons of homeschooling have outweighed the pros, and my prayers have been answered in a different way than I had hoped for. I hope this doesn’t make you think less of me. My husband says I worry too much about what other people think, and he’s exactly right.

So, August 5th, 2010, Ashley will enter middle school, Zander will join a 2nd grade class, and Jace will be off to Kindergarten. I’m still debating if I want to register Lucy for Pre-K or not. She really wants to go, but I’d really like to have her at home one more year. We’ve really got to kick our butts in gear, though, because we’re not even close to done with this year of schooling!

Wish us luck in this adventure. It’s certainly going to be interesting.

Wordless Wednesday: Red Sky

Red Sky at Night

That was the view out our front door last night. Absolutely gorgeous!

If you’re participating in Wordless Wednesday, link up here!

New Ritz Crackerfuls (Review)

It’s 3:00 in the afternoon. You’ve already had lunch, but your stomach is growling like you haven’t eaten in a week. What will satisfy those nasty hunger pangs you feel in your gut?

I am admittedly a snacker. I love to munch. Sometimes, it’s on healthy stuff – apples, grapes, celery, carrots. Other times, it’s on the not-so-healthy stuff. You know what I’m talking about: cookies, candy bars, chips and dip. Or how about when you take the healthy stuff and make it not so healthy? I’m notorious for putting gobs of peanut butter on my celery. Or using the tasty full-of-fat ranch dressing to dip my carrots into. Or maybe caramel for my apples. Yep. I’ve got my good days and I’ve got my bad days. We all do. (At least those of us who aren’t afraid to admit it.)

Recently, the One2One Network introduced me to Ritz Crackerfuls. I had see the commercials and saw the coupons in a recent Sunday paper, but I hadn’t taken the opportunity to try them out. They sent me 2 boxes – one of the Classic Cheddar and one of the newest flavor: Cheddar Cheese and Bacon.

Oh my word! Great tasting, and good for you. Now this is a snack I could get used to! Both flavors are made with real cheese. The Classic Cheddar has 5g of Whole Grain and only 130 calories per serving, and the Cheddar Cheese and Bacon has 6g of Whole Grain per serving and just 130 calories as well. And they’re really, really good! You get the crunch of the cracker with a rich and creamy cheese filling. It’s like a little piece of heaven, especially when your belly’s growlin’ away! They’re just the right size, too, to keep you totally satisfied until your next meal.

Another great feature is that they’re totally portable. If you’re headed out to pick the kids up from school, these are great to toss in your purse for the trip over there. And, I’m definitely taking these along on our next visit back up to Ohio.

I’ve spent the last 3 days combing my favorite grocery stores to find the new Ritz Crackerfuls, but they haven’t made it to our area yet. (That I’ve found. Someone local correct me if I’m wrong!) I’m hoping they hurry up and get here, because I want to stock up!

Ritz Crackerfuls come in four yummy flavors: Garlic Herb, Four Cheese, Classic Cheddar, and Cheddar Cheese and Bacon. My goal is to try them all. (Although not all at once, as that would probably defeat the “healthy snacking” goal.)

Want to try Ritz Crackerfuls for yourself? Head on over to the Ritz Crackers Facebook Fan Page and download a coupon for $1.00 off the new Cheddar Cheese and Bacon Crackerfuls. (Good through August 31, 2010 or up to slightly more than 33,000 coupon prints. You’ve gotta become a fan in order to get the coupon, too!)

I’d definitely recommend Ritz Crackerfuls the next time your belly starts grumblin’.

Disclaimer: I am participating in a campaign with the One2One Network and Ritz Crackerfuls. I was sent the samples necessary to facilitate my honest and thorough review. All opinions are 100% my own. I was in no way compensated for this post, but have been entered into a random drawing for a gift card by posting in this campaign.

Sid the Science Kid: Weather Kid Sid Winner

It’s time to announce the winner of the Sid the Science Kid: Weather Kid Sid Giveaway.

Here’s the number that random.org selected:

That means our lucky winner is…..


Congratulations! I’ve already sent an email your way, so you’ve got until 10:15 pm EST Wednesday night to send me your information, or a new winner will be pulled.

Thanks to all who participated, and thanks to Three.Sixty Marketing & Communicationthe Henson Company for hosting the review. and

Ronzoni Smart Taste Photo Contest

What difference, Mom?

Recently, I posted about the Ronzoni SmartTaste Pasta Taste Test that I conducted with my kids.There was no question which pasta won, because they all preferred Ronzoni SmartTaste over our store brand.

In that post, I mentioned that I would be participating in a photo contest. Well, guess what? The contest has started, and it’s time to vote!

Here’s how to vote:

  1. Head to RonzoniSmartTaste.com/blogger/ and check out all of the fabulous submissions.
  2. Scroll over your favorite photo (I hope you’ll pick Parker – the photo is also posted above to help you recognize him, since he is covered with spaghetti sauce!), then click “Vote Now.”
  3. You’ll need to register the first time you vote, but registration is quick and easy.
  4. Then, go back to the site every day and vote for your favorite photo again. The next time you vote, you’ll just need to use your email address. 

It really couldn’t be simpler!

Now, here’s some need-to-know info for you:

  • Just by voting, you’re automatically entered to win a $25 Gift Card from Ronzoni!
  • Readers may vote once per day June 14th – June 25th.
  • The winner of the photo contest will receive $500 and a year’s supply of Ronzoni SmartTaste Pasta! {Man, I could definitely use both of those things!}

Head on over to the Ronzoni SmartTaste website now and vote for your favorite photo. Thanks in advance for any votes for Parker!

A *huge* thank you to Mom Central and Ronzoni for conducting such a fantastic photo contest!