Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review: Idina Menzel "Holiday Wishes"

Disclaimer: I participated in the Idina Menzel Holiday Wishes album review program as a member of One2One Network. I was provided an album to review but all opinions are my own. 

I am strictly opposed to Christmas music before Thanksgiving (one holiday at a time, please!), but when I was given the opportunity to review Tony Award-winning actor/singer Idina Menzel's new album, Holiday Wishes, I had to make an exception. Because, you know, I love her. While I've never had the privilege of seeing her in a Broadway production, I am a fan of Menzel from Frozen (she is the voice of Elsa) and Glee, where she plays the talented mother of main character Rachel Berry.

Menzel reworks a dozen holiday numbers, including several classics:
  1. Do You Hear What I Hear
  2. The Christmas Song
  3. Baby It's Cold Outside (duet with Michael Buble)
  4. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
  5. All I Want for Christmas is You
  6. What Are You Doing New Year's Eve
  7. December Prayer
  8. When You Wish Upon a Star
  9. Silent Night
  10. River
  11. Holly Jolly Christmas
  12. White Christmas
An exclusive version sold at Target includes 2 bonus tracks: "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow"; and "Mothers Spiritual". I didn't get this version so I haven't heard these two songs yet.

Of course I was already a fan of Menzel's melodious voice, so the fact that I love this album is no surprise. I suppose I would describe it as...smooth. I know most of the words, so I can sing along, which is kind of a must when it comes to Christmas music. I've been listening to it while I work, and it's got a nice vibe to it. Upbeat, but not distracting.

My absolute favorite track on Holiday Wishes is "Baby It's Cold Outside." Menzel and Buble together are chillingly perfect.

Want a little sneak listen? Check out this album trailer!

Holiday Wishes is available on iTunes and Amazon.

If you're looking for a little something to get you in the holiday spirit, or want something new to add to your Christmas music rotation, Holiday Wishes is an ideal choice.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Still a SAHM

You might say I've got a new lease on life. I knew things would be different when all of my kids went back to school in September, leaving me as a school day empty nester for the first time. My life is definitely different, that's for sure. Just maybe not quite in the ways I expected.

I thought I might be a little sad, and truthfully there are times when it gets lonely and I miss having a mini buddy to cuddle with and to run errands with me. But mostly I'm not lonely at all. After our dog passed away in September, we adopted Marla in October. She is a good companion. Sometimes Chris is home during the afternoon, and other times I meet my mom, mother-in-law, or a friend for coffee, shopping, or what have you. Then we've had the days off, half days, early release days, and kids home sick. I am rarely alone. Being the introvert that I am, though, a nice quiet house to myself is an absolute treat. I relish the peacefulness.

I never thought I'd be bored, and I wasn't wrong about that. On the contrary, there aren't enough hours in the day. I did think I'd have more time to do things like work out, practice my French (with Rosetta Stone), and organize my house. But what I'm finding is that the days slip away before I know it. I'm not just sitting around watching television and reading all day either. Actually I very rarely watch TV, and I don't even have much time for books.

What have I been doing with my time? Besides the regular stuff like grocery shopping, laundry, dishes, errands, walking the dog, and cleaning?

Maybe you've noticed I'm back to blogging more regularly, although I hope to be better about that as I get more accustomed to my new life. That's one thing. I've been making curtains for Bethany's bedroom, and I am no pro so that takes a lot of time. Since September I've had 9 days of kids home sick from school. N.I.N.E. So add taking care of sick children to the list. Then there's the occasional weekday get togethers with friends and family that I mentioned, although those are often tied in with with a necessary chore, like walking Marla or shopping for new boots for the kids. I organized the school book fair, volunteer to chaperone field trips every chance I get, and will be helping the kindergarteners roller skate in PE class in the coming weeks. Bethany is going to China on a school trip in the spring, so we have been fund raising for that. In other words, I have spent tons of time collecting returnables from neighbors and friends and taking them into the store, and making homemade goodies for bake sales. I have plenty of activities and tasks to keep me busy.

I also recently acquired a temporary, work at home job. Just a simple one that allows me to work at my convenience, for as many hours as I can. This right here has been the most eye-opening event of my new life.

The thought had crossed my mind that once all my kids were in school full-time that maybe I'd get a "real" job. You know, the kind that would require me to brush my hair, wear actual pants, go to a place of business and interact with co-workers. It's been a lot of years since I've done that.

Then reality set in. I don't know many employers that would take kindly to NINE impromptu days off due to sick children, not to mention early release days every other week, four half days, and a day off for elections. All that in less than three months. I know people do it. People put their elementary school kids in the after (and sometimes before) school program and give their middle school kids house keys to let themselves in after school. They share sick days with their spouses (Chris doesn't get sick days and really can't call in at the last minute in his line of work), hire babysitters, count on their parents quite a bit, and beyond that I don't even know what all they do. Everyday, all over the place, there are families that do these things. I am in awe of them and their phenomenal juggling abilities.

Here is what I think, for me personally, for my family. Life is hectic enough. Life is, in fact, so so SO hectic. Could we use the money? Oh my gosh, SO MUCH! Couldn't we all? But I like to see my kids in the morning before school, to pick them up after school, and to help them with their homework. I like them to know that if they're sick, they can call me and I'll pick them up and bring them home where they can at least be sick somewhat comfortably. I like to say yes when Connor's friend's mom calls me and asks if I can drive her son home from school, and to let Lucy's BFF come over after school so I can drive them to dance class together. I like to be able to check "yes" next to the box asking if I'd like to be considered as a field trip chaperone, without worrying how I'll shuffle my schedule to do it. And here's something else. I am mentally re-charged when I am ALONE. I like being alone sometimes, crave it, need it.

However, believe it or not, it's not all about me and my own selfish needs and desires. A long time ago, when I was immersed in diaper duty, round the clock nursing, and multiple strollers and car seats, I thought my kids would need me less the older they got. I'll admit that a part of me, the most overwhelmed and sleep-deprived part, sometimes looked forward to that day. The truth, I've come to realize, is they need me more, but in different ways. Now they can dress and feed themselves and use the bathroom (more or less) on their own. They can do chores, make their school lunches, wake themselves up with an alarm in the morning, and so much more. Yes, they can do a lot, and they don't need me anymore for many of the things for which they once depended upon me.

But there are other things, some I never thought of or considered until they reached up and smacked me in the face. Like that they'd need me to drive them all over town, to be at their games and their band concerts. To email their teachers when they're having troubles, to listen and wipe their tears when they've been burned by a friend, to assure them that they're smart and beautiful and good, to proofread reports, and to make sure they're packing more than just leftover Halloween candy in those lunch boxes. Sometimes they need me every single moment that they're with me, right up until they're asleep for the night, and by then I am spent, physically, mentally and sometimes emotionally. And then I keep going, often spending hours after they are fast asleep doing things like making sure they have clean underwear and cereal bowls for the morning and printing out papers that are due the next day. I know you know what I mean, fellow parents. Our kids need us, and that doesn't stop at any magical age.

So that brings me back to my new job. Like I said it's temporary and flexible, and I can work at home. It's only been a couple weeks so I'm new at this, but wow! It's hard to squeeze in a job with everything else. I have my blogging and social media things I do, but those are more sporadic and not paid by the hour. It's hard enough to make time for those little, occasional jobs.

At this moment in my life, I simply cannot fathom how I would work these kind of hours outside the home. I do not know how other people do it. This past week I've been able to juggle sick kids, half days, parent teacher conferences, and a whole lot more while still working. It hasn't exactly been easy but I've managed. I don't know how I could have been working in an office or anyplace other than home while simultaneously caring for a puking child.

I will say that having some extra money is great, especially with Christmas creeping up so quickly and the myriad expenses associated with older kids (you thought diapers were expensive! ha!). I am grateful beyond words for the opportunity to work while doing everything I can for my kids, but the eye opening part of this experience has been that I'm nowhere near ready to re-join the work force outside of my bubble of home and family. This is right where I need to be right now.

I like money and the things it can buy, but I don't like it enough to give up being available for my family at a moment's notice. I don't like it enough to say yes to latch key and babysitters and house keys. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with any of those things (here is where I'll mention that I myself had a house key in second grade, and spent my summers, school breaks, and many sick days being cared for by my aunts or grandparents).

Everyone I know is doing their best to survive any way they can, and it's all good. We all have to figure out what is best for us and for our families. As for us, I've been a SAHM for 13 years and we've been getting by, and we'll continue to get by. I'll continue to work at home as much as I can, falling asleep with a laptop on my knees more nights than not. But despite the new circumstances in my life, I will not be seeking any long-term employment outside of the home any time soon.

The funny thing is that I thought life would be calmer and less hectic with all four in school all day. Not quite!

Game Review: Petz Beach for Nintendo 3DS

Finding a video game that my kids can share, with an E (for Everyone) rating so nobody is excluded, and that is entertaining enough so that no one is rolling her eyes...well that can be a bit of a challenge. Since my kids range from Kindergarten to 8th grade, there is plenty they can't share, but I love when we discover something they can pass back and forth, talking and offering tips and advice to one another, whether in the car or curled up on the couch on long, cold Saturday afternoons. Animal games are generally a good bet, although some are too juvenile for the big kids. Petz Beach for Nintendo 3DS is one such game that my 5-year old, 8-year old, and 11-year old all have fun with (the 13-year old is too busy these days for video games), and I will freely admit that I have been amusing myself with it as well.

In case you're not familiar with Petz, it is a popular franchise that has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide. The basic premise is to care for pets while exploring the game's environment (in this case, the beach), talking to characters, finding and buying various items, and going on quests. The game expands as you go along, and it even changes with the seasons. Today it was snowing at the beach while my kids and I laid in my warm, comfy bed and took turns playing Petz Beach. Another similar game is Petz Countryside, which is the same type of game but with a country setting rather than the beach.

In Petz Beach, your character has a pet and a home, and can walk around its seaside community. You can train your dog to find different things, and go on quests for the other characters. For each completed quest you are rewarded, either with a special item or with coins. Coins are used to purchase items in the shop, including necessities for your pet like food and water. When you have enough coins, you can visit the adoption agency to add more pets to your family. With enough happy points, you can expand your community and gaming experience.

So far, I have found the quests to be simple enough for the kids to be able to do them without help (and without frustration), and the interface to be fairly self-explanatory and easy. It does take some time to earn enough coins to adopt another pet, or enough happy points to expand the village, but if it was too easy that wouldn't be much fun.
Giving our pet some water at home.

What did my kids think? Lucy (age 8) and Mathilda (5 years old) like the pet care aspect the best, while Connor (age 11), like me, really enjoys the adventures - going on quests and finding items. I'm a sucker for this type of game. I played for awhile for "research purposes", and I'll be sure I know where I can find the 3DS while the kids are at school (wink wink). We almost have enough happy points to expand, and I'm anxious to see what will be added to our village next!
On a quest - sniffing something out

Besides simple entertainment, Petz Beach also offers learning opportunities. There are over 50 animals in the game, and through its partnership with Encyclopaedia Britannica, players will learn about the various creatures as they encounter them throughout the game. Additionally, the game offers the option to connect with friends who are also playing, but we don't know anyone else with Petz Beach yet so we didn't play around with this function.
Meeting a friend in the village

Published by Ubisoft and released on October 14, 2014, Petz Beach is a pet simulation and adventure game available for the Nintendo 3DS system and rated E for everyone. It's good, clean fun, and you'll never have to worry if your child is exposed to something he shouldn't be seeing or learning about. There is no violence, no bad or even questionable language, and nothing scary. If you're looking for a fun Christmas gift for the young boy or girl on your shopping list, or something your children of various ages can share, Petz Beach would be a great choice. You can purchase Petz Beach on Amazon.
Searching for shells at the beach

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Holiday Shopping: LG OLED Now Available at Best Buy
Photo from Best Buy

Disclaimer: The reviewer has been compensated in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card and/or received the product/service at a reduced price or for free.

Have you started your holiday shopping yet? I've just barely begun (as in, I have one gift and two stocking stuffers purchased as of this writing), but what I'm looking for this year are gifts that are going to really pack a punch. Instead of a bunch of smaller items that will be mostly forgotten in a few months, I want to give gifts that are going to wow my family, and that they are going to use and enjoy for a long time to come. I love the idea of a big family gift, like the amazing new LG OLED TV, now available at Best Buy.
Photo from Best Buy
I mean, WOW! Right? Imagine how excited your kids would be to have movie night with one of these babies, or to play their favorite video games with this 4 Color Pixel technology that enhances color range and accuracy. What a thrill it would be for the whole family to wake up to a surprise of this magnitude under the tree on Christmas morning!

With a Best Buy everyday price tag of $3499.99 (a savings of $500!), just what makes this television so special?
  • Lightweight and only .21" thick at its thinnest point. Check your ruler - that's awfully thin!
  • Amazing picture quality, with LG's latest display technology.
  • Infinite contrast ratio and stunning color, for more ridiculously realistic viewing.
  • 4 Color Pixel technology (adding a white sub-pixel to the regulars - red, green, and blue - for those of you who know about those sorts of things).
  • WebOS™ Smart TV interface, which lets you easily access Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, and the LG store with the latest movies, TV shows, and apps.
  • Unique curved screen, designed to create a natural viewing experience, with your eyes equal distant from all points of the screen. (Honestly, how do they think of this stuff?)
  • Comprehensive remote control, which includes LG's Voice Mate with natural voice recognition, and allows you to control your compatible devices with just one remote.
Take a look at the Best Buy website for more information and images of the LG OLED TV. You won't believe your eyes. It's a beautiful viewing experience that your entire family would be able to appreciate and, let's face it, luxuriate in, together.

Do you like to splurge for the holidays? How are you spoiling your family (or yourself) this year?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Holiday Movie Giveaway: The Three Dogateers

Do your kids like to watch the same holiday movies over and over (and over and over and over) again? Maybe you'd like to add something new to the repertoire, like the Dove approved family-friendly flick, The Three Dogateers, available on DVD only at Walmart.

Three pampered pooches left to guard the house on Christmas Eve become fearless DOGATEERS when thieves break in and steal every present, every ornament - even the yuletide tree! Vowing to save Christmas, the three canines set out in search of Santa, the only one who can help them on their quest.
Sounds like a cute concept, and my kids are suckers for cuddly doggies. Check out the trailer.

Just use the Rafflecopter form below to enter to win your very own copy of The Three Dogateers!

Please note: Each household is only eligible to win one (1) The Three Dogateers DVD via blog reviews and giveaways. Only one entrant per mailing address per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you will not be eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

No P.O. boxes, U.S. only.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo, Valvoline Instant Oil Change + GIVEAWAY

Looking for a fun holiday event in Metro Detroit? Wild Lights, presented by Bank of America, will be at the Detroit Zoo for 24 nights this November and December, featuring 5 million lights and over 100 different animal sculptures. Look at these photos...doesn't it look magical? Photos provided by the Detroit Zoo.

  • November 22-23
  • November 28-30
  • December 5-7
  • December 11-14
  • December 18-23
  • December 26-31
TIME: 5:30-9 p.m.

Besides the millions of LED lights that will blazing up the trees, buildings, and animal sculptures, guests can also delight in ice carvers and carolers, participate in a holiday craft, and write a letter to jolly old St. Nick. "The Polar Express 4-D Experience" will be playing at the 4-D theater in the Wild Adventure Zone.

AND...if you purchase your Wild Lights tickets ONLINE before November 21, you will be entered into a drawing for a Family Four Pack of tickets to Dinner with Santa at the Detroit Zoo!

AND...(one more thing before we get to the GIVEAWAY)...if you have a Detroit Zoo membership, be sure to get your vehicle in for a Valvoline Instant Oil Change by the end of the year at one of 14 Metro Detroit locations, and get a 15% discount. Use this coupon:

Now we get to the GIVEAWAY part...

Courtesy of Valvoline Instant Oil Change and the Detroit Zoo, MichiGal is giving one lucky reader a
prize package that includes a FREE OIL CHANGE and  4 TICKETS to WILD LIGHTS at the DETROIT ZOO!

Just the use the Rafflecopter form to enter!

Disclaimer: MichiGal is receiving services in exchange for this post.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Give Back to the Detroit Zoo with Outback Steakhouse - Happening Thursday, November 6

Just a friendly reminder that tomorrow is the big day! If you're anything like me, anything is a good excuse to not cook dinner, and this is one that will actually benefit the Detroit Zoo. Visit any Outback Steakhouse in the Detroit area for lunch or dinner and tell your server you're there for "Zoo Night", and 15% of your check will go to the Detroit Zoo. My family LOVES the zoo, we've had so many good times there and I know most families in the metro Detroit area can relate. Support the zoo and skip cooking - can't go wrong with this plan as far as I'm concerned!

Click HERE to find the location of your closest Outback Steakhouse.

My husband and I just enjoyed a wonderful meal at our local Outback Steakhouse last night. So while we're at it, why I don't also remind you to click HERE to enter to win an Outback Steakhouse gift card.