Monday, December 29, 2008

And The Winners Are...

Sorry to all of you for the delay in announcing the winners of my two giveaways. I was busy cleaning up after the Christmas rush, and eating all those holiday baked goods took me longer than I thought. But I put that last brownie aside and finally got a chance to fire up the number-picker at - and now I have my winners. And here are the names of you lucky people:

The winner of the SpongeBob Rocket Ride Lego Set is:

Jessica New of Moving Pictures.

Congrats Jessica - please email me your address so I can have your Lego set sent off to you! I'm sure you can't wait to send SpongeBob to the moon.

And the winner of the Children's Place Gift Card is:


Congrats Betzbaby - please email me your address so I can send you your gift card and you can start shopping! Hopefully you'll get this just in time to scoop up some great after-Christmas deals.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Children's Place: Win a Gift Card That Comes in All Sizes

Update: I'm extending the entry deadline to Tuesday, December 23 at 11am pst.

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Last Christmas a friend gave my older daughter a pair of pants that just didn't fit right. We thought maybe she just had to grow into them (yes, go ahead and have another donut, honey) so we put them away for awhile. By the time we remembered they were there they were around five inches too short, so she handed them down to my younger daughter. Well, they were a little too big for her, so back they went into the closet. And - you guessed it - by the time we pulled them out again they were too small. Kids these days and their rapid, freakish growth spurts.

I would have put those pants back into the closet to save for the grandkids in twenty years, but that kind of thing creeps my husband out so we gave them away. A perfectly good, brand new pair of jeans, never worn. Hopefully they ended up fitting someone, but I have a feeling they may be tucked away in someone else's closet, just waiting for that right moment...

Well, here's your chance to win a gift that can't come in the wrong size - a $30 gift card to The Children's Place, the kid's clothing store that sells high-quality, reasonably-priced clothing in sizes 0 all the way up to 14. My daughter has this pair of pajamas and loves them - perfect for our current freezing (65°) L.A. weather.

They have an amazing selection of gifts here for $10 and under - take a look at this skirt I'm ordering for my 10-year-old that costs $7.49. I think that might be less than the price of one sock from Macy's.

All you have to do for your chance to win the gift card is to leave a comment here sometime before 10pm on Monday, December 22. (U.S. residents only, please) I'll be picking a name the next day using You know it's all official and stuff when it ends in org.

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SpongeBob and Lego: A Perfect Union (And You Can Win It!)

Update: I'm extending the entry deadline to Tuesday, December 23 at 11am pst.

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Kids love SpongeBob SquarePants, right? And I KNOW they love Lego. So what could be a better combination than a SpongeBob Lego set - a SpongeBob Rocket Ride Lego set, to be exact. I'd say they might even go together better than peanut butter and jelly. Or Crabby Patties and beer.

All you have to do for your chance to win the SpongeBob Rocket Ride Lego set for your favorite kid (or for yourself - I won't tell) is leave a comment here by 10pm pst on Monday, December 22 telling me what YOUR favorite combination is. Furry slippers and a warm fire? Angie and Brad? PiƱa coladas and getting caught in the rain? And while I love my readers from all far-flung regions, I have to limit this to U.S. residents only - but you can still bring on your bangers and mash. (I'll pick a winner using, the randomest number-picker on the internet.)

Good Luck!


And while you're waiting to see if you've won my giveaway, check out The SpongeBob SquarePants’ Lost & Found My Prizes Game - an online prize hunt for kids (and grownup SpongeBob fans) where you'll have the chance to win this amazing Grand Prize:

* Toshiba REGZA® 32LV67U 32-inch LCD HDTV
* HP Pavilion® dv2700t Broadband Wireless Series Laptop - Piano Black Coating
* SpongeBob SquarePants Rolltop Box
* SpongeBob SquarePants Toy Organizer by Delta Children's Products
* SpongeBob SquarePants DVD Collection (12 DVDs)

To play, get a Game Piece found in selected SpongeBob products or request a free one by mail. Then go online to to play - every time you play the SpongeBob SquarePants’ Lost & Found My Prizes Game, you will be entered to win one of 550 Instant Win Prizes and the Grand Prize. (You can also enter to win the Grand Prize by mail.) Click on this link for a complete list of prizes and contest rules.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Disney Photo Pass: Leave Your Photo Angst at the Gate

If you're like me, you're always stressing about taking the perfect photo. This is a problem, as I often miss out on having a good time because I'm always worried about getting the light just right, or making sure the shot is framed perfectly. This is probably why my husband banned cameras in the delivery room when our kids were born - I think he knew I would have held up the whole birth entirely until those lights were positioned just so and the doctor and nurses had all brushed their hair.

That's what's so great about Disneyland's new photo service, PhotoPass, which we just used on our last trip to Disneyland. Have your photo taken by one of the PhotoPass photographers in various locations all around the park, and he'll give you a card that's linked to your photos online. (There's no charge, and you are not obligated to buy any of the photos.) Create an account on the Disney PhotoPass website where you can view and share your photos, order prints or create keepsake items like calendars or mugs. You can also upload photos of your own - my kids have forbid me to post any photos of them online, so to create this an animated snowglobe greeting I used one of our cat Milkshake since he doesn't get to tell me what to do. Unfortunately the finished product can't be embedded but you can view the actual flash version, complete with falling snow, by clicking on this link.

Make your own snowglobe here. You don't have to have a PhotoPass card - just create an account and upload your own photo of your cat or other cooperative family member.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Family Game Night for Wii: More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys*

A few weeks ago my 10-year-old told my husband and I that she wished our family played board games "like all the other families." I tried to explain to her that she had probably just seen that on TV or read about it in a book because in reality most families sat in front of their computers and ignored each other, just like we did.

So imagine my surprise when a few days later a huge box arrived in the mail from EA Games containing the following board games: Sorry, Boggle, Battleship and Connect 4. Also in our surprise package was EA's Family Game Night, which contained Wii versions of all the games. But of course, the Wii game could wait awhile - we were going to sit down and play some board games first, like all those other normal families.

We started with Sorry, which I remembered playing when I was a kid. This game can get pretty heated when you knock someone back to 'start' (hence the name, 'Sorry') and my husband asked us to keep the noise down because he was napping - just like what my dad said when I played the game way back when! Next we moved on to Connect 4, which is like a 3-D, vertical version of tic-tac-toe which I loved because it was simple and went very quickly, which was important - I was really itching to get back to my computer. We skipped playing Battleship since I figured the girls could play it with their dad - I thought it was the least he could do after taking a nap right in the middle of the day.

Lastly we played the word game Boggle, and I'm not shy to say that this is where I really shined. My 'hasten' and 'pliant' beat their 'car' and 'bed' handily, although my 12-year-old did come up with 'fez' during one game which I thought was brilliant. Then the two of them challenged me to the Wii version of Boggle - I guess they got tired of me doing my victory dance around the living room every time I won a game.

Well, this is where the generational difference was really apparent. I was still trying to figure out how to use my Wii controller to select a letter and my girls had already spelled out 'rake' and 'heart' and 'tree.' I finally did get the hang of the controller, but then didn't realize I had to double click when I was done spelling a word and ended up with a 35-letter monstrosity. Score: 0

We all loved Sorry Sliders, the Wii version of the game where you actually use your pieces in a game of shuffleboard to knock your opponents out of the way, and Battleship, Connect 4 and Yahtzee play very much like their board game counterparts. (There is also the traditional version of Sorry, but my girls prefer the board game version of this. Or as they like to call it, the Old Fashioned One.) There are also mini-games that my girls love - these are small competitions that use the same pieces and some of the other elements of the main games, but move at a quicker pace. If you're feeling adventurous you can play other amped-up versions of these games, games with crazy names like Connect 4 Power Chips, Reverse Yahtzee, Boggle Portal Cubes and Battleship Salvo. Think of it as all the games you love, but on steroids.

I would really recommend Family Game Night as a way for parents to get in on the gaming action with their kids - besides the Wii Fit, it's one of the few games that I enjoy playing (and don't completely embarrass myself doing so.) But I would also recommend picking up the board game versions - we have continued to play these together, and the girls have even introduced their friends to these strange, 3-dimensional cardboard and plastic relics. They spent 2 hours recently playing a very loud and rowdy session of Sorry - although it was very disorienting to see them having fun and not lit up by the glow of the TV screen and without a controller in their hands.

Best of all, I'm starting to think that maybe we'll get around to having that family game night after all.

*Barrel of Monkeys isn't a Wii game yet, but I'm sure there's a developer somewhere working on it this very second.
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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Game On: Finally Something I Can Play Other Than Pac-Man

A couple of weeks ago I took my daughters and their friends to a party thrown by Disney Interactive to try out some new video games. I had to take my kids along, because seriously, not being a gamer, what kind of feedback could I give on a video game? I'd have to wait until someone asked me my opinion on the logo design, or what I thought of the copy on the game package. Or maybe I could tell them what I thought of the characters in the game; I could say things like, "that one needs to tuck his shirt in" or "that one is too brightly colored and seems like he would be mean to his mother." I'm sure they would ask me back again.

But lo and behold the Disney people are a persuasive bunch, and they actually talked me into playing not one, but two video games. After assuring me that they weren't going to secretly videotape me and post it on YouTube, I agreed to try banging on some drums, and also to race some sort of motorcycle-looking thing along a muddy trail.

First up was to try my hand (or should I say hands) at Ultimate Band for Wii. I had to kick my girls and their friends off this game, since this was their favorite and they had played it nonstop since we'd arrived. The game is similar to Guitar Hero but features other instruments besides the guitar. Up to four players can play at one time, and unlike other 'band' games you don't any special peripherals - only a Wii controller and a nunchuk for each player. With just a little bit of instruction and after a couple of lame attempts, I was pounding the skins like nobody's business. I'm sure Ringo Starr is shaking in his boots right about now.

You can also choose to play either guitar or bass, and the game lets you create a unique 'look' for each of your characters. Also create the type of band you'd like - English rockers? Girl band? Style them as you'd like, and then polish your act - part of the game is perfecting your skills as you move from garage band to performing at monster stadiums in front of hundreds of screaming fans. Luckily they left out the part where the bands fall victim to addictions and divorce and then end up on E! True Hollywood Story. But who knows - maybe that's next season's game.

Next I headed over to play Pure, which is a game that puts you on an ATV and lets you race around real fast on dirt trails and through mountains. I'm sure a gamer would have a much more accurate description of this game, but for someone who never exceeds 55 in her minivan, all I can say is that it was a pretty thrilling ride. It really didn't matter that I ended up crashing into fences and was constantly hearing my girls yell out, "Noooooo, mommmm" as my rider tragically raced off a sheer cliff - it was fun. My girls loved it, too, but unfortunately Pure is made only for XBox 360 and Playstation, so this Wii family will have to do without the ATV action in our home.

That was the extent of my gaming - I headed to the buffet table to recharge after my exhausting evening being a rock star and an ATV supastar. My girls and their friends continued to play though - they tried their hand at the new Bolt game coming out, and also at Club Penguin for Nintendo DS. Too shy to sing in a room full of strangers, they passed on Sing-It, but they did give it a try, and loved it, after we got home and they were in the safety of their own room. A karaoke style game and a microphone is pretty irresistible to tween girls - and moms while their kids are away at school. Just imagine if I combined that with my stealth drumming skills...

Now that I've awed you with my stellar gaming abilities, check out my main blog and leave a comment there to enter an amazing giveaway, where you can win a gift bag filled with some of the games we tried out.

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Thanks to Maral Kaloustian for such a fun evening for me and my girls!
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Monday, December 1, 2008

HP's Girls' Night Out Relieved My Stress AND Made Me Crafty, Too

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to an amazing event: HP's Girls' Night Out. To say that this invitation came just in the nick of time is an understatement; I was working way too much, and having anxiety attacks just thinking about everything I had to get done for the upcoming holidays. I wasn't really sure what this whole Girls Night Out was about, but to be perfectly honest they could have just invited me over to sit in a dark room and served me warm beer and I would have been overjoyed.

But they had much, much more in store for all of us. The evening started with some food and some good wine, and then an instructional talk by my friend, the amazing Tracey Clark who showed us how to take a decent photograph of our kids without cussing or throwing things, and then turn it into an unforgettable holiday card. Then came a truly moving presentation by Jen Lemen, who showed us how a chance encounter in a park changed her life, and inspired all of us to give of ourselves this holiday season. (I really wished I had brought some tissues, and I apologize to the woman sitting next to me whose sleeve I had to use.)

After that we broke into small groups and headed to several different craft areas, where we could make various gifts ranging from a mini-scrapbook to beautiful gift card boxes to customized food gift labels. Let me interject here by saying that I am not a crafty person. Sure I worked as an art director for most of my life, but when faced with a glue stick and a bolt of ribbon it may as well be a spark plug and a jar of mustard - I have absolutely no idea how they go together. But lucky for me they had people there to help us, and also detailed instructions with every project. They had all the materials there for us to use, but the best part is that these projects and more can be downloaded from the HP website, absolutely free. I would say that in these tough economic times, this is a great way to make beautiful, handmade gifts that are not only more personal than that fruit cake you were thinking of buying, but way cheaper.

Here are links to some of the HP Holiday projects you can make:

Gift Card Boxes
Mini Scrapbook
3D Holiday Ornaments
Holiday Cards
Labels for Homemade Treats
Gift Tags and Stickers

(But don't take my word for it. Check out HP's Creative Studio website to see all the things you can make yourself. )

Here's the kicker: Not only did this evening relieve my stress, it made me temporarily insane and gave me the crazy idea to have my own crafty-but-not-so-crafty get-together during the busy holiday season. But I think it will be just the thing for some of my harried, overworked girlfriends: I'm going to invite a few of them over, mix up a pitcher of cosmos, set out some materials I've downloaded from the HP site and we're going to get down and get crafty. Sure, there'll be those among us using our X-acto knives only as swizzle sticks and I expect at least one person will pull out their credit card bill and burst into tears, but I think everyone will be inspired and will walk away with at least a few homemade gifts. And a lot less stress.

Want to check a few more things off your holiday gift list? Check out my main blog and leave a comment there to enter an amazing giveaway, where you can win a gift bag filled with Nintendo DS and XBox 360 games!
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Thanks to Karen Cage for a wonderful, inspirational, stress-busting evening!

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