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    Wednesday
    Oct102012

    On AARPdiscounts.com, find travel discounts and more for the holidays

    We Americans like to get up and go. Especially around the holidays, and never more so than around those holidays awaiting us with just a flip of the calendar.

    Over Thanksgiving, approximately 40 million Americans will travel by plane, train or automobile to feast, shop and visit with friends and family. The week between Christmas and New Year's will see 90 million folks traveling far and wide for similar seasonal merry making.

    Are visions of holiday travel dancing in your head? If so—and if you're a member of AARP—you may want to think of using your  AARP member discounts for making those dreams of traveling during the upcoming holiday season a reality. AARP members are in luck when it comes to travel—they have access to  a plethora of perks, valuable discounts and offers. Automatically. With membership.

    Here's how: AARP works with select companies to provide AARP members access to discounts on everything from travel to shopping to groceries that are tailored to the meet their members' specific wants and needs.  These companies offer their discounts on AARPdiscounts.com.

    With their AARP membership card, AARP members can get access to hundreds of discounts online through www.AARPdiscounts.com or offline in-store or on the phone.

    A recent addition to the list of AARP member offers is Hilton Hotels. Members can receive up to 10% off their visit at hotels worldwide. Think Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton, Embassy Suites Hotels, Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton Hotels. Chances are there's one at or near where you're planning to go. For more information or to book an AARP member rate for your holiday stay, click here.

    Also available to members are exclusive discounts at the AARP Travel Center Powered by Expedia, including 10% off AARP preferred hotel providers and 25% off AARP preferred car rental providers.

    But wait, there's more. There's always more with an AARP membership as new providers are frequently added. To stay on top of the latest and greatest discounts, offers, and information, "bookmark," "favorite" or "pin" the AARPdiscounts.com for easy access to updates.

    Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. Links were provided. Opinions and anecdotes are my own.

    Wednesday
    Oct102012

    'Woodrow, the White House Mouse' entertains while teaching kids about President's role and more

    An election year is prime time to teach children about the vital job of the President of the United States. One easy, entertaining—and thorough—way is with a new book by the author/illustrator team of Peter W. Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes.

    Woodrow, the White House Mouse, from Little Patriot Press, is a rhyming tail, er, tale of Woodrow G. Washingtail, who was elected as president of the United Mice of America. It's no cheesy story of rodents roaming the presidential abode, though. Woodrow, the White House Mouse is an intriguing, fact-filled look at the ins and outs of what the real president, the President of the United States (and who, unlike Woodrow, has no affiliation with the Bull Mouse Party) does at work and at play.

    Through rhyming text and intricate illustrations, kids (and their parents and grandparents!) learn of the duties of the busy president—mouse and otherwise. Everything from the primary job of working with Congress, the Senate and House to being "Chief Executive" in charge of all government departments from Agriculture on through Veterans Affairs. Not to be forgotten is the role as "Commander in Chief" to all the military plus the "Head of State" duties.

    Of course, the president does some fun things, too, including the Easter Egg Roll at the White House each Easter.

    Authors Cheryl and Peter BarnesSpeaking of the White House, much of the book is devoted to showing what goes on in some of the most popular and important rooms of the revered residence. From the East Room to the Red, Blue, Green Rooms, on up through the Oval Office, details on the traditional happenings of each are revealed in rich—and accurate—detailed illustrations.

    What I love about the book: With so many facts on the president and his home shared in easy to remember rhyme, I can imagine many a future Jeopardy contestant gleaning presidential trivia from the pages. Especially interesting for adults reading along with a child—as well as for the child as he or she grows—is the attention illustrator Cheryl Barnes has paid to recreating the actual furnishings and decor of the White House as well as the dresses worn by Woodrow's first lady, Bess. The Tail End chapter at the back of the book provides additional information for parents and teachers, and the inclusion of a hidden Presidential Seal in the illustrations on each page of the story enthrall younger readers.

    Woodrow, the White House Mouse by Peter W. Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes is an oversized hardcover with a suggested price of $16.99. The book is available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million.

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book as part of the TLC Book Tours. Opinions are my own.

     

    Sunday
    Sep302012

    'Rock of Ages' an unexpectedly good time

    When I accepted the invitation from Best Buy to review the Warner Bros. movie Rock of Ages in anticipation of its release on DVD October 9, I expected the movie to be raunchy. After all, it is about rock and roll. I also expected to know many of the songs featured in the movie. After all, I am a fan of rock and roll.

    What I didn't expect, though, was for Rock of Ages to be so much fun. And I definitely didn't expect to like it so darn much. After all, I had avoided seeing it in theaters when first released because it just seemed rather far fetched and silly.

    Turns out Rock of Ages is silly—but it's that blatant, unabashed silliness that ended up most endearing me to it.

    Rock of Ages, set in 1987, tells the story of Sherrie and Drew, two young adults who want nothing more than to make their rock-and-roll dreams come true. Sherrie (Julianne Hough) arrives in Los Angeles by bus from Oklahoma to pursue stardom. She meets Drew (Diego Boneta), a barback with rock-and-roll visions of his own, and the two fall in love, setting the stage for a bounty of rock-and-roll ballads to be sung.

    It's the singing of so many ballads and other songs that most surprised me. Somehow I missed in early trailers and subsequent reviews that Rock of Ages is a musical. Not a movie with a strong soundtrack, a la Almost Famous, but a real musical, the kind in which nearly every character sings. Opening with Sherrie and her fellow bus passengers waxing melancholic to "Sister Christian" and ending with Sherrie, Drew and everyone viewers meet along the way rocking out to "Don't Stop Believing," Rock of Ages is an over-the-top musical treat with lots of dancing, lots of singing. Alec Baldwin sings. Russell Brand, of course, sings. Catherine Zeta-Jones sings. Tom Cruise, who plays an Axl Rose-type rock star, sings. Even Paul Giamatti sings. Everyone sings. (Everyone except Bryan Cranston, that is, though it was treat enough just to see the best of the bad boys getting spanked in one scene.)

    I love musicals. I especially love campy musicals, which is why I so enjoyed Rock of Ages. It's camp at its best, right in line with Cry Baby, Grease and other over-the-top musicals in which all the characters are fun-loving—or dastardly—caricatures of folks we all know or wish we did.

    What I loved most about Rock of Ages:  Anyone who follows Grandma's Briefs knows I'm a fan of mashups, and Rock of Ages had some pretty good ones: "Jukebox Hero" mashed with "I Love Rock and Roll;" "We're Not Gonna Take It" mashed with "We Built This City;" "Shadows of the Night" mashed with "Harden My Heart." And so many more. As expected, I knew nearly every song in the movie...by heart.

    I also loved the performances by Mary J. Blige—whose part may have been small but her voice was the largest and most goose bump producing—and Malin Ackerman, who spared no goofiness in her role as a Rolling Stones reporter. The highlight for me, though, was the montage and duet featuring Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand. I'll give nothing away except that it was absolutely hilarious.

    What I didn't love so much: I'm not a Tom Cruise fan, and his participation in the movie was part of the reason I didn't see it in theaters. On the plus side, he's not the lead in Rock of Ages, despite the trailers making it seem as if might be. Also, I found Julianne Hough's voice rather grating at times. Personal preference on both counts, as I know many folks adore both Tom and Julianne.

    Bottom line: As the movie tagline says, Rock of Ages is "nothing but a good time." Once I realized that's really all it's meant to be, Rock of Ages proved to be an unexpectedly good time—one I'll surely enjoy again.

    Rock of Ages (PG-13, 123-minutes) is available on DVD October 9 at Best Buy.

    Disclosure: 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.

    Sunday
    Sep302012

    Halloween is coming! Two fun ways to count the days

    October has pretty much arrived, which means just 31 more days til Halloween. Which can seem like forever to a child. Make the waiting for the Halloween fun a little easier with these two cool ways to countdown the days, both of which I received free for review.

    How Many Days 'til...Halloween craft kit

    This simple craft for grandmas (or moms or any adult) to make for the youngsters in their life helps minimize the "how many more days til Halloween?" requests. Hang it where the kids can reach and allow them to move the sleep black cat from pocket to pocket, marking the days til Halloween has arrived.

    The craft kit comes with everything crafters will need (except glue) to create the adorable 14" wide by 13" high felt pumpkin with pockets. felt, numbered pockets, embroidery floss, Halloween-themed doodads and more. I was happy to have a complete kit for the craft instead of having to hunt down all the little things required to make it eerie and awesome.

    All you need in addition to the kit and some glue is a little know how—mainly, I found, how to execute a blanket stitch. Which, incidentally, I had never done before. But with a quick Internet search and comfort in the note on the kit instructions that the project is meant to be "primitive" and "Uneven stitches and wonky placement add to the charm of the total piece."

    My stitching was indeed uneven and slightly wonky (and actually not stitched exactly as instructed, an oversight on my part). Even so, the project took me about five hours total time, spread out across a few evenings to complete and turned out quite well. I think my grandsons will agree and be delighted in moving the black cat from pocket to pocket, anticipating the final pocket marked 31.

    It's likely a little late to create your own How Many Days 'til...Halloween craft project this year, but there's always next year. The kits are available for $22 from Surf City Mercantile Etsy shop.

     

    Countdown Cal

    There is still time for Countdown Cal Halloween countdown fun, though—if you order soon. Countdown Cal is a Halloween countdown calendar filled with 16 foil-wrapped and holiday-themed milk chocolates.

    The counting fun begins on October 16. Kids open a flap each day, enjoying a treat hidden below each flap and viewing the number of days remaining until Halloween marked on each flap. A "countdown pal" on the pack of the package provides a spot for kids to color in the days as each flap is opened. For additional fun, a Halloween picture is printed on each flap and kids are encouraged to find that picture in the spooky cemetery scene printed on the back of the Countdown Cal box.

    The artwork on the package is delightfully eerie, but not too scary for little counters (and chocolate eaters). The milk chocolate treats are manufactured in the USA by RM Palmer Company and are certified Kosher.

    My one suggestion for parents and grandparents sharing Countdown Cal with your kiddos: Read the directions. It took me a minute to figure out which flap to open on which day, as the numbered flaps correspond to the number in which they should be opened, not the date or days remaining. I opened—and ate—my sample candies out of order, as I didn't heed the directions.

    Countdown Cal retails for $11.99 and can be purchased at www.countdowncal.com. Discounts of 5-30 percent are available, depending on quantity requested in a single order—which is great for grandparents with lots of grandchildren counting the days to Halloween.

    Disclosure: I received both products above free for review. Opinions are my own.

    Wednesday
    Sep262012

    Bouncing good time: One Step Ahead Bounce-A-Round review and giveaway

    What's more fun than a bouncy house? Not much, especially when it's a bouncy house for kids, a bouncy house you can set up indoors or out, a bouncy house from One Step Ahead.

    One Step Ahead, a super spot for grandparents and parents to purchase the coolest of cool kid toys and more, sent me one of their popular Bounce-A-Round inflatable jumpers to review plus an offer to give one away to my readers. So I blew it up using the included double-action hand pump (it took me 15 minutes, which was far better than I expected) and placed it in my living room, ready to be reviewed.

    The Bounce-A-Round is designed for ages 2 and up, with a weight limit of 120 pounds total (two jumpers at a time, max), so I clearly needed to call in some kids for the jumping. Since my grandsons live 815 miles away and wouldn't be visiting any time soon, I called on the cutest little guest reviewers—Milo and Caden, children of friends: 

    I could blather on in text about how the review went, but as pictures are worth far more than my meager words, I'll share with you the photos of how that review went.

    First up was Milo, a few months under the recommended age of 2 but nonetheless ready to jump with joy, with Mom nearby.

     

    Then Caden arrived. Immediately his shoes were removed (as recommended) and he climbed on in. Caden, at nearly four years old, better fits the age range the Bounce-A-Round is meant for, and it's clear he took full advantage of all its bounciness:

     

    The Bounce-A-Round is far larger than I and the moms of the reviewers expected. The One Step Ahead site gives the dimensions as 46"L x 48"W for the inflated jumping area, with walls, inflated, of 32" - 38"H (on top of the height of the inflated base). The base inflated is 66"L x 77"W. With all that space, the reviewers' moms willingly climbed in to pose for a picture with their little ones (no jumping by moms, I promise).

     

    As with most playthings, it's always more fun when there's a partner in play, and Milo and Caden thoroughly enjoyed sharing the ample space.

    What's up with the darker photos above? After a bit of bouncing as intended, we decided to throw a sheet over the top of the Bounce-A-Round and make a fort out of it.

    It was in that version that the boys had the most fun, and I can imagine the hours of play my fort-loving grandsons will get out of it next time they visit. When playtime is over, there's even a bit o' fun involved in deflating the Bounce-A-Round.

    One suggestion of note: As you can see from Milo's awkward exit, it's best to have a pillow or other soft spot for kids to land when getting out:

    What we loved most about the One Step Ahead Bounce-A-Round: First up is the size. As I mentioned above, the moms and I were quite impressed by how large it is. Also, I was happy the three chambers (base, walls, top rail) inflated so quickly, even without a motorized pump. And I liked the idea the jumper could be used inside or outside, as not everyone has a huge spot for—nor always wants—a massive inflatable toy in the house. (Of course, you'd want to place something underneath when using outside, to protect from pokes that pop, and a pillow at the entrance would be a necessity.) Overall, the entire thing was pretty heavy duty, but I'm glad patches were included just in case the jumper springs a leak somewhere down the road.

    Suggestions for improvement, courtesy the reviewers' moms: Having a flap over the entrance would be helpful, they both suggested, as kids bouncing near the entrance—especially smaller ones—tumble easily out the door. Plus, they thought an included cover for fort-like play might be nice, as the sheet I threw over the top kept coming off.

    The One Step Ahead Bounce-A-Round, previously $99.95 but now $79.95 on the One Step Ahead website, comes with a 100% lifetime guarantee, the very same guarantee given every item sold by One Step Ahead.

    As mentioned above, One Step Ahead is giving away one Bounce-A-Round inflatable jumper to a Grandma's Briefs reader. With the holidays coming up, what could be better than winning such a bouncing good time to share with the little ones at your place or theirs? Enter here:

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Disclosure: I received the product above free for review, as well as the offer of one for a giveaway. Anecdotes and opinions are my own.

    Tuesday
    Sep252012

    3-2-1 Penguins! Win Season One

    When I was a kid, Saturday mornings meant hours in front of the TV watching animated (and live action) characters such as H.R. Pufnstuf, Archie and Josey and the gang, Bugs Bunny, Pixie & Dixie, and that always infuriating Woody Woodpecker.

    When my daughters were kids, Saturday mornings featured Pound Puppies, Muppet Babies, Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks.

    Saturday mornings for my grandsons? Well, I'm not so sure Saturday-morning television holds as much charm for them as they did for my daughters and me.

    Perhaps that's partially because they've yet to discover 3-2-1 Penguins. As I'm no longer in charge of what kids, mine or otherwise, watch on Saturday mornings, I hadn't heard of the flightless space birds. That is, until I received the 3-2-1 Penguins! Complete Season One DVD free for review. Seems Zidgel, Fidgel, Midgel and Kevin are apparently quite popular and must-see TV for many youngsters on Saturday mornings.

    Do the kids in your family know about 3-2-1 Penguins? Do you? Here's a taste of the fun I had the privilege of sampling:

    What I loved most about 3-2-1 Penguins! Complete Season One: The silly space pals are entertaining, but I especially liked that the Grandma to the two human characters—Michelle and Jason—has a fairly prominent spot in their lives and in the show. I also appreciated that common sense (and a good dose of faith) made the difference in solving the crisis of each episode.

    What I didn't love so much: That grandma mentioned above? Well, she's the stereotypical grandma—gray hair up in a bun, chubby, clothed in a dress and apron. Plus, you never see her face. Just a pet peeve of this grandma who wishes the media wouldn't support the out-dated stereotype of grandmas.

    3-2-1 Penguins! Complete Season One features 13 episodes—nearly 5 hours running time—plus bonus features such as a recipe for Midgel's Cool Blue Space Fuel and directions on how to draw Midgel. 3-2-1 Penguins: Complete Season One is from Big Idea Entertainment, the makers of VeggieTales, and can be purchased for $14.99 on the VeggieTales website.

    Enter to win 3-2-1 Penguins! Complete Season One! Enter via Rafflecopter below and you just might be the winner, selected by random Oct. 3, of five hours of animated space penguin fun.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway  

    Disclosure: I received a free DVD for review and the offer of one for giveaway, to be shipped to the winner by the sponsor. Opinions and anecdotes are my own.