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    Grandma's Back Room

    Monday
    May142012

    Guest post: Double Scoop

    Guest post by Tina of DoubleScoop.net

    My husband and I frequently have different opinions about how to raise our two young girls. He likes to indulge them from time to time with a soda or lemonade, while I am painstakingly preparing dark leafy greens in tempting, or not so tempting, ways. I sometimes become too serious about their schoolwork and activities, while he’ll happily wear my 4-year old’s duckie on his head to lighten things up.  But we both agree that a strong relationship with each of their grandparents is extremely important. Neither of us believes we would be the same people if it weren’t for our own grandparents.

    We have one slight problem. We live in the middle of the country, and one set of grandparents lives on the west coast, the other set on the east coast. We decided to do our best to create a bond between the kids and their grandparents.  In fact, we counted that in the first 2 years of my oldest daughter’s life, we made 14 trips by plane and car just to visit grandparents. It was too much—too much time, too much money. And when the older child started school, we had a lot less flexibility.

    So, like many other parents with long-distance grandparents, we filled the gaps between visits with phone calls and Skype sessions, the latter which never worked as well as we had hoped. The kids would stray from the screen, we had connection issues, voices were fuzzy or clipped. Then, about a year ago, I heard about a couple of people in my town starting a company to bridge generations through technology. When I understood their mission, I joined their team to help with product development and marketing.

    Finally, we are launching DoubleScoop, an app that works on computers, iPads, iPhones and iPod touches. DoubleScoop connects kids and grandparents in a safe and simple way. They can draw pictures, exchange photos, write stories and record voice messages or songs for each other. It’s exciting because it focuses on one-to-one relationships, rather than sharing information with large groups of people. In addition, DoubleScoop keeps all of the messages shared between a grandparent and their grandchild in one place, creating a virtual scrapbook of their relationship together.

    In our home, we have been using DoubleScoop for a few months now, and my kids and grandparents love it. My husband even likes it, too. I am so happy to be able to share DoubleScoop with your readers. It’s free, so please give it a try at www.doublescoop.net. Let me know if you have any comments, questions or feedback by emailing me at help@doublescoop.net.
    Friday
    May112012

    Review: Green Kid Crafts

    Just before my recent visit to the desert to see my grandsons, I received five free craft projects of pack into my grandma bag and review with Bubby, courtesy of Penny Bauder and Sue Sears, owners of Green Kid Crafts.

    Green Kid Crafts is a subscription service offering do-it-yourself craft kits for kids. The name refers to the fact all crafts are made of natural and recycled supplies in earth-friendly packaging. Everything needed for a complete craft—except glue, scissors, paint or markers (though paint powder was included in one I received)—is in the unique and crafty kits.

    For my review with Bubby, I received from Green Kid Crafts kits for making a 3D collage (a wood, bejeweled star), a Great Horned Owl mask, a fishbowl collage, a pirate loot project, and an Easter project.

    Bubby and I had great fun with all the crafts we did. The 3D collage star was his favorite to do:

    Though the fishbowl collage came in a close second:

    Bubby's favorite craft to wear, though, was the owl mask. He loved to put it on and sit outside calling owls (and scaring his dog and little brother):

    A couple times, the whooo-whoo of the mourning doves had him fooled that he had indeed rounded up some owl friends. I, of course, didn't have the heart to tell him the truth, and he was thrilled with his magical mask.

    Bubby and I saved the Pirate Loot activity to do at my house when he visits in June as searching for treasure PawDad hides in the backyard has always been a favorite activity when he visits. As Easter had come and gone by the time I visited, I left the Easter project with him and his mom for Mom, a former teacher, to come up with a way to use the great materials for another creative project.

    What I loved about the crafts: The kits were inventive activities I likely wouldn't have thought up myself. Having all the materials included (except glue and scissors) was quite helpful. Plus, despite being simple crafts using readily available materials, they weren't cheesy and Bubby was thoroughly impressed with all of them.

    What I didn't love so much: What I didn't love was that they took longer than I expected. But that's my fault, not the fault of the creators. I simply had forgotten how long such things take with a nearly four year old...and how much Gramma would need to do (cutting, mostly) as my grandson wasn't quite ready for some things.

    Green Kid Crafts—a mom-owned and carbon neutral company—offers subscriptions for three different craft kits a month. Subscriptions are available for 3 months ($45), 6 months ($85) and 12 months ($165). For more information, visit www.GreenKidCrafts.com.

    Wednesday
    May092012

    Review: Q2 Wi-Fi Internet Radio

    When it comes to listening to music, Pandora, iTunes, Spotify and all those other nifty hi-tech ways of listening are great. Except for those times they're not. For me, that's a lot of the time because I prefer to not listen to music through headphones, which nixes the iPod and iPhone a lot of the time. And I am up and about so much throughout the day that listening through the computer, even my laptop, isn't ideal unless I carry my laptop with me wherever I go. Same goes for connecting my iPod or iPhone to a docking station because I can't hear it from various rooms in my house unless I crank it in the room where the docking station is located. Even if I do crank the music, I can't hear it outside.

    Because of such things, my lament of late has been that I don't listen to music as often as I used to or want to. But that's all going to change now, thanks to the Q2 Wi-Fi Internet Radio I recently received for free to review. I've had it only a day, and I love, love, love the little thing.

    Rather than write a long explanation of what it is, I'll just show you, via the video produced by the Q2 makers. Take a look:

    I received the black version, which was exactly the one I would have chosen if I were to purchase the Q2 myself. And I take the box o' music all throughout the house with me. I've played it in the kitchen while making dinner, at the dining room table while my husband and I ate dinner (replacing the stereo we typically play in the living room next to the dining room), in the bathroom while I showered, in the study while I worked on the computer. I've even taken it outside, walking as far from the house (and its Wi-Fi connection) as I could without losing connection, just to see how it'll do when I take it outside while doing my weeding, watering and relaxing.

    Like I said, I love, love, love my Q2. It's super easy to set up—it took me less than 10 minutes to download the software and get the Q2 connected to set the four different Internet radio stations I wanted to listen to. In all honesty, it took me far longer to figure out the stations I wanted to try. As I'm not enthralled with my local options, even though most are available as Internet stations, I sought out varied stations from around the country. Cool thing is that I could include stations from other countries, if I were so inclined. Podcasts can be played on it, too. I plan to listen regularly to various NPR podcasts.

    The Q2 would be an ideal gift for Mother's Day, for moms or grandmas. Even the least tech-savvy moms and grandmas as it's so easy to set up. The Q2 would actually make a great gift for most any occasion: Father's Day, graduations, birthdays, etc. It would even be a great gift for kids as there are plenty of Internet stations featuring music for kids only. Plus, with no knobs or buttons or remotes, it's easy to operate. Just turn to change stations, tilt to adjust volume.

    What I loved about the Q2: It's so simple—to set up, to operate, to switch the four pre-set stations. I also love the size and portability. The four-inch cube is light and easy to take from place to place, with no cords to worry about. Also, I'm used to listening to a Bose stereo, so sound quality from the single speaker was a concern, but it's surprisingly quite good, even at the highest volume (which is pretty darn loud).

    What I didn't love so much: Sometimes songs cut out and stations lose their signal. That's more an issue with Internet radio than it is directly attributed to the Q2, though. Also, I was originally a little bummed that I wouldn't be able to see the song title and artist on songs I don't know, which is a no-brainer with Pandora and other music services. But I quickly remedied that by using the SoundHound app on my phone to get song title, artist and more.

    Bottom line: The Q2 has quickly become one of my all-time favorite review items. I have no doubt music, talk radio, news radio and podcast lovers of all ages will appreciate the big sound, simple setup and use, and portability of the Q2.

    The Q2 retails for $129 and is available through Amazon, AHALife and Radio Shack. Radio Shack has the Q2 on sale for $99 through the end of June. Also, there's a Q2 giveway currently running on the Q2 Radio Facebook page.

    Find more information on the Q2 Wi-Fi Internet Radio website.

    Tuesday
    May082012

    Review & Giveaway: Char Crust Dry-Rub Seasonings [CLOSED]

    I love to cook but I'm really not very good at combining a variety of spices and seasonings to create culinary masterpieces of any degree. Which is why I was more than happy to say YES to an offer to review (and give away!) four different flavors of Char Crust Dry-Rub Seasonings. The spice blends seemed a simple way to add zip to meals, and I was especially intrigued by the fact that each flavor could be used on all meats, fish, poultry and vegetables that were broiled, baked, or grilled. Sounded like I'd have plenty of options for testing them out.

    Indeed, the options were endless. I received the following four flavors, each in a 4-oz. package, for review (descriptions direct from Char Crust):

    Roasted Garlic Peppercorn features the robust flavor of roasted garlic and onions with the zing of peppercorns and a hint of Worcestershire and lavender. Its versatility has made it a best seller. It complements steaks, lamb, seafood, pork, poultry, and potatoes.

    Ginger Teriyaki is a balance of sweet teriyaki, fragrant ginger, plus a tingly touch of wasabi that lends a new dimension and creates a modern teriyaki interpretation. It complements chicken, fish, and steak.

    Amazin’ Cajun is a spicy-sweet blend of piquant cayenne pepper, onion, garlic, oregano and a mélange of other Mardi Gras flavors. It brings the sublime heat of New Orleans to catfish, chicken, shrimp, and even “dirty” rice.

    All American Barbecue takes the best flavors of American barbecue and blends them into a tangy-sweet, slightly spicy rub. It has rich molasses from Memphis, tangy tomato from Kansas City, mustard, pepper and vinegar from the Carolinas, plus a wisp of smoke from Texas.

    And how did I put them to the test?

    Well, I first used the All American Barbecue on chicken breasts. Just as promised, the rub sealed in the juices and the chicken was moist, tender and flavorful. The flavor was less tomato-based than I expected—and better than I expected. I always think of BBQ sauce from a bottle, not a dry rub, but have been reluctant of late to buy the bottles because of the high-fructose corn syrup that's nearly impossible to avoid. The Char Crust rub is a flavorful (and probably more healthful) option.

    The Ginger Teriyaki was used on pork that I pan grilled then added to a noodle-based stir fry. As it was cooking, my oldest daughter stopped by for something or another and ended up asking to stay for dinner because it smelled so good. And it was good. I'm not a huge fan of ginger but the ginger was light while the teriyaki flavor was stronger. Loved it.

    To be different (and test the options), I used the Amazin' Cajun flavor on salmon fillets, broiled in the oven. As recommended, I sprayed the salmon with cooking spray beforehand to keep the spices from burning. The result was a moist and spicy—but not too spicy—salmon steak.

    Last but far from least is the Roasted Garlic Peppercorn flavor. I again wanted to try out what's promised on the package and this time it was the tip that Char Crust seasonings can be used on vegetables. My veggie of choice for the review was asparagus. As my husband doesn't like asparagus (or garlic, darn it), I made the spicy spears when my oldest and youngest daughter were over for dinner. We all agreed the peppercorns and garlic were a perfect complement to the fresh asparagus.

    What I loved about Char Crust Dry-Rub Seasonings: The spice blends of each flavor are well balanced, with no overwhelming taste in any of those I tried. Also, the seasoning combinations are things I wouldn't think to combine (like I said, I'm not good at that), so it was great being able to just dredge the food in a pre-mixed seasoning and not worry if I'd used the best spice for the desired result. Oh, and another thing I loved is that the seasonings truly do seal in the juices. Good stuff.

    What I didn't love so much: As the packages are 4 ounces and it's unlikely a cook would use that much to prepare food for one meal (even for a crowd), I would have preferred the rubs be in small containers, not paper pouches within cardboard boxes. Sure, I could have folded the pouches and placed in the cupboard but all the info I wanted to read for each (ingredients and instructions) are on the boxes. The boxes are unwieldy and with several to store, it's kind of a hassle.

    Bottom line: Char Crust Dry-Rub Seasonings are a perfect way for cooks to change up their meal reportoire without having to know much about how to best combine spices. Or need to have a lot of spices on hand.

    Char Crust Dry-Rub Seasonings come in eight flavors (those not reviewed are Smoky Spicy Southwest, Sun-Dried Tomato & Garlic, Hickory & Molasses, and Roto Roast). The four-ounce packages retail for $5.49 each. Visit the Char Crust website to find where they're carried near you or to purchase directly from Char Crust.

    GIVEAWAY:

    One lucky winner will receive the same Char Crust Dry-Rub Seasonings I reviewed here: Four-ounce packages of four flavors—All American Barbecue, Amazin' Cajun, Ginger Teriyaki, and Roasted Garlic Peppercorn. To enter to win: Comment below with an answer to the following question:

    What spice or seasoning is your go-to flavor when cooking?

    Entries accepted through 11:59 MDT Friday, May 11. Winner will be chosen by Random.org and notified by email Saturday, May 12, so be sure you've included your email address. Prize will be shipped directly from a Char Crust representative. Prize valued at approximately $22.

    Monday
    May072012

    Review: Hug-E-Gram

    As a long-distance grandma, I'm always on the lookout for products and services that reinforce my bond with my faraway grandsons. Many products promise to bring grandparents and grandchildren together, but few really deliver, it seems. At least with grandkids the age of mine.

    Enter the Hug-E-Gram. This unique product does indeed deliver. I was delighted to receive my free review Hug-E-Gram from the maker just before my visit with my grandsons so I could share it with them in person rather than having it mailed directly to them, giving me the opportunity see their expressions as they tried it out.

    The Hug-E-Gram consists of two huge soft plush arms with white-gloved hands with French cuffs and cufflinks. The arms wrap around a grandchild to simulate a hug (fastening with sturdy Velcro straps to hold it in place) and includes a personalized 10-second voice message the giver records from her own phone. The message device is detachable for washing.

    The message I recorded for Bubby and Baby Mac says, "Love, love. Gramma loves you soooo much!" The "love, love" part is a sing-song phrase Megan started when Bubby was tiny, and it's commonly used in our family when hugging the little ones or encouraging them to hug others.

    When I first unpacked the hug for the boys, they weren't quite sure what to make of it. But when I wrapped the arms around both of them—it allows for super-sized hugs and double hugs—and pressed the button for the audio message, their smiles lit right up. They immediately loved it! Bubby played the message over and over and over, all the while rearranging the arms about himself and his brother. A sure hit!

    Throughout my stay, Bubby and Baby Mac hugged themselves with the Hug-E-Gram again and again. A few times we even wrapped the arms around all three of us together. The soft, cuddly arms and the personalized message with Gramma's voice brought smiles each and every time.

    Bubby especially enjoyed being able to clasp the arms around himself, situating the Hug so he could easily reach the message button.

    Baby Mac appreciated the Hug in a different manner, requesting in his non-verbal way to have the Hug wrapped around him so he could play, roam the house, or roll around, all wrapped up in Gramma's arms.


    What I loved about the product: It's different. It's sweet and soft and comforting. The Seuss-like design is silly and loveable. And it's personalized—my own voice telling my grandsons how very much I love them, and they can replay it any time they want to hear it. And they can be hugged any time they miss me (or even when I'm right there, which was often the case during my visit). I envision the Hug-E-Gram being something my grandsons use for a long time to come, so the fact it can be machine washed (but air dried) will keep it fresh and clean and ready for hugging.

    The Hug-E-Gram costs $29.95, comes in three colors—red, black, salmon—and is delivered in a large floral box with a bow and the words “Someone thought of you and sent you a hug”. For more information and to order, visit the Hug-E-Gram website.

    Wednesday
    Apr182012

    Book review: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Small-Space Gardening

    Other than kids, I really stink at growing things. Especially outdoor things. Especially outdoor things that are supposed to flower or produce fruit or vegies or come back each year.

    My thumb is black, but I try every single year to turn it green. All to no avail.

    This year, I think I've found the answer: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Small-Space Gardening by Chris McLaughlin ($19.95, Penguin). I am indeed a complete idiot when it comes to gardening. And though my overall space—meaning my yards, front and back—is quite large, it's highlighted by many, many, many small spaces in which I try to grow things. So McLaughlin's book is definitely for me.

    As Complete Idiot guides generally are, this book is filled to the brim with information, organized in such a manner that you don't have to read from front to back to get what you need from it. Pick a topic and soak up what you need. This one has lots to soak up.

    Small-Space Gardening is divided into five parts, with each part having several chapters. Topcis covered include everything from the advantages of small-space gardens (raised beds, window boxes, barrels, baskets, and more) to weed control and the best plants for small spots. In between are all a wanna-be gardener might need to know, regardless of plot size.

    I've suspected and now through reading this book have confirmed that my biggest error is in my soil preparation. I don't prep the soil—before, during or after planting. I tend to stick stuff in the ground and hope it'll miraculously bloom where planted. And despite it being the very definition of crazy, I do the same thing again and again and again, hoping for different results. Yet the result is always that my stuff dies (and the money on that stuff wasted). The chapter on the importance of amending and feeding and focusing on the soil finally made an impact on my thinking. I think that will, in turn, have an impact on my garden.

    What I loved about this book: There is so much I loved, but near the top is the bullet list at the end of each chapter, titled "The Least You Need to Know." Sure, you can't assimilate everything, at least not on first read, but such a list boils it down to the important stuff. I also loved the Tip Thyme, Planting Pitfall, and Garden Gospel blurbs o' info sprinkled throughout with interesting and important tips, techniques and pointers. Another I must mention: The chapter on mulch proves my point in an argument my husband and I have all the time over the importance of mulch. Yes! Score one for Lisa!

    What I didn't love so much: The only complaint I have is that although there are several references to the USDA Hardiness Zone Map, there isn't one in the book. Seems a simple one-page inclusion—even if only in the appendix—would have been a no-brainer when writing a gardening book for idiots who may not know their zone. I do know my zone (about the only thing I do know about gardening), but I still think it should have been included.

    Bottom line: I finally feel like I have a handle on what I need to do in order to successfully grow all my small gardening spots this year. I suppose the real bottom line will come in a few months, when I see if the book and my hard work (yet to be performed, I'm compelled to add) paid off.

    Clicking on the book cover will provide more information on the book. It is NOT an affiliate link; I earn nothing by you clicking on it.