Category:Tips and Shortcuts’

We Give Books– Free Online Books to Educate, Inspire, and Share

 - by Mama Maintenance

From the time that our children are infants, we read to them.  The fact that they are virtually color-blind with a six inch range of focus doesn’t deter us from presenting fuzzy, squeaky, shiny board books in a variety of voices for hours on end.  As they get older, these babies are coached into phonemic awareness by an army of alphabet and Bob books until we finally create readers.  I think most parents can relate to the feeling of an imaginary box being checked off when your child can finally read independently, but perhaps the better question at this point is, “How do we continue to promote a love of reading?”

Books have quite the competition these days…  “Mom, do you have a book in your purse?” said no kid EVER, the last time they were stuck in a waiting room.  It seems that even toddlers know how to demand a smartphone within a nanosecond of downtime.  So how can a parent put a fresh twist on books and bring back the excitement?

Recently, publishing mogul Penguin Group teamed up with the non-profit Pearson Foundation to establish a web-based initiative, armed with the sole purpose of putting books into the hands of more kids.  We Give Books strives to inspire a spirit of giving and foster a lifelong love of reading by providing hundreds of free books online.

Through strategic partnerships, We Give Books offers a mix of fiction and nonfiction books, appropriate for ages 0-10.  The user interface is simple and intuitive, allowing even savvy, little fingers to sort titles by age range, genre, or author.  Although the full-screen presentations that gleam as bright and vivid as ink-dyed paper require a full version of Adobe Flash that is not mobile device compatible, there are about half a dozen books that can be viewed on an iOS or Android mobile device.

In three short years, We Give Books has donated almost 2 Million books to children through partnering with companies like Leapfrog and Jumpstart to inspire action through annual, school-based literacy events, drives, and donations.  Year-round, the 501(c)(3) organization donates two books to one of their world wide literacy partners for every $5 it receives in donations.

This month, Hyatt Hotels has partnered with We Give Books to launch their Commit To Thrive campaign, which encourages people to take a pledge to make a positive difference in their community.  For each pledge taken, up to 35,000, Hyatt has committed to donate a book to a child in need.

 

Click on the image below, and a book will be donated to a child through the

Commit To Thrive campaign, which runs April 1-30, 2013:

 

COMMIT TO THRIVE

 

Whether it gives a book to a child in need, inspires the adoption of a structured summer reading program, or simply makes books “cool” to kids by incorporating an element of tech, there is no doubt that We Give Books is, indeed, making a positive impact with children everywhere.

What type of positive change did you pledge to make?

Make Time for Exercise: Sworkit, Free Circuit Training App Review

 - by Mama Maintenance

rush_hourThere are a lot of things I love about working out: tailored hoodies and Lycra waistbands, the stockpiling of ways to rationalize happy hour, guilt-free, budget-friendly time spent with galpals, and the feel of the sun on my face are just a few that top the list. Sadly, however, the actual activity, typically trails toward the bottom of the list for me. I don’t know why, but I’m just not made to love working out. While some love exercise for the stress release, I’d much rather find this release at the bottom of a glass of wine, playing the piano, or indulging in some some mindless reality TV, if I’m being completely honest.

Ironically, Fitness magazine arrives in my mailbox every month. I never subscribed to the publication, it just started showing up. Either it’s a hint from somebody, or a free gift from an online shoe order. While I don’t actually find pictures of a 5’11”, 120 pound model doing squats particularly motivating, I do often find myself tearing out the circuit workouts with a misguided but well-placed intention of doing them someday. I suppose the appeal might stem from the fact that the simplicity of circuit training seems to pair well with the frenetic pace of motherhood. After all, never being off the clock creates an endless list of mental excuses to choose from: “I don’t have a large enough window of time… I’d need to find a babysitter… That class doesn't fit the budget… I don’t want to be late for… I’ll do it after the kids are asleep so I won’t be interrupted… I don’t have time to take another shower and get ready all over again…” and you know, the list goes on.

While I don’t bawk (but really should) at blowing an hour on Facebook or Pinterest, carving out 40 minutes for my workout seems impossible some days. It’s odd how pinning exercises to a Board seems to go by so much faster and feel almost just as good. In truth, I actually have to block out time in an obnoxiously color-coded fashion in my Outlook calendar to get it done. A recent commitment to return from a summer ankle fracture and finish a half-marathon in January had me doing just this recently. While installing apps on my phone for interval training, I stumbled across Sworkit, a free app that provides targeted, randomized circuit training workouts. The simple app works this way:

 

SWORKIT SELECTIONSPick your workout time:

Sworkit creates circuits that vary from 5 minutes to 60 minutes. 5 minutes. It’s really hard to create an excuse that undermines a 5 minute workout, given that even an episode of Ninjago is 24 minutes… so I’ve been told, that is.

 

Pick your workout area of focus:

Choose from a variety of targeted muscle groups including Upper Body, Core Strength, Lower Body, Full Body, Back Strength, Stretching Only, Sun Salutation and Full Sequence Yoga. Up for variety and surprises? There’s also an Anything Goes category for you.

 

SWORKIT EXERCISE TIMERFollow the pictures and listen for the bell:

No matter how long of a workout you choose, the structure is the same: 30 second sets of randomized exercises, queued by a timer bell. Each exercise is titled and illustrated (not animated) with the option to skip or pause. Sworkit also works in a 30 second break every 2.5-3 minutes.

 

While most of the exercises are simple and familiar circuit training basics such as push up, plank, squat and crunch variations, I feel compelled to mention that there is no coaching on form in the free version, so you might want to skip or research unfamiliar moves if you encounter them during your circuit, as to prevent injury. See a list of some of the exercises incorporated with the app here. If you’re a compulsive logger who is interested in finding out what you burned in your Sworkit circuit, you can also get a rough estimate here.

Sworkit is available on Android and iOS devices for free, with the option to purchase an inexpensive Pro version, which offers improved audible queues and descriptions of the exercises as well as usage tracking options. Looking for a bigger screen? Try it on your home PC or laptop!

SWORKIT LARGE

While this app may not provide you with the motivation of a whistle-wielding trainer or the upbeat buzz of a class or video, it does provide you with an option for equipment-free, targeted circuits that can be fit into any amount of time or space. Whether you're traveling on business, working your abs during a commercial break of the Bachelor, or taking your outdoor workout up a notch, Sworkit is sure to leave you all out of excuses.

 

How do you make time to move?

 

Delicious Make-Ahead Sideline Snacks for Adults

 - by Mama Maintenance

The bottom of a pack of Goldfish… the empty, sticky wrapper of a Fruit Rope… Fingers covered in Pirate Booty crumble…  Sadly, we’ve all found ourselves there.  While these things might make great, on-the-go snacks for our kids, they tend to mark some sort of self-care rock bottom for us moms.   After all, it’s not like we intend to raid the soccer bag, nor do we logically believe that a handful of Annie’s Bunnies and bag of baby carrots makes for a solid, 8 pm dinner… it just happens.

Part of my problem is that I love snacking.  It’s a vice, and totally embarrassing.  Suffice it to say that I’m familiar with the shame of secretly bringing a bag of noms to the front seat with me for the drive home after loading the rest of the groceries in the trunk.  As an expert snacker, I feel like I’ve arrived at two basic truths: 1) If you have to snack, snack well and enjoy it.  Really enjoy it.   2) The easiest way to make a good snack taste fabulous, is to share it with great company.

So rewind back to the sidelines with your “magic” coffee tumbler in-hand…  What types of share-worthy snacks can one quickly make ahead of time, drag to the field without a mess, and fit your grocery budget?

Here are a few that I’m fond of… Mangia!

Savory Palmiers

This Gourmet recipe is hard to beat considering it has only 2 ingredients.

It can also be made ahead, frozen, and it travels well.

 

  • Puffed Pastry Sheets, Thawed but Chilled
  • 2 Cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, Finely Grated
  • Silpat or Parchment Paper

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line baking sheets with Silpat or parchment.
  2. Sprinkle some cheese on a work surface and cover it with a puff pastry sheet. Then sprinkle more cheese evenly over pastry sheet and roll it out into a 10-inch square with a rolling pin. Fold in two opposite sides of the square so that the sides meet in the center. Fold in same sides of the pastry again to meet in center.
  3. Fold one half of the pastry over the other. Cut pastry crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Dip cut sides of each piece in cheese and arrange, a cut side down, on lined baking sheet. Repeat with three remaining pastry sheets.
  4. Bake palmiers in batches in middle of oven until golden on bottom, about 12 minutes. Turn over and bake until golden on bottom, 5 to 7 minutes more, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

 

Rocky Road Bars

This Chow Recipe delivers a balance of sweet, salty, and nutty.

  • 1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips (about 7 1/2 ounces)
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups packed mini marshmallows
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped roasted, salted almonds

Preparation:

  1. Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with butter; set aside.
  2. Combine 3/4 cup of the chocolate chips and all the butter in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
  3. Whisk sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl until eggs are broken up and smooth. Add chocolate mixture and stir to combine. Add flour and baking powder and stir until just incorporated. Add 3/4 cup of the marshmallows and 3/4 cup of the almonds and stir to combine.
  4. Transfer batter to the prepared dish and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven.
  5. Move the rack to the top of the oven. Sprinkle remaining chocolate chips, marshmallows, and nuts over the surface of the batter. Return to the oven and continue baking until marshmallows are puffed and golden brown, about 10 minutes more. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.

 

Crazy Delish Cheesy Garlic Bread

This Food.com recipe reminds me just how delicious simplicity can be. Imagine this warm, salty snack paired with your sweet cocktail.

Inexpensive, filling, perfect for sharing, and easy to transport. Bread can be prepped ahead and put in the oven prior to leaving the house.

 

  • 1 loaf French bread, unsliced
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 garlic cloves, halved (or more!)
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Foil

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F degrees.
  2. Cut slices down the length of bread loaf at 1 inch intervals, without cutting all the way through.
  3. Rub slices and top of loaf with cut sides of garlic.
  4. Mince garlic.
  5. Combine butter, garlic, parsley and Parmesan.
  6. Spread butter mixture between bread slices and on top of loaf.
  7. Wrap bread in foil leaving top partially uncovered.
  8. Bake until heated through, about 15 minutes.
  9. Wrap and transport warm

 

Savory Parmesan Shortbread Rounds

This Bon Apetit recipe makes simple, savory cookies that are as easy to gobble up on the field as they are to pair with charcuterie at your next dinner party. Play with the recipe, too… Try making a batch with fresh cracked pepper, rosemary, or smoked paprika.

Easy and pantry-friendly, these shortbreads can be made 1 week ahead, stored at room temperature, or frozen for up to 1 month.

  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/2 small garlic clove, minced
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Mix flour, 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, salt, garlic, and cayenne pepper in processor.
  3. Add butter and, using on/off turns, process until dough begins to come together.
  4. Gather dough into ball. Divide dough in half. Roll each half into 12-inch log, and cut each log into 1-inch pieces. Roll each piece into ball.
  5. Arrange dough balls on prepared baking sheet, spacing about 1 1/2 inches apart. Press each ball into 2-inch-diameter round.
  6. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese over.
  7. Bake shortbread rounds until tops are dry and bottoms are golden brown, about 20 minutes.
  8. Transfer shortbread rounds to rack and cool completely.

 

Have any recipes to add?

Post a link in the comments below!

10 Hot Cocktails to Keep You Toasty On the Sidelines

 - by Mama Maintenance

I used to think that being called a Soccer Mom referred more to the specific set of snack-schlepping, carpooling, equipment-cleaning duties. With my first season of outdoor soccer now in full swing, however, I'm starting to learn that the term seems to refer more to the sisterhood of shivering, sideline cheerleaders who tirelessly celebrate a great save, missed kick, or game-winning goal all the same. This fall, I was lucky enough to meet a fabulous group of said soccer moms who also believe in extending the fun on the field to the sidelines. After all, it is logical to argue that the only thing missing from Friday nights and girlfriends, are cocktails!

 

So whether you're cheering on the sidelines, huddled under a blanket in the bleachers, or trick-or-treating in the rain, check out this page from the Bad Soccer Mommy Playbook… Enjoy!

 

 

Nutty Irishman

  • 1 oz Bailey's
  • 1 oz Frangelico
  • Fill with Coffee
  • Garnish with whipped cream and nutmeg

 

All Warm & Fuzzy

  • 1 oz Kahlua
  • 1 oz Bailey's
  • 1 oz Butterscotch Schnapps
  • 1 oz Grand Marnier
  • Fill with Hot Chocolate
  • Garnish with whipped cream

 

Almond Kiss

  • 2 oz Amaretto
  • Fill with Hot Chocolate
  • Garnish with whipped cream and slivered almonds

 

Mommy's Magic Cocoa

  • 3 oz Whipped Cream or Marshmallow Flavored Vodka
  • Fill with Hot Chocolate
  • Garnish with whipped cream or marshmallows

 

Butter Baby

  • 1 oz Butterscotch Schnapps
  • Fill with Hot Chocolate
  • Garnish with whipped cream

 

Snuggler

  • 1 oz Peppermint Schnapps
  • 1 tsp Sugar
  • Fill with Hot Chocolate
  • Garnish with whipped cream & crushed mints or chocolate shavings

 

Broken Leg

  • 1 oz Spiced Rum
  • Fill with Hot Apple Cider
  • Garnish with a cinnamon stick

 

Brandy Almond Mocha

  • 1 oz Amaretto
  • 1 oz Brandy
  • Fill with equal parts Coffee & Hot Chocolate
  • Garnish with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and slivered almonds

 

Midnight Storm

  • 2 oz White Creme de Menthe
  • Fill with Hot Chocolate
  • Garnish with whipped cream and drizzle with Green Creme de Menthe

 

Hot Apple Toddy

  • 2 oz Whiskey or AppleBrandy
  • 1 tsp Honey
  • Fill with Hot Apple Cider
  • Garnish with a cinnamon stick and whole cloves


How do you bring fun to the sidelines?

 

Next post: Tasty Pairing Treats for the Sidelines

 

 

Swoop Bags Review – Organize Your Kid’s Toys

 - by Mama Maintenance

Through the years, I’ve endured all sorts of pain… two C-Sections within two years, an adult tonsillectomy, stitches, sprains, watching horrible sci-fi movies with my husband…  the list goes on.  There is, however, no greater pain than the unexpected Lego in the arch of your foot.  You know what I’m talking about.  It is nothing short of a marvel of engineering that a 1 inch piece of cheerfully colored plastic can inflict this amount of pain.  Wooden blocks and cars are often large enough to dodge, but Legos litter the playroom floor like a sleeper minefield.

SWOOP BAG PLAYMATIt is in this moment, right after a pain-filled-arch-holding-hopping-dance-with-all-sorts-words-to-not-be-repeated, that I feel particularly motivated to find a better way to store the little torture toys.  During one of these recent experiences, I found a product that is nothing short of brilliant: Swoop Bags.

 

Designed by a Seattle mom of two boys, Sarah Kirk is all too familiar with rogue Lego pieces.  In fact, Sarah is a third-generation Lego cleaner-upper and Swoop bags were first designed by Sarah’s grandmother, remade by Sarah’s mother, and now, redesigned and marketed by Sarah for playrooms everywhere.

 

SWOOP BAG CINCHSwoop Bags marry simple function with mod design.  Constructed of high-quality cotton canvas, these brightly colored additions to your room double as a play mat AND a toy tote!  Toy tote, is actually a gross understatement.  When opened  up, the Swoop Bag serves as a large, rimmed play mat that cinches up in seconds to a portable, hangable sack.  There is mad simplicity to the product, but little details in the design make it amazing.  For example, the color contrast edging serves as just enough rim to keep little toys from straying from the mat, so I won’t find myself shouting like a crazy woman, “Stay on the mat, keep the toys on the mat!”  The heavy duty, high quality nylon cording make it a simple grab for tiny hands… there is no confusion as to where one should pull to convert the Swoop into its bag form.  The conversion itself is effortless, as the weight of the toys and gravity help pull down to create the bag.  It really does clean up in a Swoop!

Although Legos are by far the biggest foot pain offenders in our house, these Swoop bags can also make Barbie, My Little Pony, library book, stuffed animal, and Matchbox car injuries a distant memory!  In fact, the function and design options seem limitless.  They also make a fantastic gift for someone who has virtually everything.  Trust me, there isn’t a mom out there that wouldn’t love adding one of these (or more!) to her house.  Available in six fun colors, they are sure to brighten up a room in addition to cleaning up a room!

So go ahead and let them play… and then Swoop it away!

SWOOP BAGS HANG6

Click here to shop Swoop Bags

The Cost of Raising a Child

 - by Mama Maintenance

KIDDO GRADWhen my daughter recently asked for an American Girl doll for her birthday, I groaned at the thought of dropping a hundred bones on a stuffed toy.  Although I do recall begging my parents for an elusive Cabbage Patch Kid Doll (the preemie with the pacifier, of course!) as a child, the bar certainly seems to be set much higher these days when it comes to toys.  It was this particular trip to the mall that started me thinking about how much it truly costs to raise a child in this day and age…  With impeccable timing, my cousin, who is expecting her 3rd child, posted a link with a simple calculator that sums it up for you in a matter of a few clicks.

 

Click here to calculate how much it will cost to raise your child

 

Ouch!  According to this calculator, raising our 4 and 6 year old in Seattle and sending them to a public university will set us back a cool $480,650 per child.  If they go to a private university, the lofty figure gets bumped to $511,442.  If a mysterious wave of panic has suddenly knocked out the part of your brain that processes numbers and language, perhaps this might help:

 

bag of money +   baby   =   penniless But…   stick family

 

What a stunning figure.  I suppose I should stop worrying about the silly doll and make sure the kids’ 529 plans are in good shape instead.  For a summary of different options for college savings plans, check out Forbes’ College Savings 101.

EWG’s 2011 Dirty Dozen & Clean 15: Know when to buy organic

 - by Mama Maintenance

When it comes to feeding our families, some decisions are a little more obvious than others:  Twinkies: Bad.  Carrots: Good.  Cheetos: Bad.  Apples: Good.  Is it really that simple, though?   With so much buzz about the possibility of environmental factors to blame for an increase in allergies, endocrine disruptions, and diseases, more and more families are seeking ways to reduce the number of chemicals they ingest.  Practically speaking, however, how does one implement this change?   Many family budgets simply do not allow for a strictly-organic grocery tab.  I’ve watched my kids polish off a pint a berries in less time that it takes to finish an episode of Word World, so I must admit that the $7/pint price tag for off-season organic raspberries packs quite the punch.  Is it really worth it?

Since 1993, Environmental Working Group has devoted itself to research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability.  Simply put, EWG’s mission is “to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment.”

Each summer, the nonprofit public watchdog reviews the pesticide data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Federal Drug Administration to publish the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15”, lists outlining the most and least contaminated fruits and vegetables.  The latest version looks like this:

 

2011 Dirty Dozen & Clean 15 ListDIRTY DOZEN FOODS

To download this list as a .pdf file or as an app to your phone, CLICK HERE

 

Still not sure the items on the Dirty Dozen list are worth the bigger grocery tab?   Consider some of the statistics…  According to the EWG report, 98% of apples contained pesticides, and 92% contained more than two pesticides.  Vegetables aren’t in the clear, either… 95% of celery tested positive for pesticides, while 90% tested two or more.  Since berries are low to the ground and vulnerable to pests and disease, they boast some of the most staggering pesticide profiles at more than thirteen detected pesticides in a single sample.   Geography plays a vital role as well when you’re making decisions at the market.  While domestic grapes escaped the Dirty Dozen, imported grapes were detected to have as many as 14 pesticides in a single sample!

I must admit that I have grown much more complacent about diet as my kids have aged.  An occasional hot dog no longer sends me into panicky waves of Mommy Guilt, and my kids’ giant appetites make the huge containers of conventional berries at Costco pretty darn tempting.  After writing this post and revisiting the pesticide discussion, however, I can firmly say that I’ve recommitted to staying away from the Dirty Dozen.  I’ve also decided that sourcing produce locally and in-season might be a good strategy to try.  I suppose when I think about it, putting money toward what goes in your body, rather than what goes on your body makes a bit more sense, now doesn’t it?

 

What is your market strategy?

Spread the Word: Sign Up for Free Wireless Amber Alerts

 - by Mama Maintenance

There’s just no question about it: a missing child is every parent’s worst nightmare. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 75% of all the children abducted and murdered by strangers are killed within the first three hours. Time is indisputably of the essence in the case of child abduction. Since 2001, America’s Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response, more commonly known as the Amber Alert system, has trained the Nation to vigilantly tune into our surroundings when local children go missing by utilizing radio, satellite, television, cable, weather, and emergency response station/board messaging. For many of us, however, it is far too easy for a day to go by without catching the news or passing an electronic freeway billboard. So how about using your cell phone for a cause more worthy than checking email and chatting?

Wireless Amber Alerts delivers local Amber Alerts to your cell phone via text. The potentially life-saving text messages are free by law, and registering your cell phone number on this site allows you to customize your alerts by zip code or city, even though Amber Alerts are typically dispatched Statewide.

I’m thankful to my friend, who passed along this nugget of precious info, and encouraging you to do the same after reading this post. Please don’t wait – register your phone number today and finally do something truly “smart” with your smartphone. Click below, or go directly to www.wirelessamberalerts.org

Kid-Proof the Web – Zoodles.com Review

 - by Mama Maintenance

 

Technology has completely redefined how our children play and learn. While there will always be good entertainment value to digging in the dirt and kicking a ball, most kids these days also know how to swipe their way around a touch screen, use a Wii controller, and navigate the internet with a mouse in search of fun. I’m certainly not above promoting these activites, either, as I’ve been known to stream Disney videos via You Tube in dressing rooms and use Angry Birds screen time as valuable errand-running negotiating currency.

As much as I marvel at the convenient entertainment and the educational value modern technology can provide, I don’t think I stand alone when I say that I think there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to accessing these resources. While keeping track of which sites are age appropriate for your kids and steering clear of unwanted content is important and difficult, listening to the incessant pleas of a game-obsessed child or dealing with a phone that is suddenly missing all its icons is just plain annoying. Enter: Zoodles. In a non-so-technical nutshell, Zoodles allows you to set customized limits on your children’s web access and activities while protecting the settings on your computer, phone, or tablet. By creating child-specific profiles, you enable Zoodles to pull age-appropriate content and activities from multiple sites that fit your parameters and create an online environment that you actually want your kids to be in.

In the past, I would bookmark various sites on my kids’ laptop… Starfall, PBS Kids, Disney, Nick Jr, etc. While I appreciated how these sites provided educational games and activities with the help from familiar characters, I often found that there were aspects of the websites that I found less desirable. I’ll never forget setting my daughter up on pbskids.org with a Super Why reading game, only to return and find her playing some ridiculous Boobah game with little characters that sounded like they farted every time you clicked your mouse on them. I was not amused. This was a far cry from my intended purpose of her screen time and was yet, just a click away, on the same website. Zoodles allows parents to quickly block specific characters by checking boxes in an alphabetical listing (goodbye Boobah and Sponge Bob!), control content (for example, no videos), and even give parents the ability to set limits to violence exposure.

I have voracious little readers in my home… While I seldom have to encourage them to pick up a book, I’ve noticed that they have a way of squirming out of anything that remotely speaks to the tune of math. Sadly, they must get this from me, since their father is a human calculator. What my kids don’t know, however, is that with the help of Zoodles, sneaky mommy is able to selectively promote specific subjects. That’s right, I can rig the selection of games offered to my kids… Brilliant, isn’t it? Using a simple click-and-slide user interface, Zoodles allows parents to easily adjust which specific subjects are promoted. Zoodles will apply this filter to it’s search criteria when selecting games and activities for your child and voila! It’s math time, without them even knowing,

Setting time limits on activities can also sometimes prove to be challenge for parents. Although our pint sized subjects eagerly agree to a 1-show contract when we turn on the TV, the expression of game-show shock and the explosion of whinegotiation (delightful package of whining and negotiation…) when we turn off the television is often inevitable. During these moments, the maddening dialogue in my mind rolls through, “We talked about this… You agreed to… You made your choice…”, but to no avail, I still end up looking like the mean, withholding mommy. Sigh. Through Zoodles, you can set customized daily play time limits for individual children, even providing the option to differentiate weekdays from weekends. When the time limit has been reached, Zoodles simply states the fact, automatically logs off, and tells the child to come back the next day. From my experience, the computer receives considerably less back-talk.

Beyond playing the role of digital media watch dog, Zoodles provides additional tools that encourage fun ways for your kids to stay connected to people. By giving the option to invite friends and family to join your profile, Zoodles gives your child the ability to easily send and receive video mail messages, proudly share masterpieces using Zoodles Art Studio, and experience having a story book read to them by a loved one from across the miles.

Best of all, Zoodles makes it simple for us parents. Using the quick and intuitive child-specific tabs on the parent login page, monitoring your child’s progress is a snap! If you’re the less proactive type (read: busy and forgetful, which is many of us…), activity summaries sent to you by email show exactly how much play time your child logged that week, broken down by subject.

One item of note is the requirement of your device’s ability to run Adobe Flash applications in order to run Zoodles games. Although this isn’t a problem for most devices, strained business relations between Apple and Adobe have left iOS devices without the ability to support Flash. iOS devices will, however, still support other Zoodles features, such as Zoodles Art Studio. Most Android devices give you the option to download an Adobe Flash application if it isn’t already factory installed. Check here to see if your device is Adobe Flash compatible.

Zoodles provides their basic application for free, but the Premium Membership gives you the added perks and levels of parental control for the reasonable price of $7.95/month, $39.95 for 6 months, or $59.95 for a year. Create and account today, and get a 14-day trial of the Premium Membership for free!

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To enter to win a free month of Premium Membership at Zoodles.com:
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Ebates.com: Earn Cash Back for Online Transactions – Gimmick & Spam Free

 - by Mama Maintenance

When my daughter was only a week old, I remember emphatically telling my husband how I thought every store should offer a drive through or delivery option. Although I no longer have to pack like I’m going away for the weekend when running errands, I now have the services of two, opinionated “helpers” at virtually all times. Did I also mention that these helpers have short legs, lots of questions, take frequent bathroom breaks, and act like they’ve never seen a toy or a snack before when we walk into a store? For these reasons, along with the $4.20/gallon gas I spend driving to enjoy this extreme-shopping experience, I buy as much as I can online nowadays. The ability to comparison shop in relative peace from the comfort of bed or while waiting at preschool pick up just can’t be beat, in my opinion. Where was your last online purchase? Was it at Target, Best Buy, Home Depot, Nordstroms, Snapfish, Gap, Crate and Barrel, Bloomingdales, REI, Staples, Cost Plus, Ann Taylor, Athleta, Sur la Table, Disney, Shoes.com, Barnes & Noble, The Container Store, Victoria’s Secret, Red Envelope, Saks, or Sears? And when was the last time you bought a Groupon, booked a trip using Travelocity or Hotwire, or hosted a site using GoDaddy? If you found that little part of your brain screaming, “No Way!”, as it recognized a familiar vendor that recently had the pleasure of taking your money, tune in… You’re about to get paid back.

Ebates.com is a referral site that partners with over 400 e-tailers (and counting!) to give you 1-20% cash back on your online transactions. When my friend told me about Ebates a few years back, it simply seemed too good to be true. I like to think of myself a rather proficient shopper, so skepticism immediately flooded my head… Will I end up with a bunch of credits or rewards, instead of cash, that can only be redeemed at some overpriced vendor? Will some vicious spyware track my every move on the web and then spam me and sell my email address? Will I need to sign up for “free” trial subscriptions to marketing partners in order to get paid? Will going through the Ebates.com portal prevent me from using promotional codes and rewards? The surprising answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO. No gimmicks or tricks, just cash.

How does this actually work without drifting into the sketchy area of “there’s-no-free-money”? E-tailers pay Ebates a referral fee, in hopes of increasing site traffic, as they would with an advertising campaign. The more traffic Ebates can direct, the more it can charge the e-tailers, which results in a windfall of cash that Ebates portions back to you. After all, you were the one who helped “earn” it.

How do you accrue cash back? Prior to making an online purchase, go to the Ebates website. Search for your e-tailer either by category or name. You’ll be surprised to see how many large, familiar vendors are part of the Ebates e-tailer family. Once you find the site you want to surf, click on the name and Ebates will create a “ticket” that links your Ebates account with your purchase. The e-tailer’s site will open up in a new browser, and look exactly the same as it always does. Sometimes, there will be an Ebates icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen, but this varies by site, in my experience. Shop online as you would normally, as even promotional discounts, codes, and rewards remain valid! When and if you end up making a purchase, Ebates will post the cash-back amount in your account approximately 48 hrs after your order ships. So whether you need to send a Harry and David fruit basket, order a case of diapers from Diapers.com, or brighten up your wardrobe with a Trina Turk tunic, you’re covered. No pun intended. For a complete list of participating stores, click here.

When do you actually have the cash in-hand? If you’ve accrued more than $5.01 at the end of each quarter, Ebates automatically pays out via PayPal direct deposit (they pay sender’s fees) or by mailed check. If your balance is less than $5.01, the amount simply rolls over to the next quarter and continues to accrue until it reaches $5.01. I must admit that I nearly fell over with shock when I received my first Ebates check. At the risk of sounding like a bad infomercial, I couldn’t believe that I was getting money back for doing… Well, what I do. I know that there is no such thing as free money, but this felt pretty close to it.

What if you don’t care about the money? If you have more altruistic intentions, Ebates graciously offers the option of sending your check to a charity, organization, or family member of your choice. Simply complete the recipient info in your profile, and you’re done!

It really is that simple. The hardest part is remembering to go to Ebates, first… But after the first couple checks, it does get easier to remember!

Click HERE to sign up today and they’ll even add $5 to your account to get you started!