Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Review/Giveaway: littleBLAST STEM Activities Kits


When I was in elementary school, my favorite classes were science and math (please refrain from tossing rotten tomatoes at this time). I look at my three and a half year old little boy, and I wonder if he is going to be of a similar mindset. I have thought about it, and have come to the following conclusion: either he will not be science inclined, and as such he could probably use a little assistance in this area, or he will love science class just like Daddy and why aren't we doing a science experiment right now? Thus, either way, it's a good idea to start exposing him to science concepts now.

I have found that littleBLAST is a fun way to help my little one learn.

LittleBLAST is a subscription box service which sends a monthly box of themed science activities  for children aged three to seven.

Unlike some box subscriptions, littleBLAST also lets you order single boxes from past sets. I received the Construction Single BLAST and it turned out to be a delightful way to spend an afternoon with my son.

I don't know how he knew this box was for him, but he did and danced with the box the day it came.

My son's box contained all the materials for four different activities which help develop spatial intelligence, instructions, and a nifty achievement chart to keep track of all the littleBLASTs you've done.

The activities included were; Straws & Connectors (planar and 3-D objects), Blueprint Fun (connecting cubes to match a diagram), How Many Ways (a puzzle about creating new figures using the same number of cubes), and Puzzle Shapes (arranging simple paper shapes to make pictures in a book)  They make sure to include everything that is required for each activity.

I was pleasantly surprised to even find a glue stick that was needed for Puzzle Shapes in the box.  Let me tell you, if we had needed to cut the fun short for a quick trip to the store to get one no amount of juice or snacks could have saved us from the tantrum that would have come.

The instructions include some good discussion points that can help little scientists realize how the lessons they just learned apply to the world around them.

The first activity we did together was called Straws & Connectors, it consisted of straws and connectors (gasp) and picture cards that illustrated the different shapes we made.  Squares and triangles were already cool, but I think it blew his little mind to expand them into three dimensional objects.

Our second activity, Blueprint Fun; called for those interlocking cubes that I remember fondly from elementary school and some blueprints that we supposed to build.  The blueprints started simple and grew more complex, encouraging my little guy to pay attention to detail as the designs went from simple shapes to more irregular features.  They even included some blueprint sheets without a pattern so we could make our own blueprints to build.

The next activity, How Many Ways, called for an encore from our beloved interlocking cubes and some graph paper. The intent was to take five cubes and explore all the different ways they could be reassembled.  However, telling my three year old Mischief that he can only play with five of the cubes instead of all of them ended ...poorly.

Therefore, we quickly transitioned into the last activity, Puzzle Shapes, without delay.  This activity was my favorite because I had to be involved.  Mommy said that I had to use the glue stick on all of his paper shapes as he put them on the project pages.  I don't know why she trusted me with the glue; but I know that my little guy had so much fun building pictures, that he didn't mind daddy being the designated glue-er.

We had one extra shape at the end, so I made him a "good job" medal.
So, the activities- just how fun are they really? Let me put it this way, my three year old son was paying rapt attention to something for over an hour and a half without the use of any electronics, rage inducing songs that never end, or cars.

In fact, he has busted out the box and is playing the activities again right now as I'm typing, so I know we will be able to play and learn with just this BLAST many times to come.

LittleBLAST was started by an engineer and an elementary school teacher who also happened to be the mothers of preschoolers, and wanted quality science and math activities for their little ones.

LittleBLAST offers over a dozen single blasts that you can order as one time events for $24.95, as well as subscriptions in month to month($24.95), three and six month installments($74.85 and $149.70 respectively). They also offer a nifty sibling add on, wherein you can order an extra set or sets of materials with each box($9.95 for the single $19.90 for the double).

Also, at the other end of the spectrum, if you already have plenty of materials for the science experiments, you can order all of the printed material in a digital format and print it at your leisure ($7.95).

So, quite frankly, my son and I enjoyed this enough that he will be getting another littleBLAST in the mail before too long. It comes with everything you need for an afternoon of fun, and I still get a boost to my fatherly pride in knowing that I am helping my son learn.

littleBLAST Website
littleBLAST on Facebook

littleBlast is giving away a Construction Single Blast set (like the one I reviewed) to one of our readers living in the US!

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment in this entry as instructed by the Rafflecopter, then leave the name you commented under and your email in the box in the Rafflecopter entry. (This allows us to contact you if you win!)  This will open up additional optional entries to increase your odds of winning.

This giveaway is open to US RESIDENTS ONLY
and will end just before midnight ET on 4-14-15. 

The winner will be notified by email within 24 hours after the end of the giveaway.  In order to claim the giveaway prize, the winner will need to respond within 24 hours of notification, or an alternate winner will be selected.

Good luck everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Monday, March 30, 2015

Review Recipe & Giveaway: Tonewood Maple


Ever since I was a little girl I have loved maple syrup. Now, I don't mean the “maple syrup” that you find next to the quick mix in an anthropomorphically shaped plastic bottle. I'm talking the liquid gold in the glass bottles on the top shelf.

I think it started on a field trip in grade school, where we went to one of the many nature preserves and watched as someone boiled down some sap and then everyone got a small sample of it that we got to cool in the March snow like they did in Little House in the Big Woods!

Then, when I was older, we moved to a house that had plenty of sugar maples for us to tap and make our very own syrup! Alas, I have since moved from my home in the northwoods, and now am in the desert where sugar maple trees are in short supply and good maple products aren't a commonplace thing.

To my rescue came Tonewood and their premium maple products!

Tonewood offers a variety of pure maple syrup items as well as having an “Adopt a Tree” program where you can choose to sponsor a tree from one of two farms.

Aside from offering syrup in four different grades, Tonewood also sells maple wafers, maple flakes, maple seasoning, maple cream, and maple cubes in two different flavors (Golden Delicate with a light, buttery flavor, and Dark Robust with a bold, maple taste), as well as a cookbook and a cube grater.

If you're looking for a variety of maple goodies as well as a way to help support small maple producers, you should definitely check out the Adopt a Tree program.

The Adopt a Tree program includes three packages that are delivered to you through the year; the first package arrives shortly after you place your order, and includes an adoption certificate and a picture of your tree; the second package arrives in the spring and contains their four grade collection of maple syrup as well as a recipe book to help you explore their culinary possibilities; the third package will come in the fall and delivers their sweet pairing package of a maple cube and eight maple wafers.

 You can choose to adopt from one of two farms in Vermont, and support their efforts for $120 a year.

I was lucky enough to be able to try out their maple cube in Dark Robust (16.99) for this review.

I knew the day my package arrived that something wonderful was in store for me! My mailbox smelled like heaven. Inside the deceptively ordinary cardboard box was a business card, a postcard sized maple grade guide, and the Dark Robust maple cube of goodness!

Upon opening the wrapping, I had the immediate urge to lick it like you would a giant jawbreaker of maple divinity.

 Instead, I quickly dished out some plain vanilla ice cream and used my microplaner to put some of the block of joy on top. I was not disappointed!

The Dark Robust certainly lived up to its name, giving me the intense almost smokey flavor of pure maple deliciousness.

 I have since used it with a variety of foods, such as yogurt, oatmeal, puffy oven pancakes, tea, coffee, and bacon, to name a few. Everyone in my family has enjoyed my maple adventuring, even my sometimes picky Mischief!

I store my maple cube of delight in a zippy bag, though you can purchase cube grater that doubles as a storage container.

Here's one of my favorite ways to use the Tonewood Dark Robust Maple Cube:  Baked Maple Bacon! (I'll pause while you drool)

Baked Maple Bacon

Place a cooling rack over a cookie sheet.
(For easier cleanup, I place aluminum foil on the cookie sheet to catch most of the grease)
Lay bacon on top of the rack
Grate the maple cube over the bacon to your desired level of mapleness.

 I like a strong maple flavor, so I grated a lot of the cube, but if you'd like a subtler flavor, just use less.
Bake at 350 until desired doneness. 10 min for chewier 25 for extra crispy in my oven.
ENJOY and try to not burn yourself! ;-)

I am certainly going to be ordering another cube once mine runs out, as well as trying out a few of their other goodies. My family and my tastebuds would never forgive me for letting us live without it!

Tonewood Maple is letting us host a Giveaway of a Dark Robust Maple Cube ($16.99) of your own!

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment in this entry as instructed by the Rafflecopter, then leave the name you commented under and your email in the box in the Rafflecopter entry. (This allows us to contact you if you win!)  This will open up additional optional entries to increase your odds of winning.

This giveaway is open to US RESIDENTS ONLY
and will end just before midnight ET on 4-13-15. 

The winner will be notified by email within 24 hours after the end of the giveaway.  In order to claim the giveaway prize, the winner will need to respond within 24 hours of notification, or an alternate winner will be selected.

Good luck everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bring on the Bunnies! An Easter Roundup


I've so been enjoying grazing all the Spring and Easter crafting everyone's been doing this month!  I have to admit, I've failed this year at bringing in the spring - in my defense, other than a couple of joyfully warm days, it still feels like winter around here.

Even so, there is still time and while I enjoy eggs and chicks and daffodils as much as the next person, the thing I love best about spring symbols are the BUNNIES.

Rabbits have been associated with fertility since ancient times in many cultures, and the attachment with bunnies to Easter come by way of our Germanic immigrants - rabbits, multiply like, well, rabbits, so it is fitting that they are connected with the return of spring, and by further association, with the themes of rebirth and resurrection.  Any gardener will tell you - as soon as tender greens shoot up in the spring, rabbits will not be far behind!

Easter Bunny - Wikipedia will give a good start to the interested on the origins of the Easter Bunny and why it is such an evocative symbol for Easter for so many.

 But regardless of whether or not you find meaning in the symbolism, and what symbolism you attach to it - bunnies are cute!  Add a bunny to your home decor, and no one will miss the message: You're ready for Spring!

These are just a few of the delightful bunny-motif decoration projects I've come across recently, and I think any of them could be done this week just in time to welcome the long-earred guy with the eggs:

I hope these projects offer you as much inspiration as they have me! That's the thing about bunnies - fertility is a form of creativity, and these wonderful crafters have shown what a little creative inspiration can do!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Review/Giveaway: Are You Kidding? Kid-Designed Kids Socks


Walking through the sock aisle at Target is kind of boring.  Rows and rows of black and white socks is what has always greeted me.  Socks are a big deal in my family.  My older son is very particular about what socks he wears and my middle son has Cerebral Palsy that requires him to wear braces on his feet, which make sock buying and wearing difficult.  Generally when I do find socks that work with his braces they are boring, plain, and just not so much fun.

That isn't the case anymore!  Are You Kidding? is a kid designed company that was started by a creative 6-year old boy who loved socks!  His designs are fun and colorful, which is lacking in most kids' socks you can find in the store.

The socks are sold in sets of 3 pairs and retail for $15 a set. They have themes such as Boy's Comics, Girl's Comics, and Surf and Turf.

As I opened the package the socks came in, I could already tell these were going to be fun.  Wrapped in bright yellow tissue paper and sealed with a sticker logo, the package made my kids really excited to see the socks they would be trying out.

I was sent 2 sets of socks in two different sizes to try.  Boy's Comics in size Large and Boy's Eye See You in Medium.  From the get go I could tell these socks were going to be different, the fun colors and designs aside. The quality is amazing and the small and medium sized socks have a non-slip texture on the bottom to prevent slips for the little kids.

The socks are made from 87% cotton, 8% nylon, and 5% spandex for the perfect amount of stretch, strength, and softness.

After a run through the washer and dryer (I noted no shrinkage) it was time for my boys to try them out.

My older son went for the grey and orange faces pair first.  He said they were comfortable after wearing them all day at school.

This is huge because he is extremely picky about socks.  He doesn't like seams, bunches, or tight bands.

These got a thumbs up!

My middle son's first choice was blue and green lightning bolts in size medium.  The day he wore them was a day we had Physical Therapy so I was wondering how they would work with his SMO and AFO.  I was pleasantly surprised that there was no need for me to size up even with his braces!

The socks come up high enough naturally that they work great and protect his legs from the plastic.

The blend also allows for breathability under his braces as well.  We couldn't have been happier.  It made me really happy to see him so thrilled about wearing these socks with his braces.  Until now he was stuck with plain socks since nothing came high enough to cover his legs without being to big on his foot.  These socks fit perfectly.

As a mom of many boys, durability is a big deal for me.  I swear my family eats socks with all the different pairs we go through with holes and wear and tear.

I wondered how I would be able to speak for the durability of these socks during my review period, but luckily for me my 4 year old got himself into a situation that demonstrated not only how cool looking these socks are, but also how durable they are.

While out playing in the snow with his brother, my son lost his boot in a snow bank and walked home on concrete sidewalks dragging his feet the whole time wearing his rainbow eyes pair of socks.  I figured I would have a bunch of holes in that sock by the time we got home.  Nope, they were fine!  They got the mom thumbs up too.

You can't go wrong with these socks.  They are a combo of colorful creative prints which kids will love and the durability and quality that parents will love too!

Are You Kidding? is generously giving away one pack of 3 pairs of socks of the winners choice to 2 readers, a retail value of $15.00 per pack.  US residents only please.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment in this entry as instructed by the Rafflecopter, then leave the name you commented under and your email in the box in the Rafflecopter entry. (This allows us to contact you if you win!)  This will open up additional optional entries to increase your odds of winning.

This giveaway is open to US RESIDENTS ONLY
and will end just before midnight ET on 4-10-15. 

The winner will be notified by email within 24 hours after the end of the giveaway.  In order to claim the giveaway prize, the winner will need to respond within 24 hours of notification, or an alternate winner will be selected.

Good luck everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Last Week's Awesome Life Friday Featured Posts

As I mentioned on this week's Awesome Life Friday posts, a wave of Spring Fever caught me and I found myself unable to bang on the keyboard when there were squirrels to watch.  I hope your week's been full of lovely distractions, too!

But... because of that I was slow to get this week's Featured Posts ready to show off - so here it is, a bit late, but all totally awesome!

First, though, here's a peek at what we've been up to here at Reviews, Chews & How-Tos:

Lynda shares here experiences with this fabulous mother-daughter duo of handcrafters - and we have a pair of adorable bags being given away - go check them out! I bet they'll be your new favorite Etsy shop!

Lynda also shows off her latest Petbox Subscription box with a whole lot of help from Sadie Beagle who graciously offered to taste and play with all the goodies. She's a good dog that way.

First time reviewer, Bree, shares an in-depth review of "Things We Don't Talk About", a wonderful documentary that discusses the Red Tent Movement.  There's a whole digital package available to one giveaway winner that includes the movie, ebooks, an audiobook, and a collection of meditational music.

Finally, Amber shares this delicious and hearty soup that is easily put together in a crockpot.  Dump it, set it, and forget it - more time to watch squirrels!

Now it's your turn!  Thank you so much for sharing so many delightful posts - I believe we very easily could have just Featured every single food post there was (it was as bad as shopping hungry, trying to choose).  These all were the ones we agreed upon, but if you didn't graze last week's link up, you should - you won't want to miss a thing!

Whoa.... this one actually tempted me to lick my screen.  Pastry and ricotta encase tons of delicious savory 'toppings'. Yes. Please.

I love Pysanka, and have a small collection I'm never sure how to display - this sweet and simple methods shows them off beautifully!

 I absolutely love the cheery yellow on this wreath - and the clear instructions are giving me so much inspiration. I can't wait to try this.

This dessert has it all - decadence, nutrition, and it fits into several dietary lifestyles.  Again with the desire to lick the screen...

What a brilliant idea!  A little grassfed butter and cinnamon turns a cup of matcha tea into a rich, warming cup of comfort.

I hope you'll head over to this week's Awesome Life Friday and share your posts! We are so grateful for your visits!

Have a lovely weekend, and watch those squirrels - they're hilarious!



Thursday, March 26, 2015

Awesome Life Friday #12: Spring Fever!

My apologies for the delay in getting this up!

What can I say - it was in the 70s and sunny here at Casa Hardy yesterday afternoon.  Winter has felt like it had such a choke hold on me, that I simply couldn't bear to spend a minute indoors when it felt so springlike.  Every time I tried to knuckle down, I'd find myself sitting outside on the porch, reading a little bit and spending a whole lot of time watching the birds and squirrels scold each other.

Oops - I feel a little sheepish, but not even a little bit repentent.  I hope all of you are also enjoying a bit of offline spring fever!

Meanwhile, I want to get this up now, and will post a separate entry today showing off this week's features - the temperature has dropped back down to cold again, so odds are good I will get it done.

(UPDATE: Check out this week's Featured Posts here!)

Have a great day everyone, and I look forward to seeing what you're sharing with us this week!

Review/Unboxing: February's PetBox


Note: This is an affiliate post. We are able to offer a standing discount code for our readers for new PetBox accounts. There is a small bonus for sign ups that use this code, which will allow us to offset some of the costs of the blog itself. 

To receive 10% off your own PetBox subscription, use the code RCHREVIEWS at check out!

This winter was pretty hard on Sadie - like me, she's getting older and deals with arthritis, and we had many weeks of limping around together.  So, it was a real treat to see her light up when the February PetBox came in!

She absolutely knows that blue box means good treats and toys, and noses it as soon as I get it open for her.

February's box was full of all sorts of fun and comforting things for Sadie, including a special Valentine's Day themed treat.

She received 3 quality toys, 2 bags of treats, and a can of wet dog food.

The toys turned out to be my favorite parts - two of them are soft plushies, which she'd curl up with in her bed even when she wasn't up for active play, and one is a truly awesome tug of war toy that intented to keep her teeth clean and strong for days when she's feeling more perky.

Mind you, Sadie's favorite parts will always be the things she can eat - so between us, every item we got was a winner!

 Petstages Large Dental Chew

I really like this toy - Sadie isn't always up for rowdy play, but when she is, her favorite time of game is tug of war.

This sturdy knotted robe is woven with a very durable length of rubber and has a handle on one end.

I don't care how hard your dog pulls, this thing is going to hold up.  The construction is really solid.

Meanwhile, the materials help clean the tartar off the dog's teeth and massages the gums.  I expect we'll get a lot of play out of this over the next few months.

The bright colors are appealing to me as well.

Pet Greens Treats Savory Beef Jerky-Style Dog Treats

These are great little snacks - I'm not always a fan of how dog treats smell, but these smell delicious, just like what they are - savory little beef jerky bits.

The ingredients are:

"Beef, Dried Chicory Extract, Organic Ground Wheat Grass Powder, Lecithin, Salt, Cultured Whey, Garlic, preserved with Mixed Tocopherols."

They are very small, just right for a quick reward or training snack, and Sadie absolutely loves them.  I will be looking out for this product in the future.

Topsy Turvies Dog Toy Hippo/Snail

This one made me laugh - Topsy Turvies are plush toys that come with two squeakers (one for each half) - each Topsy Turvy is a combination of two different plush characters.

The one Sadie received is a combination of a purple hippo in front, and a yellow snail in back. At about 8" long, it's just right for carrying around, or - as she likes to do - using as a pillow in her bed.

Back in the day, she'd have had this guy in shreds in about 20 seconds flat so she could disembowel it of its squeakers, but she's a lot kinder to this sort of thing these days.

PetBox's in stock items (which can be added to any order a la carte) vary from month to month, but there is likely to be a Topsy Turvy Toy of some sort ready to purchase.  Currently, I see they have a fun tiger headed penguin available.

No, I can't explain it - they're fun. Roll with it.

Zippypaws Crinkle Dragonfly

This sweet toy, in springtime colors like the Topsy Turvy, is a cute plush dragonfly with a squeaker in the body and crinkly material in the wings.

While Sadie hasn't played with it much herself, her ears perk up when I crinkle the wings, and I love the way it looks.

Zippypaws is the same great company that makes the Hide-an-Egg Burrow Dog we loved so much from the December Pet Box.  That continues to be her favorite toy (with some expected wear and tear).

Zippypaws has a huge collection of toys that are both cute and designed to keep dogs happy and stimulated - I was really happy to get a second change to try out one of  their products.

Old Mother Hubbard's Bits Of Love P'Nuttier

This is another favorite come back in new form - in December, Sadie received Old Mother Hubbard's Jingle Jangle P'Nuttier snacks in cute holiday shapes, and adored them.

For February, she received another in their holiday line - Bits of Love, in 1" heart shapes.  These are the same snacks, same ingredients, same thick cut.

As soon as she smelled them, she lost it - peanut butter is one of her favorite flavor profiles!

As for me, I think the hearts are cute, and I really like the idea of holiday-themed treats for our pets.

Not that she knows or cares what it means - making her happy is love enough. But they do make me smile!

Evanger Super Premium Beef Dinner

Last month, we received some of Evanger's dry dog food to try.  This month, Sadie scored a can of their premium wet food - the Beef Dinner.  This is a grain-free dog food - the ingredients are:

"Beef, Water Sufficient for Processing, Liver, Guar Gum, Spinach, Kale, Cinnamon, Vitamins {Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (Source of Vitamin C), Thiamine Mononitrate (Source of Vitamin B1), Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Source of Vitamin B6), Riboflavin Supplement (Source of Vitamin B2), Folic Acid, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin D2 Supplement}, Minerals {Zinc Sulfate, Iron Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Selenium Yeast, Potassium Iodide}."
I really like that it is all good food and supplements.  Here again, the smell was actually quite savory (about like canned hash), and Sadie adored it.  She doesn't get wet food all the time, but boy does she love it when she does.  This dish did not last long, and we had one very contented dog on our hands when it was all gone.

I liked this enough that I will look for this brand to supplement here regular diet of dry food.  Thanks PetBox!

I couldn't be happier with the February PetBox - it was a real winner! I look forward to seeing what's next!

Petbox Website
Petbox on Facebook