June 13, 2016

Simple, Easy, Awesome: An Evening with Comcast and XFINITY

We've been Comcast customers for as long as we've lived in Maryland (which is quite awhile). And I didn't think much about our cable service until a few months ago, when our old cable box quietly stopped working. When the replacement arrived, I was surprised to see a fancy new display that didn't look a thing like our old cable, and so I did what any reasonable person would do: I avoided using it because it looked confusing and complicated, and I didn't really have time to sit down and figure it out. 

Recently, Comcast and XFINITY invited me and several other local bloggers to their Silver Spring store to learn about XFINITY's latest offerings. 

 Photo courtesy of XFINITY

Friends, you better believe I accepted that invitation in the hopes that I would go home knowing how to work that fancy cable box. Not only did I learn how to work my TV again, I also learned about XFINITY's latest high-tech offerings, which go so far beyond the cable, internet, and DVR you may be thinking of when you hear the name XFINITY.

The woman who led my group in our first demo said XFINITY's goal in creating new services is to make things simple, easy, and awesome, and that really became the theme for the evening. XFINITY is making life at home simple, easy, and awesome with XFINITY Home.

XFINITY Home is part high-tech peace of mind, part household helper. Wish you could turn off that lamp you left on downstairs without getting out of bed? Wish you could do that when you're miles away from home on vacation because you just now remembered you left that darn lamp on? With a few clicks, XFINITY Home lets you do just that.

It can also help busy parents monitor when kids leave and arrive home from school when cameras are added to the package. XFINITY Home also works with equipment from companies such as Nest and August, and more partnerships are in the works. 

The fancy new box that perplexed me for longer than I'd like to admit is XFINITY's X1, which is so much more than just a DVR and cable box. Want to restrict your kids to family-friendly fare? Welcome to Kid Zone, where you can find children's programming paired with Common Sense Media ratings and reviews to help you decide which shows are right for your family. 

Sports fans can access a wide range of stats right on the screen, and those stats update in real time as games progress. My husband is a huge fan of this feature!

Love movies but can't decide what to watch? X1 lets you search by actor and by many popular movie quotes. Using the incredibly awesome new voice command remote that pairs with the X1 box, you can speak into the remote and watch the results pop up onscreen. In our demo, "you can't handle the truth!" produced both A Few Good Men and a round of applause. At home, both of my children (ages 4 and 7) have delighted in calling out their favorite shows and watching them appear on the screen. 

I left the XFINITY event amazed at the range of products the company offers and ready to take advantage of the features on the box I once dismissed as "too tricky." Each of the bloggers I chatted with that evening said they had no idea XFINITY was so much more than cable, and at least a few left with appointments to upgrade or add services. 

If you're interested in learning more, connect with XFINITY online here!

Disclosure: Comcast Beltway and XFINITY invited me to a special blogging event to learn more about their product offerings in the DC area. I received a tablet and a gift bag in exchange for my honest opinions. #xfinitymoms #ad

February 29, 2016

Meet PEEP and EGG: Local Event Featuring New Children's Book 3/12

Disclosure: I received a free copy of  PEEP and EGG: I'm Not Hatching! in exchange for my honest review.

Spring is almost here...and not everyone is ready for it in a fun new book from local author Laura Gehl. Energetic, optimistic Peep is ready to play, but shy and hesitant Egg isn't so sure. Putting up a series of stalling tactics parents of young children may find very, very familiar, PEEP and EGG: I'm Not Hatching! is a sweet story about overcoming fears. My own children, ages six and four, love the cartoon-like drawings and Egg's determined refusals of Peep's fun plans.

Meet Peep and Egg in the book's trailer:

Locals can meet Laura Gehl and join in fun games and crafts related to the book on Saturday, March 12 at the Audubon Naturalist Society’s Woodend Nature Sanctuary.

Take a fun and engaging walk along the Woodend Nature Sanctuary trails, followed by a reading of PEEP and EGG: I'm Not Hatching! by Laura Gehl.  After story time, Gehl will lead interactive games related to the book.  Then make a "hatching" craft to take home, using materials collected on your walk!  Copies of PEEP and EGG will be available for purchase; Laura will personalize and sign books at the end of the morning. Perfect for preschool and kindergarten aged children and their parents.

The event is part of the Itsy Bitsy Audubon series. Click here to preregister for the event, which is $5 per child. Preregistration is required for the event!

February 16, 2016

JumpIt Pass Giveaway

Disclosure: I received a free month of JumpIt Pass in exchange for my honest review.

Parents in the DC area are fortunate to have dozens of great children's classes to choose from - but how do you know which one is right for your child? Wouldn't it be great if there was a way to try a class or two before you paid for a full session? And while we're dreaming, wouldn't it be fun to try a little bit of everything the area has to offer at once?

Thanks to JumpIt Pass, now families can not only try out classes before signing a contract but jump around from class to class, sampling some of the best children's programming the area has to offer for a single monthly rate. 

JumpIt Pass is a monthly membership service for access to the BEST kid’s classes at more than 3,000 venues in DC, Maryland and Virginia. Families can discover and schedule classes at a variety of venues: music, arts and crafts, dance, gymnastics, sports and much more. JumpIt Pass is $99 per month for unlimited classes. For now that price is just for one child, but there is a family plan for up to three kids coming soon. 

Wondering what membership gets you? JumpIt Pass members are free to sign up for as many classes as they like per month, though most venues do limit participants to three classes per billing cycle. Members can book classes up to two weeks in advance, and you're able to cancel classes up to 24 hours in advance. 

My son and I gave JumpIt pass a try...and while a blizzard and winter illness kept us from making the most of our membership, we had a blast at the Music Together class we were able to try. I wasn't sure what to expect as we dropped into a class full of regular students, but the instructor greeted us warmly by name and clearly knew we were going to be joining the group that day. 

Searching for classes is easy - you can search by day of the week, age group, city, and more. We were able to find classes every day of the week that sounded interesting, and every listing includes location information so it's easy to figure out if a class will be easy to get to before you sign up. 

Want to check JumpIt Pass out for yourself? I'm excited to be giving away TEN unlimited memberships for just $1 each. That's a savings of $98! The drawing is open to new users of JumpIt Pass  - good luck!

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November 15, 2015

Taking time fore self-care at Massage Envy

As a parent, I'm good at lots of things: finding missing Shopkins under the couch, reading stories, making sandwiches without a single morsel of crust, braiding doll hair. And of the many things I'm not so good at, one in particular stands out: taking time to relax.

My usual self-care indulgence of choice is an hour of Pure Barre, which is frequently so hard I can't think at all let alone stress over some minor detail of my day. When I choose a beauty treatment, it's almost always a pedicure, during which I frantically read as many back issues of US Weekly and People as I can before it's time to head home. As much as I love freshly painted nails and a pile of gossip magazines, multitasking isn't relaxing and I always leave feeling rushed and a bit like I've wasted an hour of my time.

When the opportunity to try a service at Massage Envy came my way, I was excited to give it a try - especially after I learned that Massage Envy offers facials in addition to massages. I made an appointment for a facial at the Gaithersburg location and was pleasantly surprised to learn Massage Envy is open late on weekday evenings. I was able to kiss my kids goodnight after bath time and head out for my appointment. The Gaithersburg location is in the busy Downtown Crown development, and if you happen to go on a Friday night like I did you'll want to give yourself an extra 10 or 15 minutes to find a parking space.

I arrived at the spa feeling frazzled after driving in circles looking for parking, and that stress melted away as the front desk staff led me to the relaxation room. I relaxed with a drink as I filled out my paperwork, and by the time my esthetician Su came to get me I was ready for relaxation. Su led me to a quiet treatment room and I quickly realized this was going to be a different sort of beauty indulgence than my usual magazines-and-pedicure break.

There is no multitasking during a facial: you lie quietly under a cozy blanket while your esthetician works their magic. This was exactly the relaxing indulgence I needed. Su analyzed my skin and suggested the anti-aging facial. Massage Envy offers four different facials, all using Murad products. While she worked, Su not only explained what she was doing each step of the way but also touted the virtues of facials and self-care in general. When you take time to care for yourself, she said, you take a more positive attitude back to your family and your work, and it makes you do better for everyone around you. I loved that, and it was a wonderful message during a relaxing treatment.

Massage Envy is a membership-based spa, with monthly memberships starting at $69.99. I was surprised to learn that services are available to non-members as well (at a higher rate), so those looking for an indulgence a little less often can still take advantage of Massage Envy's services. I can't make a monthly facial or massage part of my beauty routine these days, but I'll definitely be back for another treatment.

Disclosure: I received a free facial in exchange for my honest review.

October 25, 2015

Reading is literally magic

When A was a baby, I read the entire Harry Potter series aloud to her. I started while I was on maternity leave, and because days with a newborn are long and sweet and lacking in conversation I filled hours of our time with the story of a boy who found out he was a wizard on his eleventh birthday. She slept through almost all of our story times, and still I read on until I'd re-read the entire series with my baby girl in my arms.We finished right around her first birthday, and she's seen me read the books many times in the years since. I have a few sweet video clips of a toddler A holding various books in the series, pointing out "Arry" and "My-nee" on the covers and asking to see herself on the "bee-yo" at the end of each one. 

Not long ago, the Harry Potter movies were on TV, and I may have lamented out loud that I couldn't watch my favorite (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) because it was on while the kids were awake. A was miffed; what did I mean I couldn't watch it with her? Because she's in first grade and she's big, you know. I explained that parts of the story are a bit dark even for a big kid of six, and still she protested, so I told her the truth: I want both of my kids to read the books before they see the movies.

It's a silly arbitrary parent rule, and once I said it I realized it's one of the only because-I-said-so rules we have, because nearly everything else is safety or common sense related. And I also realized as soon as I said it that I really meant it, and not just because I think dementors and acromantulas are a little too much on screen for young kids. It's because I love these particular books a lot, and I want my children to discover the magic on the page, not on the screen.

And so a few days ago A and I started reading the Harry Potter series together, one chapter or so a night.

Have you ever loved a book so much you wished you could re-read it for the first time again? Re-reading these books with a wide-eyed six year old is pretty much just like that. A has scrunched up her nose at the Dursleys' cruelty, gasped as Harry finally gets his Hogwarts letter in that dilapidated shack, narrowed her eyes as he meets Draco Malfoy while shopping for his school robes, and smiled as Harry makes his first friend on the Hogwarts Express. We talk about where we left off before we dive in again each night, and we talk again before I kiss her goodnight, partly so I can make sure she understands the story and partly because I am quizzing her to make sure she is paying attention.

When we finished the chapter where Harry learns he's a wizard on his eleventh birthday, A worked out the math and figured out how many years she has to go before she turns eleven. She looked at me with eyes open wide with excitement and said, "do you think I might be a witch??"

If you are, I told her, I'm going to come visit you at Hogwarts.

October 15, 2015

Not your average alphabet book: B is for Bear

With two little readers in our house, we are not so slowly working our way through the children's section of the library. We've read funny books, science books, books with a message, books that offer a history lesson, and everything in between. I love watching my children gain confidence in their reading abilities (yes, little brother reads too, but that's a story for another post) and read bigger and more complex books, but my favorite books to read with them are still picture books. I'm a sucker for a beautiful picture book, and Hannah Viano's B is for Bear: A Natural Alphabet might just be my new favorite.

Our family was introduced to Viano's stunning cut paper artwork last year when our friends at Sasquatch Book sent us a copy of her first book, S is for Salmon: A Pacific Northwest Alphabet. In this gorgeous follow up, Viano takes the reader on a nature walk one letter at a time. I love that B is for Bear doesn't stick to the usual alphabet book suspects. Instead of, say, C is for cat, it's C is for cloud, accompanied by simple but interesting facts.

Every time we read this book, I am amazed once again that the artwork on each page is made from paper and paper alone. Viano's technique involves cutting away from a sheet of black paper to reveal shapes and lines. As someone whose own paper cutting skills pretty much stop at the "really good at staying right on the line," I am in awe of what Viano does with paper. I often find myself mentally framing various images as we read her books, because wouldn't these make for elegant yet still kid-friendly wall art?

I can't post about B is for Bear without sharing my favorite page of the book...I love Viano's choice for the letter K. My two little readers are definitely my favorite creatures to see outdoors, and I love the feathery swoops in the tree.

If you're looking to bring an elegant dose of art to your next story time, pick up a copy of B is for Bear. And when you're finished, go outside.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts and opinions. No affiliate links here!

September 27, 2015

Finding Your Wings: When She Had Wings at Imagination Stage

Our Miss A saw her very first play at the tender age of almost two, and she was hooked on the theatre from that moment. In the four years since, we've seen more shows together than I can count: some funny, some scary, two that she truly hated, and many that we loved and shared with family and friends.

Last night, we saw a play together that made me cry for the first time in four years of shows with my little girl.

When She Had Wings is a sweet, funny story inspired by the life of Amelia Earhart. B (short for Beatrix) is almost 10, and her dearest ambition is to fly. But B is afraid that if she can't fly before she turns 10 it won't ever happen, and so she doesn't want her birthday to come. When a stranger crashes into B's beloved backyard tree  just a few days before her birthday, she can't believe her eyes. Could this stranger be B's idol Amelia Earhart? Will B take flight before her birthday with help from the stranger who calls herself A?

Magic is in the air as Imagination Stage kicks off its 2015-2016 season with When She Had Wings, a play by Suzan Zeder, four-time winner of the Distinguished Play Award by the American Alliance of Theatre and Education. Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer, When She Had Wings is a beautiful show with a powerful message of making the impossible possible with the limitless of childhood imagination. There's also a wonderful subtext of body acceptance that I wasn't expecting. 

My six year A didn't pick up on it, but as a parent I dearly loved this part of the story. B mentions her mother has bought her too-small pants as a gift and has plans to send her to weight loss camp for the summer. B laments growing up and getting too heavy to fly, while shrugging off her father's attempts to tell her he loves her just as she is. There's an especially touching moment near the end of the show when A tells B she needs weight to fly. I won't spoil the surprise but I will say this is the part of the show that had me tearing up.

Imagination Stage recommends When She Had Wings for ages 5 and up. While much of the show is funny and lighthearted, there are two storm scenes that are fairly loud. Children who are sensitive to noise may have trouble with these scenes. When She Had Wings runs September 23-November 1, 2015 in Imagination Stage’s Annette M. and Theodore N. Lerner Family Theatre. Tickets start at $10, and can be purchased online at www.imaginationstage.org, at the Imagination Stage box office, or via phone at 301-280-1660. Group rates are available, and I'm going to take advantage of that group rate to take A's Girl Scout troop to see the show.

Imagination Stage has several special performances of When She Had Wings, including: 

Post-Show Conversation: October 3 after the 4:00 p.m. show
The Creation of Power and Meaning through Imagination: A Young Girl’s Journey: Join child psychoanalysts Rosa Aurora Chavez Eakle, MD, PhD, and Carla Elliott-Neely, PhD and lead actress Pamela Christian and Director Kathryn Chase Bryer of When She Had Wings for a post-show panel moderated by Janet Stanford, Artistic Director.

Sensory-Friendly performance: October 11 at 11:00 a.m.
Sensory-Friendly performances are designed to be more accessible to those individuals on the autism spectrum or to others with sensory sensitivities.

ASL-interpreted performance: October 11at 4:00 p.m.
Please call 301-280-1660 for more information and to ensure proper seat location.

Saturday Night Flight: October 24 at 7:00 p.m.
Enjoy creative and fun activities courtesy of KID Museum!

Halloween Costume Parade: October 31 at 4:00 p.m.
Come in costume and take photos on the stage after the show!

All photos by Noe Todorovich courtesy of Imagination Stage

I received complimentary tickets in exchange for my honest review for Macaroni Kid Rockville-Gaithersburg.