Category Archives: Reviews

LeapFrog’s LeapStart Review – Great for Preschoolers!

Disclaimer: I received this product for free in exchange for an honest review.
LeapStart Review
This is a fun and interactive product – great for 3 and 4 year olds! LeapFrog always has the best age-appropriate learning toys, and this one is no different.

Pros:
The “pen” is the perfect size and weight for little hands to navigate.
The toy is very exploratory – great for this age, and it means the books can “grow” with the child as they try new things.
LeapFrog always excels in toys being educational and age appropriate, and this toy is no different!
Portable!!
The kids are so excited to check out their “own” books – each book is a certain level, and each page has games as well as simply-explanatory touch-and-point activities.

Cons:
Price point is a little high for me with the books – and you will want multiple books!
I don’t think it’s super intuitive for a kid to snap the book into the tray.
The books have to be loaded on to the device via the computer.

So You Think You Can Write Book Review

I’m shocked by how much I learned from this book. I’ve been a blogger for 7 years, and I thought I knew mostly everything about blogging. I’m also not a non-fiction fan, so I wasn’t even sure I could trudge through it. Well, instead of trudging, I flew through page after valuable page.

So You Think You Can Write Book Review

McCoy is easy to read and answers the questions that you want to ask, including the hows and whys. It’s nice to have an inside look into her personally as well as her business success. There are helpful (and funny!) graphics throughout this book, which was great for processing the data.

I learned something new in every chapter about keywords, online writing, and Google. Pick it up – it’s well worth the time!!

Please let me know in the comments or on Facebook if you have questions about this book – I’d be happy to answer them!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Favorite New LeapFrog Toy

lovinoven

LeapFrog sent me some new toys and games from their Fall collection to review. I have to tell you about my favorite one, the Number Lovin’ Oven.

The toy is smart, guessing at which food items are being placed in the oven. The controls are perfect for my children to touch and move, and everything is intuitive for them. I love that the voice response encourages sharing, and all of the pieces can be split and put together like mini puzzles.

One of my favorite things about this toy, as a mom, is that it’s small and all of the pieces fit inside!!! Even for older kids, they enjoy playing chef and aren’t worried about the fact that the learning factor is at a lower level for them. This one is definitely worth the price.

I highly recommend it! Check it out on amazon by clicking here.

Disclosure: LeapFrog sent me this product to review. All opinions are my own. Affiliate links included.

LeapPad Platinum and Imagicard Review

The LeapPad Platinum is another in a great series of kids’ tablets. This device appears much more sleek and slender, and the software is more stable than the LeapPad Ultra.

31565_Platinum_PR02

One of my favorite things about LeapPad tablets is the LeapSearch web browser. Only kid-friendly videos are added to the browser, so you know there’s no faulty “filter” not really protecting your kids.

My 5-year old’s favorite game is Imagicard Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Learning Game. He loves this game! He is really into the ninja turtles right now, but this game is also very age-appropriate for him. He can do almost everything in the game on his own, but it’s a step up from the video games he’s played before, particularly on LeapPad.

Some of the math questions are a little much for his age, but I like how LeapPad games respond to your child’s abilities by making questions easier or harder – and he’s asking me more math questions, which is a great thing!
Imagicard_Logo_Fnl

This game uses ImagiCards, which is a collection of cards that interacts with your LeapPad to bring more characters to your games. For our family, this was not really impressive. As a mom, I knew right away that I’d be finding cards all over the house, although a nice metal tin is available to hold cards. My 5-year old wasn’t interested in the cards at all. He said the games already had pre-loaded cards, so he didn’t care to use them in the games. He did use the cards for other, non-LeapPad, activities, though. 🙂

This review contains only my opinions. LeapPad provided the LeapPad Platinum and games for my review.

Review of LeapFrog LeapBand

LeapFrog LeapBand Review
Disclosure: LeapFrog provided the LeapBand to me to review.

I love LeapFrog! Their toys are always age appropriate and educational!

The LeapBand is a fun toy that gets my kids moving, and I love anything that keeps them active (and I just get to watch!). My 4-year old is kind of particular about wearing things (doesn’t like hats, itchy tags, etc.), so he doesn’t wear the watch. Since he’s not super attached to this toy, I leave it out so he will pick it up and play with it.

He loves that the LeapBand gives him a variety of ways to move around, and he even started making up his own, like doing the “Pac Man”. I personally love the nod to energy with the “joules/jewels” wording, and my son likes to collect them. I do think that the “next step” of the app – using the joules to do certain things with your pet either on the watch or the apps – is a little complicated for my 4-year old, but some kids may really enjoy that strategizing.

I could definitely see other kids wanting to wear this and play with their pet all the time, but my son doesn’t seem to play with it as much as his legos or LeapPad Ultra.

I love that the LeapConnect app lets parents see exactly what their kids are learning and playing, but it seemed like I had to download a new version of the app, which was a hassle to me. I also like that you can turn the pet care off during school and sleep hours.

The Microsoft Store of Austin – More than I expected. #GoMicrosoft $100 Giveaway!!

What’s better than a hands-on technology store? A hands-on technology store that offers a ton of FREE services.

When I walked into the Microsoft store, I met Malcolm. He stuck with me and answered all of my questions. I didn’t buy anything while I was there, and I was never pressured to.

My buddy Malcolm

Here is what Sam had to say before we went:

Honestly, I hadn’t been in the new Microsoft store at the Domain yet because…well… I thought it would be just like the Apple store. To be fair, the exterior is big, plain, and white – just like the Apple store. But, in my opinion, the Microsoft store is different.

Their aim is to be a family-friendly and community-oriented store. So we took the family to check it out!

Yes!

My first visit was on a Thursday at 4pm. There were not many patrons, but there were plenty of customer service reps. I had a bunch of questions answered, looked around at the products, and Samuel played xbox and fresh paint. My takeaway from the first visit was that the store had some awesome stuff to offer (a lot of it free), it was a great store to visit just for fun, and everyone there was willing to get you going on a machine if you were stuck (which I was :)).

When Malcolm told me you could bring in any Windows product (even if you didn’t buy it there) for help, I texted my mom. She’s an avid Windows user, but her Windows 8 machine was a whole new thing, and she was having trouble figuring it out.

She just so happened to come into town and brought her new laptop! So we visited on a Sunday; I was so glad to be able to also get a feel for the store on the weekend. Even though there were a lot of customers, the store did not feel packed at all. There was plenty of space for the whole family to get through. I even nursed Emma on a bench in the theater room.

Here’s a rundown of the service my mom got: the first lady that greeted her was very friendly and welcoming, but she didn’t have the right information about class times and the “free help” we had heard about. She urged my mom to set up an appointment for later (which honestly is probably ideal if you need a solid tutorial, but anyway). However, another rep came along and interjected to get my mom on the right path. They said a class was just about the start.

Well, the class didn’t have enough people to be put on, and the teacher offered to take my mom aside anyway – awesome! So she spent 20 minutes or so getting hands-on help diving into Windows 8. Not enough to make her a Windows 8 wizard (we did have lunch plans), but enough to get her started.

What I loved about the Microsoft store:

FREE services. This is one of my favorite things about the Microsoft store (besides the fact that no one inside [except me of course] was dressed like a hipster). What’s free?

– Classes. Each day, a number of free classes are offered. The classes range from toddlers in technology to Microsoft Office help to virtual golf. To see a list of classes offered at your store, go here, type in your zip code, click to go to your store’s page, then scroll down to see a list of events.

– Xbox game trials. Have you ever wanted to try out a video game before you buy it? Of course you have! Well, the store offers tons of games that you can sample before purchasing. They can’t have every game offered because the Microsoft store is aiming to be family friendly (thanks for that!) while all of their games are- not.

Playing video games – that background is a panoramic screen that goes across the entire store

– Meeting room. Before I went, this was described to me as a “theater” space. Not quite. It’s not enclosed, simply offset from the rest of the store. But it does have a large projector, and you can book the meeting room for free.

the theater room

– Windows assistance. Obviously, the Microsoft store sells windows products: laptops, phones, Surface (their tablet), etc. Not only will they spend as much time as you want getting everything on your new product just they way you want it, but you can even bring in ANY Windows product that you need help with, and they will take the time you need. This could be, “Uh… Show me how to use Windows 8.” Or, “Something’s going wonky with my phone. Can you help?” Yes, they can. And Malcolm even told me they’re offering tune ups and help tracking down viruses for a limited time. The best news to me? They don’t charge you AND you don’t HAVE to set up an appointment. That being said, I would set up an appointment if you need to go in at a busy time, like Saturday. The appointments are equally free. 🙂 You can schedule appointments right on your store’s page.

My mom getting her Windows 8 lesson

– Summer camps. If you have a grade school child, there are free summer camps available – how cool is that!? No summer camp is free! Unfortunately, they are already booked up for this year. 🙁

– Discounts and custom encounters. If you have a group that wants to do something at the Microsoft store, like maybe a homeschooling group getting a demo or a church group trying out a new piece of software, they are willing to work with you to make a custom event! Each store has a community manager that can make a custom class. I love that! And if you have a homeschooling group or co-op, I believe a certain amount of purchases qualifies the group for a discount!

– (Not free.) Birthday parties. Pay a cleanup fee to host a child’s birthday part at the Microsoft store. They can set you up with Dance Central or other video games (for free), and they’ll provide free swag. Yes!

Watch out for this:

– Saturdays and Sundays. On my first visit, when I asked Malcolm what the place was like on Saturday, he said, “Busy.” People are trying out all of the devices and having tons of fun playing video games. I really thought Sunday was going to be impossible, but I was pleasantly surprised! A video game station was even open.

Sunday crowd

– Free means not always available. From what I could tell, they had plenty of customer service reps on the floor. I had all of my questions answered (mostly by Malcolm – thanks dude!). I don’t think it will be a problem accessing most of their free services, but the summer camp situation was disappointing. I was so excited to share those with you, and it was a bummer to find out they were already all shut down. The pro here is you can pre-register for anything. From talking with Malcolm, it seemed that none of their free classes were ever too large, but if you pre-register, you’re guaranteed a spot.

– Not every rep seems to be fully trained. I’m not sure what was going on with the mis-information my mom got, but from what I could tell (from both visits), if you were looking for some help, you could get it. Maybe their greeters are not the same level as their trainers or answer desk staff. So if you know what you want help on, I’d go straight to the Answer Desk.

In my dream world:

– Text and email alerts. Because the Microsoft store has so many cool things going on, it would be nice to have a text or email alert occasionally to check out the new calendar. Something like “This week’s free events include a Dance Central party and Entrepreneur training. Check it out here.” would be awesome. And brainless for me – which is what I need. 😉

Bottom line, the Microsoft store was so much more than what I expected! Samuel was very disappointed that we didn’t take a computer home, but he loved that he got to play on everything in the store, and they were glad he was “touching all the buttons”. 🙂

playing Fresh Paint

Want $100 to spend at the Microsoft Store? Just share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest then comment below with what you might spend it on! Only US residents 18 and over can enter. One entry each please. The winner will be drawn at random. Entries close on May 31 at 11:59pm.

This is a sponsored post. I was paid to attend a webinar, review the store, and cohost a Twitter party. Check it out Tuesday May 14 at 12pm CST to get your questions answered and win prizes!

Learn more at:

@MicrosoftStore

Microsoft Store on Facebook

Microsoft Store on Pinterest

LeapFrog Ultra eBooks Review

Awhile back, LeapFrog sent us the LeapPad2 to review. I was really impressed with it then, and now that we’ve been using it for a few months, I’m even more impressed with it. (Woohoo!) And since my almost-3 year old Samuel only gets to play with it a few times a day for a certain amount of time, it’s still one of his favorite toys.

One thing I mentioned in my review is that the LeapPad2 has a lot of great educational games to offer for grade-school kids. For the younger child, we mostly watch educational videos, play simple games, and read ebooks. Which, trust me, is plenty for Samuel!

He’s a pre-reader, so I was excited when LeapFrog wanted to send us a couple of the “Learn to Read” Ultra eBooks to review. Ultra eBooks are different from regular eBooks in that they are supposed to grow with the reader.

Here are the things I really like about the Ultra eBooks. A * denotes items that I think are unique to the Ultra eBooks.

  • You can touch around the pictures to hear sound bites or see more action.
  • Mini-games are integrated throughout the books. The games are sometimes just for fun, but often they test vocabulary and sentence structure.
  • The child has the option to read the book themselves, record themselves reading, or hear it read aloud.
  • Samuel seems to enjoy them just as much as videos.
  • * The books are written at 3 different reading levels. As the child masters more reading challenges, the reading level can automatically adjust with them. Or, they can choose a reading level.
  • With a simple touch, any word on the screen will be read and sounded out.
  • * As the words are read, the word being spoken is highlighted and also dances up.
  • The stories, music, visuals, and games are all really fun.
  • It’s a fairly independent activity. The child can work with the books all on their own.

Here are the only things I could find wrong with the books:

  • They’re pricey. Ultra eBooks are around double or more than what a regular eBook costs. Spending $20 on a book, even one with all of the reading bells and whistles, feels like a stretch to me. So far, I have bought only regular ebooks because of the sticker shock of the Ultra eBooks. I can see why they cost that much, it’s just a bit hard for me to swallow. But I definitely have been looking at them and waiting for the right one – like a favorite story or character – because they are definitely an upgrade from a regular ebook. (Also, the app cards make great stocking stuffers and birthday gifts!)
  • The ones I received are in the “Learn to Read” series. The subtitle is a bit of a stretch. While I do think Samuel could learn some sight words and have some great reading, vocabularly, and sentence structure practice (when he’s ready for that), I don’t think the books alone would teach him to read. I’m pretty sure that’s not what LeapFrog intended me to think, though. 🙂 I am one of those hands-on people, so I love watching what his teaching toys do and trying to expand on them and use them as tools. If that’s what you’re looking for, then an Ultra eBook is a fun addition to your reading toolbox.

I hope this helps if you’re considering buying an Ultra eBook for a LeapPad or Explorer. I definitely will buy another one in the future! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments. I’d be happy to help!

 

Leappad2 Giveaway!

I am so excited that I’ve been chosen as a LeapFrog parent. LeapFrog has a knack for combining what I love about toys (developmentally appropriate, educational, fun) and what my son loves about toys (fun, interactive, has noise, has lights haha!).

They sent me the new LeapPad2 to review, and we’ve been playing with it for about a week. Since I have a newborn who naps 4 times a day, Samuel gets “LeapPad” time when I’m putting her down for a nap. This is a win-win because he gets to play with his favorite toy, and I don’t have a 2 year old running into the nursery saying, “Moooooooommmmyyyy!!!” at the top of his lungs. 🙂

You can read the details below, but here’s my review in a nutshell: This thing is so great, I want one for ME. 😉

Why I love the LeapPad2 (there’s so much I could say here, these are the highlights):

– There is no Internet access. My son loves to play games on an old iPhone we have, or, of course, our own phones, but he knows exactly how to get to YouTube, and there’s just too much Internet access for him to play on these phones independently. Some parents might think it’s a pain to connect online to look for and download apps, but I see that as a plus.

– Developmentally appropriate! My son is only 2 and a half years old, and the device is made for ages 3-9, but he still has no problem finding a ton of fun, and I can see how he will be able to use the LeadPad2 for years. Literally. Here’s a really cool tidbit: The eBooks and games actually adapt to your child. As he answers more questions correctly, for example, he gets harder questions – I LOVE THIS FEATURE. I can say so much more about the kid-ness of the LeapPad2 – how it’s perfect for their size, how friendly voices and images show them how to play each app so they’re not lost – LeapFrog knows kids. That’s all there is to it.

– No boredom. Not only does the LeapPad2 arrive with great content, but there are over 300 apps available, plus any LeapFrog Explorer games can be used in the device. It’s just not possible for this to get old.

– Variety includes creative learning. Developing children’s creativity is absolutely lacking for the current education regime. We are so focused on math, science, reading, and writing that we won’t let our kids color an elephant purple. We’ve played with apps that help a child learn to draw (like really draw not just scribble or doodle or color) and create a film. I was quite impressed with the creative apps.

– At a retail of $99, the value is really high for the price. I know people who have purchased iPads for their kids, which is totally their choice, but for a young child $99 is much easier to stomach for a super nice Christmas or birthday present.

What could be improved:

– My son is left-handed. I was a little disappointed when I saw the stylus on the right side of the device. Thankfully, the screen is responsive to fingers, so he doesn’t need to use the stylus unless he’s working on writing games. For example, the Pet Pad has a writing section where he can trace letters with the stylus. I was pleased to see that there is a left-handed mode for this that flips the screen around, but the child has to 1) know they’re left-handed 2) see this small button and know what it’s for 3) press it every time they enter this zone. The device could be more left-hand friendly by assigning the child’s writing hand to their profile and using that setting in all writing activities.

– The LeapPad2 runs on 4 AA batteries. You can use rechargeable AA batteries, and you can also buy a recharger kit for the device. And you will want to have a way to charge rather than buy batteries. I think we got maybe 7-10 hours of playtime on one set of batteries. It would be a huge parental-approval boost to have the recharger kit come with the LeapPad2, straight off the shelf.

I hope this review is truly helpful to you! It was just released, and I think they are sold out on Amazon and people might be reselling them at a higher price. If I were you, I’d wait until the rush dies down and get one straight from the manufacturer.

OR……..you can try to win a LeapPad2 right here! All you have to do to enter is comment on this post. The giveaway will end on Friday, August 31 at 11:59pm. Good luck!

Disclosure: LeapFrog provided the LeapPad2 for this review, but all opinions are mine all mine!

Grace Above Fire {Dayspring Review and Giveaway}

I have been looking for something to go above my fireplace since we moved into our house. Well, I finally found it!


And here’s a photo that’s a little closer:

They’re called GRACE tiles, from Dayspring. Dayspring’s pictures are much more lovely than mine and show off the middle tile – the white dove in the shape of an “A”:


What I didn’t realize until now is that you can switch out the tiles anytime you want because the rod just comes right off the hooks. Dayspring also has PEACE tiles, TRUST tiles, Bless this Home tiles, and Peace on Earth tiles. I noticed that the GRACE tiles are on sale right now – $10 off. You can get them here. Make sure if you order these, that you get the rod set too.

Aren’t they lovely? Do you want some Dayspring lovelies yourself? Well I have $20 in Dayspring credit to giveaway! This $20 cannot be used towards shipping costs, but you can use it toward anything else in their online store.

Here’s how you can win:

  • In the comments, tell me how you’ve been experiencing God’s grace this week.
  • Like The Candid Pastor’s Wife on Facebook, and leave a comment letting me know you’re a fan!
  • Share a link to this post on Facebook, and let me know in the comments that you shared the love.

Each comment counts as an entry, and comments need to be entered before 11:59pm on Friday, April 15. I’ll announce the winner on Saturday. 

Good luck!

This post is sponsored by DaySpring. Although they provided me this product in exchange for my review, the opinions stated herein are mine, take ‘em or leave ‘em. Affiliate links are also included. See my site disclosure for more information.

Get Rid of Your Dinner Woes {Giveaway!}

Are you still in your dinner rut? Or have you been trying new things? Maybe you’re like me, and you got out of your dinner rut, but your menu needs a little produce revamp (without a budget increase).

I didn’t realize until after I tried out E-Mealz, the online meal planning program recommended by Dave Ramsey, how little fruits and veggies were going into my dinners! Especially produce of the fresh-not-cooked-to-smithereens variety.

I have to admit, when E-Mealz asked if I would like to try out their “mealtime makeover” for busy families, I was skeptical – not because of their mission, though! They want to give you more time with your family by simplifying the mealtime process. I was skeptical because I’m the queen of my kitchen.

Then, I checked out  a sample menu. These were meals I actually wanted to eat! And cook!

Here’s how E-Mealz works:

  • You get to choose which plan you want. You can choose plans that fit just 2 people, gluten free plans, plans that go by points, and plans that are designed around certain grocery stores’ (like WalMart and Kroger!) sales.
  • You get a new (delicious) menu each week.
  • The menus have 5 meals, so you get to do what you want on the other 2 days.
  • It’s only $5 a month!!! And if you order by 3/31/11 and use the code BLISS, you get 15% off, or $4.25/month! I have seen other meal planning services that are double that.

Why I love it:

  • The menu plans reuse ingredients, so you don’t feel like you’re buying a bunch of produce, half of which will go bad.
  • You can get a plan to match what is on sale at your favorite store (I can’t wait for them to get HEB matchups!). This is the number one way to save money at the grocery store.
  • I got the menu plan for 2, and there was plenty for Brad, Samuel, and me to eat without a giant amount of leftovers. I really felt like our food was more efficient.
  • There is a nice variety of meal types, from restaurant fare to comfort food to meat and potatoes.
  • I got a lot of thumbs up from Brad! I kept hearing, “This is good.
  • A lot of the meal sides are fresh produce, which I have seriously been lacking.
  • You can be on weight watchers and use their points menus!
  • SO affordable.
  • If you’re queen of your kitchen too, you can easily customize it – switch out sides or use other ingredients. For example, tonight we made a healthier, quicker version of monte cristos. They were to-die-for! They called for bacon, but I used ham because I already had some. Delish! (See recipe below!)
  • We had a little bit of a rough month, and the number one thing I loved about E-Mealz was that I could just pull the plan out and go to the store. No thinking required. It was very easy.

Giveaway!

E-Mealz would love to give away a THREE month subscription ($15 value) to one Candid Pastor’s Wife reader! Lucky yous. 😉

Here’s how you can enter (you can do one, two, or all three of the below options!):

  • Like E-Mealz on Facebook. Leave a comment letting me know you Like them.
  • Leave a comment letting me know what your biggest dinnertime hurdle is (like getting everyone fed before meltdown time, planning the menus, budgeting, etc.)
  • Like The Candid Pastor’s Wife on Facebook. Leave a comment letting me know you like us.

The giveaway will end at 11:59pm on Wednesday, March 23. The winner will be announced on Thursday, March 24. Good luck!

Yummy Monte Cristo Recipe (courtesy of E-Mealz)

Ingredients

  • 8 slices bacon (I used 3-4 slices ham)
  • 4 slices English sandwich bread (2 english muffins)
  • 4-8oz extra-sharp white cheddar cheese (I just used the cheddar i had; it happened to be sharp but not white)
  • 1 apple, thinly sliced
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4c milk; dash nutmeg; 1T butter; maple syrup for drizzling

Instructions

Prepare bacon according to pkg directions. Combine egg, milk, and nutmeg and mix well; set aside. Layer cheese, apple, bacon, and a little more cheese to taste on 2 sliced of bread and top with bread. Melt butter in pan heated to medium heat, coat the top and bottom of each sandwich with egg mixture and cook until deep golden on each side and cheese has melted. Halve the sandwiches and drizzle lightly with warm syrup.

(For sides on this meal, they suggested canned split pea soup and chips. However, most of their suggested sides include some fresh produce – this was a comfort food night! :))

E-Mealz provided me with a free 1-month meal planning subscription in exchange for a review of their product. I will also make a small commission on any sales you purchase with the BLISS code. You know I’m too candid to share anyone’s opinions but my own! Thanks for supporting this blog!