Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Winners of our Eco-Friendly Kids Toys and Gifts Giveaway!


Thanks again to Challenge and Fun for sponsoring this HUGE eco-friendly kids gifts giveaway!  And thank you to everyone who entered, and for your Facebook and Twitter follows, and daily tweets! :)

As promised, THREE prizes are up for grabs, and here are the results of our Random.org drawing:

Random Integer Generator

Here are your random numbers:
2 23 29
Timestamp: 2009-10-31 21:00:58 UTC

The winner of prize #1, the totally awesome Labyrinth Balance Board is Anne from Mommy Has to Work!!  Congrats Anne :D

And talk about luck!!  The winner of prizes #2 and #3, the "I Cherish Planet Earth" book and game, as well as the autographed Charlie Hope CD "I'm Me!" is Rachelle from Mommy? I'm hungry!  Girl, you are on a  roll!  Time to go play the lotto!!  Hahaha ;)

Ladies, please check your e-mails, so we can make arrangements to get your prizes out to you and your little ones!

Thanks again to everyone :)

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Product Review and Recipe: Vegan "Queso" Cheeze Sauce made from Bob's Red Mill Nutritional Yeast

I thought I'd never eat nachos and cheese dip again.

A few months ago, I seem to have stumbled upon having an adult on-set allergy to the milk protein casein.  It's apparently very common for adults to suddenly become allergic to this substance.  I'm still waiting for an allergy test to confirm this, but the flaming rash on my hands that lingers for a week, after ingesting any kind of dairy, would seem to indicate that I have a milk allergy.

Oh, it's been a tough transition for this cooking mama, trying to work around recipes calling for things as simple as butter.  I thank wonderful companies like the makers of Earth Balance vegan margarine, Rice Dream rice milk, and of course, my favorite Publix Greenwise soy milk for helping to make this transition easier :)

Just when I thought I'd never again experience the ooey goodness of melted cheese, I started reading about an intriguing ingredient: nutritional yeast.  Also called vegetarian yeast, the one from the famous Bob's Red Mill brand got rave reviews on Amazon.com.  Many were singing the praises of this long-lived, yellowy powdered yeast, that has been around since at least ancient Egyptian times.  Sprinkled on popcorn or hot pasta, or stirred into a sauce, this nutrient-packed yeast adds a surprisingly good nutty and cheesy flavor, all without the dairy! This all-natural substance is packed with B-vitamins, and is also serves as a source of complete protein!

Nutritional yeast keeps very well in the freezer, so I went ahead and ordered a full case.  My shipment of four packages of Bob's Red Mill large-flake variety nutritional food yeast arrived today from Amazon, and I couldn't wait to try it out.  This recipe for Nutritional Yeast Queso Sauce from VegWeb.com looked simple, yet delicious.  I added a few tweaks, as we like our nacho dips a little chunkier, and this is what I came up with:
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 cup water
2 tbsp Earth Balance dairy-free margarine
1 cup fresh salsa
0.5 tsp rice vinegar (optional - for that tangy flavor)
Organic corn tortilla chips for dipping

In a sauce pan, over medium heat, combine the first five ingredients, toasting them for about a minute.  Whisk in one cup of cold water.  Continue to whisk over medium heat, until the sauce thickens and starts to bubble.

Remove the sauce pan from the heat, and whisk in the margarine, followed by the salsa and rice vinegar.

Return the sauce pan to the stove, and continue stirring until heated through.

Serve warm with tortilla chips for dipping.

According to the green organic kids panel (aka my daughter), the verdict is "Yum!" :D  I guess hubby didn't hear me when I said this was made with "fake cheese", and he didn't even notice the difference!  We thoroughly enjoyed this as a dip, with Publix Greenwise organic blue corn tortilla chips.

Now on a side note, please, do not confuse nutritional yeast with any other kind of yeast (dry active yeast for baking, Brewer's yeast, etc). They are NOT the same thing, and will not yield the same results.  Your local health food store or organic grocery store should carry nutritional yeast; either in flake or powder form.  I do plan to make my own yeast powder from these large flakes, by grinding some in my food processor.  Powdered nutritional yeast is supposed to be a great condiment, and we'll be using that in place of Parmesan cheese on our pasta and veggies.  We'll be sure to test out more recipes for things like "cheeze" spread, and we'll be posting our recipes and results.  We love our new dairy-free cheese alternative :D




Bob's Red Mill Nutritional Food Yeast image courtesy of BobsRedMill.com

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Product Review: Crofter's Organic Superfruit Spreads

Well what do you know?  I won a giveaway!!  WOOHOO :)

A big thank you to Gerhard and Gabi Latka, the founders of Crofter's Organic; the largest manufacturer of organic jams in North America! Crofter's specializes in organic fruit spreads, conserves, and jellies, and they've been creating these delicious delights for over 20 years.  I'm also very excited that Crofter's Organic is based in Ontario, Canada, where I was born :) 

Our delicious giveaway prize arrived: four full-size 11-ounce jars of each flavor of their Crofter's Organic Superfruits Spreads!  These aren't called "Superfruits" for nothing!  Ten antioxidant-rich fruits go into the making of this line of spreads.  Each of the four flavors has one of four continent themes: Asia, Europe, South America, and North America.  If you've been looking for an organic spread with less sugar, and more fruity flavor, these spreads will certainly fit the bill.

Each blend starts with a base of morello cherries and red grapes, and then combines more fruits, unique to various regions of the planet.  They're also sweetened with fair-trade sugar, and only just enough, without overpowering the flavors of the fruits.  I really enjoyed each and every one of these organic spreads.  The Asian blend, which is the least sweet of the bunch, brings together the yumberry (also known as Chinese Bayberry) and raspberries. The North American spread is a tasty blend of blueberries and cranberries, creating the firmest of the spreads (very jam-like).  The South American variety blends maqui berry and passionfruit to create the sweetest, and most jelly-like of the four Superfruits spreads.   My favorite blend is the "Europe" jar, in green, shown above.  It combines black currants with pomegranate.  The black currant flavor really stands out!  This spread has a nice firm consistency, and lots of chunks of fruit.  I love that these spreads use organic fruits, and don't contain any additives (no artificial colors, flavors, etc).  Each one is delicious on toasted fresh bakery bread. Mmm... mmm! :)

I'm hoping my grocery store will be able to stock some of the Crofter's Organic jams!  Can't wait to try more!  Hope you will, too :)


Crofter's Organic Superfruits Spreads image courtesy of CrofterOrganic.com.
This is a review of four free jars, won in a free giveaway contest.
No promotional consideration was paid for this post.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dairy-Free Organic Apple and Peach Crisp


I can always count on my dear friend Rachelle for amazingly delicious, yet simple recipes!  It's fall, and our fridge is stocked with two and a half bags of organic apples from our buying club.  Perfect timing, as Rachelle just posted this awesome Apple Crisp recipe! 

Green Organic Girl and I have been fighting colds for the past week, and we finally started feeling a bit better today.  I was eager to get back in the kitchen for some cooking therapy.  I put together an organic version of Rachelle's Apple Crisp, with a few tweaks.  As I seem to have developed a casein allergy, I made ours dairy-free, substituting margarine for butter.  I also added two very ripe organic peaches.  My pantry also has an abundance of pumpkin pie spice that needed to be used up, so that was used in place of cinnamon.  Yum yum!!  It's 80 degrees this October evening in South Florida, but the house smells like autumn has arrived :)  Here is my version of our dairy-free organic apple and peach crisp:
For the base:

8 small organic Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
2 ripe organic peaches, peeled and diced
6 tbsp white granulated sugar
2.5 tsp pumpkin pie spice

For the topping:

1 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup organic all-purpose flour
1/3 cup rolled oats
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup margarine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, prepare the base filling by combining the white sugar and 2.5 tsp of pumpkin pie spice. Toss to coat with the apples and peaches. Grease a shallow baking dish with margarine. Pour in fruit mixture, and distribute evenly. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, combine the light brown sugar, flour, rolled oats, and remaining pumpkin pie spice. Using a fork or pastry cutter, combine with margarine, forming lumpy crumbs. Spread crumb mixture on top of the fruit.

Bake uncovered for about an hour, until the apples are tender, and the syrup is bubbling.

Enjoy :)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Our Columbus Day Green Giveaway Winners!

Thank you to everyone who entered our two fantastic Columbus Day giveaways!!  The contests have come to a close, and here are the results of our random drawings from Random.org:

The winner of the Nutriganics Organic Skin Care Prize Pack from THE BODY SHOP is:


Random Integer Generator

Here are your random numbers:
72
Timestamp: 2009-10-12 23:07:51 UTC

#72 is Aimee!!  Thank you for all of your daily retweets!! Enjoy this skin care pack!!

The winner of our fantastic customizable Halloween-themed Safety Tats temporary tattoos is:



Random Integer Generator

Here are your random numbers:
2
Timestamp: 2009-10-12 21:45:35 UTC

#2 is Jen from "Moore" Than A Mom!  Jen, your little pumpkins are going to love these :)

Ladies, please check your e-mails, so we can make arrangements to get your prizes out to you!

A HUGE thank you to all of our entrants, THE BODY SHOP, and Safety Tats!  Don't forget that THE BODY SHOP is still running their "2 for 1" skin care sale, and the Nutriganics products are eligible!  And get your orders in at Safety Tat before October 15th, and enjoy 10% off your order of $15 or more!!  Enter "GreenOrganicMama" at the checkout :)

The giveaway fun continues!  We already have another fantastic green giveaway under way. Please check out our review of these awesome eco-friendly kids products from Challenge & Fun, and enter to win one of THREE of these for your own children!
Have a great week, everyone :)

Product Review and Giveaway: Eco-Friendly Toys from Challenge & Fun!

Is it too soon to think about Christmas and holiday gifts?  Maybe not for me ;) This shopaholic mommy is always on the lookout for special gifts for Green Organic Girl.  Here are three fantastic products that we were given a special opportunity to try out, and your chance to enter to win these for your own children to enjoy!

This year, we're very pleased to see more and more green and eco-friendly toy options out there.  The wonderful people at Challenge & Fun have put together an amazing assortment of products -- toys with lasting quality and entertainment value.  This company prides itself on making safe, smart, all-natural toys  and products available  to everyone, all the while supporting their own commitment to the environment.

Challenge & Fun sent us three fabulous products to review, and we were having so much fun, I had to stop just long enough to write this.  LOL!

Labyrinth Balance Board

The first is this amazing, engaging, and "not-as-easy-as-it-looks" Labyrinth Balance Board.  Call it an "unplugged", manual version of the Nintendo Wii Fit ;)  This is one of Challenge & Fun's own line of products, made entirely of wood, and manufactured right here in the USA.  I have to say that I'm truly impressed with the workmanship and quality of this product.  This is a hefty toy, and certainly made to last.  The bottom of the board is fitted with a smooth wooden ball, so no worries about damaging your floors.  Still, just for safety, I didn't want Green Organic Girl potentially wiping out onto our terrazzo floor, so she played with this on a rug.  No assembly required, and very few instructions.  Just take one of the three included wooden marbles (one each of red, blue, and yellow), and place it in the middle of the board.  Stand up on the board, placing your feet on the footprint outlines on the opposite sides of the board.  Then, using your feet only, tilt the board back and forth, maneuvering the marble through the labyrinth, all the way to the little marker on the outside top edge of the board.

This toy is recommended for ages five and up, but four-year-old Green Organic Girl had no problem getting the hang of this!  Mommy had a turn on this too, and wow, is it ever fun!  LOL!  Once you master one marble, add another, and then another.  Then start trying to work the marble(s) from the outside in.  This is a great toy to play by yourself, or challenge your family and friends.  However, I do recommend supervising younger children with this; especially if it's their first time trying it out.  Also, keep the wooden marbles away from the mouths of younger siblings.  Store them some place safe and out of reach, when not in use.  This is truly a wonderful toy, and I know we'll get years of use out of this one, and we'll probably still be able to pass it on to younger relatives so they can enjoy it, too!

WHERE TO BUY:

The Labyrinth Balance Board is available from MuseumTour.com.

I Cherish Planet Earth



The second item in our package is all about teaching our children about caring for our planet Earth. "I Cherish Planet Earth" by FocusBloom, is a combination book and memory matching game that the whole family can enjoy together. The book is full of beautiful illustrations, showing images of nature, animals, and children doing their part each day to help the environment. The book is easy to follow, and the tasks are easy for children and families to do (turn off the water while you brush your teeth, take things out to the recycling box, turn off lights, etc). After reading the book, a memory game is included, with 48 cards featuring the same lovely images from the book, with short descriptions, as reminders of things we can do every day to help the planet. What a great way to reinforce what was just read.

This would make a lovely gift for younger children, serving as a teaching tool, and as an eco-friendly toy. FocusBloom is a member of "1% For the Planet", and the book and cards are all made from 100% recycled paperboard, and printed with vegetable inks. Included is a cloth bag for the cards, and the entire set is made in the USA. I Cherish Planet Earth also recently won the 2009 Dr. Toy "Best Green Product" award. I think it'd be a great addition to the classroom as well. We'll be taking ours to school to share with Green Organic Girl's preschool class.

WHERE TO BUY:

I Cherish Planet Earth is available from My Little Green Room.

"I'm Me!" - A Collection of Songs for Children by Charlie Hope



We love music in this family.  Green Organic Dad is classically trained in brass, he's played bass guitar for several classic rock bands, and he stays very busy as a tropical destination wedding DJ here in the Florida Keys.  Needless to say, we listen to a lot of music ;) 

We are in love with the CD that came in our package.  Charlie Hope is a female singer/songwriter, who also grew up in Toronto, Canada, like me!  This is a wonderful collection of songs -- almost like Raffi (okay, now I'm dating myself... LOL!).  Charlie has a sweet, cheerful, yet soft voice.  Listening to her songs, you can just imagine her strumming on a guitar, surrounded by a circle of children, happily singing along.  The songs are very easy to listen to, and ones that I wouldn't mind listening to over and over again (and you can't say that about most kids music).  Our favorite has to be the Frog Song.  I burst out laughing when I heard it the first time.  It's about frogs, and toast with jam, and Edamame.  What else can I say?  LOL!

The CD has 20 songs, and some of them are familiar favorites, like "Mr. Sun" and "Pop Goes the Weasel".  It also comes in a paperboard case, with a lyrics book that doubles as a coloring book.  They're both printed with vegetable inks, on Certified Green components.  I highly recommend this CD for your kids.  It will put a smile on your face, too :)

Charlie Hope was also recently awarded the 2009 Silver award from Parents' Choice!  Congrats to Charlie!

WHERE TO BUY:

The CD and downloadable MP3s are available from Amazon.com.  Click on the image above to listen to sample tunes :)



ENTER TO WIN:

Thank you to everyone who entered! This giveaway has come to a close. Please click here to see the results of our Random.org drawing and to congratulate our winners!


Now here's your chance to win your very own Labyrinth Balance Board, I Cherish Planet Earth book and game, or an autographed Charlie Hope - 'I'm Me!' CD!  At the end of the giveaway, I'll be picking three numbers from Random.org, and awarding one prize to each corresponding commentator!

Please be sure to read the complete rules:


To enter this contest, first leave a comment, telling us what you and your family do to live greener.  Please be sure to leave your e-mail address, so I may contact you if you're the lucky winner. 


For additional entries, please first leave a comment about what you and your family do to live greener, and then do any of the following, for a maximum of 28 (twenty-eight) total entries in this giveaway contest [please be sure to come back and leave a follow-up comment for each of these completed tasks, in order to be counted as an additional entry]:


  • FOR BONUS ENTRIES: Earn up to one additional BONUS entry each day, between now and 4:59PM EST on Saturday, October 31, 2009, by Retweeting this giveaway daily! Remember to come back and leave a comment and a copy of your new Retweet each day, in order for your daily Retweet to be counted. [Maximum of one bonus Retweet entry each day, for a maximum of 20 for the length of the contest.]
By entering this contest, you have read and understand the rules and fine print of this contest:
  1. Contest ends Saturday, October 31st, 2009 at 5:00PM EST
  2. Contest open to U.S. residents.
  3. There are three (3) giveaway prizes in total, consisting of one (1) each of the following
    • Labyrinth Balance Board
    • I Cherish Planet Earth book and game set
    • Charlie Hope "I'm Me!" autographed CD
  4. Three (3) winning numbers shall be chosen from the pool of valid comment entries, using Random.org, with the possible outcome that one person may be the winner of all three prizes, depending on the actual numbers drawn.
  5. Winner(s) will be contacted via e-mail, and will provide a U.S. mailing address, which will then be provided to the giveaway sponsor, Challenge & Fun, for the purpose of directly mailing one giveaway prize to each corresponding winner.
  6. If a winner does not respond via e-mail within 48 hours of the prize drawing, another winner will be selected via Random.org, and the new winner will be awarded the corresponding prize.
  7. Approximate retail value of the prizes: Labyrinth Balance Board $79.95 USD, I Cherish Planet Earth book and game set $16.95 USD, Charlie Hope "I'm Me!" CD $14.95 USD.
  8. Giveaway sponsor, Challenge & Fun,  reserves the right to modify the prize package offering and quantities.
  9. Winners will be announced here on this blog, and on Twitter, and on FaceBook.
  10. No promotional consideration was paid for this post. One of each product reviewed above was provided for free for review. No monetary compensation was received.
A big thank you to Challenge and Fun for allowing us the opportunity to try out these awesome products!  How often do you find quality toys, that are educational, engaging, good for the environment, and so much fun?

Good luck to everyone!! :)


Click here to be taken to the comments form to place your entry/entries.



Toy images courtesy of ChallengeAndFun.com.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Green Organic Family Visits Walt Disney World - Part 5 - EPCOT

Continued from Part 4 - Disney's Hollywood Studios

We were in for another fun-filled day when we arrived at EPCOT.  Here we were, standing in front of the infamous giant... golf ball?  I don't know.  But it's cool looking!!

EPCOT is another one of those endless, sprawling parks that is impossible to cover in a single day.  Out of the four parks, I would have to say that EPCOT is probably the best choice for a big family.  There are so many attractions that would appeal to everybody from toddlers to grandma and grandpa.

EPCOT is comprised of "Future World", made up of many sit-down, air-conditioned rides and shows, and exhibits, and the "World Showcase", the more famous part, consisting of re-creations of eleven nation, surrounding a huge lagoon.  You can take a rocket to space, and then see a Mayan pyramid, all in the same day. 

We started our day out in Future World.  I can't even begin to describe all there is to do.  We even missed several attractions, as we only had one day at this park, and still wanted to make time for the World Showcase.  One of our favorites early in the day, was "Ellen's Energy Adventure"; a 45-minute show hosted by Ellen Degeneres.  It's a combination ride/show.  A word of warning: children frightened by large animatronic creatures should probably pass on this one.  Green Organic Girl did just fine on this one, and I was pleased that this show was all about conserving energy.  It gets a green, organic thumbs up :)

After watching some family vacation videos posted on YouTube, I was really eager to take the little one over to "The Seas with Nemo and Friends".   This building is packed with exhibits, all sorts of sea life, and two very popular attractions which I was very eager for Green Organic Girl to see.  We enjoyed two turns, seated in a giant clam shell, watching a 10-minute ride version of "Finding Nemo".  Very cute, lots of fun for us parents and the little one, and not scary at all.

The next is an innovative and funny show; probably the most high-tech interactive puppet show out there: Turtle Talk with Crush.  Crush is the hilarious "surfer dude" sea turtle from the Finding Nemo movie.  You and your children enter a "people tank" and sit in front of a giant screen ... err... glass window, looking out on the ocean floor.  The host instructs everyone to call out to Crush, and invite him over to chat.  And that he does!  Almost like watching the movie, an animated Crush swims up to the screen, and greets the group!  The host goes around the room, and lets children (and parents) ask Crush questions.  Then some very high-tech digital puppeteering and a real actor as the voice of Crush, respond in real time!  After seeing some YouTube videos of some of these chat sessions, it appears they are very different each time, with some unexpected antics and possible appearances by other sea creatures during your 10-minute chat.  It's seamless, so realistic (as far as cartoon sea turtles go), and full of laughs.  This is definitely worth taking your children to, and I'm sure you'll get a kick out of it, too!  This was one of our favorite pavillions over all.  Just watch out for sharks.



After visiting Nemo, it was close to the return time for hubby to use his FastPass tickets to get on Mission: Space and Fast Track; two fast-paced rides, a little too intense for the little one.  So, we decided to meet up later at the Electric Umbrella for another burger-and-fries lunch.  Now, had I known beforehand, we would have headed straight over to the cafeteria over at The Land pavillion, for much healthier lunch options.  The Sunshine Seasons cafeteria on the lower level of The Land pavillion is HUGE!  There is plenty of seating, and I saw several tour groups, wearing matching t-shirts, occupying several tables at once.  But there was still plenty of room, and lots of cleaning staff, keeping tables immediately available.  This would be a great spot to stop and eat your own food brought from home, too.  It's wide open, with lots of people-watching opportunity.  The food at Sunshine Seasons is fantastic.  There's just an amazing assortment: fresh homemade soups, salads, stir fries, noodles, sandwiches, bakery items, frozen treats, and the largest selection of drinks (including beer and wine) out of all the parks.  The prices are standard park prices, like $3.99 for the homemade vegetable soup I had for a snack later in the day, which BTW was just perfectly made and hit the spot.  I really do think that this cafeteria would make the perfect organic food venue, tying in with the nature theme of this pavillion.  I hope that's something Disney will consider doing.

Back to our lunch, poor hubby was a little green by the time he met us at the Electric Umbrella, but he did enjoy his two adrenaline-rush rides.  When his stomach settled, he had his burger, and then we were off to The Land pavillion for more shows, and of course, our late afternoon snack.  We headed over to the "Circle of Life"; another sit-down show.  Another green plus for Disney!  The Circle of Life show is a movie, hosted by Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa from The Lion King, as Simba takes his "entrepreneurial" friends on an environmental awareness adventure.  Now, I really enjoyed it, and I'm sure it was a combination of it being just after lunch, and nice and dark and cool, because Green Organic Girl and Green Organic Dad fell asleep.  I don't know how -- it was rather loud!  Oh well. I watched the whole thing and thought it was very well put together.

The next show we headed off to was Soarin'; a hang-glider simulation ride.  It's not scary at all.  It's an exhiliarating adventure, as you sit in a row of special seats, with your feet dangling, and you're carried around and pitched and spun against a giant video screen, to simulate flying.  The three of us really enjoyed it, and had we had extra time, we would have lined up for a second round.


By this time, we figured to head over into the World Showcase, and do some leisurely walking around, before picking a place for dinner.  I guess we took the back door in, and started out in Canada, my home country!  Well, not really.  LOL!  It was a miniature approximation, but not really a true depiction of life in  Canada.  We stopped and enjoyed live music from the band "Off Kilter", as they entertained everybody in their kilts, and continued on to the United Kingdom.



I loved the little shops in the United Kingdom!  The one tea shop even carried Twinnings tea in K-cups!  WOOHOO :)  My parents are from Hong Kong, a former British colony; so growing up, visiting relatives brought a lot of British goodies as gifts.  So I was super excited when I saw that this tea shop also had all sorts of British snacks available! I haven't eaten these in years -- all sorts of biscuits, Curly Wurly, Ripple... mmm!!  Too bad I've developed a milk protein allergy since.  *sigh*  That's okay... not like I need to eat more junk food ;)


Our next stop was France, and Green Organic Girl was in for a special treat.  One of the street vendors was selling custom-designed, hand-painted parasols!  Green Organic Girl has a special place in her heart for anything to do with umbrellas and balloons.  There were sample pictures to choose from, so we selected a mini parasol, which includes her name and flowers hand-painted on the panels.  For $5 extra, additional designs were available -- unicorns, Cinderella's castle, ladybugs, all sorts of things.  As this was Green Organic Girl's special custom souvenir from her very first trip to Disney World, I chose images of the Mickey ears balloons to be painted on two of the parasol's panels.  The finished parasol was ready in an hour, and it was lovely!!  For $21, this adorable personalized souvenir was well worth it. It's a unique way for our little one to remember this vacation :)


We continued walking through Morocco, and then arrived in Japan.  This is where we spent the most amount of time.  We got there just in time, and caught one of the live performances by three drummers.  They had so much energy!!  Highly entertaining show :)  By then, it had started to rain, so we ducked inside the gift shop.  This was no ordinary gift shop.  It was almost like a mini department store, full of all sorts of Japanese knick-knacks.  We're talking Hello Kitty everything, anime shirts, toys, and posters, Japanese swords, and the cutest little wind-up toys, which kept the little one amused while we waited for the rain to stop.  Well, the rain didn't want to let up, so we figured to have some dinner.  We dashed across the way, up the stairs to Yakitori House, for some teriyaki.  Now, I've eaten my fair share of Japanese food; from mall food, to upscale.  Yakitori House is right around "mall food" quality, at Disney prices.  I was a little peeved that the side of veggies were nothing but cheap grocery store frozen vegetable mix.  Peas, corn, carrots, and beans.  Exactly what is Japanese about that?  Some iceberg lettuce with some miso dressing would have been more appropriate.  Oh well.  We hung around Japan a little while longer, waiting out the rain, stopping to buy some Japanese lollipops, which I haven't eaten since I was probably seven years old.  They brought back memories :)


By the time the rain tapered off, it was getting dark, so we continued on our way, in search of a good spot to sit and be ready for the nightly IllumiNations fireworks closing ceremony, that occurs in and above the lagoon.  Our guidebooks said to find a spot early, but they didn't tell us that the better locations are closer to the other side of World Showcase; Mexico and Norway.  It was almost showtime, as pre-recorded announcements started to play, advising guests to find a seat.  Huge gas torches started to light, all around the lagoon.  We did find a decent spot in Germany, but it was near a torch that wasn't lit, and was spilling out natural gas.  People were sitting all around this, breathing in the gas.  Nobody could smell this??  I kept my eyes open for a Cast Member, to advise them of the gas, but at this point in the day, it appeared they were all gone somewhere, getting ready for the park's closing.  So, we decided to sit elsewhere, and headed back over by China.  We found some bench seating, but our line of sight was obscured a little bit by some trees.  No big deal.  It's a BIG show, and it is absolutely phenomenal.  Don't miss this one!!



By the end of it, we were tired, and ready to go back to the hotel.  We followed the crowds toward the main entrance, only to be waved into one of the giant gift shops by store staff.  Okay, I guess the gift shops stay open later than the rest of the park.  That was probably a good idea, as everybody was heading out at this time, and we would have had a long wait for a shuttle.  So, this was when we did our big souvenir run, and took advantage of the 10% off a $50 or more purchase by using our Disney Chase Visa card.

This was our last night at our resort at Old Key West, so we boarded the shuttle, and headed back to rest up.  Tomorrow would be full of packing, and then off to the Animal Kingdom, before heading home.  Did we really have to go home?  Couldn't we just stay a little longer?  We were having so much fun :)

To be continued in Part 6.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Product Review: Newman's Own Organics Adult Cat Formula Premium Cat Food


Meet Angel and Bella; the fur babies of the Green Organic Family.  Our adopted babies came to us when they were fully grown, and had been surrendered to the local SPCA, and another non-profit rescue group.  They are very much loved additions to our family, and also enjoy organic food.

Bella is probably the pickiest dog I have ever met (she won't even eat dog treats... not even Greenie bones! Now that is picky!).  What she does like, however, is cat food.  LOL!  Our vet said not to worry, as lots of dogs prefer cat food, over dog food.  So both of them had been sharing the same brand of all-natural Wellness Indoor Formula dry cat food.

We firmly believe that staying healthy starts with eating right, and that philosophy extends to our beloved pets. When it comes to choosing pet food, we adamantly refuse to feed our natural-born carnivores cheap grocery-store-brands, as they're packed with fillers, like wheat and corn meal.  When was the last time you watched a documentary of wolves, descending upon a field of corn?  Just like their wild cousins, cats and dogs need good sources of protein.  No feathers, beaks, or feet either, please (aka "chicken by-product meal").  If your 5-pound bag of pet food costs the same as one pound of your favorite cut of steak, consider the quantity and quality of protein you're actually getting in that bag of dry food.  That's why we've been going out of our way to shop at our local pet store.  That is, until very recently...

About a week ago, our local pet store (which normally charges higher prices anyway, due to our remote island location and their lack of competition) hiked the price of our Wellness cat food 31%  Yes, you read that right.  THIRTY-ONE PERCENT.  We try to do our part by supporting the local businesses of our island community; even if that meant paying a little more.  But 31%?  That is robbery!!  While one of the owners was running my purchase through, I very politely inquired about this price increase.  Instead, I was met with the biggest, coldest brush-off.  So they think they can monopolize the local market, raise their prices even more, be rude about it, and expect repeat patronage?  Not from this former customer.  We're taking our business elsewhere.

As we are island dwellers, "elsewhere" meant "online".  If you haven't tried shopping online for dry pet food, the shipping costs alone make it almost not worth it.  However, my friends and family know that I am an Amazon.com addict.  We buy everything from books to toys, to coffee and organic lip balm.  Amazon.com's range of products is phenomenal, the prices are competitive, and there's no tax, and free shipping for purchases over $25 (and no, I was not paid to say any of this... LOL!).  Amazon has been expanding their all-natural and organic offerings, including many of the products from the very popular Newman's Own brand.  For breakfast every day, Angel gets a can of cat food, as I've read that older cats need that little bit of extra moisture in their diets to stay healthy.  Our local pet store didn't carry any organic canned cat food at all, so Angel has been enjoying the Newman's Own Organics Chicken and Salmon variety of canned cat food, which we have on automatic reorder, with free shipping to our door, under Amazon's Subscribe and Save program.  Since he loves the canned food so much, I figured to try out Newman's dry cat food, as an alternative to Wellness (as Amazon doesn't stock that particular brand).

Our shipment from Amazon arrived today.  I guess Angel could already smell it through the plastic bag, as he watched me with such intensity as I cut the top open.  Once I had the top off, I held the open bag to his nose for another sniff.  Angel's eyes just lit up.  LOL!

"Meow...  meow...  meow!"

Translation: "Okay, pour the food in the bowl already, lady!"

The Newman's dry food is a hit!  And unlike Wellness, Newman's Own is certified organic.  There are no artificial colors or flavors, no "4D" chicken meat (dead, dying, disabled, diseased -- otherwise, not fit for human consumption), and Newman's Own is famous for donating after-tax profits to charity, including animal-related ones from the sales of its pet products.  We're very happy to have found this healthy, organic, much-loved alternative for our furry family members :o-)


Newman's Own Organics Cat Food image courtesy of Amazon.com.
No promotional consideration was paid for this post.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Less Texting, More Driving - Pledge to "Keep Your Mind On The Wheel"

MomsMsg.com

Recently, I blogged about my book review of "The Blackberry Diaries" by Kathy Buckworth; a year-long account via blog of one completely distracted, disengaged, and out-of-touch mother of four, and her escape from daily life via a Blackberry. 

When the author started talking about wanting a larger screen in her car, on her dashboard, so she could keep up with her Blackberry while driving, that was the final straw.  This book took a trip out the door to the recycle bin.

I'm a techie at heart, and an Internet addict, but even I know when it's time to "unplug".  Having information at our fingertips "24/7" does not mean that we can jeopardize the safety of others! 

How many distracted drivers do you pass on your drives around town, to school, to work, to the store?  You know the tell-tale signs: the slowing down for no reason, the veering into other lanes, the car at the intersection, waiting for a specific shade of green before moving forward.

We all need to take the "Keep Your Mind On The Wheel" pledge, to ensure the safety of each other.  We're all "somebody"; a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister, a son, a daughter, a grandparent, a friend.  Nobody deserves to be hurt (or worse) at the hands of a distracted driver.

Please do your part and click on the badge.  You can read all about the statistics of distracted driving, and then pledge your support by leaving a comment, and displaying your own badge to help spread the word.

*** UPDATE ***

October 8, 2009

Thank you to Cooper, co-founder of TheMotherhood.com and "Moms on Board" for inviting me to join their team of ambassadors, spreading the word about keeping your mind on the road!  Let's all make a difference, together!
MomsMsg.com

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Friend in Need


One of my dearest friends, Rachelle, was just informed that her husband is being laid off.  She is the owner of the amazing Mommy? I'm Hungry! blog.  Rachelle is a mommy to three awesome kids, and has been a wonderful, supportive friend for the past five years.  She's been an amazing mentor, helping me with my early transition into the blogosphere (which, incidentally, happened while I was in between jobs -- it's not an easy thing trying to find a job in this economy).

With her husband being laid off, Rachelle is being forced to give back several company-owned items, like the laptop that she's been using for the past several months, to update her blog.  Her own personal computer just refuses to let anyone figure out what's causing its problems, and is unusable.  Rachelle has poured countless hours into her blog, amassing over 300 Google Friend Connect followers, and over 900 Twitter followers.  We love her blog, and the tons and tons of recipes, and personal touch that she puts into her reviews.  We can't let this wonderful blogger (and friend) disappear.

I'd like to reach out to all of you, and please ask for your help.  If anyone has a functioning laptop they would be willing to donate to Rachelle, please contact me.  

Also, if there's anyone in the San Diego area who would love to have this amazing chef/baker create mouthwatering delights for you, please let me know, and I will get you in touch with Rachelle!  She is a former professional baker, and check out the drool-worthy food photographs on her blog (which she also snapped herself!).  Her passion for food and photography truly shine through on her blog. 

Thank you everyone!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Product Review: The Complete Tales of Winnie The Pooh 2010 Eco-Friendly Calendar


It was "TGIF" yesterday, and my boss graciously made the decision early in the day to let us off an hour early, with pay!  WOOHOO!!

I picked up Green Organic Girl from preschool, and we headed over to our favorite bookstore.  We had a fun time browsing all of the new Halloween books, including one with a cartoon witch who gets scared by a ghost, and the book lets out an audible scream!!  "AHH!" ... "AHH!" ... "AHH!" ... Okay honey, that's enough... let's put the book away before people start staring.  LOL!

The new calendars for 2010 were also in, and we had a little peek at what was in stock.  That's when I came across this lovely calendar, featuring classic images of Winnie the Pooh and Friends!  Now I've already told you how much we love Pooh Bear, and we're still talking about the great time we had last month during our trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando :)

Being a busy family that relies heavily on a central kitchen wall calendar, to coordinate all of our activities and to help us remember important dates, large grids and plenty of room to write are a must for us.  I've also enjoyed the newer "mom" and "family" themed wall calendars that have popped up in recent years, featuring tons of stickers to highlight important dates and events (doctor's appointments, special school days, when to check your smoke alarm, etc).

I was in for a treat when I picked out this one: "The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh" 16-month 2010 calendar, from GraphiqueDeFrance.  It certainly fits the bill with large grids, and comes with 120 adorable stickers, featuring Pooh Bear and his friends.  The stickers don't have quite the variety of some of the more popular family calendars, but the basics are there (birthdays, school breaks, and even 'Me Time').

As an added bonus, this is an ECO-FRIENDLY calendar!!  It's FSC-certified, sourcing the paper from well-managed forests and recycled wood pulp and fiber, as well as being printed with non-polluting soy inks!  (BTW, my old boss from the bank explained why soy inks are so much safer.  She worked at a printing company for many years, a long time ago, and she said conventional inks create mercury as a by-product in the printing process.  Her printing company had to call in to a hazardous waste handling company, in order to have that mercury "safely" disposed of.)

We're very happy with our 2010 calendar purchase, and feel very good about having chosen an adorable, family-friendly, and eco-friendly option :)




Winnie-The-Pooh 2010 calendar image courtesy of Amazon.com

Friday, October 2, 2009

Book Review: The Blackberry Diaries by Kathy Buckworth


Recently, the makers of the Blackberry, RIM (Research In Motion), sent me a copy of a new book, by author Kathy Buckworth; a fellow Canadian and mom.  I was really eager to get started on this book, as I've been a "gadget geek" my whole life.  I grew up in Southern Ontario; not far from the home of RIM.  I've always loved computers, and loved being the first in my group of techie friends to carry new gadgets (I got the first cell phone, the first Palm, the first digital camera, the first PDA Smart phone, the first MP3 player, etc).  I even hold a bachelor's degree in IT.  So, when the opportunity arose to read a book about another busy mom's adventures in parenting with a Blackberry in hand, it sounded like something right up my alley!

Unfortunately, I'm about halfway through this book now, and I just can't even bring myself to finish it.  The Blackberry Diaries is actually the print version of a blog that Kathy Buckworth created; chronicling one year of her life, from the adoption of "Seamus", her new Blackberry.  This isn't a technical blog, and certainly not one that compiles a list of useful resources, tools, hints, and tips for all moms to try to simplify their lives.  Instead, it is honestly a rambling, nonsensical, self-centered, and pointless collection of random musings, by a woman who doesn't seem to want to grow up, and one who doesn't appreciate what she has in life.

Several times, Buckworth refers to "Seamus", as her "fifth child", and draws comparisons as to how much better this fifth child is than her other four real children.  Is this woman for real?  Every child is precious!  Yes, they have their annoying moments, but they also bring an unbelievable amount of joy and love into our lives.  They are your flesh and blood!  They look up to you for everything -- for affection, direction, guidance, and friendship.  Yet, the message from this woman appears to be that she would much rather tune out and play BrickBreaker.  And don't even think of showing your children how to play BrickBreaker on your Blackberry, or you might not get it back, she says.  On that note, she also warns not to share your Blackberry at all, or your peers might see just how "un-loved" you are, because you have fewer messages than they do.  Oh pu-lease!!  There are starving children in the world, and this is what this woman concerns herself with.

Buckworth is glued to her Blackberry, and has little to no qualms about reaching for it, anytime she gets a new message alert; no matter where she might be, and how inappropriate of a time it may be to do so (like, while driving).  She even fantasizes about a larger screen at eye-level in her car, for the purpose of reading and driving at the same time.  {Kathy, for the safety of everyone in Southern Ontario, please put the damn Blackberry away and concentrate on the road.  I think we'd all appreciate that, including my friends and family living in and around Mississauga, not to mention your own family, who despite your views of them, probably still loves you.}

If that wasn't enough, Buckworth even makes mention of another parent yelling at her to put her Blackberry away.  Is Buckworth really this out of control?  I carried around a Palm phone for years, and hubby has gone through a few Smart phones himself, and just like anything you do in life, use your common sense and manners, which Buckworth seems to lack.

My overall impression from reading these blog entries, is that Buckworth finds very little joy in day-to-day life.  She seems to use her Blackberry as an escape mechanism.  She seems like a bored, fidgety twelve-year-old, who was handed a Nintendo DS.  How about interacting with other parents and making some friends?  That's how most of us other parents do it; we interact, we socialize, we vent, and we support each other.  Then maybe she wouldn't have to blog about having too much red wine to get over her horrible day, and then be subject to a hangover the next day, which she inflicted upon herself.

RIM, I thank you for the opportunity to review this book.  However, did you know this is what Kathy Buckworth was going to write about when you asked her to take on this project?  Did you really want to associate your product with this kind of disengaged, self-important, distracted, unappreciative lifestyle?  And coming from a mother of four, no doubt!  I really was hoping to enjoy this book, but sadly, it's left a rather sour taste in my mouth.  I do still believe that Smart phones can be helpful tools, but for goodness sake, they are not a substitute for someone's apparent lack of self-esteem and goals in life.

On a "green" note, 30% of this book was made from recycled material.  On an even greener note, it's about to be 100% recycled, and hopefully into something more useful, like toilet paper.




Blackberry Diaries book image courtesy of Amazon.com

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Product Review: ACT Naturals 100% Plant-Based Permanent Hair Coloring Kit


I've been coloring my hair, on and off, since I was a teenager.  One of my best friends and I first experimented with "Sun-In", then semi-permanent dyes, and then finally, permanent color.  While my friend, who started out in life a dirty-blonde Irish lass, has tried out almost every color in the rainbow, including neon fluorescent pink, I stuck with deep dark reds, and more recently, warm medium browns, to add a little life to my coarse, black, Chinese hair. 

Alas, all of us who color our hair know what we dislike about it the most: the fumes.  Those noxious, burning fumes.  My husband, who normally can't smell anything, even turns up his nose when I sit down beside him, waiting for my color to set in.  Something that smells that bad just can't be good for you; and it can't be good going down the drain and entering our environment.

But today, as I type, I'm enjoying a brand new product from a company called "Advanced Cosmetic Technologies" (aka ACT), and their fabulous 100% plant-based, all-natural, permanent home hair coloring kit!

That's right!  I'm sitting here in my living room, with my daughter playing nearby, the dog at my feet, and no burning fumes!  ACT is free of the chemical PPD and ammonia.  The ingredient list is chock full of plant extracts, essential oils, and no artificial fragrances.  Vegans can enjoy ACT hair color, which comes from renewable resources, and rest easy knowing that this product is not tested on animals.  I'm also glad to see that ACT used 100% wind power to manufacture this kit.  ACT's website describes their hair coloring kit as safe for pregnant/nursing moms, and cancer survivors!

The people behind ACT offered to send me a box of my choice of color to try out!  Click here for their color chart.  So many choices!!  However, there is one major difference with ACT dyes and other conventional hair color kits: ACT does not bleach!! This dye will not lighten your hair.  Bearing that in mind, I knew that my typical go-to color of "Medium Warm Brown" would not work in this case.  I then called up ACT's toll-free number, and spoke to a very helpful lady.  I explained my "Asian hair" predicament, and I was given "Chocolate Mahogany" (4MO) as a color to consider.  Within a couple days, my color kit had arrived!

 

Looking at the packaging, it looks very similar to what you'd find in a home coloring kit, but with a few differences, in both product and procedure.

The Product:

Just like a typical home coloring kit, there are two small bottles that need to be poured and combined into the supplied mixing bottle.  There is also a comb-style applicator cap for the mixing bottle, and a set of plastic gloves to protect your hands from staining.  There are two more items in the box, that are unique to this product: first is a clear plastic shower cap, and a small bottle of "Stain Guard" liquid (more on those later). 

What's not in the ACT kit is any kind of "perfume" ampule to mix in with the chemicals, to mask the smell.   (On that note, the combination of all the plant ingredients does make for a strange smell (don't expect this to be an aromatherapy session), but at least it's all natural, and the smell does wash out.) There also isn't a finishing, deep conditioner, unlike conventional hair color kits (however, the instruction booklet does mention that a similar product is available; sold separately).

The Procedure:

As I was dealing with one of the darkest dyes, I was pleased to see a product included in the box to help lift stains.  Nothing like tell-tale brown streaks and spots all over the back of your neck, on your ears, and forearms, to tell the world you just colored your hair.  I donned the gloves, and applied the stain guard to my ears, hair line, back of my neck, etc.  About thirty seconds later, my forehead was on fire!  No, not literally.  But one of the main ingredients in this Stain Guard is citric acid.  I tried to wash it off, but it lingered!!  It took some scrubbing with a damp paper towel to get it all off.  Whew!  Time to go back to my old standard "stain guard"; a slathering of all-natural "Un-Petroleum Jelly" by Alba.  This stuff is beeswax based, but it really does look and work almost exactly like regular petroleum jelly. 

Back to the hair coloring, I went to the next step and divided my hair, and then mixed the two colorants in the large mixing bottle.  I then had a dickens of a time trying to get the applicator cap on the mixing bottle.   The plastic threads just would not line up properly.  Eventually, after forceful pushing-while-twisting, and some spillage, I got it on there. 

The next step is pretty much the same as using a regular kit; start saturating sections of your hair, from root to tip.  I always keep a damp paper towel handy to wipe up any smears or drips of dye.  The one bottle was just enough for my long hair.  I piled my hair up on top of my head, and this is when the shower cap comes in; you need to cover your hair with this.  Then comes another different step: you have to blow hot hair on your head (shower cap on), for about five minutes, every eight minutes or so, and continue with this pattern for about 35 minutes, or for as long as the instructions say you should leave the dye in, to achieve the desired results.

With my hair being so coarse and dark, I left my color in for almost an hour.  Then it was off to the shower to rinse.  Wow, what a mess!  Be prepared for a dye that's significantly messier, and more staining, than conventional home color kits.  But it also seemed to rinse out easier and faster than regular dyes.  Still, there are stains on my tub that will fade over time... this has happened to me before. Also, do heed the instructions and don gloves while rinsing.  This may be problematic, as there is only one pair supplied in the box.  I keep extra disposable gloves around for really messy cleaning jobs, but I'm sure not everybody does.  The pair that came with the kit got so messy and dirty, it would have been impossible to rinse them properly, to save them for the rinsing step. 

Now that the dye was all rinsed, this was when I really wish this kit included some kind of deep conditioner.  My hair did not have the same soft feel when I was done rinsing, as with regular home color kits (like L'Oreal Preference).  I ended up applying my regular Jason Grapefruit Smoothing Conditioner twice, and then following with my usual Infusium 23 leave-in spray conditioner.  I blow-dried my hair, and then discovered that my scalp had some dye splotches.  The kit instructions say that the Stain Guard will work AFTER the dyeing process, so I dipped a cotton swab in the remaining Stain Guard liquid, and was able to lift off a lot of the splotches (Ouch! There's that burning sensation again!).

The result?

Well, like I said, ACT doesn't lighten or bleach, so I wouldn't be able to achieve the same results as with L'Oreal Preference (or like my last salon touch-up).  I do notice that I now have very, VERY shiny hair, and under bright light, I can see varying tones and highlights shine through.  But I think the results on me look more like the darkest 4N on the color chart; I'm not seeing much "mahogany" on me at all . So, if I want deep, golden brown highlights like before, I will unfortunately have to go back to the stuff with the nasty fumes.  Still, it was very nice to have tried this product, and I would recommend it to my friends with naturally lighter hair, or a lot of gray to cover.

For those who would like to try this out, ACT is offering a great incentive for the month of October!  10% of all proceeds will go to The October Foundation for Breast Cancer Research!  You yourself can also enjoy a coupon for 10% off your order!  Click on the image below for more details.




Thanks again to ACT for creating this amazing eco-friendly alternative to conventional chemical-laden hair coloring kits!  Please keep up the amazing work you do!!


ACT hair coloring product images courtesy of ActNaturals.com.
No promotional consideration was paid for this post
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