Saturday, August 31, 2013

I Carried an Angel *Kindle* Book Review (Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Loss)



Disclosure: I received a free copy of this Kindle Book in exchange for my honest opinion about it.

I'll admit it right up front - this review is going to be very hard for me. Miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss are subjects that are very near and dear to me and sadly, topics that are not talked about enough.

I have been pregnant four times. I only have two living children though. I lost my first baby, who was named Jessica Anne, in December 2000 at six weeks gestation. I lost my fourth baby, who was named Shiloh Morgan, in January 2012, on my birthday, at nine weeks gestation.


We struggle to get pregnant so a loss is super hard for us. We have currently been trying again for almost three years. Each month that I don't get pregnant brings my angel babies to mind. I don't feel as though our family is complete so I often think of the babies that never made it to my arms.

Reading Staci A. Luker's Kindle book I Carried an Angel was one of the hardest books I have ever read. Not a single page was "turned" that I didn't cry. It was a very emotionally raw book for me to read. But at the same time, I felt truly compelled to read it. I felt as though I simply HAD to read this book. And you know what? It couldn't have been better timed.



Earlier this summer, our Church had a Memorial Mass to remember and honor the brief lives of babies lost due to miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss to the parish members. Each family was presented with a Certificate of Birth for their baby. The babies' names were placed in the Book of Life in the Atlanta diocese. This was the first step towards my heart feeling better. Reading Staci A. Luker's book was the next step.




Something else that helped me feel better was coming to acknowledge that my babies were birthed into God's Kingdom. I know that they are being watched over and rocked by God and all of His angels and saints.

If miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss has touched your life, I Carried an Angel is the book for you to read. In this book, she pours out her heart and soul as she goes through the grieving process of losing her son, whom she named Barrett.

Being a parent is one of the greatest blessings we are given in this life. But what happens when you have to tell your child good-bye? How do you continue on as a parent on earth when your child is apart from you in heaven? I Carried an Angel is the story of one mother finding her way as the parent of a baby who was born sleeping.

To find out more about Staci's story, check out their website http://www.lukerfamilytales.com. To see all of the good that has come from Barrett's death, find out more about how Staci used her grief to benefit others at http://www.barrettsblankets.weebly.com


I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Our Experience Visiting Central Florida Zoo Located in Sanford, FL


 Disclosure: Central Florida Zoo provided our family with free one day passes in exchange for our honest opinion about our visit.


Ready to go to the zoo on a super hot late July day!

We are very blessed that Central Florida Zoo is literally minutes away from family. They are located in Sanford, FL and we met up with my sister-in-law and our niece and nephew while we were there.

This is a Zoo unlike any other that I have previously visited. Check out what Central Florida Zoo has to offer:


Nestled in lush tropical foliage, the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens boasts over 400 animals, an Insect Zoo, Amphibian and Reptile Houses, live animal encounters, and many educational opportunities. 

Bring your swim suit and cool off in our Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground, if you want to swing like a monkey, be sure to spend time in our KaBOOM! playground, or if you are adventurous, you can “ZOOm” tree to tree at ZOOm Air Adventures.   With something for everyone, the adventures are endless.

The Zoo is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Here's what we have to say about Central Florida Zoo:

Despite the intense heat of late July, we really enjoyed our time at the Zoo. We started our day off with a picnic lunch which is surrounded by the ZOOm Air Adventures which the kids enjoyed watching. After eating, the kids just "HAD" to get on the train and carousal! (Daniella is a HUGE train fan right now!) 



                              Daniella was super excited to see her cousins and go on the train with them!





This is the view of the Battlefield Live Orlando laser tag area that you can see while on the train!



After getting off the carousal, we went into the zoo! Because it was so hot though (especially being whereas it was early afternoon), some of the animals were just laying around, napping or in the shaded area of their exhibit.




There were several times throughout the zoo when we ran into a staff member who was more than happy to tell us more about the animals. We also saw a couple of animals who were brought out of their exhibit for a closer look! Since Brandon has been learning about zoology this year for homeschool science, this trip to the zoo was a great foundational activity. We have referenced back to several things we did or saw that day!


The Animal Adventure Children's Zoo was a HUGE hit! We probably spent about 45 minutes hanging out  here! I think it was $1 for a cup of food that they put on a tray for you. The kids LOVED feeding the animals!









I loved that they had a couple of sinks to wash up after. But their bathrooms were locked so we had to go elsewhere to find one - which there was one at out next stop - the KaBOOM! playground and the Butterfly Garden.


They had a blast running around and playing.

By the time we were done on the playground, the kids were really worn out from it being so HOT. We were disappointed to not see all of the exhibits but at this point, the kids were only interested in ONE thing - The Tropical Splash Ground!


What a relief it was for the kids to go run and get wet! Even us adults enjoyed the shaded seating area and cool breeze from the water while we chatted.

I wish we had the opportunity to have seen more of the exhibits but being whereas 3 of the kids were less than 6 years old, their attention spans only went so far, especially in the dead heat of the summer. I even commented to my sister-in-law at one point asking how she tolerated living there in the summer when it was so hot. Her answer was simply, "We just don't go outside. If we do, we stay outside for less than 20 minutes." Bare in mind that we still spent over 3 hours here! It could be a full day's adventure if you saw everything!

More info about the Central Florida Zoo:

They offer an on-going discount for members of AAA of 20% off admission and 10% off annual zoo pass, teachers receive 10% off annual zoo pass, Fire department, paramedics, EMT, military (active or retired) and all branches of law enforcement  receive 10% off admission and annual zoo pass.    

Go Hog Wild for Warthogs!  The Zoo has recently opened a new African warthog exhibit that is the home to two female warthogs, Almond and Joy.   

Night Hike at the Zoo! September 21, 2013 Experience the sights and sounds of the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens at night during this exciting nocturnal adventure! Reservations required.  For more information please call 407.323.445 ext. 123 or email education@centralfloridazoo.org


Storytime at the Zoo! Enjoy animal stories from 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the Rainforest Pavilion along with a special visit from one of our Zoo animals. Programs will be presented by the Orange County Library System storytellers October 2, 9, 16, 23, 30. This free program is designed for pre-school age children.
ZOO Boo Bash, October 19, 20, 26, 27 -Trick-or-treat in the wildest neighborhood in town during ZOO Boo Bash. It’s safe, fun, and not-too-scary event for young and old alike. Kids are invited to bring goodie bags and wear costumes for trick or treat stations. If you forget your costume, face painting will be available for an additional charge. Walk on Water Balls will also be available for an additional charge. Take a haunted hayride or learn about the myths and realities of some misunderstood animals.  For more information please call 407.323.440 ext. 128

Connect with Central Florida Zoo:
Youtube -  http://www.youtube.com/user/CentralFloridaZoo









Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Mailbox - Idea Magazine for Teachers (Review with Giveaway, US or Canada Only, Ends 09/07/13)


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Disclosure: I received one free issue in exchange for my honest opinion about it.



The Mailbox sent me the August/September 2013 Kindergarten issue to review for them. Having taught toddlers, preschoolers and pre-k for many years, The Mailbox has been a staple of mine for teaching for a long time. However, before receiving this issue, the last time I read a new issue was probably about 3 years ago. So I have been out of the loop with this magazine for awhile. But I contacted them about participating in my Back to School reviews with giveaways for homeschoolers in the hopes that I could recommend them as a great resource!

If you look at the front cover of the magazine, it shows that The Mailbox is now Common Core aligned. I contacted The Mailbox to ask them when this happened and I was told that "due to production lead times and the scope of the CCSS learning curve, we launched Common Core alignment with our April/May 2013 issues". While it isn't necessarily a problem that they are Common Core aligned, I do personally have misgivings regarding Common Core standards. Here is a great list of curriculum that is and is not aligned with Common Core so that you can make educated decisions regarding this for your family. However, I have to say that I would not stop using The Mailbox just because they are aligned. Because I used this magazine for many years before their alignment, I can say that the only main differences that I noticed was a page in the front showing you how to use the magazine with the standards and throughout the magazine with each activity, it identified which standard it met. However, I do not feel that the activities changed, other then being fresh and new ideas. 


Fun crafts


Letter recognition games


Up close view of how the activities are labeled for Common Core.


Reproducible worksheets which also state at the top that you can get them in color on their website!


Songs and activities for counting


Reading tips and tools


I found this magazine to be pretty helpful overall. There were a lot of Back to School and getting to know each other type of activities inside which are not as relevant as homeschoolers. But the learning activities will most definitely be implemented with Daniella as she is ready for each of them!


Code: WDGC
Offer: 15% Off The Mailbox Books (Discount excludes new books, non-Mailbox books and products, and current Yearbooks.)
Please note that Grades K, 1, 2-3, and 4-5 magazines are all Common Core aligned. The magazine is offered at 6 issues per year for $29.95.  The grade level choices are Preschool, Kindergarten, Grade 1, Grades 2-3, and Grades 4-5.  In addition to publishing Mailbox Magazine, The Mailbox publishes Teacher's Helper Magazine and numerous book products each year.


Enter to win an August/September 2013 issue of the Mailbox Magazine at the grade level of your choosing.




a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, August 26, 2013

Shelby's Snack Shack Game by Educational Insights Winner!

Thank you to Educational Insights for sponsoring this giveaway! AND CONGRATS to our winner. I want to thank everyone who entered to win! The winner has been emailed and has until Wednesday night at midnight to respond to claim their prize. Please go check out the Rafflecopter on the Shelby's Snack Shack Game by Educational Insights Review Post to see if the winner is YOU!

Love With Food Subscription Box Winner!

Thank you to our sponsor and a HUGE congrats to our winner!! Thank you to everyone who entered. The winner has been emailed and has until Wednesday night at midnight to respond to claim their prize. Go check the Rafflecopter on the Love With Food Monthly Subscription Box Review Post to see if you won!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Help Your Children Learn With Activity Bags (Review with Giveaway, OPEN WORLDWIDE, Ends 09/04/13)





Disclosure: I received a free product in exchange for my opinion about it.

Activity Bags? What are Activity Bags, you ask?

Well, according to their website, Activity Bags are:

Self guided activities that a preschooler can do by himself with little to no help. He can see immediately if the activity was done correctly and each activity is contained in a one gallon zip top bag. These activities are fun for the child to do and they teach a valuable skill at the same time.

What do we say an Activity Bag is?

FUN IN A BAG! Well, in our case, a manila envelope. Let me show you about our Activity Bag. First of all, you don't purchase the bag from the company. You purchase an e-book of the activities that you prepare yourself and place in a bag, or in our case, an envelope. It has everything ready for you except a few small, mostly household items that you already have, to add to it. 
Above is the cover photo of the e-book we received called Reading Games in a Bag e-book 1. There are 20 games listed in this book. There are games using sight words, phonics, syllables, and more! I would say that these activities are mostly geared towards grades K-4, with a couple that are for 5th and 6th grade. Unfortunately, Daniella is not quite ready for any of them yet. (She is currently doing upper preschool, lower pre-k work.) Brandon was only able to do one of them. The rest were too simple for him. (He is currently in 6th grade.) Here is the one that Brandon could do:



Brandon has been doing a 50 states studies unit.

This game is designed to help children learning the abbreviations of the 50 states. Everything comes pre-typed in the e-book, including instructions, pieces , game board and answer key. Just simply print, cut the pieces apart and place it in a bag or envelope like we did!





The state abbreviation cards.


We did put the little pieces into a smaller zip top bag which we then placed in the envelope.


We labeled the envelope clearly so that we can find it when we are looking for it.

Now the instructions did encourage us to use various colored cardstock, but we just printed it on plain computer paper. If I were going to do these with younger children, I probably would have done that! But Brandon is older and able to take better care of things.



The game instructions suggested using pennies or buttons as game pieces. We selected paper clips because it was something easy on hand to grab at the moment.


The object of this game was to select a card and name the state that the abbreviation is for. Whoever names ten in a row correctly first, wins!


Brandon did very well with this game and it has helped him with learning the abbreviations.


I cannot wait for Daniella to get a little older. These activities will be great for me to give her to do independently while I am working, while I am helping Brandon with his school work, while  am cooking or doing laundry, etc. I think that they will do a good job of keeping her entertained and busy (while learning!) when I need just a few minutes to compete something.

There are lots more books than just Reading! Check out all of the products that Activity Bags has available!

Right now, they are running a 50% off sale until Sept. 8.  Use coupon code  summer13!

You can friend them on Facebook under the name Activity Bags!

If you go to their website and fill out a short survey, you will receive a free sampler e-book! Go to www.activitybags.com Enter to win an Activity Bag of your choice! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Woolzies - Eco-Friendly Wool Dryer Balls Review



Disclosure: I received a free product in exchange for my honest opinion about it.



Here is what Woolzies says about their product that I reviewed which is Woolzies 6 XL Wool Dryer Balls, Natural Fabric Softener:

Woolzies are pure handmade New Zealand wool dryer balls that soften your laundry naturally without any of the chemicals of conventional fabric softeners. Unlike the plastic dryer balls, they are PVC free and won’t fall apart or melt on you.  Woolzies save time and energy by cutting down on drying time by an average of 25% per load. They also help reduce static and wrinkles.

Use Woolzies to snuggle up with naturally downy soft laundry that’s completely free of harmful chemicals.  Woolzies are also hypo-allergenic and totally safe for people with wool sensitivities as they will not shed onto your laundry.

Unlike even natural dryer sheets and liquid fabric softeners, Woolzies last for 1,000 loads and are therefore extremely eco friendly. So why risk your health and waste your money with regular fabric softeners when you can save time, energy and money with all natural pure Woolzies!




Here is what we say about Woolzies:


These are fantastic! We used to use a pair of the blue plastic spikey  styled balls in our dryer.  Since switching to Woolzies, we have noticed that we don't have to restart the dryer as often to ensure that the full load is thoroughly dry. I also LOVE that we are no longer using plastic which releases harmed chemicals into our laundry! I have also noticed that some of our fabrics feel softer than they used to!


They are so simple to use that there is no thought involved. You simply place them in your dryer, add your clothes as normal and start your dryer!

It's really that simple to get your clothes dried faster.



I love how soft they feel. Daniella forever wants to play with Mama's new soft balls! :)



I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Our Experience Visiting SeaWorld Orlando!


Disclosure: Our family received two free one day admission passes in exchange for our opinion about our experience.


 Brandon and I enjoyed the day together at SeaWorld. Before leaving for Florida, we thoroughly examined SeaWorld's website. We wanted to map out our day so that we could make sure to see everything that we really wanted to since it was just one day there. Obviously, it is almost impossible to see everything in just one day! I have to admit that I was disappointed to see that there was no rides at all that my almost three year old could ride, despite being 36" tall. Most theme parks have at least a couple of things for the very young to ride. It was because of this that my husband decided to take Daniella for her own Date with Daddy that day and I spent the day with just Brandon at SeaWorld. Granted, there a a lot of exhibits and SeaWorld offers a Parent Swap where Michael could have waited with Daniella while Brandon and I went on a ride and then he would have not had to wait in line before going on himself after we got off. But Daniella is at an age where she wants to do everything her brother does. Therefore, we made the best decision for our family. This is one of the trials of the age gap that we have.

We were forewarned that the NEW Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin exhibit would be packed and it was recommended that if we wanted to go on it, that we either go first thing or last thing. Knowing that we would not stay long past dinner time, we headed there first, as soon as the park opened. We were first in line!


It was dark inside so the picture I tried to take of the penguin on the screen did not turn out very well. 


We did the "Mild" version (there is also a "Wild" version). It was fun to see the lifecycle, dangers, daily life, etc. of a penguin. After, there was a HUGE exhibit of live penguins!!!! They were just as curious about us as we were about them. two penguins came right up to the glass to check us out.I was a little upset there because Daniella loves penguins and would have loved seeing them. They have over 200 penguins. There was educational information available to learn about the various penguin species. (Brandon is learning about zoology for science in our homeschool this year so it was great to incorporate some learning!) It was so cold in this ride that the staff wore parkas! And it smelled so life like - the smell of fish was in the air!

After going to Antarctica, we went to Journey of Atlantis. I would not recommend this ride for young children. It was dark and a little spooky with Medusa. The two log flume style drops were extreme! So much fun and we got drenched (which was AWESOME with how stinking hot it was in late July). After coming out of the ride we wandered through the attached gift shop and the Jewels of the Sea Aquarium. It was super cool to walk on the aquariums, have fish above us and all around us in every direction! I again tried to get some pictures but it was dark in there.





Parents of young children will be excited to find what I did when I used the restroom (I have NEVER seen this ANYWHERE before)



A changing station with an ATTACHED sink, soap dispenser and paper towels!


Next we went to Turtle Trek, passing the alligator exhibit on the way. This was super educational about the lifecycle of a turtle. Plus it stressed cleaning up behind yourself when at the beach. In fact, environmental friendliness was exhibited throughout the park to my extreme pleasure. They didn't even use straws and cup lids in their restaurants for fear of them endangering their animals. There was a huge aquarium in the waiting area in Turtle Trek with a very knowledgeable staff member who very willingly answered any questions anyone asked.



This barracuda is seriously almost as big as Brandon!



See the two huge sea turtles?!






After leaving Turtle Trek, the first restaurants opened. (I do wish that more restaurants that participate in their Dining Deal opened earlier!) We noticed before leaving from home that SeaWorld has strict policies on bringing outside food into their park. We did feel this was a bit much. We have always brought picnic lunches with us to every other park we have visited before with no issues ever. The only thing that I could think of was that it was for the animals' safety. Because of this, we felt pressured to buy SeaWorld's All-Day Dining Deal. It is very inclusive. Compared to buying individual items separately, it certainly ended up being a better deal. However, we paid $50+ for two people to eat. Granted, it was all you can eat and we certainly used it well. (Their cheeseburgers at the Spice Mill aren't very good in my opinion, but everything else tasted great. I loved how much fresh fruit they had available - including with the kids' meals!)

After eating, we went to our first show at the Shamu Stadium called One Ocean. The maps stressed to get to shows at least 45 minutes early as seats filled quickly. We got there about 50 minutes early and had plenty of seats to choose from. While waiting, there was a short video about the special medical doctors and equipment that they have on hand to care for the animals. We chose to sit about halfway down in the "Soak Zone"  - where they make it very clear that you will get soaked. Like I said, it was a super hot day so we were excited at the chance to get soaked! The show was AMAZING!




We absolutely love the show. You could see how much the animals loved and trusted their trainers. It was a HUGE pool with even more space behind the stage for the whales to swim.

However, we were very sadly discouraged that we did not get so much as a drop of water splashed on us! :(
It amazed us that we were but maybe a dozen rows up and we didn't get ANY water on us! The families in the first handful of rows walked away drenched from head to foot but we didn't get a drop!


After we watched Shamu, we headed over to Shark Encounter. WOW! So cool to walk "amongst" the sharks. You stand on a moving conveyor belt and go through a huge shark aquarium. There are signs showing what animals are in the aquarium. Several sharks were seen. It was cool to see the underside of them and how their mouth looked from underneath!

Next stop, we went to the Seaport Theater (a nice, air conditioned place to get out of the sun!) to watch Pets Ahoy! Again, we arrived 45 minutes early like the map encouraged. We got great seats for an excellent show. All of the animals featured in this show are rescue animals from local shelters, including a pot bellied pig! I could not believe how well trained they were. Their handlers took very good care of them and you could tell that the animals really enjoyed being with them. They even spoke at one point about the importance of selecting pets from animal shelters. Good for you, SeaWorld! 

At this point, we were hungry again so we grabbed some dinner with our Dining Deal wristbands at Seaport Pizza. Delicious! Again, plenty of fresh fruit.

Again dinner, we headed over to Wild Arctic. This was one of our favorite parts of the day! We went on a simulated helicopter ride (There was a Mild and Wild version here too). After the helicopter "landed", we were in the wild! All around us was some seriously cold ice glaciers! We got to see beluga whales (so beautiful!) and hear their "calls" as well as meet one of their polar bears (they have two). Unfortunately, he slept through our visit, so I doubt he remembers us as much as we remember him. A staff member was there and gave us lots of information about their polar bears. She also had a model that depicted the size of a polar bear's paw. She encouraged us to put our own hands up against it to see the difference in size. My hand, being larger than Brandon's, still only fit amongst TWO claws! It was humongous! But it was also a great lesson for Brandon for his zoology  learning. We also saw a walrus! 

At this point, our day was winding down so we crossed the bridge behind Shamu's Stadium to head towards the front of the park. What a mistake in the heat of the day! It is very wide open and it was SO hot. I bet in the fall, it would have a beautiful breeze. But boy, did we wish we had hats on that day! The sun was just brutal. 

At the other side of the bridge,we took a wrong turn and found a hidden water spray area which was just what we needed to cool off. Then we went on the Sky Tower. What a great way to end the day - up in the sky and pointing out everything we had done that day. It, too, was nicely air conditioned.

On our way out of the park, we stopped to see some of the smaller exhibits. We saw the Pelican Preserve and the Dolphin Nursery. It was a nice way to end our wonderful day!

Overall, we had an incredible day that laid a fabulous foundation for Brandon's zoology unit. We have already referenced back to several things learned that day. One hint to you now that we experienced it - their gift shops are incredible. But we bought things early in the day and then had to carry them with us for the rest of the day...in a brown paper bag! SeaWorld - you have soak zones - please use waterproof bags for your gift shop items! :) Or put them in your diaper bag or backpack. We didn't bring any bags in with us.

We cannot WAIT to go back. Especially once Daniella is a little older. Their kid area, Shamu's Happy Harbor, looked like so much fun! 


SeaWorld has an app, too. I downloaded it to my Android, but all it did was continually Force Stop. I uninstalled  and reinstalled several times before leaving for Florida. I tried everything but nothing worked. Finally I gave up. From what I could tell of on the main page after clicking on Orlando, it gave the same general information that you would find on the map anyway (show time, restroom locations, etc.)


Where can you find SeaWorld Orlando online?



Upcoming events at SeaWorld Orlando – Jack Hanna, Spooktacular, Christmas