Monday, May 31, 2010

Food Product Review: Ma Belloni's Gotta Have It Steak Rub

By Stacey Celaya

Product Name: Gotta Have It Steak Rub by Ma Belloni's Kitchen
Retail Price: $5.50/ea $2.25 S&H
Where to Get It:
Sizes/Specifications: 5.5 oz. shaker bottle
Product Description: Steak seasoning...but that's only the tip of the iceberg....
Recommended? All Day, Everyday....

My Review:

Considering today is Memorial Day and there will be plenty of BBQing going on I thought it only fitting to review another one of Ma Belloni's great BBQ spicing products.

Last week I reviewed Ma Belloni's Kitchen's Sweet Secret BBQ rub - this week I want to talk about their Gotta Have It Steak Rub.

This product adds a spicy, slightly mouth watering blend of spices to hamburgers, steak, chicken, pork and fish. But it doesn't stop there, it tastes fabulous on corn on the cob and call me crazy but I even dashed a little onto my scrambled eggs and loved it!

The great thing about this little start-up company is that their customer service is outstanding, their products rock my BBQing world and they have a very reasonable price point.

It is available for order through or you can check out Ma Belloni's Kitchen's Facebook page.

This product gets five chicken legs out of a possible five chicken legs!!
Sunday, May 30, 2010

Book Review: 'Intimate Encounters'

By Dawne Prochilo

Title: Intimate Encounters
Author: Sierra Michaels
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Recommended? Yes

My Review:
Intimate Encounters by Sierra Michaels is the story of a young woman named Cali, living a double life. By day she's a university student with dreams of becoming an archeologist. By night, she's a sensual massager. She struggles to balance both lives, but can't. When the pressure of living in two opposite worlds take its toll, Cali must make some very difficult life decisions.

Intimate Encounters deals with provocative themes and confronts a harsh reality that many women such as Cali find themselves dealing with. She must face both the physical and legal dangers of working as a sensual massager and still support herself.

This is a must read book with great real life characters you find yourself reaching out to and descriptive scenes leaving you wanting more. The conflict of the proverbial right and wrong is seen as Cali struggles with her education, life and profession.

I highly recommend this book.

You can Intimate Encounters at Michaels' website here
Saturday, May 29, 2010

Household Product Review: Space Bags

By Kerrie McLoughlin

Product - Space Bags
Retail price - 19-bag set $19.95 plus $7.95 shipping
Where to buy - online; Target; Bed Bath and Beyond, etc.
Recommended -No

My first experience with Space Bags was the phone call to purchase them. I suggest you buy Space Bags in a store because ordering by phone with an annoying automated system is a ripoff AND they overcharged me AND almost didn’t let me buy them without expedited shipping (which would have been an unnecessary 10 bucks since they came in a week anyway!!).

So first I took two Cube Space Bags to my basement to pack baby and outgrown kid clothes into. I made sure everything I put in the cube was totally outgrown by all 4 kids so I wouldn’t have to open the bag, dig through it and then vacuum the air out every time I needed something. I fit three large plastic tubs’ worth of clothes into one Cube Space Bag, which was nice, but it was just too much to go through when I needed something out of it a few months later. And since it holds so much, moving it is a pain and the bottoms split open on mine.

Next I tackled my cedar chest, which houses rarely-used items like tablecloths and maternity/skinny clothes. I used a Large and 2 Medium Space Bags, and they didn’t smoosh down as much as I’d hoped. Again, when I needed something out of them later, I had to drag the vacuum back upstairs to deal with sucking the air out.

The Hanging Space Bag will be the Christmas gift of choice to all my enemies. I want to know that they are wrestling with the crummy thing like I had to do. I smashed 6 fluffy winter kid coats down to only a few inches, but about 10 minutes later the clothes detached from the hanger part and it re-inflated with air. I may be testing that money-back guarantee!

Bottom line: Save your money and if you must store things in plastic bags, just go buy some huge Ziploc bags.
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Child Toy Product Review: Step2 Active Brights Koala Climber

by Taqiyyah Shakirah Dawud

Product Name: Active Brights Koala Climber
Manufacturer Name: Step2
Retail Price: $89.99-$109.99
Where to Get It: BJ’s Wholesale Club, Toys “R” Us, Amazon, Buy Buy Baby, other retail stores, online shops, and wholesale clubs.
Sizes/Specifications: Ages 18 mos. +; 42” H x 54” W x “36” D; 2-year warranty; Snap-together assembly
Product Description: Toddler climber with slide
Recommended? Yes, but...

Review: Salihah, my 15-month-old, is walking now, and so is her 14-month-old cousin. They were hard to keep up with while crawling, so we knew we’d need an energy burner. Something that would keep them coming back for more often enough that they’d be worn out and ready for naptime. A climber seemed to be the ticket, but I wanted their first playground experience to be toddler-sized; intimate; and diaper bag-, sunburn-, and missed-nap-meltdown-free. I looked outside my window and to my delight, I saw no other kids, proximity to my own changing table, plenty of shade trees, and a 30-second trip home for naptime. All I needed was the toddler-sized playground.

So. I tried to research, but didn’t end up going very far before I bought the Step2 Active Brights Koala Climber from BJ’s for $89.99. It seemed like just what I was looking for. I brought it home, and my sister snapped it together within 10 minutes. It’s bright-colored, reasonably portable, and toddler-sized. That was in April. Now that it's nearly June I realize I’d completely missed two important points when I purchased the set. First, it is designed for 18-month-old and older toddlers. Salihah is nearly 16 months, but she was premature, and is actually only 13 months adjusted for gestation. Her healthy, husky, very active boy cousin is enthusiastic, but his 15-month-old body cannot climb onto the single 20-inch high platform/step to reach the slide. This means lifting 20 pounds of baby 20 times in as many minutes, more or less, depending on his attention span. Not what I signed up for. Salihah is smaller, but a lot less excited about the sliding experience, which I should have anticipated. But on the bright side, they'll both grow into it.

What about the neighbor’s kid? He’s almost 3 years old, also healthy and strong for his age. He has no trouble climbing up or sliding down the slide on his own. Just the fact that we have a toy for him to enjoy seems to be enough to keep him sliding up to 6 times in a row. But watching him is where the second important point I missed comes in: I’m getting a glimpse of the fact that even if my daughter and nephew were big enough to play independently—with supervision of course; my nephew is already trying to walk up the slide—this is only meant to be one part of the toddler playground scheme. It’s going to take something extra to keep kids 18 months and older coming back for more.

Book Review: 'Desert Night Shift: A Pack Rat Story' by Conrad J. Storad

Title: Desert Night Shift: A Pack Rat Story

Author: Conrad J. Storad

Illustrations: Nathaniel P. Jensen

Publisher: Bobolink Media, Inc.

Recommended? Yes!


Recently, I had the opportunity to meet the author of Desert Night Shift, Conrad Storad, at a local book festival. While I was there I purchased a couple of his children's books for my kids and was very pleasantly surprised when the kids and I sat down to read them that night.

The first book we read was Desert Night Shift. The book is about Penny Pack Rat, who lives in the Senora Desert. She goes on a journey at night in search of a treasure for her Nana. She braves the nightly desert inhabitants to retrieve this special gift for her Nana.

What I like the best about this story is the fact it not only has a good plot, but it actually has factual information about living in the desert as well. It was not just creative but educational, which is definitely a plus in my book. The message on each page of the book is excellent. And the illustrations through out the book are beautiful and instantly captured my children's interest. Plus, at the end of the book there are desert terms for children to learn and a little educational lesson.

I highly recommended this books as a great bedtime story read.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Food Product Review: Ma Belloni's Kitchen - Sweet Secret BBQ Rub

By: Stacey Celaya

Product Name: Sweet Secret BBQ Rub by Ma Belloni's Kitchen
Retail Price: $6.50/ea $2.25 S&H
Where to Get It:
Sizes/Specifications: 7oz Zip Close Bag
Product Description: BBQ rub for steak, chicken, pork, etc.
Recommended? Oh Yeah.....

My Review:

I am not a carnivore by nature - given the choice I will generally choose pasta or fish - but my husband and my daughter Sarah - carnivore's all the way! A great meal for Sarah and Rico is a big slab of meat on the grill. My husband doesn't cook except for grill related meals...but this, he is passionate about. He is constantly searching for a good rub, a good sauce or a good marinade.

Created by Anjanette Belloni and her company Ma Belloni's Kitchen, this Sweet Secret BBQ Rub is a simple blend of sweet and spice that makes your mouth water; turning any type of meat into a lip smacking goodness. I actually caught my daughter licking the rub off of a rib bone!

Anjanette began creating the lip smacking rub in her kitchen but the overwhelming positive response from her family and friends encouraged her to take her talents to a bigger market.

Now available for order through or you can check out Ma Belloni's Kitchen's Facebook page.

Stay tuned for a review of Ma Belloni's latest addition to her product line: Gotta Have It Steak Rub.

In short, would I recommend this product? ABSOLUTELY! I am all for a product that can turn this pseudo vegetarian into a meat lover!
Saturday, May 22, 2010

Beauty Product Review: Heeltastic

By Kerrie McLoughlin

Product: Heeltastic
Retail price: around $9.99
Where to buy: online; Target; Bed Bath and Beyond
Recommended: Yes

Please don’t tell my husband that I am in love with Heeltastic Intensive Heel Therapy. The worst spot on my feet has always been my big toe, which gets dry, cracks and sometimes bleeds. The first day I got Heeltastic as a gift, I applied it many times to my toes and feet because it felt and smelled so good. The next day I saw a big improvement … .the cracks were starting to heal. Within a few days, the cracks disappeared.

They should have named this product something like “BodyTastic” because I use it on my dry knees and other spots. My husband uses it on his dry elbow. I wonder if it would help eczema.

You need to apply it every day to keep up the good results, but it’s worth it.
Friday, May 21, 2010

Book Review: 'Writer Mama'

By Denise Bertacchi

Title: Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids
Author: Christian Katz
Publisher: Writers Digest Books
Price: $14.99
Recommended? Yes, for novice writers


Christian Katz’s Writer Mama is great book for novice writers who are also mothers. It gives plenty of solid advice on how to break into the writing world for moms trying to juggle a budding writing career with parenting. Chapters are short and easy to read quickly—perfect for the distracted mom.

The book is full of beginner advice aimed squarely at the novice writer with tips like how to manage your time, how to find subjects to write about and how write that first query letter.

I purchased this book in 2007 when it first came out. Back then I was still struggling to find the confidence to query and write for magazines and this book gave me lots of helpful mom to mom advice. (And yes, I've been published in a couple magazines now.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Electronics Review: Sony iPhone + iPod Speaker Dock/Clock Review

By Stacey Celaya

Company: Sony
Devices: iPhone, iPod
Colors: Black or White
Weight: 4 lbs 4 oz.
Price: under $100.00

My husband is not a great shopper. Every year I hope that the example that I set when it comes to gift giving will rub off on him and he will buy me the perfect gift - for whatever occasion we are talking about. Every year I end up mad because he bought me a wallet, or mens socks or something equally as ridiculous.

This year I have finally figured out (yes, I realize that I have been a little slow on the uptake here) that gift giving is not his forte. So for Mother's Day I decided to just tell him what I want and forgo our usual ritual.

I told him that I wanted a "dock thingy" with speakers for my iPhone so I could play my music without earphones and still hear it throughout the house.

Now I will be the first to admit I am not a very technological individual and while I knew that this type of thing existed I had no idea to what extent or what other features I might be interested in.

The Sony iPhone + iPod Dock/Clock is what my husband gave me for Mother's Day. To say that it MORE than met my expectations for what I wanted is an understatement.

This is not only a charging dock for my iPhone with the ability to play my music through speakers, but you can also preset AM/FM radio stations, set your alarm to wake you with music from your iPod or radio, set the sleep function to turn your device off after a certain amount of time and operate the entire system through a wireless remote control. The cherry on top? Well, it sounds incredible!

To say that I am IN LOVE with this device is putting it mildly. Music makes my world go round and now I have a portable option to listen to my music on my iPod in any room in the house without having to have earphones in.

Bottom line, I would ABSOLUTELY recommend this product. Finally my husband got it right on the money with this gift - what a great idea that man had!
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Book Review: 'Revolutionary Road'

By Marina DelVecchio

Title: Revolutionary Road
Author: Richard Yates
Publisher: Vintage
Recommended: Yes

Synopsis: Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road was written in 1961 and introduces us to April and Frank Wheeler, a married couple that has settled into a quiet and unsatisfying existence in the Connecticut suburbs of the mid 1950s. Frank Wheeler has taken a humdrum job doing the same thing his late father had done, at the same company in which his father had worked and had remained unsuccessful. April had dreamed of being an actress, and when she met Frank, she fell for his "talk" of dreams and aspirations. It is only after they married and after they had their two children that April realizes Frank is content with living the run-of-the-mill life his own father had lived, with his dreams and aspirations not going any farther than work, indiscriminate affairs with young female employees, and dinner and cocktails with neighbors and friends. April wants more than a home, children, and marriage. She wants to move to France, where she will work, and he can stay home and figure out what he really wants to do with his life. She offers him an opportunity of a lifetime to find himself, and although it improves the quality of their marriage as they prepare for their voyage, reality finds a way to diminish her escape from the stifling world of domestication, abandoning her to the realization that Frank is not a dreamer, and that her life with him will never amount to more than what it is: as vapid, shallow, and insincere as he is.

Review: Depicting the materialism and conformism of Americans in the 50s, this is a timeless book because the same can be said about our existence today. Nothing has changed except the quality of the air we breathe and the fact that Ford is no longer at the top of its game. What is most striking about Revolutionary Road is that it was written by a man. Richard Yates captures the essence of a woman that yearns to be more than just a housewife and mother. She is willing to place herself in a foreign country that lacks America's superficiality and willing to work so that the man she loves discovers himself and not be a slave to society's conveyor-belt-like lifestyle. Although Frank talks a good game, he does not want to rock the boat of his ordinary life or be the exceptional couple that April sees they can be. Her gift is a hindrance, pressure that he resists and counters with all the masculine power with which society endows him simply for being male. Yates gives April courage and wisdom. He places her in a house on Revolutionary Road because she is a revolutionary woman among the ordinary. She dares to dream and aspire beyond kids, baking, and carpool. And at the end, even though Frank takes control of her dream, she takes control of her body, of the baby inside her body, and inevitably of both their lives; and the act is revolutionary.
Monday, May 17, 2010

Book Review: 'Shantaram'

By D.E.Moore

Title: Shantaram
Author: Gregory David Roberts
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin - New York
Price: $14.95
Recommended? Yes


Shantaram is a high-end reading experience for anyone who is involved in the search for achieving inner peace while our world rages on with wars, political and economic strife. The author was born in Australia and spent 10 years in Bombay, India after escaping from prison in his home country. The book is packed with vibrant characters, artfully described and brought to life with the love that Mr. Roberts feels for the entire country and its culture. His innate love of people in general brought him through his journey to find his peace and the true meaning of freedom.

I enjoyed reading this book so much that I hated to put it down. When I absolutely had to close its pages, I thought only of what might happen next when I was again able to pick it up and resume reading the story about what the author learned about love and fate and making choices. Filled with adventure and focused on the magnetism the author feels toward the people of India, he leads us through the slums of the low-born and the social clubs of the high-born, the opium houses and prostitution dens, along with an inside look at India's Mafia structure and the magic of Bollywood, India's motion picture industry.

This is a surprising, thrilling, emotionally fulfilling novel written by a person who has involved himself in life in such a large way that it will make a major impact on how you perceive the world from now on.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading. It's the most unique capture of what makes us human that I've read in a long time.
Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book Review: 'Flesh and Fantasy'

By: Dawne Prochilo

Title: Flesh and Fantasy
Author: Chloe Waits
Publisher: Phaze
Recommendation: Yes


Trust in men is not something recently divorced Cynthia, aka Cheyenne- phone sex operator, handles well. That is until Mark comes over the telephone line. Down on men and life, Cynthia finds herself intrigued by Mark and his short lived sex conversations that is until he starts to delve into her life.

Mark, a regular paying customer never uses his full time for his own sexual release but spends half the time learning about 'Cheyenne's' desires and needs.

This erotic novella is fast paced and kept me cheering for Cynthia to believe that there are good men out there. It was very well written, red-hot descriptions and full of innuendos that kept me wanting more. Mark has you accepting his genuine intentions while trying to earn Cynthia's faith.

I highly recommend this ebook for the avid reader of romance and erotic. The quick read will satisfy your quench for love, sex and the happily ever after.

Flesh for Fantasy, an ebook, is available on Amazon and at Waits' website
Saturday, May 15, 2010

Movie Review: 'How to Train Your Dragon'

By Marina DelVecchio

Title: How to Train Your Dragon
Genre: Animation/Fantasy/Family
Run Time: 98 min
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Writer: Cressida Cowell (novel) and William Davis (screenplay)
Cast: Jay Baruchel (Hiccup) and Gerard Butler (Stoick)
Company: Dreamworks Animation
Recommended: Yes

Synopsis: In “How to Train Your Dragon,” we find ourselves among Vikings that are depicted as hard-core, scathing, and fearless. Among them is our hero, Hiccup, and the son of the Viking leader, Stoick. Hiccup is a rare kind of Viking for he is the opposite of everything the Vikings represent. He is small and scrawny, and cannot even lift a sword, let alone slay a dragon with it. Living his entire life as a misfit among these strong and sturdy Vikings, Hiccup discovers his talent, his nature, which is contrary to the Vikings with whom he lives. He discovers a love for the dragons he is supposed to hate, and that they are as scared of the Vikings as the Vikings are of them. He learns to calm the dragons, tame them into submission, and ride them into the clouds. As a dragon tamer, he earns the respect of everyone except his father, who is disappointed in having a son that is so different from the rest of them. Of course, there is a happy ending. In the end, his father acknowledges the boy’s valor and difference with pride, but not until after the boy has to take drastic measures to prove himself by saving both the dragons and the Vikings.

Review: The message that resonates for children viewers is that they should pursue their difference, their unique identity at any cost, even if it means going against parental consent and approval. This is Hiccup's conflict in this story of bravery. As long as he attempts to emulate his father and the rest of his Viking brethren, Hiccup continues to fall short: he can be like them. But when he follows his instincts, he discovers a self that is different from the masses of his culture; he is unlike them in strength and brawn, but he proves himself to be intelligent, intuitive, and accepting of the dragons he is required to fear and destroy. By seeing this movie, children witness a different kind of bravery that does not require physical strength as much as it begs for mental fortitude, determination, non-conformism, and pursuit of individuality. His strength comes in going against the norms of his culture and environment in search of his own identity. Any parent would be proud to have a child as this.

For adults, the message is quite different: let your children be who they are intended to be. Don't deny them their individuality or define who they are. When you look at your children, make sure it is not you that you see, because your children are not you. They are individual entities that have come from you, but who need the space and freedom to pursue their own identities, their own truths, their own unique selves. Don't project your needs, desires, or dreams onto them. You will be disappointed, and children are constantly vigilant of our disappointments.

There are more stories like these out there, like "Rudy," "October Sky," and "Billy Elliot" to name a few, but the running motif seems to be the same: the vehemence with which children have to fight to prove themselves worthy of so much more than is expected of them; of defending the value of their “difference” to their parents. We want what is best for our children, but what is best for them may not be what we think is best for them. We all want our kids to have better lives than the ones we had. Some of us may expect our kids to follow in our footsteps, or be as wise as we were, but the truth is that we need to take a step back and look at our kids, individually; we need to recognize and accept their difference. We have to take a hard, long look at them and see them, not see us when we were kids. We have to see their nature as independent of our own, and we must celebrate that nature even if it is different. Children shouldn’t have to fight so hard to be seen and acknowledged by their own parents, and yet they often do.

Copyright© 2010 by Marina DelVecchio. All Rights Reserved.
Friday, May 14, 2010

Book Review: 'You're Broke Because You Want To Be'

By Christina Newman

Title: You're Broke Because You Want To Be
Author: Larry Winget
Publisher: Gotham Books - Penguin Group
Recommended? Yes

My Review:

Perusing through the self help section of my local book store on a beautiful Saturday afternoon I came across this book. Being a young family my husband and I have read many self help books to try to figure out how to get our financial lives on track. We knew early on that we had a lot of growing up to do and that financial stability was not going to come easy. What caught me was the quote on the front of the book.

"His so blunt and so true that it might keep you sane until you retire." - Bloomberg News

Knowing that truly helpful books are hard to find I went with my gut instinct and bought the book. I'll be honest, it sat on my counter for about a week. I would look at it at least twice a day and think about reading it but just never "found the time."

When I finally did pick up the book to read it I found that I could not put it down. I read through it in two hours. After finishing this book I was so excited to speak with my husband about what I had just read.

The book comes complete with helpful worksheets that you complete to help you better understand where you spend your money. They are basic worksheets but worth working on to help you understand your spending.

Larry Winget is forward and honest. He tells you how it is and explains that if we were completely honest with ourselves we would know why we are broke. When a person(s) spends their money on frivolous things they can expect to be broke. If you are not willing to show self restraint in your spending, you may never reach the goal you hold in the back of your mind: that vision you see of yourself living life instead of dreaming of the day when you can.

He explains that poor is a condition and broke is a situation you find yourself in when you are either under earning or overspending. Understanding that distinction made a huge difference in the way I am approaching our financial future. Knowing that we are more than capable of taking care of ourselves and our family out of choice is a huge step for me as a person. It helped me to picture a stable future for us as well as being able to visualize the very basic steps to to reach our goals.

I have since reread this book more than once and highly recommend it to anyone who wants a slap in the face regarding their financial status.

Star of A&E's reality series Big Spender. New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of People Are Idiots and I Can Prove It!

Photo Credits
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Book Review: 'Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies'

By Taqiyyah Shakirah Dawud

Title: Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies
Author: Dana Wechsler Linden, Emma Trenti Paroli, and Mia Wechsler Doron, MD
Publisher: Pocket Books
Recommended: Absolutely


I became a mother for the first time in 2009. Salihah was 1 pound, 14 ounces, born at 27 weeks of gestation. I'd been hospitalized for a month beforehand. Surrounded by doctors and nurses and medical equipment, I was afraid to overload myself with stress and worry about whether my baby would be born prematurely. I just concentrated on trying to keep that from becoming an issue.

When I saw Salihah for the first time after her pre-dawn delivery, all the wires and tapes and tubes overwhelming my palm-sized baby drove me to seek reassurrance and answers. I checked out book ratings on and found Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies by Dana Wechsler Linden, Emma Trenti Paroli, and Mia Wechsler Doron, MD. Fifty-three of the 63 ratings to date are five-star. So I ordered it and shared it with my mother. It provided both the reassurrance and answers I needed. Along with the friendly, experienced advice and information from the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) medical staff, I almost didn't need any other resource. It was comprehensive, straightforward, easy to understand, and--most importantly--applicable. I finished it long before our 119-day sojourn at the NICU was over.

This was written by two mothers of preemies and a neonatologist. Prenatal issues and risks; postnatal issues and risks by gestational age; the NICU including common medical equipment, professionals, conditions, and complications; bringing the baby home and beyond; and brief sections on special considerations were explained from both the medical professional's and the parent's point of view. I found this very considerate of the fact that if a preemie's NICU stay is anything, it's an emotional rollercoaster for parents. As a new parent, I didn't know what I should be feeling. Having my hopes, fears, guilt, denial, frustration, and more validated by other parents' narrations was very soothing. Reading what doctors were thinking as they performed tests and asked questions made me feel a lot more prepared for the results, positive and negative.

Some other pleasant surprises: I belatedly discovered the conversion and growth charts in the Appendices, which I would have found useful as well. I did enjoy the chapter "I was a preemie too," listing famous people born prematurely long before today's technology would keep a 26-weeker alive and healthy.

The only con I found with Preemies was its length. It's meant to be a comprehensive manual with a warm human interest factor, but it has encyclopedic proportions (578 pages), and some info is repeated throughout the book. I didn't mind, but it's not very efficient.

According to the book, 1 in 10 children is born prematurely in the United States. I would recommend Preemies to anyone who has a preemie, is pregnant and could possibly have one, or knows someone who has a preemie and doesn't have this book.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Review: 'The Everything Improve Your Writing Book' 2nd Edition

By Alyssa Ast

Title: The Everything Improve Your Writing Book- 2nd Edition
Author: Pamela Rice Hahn
Publisher: Adams Media
Price: $15.95
Recommended? Somewhat


I purchased The Everything Improve Your Writing Book shortly after I began taking my writing career seriously. I had hoped it would give me insight into ways to skyrocket my writing career forward but it didn't. I'm actually pretty disappointed with this book.

The cover states "Master the Written Word and Communicate Clearly." I think this statement is false for the book. Yes, you can learn to communicate clearly, but no, you won't learn to master the written word. The book does offer very valid information about keeping an audience's attention and other style and tone techniques; however, the helpful information just about stops there.

I think the most helpful areas of the book are the templates available in the back for writing professional letters for different occasions. But, half of these occasions most of us won't even use. There's also some helpful information about interviewing people as well.

I won't completely say this book is a waste. It does have helpful information in it, but most of it is kind of...common sense information. As I said, I am disappointed with the lack of professional help I hoped to gain from it.

I will recommend this book for beginner writers, even high school students, but as far as seasoned writers go, your money could be better spent elsewhere.
Monday, May 10, 2010

Food Product Review: Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce

By Pam Houghton

Product Name:
Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce
Retail Price: varies depending on size, but I bought a 15.5 oz. jar for $6.39
Where to get it: bought a jar at Kroger's, but it is also available online
Recommended: Yes

When I want to make a meal I'm sure both of my kids will eat, I usually add a half pound of browned ground sirloin to a jar of spaghetti sauce heated up on the stove, toss it over cooked spaghetti noodles, and voila, I have the meal no one complains about.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I thought I'd check out a variation on that tried and true theme. Musing over the myriad of pasta sauces in the Italian foods section, a little jar of Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce caught my eye. At 15.5 oz., it was half the size I normally buy.

Checking out the label on the back of the jar, I saw a recipe for Spaghetti Alla Bolognese. It called for oil, garlic and a half pound of ground beef. Not much different from my usual meal, but thought it might have a different taste than what we're used to; so I bought it along with the other required ingredients.

Later that week, I made the Spaghetti Alla Bolognese, cooking the oil and garlic and meat together before adding the marinara sauce and letting the meat and sauce mixture simmer for ten or so minutes. Served it on top of some nice corkscrew pasta and boy, was it good. Flavorful, rich and very Italian. And yes, very homemade-tasting.

It turned out to be a nice alternative to the generic spaghetti dinner I usually serve. And everyone ate it up - always a good sign.

Rao's Homemade Marinara sauce can be ordered online through their website. I also saw it available on (And I thought they just sold books.) I purchased mine at Kroger's so I assume it's available at most major grocery chains, but I could not find anything on the Internet to back that up.

Rao's also offers other flavors of sauces which you'll find on their website, along with pasta and other ingredients used to cook Italian dishes.
Sunday, May 9, 2010

Book Review: 'The "Oh Shit" Factor' by Jerry Jampolsky, M.D

By D.E. Moore
The "Oh Shit" Factor Waste Management for Our Minds
Author: Jerry Jampolsky, M.D
Publisher: Mini Course Publishing
Price: $9.95
Recommended? Yes


Like everyone else I know, my life is full of ups and's a fact of life. I'm always on the lookout for new ways to approach coping with issues with my past, my present problems and possible future foibles.

This small, easy to read book was written by an 84-year-old World War II veteran who is both a Child and an Adult Psychiatrist. He is also a professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Hawaii School of Medicine (now isn't THAT the life?!?!). Dr. Jampolsky lectures all over the world and his books are available in over 30 languages.

I found The "Oh Shit" Factor-Waste Management for Our Minds hilarious and right to the point. What we put in our minds creates the life we live and the good Doctor uses the word "shit" as a metaphor for the toxic crap we put into our heads. What usually results from this buildup is....what? Yup, you've got it! The classic word for all the world's ills.

The author's genuine belief is that most people who say "shit" do so as an honest expression of the depth of their feelings and not as an expression of profanity.

This little book will happily assist you with your mind's waste management and make you laugh hysterically while you are at it!
Saturday, May 8, 2010

Child Toy Product Review: Perler Beads

By Kerrie McLoughlin

Product - Perler Beads
Retail price - $4.99 and up, depending on the set you purchase
Where to buy - online, Michael's, Hobby Lobby
Recommended -Yes

Since today is the 6th time my daughter has gotten a Perler Bead stuck on her bottom tooth, I figured I’d better write about how great these things are. Yeah, I know, we don’t worry about our kids choking on things, we worry about them getting them stuck on their teeth.

Santa brought little starter sets of these cool things, and the boys went so nutty over them that I sprung for the Tub O’ Beads at Michael’s (don’t be dumb like me: wait for the coupon to come out because the tub is like $13). Still, I’ll happily pay that for hours of fun and creative outlet.

Basically you put these plastic beads on boards that look like tiny cleats. You make cool designs (you have no idea how many different options there are; there are even Glow-in-the-Dark Perler beads!!!). Then you have an adult iron the board (with a piece of parchment paper between the iron and the beads) so the beads melt together. There are tons of craft ideas!

You know how I don’t iron clothes, right? So for a few days the boys would only wait until their dad got home to iron their Perler bead designs. Then I got fed up with being treated like a domestic moron and took over.

Look out! Mommy’s ironing!

Apparently I got the job because the boys now want “Mommy to do it.” Good Lord, next I’ll be sewing BUTTONS on stuff!!!!!!!
Thursday, May 6, 2010

Product Review: 2263 Simple Sewing Machine

By Christina Newman

Product Name: 2263 Simple
Manufacturer: Singer
Retail Price: up to $149
Where to Get It: Wal-Mart

Product Specifications:

  • 23 Stitch Patterns
  • Adjustable Stitch Width & Length
  • Automatic Needle Threader
  • Class 15 Bobbin
  • Automatic 4-step Buttonhole
  • Extra-High Presser Foot Lifter
  • Heavy Duty Metal Frame
  • 25 Year Limited Warranty
Recommended? Yes

Your Review:
There are so many reason I wanted to learn to sew. I have always wanted to be one of those moms that made their children's Halloween costumes and fixed their jeans with patches, that were "in" of course. Trying to look at it from an economic stand point it just looked like a smart thing to learn. With my head and my heart in the same place I began my search for the perfect start up sewing machine. I spoke with a friend of mine who happens to work in the Crafts Department of Wal-Mart and she recommended the 2263 Simple by Singer to start with.

Upon taking the 2263 Simple out of the box, I was both mesmerized and intimidated. Here was this heavy machine with all kinds of knobs and buttons that I had no idea what to do with. I sat for hours playing with the settings and reading the manual. Having absolutely no sewing experience meant that I was going to become very close to this manual and the Singer website which is full of wonderful tips and a lot of how-to guides.

The Simple is easy to maneuver and has some weight so you don't feel like you will break it while learning. The adjustable stitch width and length is easy to understand and use. The buttonhole is self explanatory and numbered for the users convenience. The cord for the foot is a wonderful length so that you do not have a lot of excess cord. Learning the automatic needle threader and reverse was simple and quick.

On the flip side, it did take me a few attempts to understand how to properly wind and insert the bobbin. Learning this step was my big road block on the road to sewing with the Simple. Well, that and sewing a straight line but that is not something the manual can teach. Though fighting with the bobbin did cause a bit of frustration it was well worth sticking with it and pushing forward.

After months of trying different things with my sewing skills, I determined that there was no better way to go than the 2263 Simple by Singer. Not only is this a fabulous machine for beginners but it is also a wonderful company to start out with. I recommend this product to anyone who is starting out in the world of sewing.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fitness Equipment Review: Gazelle Edge Trainer

By Angela Atkinson

Product Name: Gazelle Edge Trainer
Retail Price: $99.99
Where to Get It:, Walgreens, Target, etc.
Product Description and Specs:

  • Easy-to-use computer provides immediate feedback on speed, distance, time and approximate calories burned
  • Patented, dual-action split suspension provides a complete range of motion and freedom of movement
  • 1-1/2-inch gauge steel construction holds up to 250 pounds
  • Extra-wide, nonskid foot platforms for added stability
  • Handlebars are covered with high-density foam for extra comfort
  • Folds quickly for easy storage so it won't take up space in your home
  • Low-impact workout gives you an aerobic workout
  • Lets you go from a slow walk to a full run with no sudden stops
  • Completely smooth and quiet
  • For all fitness levels and ages

Recommended? Yes

My Review:

I wasn't actually planning to buy a Gazelle Edge when I first started looking for a piece of home exercise equipment. I was initially searching for a treadmill--but I wanted one that folded up easily and was still steady and strong.

The kind I wanted ended up costing thousands of dollars--and I didn't want to spend that much. So, after doing some research, I decided to try the Gazelle Edge Trainer. I liked the fact that it folded up flat, so that it could be easily stored--and, if I'm being honest, I liked the price of less than $100.

There was another Gazelle Trainer that was more heavy-duty--it could hold up to 300 pounds--but it was more expensive and not necessary for me.

The Gazelle arrived at my home partially assembled in its original packaging. I attempted briefly to put it together, but gave up after about a half hour. Admittedly, I'm not very handy when it comes to things like this--so I waited till my 12 year old son got home. He had that thing put together in a matter of minutes...but I digress.

The machine is easy to use and doesn't require any power. There is a battery-operated fitness computer mounted near the handle bars, but I have found it fairly useless.

It IS possible to work up a sweat on the Gazelle, depending on the level of intensity at which you choose to exercise. Even so, thanks to the no-impact nature of the machine makes it an option for almost anyone. Depending on the way you lean and where you hold your arms, you can work various muscle groups. (And, if you haven't worked them in awhile, you'll feel it when you're done!)

Overall, I'd say it's a good product for the price, though one can't necessarily expect to get a beach body from using it alone. In combination with other forms of exercise, it's an ideal way to get moving and burn a few calories, almost painlessly. And even on its own, the Gazelle Edge Trainer is certainly a worthy way to exercise and get your heart pumping.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Beauty Product Review - Pureology Hydrate Shampoo, Conditioner and Hydracure Intense Moisture Hair Masque

By Pam Houghton

Product - Pureology Shampoo, Conditioner and Hydracure Intense Moisture Hair Masque
Retail price - we'll talk later
Where to buy - online, I've seen it at Target, Beauty First, most beauty specialty stores.
Recommended - Yes, if you're picky and willing to shell out some bucks

My mom was so picky about her hair she ran out of a salon once without paying after a bad haircut. I too am picky about my hair but swore I'd never be as fussy as she was.

However, I am pretty fussy when it comes to product I use on my hair. Unfortunately, it seems every time I fall in love with a shampoo or conditioner, they end up being discontinued and I have to experiment with a number of mediocre products before I find another shampoo or conditioner I like.

Well, I finally stumbled upon a product that I will swear by forever (unless it gets discontinued). I was shopping at Beauty First for some hair spray, and was handed a sample hair product to try at home. I usually end up throwing the little packets in the trash, but decided I'd try this one just for the heck of it. It was Pureology's Hydracure Intense Moisture Hair Masque, a product you leave on hair for three to five minutes after shampooing before you rinse it out.

I wasn't expecting much difference in my hair after trying it, but wowzers, it was so much better behaved after using it! My hair looked fantastic (tough for a modest gal like me to admit) especially considering I have thick, layered hair that takes a long time to style and blow dry.

Convinced, I bought a jar of it even though I gulped as I charged the high-priced product on my American Express card. (We'll talk price later!)

Once that ran low, I returned to Beauty First for more, but got distracted by the whole Pureology section. After talking to one of the store associates, I purchased the shampoo and conditioner instead even though I truly loved the Hydracure. (We'll talk price later!)

You don't need to use a lot of shampoo as it lathers up really well so a 33 oz. bottle lasts a long time. I also conserve on the conditioner (by using just a little bit each time) so that it too lasts, and my hair doesn't have that over-conditioned feeling.

The funny thing is the shampoo, conditioner and Hydracure masque are marketed as products that maintain the color of color-treated or highlighted hair. My salon-applied color has actually lightened up, which I don't mind since I've always wanted to be a blonde bombshell. But I like the products more for the way my hair behaves. It's easier to style and has more volume. And for once, I may even have the patience to grow it out. Maybe I can be a blonde bombshell with long hair.


I found these I-can't believe-I-spend-this-much "deals" at

Shampoo - 33.8 oz. - $51.99 (but it lasts forever!)

Conditioner - 33.8 oz. - $51.99 (yes, it lasts forever too!)

Hydracure Intense Moisture Hair Masque - 5.2 oz. - $39.99 (amazing product - if you buy, use once a week in place of conditioner to preserve!)

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