Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Get the wee ones their own nativity and they'll leave yours alone!

I'm a sucker for a beautiful nativity, but you can't really put a fancy one under the tree with a curious toddler running around. That's why my husband and I were so excited to stumble across Fisher-Price's Little People Christmas Story Nativity Playset when we were at Walmart on Long Island. The set was so stinking cute and really well-priced ($36 for an originally $79 deluxe set) that we had to get it.

The quality of the set is great. Little People figures and toys are always top-notch in my experience--unless you have the older, recalled choking-hazard-sized toys. And, while some folks might be a little squeamish about their children playing with a toy of baby Jesus, I like teaching Andrew the story of Christmas and teaching him to be gentle with the baby. He even gives the baby a bottle and kisses him (hopefully he'll act the same with his little brother or sister!)

So, what did I get in our nativity? As I mentioned, we were lucky and got the deluxe set at Walmart. It came with the musical manger (the star lights up and plays "Away in a Manger"), a grassy knoll for the sheep, and a palm tree scene for the Wise Men.

Character-wise we have: Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, an angel, a shepherd, two sheep, a sheep-herding dog, three Wise Men, a camel, a pig, a donkey with a detachable cart, a basket of food to go in the cart, and a hay bale with a top that opens. That's a lot of Little People! And, if I can keep all the pieces together and remember to put it away at the end of the season, we'll be able to use it for many Christmases to come.

I haven't been able to find such a good deal as in-store at Walmart for this set online, but there is another version of the Little People nativity available for around $40 on Amazon. If I am correct, the green deluxe set involves all the above, but the $40 white box set does not include the shepherd, the knoll or palm tree, and other additional pieces.

You CAN find the deluxe set (green box) at Amazon for $70 HERE, but I recommend getting to your nearest Walmart and seeing if you can snag a deal. As far as toys go, this is on the expensive side, but if you view it as an addition to your Christmas traditions that you'll bring out every year, it may be worth it to you too!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Be thankful every day - and you won't punch somebody!

Happy Thanksgiving! Whether you're celebrating the food- and family-centric American holiday today or not, it doesn't hurt to give a moment's thanks each and every day (or at least when you remember to!) Being a super-hormonal pregnant woman these days, stopping to breathe and think about what I'm truly thankful for has been the best help when I simply feel like punching something or someone. I think about my son, or the baby in my belly, or my amazing family and I remember that, while some things/people may be super annoying or disappointing at the moment, I always have so much love to fall back on.

And it definitely helps to have pictures like this that remind me of my two little miracles whenever I'm in the midst of pregnancy rage!

Here's wishing you a wonderful day of thanks-giving today and every day. Things are only sure to get more stressful as we near the December holidays, but if you put down those fists and find a cutie (human, animal, stuffed) to hug, you'and I will surely feel much better. (Let's just hope pregnant monster is listening!) 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Adorable Book Alert: The Potty Book (for boys and girls)

The Potty Book for BoysAndrew will be two in January so, with baby number two on the way, that means its time to introduce the potty! We  have had a musical potty hanging out in our bathroom since this summer, but he didn't do much with it but "flush" it. But, since we've had The Potty Book for Boys by Alyssa Satin Cupcilli, we have had one successful potty attempt! (I'm not kidding myself, though, that he won't be in diapers for a while longer. Two in diapers--yikes!)
The Potty Book for Boys--and its sister book The Potty Book for Girls--is adorable and features a toddler boy or girl as he/she learns to use the potty along with his/her beloved teddy bear. The story is just perfect, covering both the accidents and successes along the way to being potty trained. And the illustrations are so sweet, but do show a lot of bare baby butt--just in case you're opposed to that! 

For $5.95, I was also really impressed with the length of the book (32 pages) and the quality of the hardcover and its thick glossy pages.

And, of course, I do love that the children in each of the books have red hair!  

The Potty Book actually reminded me a lot of one of our other favorite children's books featuring a redhead and his teddy bear: I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rosetti Shustak. Both books are winners for kids with or without red hair--and great gifts too!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wordless Wednesday, Rocking the PJ and Snow Boots Look

Friday, November 11, 2011

To spank or not to spank?

Andrew has hit an interesting new stage which involves lots of whining, falling to the floor, and hitting when he doesn't get what he wants. He's a pretty strong 30+ pound 22-month-old, so some of the slaps he lands are painful. But, even if he wasn't strong, hitting is just unacceptable.

But how to get him to stop doing it? We speak to him in a firm voice and tell him that hitting is absolutely not allowed and put him in time out for a minute or so. But, that doesn't always work; he goes right back to the unacceptable behavior. So, I must admit that after some of his more deliberate and painful slaps to my face, I have tapped him on the hand or backside. And I really feel so horrible each time.

I really planned not to use hitting back as discipline, since I think that gets confusing for a child ("Why can mama hit but I can't?"), so I think I've got to give time out a bit more time to really work. I'm also going to take a friends advice and YouTube a few of the videos on hitting from his favorite shows ("Ni Hao Kai Lan," "Yo Gabba Gabba," etc.) and watch them each day for a while going forward.

Does/did your toddler hit and did you decide to spank or not to spank? What worked for you in curbing this behavior? I'm looking forward to your responses!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Finally a King! Bed, that is.

It is a momentous day in the Rockland Mother household. We have finally upgraded from a full bed to a king! I know, I know--you're wondering how two adults and a bed-crashing toddler survived squished into such a small space for so long. But, money-wise and apartment-wise its always been wiser for us to have the full. But we've got another little one on the way and my ever-expanding stomach is going to make our bedtime situation a bit more uncomfortable--so a king-size bed is in the very immediate future!

We decided to go the route for the bed purchase and I hope we will not be disappointed. Once we have the bed assembled and we're settled in for a few days, I'll be sure to review the Swiss Lux 10-inch King Memory Foam Mattress ($470) and Scandinavia King Platform Bed ($225) that we bought. We also purchased the $50 10-year mattress service and $48 5-year accidental furniture damage plan just to be safe, so I'll report back on that too if we have need of it.

And it won't be long before I post that review because, even though I ordered the bed the late evening of November 6th, the mattress arrived yesterday, November 8th and the bed frame is being delivered today. That's some ridiculously fast shipping for a rate of $2.95!

Just please wish me luck that these products aren't lemons. I've used Overstock before to great results, but not on furniture!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Venture Photography - Worth it (if you're rich)

Venture Photography is a family portrait franchise that started in the UK and made its way over to the US in 2007 (CT, NJ, and MN at the moment). Photos are taken in a studio against a completely white background and floor and photo subjects are encouraged to bring along props, costumes, pets, whatever, to enhance their shoot. Once the photos are shot, the pictures can be further enhanced with editing, color effects, graphics, etc., are sent to the UK to be mounted and framed, and are ready for display in your home--if you pay a high price, that is.

We got sold on a shoot with Venture in Ridgewood, NJ when attending a local Irish Feis (A feis! Look how Irish I am by marriage!) For $50, we got a voucher entitling us to a photo session and an 8x10 framed photo or $350 credit towards another piece of photo art. It sounded like a good deal--especially since you have the option to just take the free 8x10 and run! I really wish we weren't so clueless about the actual prices of the photos from the get-go though--but there aren't any prices on the Venture website and the folks who sold us the Venture voucher kept pretty mum about that.

(Important: We needed to book our photo session within 3 weeks of buying the voucher or the free gift was downgraded into a 5x7 instead of an 8x10). 

Our photo shoot was actually great, even though Andrew had a nap-deprived meltdown midway through. Our photographer Alex worked wonderfully with him and we got quite a few pictures in before my husband and I decided to call it a day. And the studio itself is lovely. The lobby and photo studios are fitted with comfy leather couches and filled with examples of Venture's pricier wall art products. You are offered refreshments of all types. You do really feel like a valued customer, even though you've purchased a discounted voucher.

They sent us home with a flyer full of their prices and I must admit I was a bit surprised. The lowest price was $150 for a framed and mounted 5x7 desk photo (photos are sent to the UK for this part) and the highest was around $6000 for a fancier and bigger piece of wall art. You can not purchase single prints--every photo you order is mounted to a foamy piece of paper on the low price end or other type of medium. They do have the option to buy prints in a photo album (starting at $1600) or as an animated digital slide show ($1500), but it is clearly stated that you may in no way reproduce the images.

We decided we'd give ourselves $300 dollars to spend--on two 5x7s and the free 8x10. And about three weeks later, we went back to the studio for our design consultation--boy do they pull all the stops out for that! You are encouraged to do the design consult without your children in attendance so that you can be fully immersed in the experience. After sinking into a luxurious leather couch, our design consultant--a Carmela Soprano lookalike in a short skirt with stunning legs--asked us if we'd like a drink. Perhaps some coffee? She came back promptly with a french coffee press and the whole nine--we were very impressed indeed.

"Carmela" then began our consultation. She dimmed the lights and an animated slideshow of our best photos flickered across a small movie screen in time to well-chosen music. We oohed and aahed over our adorable child--and I began thinking that maybe we should take out a payment plan to purchase some fancy wall art.

We went through the slideshow again, slowly so that we could pick out our favorite photos. And Carmela used a program that allowed us to build a mock piece of wall art featuring four smallish framed photos. It was so beautiful--but it cost around $2500. Boy how I wanted it though--I wanted each and every good photo actually.

We asked Carmela to leave the room so that my husband could talk me back into reality. We could not afford to spend $2500 for just four photos, no matter how lovely the photo mounting and framing process was. Venture does have a stunning array of photo mounting and framing processes--they are guaranteed not to fade and some even come on a special glassless mounting that can be wiped clean! But we are not millionaires, and we couldn't justify the expense.

So, we left the consultation ordering the free 8x10 and the two 5x7 for $300. And, at the time of picking up our photos 8 weeks later, I ordered another 5x7 for $150 because my mother offered to pitch in for another. The finished product is definitely great, even though they did put the back of my 8x10 on upside down and I had to do a bit of work to flip it (the frame is taped closed AND the photo is taped to the glass to prevent dust getting in and to prevent you from scanning the photo I reckon. I mentioned above that you are prohibited from making reproductions even after you pay all that money. But, I bet a really resourceful person would find a way to scan the photos anyway--even though I'm not sure what the foamy photo mounting material would do to the print quality).

So, yes, Venture gave us a beautiful photography experience and four nice photos for $500, but I could have gotten a ton more nice photos for less money and had some to share with my friends and family if I had just gone to a local photographer or a nearby JC Penny, even. I think I paid $3300 for my entire wedding photography with Julia Pai and I got two photographers for a whole day, a photo album AND a CD with thousands of photos. I just feel like there are better deals out there, you know?

The bottom line: 
Venture Photography can give you a beautiful photo-taking experience and great photos, but I think they should expose their prices up front so that folks booking photo sessions can make a more informed decision before getting emotionally involved. Once you're in that screening room viewing gorgeous photos of your family, it is so hard not to let your guard down and lay out a bunch of money you may or may not have. I'm not saying that their prices aren't warranted when you consider the time and talent of the photographer, the cost of the photo editing, printing and mounting process, and the money it takes to upkeep the fancy studio. But, I think Venture would have a much better reputation and get more repeat customers here and in the UK if they were much more open with their prices. I also think they should come up with an inexpensive way to let photo subjects buy regular prints to reproduce and share with friends and family.

Oh! And Venture just created a smartphone application that is supposed to allow customers to see all their photos online and share them. But here's the rub--you have to be a VIP customer who has spent money on wall art. I'm not sure how much money you have to spend to be a VIP, but I definitely will be calling the studio to request VIP access and will report back about it here. (I have a sneaky suspicion, though, that my $500 will not be enough to warrant VIP access.)

Please email me if you have any questions (maybe you booked a Venture session like we did) or if you want to see our photos. I can't reproduce them per se, but I might be able to send you a photo of my media center with the photos displayed on them. Also, please let me know if you would like to see the price catalog that I have. I can definitely scan it and forward it to you. 

So sorry for the super long review, but I've noticed there aren't many Venture reviews out there--I hope this will be helpful!!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Snow is Gone: :) or :(?

The foot or so of snow from last Saturday has melted, but it left behind some pretty awesome memories. This is the first time that Andrew has really gotten to play in the snow since last winter we were still backyard-less in Queens.  And, wow, did he have fun! He "shoveled" the driveway and ran through the snow laughing. He even got to wear his dragon costume in the snow the next day. He liked the snow so much, it made me a little sad that it wasn't really indeed winter when the snow started to melt--but then I snapped back to reality! We can wait a bit longer for that.  (See more adorable photos below!)

Speaking of adorable photos, I have my review of Venture Photography to post tomorrow! We got some awesome photos from this slick photo franchise, but I'm really not pleased with their ridiculous prices and photo hostage-taking. (Be prepared for some ranting tomorrow!)