Wherein Beloved becomes a blogging chocolate whore

In the nearly four years I’ve been blogging, Beloved has gone from bewildered to perplexed to tolerant. He really started to embrace the whole idea of the blog when it started bringing in free stuff, though. And when I recently signed up for a blog tour that involved free samples of Ghirardelli chocolate, he was suddenly not only supportive of my blog habit but willing to contribute a post of his own. Way to take one for the team, eh? So, without further ado, here’s Beloved:

There are only two arrivals that could draw me into the blogging fray; a child and chocolate. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to put in my two cents and taste buds on this critique. I had the pleasure of savoring five different samples of Ghirardelli chocolate bars; Crisp, Hazelnut, Milk Chocolate, Duet, and Almond. Here are my ambrosial findings:

Taking his duties seriously

Starting with the Crisp. A bar of chocolate in which I could savor the taste of the cocoa bean. I found that the milky chocolate was not too sweet and did not leave any of the heavy or sticky aftertaste that usually come from a bar of chocolate. I didn’t feel the need to run for a glass of milk to rinse my palette. The only con with this first bar were the amount of crispies. I think they could concentrate on a better crispy-to-chocolate ratio. Overall a pleasant bit of chocolate.

Next I tackled the Hazelnut. A nice light nutty flavor in puddles of smooth milky chocolate. Again, none of that sticky aftertaste. The only thing I didn’t get was the “deep-roasted” flavor of the hazelnuts, which is probably a good thing. The nuts were light and not overbearing like some “deep-roasted” nuts can be.

From cocoa beans grown on the north slope, I believe

The Ghirardelli Duet bar is an interesting combination of Creamy Milk Chocolate and Rich Dark Chocolate. I can see how this would be a wonderful experience for those who enjoy a dark chocolate. It adds a hint of the sweeter, creamier milk chocolate to the bitter of the darker chocolate. To me, however, the dark chocolate is still a bit too dominant. I would prefer a bit more of an equal combination of the two types of chocolate. Not to say that I’m not going to finish this bar. It won’t last the week. I like my chocolate like my women though; smooth and silky.

The plain milk chocolate bar was a bit of a surprise to me. The other bars seemed so creamy and not too sweet. However, the all milk chocolate bar tended to be a bit sticky and not as smooth as I would have expected. Still a fairly good piece of chocolate, but make sure you have a glass of milk on hand.

Heh, 'smooth and silky' she'll love that one

Last, but by far not the least, was the Almond chocolate bar. The best of the lot. This bar of chocolate came into a close second to Mimi’s homemade chocolate almond bark. The almonds were roasted the way an almond deserves (they must’ve found out your secret, Dad!) This bar was a little piece of heaven on earth. I highly recommend going out and buying this as your next sinful treat, you won’t regret it.

Overall I have to compliment Ghirardelli on making chocolate that doesn’t have the usual American, department store, waxiness. They seem to care about how the cocoa bean is used in their product.

Tristan moves in on the action

Well that’s it for me. I need to go wash my hands and face. If anyone has any tips on how to get chocolate out of the keys of my laptop, pass them along.

To everyone, BON APPETIT.


(Disclosure: for participating in this MomCentral blog tour, we received free chocolate bars and a $20 Amazon gift certificate.)

Schlage lock blog tour

In the five years we’ve lived in this house, I’ve been locked out maybe half a dozen times, most notably in the second trimester of pregnancy with a full bladder. That’s why, when the nice folks at Schlage offered a free electronic keypad door lock to test out as part of a blog tour, I jumped on it. Punch a code instead of fumble for keys? I’m all over that!

Here’s how the Schlage people describe the lock:

The keypad allows access via a four-digit code that can be customized so members of your family, guests, nannies, and service providers can all access your home using different codes. Each code (up to 19 on each lock) can be easily set up for a new person or deactivated if you no longer want someone to have access to your house. No more keeping track of spare keys, sending your children to school with a key around their necks, or changing the entire lock if you have a flame out with a nanny. Schlage Electronic Keypad Locks also provide relief from the rare occasions when you are locked out of the house or your child arrives home unexpectedly – without you there.

I love the concept, and since I changed the deadbolt myself when we bought this house, I thought I’d have no trouble installing it. The day the new electronic keypad lock arrived, I asked Beloved to take care of Lucas so I could install it. It only took me a moment or two to remove the old deadbolt, and then I realized that the new lock wouldn’t fit on our door. To make it fit, I’d have to make the deadbolt hole bigger. They provide easy instructions on how to get this done with the help of your local hardware store, but that’s where I lost interest. I’d love to have the fancy new electronic keypad lock on the door, but we just don’t have enough time right now to be taking apart the front door. If I wasn’t living my life in stolen 15 minute segments away from the baby, I probably would have gone ahead with it.

But then I felt bad. The nice Schlage people sent me this really nice lock set, and one of these days I’m actually going to install it. Just not right now. I briefly debated blogging as if I had installed it, but I would have felt bad about that. Suffice to say that it really is a nice lock and a great idea. I’ve wanted one of these for some time, and can’t believe that I was lucky enough to get a free sample and can’t make enough free time to actually install it. The antique brass finish matches perfectly with our existing door handle, and I really think this would be simpler than stashing spare keys with friends and family members and ferreting them away in secret hiding places that I inevitably forget the moment I need one.

And now my to-do list includes enlarging the deadbolt hole in the door. I’m sure I’ll get around to it one of these days.

(Disclosure: Mom Central offered a free sample lock and a $20 Amazon gift certificate for being part of the Schlage lock blog tour. I’m not sure they got their money’s worth out of me, and I apologize for that. Blogging with three boys seems three times more challenging than blogging with just two did!)

Kids’ music: a review in three parts

Thanks to the quirks of Canada Post and Amazon, I received three new CDs in the mail one day this week. (Can we pause for a minute here and reflect that the idea of buying CDs has become vaguely anachronistic, while I clearly remember not only when the technology debuted but was an adult when I capitulated to the death of vinyl and bought my first CD. And now that technology is on the way out. Crap I’m old. But that’s not what this post is about. Shake it off.)

Ahem, yes. CDs. I had signed on to be part of a MotherTalk review of a new kids’ CD and DVD called, rather uninspiredly, That Baby CD and That Baby DVD. My spot on the blog tour was last Saturday, but the package didn’t make it across the border until this week. While waiting and checking my mailbox daily last week, I happened to catch the Barenaked Ladies on Regis and whassername (I swear, it was only on because I had been listening to Canada AM while I nursed the baby!) performing a song from their new kids’ CD, and Simon loved it so much that he was singing along by the second chorus. I knew I had an unused Amazon gift certificate from a previous MotherTalk review, so I used it to buy the new Barenaked CD and Amazon nicely suggested I might like the CD For the Kids to go along with it. I’d been meaning to check that one out for ages, so with two clicks they were both on the way. All three arrived on the same day this week.

The MotherTalk tour for That Baby CD and DVD is officially closed, but since they were nice enough to send me the free stuff, I’ll say a few things about them. I loved the fact that the CD was packed up to look like a 45 RPM record. Very cute! And the musical selections were nice enough. Imagine a few rock “classics” crunched up and folky-ized, so they come out sounding like folky muzak. (‘Classics’ is in quotation marks because the songs generally stuck me as lesser-known B-side tracks by artists like Springsteen, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon.) Benign enough, and pleasant background music, but not really to my taste. I have a minor issue with the idea that kids’ music should be dumbed down to pander to kids. The DVD is the CD with accompanying videos, a kind of a cross between the old Sesame Street and Baby Einstein. Meh. It was okay, and I’m happy to have it to play for Lucas (in between Sponge Bob and the Wiggles) but I honestly can’t recommend that you rush out and buy it. It’s nice to have, but I’m glad it was free, yanno?

The next CD was For the Kids. This is much better. It’s an inversion of the previous formula — kids’ music redone by popular artists to give it some life. Sarah Mclachlan does a cover of The Rainbow Connection that will go into regular rotation on my iPod, along with Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk doing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I will enjoy listening to this one.

But the best, by a country mile, was the Barenaked Ladies new CD for kids, Snack Time. At the risk of tangentizing this post to death, I must admit that I am an old skool BNL fan. The first indie bootleg cassette (CASSETTE, people!) I ever owned was a copy of their pre-Gordon indie album, back in 1989 or so. They feel like old friends to me, and so I have a considerable affection-laden bias toward them. When I heard that they were doing an album for kids, I had an inkling it would be a lot of fun. I was right.

I love it.

It’s BNL at their best – silly, whimsical, clever and playful. The music has real energy behind it, which is something that the first CD in this review was lacking. Aside from the musicality, though, it’s the lyrics that make these songs endearing. A few of my favourite tidbits:

  • From ‘789’, based on the old joke, why is six afraid of seven? Because seven ‘ate’ nine: “Once upon a time in our solar system / We couldn’t make due without 9 / But Pluto’s not a planet now / So 8 will do fine.”
  • From the punny ‘Raisins’: “When I make mistakes / I use a lot of salt / Because salt makes m’steaks taste great.”
  • And from the patter woven into the Crazy Alphabet Song, which features almost an entire alphabet of silent letter words: “Ancient Chinese river, eh? My guitar player, some hotshot…” (You have to be of a certain vintage to recognize that one. Truly, where do they come up with this stuff? Priceless!)

I also learned that Geddy Lee and I both favour BBQ chips as a snack.

I first popped this CD into the player in the van when I had to run an afternoon errand with Simon and Lucas while Tristan was at school. By the time I was on my way home, both boys were asleep, the sun was shining in a brilliant blue sky, and I had most of a warm Tim Horton’s coffee with me. I spent the best part of a blissful hour driving loops through the countryside, delaying our return home so I could continue to listen to more of this delightful CD.

This CD may in fact be the thing that helps keep us sane on our planned 20+ hours in the car later this month when we set off across the province on a road trip to see family in Windsor. And hey, I just noticed when I was putting in the links for this post, you can download 789 and watch the video on the BNL website, and they’ll be on CBC kids on Monday to perform songs from the album. Kewl!

Game review: Cranium Bloom

I’ve raved before about Cranium’s products. I think they make smart, fun toys that kids really like to play with, and adults can have fun playing along. We have Cranium’s Hullabaloo, Cariboo and Superfort, and Simon got Sounds of the Seashore for Christmas. So when MomCentral Consulting offered me the chance to participate in a blog tour by reviewing** a new Cranium game for preschoolers, I was all over it. Matter of fact, when I pulled the game out one afternoon, Simon took one look at the box and said, “Oh! That’s a Cranium game!” My little logo savant.

Although we were supposed to review two of Cranium’s new Bloom line of preschool games, the first one (Let’s Play Count & Cook Game) didn’t have the game board included in the box due to a packaging error, so that review will be posted later. But, we have truly enjoyed the Let’s Go to the Zoo Seek & Find Puzzle.

First, you assemble a 24 piece jigsaw puzzle. Have I mentioned we love jigsaw puzzles around here?

assembling the puzzle

Then, you use a series of clues to find things in the puzzle. There are beginner and advanced clues, along the lines of “find something orange” or “find three penguins” or “find four things that begin with the letter T”. The clues come in little spiral-bound notebooks that Simon kept referring to as his “handy dandy notebook” with some delight. When you find the items, you circle them right on the puzzle board with the provided dry-erase marker.

finding the clues

I found this game just about perfect for my boys’ ages (almost 4 and 6), developmental stages and interests. (They love puzzles, and they love the I Spy type find-it books.) You could play this game with just one child, or in teams, or let each person find his or her own clues. I originally gave Tristan the advanced book of clues and Simon the beginner book, but the next time they played they had switched and both were still content. I started out playing with them, but they continued merrily on without me while I scrawled a few notes for this review, and in all they were occupied for the best part of an hour each time the game was pulled out.

My only caveat would be that after playing this one a few times in a relatively short period of time, the kids knew immediately where all the clues were, taking some of the challenge out of the game. But, you could easily improvise more things to do and find, and Cranium even gives you a few suggestions on how to do just that.

Another great game from Cranium!

**Disclosure: for participating in this blog tour, I received free copies of both the Let’s Go to the Zoo Seek & Find Puzzle and Let’s Play Count & Cook Game, and a $20 Amazon gift certificate. And, although I only realized after I started writing this review that these games are currently available exclusively at Target, you do seem to be able to order them directly from the Cranium Web site even if you live in Canada.