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Listen-Read-Watch: December 2014

As I ease back into writing more frequently here at Playdate Crashers, I figured an easy thing to do that would update you on my state of mind and being these days is to tell you what things I’m listening to, reading, and watching. I’m a big consumer of media, whether on TV, the printed word, or the Internet, which you may or may not know about me. I consider myself somewhat of an early adopter but with the terrible Internet situation we’ve been in for several years, I’ve fallen behind on a few things. It’s nice getting caught up with the rest of society! Anyway, here’s my first installment of Listen-Read-Watch!

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Listen

I’ve been a podcast fan for many years. I listened to Pregtastic podcast while pregnant with Miles, Manic Mommies for awhile when I was a SAHM, and other shows from time to time. The week of Thanksgiving, I decided to give a podcast a try that I’d heard about somewhere on the Internet, probably BuzzFeed. So I downloaded the first episode of Serial on a day that I was home sick from work and was instantly hooked. I called my husband and said “You HAVE to listen to this first episode so that we can listen to the rest while we’re in the car traveling for Thanksgiving!” So we did.

If you’re not familiar with it, Serial is a podcast by the producers of This American Life. It’s a story told over multiples weeks/episodes. This is the first season and the story told by Sarah Koenig, the host, is a true crime story of a high school student, Hae Min Lee, who was killed one day after school in 1999. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted of first degree murder but maintains his innocence while serving a life sentence in a Maryland prison. It’s fascinating and so easy to find yourself mesmerized by Koenig’s telling of this tragic story. You can get completely wrapped up in the details – was there a payphone at Best Buy? Was the Nisha call a butt-dial? Will we ever know if Adnan really did it? The last of the twelve episodes aired this morning, so if you don’t like to wait in between episodes, you can now binge-listen to them all at once on the website or via iTunes.

In addition to Serial, I’ve also been listening to various Serial-related podcasts (yes, podcasts about a podcast about a murder) for more analysis. These shows have made my work commute so much more entertaining and I’m going to miss it! I’m excited to hear what Sarah Koenig will do for Season 2 of Serial!

Read

In 2012, I had a goal to read 50 books, which I surpassed by about a dozen books. Last year I read 53 books, and this year I have read 30 books, with a few more in progress. It would have been more, but I picked some duds that I gave up on after a few chapters.

This year I read a mix of YA and Adult Fiction, with a focus on reading books before the movies came out this year. I’m currently reading The Circle* by Dave Eggers and Under the Dome: A Novel by Stephen King.

A few notable mentions of my favorites from this year:  Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (YA Fiction), UnDivided by Neal Shusterman (YA Fiction series-ender), and Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman (Memoir).

*If you click the above links and purchase from Amazon, I get a small percentage of the sale to support the blog!

Watch

With our new Internet, I’ve rediscovered my love for Netflix! Brandon and I have been watching Rectify (recommended for fans of Serial), Black Mirror (kind of like a rebooted Twilight Zone all about technology and society), and I’ve also been watching The Killing. Other than that, we’ve been watching Master Chef and Master Chef Junior in addition to Parenthood, Modern Family, and The Middle.

So that’s me, what about you? What are you listening to, reading, or watching these days? Do you have recommendations for me?

The State of the Blog Address

Once upon a time, I started a blog.

I had big plans for the blog and spent many hours devoted to it. It was my third child and I was determined that it would grow up into a big girl project with many readers and sponsorship deals.

Then one day I went back to work full-time. My kids were preschool and Kindergarten aged, and my job at a private school would allow us to spend the day “together” in the same building, but I would finally be contributing to our family’s income once again.

At the same time, our Internet service at our new home was all but nonexistant. “Wireless broadband” service in our area is a joke and while I still had thoughts I wanted to get onto screen, lengthy load times and snails-pace load times sucked the joy right out of my little hobby. While I still fulfilled the odd product review post (usually late…sorry!), that’s all this little project has been for over a year – impersonal, infrequently updated, and in desperate need of a redesign.

Then one day, a miracle occurred. Perhaps that’s an overexaggeration, but in my life, it was huge. Broadband Internet by way of Time Warner Cable finally came to our subdivision and Extreme Internet entered our home. Netflix was resubscribed, my browser updates finally downloaded, and my friends…I AM BACK!

So that’s where we are today. I’ve got a long list of posts I want to write and I finally have the capability of doing so again. We are planning to add to our family in 2015, so be prepared for posts about that. I still want to do product reviews when it seems right, and I desperately want a blog redesign.

The Playdate Crashers aren’t going away any time soon. There’s still playdates to be crashed.

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Review: Strider Bikes

If you’re looking for a Christmas present for your young child that will teach them something, keep them active, and provide hours of fun, look no further than Strider Bikes!

I was given the opportunity to review a Strider 12 Sport Bike with my 4 (almost 5) year old son, Spencer. He likes to ride his bike with training wheels, but he still gets nervous on it and he is definitely not ready to try it without training wheels. I jumped at the chance to review a Strider Bike with him because he is so independent and I know that he just needs a little confidence before he is ready to ride sans extra wheels!

Our Strider 12 Sport came in a medium size box. There is a little assembly required, but I was surprised at how quickly it went together!

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In less than 10 minutes, he was ready to roll!

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It took him just a few minutes to get the hang of the Strider Bike. There are no pedals on a Strider bike – it’s intended to teach kids to balance so that they can more easily transition to a traditional bike without the use of training wheels. As Strider says in their materials:  “The STRIDER Balance Bike will have your child enjoying the freedom of riding on two wheels earlier than you ever thought possible and make family outings more and active.” As a mom with a 6 year old who has no interest in riding on two wheels because he is fearful of falling, this is a big deal for us! I would love for both of my kids to be able to ride their bikes on their own!

There are three basic models:  the Classic, Sport, and Pro! They also have Special Needs Bikes for kids who need additional support! The bikes come in a few different sizes; we’re using the one for ages 18 months to 5 years, and there are bikes for ages 6-12 and 13+!

Here’s a little video of how Strider Bikes work and why parents everywhere love them!

As for our family, we love our Strider Balance Bike because it’s teaching our already-independent son to work hard at what he wants (riding on two wheels) and problem solve how to get from point A to point B! He has already moved from sit-walking to sit-running! We aren’t quite ready to coast down a small hill yet, but when it warms up, we will work on it more!

Strider Bikes are an excellent Christmas or birthday gift for any child who needs to learn to ride a bike with confidence! It’s easy to purchase online or in stores (use the Store Locator on the Strider Bikes website to find them in store near you)! Prices vary depending on the options and size. The retail price for ours is $119, certainly a great price when you consider how effectively this product works!

Put a Strider Bike on your child’s Christmas list today and watch them learn to ride!

I was sent a complimentary Strider Bike to facilitate my review. I was not paid for this post nor was I required to write a positive review.

Forever Mom

Today’s post is more than a book review, it’s me opening up with something more personal than anything I’ve shared here on the blog in more than a year, since I went back to work full-time.

For about two years, I’ve had a tugging on my heart to grow our family. With two amazing boys who are currently six and nearly-five, I’m thrilled with our family but open to whatever God might want for us. For awhile, I thought it might be a new baby, but through our conversations at home and some revelations we’ve had in our church, we felt an overwhelming desire to begin the process of adoption through foster care.

10724143_390839014396944_1231287608_s We’re still at the very beginning — we’ve started our classes and have a big checklist of paperwork to turn in, fingerprints to be taken, classes and home visits to schedule — but we are so excited about the way our family is about to be changed.

The very week I made the first move to start the foster-to-adopt process, I was offered a book for review, Forever Mom:  What to Expect When You’re Adopting, by Mary Ostyn. It couldn’t have come at a better time! Mary is the mother of 10, six of which are theirs by adoption. Woven through the book are the stories of their adoptions from Korea and Ethiopia.

More than a how-to book, Forever Mom deals with the heart issues involved in adoption. She covers everything from bringing your child home to mealtime struggles and teenage sass. Their adoption stories run the gamut — their first adoption went off without a hitch and left their hearts ready for more; subsequent adoptions would prove to not be quite as easy for them.

Remind them often of how precious they are to you

So many books on fostering and adoption promise to help you “navigate the system” and cover little more than what a simple web search can deliver. Mary’s book is infused with wisdom, Scripture, and practical advice that is sure to become an invaluable resource to me as we wade into the waters of “the system.” If I need inspiration, there is plenty; if I need guidance on discipline and behavior problems, she provides a multitude of sound advice.

Mary Ostyn has written other books (Family Feasts for $75 a Week and The Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family) and writes regularly on her blog, OwlHaven.net. Forever Mom was released last week, just in time for National Adoption Awareness Month and Orphan Sunday.

Whether you are an adoptive parent, starting the process, or considering the call to adopt, Forever Mom is full of inspiration, honest advice, and practical wisdom for families growing through adoption. I would recommend it to anyone who is a person of faith that wants to know more about what’s it’s like to adopt an infant or older child, as well as new foster/adoptive parents.

We are all learning and growing

Even though we are going through a different process of adoption (by fostering first) and do not plan to adopt babies or infants (although you never know what God has in store), I found Mary’s book to be a breath of fresh air in a season where it’s easy to be overwhelmed and bombarded by advice that isn’t always positive in nature. Mary doesn’t sugarcoat the hard times but she makes it clear that adoptive parents will be blessed.

Pick up a copy of Forever Mom (paperback or Kindle editions available) in bookstores, through OwlHaven.net, or on Amazon.com!

Disclosure:  I received a complimentary copy of the book Forever Mom from the publisher to facilitate my review. I was not paid for this post nor was I required to write a positive review.

Review: EZLeaps

Independence is a TOUGH thing to teach your kids! Early on in your kids’ lives, whether or not you realize it’s happening, parents start teaching their kids to do for themselves. We teach our kids to go to sleep unassisted, to feed themselves, and then to use the bathroom independently. Before you know it, they’re learning to button their shirts and then…it’s time to learn to TIE THEIR SHOES!

I’m not going to lie, moms. I have been both dreading this day and looking forward to it. I LOVE the idea of my kids being able to tie their own shoes. I LOVE helping them move toward independence. But OH MY GOSH, what a frustrating process! They’re annoyed, you’re exasperated, and they just can’t get their little fingers to do what must be done!

That is, it was super frustrating UNTIL we discovered EZLeaps! EZLeaps is a tool to help kids learn to tie their shoes and we got the opportunity to try it out for ourselves! Instead of me trying to describe the process, here’s a little video about how it works:

So unlike other products that delay the inevitable by giving your child an excuse to not tie their shoes, EZLeaps actually makes the process SIMPLE for your kids and helps them by keeping the shoelaces separated and accessible. (See the steps broken down in individual photos and instructions here)

EZLeaps3My boys are very different from one another. One is super independent; the other is not. One figures things out really easily by himself; the other lacks confidence and won’t try new skills until he feels sure of himself. One also has underdeveloped fine motor skills and has struggled to learn to hold a pencil correctly, among other things.

Our 4 year old isn’t quite ready to learn to tie his shoes (but he is determined to do it before starting Kindergarten next fall!), but our six year old IS ready! Unfortunately, he is also the one who has a difficult time with fine motors, so I was anxious to try EZLeaps with him. He was so hesitant to even try, but EZLeaps really made it fun for him!

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We watched the video (above) and he seemed excited to give it a try. I can’t say he is the master of his sneakers yet, but he is definitely getting close! He actually “gets” what he’s trying to do because EZLeaps has made it simpler and easier to see for him.

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When he does become a shoe-tying pro, we’ll fill out the CONGRATULATIONS! certificate included with our EZLeaps so he’ll know how proud we are of his accomplishment!

EZLeaps is a wonderful product for moms, teachers, and child care workers who are ready for their kids or students to learn this important skill of independence! At $5.49 each (or as low as $3.99 each in quantities of 25+), they’re a great value! I could see teachers asking their students’ parents to chip in a few dollars to get an EZLeaps for each student in a classroom so that they can all learn together. They come in adorable colors and prints — with unicorns and soccer balls and everything in between, there’s something for everyone!

Check out EZLeaps.com for more product info and to purchase now! Help your child take the next step toward independence with EZLeaps! Save 15% for a limited time with this special promo code:  EZ2424

Disclosure:  EZLeaps sent me two complimentary EZLeaps products to facilitate my review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I paid for this post.

Review & Giveaway: VTech InnoTab 3S Plus

innotab3splus VTech is showing parents everywhere that it’s possible to merge fun and learning through their InnoTab 3S Plus Wi-Fi learning tablet!

Kids love gadgets — they love playing fun, sometimes complicated games that make lots of noise. But not only do they love silly games, they love games that challenge them intellectually. My boys, ages 4.5 and 6, are very much “into” learning games and were so excited when I was given the opportunity to review the new VTech InnoTab 3S Plus learning tablet!

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The InnoTab 3S Plus package I received for review included a demo game cartridge, battery recharging pack, a wall adapter, and credits to purchase content for the tablet. After opening the package, we made sure the batteries were charged while I downloaded the Learning Lodge software onto my laptop. After a quick download, I signed up for the necessary account and scrolled through the pages of games, videos, ebooks, and more! I finally settled on Little Fireman and Cab Tab to add to the factory-installed apps like Movie Maker, My Magic Beanstalk, and Art Studio.

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I was able to get my boys set up really quickly and easily, so they were ready to play! I let them take the “tour” at their own pace and get to know the tablet. They soon figured out how to take photos and videos with the InnoTab 3S Plus. I won’t say that the quality rivals a DSLR camera or anything, but it’s better than you would expect on a kid’s device!

The processor on this tablet is faster than others we have tried, and because of this, the games respond better and faster to button or stylus input. Kids can get frustrated pretty quickly if the game won’t do what they want it to do, and that’s not a problem with the InnoTab 3S Plus!

At $79.99, the InnoTab 3S Plus is quite a value! Kids can explore websites on kid-safe Wi-Fi (you select sites that you will allow them to view), play on the 16 included apps (one is a video maker which kids can create using the 180 degree rotating camera and special effects!) or on the 800+ age and stage appropriate cartridges, software and apps that parents can purchase and download from VTech’s Learning Lodge app store! You can even chat with you kid using Kid Connect, a service on the InnoTab 3S Plus that communicates with your account on your Kid Connect app (available for iOS and Google Play)!

Here are a few things that my little playdate crashers and I love about the InnoTab 3S Plus:InnoTab8

  • The games are pretty awesome! My kids’ favorite characters have games available for purchase, including Jake and the Neverland Pirates and the Octonauts! They can learn science facts while playing a game starring Captain Barnacles and Kwazii!
  • The batteries are rechargeable! Moms? We have enough going on without worrying if the batteries are going to die on our kid’s devices. You’re going to love this feature!
  • The swiveling camera is a big hit with my little movie makers! Yep, your preschooler can master the art of the selfie on the InnoTab 3S Plus!
  • The kid-safe Wi-Fi is also pretty fantastic. I love that my boys can feel free to explore while staying within a safe Internet perimeter.
  • The included apps, which include a calendar (“Spelling test on Friday!”), a calculator, notes, music, photos, Art Studio, and My Magic Beanstalk, a game where your kids take care of little beanstalks and help them grow!

That’s only a little snapshot of why we love the InnoTab 3S Plus! There’s so much to see, explore, and love about this learning tablet! It’s sturdy, well-designed, and has everything your kids need to learn and play! Check out all of the cartridge and download games and other content you can get for the InnoTab 3S Plus! This learning tablet is available for purchase online at VTechKids.com, other online retailers, and in stores such as Walmart and Toys R Us!

Want to get your hands on an InnoTab 3S Plus?? VTech has generously offered one to the winner of this giveaway! Please enter using the giveaway widget below!

 

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Disclosure:  I received one VTech InnoTab 3S Plus from VTech to facilitate my review. They also provided information about the product. Additionally, they are providing one InnoTab 3S Plus for the winner of my giveaway.

Review: Firefly Star Wars Ready Go Brush

Who would have thought that my kids would enjoy brushing their teeth so much? But with the new Firefly Star Wars Ready Go Brush toothbrushes, brushing your teeth is fun!

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So long, begging and cajoling when it toothbrushing time! My boys are excited about brushing their teeth with these super cool Star Wars toothbrushes that light up and signal when it’s time to start and stop brushing! We got the opportunity to try out these new toothbrushes from Firefly and my boys couldn’t wait! They eagerly helped me open their Yoda and Darth Vader brushes and quickly found the buttons to get started!

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Firefly Star Wars Ready Go Brush toothbrushes have a light-up timer that flashes green for 30 seconds, yellow, and then red — all for 60 seconds, which is how long your kids should brush each row of teeth! This keeps your kids from brushing for 3.5 milliseconds and calling it quits – they love to watch themselves in the mirror while they brush!

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When they’re done brushing, these cool toothbrushes can be stored upright on the sink with the suction cup bottom. Nothing grosses me out more than a toothbrush on a yucky countertop. *shivers* Not only is it cleaner to have your toothbrushes stored this way, it helps cut down on counter clutter! Yay!

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We love our Firefly Star Wars Ready Go Brush toothbrushes because they are fun, promote independence, and encourage healthy habits for my kids! Brushing their teeth is something they will do 2x a day for the rest of their lives — it’s important to start good oral care habits NOW!

These awesome toothbrushes can be found at Wal-Mart, CVS/Pharmacy, Five Below, Inc., Kroger, Shopko, and Wakeferm General Merchandise Stores as well as online retailers for a suggested retail price of $3.49.

Disclosure:  I was sent two complimentary Firefly Star Wars Ready Go Brush toothbrushes by Light Years Ahead to facilitate my review. I was not paid for this post nor was I required to write a positive review.

Review: Boogie Mist

If school hasn’t started in your district yet, it soon will, which means that the season of sickness is upon us. Runny noses and crusty noses are in your future, mamas! But thanks to Boogie Wipes and their new Boogie Mist, saline mist featuring their scented nozzle, the Schnozzle, your little sickies won’t be nearly as miserable this flu season!

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Our household is full of longtime fans of Boogie Wipes, wipes moistened with natural saline, as they make cleaning up snotty noses a more pleasant task! With fresh grape and unscented versions, a quick swipe of my boys’ noses leaves them cleaner and clearer and on their way to healthier days.

We were excited to try out Boogie Mist on our last summer cold of the season. Miles woke up with a snotty green nose, and I helped him clean his nose with a Boogie Wipe, then we use our Boogie Mist in his nostrils. One more go around later in the day and he was feeling so much better! “Mmmm, it smells like GWAPES!” [We’re seeing a speech therapist…] I was tempted to try it out myself, as I’m sniffling a bit myself!

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Boogie Mist will make your kids’ noses feel so much better – fresher, cleaner, and easier to breathe through! And it’s so easy to use:  just tilt their head and spray!

Here’s a little tip for all of you with school-aged children:  a canister of Boogie Wipes will make your child the teacher’s pet! Teachers, especially preschool and Kindergarten teachers, LOVE Boogie Wipes because they’re so easy to use and helpful for little ones who don’t quite “get” nose-blowing yet. They even sell Teacher’s Kits!

Moms, you’re going to want to get a Boogie Mist for each of your kids now so that you’re ready for cold and flu season — you don’t want to be unprepared when the sniffles come calling! You can purchase online or in stores for around $4-5 each. I would for sure get some Boogie Wipes as well (stock up on the 90-ct canisters!), you’ll want the wipes AND the mist!

Disclosure:  Boogie Wipes sent me a complimentary sample of Boogie Mist in exchange for my honest review. I was not paid for this post nor was I required to write a positive review. 

Review: Master Lock Safe Space

We all want to be able to protect our things, and now you can have a Safe Space wherever you go with Master Lock! Whether you’re on the beach or at work or school, the Master Lock Safe Space can keep your valuable possessions safe!

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I had the opportunity to try out the Master Lock Safe Space, and I jumped at the chance! We recently took a trip to the beach and it’s a vulnerable feeling to have pricey items just sitting at the bottom of your beach bag. The idea of a small but sturdy place to put my valuables is really appealing and that’s exactly what the Master Lock Safe Space is! It’s a small oval-shaped box, about the size of a small handbag, with a locking mechanism and a cable that can be used to attach the Safe Space to a stationery object. It’s a good size; not huge, but big enough to hold a small camera, smartphone, keys, and a few additional items that you would want to protect.

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The instructions enclosed in the product box explain how to quickly get your Safe Space ready for use. You program in your selected security code and you’re ready to keep your items safe.

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It can be used with or without the cable:  you could use it in a school or gym locker without or with the cable to lock it around a library chair on campus. Obviously the best use of the cable is to secure it to a truly stationery object, but if someone is trying to steal your Safe Space, they’re going to have to look really stupid while they do it, carrying a library chair or beach chair as they go. And good luck getting that cable off without knowing the combination!

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I would recommend this product to anyone who works in a building with lots of people and visitors; in my office (a school), we know that if you leave your cell phone sitting on your desk, you’re just asking for it to disappear and then reappear with 400 selfies of students on it. Middle school and high school students with lockers would really benefit from this product, as would college students. The Safe Space would also be a great thing to keep in your car’s glove box so that you can slip it into your handbag when you’ll be in a crowded place. It’s always a good idea to add another layer of protection to your valuable devices.

The Master Lock Safe Space is available at MasterLock.com for $27.59 (with free shipping!). Pick one up today and start protecting your valuable items and photos!

Disclosure:  I received a complimentary Safe Space from Master Lock to facilitate this review. I was not paid for this post and I was not required to write a positive review.

Review: COOLIT

Tell me if this sounds familiar, parents:

You make a meal for your child, but because most foods have to be heated, it’s too hot for your precious child’s plate! Those chicken nuggets are now as hot as burning embers! That macaroni and cheese might as well be molton lava! Okay, not exactly, but still — it’s too hot for your child to eat without some significant cooling taking place.

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With this new, innovative product, The COOLIT, parents simply put the entree onto the special freezable dish and stir it for one minute! At that time, you can transfer it to your child’s plate or bowl and serve it. No more placing their bowl in the fridge and accidentally forgetting it (done it)! No more frantic blowing on your child’s food! The COOLIT takes your child’s food from hot to serve-able in just one minute!

Here’s how it works:

The COOLIT is a 2″ x 8″ BPA and phthlate-free dish that is placed into your freezer for at least three hours. It’s not a serving dish, you only use it for about a minute as you take your child’s meal off of the stove or out of the microwave. The non-toxic gel inside the COOLIT allows for rapid cooling of food placed in the dish! It’s dishwasher safe, so just toss it onto the top rack of your dishwasher after each use!

We had a chance to test out the COOLIT for ourselves! Here it is with a few servings of Horizon organic (cow) macaroni and cheese:

I love how easy it is to use. No fuss, it just does what it says! Instead of my boys having to wait and keep checking if their food was okay to eat, their food is ready in no time at all!

Perhaps you’re like me and also run into this issue in restaurants. You can put your COOLIT in a small insulated bag and slip it into your purse or diaper bag to use in a restaurant! Just pay attention to the time, you don’t want it to sit in your diaper bag for hours and then not be much use for you at your restaurant of choice.

The COOLIT is affordable, at only $9.99, and can be purchased online at www.theCOOLIT.com as well as online retailers like Amazon, Zulily, and eBay!

Disclosure:  I received one complimentary COOLIT to facilitate my review. I was not paid for this post, nor was I required to give a positive review. My opinions are my very own.