What A Birthday Boy Wants

Note: This is not a sponsored post; however, it does contain affiliate links just for funsies.

Summer birthdays are tough – as I’m sure many of you know. So many of Jack’s friends are out of town on vacation or at summer camp, so we decided to schedule his party for a week after his actual birthday. He was not happy about having so little planned for THE DAY but we tried my best to make it a good day. He got cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, had a playdate with one friend who was in town and another with his cousin Isha, and we made a trip to Toys R Us (where he picked out a large rubber tarantula and some test tube aliens). It seemed to be a pretty good day to me, but he felt it was lacking – I’m hoping it was just due to pulse of steroids he still had in his system from the prior week.

This Saturday afternoon his birthday party will take place and we have a lot of people coming (way more than I expected)! This year Jack expressed his desire to celebrate his birthday at Rockin’ Jump, a place filled with trampolines and a foam pit. Ordinarily I wouldn’t spend this kind of money on a birthday party, but since my due date is quickly approaching, I decided it would be best to have the party outside of our house. Less cleaning, you know! So Jack gets his wish and will be joined by 14 other kids all jumping to their heart’s content for two hours. And then we will send them all home filled with cake…

One of the ‘perks’ of living with cancer (doesn’t that sound wrong?!) is that Jack qualifies for a free specialty cake through a program called Icing Smiles. Icing Smiles is a collective of bakers who volunteer to provide free specialty birthday cakes for kids facing critical illnesses. Last year he got a dream cake that was shaped like an Ent from Lord of the Rings. It was AMAZING:

entcake

This year he won’t get the over-the-top “dream cake” but he will still get something special. A baker located in Fremont (Anything Cakes) is constructing a custom cake that will be shark- or Dr. Who-themed. Jack will be totally happy with either so we are leaving it up to the baker’s discretion. I can’t wait to see what is created! A cake seems like a simple thing to a lot of people but birthdays have a lot more meaning for us these days and it’s awesome that the day can be made extra-special with things like this.

So…what else does an 8-year-old boy like Jack want for his birthday? His interests are definitely unique – he doesn’t like the usual stuff like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Transformers, or Minecraft (in fact, he loathes them). Instead he wants things like this:

A “carnivorous rock” plush that he designed and GypsyGarden Etsy shop brought to fruition:rockdrawing

rock plush

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A creepy cymbal-playing monkey:

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Sticky slugs:

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Toys that “eat” things/people, like Clayface:

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And, just to throw us off, the random cute/normalish thing – a plush koala:

 

He’s also happy to get books and Legos, of course. He can never have too many of those!

I’m hoping Jack’s birthday party this weekend goes well and he has nothing but fun! The steroids will be mostly out of his system so he should be in a better mood overall.

And by this time next year…he should be DONE with chemotherapy altogether and be able to have a cancer-free birthday. WOOT! I know that’s what he REALLY wants!

AT-AT Attack Battle Game Review & Giveaway

Are you ready for Star Wars Day? If your family is a lover of Star Wars, you can celebrate this epic day (May the Fourth) by winning the Angry Birds Star Wars AT-AT Attack Battle Game by Hasbro!

Now, we don’t play Angry Birds at our house. We tried the app – both Jack and I – but it just made us too angry. It is aptly named. Something about those pigs laughing at us hysterically when we don’t beat a level is too much. It was better for us to erase the game than it was to slam our phone and iPad against a wall.

We do love the concept of Angry Birds, though – a puzzle game where you fling birds at jerky pigs hiding in cleverly configured bunkers. Puzzle games and snark are right up our alley! When the Angry Birds Star Wars game came out, I really wished we did like the game (even if they did leave out the ewoks). So I was delighted to see that Hasbro created a physical game to putter around with. Who doesn’t love flinging flying objects in order to knock things down?!

We received the Angry Birds Star Wars AT-AT Attack Battle Game to test out. Here’s the description from Hasbro:

Stack, launch, and destroy with the AT-AT ATTACK BATTLE GAME, which includes 21 blocks to create the signature AT-AT, a LIGHTSABER LAUNCHER and 12 ANGRY BIRDS STAR WARS figures — including two that are exclusive to this set! Players can also unlock ANGRY BIRDS STAR WARS in-app content with a special code in each pack. (Approximate retail price: $39.99; Ages: 5 & up. Available: Now)

Now, I know this doesn’t have anything to do with the actual playing of the game, but I have to give a shout-out to Hasbro with regard to the packaging. There were no zip-ties and only one plastic tray to contain the bird and pig figures – the rest was cardboard folded in creative ways to keep the pieces in order. We got the whole set out of the box in about 30 seconds! THIS is frustration-free packaging!

My friend Sabrina and I went to town setting up the pieces for Jack (we were excited, okay!). The plastic headpiece for the AT-AT was a bit tough to put together, but it is sturdy so I think it will outlast many wallopings by flying birds. There is a beginning suggestion for how to set up the pieces on the AT-AT platform but there are a bunch of different configurations you can come up with – it’s a bit like Tetris. I’m sure if you’ve played the app enough, you can mimic some of the set-ups you’ve seen there.

There are four birds and eight pigs that come with the set. Each of the birds has a hole in the bottom that you place on the peg on the launcher (it looks similar to a sling shot). You hold the base of the launcher with one hand and pull down the lever with the other, then let go. The launcher sends the bird flying right at the AT-AT and those jerky pigs! It’s REALLY satisfying to knock down a bunch of blocks and see the pigs fly. Bonus: If you miss, the pigs don’t make a peep!

Launching things is one of Jack’s favorite past-times these days, so this game had his interest right away. He didn’t seem to have any complaints, although it took him a few tries to figure out how to aim the launcher and determine the necessary distance for his target. Once he got the hang of it, he didn’t want to stop.

I could see older kids getting bored with this ‘game’ somewhat quickly, though – it doesn’t have any rules so it’s more of a toy than a game. Also some may be bothered by the fact that it takes much longer to set up the blocks than it does to knock them down. Jack thinks setting up the blocks is part of the fun, though.

Side note: At a $40 retail value, I would have loved to see this game come with a carrying case because once you assemble the head of the AT-AT, it won’t fit back in the box it came in. If you have babies or toddlers in the house, you’ll want to keep the pig and bird figures away from them as they may present a choking hazard.

Do you live in the U.S. and want to win the AT-AT Attack Battle Game and have your own Hasbro GameNight? Entries will be accepted through May 4th. Modes of entry:

Mandatory:

  • Tweet about this post OR share it on Facebook or Google+ (leave a comment with your tweet URL or Facebook/Google+ info) – 1 entry

Additional Entries:

Good luck and May the Fourth be with you!

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Disclosure: I was provided with the above-referenced product in order to provide my review but am receiving no compensation for this post. All opinions expressed here are my own. For more information on my reviews, please see my disclosure page and my summary of sponsored content.

Decking The Halls

We’re gearing up for Christmas. This is our first Christmas in our new house, so we are pretty excited! It’s been a rough year, but we are taking every opportunity to celebrate life. I’m trying not to let the fact that Jack has a lumbar puncture and chemo scheduled for Christmas Eve get to me. Blech.

Last year our dog ate our stockings, including the personalized knit one I’ve had since I was a child. To write that wrong, I went to Etsy and found an awesome stocking shop called Forshee Designs and now we all have coordinating stockings with our names on them. They are big and sturdy and gorgeous (and we hung them high – out of Lambert’s reach!).

David and I bought ornaments and Christmas lights at Kmart, since we only had decorations fit for a miniature tree (having lived in apartments for so long). David decked the house with white dangling lights and the windows are lined with blue lights. I put snowflake decals in our front window and we have flickering LED candles in all of the windows. That went a long way to making things feel pretty magical.

Our shopping is nearly done. This weekend I did a blitz on getting stocking stuffers at Pier 1 and Target. I also got some holiday crafts to work on with Jack, including a gingerbread cookie decorating kit. I then hung our Stampin’ Up! advent calendar – filled with chocolate and small toys. I’m not super excited about most of the things we got for Jack this year, but I think the top three would be the Little Thinker CDs (a story is told or question asked on the CD and the kid is supposed to draw along with it), the Creatures Card Game and the animated Ewoks DVD (which he may not like at all!).

To complete our home decor, we just need a tree! We’ve decided we’re getting a real tree this year. I found a Christmas Tree farm in our new town where we can cut our own. I remember doing that as a kid and LOVING it. I can’t wait to take Jack and search for our perfect tree and then take it home and decorate it!

One thing I’m super excited about this year is a DVD we got from Your Santa Story. I went onto the website and input Jack’s info and asked that Santa tell him what a brave and strong kid he is. On Christmas morning a note will appear from Santa to tell Jack about the DVD. Santa will then talk right to him and even tell him where his last present is hidden. I can’t wait to see the look on his face! If you want to give your Christmas a little extra magic this year, go check it out.

I thought I would share the other websites I’ve found helpful in getting ready for Christmas this year for those of you who are dragging your feet! I know it can be hard to get started and it can be stressful to spend all that money. We certainly don’t have a lot to spend this year after buying a house, a car, and paying a bunch of copays so we are watching our spending, but the celebration is important to us so I took extra care to find deals and rebates. Maybe you can benefit from my shopping experience via these websites:

  • Pinterest – This is where I keep track of holiday craft ideas, recipes, and gift ideas. You can follow me there if you’d like (not that I profess to have especially great taste). 🙂
  • Ebates – You get a percentage back from merchants you buy from when you click through the Ebates site. It’s free money, so you are screwing yourself if you don’t do it – I’ve gotten over $400 back since I joined in 2008! This year I am getting cash back from purchases on Groupon, Amazon, Tanga, The Children’s Place, eBay and Zulily.
  • Etsy – For unique, handmade anything! There are some really good stocking stuffers to be found (like mojito lip balm), personalized stockings (as mentioned above), or that special thing for that quirky friend of yours who likes things like Velveteen Rabbit necklaces or beard beanies.
  • Threadless – For unique artsy or funny shirts. Everyone loves t-shirts, right?
  • Tanga – A great deal site! I particularly like the deals on board games, such as this 3-pack of Dominion for $60 (we love this game!).
  • Nomorerack.com – This site has a bunch of new and amazing deals every day. There’s a flat rate shipping fee of $2 per item. You can get some really fantastic deals!
  • Naked Wines – Usually it’s a losing proposition monetarily to run a small winery. This company helps independent wine makers distribute their wines without the crazy overhead, which means cheaper and more unique wines for customers! If you click my sidebar button over on the right you’ll get $100 toward a $160 purchase – perfect for stocking up for the holidays.

What are YOU excited about this Christmas?

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This post is not a sponsored post and only contains retailers and products that I would personally recommend; however, some of these links are affiliate links for which I may receive compensation.

iPieces Game Review and Giveaway

The iPad is big in our house. Jack has really taken to it and uses it for all manner of things. It’s been a life saver while dealing with clinic visits and extra time at home! Jack’s favorite thing to use it for, of course, is games. When I spotted the iPieces games from Pressman Toy at BlogHer a few months ago, I got excited. I readily agreed to provide a review and offer you, dear readers, a chance to win an iPieces game of your choice!

 

What drew me to iPieces was not only the fact that they use tangible game pieces (I like things I can hold in my hand!), but that they use the technology of the iPad to offer interactive games that people already know and love. I’ve wanted to share my love of board games with my son, but didn’t desire to have a billion board game boxes lying around the house with missing pieces. These iPieces games come in compact game boxes that are about the size of two decks of cards and have very few pieces!

We received both the Fishing Game and Air Hockey to review. Jack was familiar with the board game version of the Fishing Game, so he went for that one right off the bat. It comes with four ‘fishing rods’ that you use to catch fish and drag them across the iPad screen to a bucket in the corner. There is a pelican that flies by and tries to steal fish from your bucket, so while you are trying to catch fish you also have to keep an eye out and block the bird.

It took two games before Jack got the hang of using the fishing rod – it has a flat end that you have to keep in contact with the screen when dragging the fish. He kept trying to drag too quickly and would end up dropping the fish when the rod rocked and lost contact with the screen. He got the hang of it pretty quickly, though.

The Fishing Game is a four player game, but we just played with two players. We had fun competing to catch the most valuable fish and there was enough room on the iPad screen that we weren’t constantly bumping into one another. I think if there were more players, the difficulty level of the game would be raised a bit and the competitive aspect would ramp up, too, as players fight to find an open spot to catch a fish and try to navigate the other fishing rods to get the fish to their bucket.

Verdict: After we played a few 3-minute games, Jack kept going by himself – the game can be played with only one player, as well. Win! This one is definitely a keeper.

We also tried the iPieces Air Hockey game. This required a bit more of an explanation for Jack since he’d never played air hockey before. I felt a bit bad playing against him when our skill levels are so different. His reflexes just aren’t as fast as mine! This one has two physical mallet pieces, while the puck is digital. I didn’t love the pieces – one of them had gotten chipped during shipping so the round red base kept coming off. The mallets felt too small for adult hands, as well.

The format of air hockey doesn’t translate all that well to a small screen, in my opinion. I can imagine if you got two iPads and each player had their own screen, that would make it so you aren’t constantly coming so close to the midpoint line and the other player. In our case, Jack kept forgetting that he couldn’t cross over the middle line in the court and I don’t really blame him – there’s not a lot of room on the screen to sling those pucks like there is on a real table.

Verdict: The Air Hockey game is probably better for children, although my 6 year old didn’t totally grasp the rules. Teens and adults will probably prefer to play air hockey on a real table where they can stretch out.

iPieces are available for purchase at Amazon, Toys“R”Us, Barnes & Noble, K-mart, Radio Shack, Learning Express, and BJ’s Wholesale Club stores nationwide.

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Now, time for the giveaway! This will be open for entry until Friday, October 26 at 11:59pm and is open to U.S. residents only (sorry, Canucks!). To win a free copy of one of five iPieces games (Fishing Game, Game of Goose, Air Hockey, Snakes & Ladders, or Pool):

1. Leave a comment telling me which game you would like and who you’ll be playing it with – mandatory for 1 entry

2. Go to Facebook and ‘Like’ the EwokmamaBlog page or the one for Pressman Toy (comment that you did this) – 1 additional entry if #1 is completed

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I was provided with a free copy of both of iPieces games for review. I was not compensated for my review and all words are my own. Please see my Disclosures page for additional information pertaining to products reviewed on this blog.

Jack’s Birthday Piñata

I wanted to do something special for Jack’s birthday. I love Jack’s birthday (mine, not so much!). And this year seems extra important, especially considering that most of the craptastic parts of his Leukemia treatment are behind us!

Jack has made two requests for his birthday. The first was that he wants a cake AND cupcakes (no problem – that’s an easily arranged request). The second was actually a wish he stated aloud:

“I wish I could have a piñata at my birthday but with only me hitting it!”

The thing is, Jack is currently neutropenic (immuno-compromised) and we can’t have a big party with a bunch of germ-factory kids hanging around. Instead we will have a small family BBQ and he’ll have two of his cousins to play with. It’s seems lame to me, but I know he’ll have fun anyway. And when his immune system (and our bank account) recovers, we’ll go rent that bounce house we promised him and invite all his friends over to play!

The piñata is Jack’s consolation prize. It’s fairly inexpensive and he’ll get to beat something with a bat and he’ll love it. But what to fill it with when he’s the only kid whacking it? His sweet teeth is almost non-existent since the chemo…

I went searching on Amazon (Prime shipping is a mom’s best friend!) and here’s what I came up with:

Shark piñata (he loves Scooby Doo and dragons too much to hit them with bats)

Filled with chocolate candies and…

Mini Plush Monsters

LED Finger Lights
Glow In the Dark Lizards

Monster Head Suckers

I plan to take a couple of each of these things and give them out to the kids at the party in treat bags, along with pairs of these awesome alien glasses:

I hope he likes everything. It incorporates many of his favorite things and won’t create a ton of clutter! The piñata also doubles as a birthday present ’cause I’m lazy like that.

I’m looking forward to being able to grant him this wish. He deserves it!