Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Other Car is an Earth Mover

Uh, yeah, so I came home yesterday and found this in the driveway. It's related to work we're doing in the basement. If you thought our basement looked bad a week ago, wait 'til you see what's up now. And by that I mean it's even worse.

Way worse.

Details soon over at Reluctant Renovator!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chicago: I See London, I See France

I see Marilyn Monroe's underpants. Yep, that's hubs in there somewhere. There were fewer crowds in back and we are all about avoiding lines.

 {Insert your own pantyline joke here cuz I couldn't think of one.}

Want to see her from the front? Odd choice for a very large public work of art, but it gives us something to talk about besides the weather.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Soda Stream Review

The bottle of Soda Stream root beer I brought home from the Housewares Show was the topic of much discussion and product lust, so I got in touch with the PR rep and she sent us the make-your own soda machine to review

The Soda Stream is easy to use and does not require electricity. It's simple and fun to mix up fizzy water on demand and flavor it as desired. Along those lines a certain boy in our house learned the hard way that one does not make a chocolate phosphate by carbonating a bottle full of chocolate milk (seriously folks, don't try this at home).

{pause to pour a glass for sipping}

Along with the Soda Stream unit, we received a CO2 cartridge that will make us about 60 liters of bubbly drinks, two one-liter bottle for making drinks and enough flavoring to last us all year.

Let me break that down a bit. The gas cylinders, or carbonators, can be returned through participating retailers and then the Soda Stream folks inspect, clean and refill them for re-use. The plastic bottles can be washed at home with hot soapy water and re-used, so there's a green element to this system. At the Housewares Show, they had some impressive displays indicating the amount of waste plastic drink bottles create to reinforce the environmental advantages of Soda Stream.

{pauses for sip}

There are a variety of Soda Stream flavor options. Flavor syrups include a variety of traditional options (cola, ginger ale, root beer) in regular, diet, energy and caffeine-free and Sparkling Iced Teas. These retail for $4.99 and up per bottle and make 12 liters or equivalent of 33 12-ounce cans at a cost of about 25 cents a can, according to their website.

Another option is the unsweetened Flavor Essences which retail for $9.99 and make up to 20 liters.

And they also have a sparkling natural line made with cane sugar and without artificial colors or flavors. Woot! Though it's a bit pricier at $9.99 for 6 liters.

We like that it Soda Stream makes bubbly drinks in a few simple steps and that we can mix and match our own flavors, or just drink our fizzies plain. It would be nice if flavorings could be added more simply per glass rather than per liter, so the hubs could drink his plain, I could add a bit of lemon-lime and the boys, well, they'd just go nuts with flavor combos.

If you're a big pop drinker, just enjoy a fizzy sip or two now and then, or like to impress your friends, the Soda Stream will hit a sweet spot with you. Try it, you'll like it. And if you don't Soda Stream offers 30 day money back guarantee.

Soda Stream prices start at around $80 and go up based on the model. You can find them at Bed, Bath and Beyond and other retailers.

Disclosure: I received a Soda Stream maker and many sodamixes to review. All opinions are mine. Ask me for a drink with your choice of flavor when you stop over to see my new house.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Win a Kohler Kidz Wisconsin Getaway

In early June, just days before closing on our new-to-us abode, we headed up to Kohler, Wisconsin for a housemoon.  You know, like a babymoon or honeymoon, only for home ownership.

I'm going to pat myself on the back and say the housemoon concept is rather brilliant. Also, Kohler is the perfect place to take one. I received a bit of inside info on shower and bath trends at a meeting with a Kohler PR rep, but anyone can meet with Kohler design staff and take in sights at the Design Center like the Great Wall of China, as well as dreamy designer bathrooms.

Still, I understand maybe you'd want to go to Kohler to fall in love with your family, not a sink.

Horrible phone camera shot of a lovely vanity/sink
Fair enough. Kohler's American Club Resort has a lot to offer families, though I think it's best for families with kids who are age 5 or up.

We stayed at the Inn on Woodlake, the modern young cousin to the more stately American Club. I think I would have spent a lot more time shushing my boys at the latter. That said, I have a cautionary note about the shower from our room at the Inn, which might be a bit intimidating to young children. My boys (husband included) loved the "car wash" shower in our room, but the showering experience is a bit intense at first and we didn't have a tub.

Water can spray out of all of those squares, or shower tiles.
The showers were a lovely treat; DH wants something similar for our new house. But if you really want to take your relaxing Kohler experience up a notch, make time to visit the Kohler Waters Spa.

Ah, I got hung up on the bathrooms again. Sorry.

The resort has n indoor swimming pool at the Sports Core or outside in Wood Lake proper, as well as ice skating in the winter. They have bikes that can be rented for touring the small village. And though not an official resort activity, we caught a horse drawn carriage one beautiful night and clip-clopped through town, which is by all accounts modern day Mayberry.

For big kids, there's horseback riding.

Not to mention hiking or golfing. And if hitting the links isn't your bag, hit the shops at Woodlake, instead.

If you have really big kids, 14 and up, you can go on a fascinating factory tour.

And oh, the food.
What? Chocolate counts!
If you're with the kiddos, you might skip the upscale dining experience at The Immigrant and opt for the Horse and Plow. Apparently there's a state law requiring every Wisconsin tourist to eat at least one batch fried cheese curds and you can get a big, hot order with your dinner. If you want to go really casual, pick up local produce, artisanal Wisconsin cheese and other local delicacies or order sandwiches to go from Woodlake Market.

Oh, how I regret not buying this.

We kept busy during our short time in Kohler, but if you're feeling antsy (or just not as into kitchen and bath fixtures as I currently am) there's even more family fun to be had in nearby Sheboygan, like the children's museum. (Oh look, Kohler is their donor of the month.)

So you've got your food, your fun, your family time. What more could you want?

Free, you say?

Okay, you can win a Kohler Kidz package with:

   * Two nights at Inn on Woodlake
    * Kohler Kidz Amenities
          o A gift from Movers & Shakers Kids Toys Gift Shop (featuring all kinds of fun that doesn't require batteries)
          o Baseball Hat and wristband
          o Smoothie at Take 5 (yum!)
          o Special treat at Craverie (small, but super yum!)
          o One meal at Horse & Plow (don't forget the cheese curds)
          o Complimentary breakfast buffet
          o Rental of select activity equipment (i.e. free kid's bike rental when you rent one)
    *  20% discount on services at Kohler Waters Spa (do not pass this up!)

The Kohler Kids Package starts at $371 a weekend at the Inn of Woodlake. Rates based on a two-night stay for two adults and one child. But you can win one for free, plus Kohler will provide amenities for up to two children under age 16.

 Would you like to win a Kohler Kidz weekend? Enter to win  at Reluctant Renovator through July 24!

I'm Going to BlogHer11!

Come Talk to Me at BlogHer '11!It's true, I'm going to BlogHer11. When I first attended in 2007, I thought I'd never go again. At BlogHer08, I had a great time, but figured that was my last. Then its came back to Chicago in 2009. How could I stay away?

But by in 2009, even though I had many friends in the space BlogHer felt too large for me and I decided to focus on smaller conferences. 2009 was also the year of the swag-whores. I was done with BlogHer, especially since there are so many great blog conferences are there now.

But after giving away my tickets to Type-A Parent and EVO, and feeling mired in many issues related to our reno house, I decided BlogHer11 in San Diego would be a nice place to be. And then I won a ticker from Mommy Needs a Cocktail and thus, booked a flight.

On a personal level, I want to see my friends. I'd like to learn a few things, especially since I'm approaching my new blog with a different mindset than built this one with back in 2005. I'm interested in connecting with a handful of brands. I'm going to run participate in the 5K.

I'm not concerned about being at the right parties or gathering the most or coolest swag, though if I can win a tablet or something for my new home, I'm game. 

On a professional level, I mostly want to take in the scene and note how the space has evolved is evolving in order to best serve my consulting clients.

Will I see you there?!

I'll be reposting some of my BlogHer prep and wisdom posts in the coming weeks. These old posts are not so much about what to wear, but how to be.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Goal Zero Provides Portable Power to Brighten Dark Moments

It seems that every few years we lose power as the result of a storm. And in the last three years, it seems we've headed to the basement because of tornado warnings more than I can ever remember doing in the past. While there's something cozy about the family gathered together in one room, blankets and flashlights at the ready (it's a cold basement), we have modern worries beyond, say, whether the food in the refrigerator will spoil if the power fails.

What about our gadgets?!

Granted, Tweeting a tornado isn't a priority for me, but keeping some form of communication with the larger world is important during an power outage. That's where GoalZero comes in. I met these leaders in the portable solar technology field at the Travel Goods Association Show when they passed along a handy solar-powered flashlight.

Goal Zero was founded by an entrepreneur who saw a need for renewable power and light based on his work with a nonprofit in the Republic of Congo.

They sent me a Goal Zero Guide 10 Adventure Kit to review* play around with and share some thoughts. The Kit consists of a Nomad Solar Panel and the Guide 10 USB Power Pack. It will charge cell phones, PDAs, PSPs, iPods or MP3 players, and USB devices as well as AA and AAA batteries. Other models will charge laptops, and even TVs or fridges.

But back to the Guide 10. It allows us to charge from the solar panels (as pictured above) or from the battery pack. According to GoalZero, we can charge the battery pack, which also functions as a LED flashlight, in 3-5 hours. The pack can also charge a cellphone 1-3 times per charge. (Note to self: if I want to use this in emergencies, I need to make sure to keep it charged up.)

Confused? This video explains it all.

The ability to use the solar pad directly to power or charge devices, gives us some geek chic cred. In fact, I might just bring it with to the beach today. Though I fear then my son's teen friends will want to play killer zombie games, rather than in Lake Michigan, so maybe not.

This is a very portable system, with its lightweight, foldable design and weather-resistant finish. It has a built in flap to store, say, a cell phone or iPod but it doesn't have a pocket for storing the other cables and adapters included in the kit. This does not make mama happy.

In our techy household we already have a whole mess of cables and adapters, and it irks me to add to the mess. Plus, if we were to use the Guide 10 Kit for camping, it could be even more of a challenge not to misplace anything.

Other than that, the Guide 10, our first foray into portable solar power, if pretty cool. You can find Goal Zero products at a variety of outfitters and sporting goods stores. Retail price for the Guide 10 is around $139.95.

Also, if you like to camp, check out my air mattress giveaway over at Reluctant Renovator.

*Disclosure: I had the option to keep this product for a set amount of time and then return to the company or purchase it at a steep discount. The teen ponied up the money to keep it.

We lost power AND this tree in a local park.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Yeah, I'm on Google+

I scored an invite to Google+ thanks to Arpana from Parentella. It's interesting to see how quickly things evolve from, "Uh, I'm here. Now what?" to real sharing and genuine enthusiasm for the service. I see G+ as more of a Twitter killer than a Facebook one. I can see my social media peeps crossing over the G+ due to factors like the social circles, not to mention conversation in more than 140 characters. But I can't see the average Josephine switching over. At least not now.

For more commentary on Google+, check out this comprehensive list of articles from Deb Ng.
Also worthwhile, is this read on privacy settings.

And if you're on G+, let's circle up!

Friday, July 08, 2011

World of Whirlpool and Induction Cooktops

I feel like I lost a solid week or two pre and post bar mitzvah and now I'm trying hard to catch up. (Editor's note: How cute. I wrote that on May 17. Ugh.) I'm also launching a new blog that's keeping me busy (since launched...).

I recently had a chance to visit the World of Whirlpool Product Experience Center in Chicago and learn about their new appliances. The Whirlpool lines include Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid and Jenn-Air. I showed up with a special kitchen issue of Consumer Reports in hand because I am that dorky and many of Whirlpool's products received top ratings.

Knowing I have a kitchen and bath(s) redo, not to mention a new laundry room in my future, I thought this event would provide a good opportunity to learn about new appliances and visit with some of my blog friends.

Chicago is also home to the Kenmore Live Studio (a former client). I think it's interesting to note the different approaches these two companies took. Whirlpool's Center is quite, sophisticated, elegant and elite.

Kenmore, on the other hand, is practically a fishbowl. Located in a busy part of the city, in a street level corner studio with glass walls, Kenmore is for the people. And by the people, too. Parent groups, bloggers, even the Confection Industry trade group have used the space. It seems to me anyone with a good idea and a bit of enthusiasm can host a program there. They even launched their own reality web show.

One thing both Whirlpool and Kenmore have in common is their love of induction cooktops. Their PR folks proclaim that induction cooking is the wave of the future.

Induction cooking is, well, let's just call it electro-magnetic magical and note that in order for it to work, you need ferrous, or iron-containing pots and pans (hint: a magnet will stick to them). Seriously, though, here's a read about the science behind induction cooking.

Induction cooking is the most fuel efficient way to cook.

Not only does it waste less energy, but it heats up more quickly. 

It's safer if you have little ones around because the cooking element heats up the pot, not the surface. Therefore if junior turns the stove on and there's no iron pot on the element, nothing will get heated up- there's no danger of burns or burning down the house. Cool, huh?

So why aren't the masses rushing to buy induction cooktops and ranges?

The unit may require an upgrade in your kitchen wiring.

You may need to buy new pots and pans. Out of the dozen or so pots and pans around my parents house, I only found one ferrous pot. This adds an expense to an already expensive new appliance. Also, of the many pots and pans on the market, only a few lines have labels noting compatible cooking surfaces. I'm not in the habit of bringing a magnet when I shop. Are you?

If you have a gas stove, it's likely cheaper to use than induction, even though it's not as energy-efficient.

I think another key deterrent is that few people know someone who actually owns and cooks with an induction cooktop. Who wants to be the first of their friends to take a gamble on such a costly purchase?

I don't know if there's induction cooktop trade group, but I think a massive sampling program is in order if appliance manufacturers want induction to catch on.

When I worked with Kenmore, they provided a handful of bloggers with induction cookpads, which not only made for the fabulous swag, but in hindsight, was a brilliant move. (Even more brilliant because the pad came with an induction-friendly pan.)

I have one of those induction pads and plan to experiment with it in the coming weeks*.

We're rewiring the entire house, buying new appliances and gave away/sold/tossed our scratched up old pots and pan, so many purchase barriers have been eliminated. However, out kitchen has natural gas service, which means low operating costs, and likely a lower appliance purchase price, as well.

We could stick out necks out and go induction. Or we can stick with a gas range.

What do you think we should buy?

Do you have induction? (This is difference than a glass top electric unit.)  Do you know someone who has an induction cooktop?

I want to thank the folks at Whirlpool for an informative day (read a more detailed account over at West of the Loop) as well as as kitchen design an appliance inspiration, not to mention one of the best meals I've had all year.

*Given the lag time from draft to posting, I already started playing around with induction a bit more and will share my findings at Reluctant Renovator.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

I Make Plans and the Universe Laughs

Despite the shortened workweek, the was my BIG week to Get Things Done. We closed on the house just days before the boys got out of school which resulted in June being one big blur of camp carpools and meetings with service providers of every strips and color (nice skunk catcher reference, huh?).

On Monday, we sent the tween off for two weeks in Wisconsin (sniff) and the Teen started at a dream-like weeklong, full-day tech camp, because who doesn't want to spend their summer learning JAVA?

Tuesday we had a fairly long meeting with one of the potential contractors and Wednesday (yesterday) I planned to really dive in and start checking things off of my to-do list.

And then...

And then we had a Comcastrophe*. The Internet went out**.


After hemming and hawing and pacing about I realized this was a SIGN that I should clean up around the house (not on my to-do list, but one can argue it should have been up at the top of it) and then maybe catch up on some biz bookkeeping, which I did.

Later in the day I was allowed access to my mom's mifi unit (a portable wireless network basically) and in the evening, there were four of us huddled around the mifi, like cold beggars gathered around a trashcan fire in the middle of winter. Pitiful. Especially since the little mifi couldn't really handle all of us at once.

Today? Today, I work.

* I wish I coined this clever term, but alas, did not.
** Neighbors had some work done and someone snipped our cables!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

I'm Speaking at Bloggy Boot Camp Chicago

I'm thrilled to be speaking on Monetization to a maximum capacity crowd at the upcoming Bloggy Boot Camp Chicago. The conference, err camp, takes place on August 20 at the Chicago North Shore Renaissance Hotel.

It's practically in my back yard. If the house isn't in shambles by then (and let's be honest, for the sake of my sanity, I am hoping it is), perhaps I will host a bloggy little shindig in my backyard.

Will you be there? Any specific aspect of monetization you'd like to see addressed during my preso?

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Gotcha! A New Family Game from Buffalo Games

My family was invited to review Gotcha! the new family game from Buffalo Games. This seemed like a good thing to try out at our new house given that we don't have any Internet service there and even our cell phones get spotty reception. Thus, we have no choice but to interact as a family.

Gotcha! is a zany game in which the rules are always changing depending on which cards are played. One of my boys is a stickler for the rules, the other likes to bust his brother for breaking them. That makes this a great game for my family, even if they are a little young for it according the the packaging, which recommends it for ages 14 and up.

What do I mean about the rules changing? There are cards that dictate who should follow a given rule (males, anyone wearing glasses, etc.) and then there are cards that dictate what that person, or class of people, has to do (apologize before each turn, burp whenever the player to the right takes a turn).

If a given player misses her cue, another player hits the big red buzzer and moves his peg ahead on the game board, while rule breaker moves her piece back.

We've played it twice so far without managing to declare a winner because of the resulting silliness (and okay, the boys maybe get a little too heated in their arguments about who broke which rule), but we're mostly about the process anyway. And the process of playing this game has involves much laughter, so it's all good.

With a recommended retail price of $27.99, it's a bit on the high end, so you might want to wait for a sale or search for a coupon, but Gotcha! can be a raucous party game (up to 8 can play at once) in addition to being a as well as a fun family game.

Disclosure: I was sent this game to review. All opinions are my own.