Friday, May 23, 2014

Daily Ramblings - Shark Tank Swag Box!

Not sure if any of you remember my review of Groovebook from a little while back.  They're a company that was funded, and seems to have had some decent success on account of the show Shark Tank.  I got a pleasant surprise last week when I was contacted by the folks over at Shark Tank, who read my review.  Turns out that the show is now going into syndication on CNBC and they offered to send me a swag box for being an avid viewer.  I wasn't going to say no to an opportunity to try out some of the products I've seen on the show!

My box arrived this week and here's what was inside:

- Gobie Water Bottle - This is a cool water bottle with a filter to turn any water into safe drinking water.  I'm super excited to have this and can't help thinking it would have been handy while we were at Disney this month to filter the cloudy looking water from the water fountains!  This will definitely be something that gets regular use.

- Origaudio Fold N Play Speakers - These are self-powering, folding (thus portable) speakers made from primarily recycled materials.  Supposedly they work with our phones, so perhaps that's how I'll test them out.  Husband immediately found these interesting, from an audiophile perspective.  He's very curious to know how they sound.

- Pork Barrel BBQ Sauce - As it turns out, we needed BBQ sauce anyway, so this was a perfect addition to the pantry.  Who doesn't love a good BBQ sauce?  This one seems really well reviewed online, so can't wait to give it a try.  The company has a variety of different sauces and spice rubs available, working out at about $5 bottle + shipping.  Also, there's quite a few recipes available on their website to try, so now it's just a question of deciding what to make.

- Reboot Energy Spray - Admittedly, this is the one item that I doubt I will end up using.  I'm not really into energy products in general, so I suspect I'll let the water cooler fairies at work find it a new home.

- Nuts 'n More Chocolate Peanut Butter - We should all be impressed that I didn't just open this up and start eating it the second I opened the box.  Instead I showed a modicum of self-restraint so that I could take the picture and do this write up first.  I might just go straight back upstairs and dive in with a spoon when I'm done though.  I remember the episode where this was featured and I'm very grateful to have this decadent peanut butter in hand!

Thanks for the folks over at Shark Tank for sending the swag.  I can't wait for more episodes, and to catch some I may not have seen yet.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Daily Ramblings - Surviving Disney with a toddler

Reading the park map, ready to roll.
Now that Owen is comfortable walking and exploring, Husband and I decided it was time to brave the crowds and take advantage of the So Cal resident deal for Disneyland/California Adventure.  I will admit that I was a little nervous leading up to the trip - How was he going to handle waiting in line?  Would he last the day without his usual 2-3 hour nap?  Would he decide to randomly run off into the crowds?  It didn't help that every time we checked the weather leading up to the trip, it got increasingly hotter, seeing as we're in the middle of an unreasonably warm May.  I was not relishing the idea of a crowded theme park in 100 degree weather, but off we went!

The good news is that we had a great time.  I'm not entirely sure what Owen thought of everything.  There were definitely moments when his eyes were bugging out at trying to figure out his surroundings.  Other times, he'd let out an "oooh" when something clicked in his head.  He had moments where he was analyzing his surrounds, other times when he was being a goofball (like when he decided to blow kisses to all the ladies in line behind us).  While we were mentally preparing ourselves for a tired toddler meltdown (and you will definitely see and hear the tired, over-stimulated, screaming toddlers around the park), he made us proud and was a pleasure to travel with.

Before we went, I consulted with my close friend and Disney guru (lifetime season pass holder) on the best way to handle the park with toddler in tow and was given some excellent tips and tricks.  After my experience, here's ten "Surviving Disney with a toddler" tips.    

Waiting in line isn't so bad
when there's so much to look at
1)  Get a hotel right around the park.  They may not be fancy but, for the main part, they're reasonably priced and comfortable enough.  We've stayed at the Camelot Inn and Suites before, and were at the Ramada MainGate this time around.  The hotels in the area will provide cribs free of charge, some have Disney themed rooms/suites that you can rent, and being walking distance from the main park entrance is great if you need to duck out for nap time or to grab a bite to eat off property.


2)  Travel as light as possible!  We took our stroller into the park (although baby wearing is also a great option), stuffed it with diapers, wipes, snacks, change of clothes etc.  Strollers at Disney are kind of amazing - they get left all over the place but nobody messes with them.  I still wouldn't recommend leaving anything valuable in there though.  We had a backpack to carry all essentials that we wanted to keep on us while in line (primarily consisting of the DSLR and some snacks in case Owen got hungry), but our hands were free otherwise.
3)  Bring more snacks than you think you'll need.  We tried to keep it to things that would survive the heat, with resealable packaging!  You can always make "snack packs" with ziploc bags.  In our case, we took popcorn, jerky, dehydrated fruit, raisins, and squeezable pouches.  You also want to make sure to bring plenty of water.  You'll be doing a lot of walking around the park and it is thirsty making.  You can ask for a cup of water at the restaurants, and there are also water fountains around the park (although be warned that it may be a little warm and cloudy looking).  While snacks and bottled drinks are readily available in the park, you will pay a premium and that can add up quickly.  I do recommend the fresh fruit stand by the Jungle Cruise, and anybody that's been will tell you to get some Dole Whip!


4)  Bring comfortable shoes.  This may seem obvious, but appropriate shoes are going to be important and, if you are going to be going for more than one day, I would recommend bringing more than one pair.  I actually changed shoes three times over the course of the two days and was able to escape the park without sore feet.  Definitely look for shoes with arch support and break them in beforehand.   We threw some band-aids in the backpack just in case.
Paradise Pier
California Screamin', ready to roll!
Astro Orbiter
Fist bumping a Storm Trooper
5)  Check height restrictions.  While there are plenty of rides that have no height restrictions at all, it is nice to know which rides with height limits are ok for your child.  32" is the lowest height restriction and Owen, at 32.5", was able to go on a whole set of rides seeing as he met that.  It wasn't always easy to get him to stand up straight so they can check him, but it was worthwhile.  The height restrictions are actually noted for each ride on the park map so you can prepare yourself that way, and hopefully avoid the meltdown that I witnessed from one kid, upset at being the only one in his party too short to ride Indiana Jones.


6)  Download an app.  There's a whole variety of apps out there that will give you approximate wait times for rides.  We used Mousewait.  Seeing as our plan was to limit waiting in line to 20 minutes if possible (which we figured was the upper limit on keeping Owen entertained in a confined space), this was a great way to see what rides were relatively free at any given time.  The beautiful thing about Disney though is that they do try to keep the lines interesting at least, so there should be various things to look at while you're waiting and you can turn that into a game to keep the little ones entertained. 
7)  Use FastPass wisely.  The rides where you can get a FastPass are clearly marked on the map, but keep in mind that the FastPass distribution isn't always right next to the ride.  The great thing about FastPass is that you can go do something else before your scheduled return time, thus avoiding lengthy waits.  There are some rides where the FastPass is really in demand (such as Radiator Springs in Cars Land) - FastPasses were sold out within the first hour and the line to even get one was over 25 minutes.  We actually decided it wasn't worth our while, so we skipped over it.  The FastPass we got for Roger Rabbit ended up being a happy accident because we rode it twice in a row, once by waiting in the regular line, then we immediately hopped back on with our FastPass.


8)  Single rider is a great option.  Not every ride offers single rider.  We used it for California Screamin' and Indiana Jones.  You get a ticket from one of the cast members, and they will direct you where to go (which in the case of Indiana Jones is actually through the exit).  When you get to the front, you wait until they call for a single rider, then you give them your ticket and go!  Both times I used it, I was on the ride straight away.  This meant that one of us could stay with Owen and do a toddler friendly ride in the meantime. 

Checking out Flik's Flyers
Owen rode the carousel three times while we were
taking advantage of single rider on California Screamin'
Disneywasted!
9)  Trade something.  You can trade both pins and Vinylmation figures in the park.  Pins can be traded with cast members, which I got to witness a couple times and it was very cute.  In our case, we had some Vinylmation to trade, which can be done at specific locations in the parks, and Owen had a good time picking his mystery box number, then carried around the figures he received in his trades.


10)  Take your time.  Gone are the days when Husband and I could go to the park and knock out everything we wanted to do in a morning.  You don't need to see and do everything to have a good Disney experience.  Pick a few things you'd like to hit and consider everything above that a bonus!  Don't forget to get a little down time for relaxation and take cues from your child.  Simple things, like watching the horse drawn trolleys go by on Main Street, or spending a little while cooling off in the theater, was time well spent.  In our case, sitting and watching the ducks for a while, then a short stroll, is what eventually got Owen to nap.  There is so much to do that it's impossible to do it all in a day. 
We probably won't be going back again for a little while, and there's no shortage of theme parks in So Cal that we might visit before heading back to the Magic Kingdom, but I left the trip excited to take Owen again.  I guess we did something right!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Daily Art - Foto Friday, Meerkat Edition

Why meerkats?  Why not.  Here's some meerkats I photographed at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.  They look like they're having a great time.  Hope your Friday is just as fun!


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Daily Bargain - Library book score!

When I was a kid, my parents would drop me off at the local library and I would read books until it was time to walk to my tap dance class.  It was a Saturday morning ritual that I enjoyed, being the avid reader that I was.  Currently, I'm a member of two local library networks and it's become somewhere to take Owen, who I've been reading to since he was born.  He seems to have inherited a healthy enjoyment of books and we share a nice, long story each evening before bed.

This week, the Burbank library annual book sale was happening and I took the opportunity to head over there on a lunch break.  All children's books were $0.25 - can't beat that for a bargain.  20 books and $5 later, I hauled 2 gigantic bags of books back out to the car, half expecting for somebody to stop and accuse me of theft!  Including the 5 books I bought at a different library branch the week before, Owen's bookcase is definitely a lot more packed this week. 

As it turns out, I'm attracted to beautiful illustrations, especially if they involve dragons.  One of the books was signed by the author, so a definite collectible, while another was signed by Mickey and Minnie Mouse back in 1998.  We're debating taking it back to Disneyland with us when we go in a few weeks and seeing if we can get it signed again!  Not only was this a vast assortment of books, they were also in excellent condition.  Owen has been carrying around the two Thomas The Tank board books since I got them, even insisting he take them to daycare, where I was informed he shared them with the group. 

So, if you have a library near you, I highly recommend looking to see if they have a book sale coming up.  It's a great way to expand your book collection without breaking the bank, plus you get to support your local library, which is never a bad thing.  I've included the full list of books we purchased below as they are highly rated and we've really enjoyed all the ones we've read so far!







That's All Folks: The Art Of Warner Bros. Animation by Steve Schneider
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame  Disney
Ignis by Gina Wilson
Hieronymus Betts And His Unusual Pets by M. P. Robertson
Lucia And The Light by Phyllis Root and Mary GrandPre
Magic & Mischief: Tales From Cornwall by Shirley Climo and Anthony Bacon Venti
Olivia by Ian Falconer
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and William Nicholson
Something Special by David M. McPhail
Garfield Stories by Jim Davis
Dancing Dinos At The Beach by Sally Lucas and Margeaux Lucas
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
The Cat In The Hat by Dr. Suess
The Cat In The Hat Comes Back by Dr. Seuss 
Stop, Train, Stop! by Rev. W. Awdry
A Crack In The Track by Rev. W. Awdry
The Train Of States by Peter Sis
About Dinosaurs: Little People Big Book by Time-Life Books
Baby's First Library ABC by Yoyo Books
The Enchanted Forest by Ben Marcus
Uncle Lester's Hat by Howie Schneider
Twenty One Elephants And Still Standing by April Jones Prince
Once Upon A Cloud by Rob D. Walker and Matt Mahurin
Paddington's Loose End Book by Michael Bond
The Sea Serpent And Me by Dashka Slater and Catia Chien

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Daily Dish - Chicken, asparagus pizza

Well, now that the kitchen is done, we're back to being able to cook in it regularly.  It's a joy!  I'm making a conscious effort to keep the excessive number of appliances we have off the counters as much as possible.  I'm also making an effort to use them more! 

My little brother is general manager of a very high end restaurant, so qualifies as a mega-foodie.  As it turns out, he has been known to sneak around our kitchen, when visiting, to evaluate what appliances we might be missing, and then fills in the blanks for holiday gifts.  That is how we ended up with our bread machine.  We weren't particularly happy with the pizza dough recipe that came in the instructions booklet, so gave this one a shot, which turned out nicely.  I made a double batch so that we could freeze half for later.  I definitely enjoyed the convenience of being able to attend to the little one while the machine worked it's dough magic - hands free!  Of course, you could make your own pizza using a store bought dough or base as well.

Chicken asparagus pizza

- 1 cooked chicken breast, cut into cubes
- 4oz skinny asparagus (cut into 2" pieces)
- 1/2 medium onion (thinly sliced)
- 1/2 red bell pepper (sliced)
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup grated mozarella cheese
- 4 tsp olive tepenade

Pre-heat the oven to 425.  If using raw dough, roll out the dough and put onto the pizza pan.  Once the oven is at temp, put the prepared dough in the oven for about 5 minutes to crisp the top.  This prevents it from becoming soggy once the toppings are added.  Remove from oven and add toppings - use the olive tepenade as your base, then top with mozarella cheese, chicken, veggies, and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes.  Enjoy! 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Daily Ramblings - Kitchen Reno Completed aka I'm A Slacker (Part 2)

I must apologize for my unexcused absence.  I've had photos of our kitchen renovation on my camera for a few weeks now and just never got around to taking them off, or posting about anything at all.  So, here we are and I do want to share these, seeing as you got to see the before photos!

The project took a little over 2 weeks total.  We kept the existing cabinets and all the appliances, except the dishwasher, which we switched to stainless steel to match the rest.  We added new ceramic floor tile, "tan brown" granite, glass mosaic backsplash, stainless steel sink and faucet, cabinet hardware, and under cabinet lighting.  We ended up getting a new water heater installed, adding a light above the pantry, refinishing the ceiling, and removing the garbage compactor which served no purpose other than to remind us that the 1980s happened.  I can hardly recognize the white/bland kitchen that was there before now it's been replaced with a warm and happy space.



Renovations with a toddler in the house?  Not the most fun thing ever, but this was the biggest and most inconvenient one we have planned.  Unlike doing a bathroom where you may have other bathrooms to use in the meantime, most houses only have the one kitchen, which makes life hard when you don't have access to it, especially considering we cook a lot in our house.  


We still have a bathroom and living room space to work on, but for now, we'll take a break in our (finally) dust free space!  Back to regularly scheduled programming...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Daily Baby - Owen's First Year

We just got the photobook of Owen's first year in the mail.  I'm really proud of myself for weeding through the couple thousand photos, keeping it down to only 88 pages, and actually finishing it before he started Kinder.  I know I can't bring the book around to share with everybody, as much as I'd like to (although if you're ever at our house, you're more than welcome to peek), so I made a short video from the scrapbook pages that I created.  I really hope I captured the essence of the tiny little goofball I'm proud to call my son!


The scrapbook pages were created using My Memories digital scrapbooking software.  I ended up ordering the book through Winkflash, who were having a flat page book sale (up to 100 pages for a flat rate, which saved me $66 according to my checkout receipt).  I'd say they run that sale a few times a year, so worth looking out for if you have a big book in the works.  Winkflash seems to be a lesser known printing company, but they do good work and the only complaint I have about their photobooks is that they don't print the album title on the spine.  

Anyway, enjoy!  I'll be back soon with those kitchen before and after photos!