Merry Happy Everything

Hello friends!

I know it’s been a little sparse around these parts but I just had to come back to participate in the 5th Annual Bloggy Holiday Card Exchange (partly because I fear the wrath of Meghan).

In all seriousness the friends I have made through this blog, as well as twitter and facebook, have been some of the best I’ve ever had. I can’t thank you all enough for being there through some of the best and worst times in the past few years.

With that, I give you our 2013 Holiday card! Clearly I chose a Happy New Year card because I haven’t actually mailed any of them yet. They’ve been sitting on my table addressed for well over a week, I finally purchased stamps 4 days ago, and yet, there they sit. Oh well. HAPPY MERRY EVERYTHING EVERYONE!

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I feel like I have to explain that it’s super grainy because I had to scan the actual card and I used a very matte, textured paper. I couldn’t use a screen shot from Mpix.com because the preview was so tiny! If you’ve never used them before, I can’t recommend them enough, aside from the small preview I am so happy with every part of my purchase.

Head on over to Meghan’s place to share your card and see everyone else’s!

After the Intermission

Hello friends. It’s been awhile, eh?

If by chance you’re new here then, well, you won’t have noticed my nearly 6 month absence.

I know! Six months! That’s a long time, yo! It’s not like I wasn’t around, I just haven’t been here. I haven’t felt like writing. Or I’ve felt like writing but the words I wanted to share weren’t mine or just weren’t ready to be put in the open. A lot has happened in the last six months. There’s has been plenty of heartbreak and lots of joy. Maybe I’ll write about, maybe I won’t, only time will tell. What I do know is that I’ve missed writing here. I’ve missed capturing the snippets of my life, the crazy things my kids are doing, I’ve missed the connection it gives me to my friends in this space.

So I’m back.

It’s good to be back.

<insert completely unrelated photo of the kids>

kidseaster

Letting Go Is The Hardest Part {Sponsored}

Today I want to talk to you about my cell phone. (I know, don’t you love how my post titles are sometimes ridiculously misleading? I should work on that. You know, right after I actually work on posting more often. HA. Right.)

Moving back to Illinois — while super exciting and great for our family — had its fair share of bullet points in the cons column. We left the best friends we’ve ever had, my proximity to Target is nowhere near acceptable, and there is a serious lack of good eateries here. Most of all though, it meant saying goodbye to my precious, my darling, my one and only iPhone.

Go on and laugh but I was despondent.

All was not lost though, due to lack of service in our area we decided to break our contract with AT&T. In all honesty the only reason I ever moved to AT&T was to have the iPhone. I was never happy with their service. A few months after we moved back we resigned with US Cellular. Walking in to that office was like coming home (pun intended since we moving to Illinois was in fact…coming home. Come on that was kind of funny, no?).

I’ve been in many US Cellular stores and offices and I can tell you that I’m always always greeted with a smile and treated like a friend or neighbor. Not only is their customer service excellent but their coverage is reliable. Considering my job and the fact that we don’t have a land line telephone, it’s really nice to know that I can always depend on getting connected.

In addition to the reliability and service they’ve always been known for, US Cellular has created a new campaign for new and existing customers called Hello Better. (None of that silly business where the great deals are only open to new customers.) Hello Better is a campaign encouraging people to say goodbye to dysfunctional wireless relationships and say hello to a better experience. Goodbye neglect, hello respect.

The biggest change is the addition of a rewards plan. Get this, every month you earn points. You earn points just for doing things like…well just being a customer and paying your bill. Even better you can actually use those points for things you want like faster phone upgrades, accessories, ringtones, and overage forgiveness.

Admit it, this all sounds amazing right? Well settle down because I haven’t even shared the coolest part with you. Are you ready?In addition to passionate associates, U.S. Cellular provides customers with unique benefits such as the industry’s only points-based rewards program, no contract after the first contract ends, free incoming calls and texts, free Overage Protection and free Battery Swap for your device.

Suddenly dependence on a cell phone doesn’t have to mean being held hostage by your wireless carrier. Now if I could just convince someone over there that they need to pick up the new fangled iPhone that was released last week. I really tried to make it work with Android but it’s becoming clear that my phone and I are using totally different operating systems.

Are you unhappy with your wireless service? Maybe it’s time to consider a switch.

Disclosure: I participated in this sponsored post campaign for One2One Network. All opinions stated are my own.

 

When I Grow Up

I remember being a senior in high school, sitting down with my guidance counselor and discussing my career path. I remember what an absolute joke that conversation was. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up and she was absolutely no help to me whatsoever. I went to college with the intention of finding a job where I could work on a computer. No seriously, that was my main stipulation.

I don’t think I have to tell you that I bounced around a bit in terms of majors and ended up with a degree in a field I have no desire to work in. I love graphic design but hooboy am I NOT cut out for that as a 40+ hour a week career.

Today, nearly seven years since I first set off for college, I think I’ve found the job I was looking for all those years ago. I am the newest member of Sway Group/Sway in Real Life. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am for this opportunity. First of all it’s just an amazing group of women, all of whom have been so kind and welcoming to me. I feel like I’ve finally found my place in this community. A place where I can thrive, be successful, and be myself

Going “back to work” after staying home for three years is a little daunting but I’ve never felt more confident in the direction I’m going. Speaking of where I’m going, I hope that I’ll see some of you at upcoming Bloggy Boot Camp stops. I’ll be attending Las Vegas (Oct) and Chicago (Nov).

I’d also like to thank all of you who put in good words for me or spoke highly of me, you’ll never know how much I appreciate it.

 

New York City, You Complete Me…Or Not

Yesterday I made my way — more successfully than others I might add — home from the annual Blogher conference in New York City. I actually attended very little of the conference, but that’s a story for a different day. Here are my thoughts, in list form because it’s the most my brain can handle at this point.

1. Hotel trash cans, the ones under the desks, are not watertight. Thus one should always just take the hit to their wallet and “rent” a mini-fridge for keeping drinks cool. Let’s just say I tried to rig up a trash can with ice for a makeshift cooler and we ended up with a lot of water, most of it in Meghan’s purse. Whoops. As stupid as I felt it led to one of the funniest moments ever in the middle of the McDonald’s in Times Square.

2. I brought ALL flats and I still managed to get massive blisters. I will apparently never learn that NYC requires WALKING SHOES.

3. My fashion-genius friend Ali took me shopping, like real, honest-to-goodness, big girl shopping at Saks. I’ve never been to any Saks, let alone THE Saks on Fifth Avenue. I felt like a total fraud up in that place. True to her word though AliMartell shoved me in a dressing room and threw a bunch of jeans at me and low and behold I found THE perfect pair. I am now a proud owner of a pair of Joe’s Jeans. Scoff all you want but hot damn they are amazing.

4. I seriously enjoyed all the good eats. I tried and loved Cuban food, even if I did choose one of the most bland things on the menu, I give myself massive points for not even balking when Meghan suggested Cuban. Baby steps you guys. I also indulged in LOTS of spaghetti, pizza, cupcakes, and yes even some McDonald’s.

5. Not that I needed it but this trip really served to reaffirm the fact that I have some amazing friends. We laughed and laughed and laughed (even cried a little). Some of my favorite moments were those spent in small quiet circles. I talked with so many great people all while nary a keyboard was touched.

6. I feel, like many I think, that Blogher is out-blogher-ing itself. Maybe it was the NYC location but everything just felt harried. Everything felt crowded, and rushed, and hot, and damp (don’t be dirty, it was humid). The parties, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed in the past, just seemed to dark and too loud. I feel like in the past there was a place, a dimly lit, quieter place that one could have a conversation without screaming. Like Ali said, I think I’m just geriatric.

7. Next year is Chicago, I’m sure I’ll waffle a bit, or maybe a lot, but in the end I’ll be there. I just can’t pass up the opportunity to miss my friends. I’m also really going to try to hit a few of the other conferences out there. I hear that sometimes you do actually learning there.

Until next time my friends.

Toyota Technology

Yesterday I told you a little bit about my love for the Toyota Sequoia, today I want to tell you a little bit about some of the new technology it offers. Obviously this technology can be found in all the new Toyota models.

First up is Entune.

Entune basically takes all the mobile apps that you love on your phone and makes them available through the touch screen system in your car. All you need to do is pair your data enabled smart phone with your car and just like that your favorite apps are available through your car controls and some can even use the voice recognition. Using Entune you can access apps like iHeartRadio and Pandora, you can browse restaurant listings and make reservations, you can check weather and traffic, and even check out gas prices in your area. Best of all Entune is free for THREE years with the purchase of a new Toyota, after that it’s available for a low monthly fee. You can check out all the details on Toyota’s site.

DVD Entertainment System

My kids really enjoyed watching their favorite movies while we were driving around town. Even though they are a little small for headphones I definitely appreciated that when they are turned on I can still listen to the radio. Let’s face it, I hear those movies enough in the house every day. In addition to watching their favorite movies the Sequoia was also equipped with S-video inputs to allow for hook up of video game systems. Truth be told I think taking the Wii along on road trips would be awesome for adults too. We adults get just as bored in the car.

Plug-in Options

I was really a fan of all the available options for plugging in our electronics. On the main dash there was the regular DC plug in, along with a USB plug in, and an auxiliary audio jack. On the back of the center console there was also a regular AC outlet. I can’t tell you HOW much of a lifesaver that would be for those days that the iPad has a dead or nearly dead battery right before we get in the car. It could be plugged in and charging WHILE in use in the back seat.

Dynamic Laser Cruise Control

Admittedly I don’t use my cruise control much but I found a cool new option when driving the Sequoia. The dynamic laser cruise control adjusts your speed to keep a consistent distance between your vehicle and vehicles in front of you. The car will automatically accelerate or decelerate to keep a preset distance. I found it to be a little less useful when driving on a four lane highway where I could just pass someone driving slower than I was, but on two lane highways it was nice to not have to constantly reset my cruising speed.

Another feature that was new to me was blind spot indicators on the side mirrors. Just like a back-up camera I wouldn’t rely on the exclusively but every little bit of extra vision helps.

Disclosure: I was selected for participation in the TWIN community through a program with Clever Girls Collective. I did not receive any compensation for writing this post, or payment in exchange for participating. The opinions expressed herein are mine, and do not reflect the views of the Toyota.

Toyota Sequoia Test Drive

For the past several days I’ve been given the opportunity to test drive a 2012 Toyota Sequoia. I can’t begin to tell you how awesome this car — ok, behemoth SUV really — has been to drive. My husband and I are actually in the market for a large SUV to replace my Toyota RAV4. While I love my RAV, it’s just become a little on the small side, especially if I ever want to be the carpool mom. When I started outlining everything I wanted to share about the Sequoia I realized that it would be best split into two posts. So today I’m going to share my over all likes and dislikes and tomorrow I’ll tell you a little more about all the fancy technology it (along with all the other Toyota models) has to offer.

Likes:

Smooth ride — I spend a fair amount of time driving and riding in large pickup trucks. I expected the Sequoia to be similar but I was shocked to find that it actually has a smoother ride than my RAV4. To me it was very similar to riding in a luxury sedan. I was also impressed at how easily it drove. Sometimes when I’m driving my husbands truck it feels a little like I’m steering a stubborn mule, that was not the case with the Sequoia.

Third row accessibility — The third row steals quite a bit of cargo room (see my list of dislikes below) but it more than makes up for that by being roomy and accessible. I’ve ridden in several vehicles where the third row is cramped and uncomfortable for little kids. I found the third row of the Sequoia to be roomy and comfortable, this was a big deal for me because I may not be very tall but I have really long legs. I was also pleased to find that I could put one (or both) car seats in the back and it was still easy to reach and buckle them in.

In addition to being comfortable I found that it was also easy to get in and out of. There are multiple options for getting the middle seat out of the way. The obvious handle on the side of the middle seat and a foot pedal on the back (top left photo below). There is a flip handle on the top edge of the middle seats to lay them flat. The back seats can be laid down using switches located just inside the rear door and just below the arm rest in the third row (bottom right photo below). The third row also reclines for additional comfort.

 Details — There are so many little things, well thought out little things, about this car. The center console up front has a removable insert that allows for hanging files. It also has built in cubbies in the lid for things such as maps (yes, I still carry old school maps) and Kleenex. Above the rear view mirror there is a sunglasses cubby as well as a pop down mirror for seeing into the backseat. I actually found the mirror a little small, I could see the kids but they couldn’t see me. Chase really likes to be able to see my face in the mirror so he knows I’m listening to him. I also really like the dual visors. I realize that a lot of these things are little but when you factor them all together I think they make a big difference.

Storage — Listen, you guys know me. I’m a total nerd for organized spaces and my car is no different than my house. I spend asinine amounts of time in my car and I’m not even to the point of child-activity-shuttling yet. I carry a lot of stuff and I like that stuff to be organized. The Sequoia is littered with cubby holes and compartments.  In between the gearshift and the cup holders there is a tiny storage area (see the picture above, bottom left corner) this little spot could have just as easily been left as dead space but it’s not. Now, I have no idea what I’d actually put there but I could find SOMETHING. Perhaps the litany of charging cables I carry at any given time. There is also a small compartment below the trunk space that would be perfect for storing extra diapers and changes of clothes for my kids.  The backseat of my current car is my kids’ domain for sure, I keep a lot of stuff on hand to make trips and car time more manageable for me. Right now it all lives in a combination of baskets and small bags. I really like the console in the middle row and all the storage it offers.

 

Dislikes:

Small trunk space — When the third row is upright for passengers the trunk space is nearly non-existent. My double stroller took up nearly the whole area. Our double stroller is actually fairly compact compared to other models. In my RAV4 I can fit the double stroller, a single stroller (full size, not umbrella), and a full load of groceries with a little room to spare. When we take trips I can fit both strollers and a few suitcases. In the Sequoia it would be hard to fit a stroller and several bags of groceries. That said, I think that’s going to be the case with any full size SUV, you trade trunk space for people space.

The price tag — Let’s be honest, with a price tag of $60,000 or better, the Sequoia isn’t really in my price range. At least not a brand new fully loaded model. Compared to other full size SUVs with similar packages, the price is only marginally higher and Toyota’s in general retain their value longer. Any way you slice it it’s looking like my next car will be new only to me.

All in all I was incredibly impressed with this vehicle. Some of my other *likes* were my ability to competently park it and navigate it through a drive through window.

Check back tomorrow to see a roundup of the fancy techno aspects.

Disclosure: I was selected for participation in the TWIN community through a program with Clever Girls Collective. I did not receive any compensation for writing this post, or payment in exchange for participating. The opinions expressed herein are mine, and do not reflect the views of the Toyota.

 

A Little Roadtrip

I remember when I was young my family and I drove to every vacation spot. We drove to Disney World, to Chicago, to southern Missouri, and Colorado. When I was in eighth grade I got on a bus with my classmates and drove to Washington D.C. These days I shudder at the thought of being in the car for more than 45 minutes. Back then though, I secretly loved piling all my stuff in the car and settling in for a long drive. I loved following along on my map, the paper kind, and seeing all the places along the way.

To be fair there fewer “rules” back then. I remember hunkering down with a sleeping back in the back of my dad’s truck, under the topper. Yes, the actual back back, the bed of the truck. I was basically so far removed from safety restraints that I may as well have been tied to the top. While I enjoyed the heck out of those trips I’m not exactly ready to sign up for a cross country road trip with my kids. They’re just a little small for that sort of thing.

In lieu of cross country road trips, here are a few things I plan on doing with my kids.

Train Rides. I didn’t ride a train until I was well into my college years. I’m telling you, if flying isn’t an option or you’re going somewhere relatively close, the train is the way to go. Tickets are much cheaper than airfare, and sometime cheaper than the gas it would take for your car. We’re actually planning to take the kids on the train to Chicago this summer. I think Chase will really enjoy hopping on the train that he sees going through town every day. As for me it means not having to drive, no cramped cars, and no dealing with insane traffic.

Short Car Rides. Someday when the kids are a little older we’ll start taking them on day (or two day) trips around our immediate area. No matter where you live there is bound to be local history, even if it’s only your own. I might take them to see the Lock and Dam on the river where I spent a summer working. Ryan will probably take them to all his favorite hunting spots.

I can’t promise my kids any cross country drives, but I will try to teach them that just like anything else the journey can be just as fun as the destination. If you’re looking to do a little road tripping with your family, or even by yourself, check out Toyota’s new Exit the Highway program. They’ve mapped out locations in over 60 cities that are off the beaten path. It’s definitely worth checking out to find some of the hidden gems in your area.

Disclosure: I was selected for participation in the TWIN community through a program with Clever Girls Collective. I did not receive any compensation for writing this post, or payment in exchange for participating. The opinions expressed herein are mine, and do not reflect the views of the Toyota.

*image courtesy of flickr

Buying American vs Buying Toyota

My husband and I are currently in the market for a new car. We both agree that I really need something bigger and…well…that’s about where our agreeing comes to a screeching halt. He thinks I should get a light color, I want dark. He thinks I need 4WD, I’d be perfectly happy without it. He insists that I buy American (aka not Toyota), I say I can buy Toyota and still buy/support America(n)

In the end the car will be mine so I’ll make the little choices but I really feel like we should be in agreement about the make and model.

After my visit to Toyota last month I am now armed with numerous reasons why buying Toyota is just as good for our economy.

1. There are ten Toyota plants in the US and nine Toyota model cars are produced here.

The newest plant is located just outside of Tupelo, Mississippi and will create around 2,000 new jobs by the end of this year. The new plant is also a zero

2. 365,000 jobs created in the US

That’s a lot of jobs yo.

3. $18 billion direct investment in the US

That’s a lot of money yo.

4. $595 million in philanthropic donations

From their dealer match programs to 100 Cars for Good to their community outreach programs, Toyota is constantly looking for ways to give back to the American people.

 Obviously Toyota is a foreign company and obviously profits from the sale of Toyota vehicles will go oversees, but I think it’s important that people understand that Toyota is striving to make a difference here in the US. The Toyota family –– and that’s what they are, a family –– is committed to not only building better cars but also the people that drive them.

At the end of the day (figuratively speaking, I think car shopping is going to go on for MONTHS) I’m just as likely to end up with a GMC as I am Toyota, but it will NOT be because one is more “American” than the other.

For more information visit the Toyota In Action site.

Disclosure: I was selected for participation in the TWIN community through a program with Clever Girls Collective. I did not receive ANY compensation for writing this post, or payment in exchange for participating. The opinions expressed herein are mine, and do not reflect the views of Toyota.

Let’s Talk About Cartoons Mmmkay?

There are a lot of things I should be talking about instead of cartoons — like how Katelyn turned 18 months (and then 19 months, and soon 20 months), how I’m currently updating my resume so I can start a job hunt (EEEK!), or how I almost totaled my car (I almost hit an Amish buggy, omfg) — but instead I’m going to give you a few of my lingering thoughts about the cartoons my kids are watching these days.

Look, I’m going on vacation starting tomorrow and I just flat out don’t have the brain power for anything more intellectual after washing every article of clothing and dish in my house. I DON’T.

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On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being BIZARRE) how weird is it that I’m considering learning the choreography to the Fresh Beat Band’s “Good Day”? Katelyn is mesmerized by those singing and dancing kids, lately she sits on my lap and let’s me help her dance. I think she would give me lots of cool points if I knew the routine.

I also really want to go to their concert. I wish she wasn’t so damn young so I’d have an excuse.

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Where ARE Max and Ruby’s parents? Seriously though, it’s not like we don’t see their Grandma. Speaking of Grandma, I saw the episode with Grandma’s special box again the other day. It’s just a funny the 900th time around in case you were curious. Go ahead and skip forward to 1:20, that’s where the magic happens, I’ll just be over here snickering.

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Have there always been so many suggestive/adult jokes in Scooby Doo? Some of the older episodes have some real zingers.

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I am constantly amazed by Chase’s viewing preferences. Through the magic of Netflix, Hub, and Cartoon Network he has been introduced to some old school cartoons and to my surprise he actually prefers them over newer shows. Since he is the only person who really uses Netflix, all of the suggestions are geared towards him. I started him out with several popular cartoons and from there he started exploring through the “things you may like” section. Here’s the weird part though, he’s managed to find all of Ryan and I’s favorite cartoons on his own, AND HE LIKES THEM. That’s right, I have a three year old who routinely requests Scooby Doo, Transformers, My Little Pony, and Strawberry Shortcake.

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Speaking of old school cartoons, in his Netflix browsing last week he stumbled on some SUPER old Spiderman cartoon. I’m talking made in 1967 old. You guys, I watched like 3 hours with him, it was HILARIOUS. I want to suggest that you all go look up some episodes but I’m half afraid that you won’t find it as funny as I did and I’ll just look like a loon.

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For reasons I shouldn’t have to explain, this is one of my favorite things on TV right now. Mostly because Chase and I sing this song to each other all day long.