Sunday, August 16, 2009

Road trip with the redheads

This is a compensated review from Blogher and Shell Family of Cards. But, seriously, girls, if I hadn’t had my Shell card, we would’ve had to spend that yard sale cash on gasoline. Tragic.

Carolyn and Katie and I strolled down the boardwalk. We tossed our (various shades of) red manes in a devil-may-care attitude. I stopped in for a latte, diet be damned. Carolyn indulged in the wine sampler bar. She wasn’t driving! She had charge of exactly zero minors. Katie opted for a little of each. Carefully roasted coffee beans, carefully fermented grapes, care-free girls’ night out.

Ooh, string three of those nights together and make that a girls’ road trip!

Once a year the three caballeras (is that even a word?) ditch their 10 collective children and their three long-suffering husbands for a three-day road trip. To make a girlfriend getaway extravaganza, mix together equal parts gossip, coffee, antiquing (junking?) and photo excursions. Add a liberal dash of laughter and of course the use of my husband’s (relatively) hot black sports car. Our Chevy Suburbans and our husbands must be parked at home with the kids … and that being done, the carrot-top moms are on a vacation a la Thelma and Louise. Only without Brad Pitt. Or the tragic ending. But you know what I’m saying.

There are worse things than driving off a cliff. Using one of these, for instance:

This year it was our goal to spend our long weekend at the fabulous farm chicks gathering in Idaho. But a little counsel from the guys convinced us the 10- to 12-hour drive each way might harsh our buzz a little. So we opted for a coast jaunt to the literarily famous Sylvia Beach Hotel in Nye Beach, Oregon. A little over three hours’ drive, it’s the perfect distance for finding lots of cute antique shops and photo opportunities along the way.
Not to mention the occasional farm sale.

Or the holy grail of road trip treasure hunters everywhere: a country church yard sale.

The only problem we encountered, persay, was how to take home Katie’s eight-foot tall shelf project. Remember, we’re driving the sexy-but-no-cargo-room car. Dang. Every road trip has its bummer and thus Katie had to leave behind her treasure to dream of finding another such shelf another day.

All told, we spent six hours cruising from sale to sale, filling the available trunk space with treasures including vintage linens and books. Lots and lots of books. The back roads of coastal Oregon are chockablock with sales in July. And other than that aptly named Paradise Road stretch, I’m not giving away any of the locations. So sorry. A girl’s gotta have some secrets.

Because clearly, if the word got out, this guy might run out of stock at next year’s sale. It’s a planter! And two birdhouses! And it’s embellished with a metal moose. Wait. Is that a moose? A bear. We think.
Sooner or later we either ran out of cash or room in the trunk or both. It was time to get serious about putting some miles under the tires to reach our bookish destination of the Sylvia Beach.

The Sylvia Beach Hotel is named after a famous patron of writers from the 1920s. Sylvia owned the Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company, which storefront by the way is glimpsed in the recently released movie Julie and Julia.

The Oregon hotel named after Sylvia perches above the surf on a dramatically rocky cliff. There are no phones, no televisions. Just a third-floor library with views to capture your heart and 10 p.m. complementary mulled wine to enhance the late-night giggling. Each room is themed after a different author. We three shared the spacious and lovely Emily Dickinson room when we weren’t exploring the library or the neighborhood’s nearby bookstores and tea shops. Hotel cats Keats and Shelley snuck in each night to share our smoked salmon snacks.

We played “two truths and a lie” at the Tables of Content restaurant. We walked the boardwalk. We took lots of photos; I filled four separate 2 gig cards. Don't ask me what a gig is, but it's a lot of photos. We laughed so hard I think it qualified as an ab workout. Didn’t it?

We never once had a peanut-butter-and-jelly request interrupt our conversation or our quiet.

In short, we recharged our batteries and returned to our families better and happier than we left. There’s nothing like a road trip with good friends to do that. In fact we’re already planning to pull Katie’s deluxe travel trailer to Idaho next year. There’s no telling how much we can fit in that Airstream. Oh, and we can sleep in it too, thus saving the would-be hotel money for, you know, more treasure.

Check out the other BlogHer reviewers' tales from the road.
The Shell family of cards is great for Summer road trips.

“For a limited time only, Shell is offering a return of 30 cents per gallon on the first 100 gallons purchased with a Shell Card within a 90-day period. The promotional savings is available at all Shell-branded stations nationwide for those who sign up and are approved for a new Shell Card from June 29, 2009 to September 30, 2009.”
What's the best road trip you've ever taken? Was it alone? With new friends? Family? I'd love to hear about it!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Intelius Simplifies Safety, Awareness

This is a compensated Blogher review for the Intelius product called “Neighborhood Watch.”

Neighborhood Watch is part of an online service that allows folks to check for sexual offenders and other criminals living in their neighborhood – or the area surrounding school, the park, Grandma’s house. The Intelius site also offers reverse cell phone searches as well as free people searches through their iSearch product. In addition to Intelius’s data search service, the free search engine allows you to quickly and easily uncover information about anyone.

But it’s the sexual offender search that we Bloghers (click for a roundup of some amazing blogging women giving feedback on this same product) are assigned to review. I think some others are reviewing background search cababilities... as in, your potential new renters or boyfriends or, better yet, your DAUGHTER's potential boyfriend.

I'm assigned to look at the Neighborhood Watch product.

This feels like a serious responsibility.

You might know from my Farm Suite musings that I’m mom to four girls. You might further imagine that my husband and I are protective of our daughters – and in this you’d be dead right. Even before our first girl was born, we were diligent to check police records on the neighborhood in which we bought our first home. We did our best, we did.

We talked to neighbors who had young children. We read the statistics. Maybe 10 years ago there weren’t any readily available ways to search the sexual offender registries. I don’t know, but I know we didn’t specifically search for that. The internet was newish, and we weren’t yet parents. We were satisfied with the information we uncovered. It took hours, and digging, and driving, and phone calls.

I learned a lot more in three minutes with Intelius than I did all those hours on my own.
Bear in mind, my education and career path have heavy doses of investigative journalism. I know the places to look. But immediately upon loading my current address, Intelius let me know:

“Intelius is searching billions of current utility records, court records, county records, change of address records, property records, business records, and other public and publicly available information to find what you’re looking for.”

That was reassuring to me.

My initial Intelius search, in which I entered our home address, did not reveal any concerns within five miles of our current home. Granted, we live in a fairly remote rural village. I was relieved by this information... but was it truly "information" ... could I trust that Intelius would find such a threat if it had existed in my area?

For my next search I entered the address of an investment property we own. The house is 12 or 13 miles away from us in a small town. This Intelius search answered my question when it came back with several folks who have scary criminal records who were reported to be living within blocks of that house.

This valuable step, upon further investigation, revealed to me that it must be important with the Intelius product to search surrounding zip codes to one’s home; although the search of my home address hadn’t revealed any nearby offenders, this second search did show me a person of interest (I’m not sure of his actual crime – the site did allow me to download individual records, but I didn’t do so) who evidently lives just two miles away from our farm. That’s essential information to me since my daughters and I ride horses on trails very close to his address.

To understand why this offender didn’t appear in my first search, you should know that my zip code and that of our rental are different. Had I not performed the second search I would not have discovered my neighbor’s potentially threatening criminal history.

It seemed from my experience with the product that Intelius does a very thorough search of public “and publicly available” documents. If my girls were attending school, I’d be sure to enter that address for a search as well.

Often in the course of my real estate career I referred buyers to the police department crime records and other online sex offender tracking sites, which to my knowledge relied solely on mandatory reporting of addresses for those who are still under a probation or parole officer's watch. The Intelius product appears to compile many records to go further than a simple police record search.

The Intelius Neighborhood Watch product takes the difficulty out of the vital step of checking the safety of a neighborhood -- whether it's one you're considering or one in which you plan to remain.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Swiffer Sweeps the Suite

I can't tell y'all how excited I was to receive Swiffer's package the other day. It was all I could do not to break it open at the post office. Could it be true? Would our Golden Retriever get a reprieve and be allowed in the living room again? Stay tuned to my first-ever Farm Suite product review to find out this and more about the Swiffer Wet and Dry options...

There are lots of fun bloggers reviewing this product (but I’m sure none who have more pet hair than I suffer through), so be sure to go visit the roundup here .

Alright, as I mentioned, I started out more than excited. I tried to retain some journalistic integrity and professional reserve, but basically gave that up in the consideration stages as ridiculous. I get excited about cleaner floors accomplished more easily. It's what I do. Evidently even the suggestion that a product might make that task easier is enough to send me into a dither.

The kids were kind of excited too. They just love to help with the floors.

To tell the truth, with more than 1600 square feet of hardwood floors and a menagerie of pets on our little hobby farm, the floors are a constant battle here. No one enjoys floor duty. My vacuum, which incidentally cost more than my first car, fights a never-ending battle with dog and cat hair, not to mention tracked-in barn matter (which exact makeup shall remain a mystery so long as I want it to). Horse hair, people, is not easy to vacuum and is impossible to sweep.

So with hope in our hearts, after opening the boxes, we quickly snapped together the Swiffer mopstick thingamajig. Verdict: It couldn't have been easier to assemble.

And then came the most difficult part of the task: We kicked the dog out of the living room. Again. We couldn't have him contaminating the test surfaces, you see.

After that it was easy-breezy and dare I say, AMAZING. I was tempted to pre-sweep first, but the girls talked me out of it. And guess what? The dry pad really did pick up all the dust and pet hair and even the little circle punch-outs that Gracie accidentally spilled from the hole punch during craft time.

Then came the piece-de-resistance, the Swiffer wet. Dun-dun-dunnn…

I have to say, despite my excitement and subsequent surprised satisfaction with the dry Swiffer portion of the event, I remained skeptical when it came to try the wet Swiffer. (O me of little faith.) We live on a little farm, and our “mopping” is usually accomplished on hands and knees with a scrub brush after a thorough mopping with the old-fashioned string mop. I am lucky enough to have once-a-week help with cleaning, and honestly I don’t mop between Fridays unless absolutely necessary. Don’t tell my husband.
So my skepticism was that the Swiffer Wet could handle our farmhouse floors. Well, don't let me keep you in suspense.… The Swiffer Wet was not so wet as to leak liquid – not like a mop traveling from bucket to floor. It was not so dry as to remain ineffective on moderately tough spots (a dried, smeared jelly spill in the kitchen that hadn’t quite been cleaned by whichever child did it –ahem-- was fairly easily Swiffered away in three passes).
It lasted to mop my Wednesday-afternoon kitchen and dining room, which had been pre-Swiffered by the outstanding dry Swiffer.
I’d say it was a two-thumbs-up experience overall. In fact, it was definitely easy to use and had results much better than I had hoped for a pre-moistened mop pad. We will use it for everyday touch-ups between the heavy-duty scrubbing. Who knows, it might even save me money on cleaning services every Friday.

go all the way clean with Swiffer ... Visit for more information and to save $2 on any one Swiffer® Sweeper Starter Kit!