Me and my family

Yes, we know the way (we’ve moved!)

To our new home in San Jose. It’s been a whirlwind summer as we made the decision for me to take a job offer across the country and to move our family. It’s amazing what a big move can do for your hoarding skills. We sold and donated so many things while cleaning out and downsizing our house.

Moving from a colonial with a basement to a ranch with a boxed-in backyard is quite a change, not to mention the sticker shock in Silicon Valley. On the plus side, our kids are adjusting quickly and making friends.

New home palm trees

Welcome to the land of palm trees

I’m also embracing the lifestyle and opportunities here. While Californians complain about the public transit, I’m just thrilled to have public transit at all. I always joke that coming from the Motor City, it was almost a law that you should have more than one vehicle and have a strong aversion to driving with someone else in the car. I’ve been biking to and from the train station and taking the train to work. It’s my first experience commuting without a car and although I’m sure I’ll complain about it at some point, I’m really liking it so far.

I’m learning that like a car, your bike also takes care and maintenance. I have new tires, lights, a rack and still need to get some fenders on the rare chance of rain. I also have callouses on my hands from gripping the handlebars.

I’ve also started my travel list of things to see and do in San Francisco and northern California. Also, it’s not a bad thing to be within driving distance of Disneyland! I also have an entire new home base from which to plan trips, so I’ve been playing with the flight comparisons to figure out where the deals are.

Of course, we had to take the grandparents to see the Golden Gate Bridge and made a stop at the San Francisco Zoo. We also made a trip to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and California’s Great America. But we’ve barely scratched the surface.

It’s hard to leave family and friends behind but it’s really not hard to leave the Polar Vortex behind. Seeing dead, brown grass in the midst of a drought will take some getting used to, but I’ll take that trade over ice and snow.

See you on the West Coast!

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Sunglasses are more than a fashion statement

When my son was a toddler, he would tear up every time we went out in the bright son. He eventually grew out of it but he’s always been very light sensitive. So when The Vision Council invited me to a webinar, I was intrigued.

According to a recent report (PDF) by The Vision Council, 40 percent of U.S. adults do not wear sunglasses while outdoors and more than half of parents do not protect their children’s eyes with sunglasses. When you combine that with the fact that children will accumulate 80 percent of sun exposure by the time they are 18, you can see that there’s a real need, beyond fashion, to have sunglasses for your children.

Sunglasses on vacation

Shades – especially in the ocean.

We’re a sunglasses family. My daughter wears glasses, so each pair of glasses she has owned has been transition lenses (and parents, please, get the anti-glare, too – your photographs will thank you!)

We even kept her last pair of glasses when she got new ones, and she uses those while swimming. She wants to be able to see and have her eyes shaded, and you just don’t get that in a pair of swim goggles.

When we travel, sunglasses are a must for the whole family. And I’ve now learned that it’s more than just shading your eyes from the sun, it’s protecting them from the sun’s rays, too. Sunburn of the eye is real, in the form of photokeratitis. When you’re out and about on the beach, on a boat or anywhere for that matter, sunglasses protect you from the sun, which is strongest between noon and 4 p.m.

The Vision Council has a handy tool to check where in the world the UV rays are the strongest. Just go to http://www.missingsunglasses.com/, type in your ZIP code for the UV index in any city. Puerto Rico, because of its location near the equator, has the strongest UV rays in the U.S. Internationally, Australia has the highest.

I saw a report on the news at some point that said most cheap sunglasses have as good or better UV protection than more expensive lenses. If you’re unsure of what kind, if any, your sunglasses have, most eye doctors have a UV meter and will test lenses for you. Scratches on lenses will diminish the protection, so it’s better to spend a few dollars for a new pair than pay for eye damage later.

Transition lenses

What happens when transition lenses are in a netted pouch.

We always travel with sunglasses for the whole family. But now, I’m going to make sure we each have a good case for our sunglasses to minimize the risk of breaking them in our travel bags and to protect them from scratches. So the next time you’re worried about sunscreen and skin cancer, take a moment to grab those sunglasses. Your eyes will thank you.

Disclosure: I was compensated for attending the webinar and writing this post, although the opinions are my own.

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Bringing an old deck back to life

My husband and I have argued about our deck for years. The original owner of the house built it himself. It’s one of the things that made us fall in love with the house – a multilevel deck, brick paver patio and partially surrounded an above ground pool.

Deck before

Deck before

We should’ve heard warning bells when the owner had it inspected before we moved in and had to rebuild the steps because they weren’t spaced properly. A few years later, we found that he didn’t anchor the posts properly, either, and the deck started to shift with the freeze/thaw cycle. A couple of times, we had handymen in to cut and repair the posts to make the deck level again. It’s currently a bit uneven and sloping towards the pool.

Before giving up and taking a chainsaw to the whole thing, I set out this summer to stain it to see if it was still tolerable. My husband, who travels a lot and took the first staining job several years ago, thought I was crazy and wanted no part of it.

After I bought a couple of gallons of stain, I saw a commercial on TV for Behr’s DeckOver. The commercial reeled me in, and I returned the stain and came home with the DeckOver. The advertising says the thick paint/stain would bring new life to an old deck, help seal up smaller cracks and give the deck a slip-resistant finish. When I was having my color added to the base, the guy at the store told me that the paint also would reduce the heat of the deck by a bit.

Deck After DeckOver

Deck After DeckOver

I started with the upper portion of the deck because it is the smallest and it’s the part that we look at the most, right off of the kitchen. I used a power washer to clean the deck and take some of the current stain off, although there wasn’t much left of it.

Twelve gallons later, we have most of the deck covered, with two coats on the walking parts (the instructions recommend two coats on all but we’re lazy like that and the railings took forever). I’ve been taking the job slowly, doing parts here and there on evenings and free weekends. My husband joined in a few times when he was in town, and the kids tried a few swipes of the paintbrush before getting bored and heading off to other pursuits.

Deck After DeckOver

Deck After DeckOver

We still have some of the bottom portions to do, along with the lattice that surrounds the deck to hide the underside. I’m considering investing in a paint sprayer for the lattice after having painted a few smaller pieces that make up our deck gates.

Ideally, I’d rather have a stain to have the wood grain show through. However, in the shape that our deck is in, this product is ideal to seal up some of the cracks and provide a surface that is perfect to surround our pool. The slip-resistant finish is so much better than slippery wood and has reduced slip and falls from our kids and their friends. I’ve recommended it to my mother and some neighbors who need to paint their front porch decking and steps. The finish, which feels almost like a fine grit sandpaper, is great for stairs, especially in a wet Michigan summer or icy Michigan winter.

If you’re looking to revive a deck or have a deck or stairs area that has heavy traffic, I highly recommend Behr’s new product. We’re falling in love with our deck again just in time to enjoy it during the summer.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post and I was not compensated in any way. This is my personal opinion of Behr DeckOver.

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Exploring the new and improved Michigan Science Center

When your son, who has been practicing indoor baseball for the past four months, says he’d rather skip his first scrimmage because he still wants to explore, you know you’ve hit on a good thing.

I had never been to the Michigan Science Center before last weekend. Sure, I had heard of it when it was the Detroit Science Center but never made it there. I wasn’t quite sure what was there, if it was worth it and what the age ranges were.

I was missing out.

Michigan Science Center mirrorMy son and I spent five hours at the Michigan Science Center on a recent Saturday, were still having fun and did not see everything that we wanted to see. Had my daughter not had a gymnastics class, I’m sure it would have been even harder to get them to leave.Michigan Science Center manufacturing

When I hear “science center,” I think of science experiments and complicated processes that make my head spin. In reality, the science center makes learning fun. I’m not sure who was having a better time when we went into the “jamming room” and played the guitar and drums.

Of course, one of our favorites was the electric show – the classic show where you see someone put their hair on end. We had a great time learning about electrical currents and how our bodies react by touching and impacting the currents.

Unfortunately, we ended up missing the planetarium but we did see the IMAX show of tornado alley. My son walked in and said “where’s the screen?” I told him “the whole thing (dome) is the screen.” Whoa, blew his mind!

Michigan Science Center electricityWe had a nice break in the middle of our visit for lunch at the Cosmic Café, which had a good selection and was affordable.

Overall, we had a fantastic day and are already looking to go back again.

Discount Offer: Use code TweetTeam for the Michigan Science Center @mi_sci through April 5 and get $3 off adult/$2 off child admission. Not valid with any other offer. Limit 6.

Disclosure: We attended the Michigan Science Center as part of the TweetTeam. This post was not expected nor is part of the event for attending and is solely my opinion. 

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Out with the old, in with the new — appliances

A New Year turned into new appliances for my family – some planned and (of course) one big one unplanned. New to our household for 2013 are:

Black & Decker Toaster OvenA toaster oven. Our old toaster oven was white, stuck out like a sore thumb in our kitchen, was 20+ years old and had all of the numbers on the dials worn off. To replace it, I purchased the Black & Decker TRO480 Toaster Oven, regularly $49.99 at Macy’s for a Black Friday price of $19.99. So far, it’s nice to be able to see the numbers of the oven settings instead of guessing, and I love using a toaster oven to warm up a small snack for the kids, leftover pizza or toasting a bagel. Hoover Pet Vacuum Cleaner

A vacuum cleaner. For my wedding 11 years ago, my aunt gave me her used Kirby because she had purchased a new one. I don’t know how long she had it before me, and it came with a huge box of attachments that we may have tried once and then kept in a closet. However, after many years of use, the front cracked and was being held together by duct tape so none of the funky stuff from the carpets would shoot back out. I replaced it with the Hoover Pet WindTunnel T-Series HEPA Bagged Upright Vacuum. Do you know how hard it is to find a vacuum cleaner with a bag? I tried a bagless once and I hate cleaning out the chamber – it seems like you can never get all of the dog hair out. I prefer the bag type but they are getting harder to find. I’ve only used it once and my only complaint is that the lever on the side will push down and then pop up to get wedged under a bed or a coach. I’ll need to make sure I vacuum near those things in the other direction with the lever on the outside.

Keurig Special EditionA coffee maker. We have some funky coffee at work and many people there have a coffee pot in their office. I bought the Keurig B60 Coffee Maker on Black Friday but have not taken it out of the box yet. Should I keep it for home and take my current pot-type to work or vice versa? I drink coffee during the week at work and weekends at home. Still deciding on this one but wanted to try a Keurig to reduce waste. Amana Distinctions Furnace

And finally, the major unplanned appliance was a new furnace. We came home from our Florida work/vacation trip the first week in January to find our house at 40 degrees – when we had set the thermostat at 60. Fortunately, the furnace was out but no pipes burst and we had no major damage – except to our bank account. We ended up with a shiny new Amana Distinctions furnace that is 96.1% efficient. The good news is, it comes with a Federal tax credit and a rebate from our electric provider. Not enough to make me want to buy more furnaces but I’m glad to have some money coming back to us eventually.

One thing that I’ve never thought about until it changed was how a furnace makes your house sound. With a new furnace, the house sounds are slightly different. When all is quiet, new noises, however normal, still sound different.

So that’s what’s new in our household for 2013.

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Pre-vacation planning for the household – stop the mail!

As I was creating my out-of-office plan for work, I realized that I usually run through a mental out-of-home plan, too. Besides packing for myself, the kids and the type of vacation we’re going on (warm, cold, camping, etc.), there’s also household things that need to happen while we’re away from the house.

  1. Stop mail delivery. I love that you can do it right online at www.usps.gov. Just choose home services and mail stop. Then you can choose whether you pick up the accumulated mail or they deliver it all at once.
  2. Stop newspaper. Yes, we still receive a newspaper although the home delivery is only three days per week. Our newspaper allows options to deliver accumulated papers, a credit or to donate to local schools; we always choose the schools option.
  3. Fish feeder. We have dogs that always need a sitter (grandma or grandpa) but the fish can fend for themselves with a feeder.
  4. Set thermostat. We have a programmable thermostat so we turn the heat down while we’re out of town. The future step would be to get one you can program with your phone or computer so we can have the house warmed up when we return!
  5. Lights. We used to have a plug-in timer that would turn a small lamp on and off but got out of the habit. Now that we travel a lot, I’d like to do that again.
  6. Packages. My husband receives a lot of packages in the mail, so we have a trusted neighbor that will move them inside while we’re gone. That way, they don’t accumulate on the porch as a signal that we’re not home.

Pack, check and repack.  If we’re going to a beach vacation, we must have the kids’ goggles, bathing suits and extra suits (they don’t dry hanging in a hotel bathroom). I usually move the kids’ summer clothes in a box in a spare closet when I get the winter clothes out, and then it’s easy to find the Crocs and flip flops, as well as shorts and T-shirts, when we are headed out of town.

And finally – clean sheets. I usually clean the house so it’s not a mess when we return and for some reason, I really love to come home from a trip to find fresh sheets on the bed. It just makes it feel so relaxing to be back in my own bed.

What did I miss? Do you have any pre-trip rituals?

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Exploring Legoland Florida

We were going to Florida for a combination vacation and work trip. I didn’t want to go to DisneyWorld for just a day or two because it always feels so rushed and not everyone gets to see what they want with that limited time – not to mention that it costs more for a shorter amount of days.

Legoland FloridaWe chose Legoland for our one-day funday. Since it had recently opened in Florida, we thought we’d see what the Florida version had to offer. We had been to the California Legoland a few years ago. Legoland Face Painting

Of course, I’m always searching for the best deals so I read online that the Lego magazine had a free kid’s ticket with a paid adult. Luckily, we still had one laying around so I was able to get both kids’ tickets for free.

We chose Christmas day for our trip. We flew to Florida on Christmas Eve, stayed at the Embassy Suites in Lake Buena Vista, and drove to Legoland for the day. When we woke up at the hotel, Santa had left two Lego bags with cash in each for our day. At the park, parking is $12 ($11 something plus tax, magically totaling $12) and the lot was fairly empty when we arrived.

Legoland Florida Star Wars MinilandLegoland had some nice holiday touches – a large Christmas tree (made of Legos, of course), santas hidden throughout miniland and some other sites throughout the park. Legoland Florida Cypress Gardens

The weather was overcast but not cold, making it a perfect day to walk around a theme park. The waterpark was closed because of the off-season but everything else was up and running.

I really like this park for the kids, who are 10 and 8. The rides are just their size and they especially love the driving school (unlike most theme parks where cars are on a track, these cars are on “roads” with stop signs and stoplights and the kids learn to navigate them.

The only problems we ran into, which were minor, were with food. Cap’n Brickbeard was listed on the printed map as “All American food” but when we walked over there, the sign said “Cap’n Brickbeard’s Burgers.” I know burgers are American but I was expecting more than only that, so we headed over to the all-you-can-eat pizza and pasta buffet. My son burned his finger on one of the pizza pans and the workers there would not give us any ice. They said we had to go to the first aid station and that they would get in trouble if they tried to help us. So I ended up using a bunch of napkins to put ice in for his finger.

Legoland Cypress Gardens Banyan TreeWe also walked around Cypress Gardens, a former park that Legoland preserved, and found the giant Banyan tree. The kids also liked finding the Travelocity gnomes that were placed around there, too.

Other than the incidents, the food was typical and filled us up for more explorations. My son was thrilled with the Star Wars miniland and was doing his best to find all of the santas (we ended up being a few short). My daughter was excited with the new Lego Friends store and seeing one of the characters outside.

All in all, it was a great Christmas day and we’d definitely visit again.

Note: No compensation was received for this post. We traveled and attended on our own. 

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Haunted

I’ve been avoiding the media somewhat, but you can’t avoid what everyone’s talking about: the school shootings in Connecticut. I never knew I had connections there. Really, I wish I never had to find out.

A former classmate of mine lives there, but her boys go to the other elementary school.

My coworker is there, comforting his friends who are experiencing something that I cannot fathom.

I see them in my dreams and when I wake. I ache for them.

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Top 5 holiday victories

1. Flights are booked

2. Rental car is reserved

3. Still deciding on hotel and activity for Christmas Day (Legoland? Nick Hotel in Orlando?)

4. eBay items sold (and I did so well that I listed a few more for 3-day auctions)

5. Christmas cards are done and mailed.

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Preparing for a road trip with kids

We’re facing a 10- to 12-hour car ride with the kids this Thanksgiving and it’s not our first long car trip with them. Since they were young, we’ve braved planes, cars and ferries (no trains yet) with the kids to get where we want to go and to show them the larger world out there.

And the key to mostly sane travel is to prepare. (Unlike the one time my husband was on a flight with our infant son, who had an unfortunate blowout and another set of clothes were in checked luggage.)

Electronics, depending on how you view them, are a necessary evil. We were once on a flight from Michigan to Florida and the elderly lady next to me asked if she could give my kids $20 to split at the end of the flight. Because both kids were wired to their movies and games, neither made a peep for the entire flight and my row companion was clearly relieved and delighted. (We took the money because we were going to Disney, but we had a long talk with the kids about money from strangers, parental permission, etc.)

Books are essential but you also have to plan for when it’s too dark. On a 12-hour car ride, this is bound to be the case. The kids are somewhat starting to outgrow activity books, but they enjoy a good mad lib and that’s a fun game for everyone in the car.

At times, we resort to the tried-and-true car games – license plates from A-Z, “owning” animals on your side of the car window and one that my sister-in-law taught us with the alphabet sentences and alliteration: Auntie Arrived Already, Brad Bothers Babies, etc. The kids giggle away at those as they come up with their own.

Then, especially this time of the year, it becomes dark but it’s not anywhere near bedtime. The electronics come out, the headphones go in and peace overcomes the car ride, only to be interrupted with “I can’t find my movie case” or “When are we stopping for a restroom?” Chargers, cords and headphone wires aplenty when it’s times four but well worth it when everyone is seated in front of their glowing monitors.

And the golden rule of traveling with kids (which mine still don’t always do but quickly learn a lesson): when you stop (at an airport, hotel or restaurant), plug it in and charge it up.

Good luck out there on the open road.

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