Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shopping & Train Rides at Lodi Station Outlets!

Growth spurt.

I hate those two words.

Anytime those two words enter my life, it means tearing through dressers and boxes of clothing to determine what still fits my two girls, followed by a list of what I need to go out and purchase for them.

Rarely am I ever given the time to shop on my own. If it's the weekend, I want to spend time with my family, so we all go shopping together. If you've seen us at the mall, you know that any shopping area must have a playground or kid-themed play area or else my two impatient daughters make everyone as miserable.

Given the choice, I love to shop outlet malls. I don't like to spend a lot of money on clothing for myself, so I certainly want a good deal when it comes to clothing my kids will outgrow the next time they ask for seconds at dinner.

Last weekend, I had the chance to check out the Lodi Station Outlets in Lodi, OH. Locals know that we have a lot of outlet malls here in Ohio, so it's no surprise that I had yet to make it to this one. I had driven past it several times - it's just off I-71 when driving towards Cleveland - but until last weekend didn't get the chance to check it out.

Here's where it gets awesome: not only is it an outlet mall, they also have a train you can ride! I don't mean an itty-bitty kids-only train, I mean an amusement-park-sized train for all to ride. My train-obsessed daughters were sure to love it.

When we arrived, we started our day by getting lunch at the Steam Cafe. There's a very nice food court at the center of the shops, which also serves as guest services and the station for purchasing train tickets. We ate lunch and the girls got to meet Chugga, the mall mascot.

We then decided it would be best to take a train ride next, as the girls were mesmerized by the train. We got our passes and jumped aboard with my friend Heather and her family.

Heather thought she was photobombing the kids - I think they were photobombing her instead.

The train ride takes about 15 minutes and is a lot of fun. You can purchase an individual ride pass, or an unlimited day pass for just fifty cents more. For the serious train riders, you can purchase a yearly pass that lets you ride as many times as you want for an entire year.

Once the train ride was over, my children wanted to go to the playground they spotted during the train ride. My husband then took the kids to the playground so I could get some shopping done.

Lodi Station Outlets has many of the brand names I like to buy. For the kids, there's Gymboree, Children's Place and Carter's. For me, there's the Lee outlet, Jockey, Gap, and Bath & Body Works. In two hours, I had amassed several bags of goodies, including several new outfits for the girls, a new pair of Lee jeans and 3 pairs of underwear for myself, and some hand sanitizer from Bath & Body Works. All that for under $100!

Along with the usual outlet store savings, you can also sign up for the Hot Ticket preferred member card which gives you additional savings in many of the stores. I was able to save an additional 20% in one store thanks to my card.

Best of all, I managed to get all of this shopping done with practically no whining from my children, because they were happily playing and taking train rides all afternoon. We ended the day with ice cream before heading home after a successful day of shopping.

Will I be going back? Absolutely. Simple entertainment for the kids plus good deals to be found equals a great shopping experience for me. Even my husband (who is often the one watching the kids while I shop) had a great time riding the train.

Full disclosure: I was invited to attend a bloggers' day out at Lodi Station Outlets. In return for my time, I was provided with a sample bag from some of the shops as well as coupons and additional compensation.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Are You Ready For The Next Big Storm? (Giveaway!)

Last month's series of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes across the midwest and south was a scary reminder of the power of nature. Seeing entire cities flattened by a tornado was a wake-up call for me to review my family's plan for what to do in case of weather emergencies.

Here in Ohio, our primary concern is thunderstorms and tornadoes. An earthquake is rare, and seeing how we're nowhere near any large body of water in Columbus, any threat of sudden flooding is minimal. Storms, though - they can get pretty ugly around here.

In our house, we have no basement. You'd think that a girl who was home alone in a tornado when she was 12 would have planned better when buying a home, yet I neglected to think of needing a basement. (Note to self: our next house will have a basement.) So if there is a tornado warning, we have to go to our tiny living room coat closet, which first requires throwing everything out of the closet so we can fit in it.

Radio Shack recently released a list of 5 items every family should have in their severe weather preparedness kit, and I was ashamed to realize I didn't even have a kit ready in case of an emergency! Sure, we have flashlights, but I'd have to take a few minutes to find them.

Of course, Radio Shack took pity on my poor preparedness and sent me a kit to make sure my family is ready for the next storm with some great items that every family should have in their home.

Items to put in your kit include:

A weather radio: This one is a must. FEMA estimates that having a weather radio gives you up to eight minutes to move your family into a safe location in the event of a weather emergency. I received the RadioShack® Desktop Weather Radio with Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) alerts, which provides local weather and warnings several minutes before other radio and TV broadcast alerts. It functions as a basic alarm clock/radio, but will sound an alarm when a severe weather watch or warning has been issued for your area.

Flashlights: Should the power go out, you can't guarantee it'll be back on immediately. One or two flashlights with long battery lives (like the LED ICON Flashlight Rogue 2, which can keep you out of the dark for up to 75 hours) should be waiting in your safe area. You might consider an emergency flashlight/nightlight as well, like the Etón Red Cross BLACKOUT buddy emergency LED flashlight/nightlight. On any normal night, it serves as a nightlight in the hallway for the kids. But should the power go out, it provides a strong LED beam of light that can be removed from the wall and used as a flashlight.

Portable power supply: Cell phones are useful when the power lines are down, but with heavy use the battery drains quickly. A backup power supply for portable electronic devices, like the Enercell® 2400Ah Portable Power Bank (or the one for your iPhone), is very handy to keep in your emergency kit.

Walkie talkies: So you've got your cell phones and backup power supply, but what happens if the cell signals are down? In that case, long-range walkie talkies can come in handy to keep you in touch with family and friends. I received the Midland® GTX10000VP4 50-Channel GMRS/FRS Radio (2-Pack) for my preparedness kit, which have up to a 36-mile range and 28 extra channels for optimized communication.  They also include an SOS siren that allows you to send out distress/locator signals in an emergency situation. I haven't tried the full 36-mile range yet, but they do very well even across town!

Comfort items: Experts recommend letting each child choose 1-2 items to put in the weather preparedness toolkit, such as a toy, game or personal item to help keep your child/children occupied and calm in the case you have to take shelter for a long period of time. My daughters each chose a stuffed animal and a book to place in our kit in the closet.

We've already had the chance to try out our weather radio. Two nights ago, a siren suddenly sounded from the radio, followed by a voice explaining there was a severe thunderstorm warning for our area. And yesterday the "Watch" light remained lit up all day while we were under a severe thunderstorm watch. The radio is already providing peace of mind - now I don't need to feel like the TV must be on in case a weather situation arises!

Win your own weather preparedness kit!

The nice folks at Radio Shack understand how important it is to be ready for the summer storms, and that's why they not only provided me with a weather preparedness kit, they're also giving a kit to one lucky reader as well! (Kit includes all of the items mentioned above. Except the comfort items - you'll have to get your own for those.)

To enter: leave a comment below telling me where your "safe spot" is in your house. (Where you'd go if there was a weather emergency.) One entry per person. Please be sure to include your email address in the comment or in your profile so I can contact you if you're the winner.

Entries will be accepted until Friday, July 1 at 11:59pm ET. One winner will be selected by random drawing. Winner has 3 days to respond or another winner will be selected in his/her place. US mailing addresses only.

Good luck!

Full disclosure: I received a weather preparedness kit from Radio Shack to facilitate my review. No further compensation was received, and no guarantee of a positive review was promised or expected. All opinions expressed here are my own. Thanks again to Radio Shack for easing my storm anxiety with a little more preparedness.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Who Wants Some Yogurt?

A while back I posted about how much we love the Yoplait Kids yogurts. Several readers expressed an interest in trying it out for themselves, and one lucky reader won some free yogurt.

Now another 20 readers can register to get a coupon for a free 4-pack of Yoplait Kids yogurt! Just click on the microsite below to get your coupon. (Limited to the first 20 who register.)

Miss out on being one of the first 20? You can still access the site above to get money saving coupons and learn more about Yoplait Kids yogurt!

Full disclosure: This opportunity was provided by Yoplait and MyBlogSpark. I received samples to facilitate my earlier review, and no further compensation was received. My daughter would also like to let you know that, should you try out the Yoplait Kids yogurt, the Dora yogurts are the best. But she's a little biased.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cube Dog: Your New Virtual Best Friend

Thank you to Cube Dog for sponsoring this review. For more information about Cube Dog please visit the Facebook page or download it on iTunes.

My daughters have been asking for a dog, and my answer is always no. We already have three cats, which is plenty of pets for me. Add in taking care of the cats as well as the kids, and I've got all of the responsibility I can handle.

However, there is one kind of dog I'm happy to let my girls have: a virtual one. With all of the iPhone apps out today, it only makes sense that someone would think up a virtual dog app, and now it's here. Cube Dog is an adorable app that lets you build your 3D animated dog from lots of different pieces and parts, choose its color, name it, and then interact with it. The building process is very simple, letting you try out different eyes and ears and face shapes before settling on the choices you like best.

Once your dog is built, it's time to play with it! The 3D animations are really, really cute. You can drag your finger to see your cube dog from all angles, and touching your virtual canine will result in a variety of responses. I got such a kick out of petting it on the head and watching hearts replace its eyes as it responded to my touch. My coworkers loved to poke it in the belly and watch it laugh from being tickled.

A cool feature that comes with the app is the ability to take photos of your cube dog in your actual surroundings. Want a photo of your child and the dog? No problem - just select the camera option, zoom in or out to get the proportions just right, and snap the photo. Cube dog can be perched on a park bench, on a table, or on your head if you want.

Downside: At the moment, this app is only available for iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPod Touch (3rd gen) running iOS 4.0 or later. My iPhone 3G wasn't able to use it, so I had to borrow an iPhone 4 to download and play with it. (Note to self: time to upgrade my phone!)

Best feature of all? This app is free! You can make in app purchases to buy more features and options for your cube dog, but even the basic, free version has plenty of options to keep you and your children occupied for hours. And hey - no need to take this dog out for walks!

Here's a short video explaining a little more about Cube Dog:

The app and any app add-on purchases can be downloaded through iTunes. Cube Dog is also running a fun contest on their Facebook page through June 13.

So the next time your kids ask for a dog, just download this app and let them have their fill of playing with their new virtual best friend!

Full disclosure: While Cube Dog provided me with the app to review, the opinions I've expressed here are solely my own and represent my honest viewpoint. Cube Dog, Clever Girls Collective and I promote Blog With Integrity.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Walgreens Provides Quality At Lower Prices (Giveaway!)

I don't know about you, but my budget keeps getting stretched thinner and thinner every month. With gas prices higher, I've noticed that nearly everything else has gone up in price as well. Trying to decide where to make cuts in the budget is a hard and painful process for me.

One trick I always use to save money, however, is buying store brand products. Store brands are often cheaper than the name brands, and certain store brands offer the same or better quality than some of the name brands they compete against. I'm picky about my store brands, though - some are better than others.

Walgreens is one store where I never hesitate to reach for their brand of health and wellness products, whether it's pain relief, cold medicine, first aid, or even vitamins. I've always been impressed with the quality and thrilled at the money I save over name brand products.

Click here to read more (and see how to win a $100 Walgreens gift card!)