Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Intelius Neighborhood Watch

When Thomas and I were searching for the perfect house 3 years ago Kai was just shy of her 2nd birthday and I was 6 weeks away from having Ivy. We knew whatever style of house we chose one of the most important aspects of our search was a home that would be in a neighborhood that was safe for our two girls to grow up in.

I spent hours scouring the web to search sex offender registries and find out whether homes we were looking at were in close proximity to convicted sex offenders. Being pregnant at the time, I became a bit obsessed. And it took forever to search out each home and map the nearby sex offenders. So, I have quite a bit of user experience when it comes to the sex offender search sites. I pride myself on my ability to find info on the internet for free. I'm pretty darn good at it. For that reason, when Intelius partnered with BlogHer and offered me the chance to try out and review their Neighborhood Monitoring service I was definitely intrigued. I wanted to see whether paying to access their site really did offer more than I could find on my own on the web for free.

I've used Intelius before in other ways. They are always my go to site for background searches on potential tenants in our rental property. I've never been disappointed with the services I purchased through them. But, sex offender info? I mean, that's already free, right? Why buy it when I can look it up on my own?

So I took the opportunity to see whether it was really info worth paying for. And, I must say that while the info is much the same as what you'll find on your own, the difference is in the ease and simplicity of the process. I was actually pretty shocked at how simple the whole thing was to navigate.

With one quick search I was able to see on a Microsoft Virtual Earth map where the closest registered sex offenders lived, what they were convicted of, when they were convicted, and (in most cases) an actual photo of them. Granted, I could have found all of that information on my own if I'd been willing to spend the time and effort looking. It would have taken clicking from site to site, mapping distances, and keeping track of it all on my own, though. I checked out a couple similar sites that offer searches for free and really truly found that no one offered such a user-friendly interface with the amount of info right at my fingertips. The best aspect, in my opinion, was the presentation of the information. The map was clear and easy to navigate, the information was concise and helpful, and the time it took to get the info was a fraction of what it would take me to locate all that on my own.

The whole thing was a very streamlined process. Not to mention, with Intelius' service you can actually search up to 3 separate addresses so you can see your home (or potential home if you're home buying), a grandparent's address, and even a school or park your child attends. I checked out my parents' home address and the local park we like to frequent just to get an idea of what type of people live closest to the places my girls spend the most time. The reports are also available for 45 days so it's good to know you'll have the ability to check out the information again if need be.

It's definitely a service I wish I'd known about during our home search a couple of years ago.

A lot of people have pretty strong opinions on whether this info is helpful. Some people find the information completely essential. Other parents I've spoken with have argued that it creates a false sense of security. But, I must say as someone who's pretty obsessed with researching as much as possible I tend to think that it is good to have as many facts as possible. It's the same reason I spend more time than I should researching the safety and reviews of every single car seat I buy. I just like to know exactly what I'm getting into.

Does knowing where the closest sex offenders live mean I've eliminated all chance of anything bad happening to my kids? No. Does it make me feel better to know that two doors down lives a young guy convicted of false imprisonment of a minor? Um...that, too, would be a no. However, do I think it is important to know that he's there and that he could be a potential threat to my kids regardless of how unlikely it might be? Yes, I really truly do. Every bit of info I have about my kids surroundings makes me able to make a better decision about what they do, where they do it, and what precautions I take along the way.

And that, I think, is always a good thing.

Want to know more about Intelius' Neighborhood Watch service? Visit www.intelius.com to get the details. And be sure to check out Intelius' free iSearch people search. It's a pretty cool way to find people on the web. Not only does it search regular public records and web pages, but it also searches social media sites as well to find the most comprehensive info available on a person. I must admit, it is super addictive. And if you know me in real life then chances are I've already iSearched you this week...

When it comes to these Intelius products/services, don't just take my word for it. Check out what other BlogHer Bloggers thought about the product offerings from Intelius!

This is a compensated review from Blogher and Intelius Search.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Book Review: My Little Girl by Tim McGraw

I had the chance to read and review "My Little Girl" from Thomas Nelson Publishers and since I'm a sucker for a good kid's book I couldn't resist. The book is written by Tim McGraw and Tom Douglas. The beautiful illustrations are by Julia Denos.

I'm usually the kid's designated story teller, but since the story is about a special day between a daddy and his daughter I thought it might be better if their dad was actually the one to read it to the girls and I'd just be the silent observer type (a rare occasion for me!)

First (and most importantly) the girls loved nothing more than to curl up on the sofa and read a special book with their daddy. The fact that the book was about father's and daughters made it even better.

The book follows a special day that a father sets aside for quality time with his girl. It is his way of letting her know how much he loves her and that his little girl is most important to him. I love how it highlights the special bond between a father and his "little girl." The Daddy and his daughter, Katie, spend the day enjoying simple every day activities that, in the end, become even more special than a trip to a fairy tale ball.

We have tons of great books about how much mommies love their kids, but for some reason daddy books are just less common. So this was a really nice treat for them and I think it will fast become their favorite book to read with their dad.

The artwork is really beautifully done and even Thomas, who can be a tough critic anytime it comes to graphic elements, really enjoyed it. The story was special and really illustrates how meaningful even the simplest activities are to kids and parents. I think it makes a perfect book for a father to give to his daughter and read during special daddy-daughter time. I know my girls loved the book, the snuggling, and the reading. It was a perfect reason to snuggle up on the couch before bed!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Oh Saturn, where have you been all my life?

Remember back in middle school how one year all the boys were slightly awkward, not-quite-coordinated friends who transformed magically over the summer into tall, handsome football players whose name you suddenly drew all over your third period math notebook?

Well, friends, I'm kind of thinking the new breed of Saturns are a bit like that. And I'm not ashamed to say that I am suddenly crushing on a couple of these cars.

I had the chance to take a spin in any of 4 new cars featured at the Ride and Drive down at The Lobby at Atlantic Station and I have to say I will never think of Saturns the same way again. BlogHer arranged for the folks at GM/Saturn to provide an Outlook, Sky Roadster, Aura, and a sneak peak at the Vue 2-mode hybrid for Atlanta area bloggers to test drive.

I dragged Thomas along with me to check out the cars and we ditched the car seats (and the kiddos) for an evening out so we could chill with the BlogHer and GM/Saturn people and see what these "new" Saturns were all about.

And, just so you don't think my opinion was swayed simply by a clean car without goldfish crackers ground into the carpet I'm going to give you a play-by-play of my favorite Saturn features.

One of the reasons I decided to go to the event (besides the chance to mingle with Atlanta area bloggers at The Lobby and score some free food) was to take a spin in the Saturn Red Line. This stylish little (and I do mean little) roadster was the furthest thing from my big ol' minivan so it was really nice to speed around town in this car. It was quick, fun, and sporty and it was nice not to feel like a boring mommy of two (soon to be three) even if it was just for an 11 mile spin around the downtown area!

While it was definitely too small for me to contemplate bringing home anytime soon, it would be so completely perfect for a weekend car. That is, if we were the type of people who actually had "weekend cars." A convertible top, stylish exterior, and smooth and speedy ride made this something I so would have bought pre-kids.

(The Saturn Sky Roadster)

Next, I let Thomas take the wheel in the Outlook while I navigated from the front seat just so I could play with all the gadgets and features that were in the vehicle. There was an iPod jack in the front dash, heated seats, a sunroof, and so many features that I never expected to find inside. It was a nice roomy car that actually had a third row seat that was pretty easy to access as opposed to some other similarly sized SUVs. I could totally see moving to the Outlook after our kids get old enough to buckle themselves in their own seats. It was really stylish and felt surprisingly luxurious inside. But the most important thing I discovered is that I am absolutely obsessed with having built in XM radio accessible through the totally cool in-dash touch screen. Oh, how I LOVED this feature! That coupled with the availability of OnStar in all of these cars makes me think a Saturn would be an awesome option once we decide to make the move back to a two-car family.

By far my favorite vehicle, though, was the Vue 2-mode hybrid. This was a hybrid I could bring home. I actually got to drive this one with a Saturn rep hanging out in the backseat and telling me all the features the Vue had available.

(The Vue 2-mode Hybrid)

And, that friendly guy from Saturn was even super nice when I accidentally peeled out in front of another car and ended up squealing tires! I guess it was the perfect way to test it in "real" Atlanta driving conditions. The Vue (unlike any other hybrid) features a V-6 engine which meant it was super sporty and fun to drive. And, wow, was it quiet. I mean, there was no engine noise to speak of because, well, it's mostly electric but also those smart folks at Saturn made sure all those funky sounds that come along with electric cars were masked as well. Seriously, I could totally bring one of the Vue 2-mode hybrids home with me. And, since it has the built in XM radio (did I mention the a touch screen?!) it would make me both environmental and cool!

(My new obsession - is it wrong to lust after a touch screen?)

The night wasn't over after we took the cars for a spin, though, and one of the best parts of the night was hanging out with some fantastic Atlanta bloggy chicks and the cool, cool guys from GM/Saturn. Pretty much my dream night out. Except for the fact that being preggo at the bar with free drinks was a bit like torture, the evening couldn't have been more perfect. (Please BlogHer invite me to another one once I'm no longer growing a person inside me!)

It was actually just the thing I needed after a day home with my two crazy girls. Dressing up (I mean, showering), going to a cocktail party, driving some wicked cool cars, and letting Thomas be the arm candy for once was the perfect pick-me-up for this mommy blogger! Thanks GM/Saturn and BlogHer for the chance to spend the evening in style!

To see what the other mommy bloggers thought about their night at the Ride and Drive head over to the Saturn Atlanta Round-up page and check out their reviews!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Everybody's Nuts! (Giveaway)

I suppose it's only appropriate that my first real product review is for a company called "Everybody's Nuts" seeing as how that is very nearly my family's motto. Welcome to the Land of Lovings where everybody's nuts. It just seems to fit us, right?

Still, when the folks over at Everybody's Nuts offered to have me try their Pistachios and give my honest unbiased opinion I couldn't resist. I mean, when was the last time someone actually asked for your opinion and offered to give you free food for it?

Plus, I really, really love Pistachios. I mean, second only to a bag of hot boiled peanuts they are hands down my favorite nut of all time. But, I'm not really a Pistachio snob and I always pretty much assumed a Pistachio is a Pistachio. Which is probably why I used to buy those packages of red Pistachios at the gas station and never tried any other kind.

But, people, I was missing out. For real. I got to try all four of their flavors and, um, yeah...a Pistachio as it turns out can be quite delicious. They have Unsalted & Roasted for the ultra healthy folks, Salted & Roasted for the traditionalists, Salt & Pepper for the adventurous, and European flavor (Salt & Vinegar) for our continental friends.

These were hands down the best Pistachios I've ever had and, best of all, my kids loved them. When I was trying to sample them one afternoon during a controlled taste test (which really means: keep them to myself while watching Dr. Phil) I was constantly interrupted by chants of "Nuts! Nuts!" from my girls - which was just weird on its own, but also because I've never been successful in getting them to eat any other kind of healthy snack without bribing, threatening, or trickery so I was pretty stoked that they actually showed an interest in something other than Cheeto's and chocolate chip cookies...

So, now, here's where you get the chance to benefit from a freebie (and who doesn't love one of those?). I will be drawing two lucky winners from the comments off this post and each one will receive a package of Everybody's Nuts Pistachios in the flavor of their choice (in case you're curious, European is my personal favorite!).

Just leave a comment with the flavor you'd most like to try and I'll draw the 2 winners on Wednesday at 12:00 am E.T. Good luck!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Looking for some up-lifting music? Check out Matt Maher.


My musical taste doesn't generally include contemporary Christian for one reason or another, but every once in a while I get on this Christian music kick and find myself looking for uplifting and thought-provoking music. There just seems to be something really peaceful about being reminded of how big God is while driving down Ga400 in rush hour. Somehow the lady holding up traffic while she tries to paint her nails and drive seems less of an issue when I'm being reminded how big this world is and what God is really all about.

I was recently given the chance to hear and review Matt Maher's (rhymes with Mars) Cd "Empty & Beautiful." Though most of the songs are more traditional than I usually listen to, the Cd is a great soundtrack to introspection. I think it's the perfect music to have during a morning Bible study/quiet time or just as you get ready to start your day. If you like contemporary Christian music, then this is definitely a great CD to pick up and add to your iPod playlist. "Your Grace is Enough" is by far my favorite track and I think maybe I should just have that one loop in the mornings to remind me that whatever faces me during the day, God is faithful and present even (and especially) when it really doesn't feel like it. Maybe listening to that would give me some Christian love and compassion for the lady painting her nails on the highway. That truly would be a miracle...

Interested in hearing it? Listen to it online here or download it on iTunes.