Does your family use Redbox for movie rentals? That familiar red kiosk is the only place we go, now, to find options for family movie nights. It’s convenient, affordable and offers plenty of options. I also love that I can go online to make sure the movie I want is checked in and available, before [...]
Does your family use Redbox for movie rentals? That familiar red kiosk is the only place we go, now, to find options for family movie nights. It’s convenient, affordable and offers plenty of options. I also love that I can go online to make sure the movie I want is checked in and available, before I even leave the house. Then all I have to do is reserve it and voila!, it’s ready and waiting when I arrive to pick it up. Sweet deal!
This summer, Redbox is kicking off their Summer Family Fun program with several family-friendly DVD rentals and a sweepstakes you won’t want to miss. The idea is to have some great “Rainy Day” fun options that the entire family can enjoy, but if you are like us, and experiencing the blistering heat wave and drought of the summer of 2012, your family will still enjoy hiding out inside where it’s cool and enjoying one another’s company for some family fun. Our family recently had the opportunity to review the Phase 4 movies, that are part of Redbox’s Summer Family Fun program. The movies are produced by Phase 4 Films and will be available in local Redbox kiosks worldwide, this summer. Titles include: I Heart Shakey, Rockstars, Space Dogs, Smitty, Kiara the Brave, My Friend Bernard, Freddy Frogface and Donkey X. We watched each one and I have to be honest, we didn’t care for Donkey X, at all; but Smitty was excellent and has become a new family favorite. It’s a great story that is sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic, and sometimes emotional. A young man learns some fabulous life lessons about love, selflessness, friendship and responsibility. A great cast of characters makes the film even more special with Peter Fonda, Mira Sorvino and Louis Gossett. It was our top-pick of the Phase 4 selections. We’ve enjoyed it several times already!
Each time you rent one of these Phase 4 movies at a Redbox, in August, and enter your email address at checkout, you will be entered in the sweepstakes. The prize is a 7-day vacation for 4 to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida! What an awesome trip that would be! For more information, to enter without renting, or to see the official rules for the Summer Family Fun sweepstakes, visit www.redboxsummerfamilyfun.com. You can also find a Redbox location, near you, by visiting www.redbox.com/locations.
I received a Rainy Day SOS Basket to review the movies with my family and to collect information for the Summer Family Fun program with Redbox. No monetary compensation was received and a positive review was not required. As with all Busy-at-Home reviews, the views and opinions expressed are wholly my own.
Forty-eight hours from now, I will be in the Chicago airport with my sister, getting ready to board our flight to New York City!!!! To say I am excited is a massive understatement of how thrilled I am about this trip. I will be attending BlogHer 12, one of the biggest blogging conferences in the [...]
Forty-eight hours from now, I will be in the Chicago airport with my sister, getting ready to board our flight to New York City!!!! To say I am excited is a massive understatement of how thrilled I am about this trip. I will be attending BlogHer 12, one of the biggest blogging conferences in the world, along with about 6,000 other women from around the country. We’ll be attending sessions to teach us how to improve and grow our blogs, how to create great content that will serve you, our readers, and we’ll be connecting with companies and pr firms, too. I even get to interview a cookbook author! Be watching for that post, after the conference!
BlogHer will be two days, of the almost four, I get to spend in New York. The other two will be spent being a dyed-in-the-wool tourist, alongside my sister! I can’t wait to visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and look out over the city while I stand at the top of the Empire State Building. All the plans we have, and everything I will be doing at the conference, will mean I am on-the-go the entire time. I want to have hands free to take lots of pictures, to sample great food and to hug all the women, in person, that I have “met” and been working with over the last two years, online. All that activity, and the items I will need to have with me at all times, requires a very special kind of purse and I have got it! I’m so excited to be able to share another Emilie M bag with you! Emilie M is almost ready to launch their new online boutique! Be sure to sign up to receive the notice for when they go live, and in the meantime, you can browse all the gorgeous bags in their online catalog.
The main feature I was looking for in a bag for the conference was hands-free functioning. I wanted to put it on and wear it and not have to think about it again. But, it was enough to just be functional. I’m just vain enough to want it to look good, too. :) Wearing it would also mean that it would have to be roomy enough for the items I would want with me at the conference, but not so big that it was like lugging around a backpack full of college textbooks. I wanted it to be fashion-forward and functional. And on top of that, I wanted it to be affordable. Emilie M saved the day, once again, with their beautiful messenger bag from the Annabel collection. If you didn’t see the post about my other Emilie M bag, you can read it here and see why I have fallen in love with this company and their beautiful, designer-look and -quality bags. You’ll feel as though luxury was your everyday experience when you get to carry one, but you won’t have had to swallow that $400 or $500 designer bag price tag. As a matter of fact, my bag is only $55. With the years of durable, functional and accessorizing use I intend to receive from it, that is an excellent frugal buy!
With a roomy interior that sports a zippered pocket and two open pouches for things like cell phones or business cards, my new Annabel messenger bag from Emilie M was already a perfect solution for my trip. What a delight that the stylish purse also has two zippered pockets on the front! The long adjustable-length strap gives me lots of options for how I can carry or wear it. Love, love, love everything about this bag! I selected the black bag, with chocolatey croc-look accents. It is also available in camel or mallard.
There’ll be lots of pictures of me wearing it in New York. I can’t wait to share them and all the news about my trip, with you! And, if you happen to be walking through the Expo Hall at BlogHer, this week, and you see a woman with a fantastic Emilie M bag, come and say, “Hi!” I’d love to meet you and show you this fabulous purse, in person!
I received the Annabel messenger bag in order to test the product in person and collect information for this review. No monetary compensation was received and a positive review was not required. As with all Busy-at-Home product reviews, the views and opinions expressed are wholly my own and based on my personal experience with the product.
Do you know how hot 6000 bajillion millionty thousand degrees is?!!! It’s HOT, baby! Good thing my new Sears Kenmore grill can ONLY hit 800 degrees! Of course, I very rarely need to reach that temperature; but even if you’ve never hovered precariously at the top of a step-ladder, teetering on the precipice of almost [...]
Do you know how hot 6000 bajillion millionty thousand degrees is?!!! It’s HOT, baby! Good thing my new Sears Kenmore grill can ONLY hit 800 degrees! Of course, I very rarely need to reach that temperature; but even if you’ve never hovered precariously at the top of a step-ladder, teetering on the precipice of almost certain combustion, while trying to achieve the “perfect shot”, you will still appreciate that 400 or 500 degrees CAN most certainly melt your face off. – lol– My loving family has enjoyed reminding me of such things, all week, as I have continued my quest to take better food pictures, and pictures in general, really, for the blog and for life. It’s a skill I have always wanted to acquire, and now, with the opportunity for these great classes from SFU and Sears, I am on an earnest quest to achieve my Better than Reasonably Acceptable Photography badge. :) And thus, the need for a step ladder — and a melted face.
I’m excited that so many of the confusing aspects of photography and properly using the manual settings on my camera, are slowly becoming more clear. I still have a long way to go, but I am enjoying the journey and I really DO think my pictures are improving. This week we dug a little deeper into aperture, ISO and depth of field (DOF or f/stop). DOF was a simple term for me to understand, since it simply defines how much of the picture will stay sharp and have crystal clear detail, and how much will blur and fade into the background. The difficult part of that is deciding exactly how you want that to look in your photo and then setting your camera to achieve it. The most confusing part is remembering that the bigger the number, the smaller or shallower, the depth of field and the smaller the number, the larger or deeper the depth of field. (So a big number means a small DOF, while a small number means a large DOF. Way to be confusing, right?) The larger the number (f/28), the smaller the aperture (opening for light) in your camera, and the smaller, or more shallow, the field of focus will be. Meaning, the main subject that your camera focuses on will be crystal clear and focused, while everything around it will blur softly into the background. With a small number (f/1.4), your depth of field gets larger, so a larger portion of your photo will be detailed and in focus. And of course you can set your camera at many different stops, between those two ranges.
Another determining factor in depth of field is focal length (the amount of zoom). The more zoomed in you are, the more shallow your depth of field will be. The top picture of the cooked pork chops, is a good example of this.
ISO is a number, ranging from 100 up to 1600, on some cameras. It refers to how sensitive your camera’s sensor will be to light. The higher the number, the more sensitive the light sensor will be and the faster your camera’s shutter will close. So, in low light situations, you would want to use a higher ISO setting to get the sharpest image; while a sunny day would allow the use of smaller ISO settings. Higher ISO speeds are also used to capture motion without blurring. That’s a good thing to remember when shooting pictures at your kids’ soccer game, but for food photography, hopefully nothing will be sprinting across the plate, so it’s a good idea not to use a higher ISO than is necessary. If you leave it too high, it can result in grainy, “noisier” pictures.
I have to tell you the truth. I still don’t get white balance. I’m working on it and am determined to understand, but thus far, it is still a mystery. Basically, it has to do with the way lighting affects the “true colors” of what your photographing. Setting your camera to it’s perfect white balance for a particular situation, will allow you to achieve true color in your shot. My camera, and actually most digital cameras, have presets for different situations, like: Cloudy, sunny, auto, tungsten, fluorescent, shady, and flash. At this point, I am still selecting one of those presets, rather than customizing my own white balance. I hope to get better at being able to do that, because even the presets can’t always give me the truest color in the pictures I take.
Understanding the Rule of Thirds and how someone’s eye is naturally drawn into one of your photos, is an important element of composing a good photograph. If you can imagine your picture broken into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, it will create a 9-square grid over the shot. Placing the subject of your picture so that it is within the four intersecting points of your grid, will help to assure a well-balanced picture. Of course, as with any creative pursuit, there can be no hard and fast rule, since other placement may create incredible visual interest. But, the Rule of Thirds is a good beginning reference point, since it is known that the human eye will naturally be drawn to the intersection points of interest, rather than the center of a picture. This skill of composing a well-balanced shot is another I continue to practice.
The importance of perspective and the many different angles we can use to achieve it, was the final concept we explored in class, this week. I tried to test out quite a few of them. It’s crazy how something as simple as tilting the camera one way or the other or getting down low or up high can make such a huge difference in your picture.
The Straight-On angle is pretty much cut and dried. You’re in front of the subject, center it completely and create a nice clean contemporary photo. I didn’t realize it until I did the pictures for this lesson that I don’t take many straight-on pictures. Weird!
The From Above angle was a pretty rare shot, for me, but I had a lot of fun with it this week. Pretty much, just what you would expect — directly above the subject and completely centered.
The Tilt Towards angle tips your camera slightly to the right, which ends up tilting the subject of the picture to the left in the finished photo. This angle is inviting the spectator in and pulls their eye into the subject of your picture.
The Above with Perspective angle was another one, I didn’t do as much with. It’s funny how you don’t notice that you favor one style of photography over another, until you start compiling a post like this. This angle starts out above, but in front of your subject and then you tilt the camera forward until the subject fills the frame. This draws the reader’s eye from the front to the back of the photo (or bottom to top, however you want to look at it.).
The Diagonal angle is one that intrigues me and I love to play around with the field of focus on these pictures. The pork chop picture at the top of the page is a great example of this angle.
The Gentle Tilt angle allows the eye to travel freely through the image, stopping only at the focal point. Tilting the camera very slightly avoids having a straight horizontal line that divides the photo into sections and forces the readers eye to start, stop, start, stop, over each section.
Here are a few more of the pictures I liked, this week.
This has been a fun week, but I’m looking forward to next week, even more. I’m going to get to show you food on REAL plates — actually put together, like you might want to eat it! Yay!
If you’ve been following me through this process and keeping track of all the tips, so you can practice them at home, my first three posts are at:
And if you have, I’d love to hear how things are going and see some of your photos! Shoot me an email or pm me on Facebook. It’s fun to see how other people are using all the new info and we can learn from each other. :)
I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and Sears #CBias #GrillingIsHappiness. All photos and opinions are my own.
We adopted a new doll into our family, last week! Her name is DeeDee and she’s part of the new Gund Girls collection. Gund Girls are 17-inches of soft, plushy adorable! They are recommended for ages 3 and up and come with one removable outfit for playing dress-up. The dolls in this collection are “best [...]
We adopted a new doll into our family, last week! Her name is DeeDee and she’s part of the new Gund Girls collection.
Gund Girls are 17-inches of soft, plushy adorable! They are recommended for ages 3 and up and come with one removable outfit for playing dress-up. The dolls in this collection are “best friends in fashion”. Each of the seven Gund Girls has her own fashion flair and personality. Our DeeDee, for example, loves to travel and have adventures with her friends. Her favorite color is lavender, which matches her eyes. The cool part is that their outfits are interchangeable, so if you own more than one, you KNOW they will be trading clothes! A girl’s gotta do, what a girl’s gotta do. :)
What do I love about the Gund Girls? Though they are “plushies” they are durable, and seem very well-made. And then, there’s that “plushy” part. They’re soft — perfect for hugging and for taking a nap with. They have big, adorable, over-stuffed feet with bright-colored shoes. Who doesn’t love some pretty shoes, right? Everything about the dolls is colorful and appealing. When my granddaughters are here, they want to take DeeDee everywhere they go.
Any toy that encourages imagination the way a doll does, is a favorite on my list. No batteries to replace, no advanced technological degrees required — just good, old-fashioned fun and brain-power. You never have to tell a child how to play with a doll. Their creativity just automatically goes into high gear, and before long, you hear little snippets of “conversation” and witness all kinds of wonderful imaginative play. That’s exactly what’s been happening at our house. DeeDee is always swinging on the arm of one granddaughter or the other. And once in a while, their little brother hauls out the Rescue Heroes police car or high-jacks the Barbie jeep and takes her for a spin. I found her like this after the kids left, last evening.
I’ll bet you have little people in your life that would love the Gund Girls dolls, too! Check them out on Facebook or follow them on Twitter for updates and special promotions. And be sure to enter this AWESOME GIVEAWAY! One of you fabulous Busy-at-Home readers is going to win a Gund Girl for your own creative kids. Use the Rafflecopter form, below, to enter. Be sure to complete the mandatory entry, so all your extras can count! You MUST leave the requested blog post comment for the mandatory entry. (Click on the DO IT button to see the instructions.) Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
I received a Gund Girls doll to test in my own home and to collect information for this review. No monetary compensation was received. As with all Busy-at-Home reviews, the views and opinions expressed are wholly my own, and based on my personal experience with the product.
Have you ever eaten Red Velvet Cake? Or baked one? As a Midwestern girl, who has been baking for more than 40 years, you would think that I would have run across one. But yesterday, I baked, and tasted, my very first. I read websites and recipes that claimed Red Velvet Cake for “the south”, [...]
Have you ever eaten Red Velvet Cake? Or baked one? As a Midwestern girl, who has been baking for more than 40 years, you would think that I would have run across one. But yesterday, I baked, and tasted, my very first. I read websites and recipes that claimed Red Velvet Cake for “the south”, but then there were some northern-folk who felt that their formula was probably the original. I never did discover where the idea actually started, but after a little research, their was no question people felt very personally attached to the memories Red Velvet Cake evoked and the recipes are handed down in families like a precious heirloom. Interestingly, they all come with their variations and quirks, making each unique and a custom creation. Rather than re-invent the wheel, I took bits and pieces from the different recipes I found and baked one for myself, which I think probably turned out to be pretty traditional, other than the fruity twist.
My interest was first piqued with the idea of baking a Red Velvet Cake, because of the new air freshener scents I received from Renuzit, this week — Chocolate Covered Cherries and Red Velvet Cake. I have shared with with you, before, how strongly I feel about certain scents and fragrances, (whether it be in laundry detergent, dish soap or air fresheners), to create a mood or set the tone in a home. Memories and experiences just seem to be so vivid and fresh when they are evoked by a smell that takes you back to the moment you experienced it. In my childhood, Chocolate Covered Cherries were the ultimate delicacy and the gift my dad received for every birthday, Father’s Day and Christmas. They were one of his favorites and if we were allowed to sample one — well that was just next to heaven. :) Cakes and cookies baking were common scents in our home, growing up, and a memory that I have spent years recreating for our own kids. I so enjoy being in the kitchen and expressing my love for my family through the foods I create for them there. Nothing is so welcoming, comforting and homey as a house filled with the smells of baking. These new Renuzit fragrances capture those warm, welcoming memories in deliciously extravagant scents. Check out Renuzit’s Facebook page to hear even more about their Tempting Indulgences air fresheners. You’re going to love them! And, when you smell them, and see these pictures, you’re going to want to eat Red Velvet Cake, too! But, I want to tweak this recipe some more. You can read about it in my notes, below. I just want it to be PERFECT for you and I don’t think it’s there, yet! Not a baking-fail, per se, but not yet, special. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, check out what I did and these gorgeous pictures!
Since baking happens at our house on a very regular basis, I had nearly everything, on hand, that I needed to whip up a Red Velvet Cake; but, I was out of buttermilk. I decided to make a quick run to Walmart to get some and to grab a couple ingredients for some other recipes that were swirling and gelling in my brain over the last couple of days. It was going to be a quick “in and out”, so I did a very dangerous thing. (Insert crazy, sinister, oh no, not that, music here.) dun–dun–dun– I went in without a list! Please, do not try this at home! A trained professional navigated the store, without a list, and still came home with items not needed and neglected to purchase things they were planning to get. Actual dings were put in the budget in the making of this list-free shopping trip, both at the store and in the needed gas to repeat the trip for the unpurchased items. This is never a good idea for the family budget. So, don’t follow my bad example. Always shop with a list. :) If you want to see my entire shopping trip, check out my Google+ album.
I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community. This content has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and Renuzit. As with all Busy-at-Home reviews, the views and opinions expressed are wholly my own and based on my personal experience with the product. #TemptYourSenses #CBias #SocialFabric
When we have parties at our house, summer, winter, spring or fall, Coca Cola is front and center in the beverage options. In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s sort of one of my favorites. :) I’ve had to cut way back on my sugar consumption, but when I’m looking for a treat, ice cold Coca [...]
When we have parties at our house, summer, winter, spring or fall, Coca Cola is front and center in the beverage options. In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s sort of one of my favorites. :) I’ve had to cut way back on my sugar consumption, but when I’m looking for a treat, ice cold Coca Cola over ice is at the top of my list; and it’s a must for summertime entertaining!
Coca Cola is right in the middle of their “Summer to Remember” promotion and with several weeks left before school starts, they’re ready to help you make the most of the family fun that’s still left in summer vacation. They’re also intent on helping you get the greatest value for your dollar. They’ve teamed up with Walmart to save you money AND help you capture all the memories of your best summer moments. Exclusively at Walmart, you can pick up 28-packs — yup, 28! — of Coca Cola. I bought mine for the same price I would have paid for 24. Gotta love receiving even greater value for the regular price, but they didn’t stop there. Inside each specially marked 28-pack, there is a printed Coke Rewards code, which will net you 28 4×6 prints at Walmart. Redeem your code at MCR.com/walmart Be refreshed! Have a party! Enjoy all the memories with free photo-printing! Sounds like a great way to top off the summer. :)
How do you create great memories in the summer? Do you take elaborate vacations? Or do you love to garden? Is it time to remodel or redecorate the house? Maybe swimming and maintaining your pool are your summertime passion or you coach your kids’ softball team. You’ve probably already guessed that, for me, it would revolve around family, friends and summertime gatherings/parties with lots of delicious food. Plus, I’ve already made some great memories, this summer on my mission trip to the third ward in New Orleans. I’d love to hear about some of your favorite summer activities and if you need some inspiration, I have created a Pinterest board with some of my New Orleans pictures and some of my dream ideas for a “summer to remember”.
This promotional post was compensated by The Coca-Cola Company. As with all Busy-at-Home reviews, the views and opinions expressed are wholly my own and based on my personal experience with the product. Coca-Cola is not a sponsor, an administrator or an affiliate of the Busy-at-Home blog.
The more pictures I take the more I realize how much I have unknowingly been wasting the potential of my camera AND the more determined I am to learn to use it well. I feel overwhelmed, and I have so far to go, but when I look back at some of the first pictures I [...]
The more pictures I take the more I realize how much I have unknowingly been wasting the potential of my camera AND the more determined I am to learn to use it well. I feel overwhelmed, and I have so far to go, but when I look back at some of the first pictures I posted on this blog, two years ago, I see that the learning curve is at least moving forward, even if it has been slow movement.
In my Sears Grilling Photography Class, this week, we have been learning about my photographic nemesis – light – or at least ways to utilize and alter it to create the best shots. I am so incredibly intimidated by this skill and am weary from the struggle to master it, but I have finally completed my lesson for week 3. I hope as the lessons progress, I gain a better understanding of how to apply the use of aperture settings in my own camera. I experimented a little bit with a bounce board this week, too, attempting to bounce light into the shadows of my subjects. Let’s just say it’s a work in progress, when it comes to achieving a good result with that. I did take all these shots with natural light — no flash. Some were done a couple hours before sundown. Some were done in the bright sunlight, which I found to be too much against the shiny stainless steel of the grill. Oh! The grill. Let me tell you about our new baby!
Sears provided a new grill and accessories for our family; and for me to use in this photography class. We are over-the-top excited and so incredibly grateful for their generosity! I used the gift card they provided to purchase a Kenmore 4-Burner Gas Grill; and is it ever gorgeous! I love the open storage shelves on the side and am so excited about the side burner. David is in “grill-king heaven”! The hardest part has been that he suffered an injury on the 4th of July that has knocked him off his feet – literally. He is only now beginning to stand on his own occasionally, and sort of shuffle-step, with help. He is dreaming of the day he can fire up the smoker box in the grill and prepare a feast for the entire family. In the meantime, I’ll be manning the new grill tools and preparing the first delicious bites from our new Kenmore grill. (It should also be noted that I am THE most blessed mother-in-law ever. He doesn’t like his picture taken, but my son-in-law, Jason, is responsible for the assembly of my beautiful new grill! And, he was excited to do it.)
For this lesson, I needed to take pictures of my new grill and accessories, using what I’ve learned about photo editing and lighting in the first three lessons. Some of the new tips that were shared this week were:
- Make sure the product is the main focus of the shot, using props with caution, so as not to distract from the product.
- Standing back and using an optical (not digital) zoom will allow me to fill the frame with my subject and create a softer, out of focus background.
- Photographing in natural light and “natural” settings makes better pictures. Photographing a grill on the deck or patio will be a better image than in the dining room or on a showroom floor.
- Soft lighting can be more flattering, and in the case of the stainless steel on the grill, it was almost essential in order to pick up any details instead of just harsh reflections.
- Fill light can be added to a picture using a bounce card. Bounce cards create fill light to bring out detail in the shadow of the subject. Hold white poster board or a tri-fold board just out of the frame of the camera, and you can notice the amount of light that is reflected. Be sure to keep the bounce card out of the photograph!
I wanted to step outside the beverage category when I created my second recipe for International Delights and I had a pretty good idea what I was going to try, but even I didn’t realize how fabulously this would turn out. As you know, we’re a hard-core chocolate cake kinda family and my go-to, favorite [...]
I wanted to step outside the beverage category when I created my second recipe for International Delights and I had a pretty good idea what I was going to try, but even I didn’t realize how fabulously this would turn out. As you know, we’re a hard-core chocolate cake kinda family and my go-to, favorite recipe is hard to beat. International Delights just helped me take that up a notch, though, and it was a rich and fudgey dream! This is a super-moist, deeply dense and delicious cake. It doesn’t raise super high, so don’t worry that you may have messed something up. You didn’t. It will be heavenly! Enjoy!
Do you have a fabulously creative recipe for using coffee? I’ll bet you could incorporate the delicious flavors of International Delights Iced Coffee and Creamers into many of your recipes, to create a fabulous new treat. I’d love to hear your ideas! Be sure to follow their Facebook and Twitter pages, to stay up to date on any news and to collect great ideas to try in your own kitchen!
I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and International Delight. As with all Busy-at-Home reviews, the views and opinions expressed are wholly my own. #IcedDelight #CBias #SocialFabric
Most of you know that I recently returned from ten days on a mission trip, in New Orleans. Prior to making that trip, however, I had the most delightful “stay-cation” experience, right here in Nebraska! My family and I had a great weekend and a fabulous stay at the Lincoln, NE Embassy Suites. This wonderful [...]
Most of you know that I recently returned from ten days on a mission trip, in New Orleans. Prior to making that trip, however, I had the most delightful “stay-cation” experience, right here in Nebraska! My family and I had a great weekend and a fabulous stay at the Lincoln, NE Embassy Suites. This wonderful hotel quickly moved to the TOP of our list of favorites and will be the one we think of whenever we are looking for a high-value, affordable family-vacation stay.
(I need to also mention that I was sick with grief that I lost dozens of photos of this trip, when our phone carrier “lost” them in moving them from my phone to our account. Happily, our ten-year-old had her camera along with her, so many shots were recovered from her unique perspective and I’m so grateful to have them.)
There is no doubt that we were expected, and received VIP treatment at the Lincoln Embassy Suites, however; after only a brief time at the hotel, it was also obvious that everyone staying there was given amenities and attention we have not experienced with any other hotel chain. We pulled up to the front of the hotel and were treated to valet parking. We walked through the doors into a modern and beautifully decorated lobby and THEN … we turned to our left, and the entire room opened up into a gorgeous atrium, (nine stories high), filled with trees, plants, streams and waterfalls and sprinkled with dining tables and chairs! In the center of the atrium, we could look straight up to the giant sky-light that flooded the entire area with natural light. The atrium was surrounded, on three sides, by balconies in front of the picture windows of the guest rooms, rising all the way to the top floor. It was really quite beautiful, and yet, we immediately felt welcome and “at-home”. The space was as comfortable and inviting as it was beautiful. Hotel staff remembered, (and called us by), our names, each time we passed; always checking to make sure that we wanted for nothing, throughout our stay.
After we breezed through the simple registration process, at the front desk, we stepped into one of three glass elevators that overlooked the atrium and enjoyed the wonderful view as we were lifted up to the eighth floor and our spacious and comfy two-room suite. The suite had a HUGE bathroom, a bedroom with two full-sized beds, a desk, large closet and flat screen tv. The living area also had a flat screen tv and all the hook-ups to have accommodated our son’s gaming systems, though we didn’t think to bring them. Wi-fi was included with our room, as well, and was the perfect companion to the large dining/table desk area that made it easy to get work done or sit down to enjoy a snack with the kids. The kitchenette area had a sink and ample counter space with a coffee maker, mini-fridge and microwave, plus a safe for any valuables we needed to leave in the room. What a treat to open the fridge and find that it had been stocked for us with milk, chocolate milk and many varieties of soda, as well as a gorgeous tray of snacks that included fresh strawberries and cream cheese dip, apple slices, brownies, cookies and more! There was a note on the counter inviting us to enjoy these complimentary refreshments and my crew didn’t take long accepting that invitation. Delicious!
After getting unpacked and freshening up, my ten-year-old and I decided to walk around and take a little tour, before the family went down for the free Manager’s Reception. And since it was one of her most favorite things, our tour HAD to include another ride in the glass elevators! We noted that there were not only ice and soda machines on each floor, but that using our key card access, we were able to open large, well-kept laundry facilities, as well. We scoped out the location of the pool and hot tub, for later, and discovered a weight and exercise room, plus a nice gift shop. There is even a full restaurant, inside the hotel! We took some extra time to stroll through the atrium, cross the footbridge over the stream and just enjoy the pretty space and the soothing sounds of the water tumbling over rocks in the falls.
At the Manager’s Reception we enjoyed chips and salsa, pretzels and other finger food snacks along with free beverages — sodas, and if wanted, mixed drinks for the adults. The setting for the reception was the atrium we had toured, earlier, and there was ample room for all the guests as it is dotted with dozens of dining tables and chairs, plus conversation areas and other seating. It was a casual and comfortable gathering where guests had the opportunity to relax and visit.
We walked to the Haymarket, a local historic area of the city, full of restaurants, antique shops and art galleries, for dinner. It was great that it is so close to the hotel and we didn’t even have a need for the car. There is actually quite a lot to do in downtown Lincoln, that is within walking distance of Embassy Suites. We could have taken in a movie at the Grand Theatre across the street or checked out the latest concert or play at the Lied Center. And it would be impossible to go hungry with the number of available restaurants, serving everything from smokehouse barbecue, to pizza to Indian cuisine. The possibilities will tantalize your taste buds as you walk the Haymarket and smell all the delicious aromas.
After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and were surprised to find we had the gorgeous pool, sauna and spa area all to ourselves. It was such a fun evening and once, again, the staff at the hotel was cordial and attentive, acknowledging us by name and then later on, quickly responding to a request for fresh towels in the pool area. We finished off our fun at the pool and headed back upstairs to our suite, where the kids pulled out the hide-a-bed and curled up to enjoy a movie, while David and I were able to watch a movie of our own, in the other room. Two TV’s turned out to be a great feature!
The next morning, (You know, the point that is usually a mad scramble to choke down a couple granola bars or a tub of yogurt, pack and be out before check-out time.), we were able to wake up, get ready for our day and then head back downstairs to the beautiful atrium at the center of the hotel. Two professional chefs were busy taking personal orders for custom omelets, sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, pancakes and other delicious fare at absolutely NO EXTRA COST — totally FREE — included in the price of the room for our entire family! There was also a generously stocked buffet line with cereals, fruit, donuts, muffins, bagels, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy and more — also free. We were so shocked and pleased at the wonder of it all, I forgot to take any pictures of the extraordinarily delicious food! I enjoyed a delicious sausage and cheese omelet with green peppers, onions and cheddar cheese. The person behind me in line, ordered an egg white omelet with peppers and cheese. My daughter ordered a ham and cheese omelet with a side of bacon. My husband ordered….well, you get the idea. There must have been eight or ten individual omelet skillets going at all times. We placed our orders for our customized breakfast and watched as the pro chefs prepared each one individually and perfectly! Yum! What an extraordinarily delicious breakfast experience! If we had gone to a restaurant to order this meal, we would easily have spent $50 or more for our family to have food that probably would not have approached the quality we received at Embassy Suites. Can you believe that was all included in the price of our already very reasonably priced suite? Amazing value!
After breakfast, we checked out and the valets brought our van right to the front door, where we loaded up to continue the rest of our brief stay-cation. We live so close to Lincoln and had taken our older daughters to visit some of the great frugal, family fun spots, but our ten-year-old hadn’t experienced several of those, yet. So, we strolled through the Sunken Gardens (completely free), visited the giant sculpture fountain in the zoo park, checked out a few interesting shops at the mall and then took her to tour the State Capitol building. It was a fun, educational and budget-friendly family weekend that created some great memories and we’re so grateful to Embassy Suites for making it special!
I wrote this review while participating in an Ambassador Program by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Embassy Suites Hotels and received a one-night complimentary stay at an Embassy Suites Hotel to facilitate and research this review, and a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate. A positive review was not required. As with all Busy-at-Home reviews, the views and opinions expressed are wholly my own and based on my personal experience with the company and products.
With several members of our family experiencing problems digesting dairy, it has posed a problem finding alternatives to the foods they have loved and taken for granted. You really don’t realize how much dairy you consume until you try to give it up. Sometimes, we simply don’t find replacements that satisfy, and then the disappointment [...]
With several members of our family experiencing problems digesting dairy, it has posed a problem finding alternatives to the foods they have loved and taken for granted. You really don’t realize how much dairy you consume until you try to give it up. Sometimes, we simply don’t find replacements that satisfy, and then the disappointment and discouragement sets in, or they suffer through, just eating what they think tastes good. The taste and texture can be so different in some alternatives that it simply isn’t palatable. The other issue is that these products are often so much more expensive than the food we’ve been accustomed to. We have happily had the opportunity to test some products that have offered us some tasty options and are easier to find and afford. They are available in many health food stores and the through the Whole Foods chain.
Follow Your Heart produces the familiar brand name, VEGENAISE, and a couple others that may not be quite as familiar, but are just as good, VEGAN GOURMET CHEESE ALTERNATIVES and FOLLOW YOUR HEART SALAD DRESSINGS. Our family was able to try the new Soy-Free Vegenaise, Follow Your Heart Vegan Ranch Salad Dressing, Vegan Gourmet Mozzarella Cheese Alternative and Vegan Gourmet Cream Cheese Alternative. I am excited about and pleased with all of them.
Vegan Gourmet Mozzarella Cheese has a softer texture than the dairy Mozzarella you may be used to, but the flavor is very good. When melted, the Vegan Gourmet Cheese does not get the stringy, pull-it-for-a-mile consistency that you will expect from mozzarella, but it does melt, more like creamy liquid at first and then sets up a little bit.
The Cream Cheese Alternative is delicious and though I detected that it seems to taste slightly saltier than dairy cream cheese, I have used it with fruit, as a spread on crackers and on bagels with jam. It’s really yummy and I didn’t notice any difference in the texture of the Vegan Gourmet Cream Cheese when compared to the texture of dairy cream cheese. It can be used in cheesecakes (which I haven’t tried, but am definitely going to), frostings and all kinds of dessert recipes.
The true test of any products at our house are whether or not my husband and kids will eat them. No matter how healthy I hope they will try to be, if they don’t like a food, they simply will NOT allow it to cross their lips. I get no back-up on this one, because David loves food and he won’t waste his time eating something he doesn’t enjoy. He’ll just go get the food he loves. He also has a tendency to decide before he has even tasted something, that he won’t like it, so occasionally…not that often really…maybe only like once in a blue moon…really, it’s hardly ever… I just don’t tell him what he’s eating. The psychological rejection of something new is bypassed and voila! He likes it. And THAT’S when I tell him. :) So, this next test was absolutely critical. The two products I expected the most resistance about were the Ranch Dressing and the Vegenaise (mayonnaise).
I’m not sure how your kids are about Ranch Dressing, but mine…well let’s just say, “They’re militant.” They eat it on EVERYTHING — veggies, french fries, salads, tacos, etc. They even dip cheesies, tacos and chicken strips in it. If it’s dippable, my kids and grandkids have probably put it in Ranch Dressing. To say they are particular about its taste is a gross understatement. They definitely know what they like. While my older kids said that they could taste a difference, they never actually stepped away and stopped eating the Vegan Ranch Dressing. The younger kids dug in and never came up for air until all three sliced cucumbers, they were dipping, had been devoured.
Now, for the toughest test of all – my “I’m sure I won’t like it” husband. I decided to make one of his favorite ham sandwiches for lunch and test out the Vegenaise without actually sharing with him that I was using it. (I know it will seem like a ridiculous paradox to those of you who are vegetarian or vegan, that I would use vegan mayonnaise on meat. I totally get that it must seem weird to you. OUR issue is not with meat, though. At our house, lactose intolerance and dairy allergies are what I’m trying to avoid.)
SANDWICH MAKING TIP: If your family loves sandwiches made with thin sliced deli meat, but your budget cringes a little at the cost, plus you’re trying to help everyone eat in moderation and get healthy, I have a great tip for “stre-e-e-e-tching the meat a little further and fooling their eyes into thinking they are eating a lot more meat than they are. If you loosely roll deli meat slices into “tubes” before laying them on your sandwich, the rolls will “stand up” higher in the sandwich, making it seem thicker and letting your family’s eyes convince their stomachs that they are eating more than they are.
I added fresh tomato slices, lettuce and sweet red bell pepper to the sandwich, which was made on Oatmeal Bread. I even served him a few of his favorite potato chips, so he felt like he was really splurging for this special lunch. He made quick work of the sandwich, oooohhing and aaaahhing over how good it tasted. I’ll have to let him in on the secret, I suppose. … Maybe, later. ;)
I would have no problem substituting Vegenaise in recipes where I would normally use mayonnaise. Texturally, and taste-wise, we found little difference. I haven’t personally baked with it, yet, but this recipe for Vegan and Gluten-Free German Chocolate Cupcakes leads me to believe I will have no difficulty. Yum!
To learn more about Follow Your Heart and their products, I want to encourage you to follow them on Facebook and Twitter. It will be a great way to keep up on the latest news and learn more about all the different products they make. I know I am definitely going to be checking out the info on their thick and creamy salad dressings and their horseradish sauce, for David.
Don’t forget to use the Rafflecopter Form, below, to enter this generous giveaway to win the Vegan Made Easy Gift Set pictured in this post. Click DO IT and FOLLOW the INSTRUCTIONS written there, for the Mandatory Entry, then click Enter and that’s it. You can take advantage of the optional, additional entries that open, after that. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
I received a Vegan Made Easy Kit, to test the products in my own kitchen and collect information for this review. No monetary compensation was received. As with all Busy-at-Home reviews, the views and opinions are wholly my own and based on my personal experience with the product. Busy-at-home is administering the giveaway and selecting a winner at random, using random.org. Follow Your Heart is supplying and shipping the prize to the winner.