Tag - Reviews

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REVIEW: Brandless – Online Grocery Shopping
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REVIEW: August Smart Lock Pro + Connect
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National Geographic Explorer Academy and 2019 Almanac
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REVIEW: Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics
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Clean Beauty Round-Up
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» REVIEW: Tuft & Needle Pouch (Chair)
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» The Fight Against Screen Time, Summer Picks, and Giveaway!
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» REVIEW: Kwikset SmartCode Deadbolt
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» Chattanooga Fun in the 2018 Mazda CX-9
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» REVIEW: Ring Video Doorbell Pro

REVIEW: Brandless – Online Grocery Shopping

We tried out Brandless last week! If that name doesn’t sound familiar to you it’s basically an online shop of “brandless” items that are mostly organic, all gmo-free and other things like gluten-free as well. Every item is either $3 or two for $3.

The experience:

The site was easy to use and shipping was free after hitting a certain price point. This was pretty easy to do as it was around $30. I found plenty of staples that we use on a regular basis and some new items to try as well. This was my first time ordering and I received six dollars off my box as a bonus. The boxes came about two days later and they were well packed. Nothing was leaking or broken. This was impressive to me, I’ve used other services that don’t go the extra mile with packing and it shows.

The products:

The products were all high-quality and very tasty. We are a folic acid free family due to MTHFR genetic mutations and we were excited to find pretzel chips without that additive. We love them with hummus! Some of the products, however, are not worth the $3 price tag. I’m actually going to make you a list of the best and the worst. This should help when and if you decide to give Brandless a try.

Brandless Best from our order:

Blueberry Muffin Mix
Pretzel Chips 2/$3
Organic Ketchup 2/$3
Granolas, all flavors
Lentil Soup 2/$3
Olive Oil
Spray Olive Oil
Organic Pasta 2/$3
Organic Pasta Sauce
Organic Coconut Oil
Organic Dried Fruit
Popcorn 2/$3
Pistachios
Organic crackers (all flavors)
Whole wheat organic animal crackers
Maple Syrup

Brandless Worst (these items are cheaper/same in the store):

Beef Jerky
Candy (all flavors)
Applesauce Pouches
Granola Bars
Cookie Thins (not much product in the bag)
Almonds (same price per ounce as store)

Is Brandless worth it?
Overall I rate Brandless as a good, and useful service. There is absolutely no monthly commitment, you can order as you please or never again if you want to! It’s a nice way to get gmo-free and organic pantry staples for a consistently low price. A lot of items are cheaper than stores with a handful being equal or slightly more (see list above). I would say, try it out with a $6 code, be sure to hit free shipping amount, and see what you think! Our family will definitely order again.

Shop Brandless

 

 

REVIEW: August Smart Lock Pro + Connect

We are in the midst of yet another renovation. Smart technology and monitoring our home continues to be a top priority. Our family is constantly on the go and we have four kids who can’t seem to remember that doors should be locked on the way out. And I’ll be honest, as mom to those busy four I’m notorious for locking myself out. We added some great, smart solutions to our last home but I’m excited to share that we’ve discovered an even better solution for our new place: the August Smart Lock Pro.

Installation:

Installing the August smart lock was a breeze. The August app gives step-by-step instructions on how to get things going. The only tools needed were a standard screwdriver, drill and a couple of drill bits! The lock worked with our existing (Kwiskset) deadbolt and the entire install was complete within ten minutes.

Function

The lock can be accessed from our smart phone using the August or Smartthings app, Siri through our Echo device, or by the existing key (hand-turn from the inside). In addition, DoorSense is a magnetic sensor that lets you check if your door is open or closed, this is especially great with kids running around! We opted to add the Smart Keypad to the exterior to our home as a fourth access option as well.

The phone app allows us to check the lock from anywhere, lock or unlock from anywhere and give the kids (or other family members and friends) their own access codes to input at the door if needed. The app keeps a log of which codes have been entered so we know exactly who unlocked the door with exact times. We’ve already employed these options in various ways. It was a snap to give access to the dog sitter or remotely unlock the door for a friend to grab an item when we weren’t around. The August Lock has provided both freedom and peace of mind to our daily routine.

The August App also has a cool feature called the 24/7 Activity Tracker which lets me know when different members of my family come and go through the front door.

Design:

We love the sleek, modern look of the August Smart Lock Pro. It comes in two great color options (silver and black) that will compliment any home. As a bonus the exterior portion of the door hardware is not altered by the August lock. I love this because I don’t have to add another key to my keychain and to an outsider, the lock doesn’t bring any extra attention to itself. The smart lock itself is a bit bigger than the exterior of the existing deadbolt, but does not come out any farther than the door handle. This is acceptable, especially considering it needs to house AA batteries (included) and a motor.

Compatibility:

To access the lock remotely, just use the included August Connect Wi-Fi Bridge and your app can lock and unlock the door from anywhere. The August Smart Lock Pro gets even smarter when we combined it with voice-activated commands through Amazon’s Alexa. Locking the door couldn’t get any easier! We simply ask Alexa to lock the front door or check the status of the front door and she does the work for us. If you choose to ask Alexa to unlock the front door she will prompt you for a four-digit passcode. Not just anyone can unlock the door!

Conclusion:

The August Smart Lock Pro meets our many needs. It installed quickly and it looks great. We now have greater freedom to let friends and family in as needed while maintaining greater security in our home. The lock also has some great companions: The August Doorbell Cam and the August Keypad I’ve already mentioned. These items can be added to give even more flexibility and control over the security of your home.

August website

buy on Amazon

 

 

 

 

I received this product from August to complete this review, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

National Geographic Explorer Academy and 2019 Almanac

We have both avid and reluctant readers in our home. Library and bookstore trips are often weekly adventures for us as we seek to fill up the avid readers and at least get the reluctant ones reading their minimum. There is honestly a lot of subpar reading choices for young readers so we are constantly on the look out for enriching reads that are also highly entertaining. Developing a love of reading early on contributes to a love of life-long learning, which is why it’s such a priority in our home.

National Geographic is a highly recognizable brand, but I had no idea that they produced children’s literature and books until this year! Our family recently had the chance to check out their 2019 almanac and their brand new Explorer Academy book series.

The Explorer Academy series starts with the book The Nebula Secret. This series is unique because it combines scientific facts with fictional plots and characters. Some stories are even based on real-life adventures from actual National Geographic explorers! Kids are encouraged, through the example of 12-year-old main character Cruz Coronado, to get curious about their world, problem-solve and find their own big adventures. The vivid illustrations that pop up from time to time are also helpful for engaging the more reluctant readers. Our kids devoured this book during their bedtime reading each night.

The 2019 National Geographic almanac has been a fun family read. We enjoy pulling this out on Friday nights rather than flipping on the TV. Incredible animal stories and the 2019 sky calendar have been the stand out favorites. We are already planning when to head out to view meteors and planets in the night sky. Did you know there is something called a zombie star? It’s a surviving fragment of an exploded star. Who says science can’t be entertaining?!

As a family we are thankful for the entertaining, educational and action-packed books now offered by National Geographic. We even enjoy the occasional read through the Weird but True series. This typically involves a lot of giggles and disbelief from the kids. Reading as a family is definitely more fun with National Geographic!

 

 

 

** A big thank you goes out to Moms Meet and National Geographic for allowing us to read, enjoy and review these titles. All opinions are my own.

REVIEW: Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics

A few years back I learned that you are supposed to rotate and change out your probiotic sources periodically to expose your gut to different probiotic strains for optimal results. For this reason I was pretty excited to partner with Moms Meet for a special review of Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics. It was definitely time to get out of my probiotic rut!

I was immediately intrigued when I discovered that these particular whole-food based probiotics were created with a three year fermentation process. Fermentation maximizes the natural health-promoting properties of each ingredient. Mushrooms, vegetables and spring water are all part of this amazing fermentation process.

What makes this probiotic different? Definitely the fermentation process, but also the blend of pre-biotics, probiotics and post-biotics. You get all three of these necessary strains that promote optimal gut-health in one capsule. This allows your body to grow its own healthy bacteria, something our bodies need to thrive. This formula is also free of gluten, dairy, allergens and GMOs, so it’s a great pick for even the most sensitive systems.

Cold and flu season will be here before we know it and gut health is a huge factor in how well our immune system fights for us. There is no better time to start a great probiotic to support your immune system. I began to notice a difference in my digestive health just days after starting Dr. Ohhira’s supplements. I experienced more regularity, less heartburn and I even lost a few pounds after using them for about three weeks. I chose to do the jump start for intensive rebalancing as suggested on the packaging, and took five capsules in the morning and five capsules at night for the first six days. I feel that this was a key part of my results and a great way to rebalance quickly. I now take just one capsule per day and continue to experience great results.

It’s nice to know that I’m also experiencing greater nutrient absorption as well as the more tangible benefits I shared above. If you are looking for a new, high-quality probiotic I certainly give my gold stamp of approval on this one. But thankfully you don’t have to take my word alone. Dr. Ohhira’s probiotics are the seven-time award winner of the Best of Supplements award as well as the Clean Choice Awards winner of 2015.

Click here to read more!

 

 

Clean Beauty Round-Up

I spent years paying little attention to the products I used on my skin and face. I slathered on foundation without ever turning the bottle over to read what was actually in the bottle. When we began to have children I cleaned up our personal products, cloth diapered and made many of the cleaners and household items we used regularly. I remember a time when  Seventh Generation was the only decent brand I could find in a store and even that was a bit questionable! The interesting thing about this big transformation is that it wasn’t until the past two years that I considered my make-up and skin care routine. I don’t wear gobs of make up but I love a good BB cream, mascara and black eyeliner. I also love playing with make up if I’m headed to dinner or somewhere special. It was definitely time to turn that bottle of foundation over to read what was really lurking inside. Fragrance (AKA, the beauty industry’s secret code for whatever they want to put in here, unregulated), Parabens, Triclosan, Formaldehyde, Lead… and a whole lot more. To get the full picture click here and read all about it.

For our purposes I’m going to skip ALL the details of the scary story and instead share the GREAT products I’ve found to avoid this yuck. Because here’s the thing… even if you don’t care that your make-up and face products can carry cancer and neurological risk maybe you’ll care that they are actually aging your skin and making you look older. 

I have tried, at length, each of the safe products suggested below and fully recommend them. Please read the notes in order to decide if it’s the right product for your needs. Each product name is linked to their website for shopping ease if you decide you just HAVE to try it.

Foundation/Powders/B.B. Creams/Primers:

Juice Beauty: PHYTO-PIGMENTS FLAWLESS SERUM FOUNDATION

This is a really good medium coverage foundation. It moisturizes the skin and does not set on top of the skin or look cakey. I prefer to wear this with a dab of loose powder on top to set the look and make things a bit more matte. If you prefer a dewey look just skip the setting powder. This also contains an anti-aging serum! (tip: shake the bottle well every time you use it)

Rejuva Minerals:  CONCEALER POWDER AND LOOSE FOUNDATION POWDER

Rejuva minerals makes several foundation items but these were stand-out winners and the items I employed over the last week to create a daily clean make-up look. This was my first go with concealer powder and I don’t think I could go back to a stick concealer again. This organic, mica and titanium dioxide free powder is really easy to apply and target areas like dark circles without pulling against the skin or causing further damage. The coverage is excellent and buildable according to the look you want to create. As a bonus, their packaging is really quite cute. Use coupon code goodb to receive 15% off your order.

Crunchi: BEAUTIFULLY FLAWLESS FOUNDATION 

Crunchi is a fairly new MLM company but they have made a big splash with highly educated consultants. Their Flawless Foundation is a great choice if you like a very full-coverage look. It really lives up to its name.

Lowens: IN YO FACE! NATURAL, VEGAN BB CREAM

This wonder-cream firms and protects your face and just feels wonderful. This BB cream is not tinted and works well as a pre-make up moisturizer or on those days when you skip the foundation and just throw on some mascara. (Which is me four days out of seven) As a bonus, this cream also provides sun protection!

Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics: MAGICAL MORINGA PRIMER

Lush is super transparent with all of their ingredients and they include pictures of the folks who make the products on their packaging, so obviously I love everything they sell. This vegan primer was a new purchase for me after browsing the store with a friend one day. We both sampled it in the store, looked at each other and immediately declared our love for the product and intent to buy it. It quickly makes the surface of your face velvety and matte. Make up stays on longer and I’ve been wearing this alone on days when I don’t want to wear make up. Bonus! It’s full of Argan oil and doubles as moisturizer.

Mascara:

W3LL People: EXPRESSIONIST MASCARA

Mascara is a must for me. I pretty much always have it on. And the blacker the better. The brush included in this mascara is the key. The formula is great, but man, the brush is the best. It’s super skinny and firm and it lengthens lashes beautifully without any clumping. Allure magazine endorses it, so you know it’s good!

Rejuva Minerals: MASCARA MEGA LASH, LENGTHENING & THICKENING

Mega Lash has a mega brush included. If you like a fat, fluffy brush that adds a lot of fullness and depth to lashes you’ll adore this one. The formula goes on easily and leaves lashes channeling snuffleupagus from Sesame Street. This is not a water-resistant formula so definitely skip it on pool days. Rejuva also offers a volumizing formula but I have not personally tried it yet, grab some and let me know what you think! Use coupon code goodb to receive 15% off your order.

 

Blush and Bronzer:

Juice Beauty: PHYTO PIGMENTS BRONZER AND ILLUMINATOR DUO

This bronzer and illuminator duo is pretty fool proof. Bronzer is a favorite “make up tool” of mine and I do have some trouble with powder versions. This smooth, gel-like formula is easy to apply and blend in if you make a mistake. The color also works well with almost any skin type. The illuminator looks lovely applied at the top of the cheeks or corners of the eye.

Rejuva Minerals: PAPAYA PRESSED BLUSH POWDER

This blush has a universally flattering color and is buildable like many of Rejuva’s products. It’s definitely not a blush you can cake on OR overdo. It’s just a sweet pop of color that warms up the skin and leaves you with a summery look. It gets points for being fool-proof and natural looking. Use coupon code goodb to receive 15% off your order.

Lips:

Lowens: LOWENS LIP BALM

Lowen’s Lip Balm comes in 17 fun and delicious flavors. Some of our favorites are Funky cold camelina, Iced mini doughnut and Lime in da coconut. Yes, I’m a total sucker for fun product names but the performance and flavor is equally great. These smooth and tasty lip balms are full of fair trade ingredients (even coffee for some flavors!) like shea butter, rosemary oil and beeswax. Each flavor has it’s own list of special ingredients! This product is a hit with the whole family and must at the end of summer days in the sun. Hit up our instagram to win some for yourself.

Juice Beauty: SATIN LIP CREAM

This satin lip cream is FULL of color. It’s rich, deep and buildable. It’s not long-wearing but my lips feel great when I use it. If you don’t mind reapplying this is a great choice. To be honest, I’m pretty certain that long-wearing lipsticks don’t have great ingredients, including some of the popular ones that make some pretty big claims.

Body Products:

Lowen’s: BUBBLE PASTE

Oh. My. Goodness. This stuff won some awards in our house. First of all, it’s somehow more fun to put paste into a bath than liquid. Second, the blood orange scent is just SO good. Third? We are just really in love with the Lowen’s company and their commitment to really good, nourishing and safe ingredients. Their sweet stories about the products and how they are related to their daughter Lowen really win us over. I have complete and full confidence in every product I use from Lowen’s, not only because I trust their business model but they also have great EWG ratings which takes all the guess work out of the equation. Grab some bubble paste for yourself and give the kids an enjoyable bath you can feel good about.

Lowen’s: BUTTER BALM

This magical salve is like a fix-everything wonder balm. Too many words? Maybe… but it is really good. Lowen’s Butter Balm is completely free of petrochemicals, artificial preservatives, colorants or scenting agents. We have used it on everything from bug bites that didn’t want to heal, to cracked cuticles and rough puppy paws. Basically, if something is irritating your skin, slather some of this on and you’ll be on your way to fixing the issue. It comes in a generous sized tub and kind of melts in your hand as you apply it. We are in the thick of summer activities and this seems to be the most requested item after days full of bug bites, scrapes and barefoot running. I’ve heard it’s great as a diaper rash solution as well!

Acure: BRILLIANTLY BRIGHTENING FACE SCRUB

Yes, I know. I’ve written about this one before. But if it’s not in your life yet, go ahead and make sure it is. This scrub gently exfoliates with things like sea kelp and French green clay. It’s like a 2-minute spa day and I promise your face will feel refreshed and detoxified. I keep this on my amazon subscribe and save because I can’t. stop. using. it.

And there you have it! My current favorites, all with the highest standards  and practices. I’m really thankful for these companies and the ethical practices they employ. The result is high performing products that don’t have shady or irritating ingredients. All products can be verified on the EWG website if you want to double check me!

 

» REVIEW: Tuft & Needle Pouch (Chair)

For the last few years, I’ve worked from home. I’ve slowly created a workspace that fits my needs for function and design. My space isn’t quite large enough for a couch so I went on the hunt for the perfect chair. So when Tuft & Needle asked us to review their new Pouch chair, I knew it had potential for the home office! Tuft & Needle has already been known to disrupt the mattress market with dozens of other brands following their lead. Now they’ve introduced what has become my new favorite seat in the house.

A few days after placing our online order, our UPS man delivered the Pouch right to our doorstep! The box required both Calvin and I to get it to the right spot. Be ready, these chairs weigh approximately 70 pounds! As you’ve probably imagined, there is no assembly required. Just open, unwrap, and patiently watch the Pouch expand before jumping on. I love the design of this couch, it is nice enough for any room in the house, not just tucked away in the corner of a bonus room.

 

A post shared by Erica Ho (@goodbye_normal) on

The Pouch.

It’s a bean bag but it’s the size of a large comfy chair. Just like their mattresses, the Pouch is delivered in a tall box right to your doorstep. This makes the Pouch a whole lot easier to bring upstairs if needed.

Specs

  • 48″ W x 48″ L x 48″ H
  • Filled with Certipur-US certified T&N Adaptive foam
  • Soft, quilted cover with locking zipper
  • Made in the USA (yes!)
  • 100-day trail
  • 3-year warranty
  • Available in 3 colors

I love to sit on it with my feet propped up on a nearby ottoman or coffee table. Our kids love to get a running start and dive into this “giant fluffy cloud” as they’ve described it. Speaking of kids, the cover is completely removable and machine washable in case a child (or a pet in our case) does the unthinkable. We’ve already moved the Pouch to different rooms in the house but I think the office is where it’ll stay.

Conclusion

I love the sturdiness and quality of the Pouch. Some folks may think the $450 price tag is steep but it is nowhere near the $850 price tag of a similar product by Lovesac. Even with heavy use, I imagine the Pouch to last in our house for at least five years.

Tuft & Needle website

buy Tuft & Needle on Amazon

 

 

 

 

I received this product from Tuft & Needle to complete this review, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

» The Fight Against Screen Time, Summer Picks, and Giveaway!

We’re only one week into summer and have already called a family meeting to create a schedule. My kids constantly want to play on an iPad or watch Netflix. And I’m starting to annoy myself with my long-winded statements starting with…when I was your age. I wish I had read these summer tips (Boundaries, Routines and Early Bedtimes) from lovewhatmatters.com a few weeks ago. In addition to the great article mentioned above, we’ve added a few specific things to maximize our summer and battle screen time.

HEXBUG

We’ve transformed the year of less into a lifestyle of less. Don’t get us wrong, our kids still want the ‘stuff’ they see in Walmart and Target isles, we’ve just provided jobs around the house to earn money to buy it themselves. My kids have been eyeing Hexbug remote control powered toys, specifically the BattleBots!

Does anyone remember watching this show as a kid on Saturdays? If there’s a sibling quarrel, now we can settle it in the arena! The tiny remotes are so fun and simple to use.

A post shared by Erica Ho (@goodbye_normal) on

The kids got things going in no time. In addition to the BattleBots, they loved their BattleGround sets that in some ways, combine BattleBots with Laser Tag. The obstacles can be moved in any design so you can make a unique playing field every time. Also check out AquaBots, remote controlled fish! Perfect for the long lazy days around the pool.

Long Cow

We typically reserve Friday nights for game night but now when it’s blazing hot outside at noon, we like to break out a board or card game. Long Cow is by far one of our brand new favorites. The goal of the game is to build the largest herd of cows. Extra points if you have the longest cow, hence the name of the game. My kids favorite rule in the instruction manual is having to say Your Moooooove when your turn is over.

Gamewright also makes a ton of other games including Tiki Topple, Sushi Go!, Loot, and many others.

Puzzles

Puzzles seem to be a thing of the past. I can’t remember a time in my childhood when we didn’t have a puzzle in progress. I’ve discovered that my kids’ interest in a good puzzle all depends on the art. We recently found these awesome Disney-themed puzzles that are bright, colorful and keep everyone’s attention.

Library

Weekly trips to the library can be therapeutic. We love being a part of the local library’s summer reading challenge and checking out a huge stack of books for the week. Run-ins with friends make things extra fun. Our local library is next to a playground so for us, it’s easy to plan a couple of hours here.

GIVEAWAY (ends June 8, 2018)

Maybe we can help you fight screen time, too! Head over to the Instagram page and enter to win this set. We’re giving away:

(1) BattleBots Rivals Set
(1) Loot Card Game by Gamewright
(1) Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World book by Kristen Welch (this one’s for the moms!)

» REVIEW: Kwikset SmartCode Deadbolt

Since turning our home into a smart home with a SmartThings hub and installing a Ring Pro doorbell system, replacing the traditional lock on the front door has been a priority.

Before

Calvin and I have historically been terrible at remembering to lock the door on the way out. Add kids into the equation and it becomes even easier to forget! The challenge is not only making sure the door is locked on the way out, but also making sure people don’t get locked out when they’re not supposed to be. Faced with these two issues I began to look for options. My research led me to this Kwikset SmartCode Deadbolt lock. I can now use my phone to lock/unlock the door OR use the digital keypad. This came in ultra-handy when I locked my keys, phone wallet AND groceries in the car at Aldi and had to walk/jog home empty-handed (true story).

This primary feature among others (listed below) is why we love it so much:

  • Touchscreen, great for design and function
  • Keyless entry
  • One touch locking
  • Works with Amazon Alexa via our Samsung SmartThings hub (or Wink for others)
  • Up to 30 user codes so I can track who is using their “key”
  • You can re-key the lock yourself to use your existing keys

Installation

The deadbolt works with standard size door cutouts (1-3/8in. – 2in.) so for us, no new holes were required. Simply remove the old deadbolt and install the smart one. When we first tested the lock, the deadbolt didn’t extend as far as the unit wanted so we had to make sure the lock was lining up correctly. I also utilized a spade bit to make the hole in the door frame about 1/4″ longer. Even with that minor hiccup, the installation process only took about fifteen minutes.
From there, it was time to set up manual codes and connect the lock to my iPhone’s SmartThings app. If it isn’t the first device you’ve added to your app, both of these steps will only add another five-ten minutes, depending on how many manual codes you set up.

Design and Function

This lock is made of a heavy metal that’s built to keep anybody out, as a deadbolt should. The touchscreen is responsive and bright when you touch the keypad to activate it. When unlocking the door, you have to enter the code but when leaving the house, you can simply touch the padlock icon to lock the door. The SmartThings app can unlock and lock the door as needed. A few advanced functions include locking the door at a certain time every night (this will only occur if the door is unlocked) or lock/unlock the door automatically depending on if you (really this is detecting your phone) are leaving or arriving.

Conclusion

With four kiddos and a dog running around, you can never be too safe. I love knowing that my door will lock every night on it’s own as I manage bedtime for my family, talk about peace of mind! There’s nothing worse than leaving for a trip and wondering if the last person out the door remembered to turn the lock. With the addition of this lock I’ve gotten into the habit of double checking to see if the door is locked when we’re gone for an extended period of time. Another bonus? I no longer need to equip my kids with keys that they might easily misplace. The thought of our house keys floating all over Nashville is frightening. If your house is as busy and crazy as ours, I definitely recommend this product.

Kwikset website

Buy Kwikset SmartCode Deadbolt on Amazon

 

 

I received this product from Spectrum Brands to complete this review, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

» Chattanooga Fun in the 2018 Mazda CX-9

Winter has really felt never-ending. Although it didn’t get super cold this year the Spring has still taken its time to come around, we’ve even had strange little snow days pop up here and there. The rainy and cold weather was really getting to us and we felt that a family weekend getaway was in order. Thankfully we live in the Nashville area and places like Chattanooga are just a quick two-hour drive away. The Mazda CX-9 was our road trip companion for this trip and it was an exciting departure from our usual eight-passenger minivan.


Here are a few things we especially liked about the car followed by a rundown of our Chattanooga visit:

Seats Seven – Outside of minivans and overly large SUVs, there aren’t many vehicles that can fit our family of six. With the deceivingly compact CX-9, we can even fit an extra family member or friend. Some mommas can’t succumb to the idea of minivan life and this vehicle would be a great alternative.

Interior – The interior of the CX-9 is just as sleek and sophisticated as the outside. Every detail is well thought out, down to the very placement of the cup holders. Everything you need is within arms reach allowing you to control the temperature, radio, etc. without distracting you from the most important thing, keeping your eyes on the road. 

GPS and Advanced Heads-Up Display – For many years we’ve utilized the phone GPS over the built-in car GPS systems. In the past they’ve tended to be hard, clunky to use and often give inaccurate directions. This built-in GPS is in another category! I love the addition of features like including the distance to the nearest gas stations and restaurants. 

The Advanced Heads-Up Display magically displays the speed limit, your current speed, blind spot warnings and more right onto your windshield. This eliminates the need to look away or down as you are driving. 


The CX-9 made the drive to Chattanooga smooth and fun, and of course the kids requested Kidz Bop radio on Sirius XM. As parents, we really appreciated the comfortable, adjustable seats. A comfy seat always makes the trip seem shorter!

Chattanooga Highlights and Destinations:

Westin – Downtown Chattanooga

  • Hotel Room window

The Westin is a new addition to the downtown Chattanooga scene (less than a year old at the time of writing this). It is located only a couple of blocks away from the free shuttle that runs along Broad Street. If you’re familiar with downtown, it’s near the Tivoli Theatre. In addition to the hotel, the area referred to as West Village is in the process of being renovated with new restaurants, shops, and office space. On Saturday nights, the block is closed off to car traffic and an amazing laser light party takes place outside with street vendors, live music and other fun surprises. The kid-focused light show starts at 6:45 and there’s another one geared more for adults at 7:45. This is REALLY fun, in fact we were pleasantly surprised with how much free fun we had during show. The kids absolutely lost it when MASSIVE balloons came raining down from the sky. We could tell how much thought and effort was put into making this a unique experience.

The renovated hotel (which used to be the BlueCross headquarters) has luxurious, clean and spacious rooms. The floor-to-ceiling windows create the illusion of an even bigger room. The outdoor pool is open year long with the water set at 80 degrees. Additionally the hotel is fully equipped with a coffee shop, quick service food area, restaurant and comfortable lounge areas. The staff and service were excellent as well. The bellhop who assisted us showed so much enthusiasm for his work and even shared interesting facts such as the preservation of the original elevators and circular stairwell in the building.

High Point Climbing

Anytime we spy a Mellow Mushroom, we just have to eat there. It’s a good thing High Point Climbing is right next door. The climbing and physical exertion made us feel a little better after the heavy meal. We visited the downtown location of High Point Climbing. The beautiful facility allows climbing both inside and outside of the building. There is 30,000 sq. feet of climbing surface to enjoy including the best kids zone we’ve ever experienced in a climbing gym. The kids area empowered them to hook up and climb on their own without having to wait on us for assistance. As you all know, our daughter Lola is blind. This is probably her fourth climbing experience and she has grown to love it. High Point is an excellent place for expert climbers and those who are putting on climbing shoes for the very first time. Their friendly staff is great at giving guidance and encouraging families to get moving together.

Creative Discovery Museum – This is by far one of our favorite children’s museums. The museum boasts everything from an excavation area to a riverplay area. We found that our kids were able to engage in several sensory enriched activities while learning new things about Tennessee and surrounding areas. The museum is currently hosting America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far. The cultural exhibit explores the diversity of Muslim cultures in our community, country and around the world! The exhibit represents 52 different countries around the world. It will be at the Museum through May 13th. Our kids loved learning more about the Muslim and Middle Eastern culture. Kudos to the museum for facilitating activities that help overcome fear-based perceptions regarding Muslim cultures.  Some of our highlights were getting henna tattoos (from Indian culture), baking Middle Eastern treats, and watching a science presentation in the auditorium.

Chattanooga Football ClubIf your household is anything like ours, soccer is becoming a big deal. If you visit Chattanooga in the Spring or Summer, Chattanooga FC might be playing a home game at Finley Stadium. The free shuttle will land you about four blocks away from the stadium. You can show up early and tailgate with the Chattahooligans (family friendly) and enjoy general admission seating. So come early and enjoy front row seating. After the game, we took advantage of walking down to the field and meeting the home team for autographs.

Chattanooga ZooThe zoo is a bit smaller than our home Nashville Zoo. We visited on Sunday morning before our drive back home. The crowds were low so it ended up being nice for us. We were able to take our time and read about each exhibit and engage the kids. Several of the animals were playful and the kids enjoyed interacting with them. During our visit the trainers showed the crowd how the chimpanzees get their wellness checks and train to keep them safe and healthy. The kids enjoyed seeing how the zoo cared for the animals in this way. The zoo is also very reasonably priced, under $10 for admission. 

Bonus: There’s a nice outdoor playground complex next door to the zoo you can make sure to visit if your kids need to get a little extra energy out at the end of your zoo visit. This playground is an inclusive playground and offers something for children of all abilities.

Conclusion about the Mazda CX-9

The daily commute with the CX-9 in Nashville was enjoyable and I already miss driving the car every day. The comfort and the handling of the car was very enjoyable. The back storage area was enough for groceries but offered a challenge when it came to our weekend trip. When driving to Chattanooga, our family of six had to fold one seat down to fit all of the suitcases. Fortunately, we were still able to fit three kids in the middle row with the fourth child in the back. We did notice we turned a lot of heads when driving and parking the vehicle which is a testament to the sleek new look and vibrant candy-apple red color! This vehicle could work for a family of six but would be ideal for a family of four or five. The extra room on a daily basis would be nice and comfortable with margin to add visitors or extra luggage for the longer trips.

 

 

 

Special thanks to Mazda USA for allowing us to test drive the 2018 CX-9 Grand Touring. As always, these opinions are my own.

» REVIEW: Ring Video Doorbell Pro

A little over a year ago, we had the opportunity to review and install a Ring Video Doorbell and loved it.

When we moved last September, we knew a Ring Doorbell was a must have security device. When Ring asked us to test out the Pro version, we were looking forward to the narrower, sleeker look compared to the original Ring doorbell. In addition, the higher resolution video footage (1080p vs 720p) is one of the other main differences that set the Pro apart. Just like our older model, the unit came with interchangeable face plates to match our wall color/preferences (white in our case), and customized alert zones in the app help a ton. Without setting up the zones, the Ring Pro picked up lots of unwanted (for us at least) car traffic, but the customized alert zones and motion sensitivity were able to correct false notifications. The Ring Pro can only be hardwired to the existing doorbell wiring but we knew that wouldn’t be an issue for us.

Even with the smaller profile, we had to cut out a piece of our door trim, which added about 10 minutes to the installation. Without having do to that, it took about 15 minutes to connect the necessary wires and mount the doorbell. Just like the original Ring, the Pro uses our home’s wifi to alert us and record a video anytime there is motion detected or someone rings the doorbell. The 160-degree range of view helps catch most activity that happens in the front yard and for us, even the street.
The videos are good quality, include sound, and are generally about 30 seconds long (from the beginning of the detected motion until the motion ends, which is usually about 30 seconds for someone crossing our yard or approaching our front door). We now know exactly when our mail or packages are delivered each day! The videos are stored via Ring’s cloud servers for $30 per year.
Some of the other existing features from the original Ring Doorbell are not lost. The Ring Pro still has doorbell functionality and rings our existing doorbell in the house, as well as alerting us on our iPhones that someone has rung the doorbell. From our iPhones, we have the capability to “answer” the doorbell by seeing a live view of the person on our porch and the option to speak to them if we choose to. This allows us to answer the doorbell whether we are in our house (and just don’t want to open the front door / get out off the couch) or away from home.

Conclusion

With four kiddos and a dog running around, a few more eyes and ears outside never hurts. We saw this peace of mind as a huge benefit in our last house so getting another was a no brainer. I have found the Pro to be a little more reliable than the first version and definitely notice the better video quality. The cloud video recording is optional but anyone should just plan on adding that service. We love the additional security of knowing who is entering our yard or approaching our house and when packages are delivered. If you don’t have the wiring infrastructure, I would still recommend the original Ring Doorbell (or Doorbell 2) but if you do have wiring, splurge for the Ring Video Doorbell Pro.

Ring website

Buy Ring Video Doorbell Pro on Amazon

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