Monday, August 30, 2010

The Zhuniverse Tour

On August 18th my daughter and I drove up to Cary, North Carolina to check out the Zhuniverse Tour.  If you don't have children under the age of twelve, or if you've been living under a rock, you might not have heard of Zhu Zhu Pets.  They are adorable hamster-like critters.  They run on wheels and each one makes 40 different sounds.  The Zhu Zhu Pets make a different sound depending on where they are.  If the Pets are in one of their accessories they will make a noise to match it, like honking if they are in the car. 
My daughter has wanted a hamster for years so when Zhu Zhu Pets came out they were a perfect compromise for us.  When we were invited by NC Blog Buzz and Mom Select to check out the tour, we were both excited.  We both wanted to see what's new in the Zhuniverse, and I am always thrilled to see my blogging friends.  I have been so fortunate to get to know several incredible women who blog that live in North Carolina.  The Zhuniverse tour gave us a chance to catch up, too! 
It was a very hot day in Cary and thunderstorms kept threatening.  I was afraid they wouldn't be able to set up their stuff, but the weather held off long enough for some play time.

The Zhuniverse truck

They had an Interactive "Which Zhu Zhu pet are you?" 
They had several Nintendo DS systems set up with Zhu Zhu Pet games

There were tables with regular Zhu Zhu Pets set up, and the newer Kung Zhu battle set up
Molly Gold of Go Mom Inc. and Sarah Pinnix of Real Life Blog were covering the tour for MomTV  (they are so much fun!)

We had a great time playing at the tour!

One reason I really enjoy it when a company does a tour like this is that you have a chance to let your child try out the product before you buy it.  The kids there were having a great time with all of the Zhu Zhu Pets.  It was also pretty cool to see all of the accessories that are available and how they work together.  I like that you can buy one Zhu Zhu Pet for a reasonable price, (under $15) but you can also expand your collection however you like.  Of course my daughter immediately put the DS game on her birthday list!

All photos included taken by Amy Hodges.  I received an invitation to the Zhuniverse Tour from NC Blog Buzz and Mom Select.  I received a gift for my participation.  I am grateful for the gift, but any and all opinions expressed here will not be influenced by gifts/compensation.  For further information please see my disclosure page.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Walt Disney World Mom's Panel

Who loves Disney World?  I mean, REALLY loves Disney World?  You know who you are.  The minute you leave one vacation you are already planning the next, whether it's in six months or six years.  You know how to navigate all the parks but you still pick up a park map.  You know which rides are "Must-Do"s for your family.  You know that "Must-Do" is from the loop played on Disney resort televisions.  All you have to do is think about Tinkerbell flying from the castle and you are in tears.  You would ride Toy Story Midway Mania over and over again no matter how badly your hand cramped.  You have a Junior Jammitor sticker in your wallet. (I'm looking at you, Tyler){ok, I just got a new one too.}

I LOVE Disney World.  It is my happy place.  I cannot go there enough.  I love going with my family, either my husband and kids, just my husband or the whole clan. (All eighteen from my side of the family went several years ago. Eight adults and ten kids.  It was insanity, blissful insanity!)  I love going with my friends and showing them new stuff and learning what they love about the parks.  I particularly love going with people who have never been before.  Walt Disney World in Florida is so huge that it's difficult to adequately describe.  I love watching their faces when they see Main Street and the castle for the first time.  I had the great pleasure of being with my friend, Cheri, as she experienced Epcot for the first time this past weekend.

Yes, we went to Disney World in August, and yes, it was hot and crazy humid, but I promise we had a good reason.  Four years ago, Disney started the Walt Disney World Mom's Panel.  It's an online forum where anyone can ask trip planning questions and Disney Moms answer and give trip advice.  Disney did a search for Moms who love planning their (and everyone else's) Disney trips.  They had 10,000 people apply to be on the first panel in 2008.  I believe they started with 12 members and have increased as the demand has increased.  Every year they open up the search to find new members.  I think that last year they had close to 20,000 applicants.  It is a dream of mine to be on the Mom's Panel.  I have applied and will be applying this year.  The same group of Disney cast members (employees) that is responsible for the Mom's Panel also hosts the Mickey Mom's Club.  The Mickey Mom's Club had a dessert party and special viewing area to watch Illuminations, Epcot's nighttime spectacular on Sunday night.  My friend Cheri and I drove down to be there. 

Was it crazy to go to Florida for a short weekend for a dessert party?  Maybe to someone else, but to me, 1. um, it's DISNEY, and 2. what a great opportunity to meet some of the people who are living my dream!  I met several former and current Mom's Panel members, including some dads!  I was able to get a few minutes with Laura Spencer, Disney Princess in charge of the Mom's Panel, so I'll let her tell you about the Mickey Mom's Club.

Okay, so maybe I did some creative editing!  The truth is, out of 20,000 people someone WILL be chosen and maybe this is my year!  If you love Disney and are interested in applying, the Mom's Panel search will be starting September 13th.  I'll be hoping for some pixie dust for all of us applying!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Whatever Martha {a party at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia}

A few weeks before the BlogHer conference, buzz started zipping around twitter about a party happening at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.  The twitter stream lit up.  For some of my fellow bloggers, this was like the mothership calling them home.  There are many food bloggers, style bloggers, and organization bloggers who immediately tried to figure out how to get invited.  I was curious because, COME ON, Martha Stewart!!  However, the truth is I am so not Martha.  Not even close.  I am a Whatever Martha kind of girl.  If you have never seen Whatever Martha or listened to Whatever Radio they are all kinds of awesome.  Whatever Martha is a show where Alexis Stewart and Jennifer Koppelman Hutt go back over old episodes of Martha Stewart Living and generally snark and sometimes try to recreate the craft or demo that Martha does.  The show won critical acclaim in its first two seasons and they recently started shooting season 3 which will air on the Hallmark Channel in January.  So being a Whatever, Martha! kind of girl, this is the only tweet I sent out about the Martha party.

That's it.  Didn't think about it anymore.  Imagine my surprise when I checked the email account for this, my very new blog, and found an invitation to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia!!  I immediately replied with a "Yes."  On that Thursday, I arrived in New York, went immediately to the Kodak Bus Tour, raced back to the hotel and had about 20 minutes to get ready to leave for the Martha party.  One disadvantage to the Kodak tour is that after being on top of a double decker bus for three hours on a hot sunny day, I was fried.  I had sunscreen on, but clearly not enough.  You will see in the pictures, I was a LOBSTER!  So I raced to get ready and ran to the lobby of the hotel.  There was a huge line for taxis and it wasn't going anywhere.  A gentleman approached us and offered to take us in his limo for $5 a person, up to ten people.  We quickly gathered 8 of us and hopped in, we were going to Martha in style! (yes, we were slightly worried that we would never be seen again!)

the ride to Martha

After arriving in style, we had to wait in a long line to be escorted up to the 9th floor.  Once off the elevator we were firmly in Martha-land.

the little details

everyday food

The one Martha Stewart publication that I regularly subscribe to is Everyday Food.  Actually my husband is the subscriber.  We love it because it really is everyday food.  The recipes are easy to follow and the ingredients are easily found.  Imagine my delight when I found myself talking to Editor and Chief Anna Last.  She was so kind and easy to talk to, one of my highlights of the party. 

My other highlight brings me back to Whatever, Martha!  Not long after exploring the party I realized that tucked into a corner were Alexis Stewart and Jennifer Koppelman Hutt.  Brilliant!  I dissolved into fangirl excitement.  I didn't want to intrude on their privacy, but holy cow!  Fortunately right before I left the party they were leaving too.  I spoke to Jennifer first who is unbelievably tiny.  Alexis is just frighteningly thin, but Jennifer looks like she could use a few sandwiches too.  Maybe a brownie.  So I got a picture with the two of them and my friend Sue from Motherhood and Me.

                          photo by Sue Robinson of Motherhood and Me and Lives Less Ordinary

Then the magic happened.  On their radio show, Jennifer is known as "the sound" because girl can talk, and Alexis is known as "the fury."  I'll let you figure it out for yourself.  So I asked Alexis for the following picture and she happily complied.

                        photo by Sue Robinson of Motherhood and Me and Lives Less Ordinary

Seriously, I might frame this picture and put it up in my house.  Love.  Let me emphasize again, I asked for this picture!  I'm so glad she indulged me, she scares me a little.  Look at her arms! She could totally take me out!

All in all this was an interesting party.  I freaking loved seeing Jennifer and Alexis.  I had false eyelashes put on for the first time and found them on my pillow the rest of the week.  There were some great displays and demos, but it was an odd assortment.  I think companies and bloggers are trying to figure out what to do with each other which makes events like this interesting.  I am grateful I was able to attend and see a little more about the Martha Stewart empire!

Stop back by this week for posts about the Zhuniverse tour and my report from the Mickey Moms' Club Meet Up in Epcot this past weekend.  Thanks so much for stopping by!

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Few of my Favorite Disney Things

Today's vlog is about my favorite place in the world, Walt Disney World.  In it I mention the Walt Disney World Mom's Panel, for more information please go to the Mom's Panel website.  I also reference being able to find maps for Disney Parks in the hotels, but forgot to add that I meant the on-WDW-property hotels! (remind me not to vlog late at night!) Oh, and as usual, please forgive the scratching around of dog and cat feet! {and let's all just ignore the attack of adult acne going on!} 

Thanks for stopping by, more exciting things coming this week so check back!!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Kodak Big Apple Bus Tour

When I heard that Kodak was sponsoring a photo tour of New York City the day before BlogHer began, I was immediately intrigued.  I truly LOVE my Kodak Zi8 video camera.  That is the camera I use when I vlog (video blog).  As a new blogger, I did not receive many invitations to private parties that were happening at BlogHer.  I expected that because I am new, and unknown commodity to the people setting up these parties.  I made a few inquiries with Kodak and was put on a waiting list for the tour.  A little over a week before the conference, I received notice that there was space for me.  Hooray!  What better way to start my first visit to New York City than with a photo tour?!  Kodak sent us all their EasyShare M580 14 megapixel camera.  I was thankful to get the camera before the tour because it gave me a chance to learn the camera's features.

Kodak's EasyShare line makes uploading a breeze.  One of the new features is that when you are clicking through your pictures on your camera, you can tag them to be uploaded to specific destinations.  I can tag my pictures to go to the services I use, which for me is mainly Flickr and Facebook.  You can also tag the people in pictures, and you can tag them based on event.  I made a tag for pictures I might want to use on my blog so they will all go in the same file.  The EasyShare system does streamline the uploading process.

But back to the Big Apple Bus Tour!  When we arrived at Caroline's Comedy Club, the people from Kodak had arranged a refreshing lunch with awesome cupcakes decorated with the "Share" button!  We had a great lunch and were treated to a presentation on what's new and coming up at Kodak.

Kodak Presentation

After the presentation it was time to get on the bus.  I won't share all of my pictures, because I am not the best photographer, but here are a few highlights.

Get on the Bus
Getting on the bus, there were two buses of bloggers!

Times Square
Driving towards Times Square

Duane Reade
The ubiquitous Duane Read

The Other Bus of Bloggers!
The other bus of bloggers

No Soup for You
As a Seinfeld fan, I had to grab this shot!

different styles of architecture
The different styles of architecture were amazing.

a building in a building
A building in a building!

Hershey's/ M & M store
My kids were very interested in this one!

the yellow ones don't stop~buddy the elf
This just made me think of the movie, "Elf", "The yellow ones don't stop"

Old and New
The old and the new

I have more pictures that I will share later, but these felt like the best representations of that day.  Many thanks to Kodak for a great start to BlogHer.

Kodak furnished a camera, lunch and the tour at no cost to me.  The opinions expressed here will ALWAYS be my own.  Please see my disclosure page for further information.  

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Going to the Show

Times Square

I have just returned from the BlogHer '10 conference in New York City and my mind is sufficiently blown.  2400 (mostly) women bloggers converged on the New York Hilton and other neighboring hotels for a long weekend of activities.  I had been faithfully reading about BlogHer for some time now, hoping to prepare myself.  I had never even been to New York City before, how was I going to survive this huge conference? 

So much happened over the course of four days that it might take me several blog posts to address all of it.  There were the people that I encountered.  Meeting my fellow bloggers, old friends and new, conference sponsors, public relations people, marketers, even Alexis Stewart.(that story definitely deserves it's own post!)  There were parties to attend, events hosted at the conference and invitation only parties that I wrangled a few invitations to.  There were instructional sessions that I sadly made it to few of.  There was the Expo Hall where brands were waiting to talk to us all.  There was the Voices of the Year gala where amazing posts were read by their authors.  There were moments stolen away from the insanity to sit and talk with friends. 

One of the best things that happened for me was the connection with other bloggers.  In the light of cameras filming interaction, FTC regulations for bloggers, reviews left and right, it can feel like I have entered a very commercial world.  At the conference you are able to see the number of people who care about what they are putting into the world.  You meet the moms who just want to help other moms save a little money.  You meet women who want to support other women in business.  You meet moms who just want to assure the rest of us that we are doing the best we can.  You meet women who just have words burning up their souls, and a blog is the best way for them to get it out.  The diversity of the community is awe inspiring. 

The challenge that is before me is to take what happened there and apply it in this space.  I have been stuck since Sunday night trying to figure out how to represent everything that happened and everything I learned.  I heard that many people have writer's block after a conference like this and I completely understand.  Where do you start?

The beginning is probably the best place to start so tomorrow look for a post about my fun on the Kodak Big Apple Bus Tour. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Stepping out in Faith (with Chocolate!)

Some of you know that I am going to the Blogher conference in New York City this weekend.  Of all the places I have been, I have never been to New York City.  Weird, huh?  Not only have I turned into Ellie Mae Clampett going to the big city, but I am going on my own.  No family, no friends that have known me very long.  I am lucky to know some incredible bloggers from North Carolina who are going to be there.  It's odd and wonderful how you can form friendships and connections with such depth in exchanges of 140 characters or less! 

In a stroke of luck, I was able to hook up with a group of bloggers from DC for part of my travel.  I didn't want to arrive in NYC, alone, if I could avoid it.  I had tried to arrive at LaGuardia with some of the NC fabulous crew with no luck.  I was agonizing when I saw the discussion on twitter about a train from the DC area into NYC.  It was as if I heard the angels singing, or that may have been U2 on my ipod.  It gets better.  These crazy cool birds from DC had gotten the train ride sponsored.  So I am traveling to this conference courtesy of ...

Hershey's S'mores!!  Are you kidding me?  We LOVE S'mores.  Working with young people has given me so many opportunities to enjoy S'mores.  We have had them at bonfires, over the dying coals of the grill after dinner, small campfires, toaster ovens, even S'mores quesadillas with mini-marshmallows and chocolate chips.  Our most recent S'mores adventure was before I knew about the Hershey's sponsorship.  For some crazy reason, on the fourth of July, my son and some friends decided to build a small campfire.  Not the crazy part.  They built this fire on the driveway.  (all you firefighters out there, we had hosed everything down and were safe, I promise)  It was only a matter of time before they all ran inside for S'mores makings! 

                                           photo by Amy Hodges

Hershey's very generously sent us some S'mores makings and some killer toasting forks.  My husband has promised the kids that they will make S'mores while I am gone and he has promised me that it won't be in the driveway.  Many thanks to Hershey's for not only providing my travel on the train and the goodies, but for providing so many lifelong memories.

As part of the S’mores Road Trip to BlogHer I received a round trip ticket on Amtrak to the convention and Hershey branded items. Any views expressed in this post are my own