Monday, February 28, 2011

Studying Abroad

I was talking to my cousin over the weekend and she told me that she's applied to some study abroad programs for the summer. She applied to one in London and one in Germany and she's currently waiting to hear if she got accepted. I'm sure she'll have a great experience no matter where she ends up.

She was talking about needed to work on her German if she ends up in that program, and it made me think of an old story from my college days. A friend of mine dated a guy who used a company that did translating services to, um, "help" with his work for his foreign language classes. The fact that this was just slightly unethical and defeated the purpose of studying a language in the first place seemed to escape him. Needless to say, she's not dating him anymore.

But this old story got me to thinking that in today's world where everyone is online constantly, maybe it would be possible to use translation services in a legitimate way to help your study of a language. For example, you could compare your own translation of something with the one from the translation service, or send them your own translation and have them put it back into English to see how far off you were. If you find a translation company company that has reasonable rates and works quickly, it could be helpful.

And of course it's always helpful to know of a good translation company (or an Übersetzungsbüro, as translation companies are apparently called in Germany. Awesome word.) if you're going to be abroad for a long time. One like Translia is good because they have three different levels to choose from depending on whether you're talking about something informal or more important. I think I'll suggest them to my long as she agrees to use them for legitimate business only.

Music Monday: Lady Gaga's "Born This Way"

Is SMC For Me?

I just got off the phone with my friend - the one who's in the process of starting a business - and I got my super businesswoman update from her. It's really interesting to me to watch her try to build something new from the ground up, and I'm always happy to give her advice or do a little research for her when she needs it.

Today she was telling me about a new avenue that she's exploring as a possibility for her business. It's called Specialty Merchandise Corporation or SMC. Basically, SMC has wholesale quantities of specialty products, and you can create your own catalog (and/or web) based business to sell them. SMC handles the warehousing and drop-shipping, so you can just focus on the sales and marketing side of things. This isn't something that my friend wants to do right away, but she's looking at it as sort of a "phase two" option for when she's ready to expand into other types of related products.

Of course I've heard of businesses like this before, but never really looked into it closely, so I've been doing a little research since I talked to my friend. From looking at this SMC corp review, it definitely seems like a concept that has potential if done right. It does cost money to join, but there are different levels of membership so it seems like the type of thing where you could start at a level that you were comfortable with. And if you stick to selling online, you won't have many other costs to deal with. Of course, there are some SMC complaints out there too, and while some are valid it also seems like some stem from people who just weren't cut out for this type of business in the first place. It's definitely an intriguing concept for anyone who wants to be their own boss.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Butt Paste for Baby

This post brought to you by Boudreaux's Butt Paste. All opinions are 100% mine.

I recently went to visit a friend of mine who has a new baby.  He's super adorable, as most babies are.  At one point she went to change his diaper and I saw her pull this product out of her diaper bag that I just had to comment on.

"What the heck is Butt Paste?!"

It turns out that Boudreaux's Butt Paste is a popular diaper rash ointment.  (I don't know if it's the most popular, but it's definitely the one with the most memorable name.) And since new moms often enjoy sharing their parenting knowledge, I learned that Butt Paste was developed by a pharmacist in consultation with a pediatrician, and it works really well to soothe irritated baby bottoms without being too greasy or having an unpleasant smell.  Her son apparently agreed with her because he didn't seem to mind the Butt Paste application process at all.  

I'm actually glad that I got this little mothering lesson.  I have a baby shower to go to next month and I was thinking of doing a little gift basket, so maybe I'll buy a jar of this stuff to go in it.  And apparently you can get a free sample if you go to their website - that's how my friend first tried it after seeing it mentioned on TV - so I might get a sample for my cousin as well.  Mostly I just want to be able to tell people that I got them some Butt Paste. Because I'm very mature.  I'm only thinking of the children, really.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Back to School in my Pajamas

So I've been thinking about taking some online classes. I'm going to have the extra time this spring so even though I already have a degree, I feel like it might be a good time to get my brain going again in an academic way. I'd rather go with online classes at this point because it's more flexible and I don't know if I'm really ready to jump into a full degree program at this point. So it's something that I've started looking into.

Of course, one of the issues with going to college online is finding a reputable school. So I was looking for information about the best online colleges and I found this great site called Degree Jungle. They have a list that ranks the top 65 online schools in the U.S. this year. There's a clear explanation of the metrics that they used to come up with the rankings, and you can also see how the list breaks down by each individual metric. So whether your top priority is the acceptance rate or the level of financial aid available, you can easily figure out what your best options are. There's also a blog that has more in depth information on various types of degrees and programs.

Overall Degree Jungle has been really helpful as far as starting my search for the top online schools. Now I just need to continue gathering info. Oh yeah, and decide exactly what to study and when to begin. Here's to getting smarter!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Baby-Proofing Madness

I recently visited a friend of mine who has a new baby. He's her first child, so even though he's not really very mobile yet, the baby-proofing was in full effect at her house, from Baby Gates to stove and window guards. Everything is so thoroughly baby-proofed that getting around is kind of like going through an obstacle course.

I made the mistake of making a joke about all of the guards and gates and ended up getting a full lesson on baby-proofing and kid safety. (In all seriousness though, I don't blame her for being cautious, and I think that's far better than not being careful enough.)

She told me that she researched a lot of baby safety items and ended up going with a company called They make all kinds of child safety products as well as Pet Gates and other related stuff. She evens checks their KidSafe Blog sometimes to make sure she's up on all of the latest products. Can't leave anything unproofed! (They also have info about things like crib recalls, which is really important because it seems like products for babies are recalled every other week these days.)

The bottom line is that her son is absolutely adorable, so I'm okay with her wrapping her whole house in bubble wrap if it keeps him safe and happy.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ad Agency Aims

I just talked to that friend of mine who's in the process of starting a business. She's at the point where she's started working on a marketing plan and looking for an advertising agency to work with. I'm always on board for research assistance so I'm helping her look.

One Advertising Agency that we've found looks like it might be a good fit. They seem to be very aware and knowledgeable when it comes to online advertising, social media, and other 21st century concerns. Her business is going to be web-based, at least at first, so it's important to find an agency that isn't stuck in the past. (You don't want to have to explain to your own ad agency what Twitter is or what SEO stands for.) At the same time, they haven't abandoned advertising in the "old media", and instead strive to strike the balance that is right for your business. This is sometimes referred to as mixed media marketing, and in this day and age it's definitely the best approach for a new business owner.

Another cool thing about this particular advertising agency is that they have specialists in a variety of different industries, so my friend can work with people who actually understand the specific needs of her business. And they have tracking tools to see how successful each part of a campaign is, so she can make adjustments quickly and avoid wasting money on a strategy that isn't working well, which is key for a startup company with a small advertising and marketing budget.

I'm really excited to watch my friend's business develop. I'm sure with the right tools it's going to be a big success.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pool Planning

I was talking to my mom the other day and she said that she and my dad are thinking of putting in a pool in the yard of their house. I'm not sure if she's totally serious about it or if this is just the cold and snowy winter talking, but I love to swim so I'm definitely on board with the idea.

I told my mom that I'd do a little bit of research for her, so I've started looking into the various pool options out there. I'm sticking with above ground pools because I think that would be the best option for them based on price and the place in the yard where it would go. There are a lot of affordable options out there, and there are also equipment packages available so that you can get up and running quickly. So I think that we can find something that's durable and will look nice and last a long time while also being a good value.

We've still got a lot of research and planning to do, but hopefully this summer I'll be hanging out poolside. Tropical umbrella drinks at my house!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Music Monday: Rihanna's "Only Girl in the World"

Modern Medicare

I've been helping my grandfather research some stuff related to his health care costs, and I've learning something important. Medicare is confusing! He needs to get Medicare Supplement Insurance (you know, those extra insurance plans that cover all of the things that Medicare doesn't), so I've been looking for some websites that have information that can help me figure things out.

I found this site that has a lot of great info and is designed to help you find the Medicare supplement plan for you. It lays out the basics and tells you about some of the different plans that are available - and there's nothing sketchy either, it's all plans by well-known and trusted insurance providers like Mutual of Omaha, and the medicare supplement insurance plans.

At this site you can get a free quote and there's even a phone number you can call to talk to someone about your questions and get a free consultation. With something as important as this, it's great to find a resource that can help me stay on the right track. If I can help him find a plan that works for him, and maybe even help him save a little money in the process, it will definitely be a good thing.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Picnic Planning

I've been counting the days until this cold, snowy winter is over. To help with the seasonal depression, I've already started making some fun plans for the spring and summer. My cousin and I have been talking about throwing a really big family party this summer. There are a few graduations and birthdays in our family that we could celebrate all at once at one big event.

We were thinking of doing an outdoor party, like a big picnic. In the process of researching it, we've learned that there actually is such a thing as picnic catering - companies that specialize in catering picnics, whether they're for family reunions or company picnics. (It totally makes sense that a company like this exists, but I've never planned this type of event so I never really thought about it.)

Now that we know that this option is out there, we're seriously considering it. Our family is scattered around New York and New Jersey, so it's really convenient that they've got picnic catering NY and picnic catering NJ options as far as locations go. They also have a lot of great options to work with as far as food, entertainment, and other amenities. It definitely sounds appealing to have someone else take care of the planning and to not have to run around like crazy taking care of things during the actual event. I'm thinking that this definitely seems like the way to go...Now I just have to wait for the snow to melt.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Spicy Super Bowl

This post brought to you by TABASCO® Original Red. All opinions are 100% mine.

It's almost time for the Super Bowl, so I've been looking up recipes for some munchies to take to the family Super Bowl party that I'm going to.  One of the cool things about this for me is that I can make some hot and spicy stuff if I want to.  I'm the only one in my family who really loves spicy food, so I normally don't make too much of it.  But when I go to gatherings with my extended family, there are some fellow hot sauce lovers in the crowd for me to share with.

In fact, my cousin recently introduced me to the joys of putting hot sauce on pizza.  It's one of those things that I just never tried for whatever reason, and once I finally did it was one of those "where has this glorious creation been all of my life?" moments.  My cousin puts a bottle of TABASCO® Original Red out on the table with just about every meal, so it's no surprise that she was the one to convert me.  And let's just say that now I totally understand why one of Tabasco's menu pages is called Pizza Perfected.  It doesn't just make pizza (or whatever else you put it on) spicier - sure, it brings the heat, but it also really enhances the flavor of whatever you're eating.

So I decided to see if Tabasco had any good recipes for Super Bowl party food, and of course they do.  Their Game-Day Party Menu has a bunch of awesome recipes (and ideas for doctoring up store-bought treats).  Besides the great pizza tips there are great recipes and suggestions for wings, dips, and other must have Super Bowl finger foods.  I'm also loving some of their recipes for spicy cocktails - sure you've got to have beer for the Super Bowl, but it's also fun to switch it up a little. I'm definitely going to add a bottle of Tabasco Original Red to my Super Bowl shopping list. 

Enjoy the game!

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Pest Paranoia

This post brought to you by Victor Pest. All opinions are 100% mine.

I was watching a show with my mom last night about a chef who helps struggling restaurants to get back on their feet.  This particular episode featured a place that was in really bad shape - multiple rooms piled with junk and a filthy kitchen.  The capper on the episode came when the restaurant clean up team found an infestation of mice under the floor in the kitchen. It was a pretty gross thing to watch.

I went online to read what people were saying about this episode, and some of the discussions veered off into general discussion about rodent control.  Some of the stories that people shared were really incredible.  Luckily I've never had a rodent problem in my house, but one of my neighbors did have an issue last summer, so this whole thing made me a bit concerned.

Of course, when a lot of people think of rodent control they think of old cartoon images of a piece of cheese sitting on a trap.  But what I learned from reading all of this is that things have come a long way since then.  There's this company called Victor that has some really innovative electronic "traps".  (Yes, apparently "innovative" and "rodent control" can go together.)  Instead of inhumane traps or toxic poisons, these electronic devices emit sounds that repel rodents without affecting humans or pets.  So you don't have to touch dead mice (or rat poison) - it's more humane and healthier for everyone.

Victor is offering a special right now where you can get a Protect Your Space Combo Kit for $99.99, and the shipping is free too.  The kit includes several different products that repel pests electronically.  I'm seriously considering it because it sounds like the perfect cure for my pest paranoia.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Smart Scion

I've been driving my current car for quite awhile now, so I've started to think about what kind of car I might want to get next. I'm not really ready to get serious about car shopping right now, but let's say I'm in the research phase. Can't hurt to look, right?

One of the things that I've been interested in researching is hybrid and other smart cars. When I got my car there weren't a lot of options along those lines, so I'm definitely interested in seeing what's available now. If I can help the environment a little bit and also get something that's a good value for me, of course I'm going to be up for that.

My current car is a Toyota, so I started off by seeing what they offer. They've got a couple of new cars in their Scion line that look pretty cool. I'm especially liking the 2011 Scion iQ, which is a micro-subcompact. (Yeah, I know everyone's into big honking SUVs and stuff, but I've always liked a small car.) It seems to have a lot of the comforts and features of a larger car in a small package, and it's got this unique "3 + 1 seating" - room for three passengers plus a smaller space for a kid, pet, or package. It's expected to have ultra low emissions and great fuel economy. It also seems like the Scion iQ pricing is going to be just as impressive as its features.

So, I'm not quite ready to buy a new car tomorrow, but I think I'm definitely going to add the Scion iQ to my "must test drive" list.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fun in NYC

A friend of mine is coming to visit me in a few months. I'm really excited that he's coming. And I'm really really excited that this sucky cold weather will probably be over by the time he gets here.

I'm looking forward to hanging out and doing some New York City tourist stuff with him. And he's gay, so I'm sure we'll end up hitting a few gay bars and clubs too. I actually had to research that a little bit - it's been awhile since I was in the NYC gay scene. Or the club scene in general, for that matter. (Yeah, I'm totally old and I don't know what's hip and hot and cool anymore. Okay, I'll stop now.)

Luckily there's this cool site called Gay Travel Buddy that has great info about the gay scenes in various cities across the country. I used it when I was in the Las Vegas Area last fall and it was really helpful. So I'm going to check out their NYC info so that I'll be a more prepared hostess when my friend comes. I'm counting the days!