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    Thursday
    Aug302012

    Samsung Canister Vacuum: Quiet and powerful

    I have a pretty snazzy vacuum cleaner. Being pretty snazzy, though, means it's pretty big and bulky. So big and bulky, in fact, that my husband has to do all the vacuuming because lugging that thing up and down the stairs of our three-story house takes muscle (and motivation) I don't have for sucking up the dirt, dust, and animal hair that needs to be sucked up on a regular basis.

    Because of how cumbersome our current vacuum is, I was pretty jazzed when I was contacted about testing out one of the all-new Samsung Bagless Canister Vacuum Cleaners for free.

    The new Samsung Bagless Canister Vacuums come in three models: Black — "Perfect for deep clean" (MSRP $299); Electric Blue — "Superior cleaning power for best carpet clean" (MSRP $349); and Champagne — "Perfect for pet owners" (MSRP $449). We are pet owners and our current snazzy vacuum cleaner is a made for pet owners, so I was offered the Champagne model for review:

    And review it we did, using the Champagne Samsung Canister Vacuum to cover all our vacuuming duties for two full weeks.

    When the bagless canister vacuum first arrived, here are some of the features listed on the box that Jim (our primary vacuumer) and I were most jazzed about:

    • Tackles pet hair on all surfaces, reduces pet dander with sealed HEPA filtration, and eliminates pet odors with the anti-odor carbon filter
    • Auto dust sensing automatically adjusts the amount of suction power
    • Newly designed Super Multi Chamber System delivers improved efficiency with longer lasting suction power than conventional vacuums
    • Reduced noise level
    • Radio-frequency handle control
    • Slim design that makes it easy to use, carry and store
    • Attachments: Mini turbo brush, 2-in-1 on handle (crevice and dusting), 12" bar floor Parquet brush

    Right off the bat, Jim was quite impressed with how quick and easy it was to get the Samsung Canister Vacuum operational and ready to roll. 

    And it was so quiet! Typically when Jim vacuums, I just figure he's in another world and I'll save anything I want to say to him for when he's done. And he is essentially in another world, as he honestly can't hear over the roar of the vacuum. Not the case with the Samsung. It was so quiet—even at the highest turbo sucking setting—that Jim could happily hear the stereo play as he vacuumed here, there, and everywhere.

    It was indeed everywhere, too. Because we have a lot of wood floors throughout our house (with the basement family room being the only fully carpeted space), we have many large floor rugs. Vacuuming can be a real pain because each time you transition from a rug to the wood floor, you have to be sure to change the height of the vacuum as well as turn off the brush so you don't tear up the wood floors. On our current vacuum, that means bending up and down, up and down to change those things.

    On the Samsung Canister Vacuum it's super simple because all controls are in the ergonomically designed handle and are changed with just a flick of a finger. In the video below, you can see how simple it is. Notice the lights on the brush attachment—when they're lit, the brush is on; when not lit, the brush is off.

     

    Such an easy transition from rug to floor. Of course, there was no transition on the fully carpeted area in our family room, and the Power Brush performed perfectly well throughout.

    With the different attachments, the Samsung Canister Vacuum easily took care of some of the more challenging spots in our house.

    The one I was particularly thrilled about was the Parquet floor brush, as it easily slid under our baseboard heat registers (we have a boiler heating system). Those hard-to-reach spots typically generate lots of dust bunnies; the Samsung easily sucked the makings of bunnies-to-be right up.

    The most impressive thing about the Samsung Canister Vacuum overall, Jim and I agree, is the incredible sucking power. This thing really sucks. In an awesome and powerful way. At any of the three levels. In fact, we vacuumed with our current vacuum just a day or two before receiving the review model, and when we first revved up the Samsung, we tested it on what we thought was a clean rug only to find that the rug was far from clean. The Samsung dustbin (which attaches and detaches quite easily) immediately filled up with dust and animal hair.

    Another feature we loved was how quiet it is. Really. It's surprising how something so powerful can be so quiet. I'm a fan of quiet, so for me, that was a true highlight.

    This may sound odd, but Jim was quite impressed with the way the cord reels right back into the canister by simply pushing a button. He usually has to wind around the little do-hickeys on the machine to wrap up the cord for storage. So that seemingly small feature actually loomed quite large for my hubby.

    The Samsung Canister Vacuum is indeed pretty light and easy to tote from room to room and up and down stairs. It would have been helpful, though, if those attachments used quite frequently (which is all of them, for our house) had a storage spot on the canister. Carrying them around wasn't an easy task and usually required going back down the stairs for the one left behind as the one vacuuming moved to another floor.

    The only other design change we thought would be nice would be for the extension rod to stand by itself when the Power Brush is attached. There is a way to stand the canister vertically and push the Power Brush into place to make it stand, but that's mostly for storage reasons. It's when moving a chair out of the way or changing the outlet where the cord is plugged in that it would be convenient for the Power Brush to stand on its own.

    Overall, the Samsung Bagless Canister Vacuum Cleaner was easy to use, powerful, quiet, and a super machine for ridding our home of the tremendous amount of hair and dander left behind by our two cats and two dogs—as well as the mini messes made by humans, too.

    Samsung Bagless Canister Vacuum Cleaners are available at Best Buy and HH Gregg.

    Disclosure: I was given the Samsung Bagless Canister Vacuum Cleaner free for a two-week trial period. Opinions are those of the reviewers (Jim and me) and were not influenced in any way.

    Tuesday
    Aug282012

    Worth watching: "The Penniless Princess" from VeggieTales

    Fans of A Little Princess, the book or movie version, will find plenty to love about the latest VeggieTales DVD, The Penniless Princess: God's Little Girl. As British-accented and smoking jacket-bedecked Larry (the Cucumber) the First points out in the Masterpiece Theater-style opening to the inspiring story of Sara Crewe, The Penniless Princess is based on the beloved classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

    I recently received a free DVD of The Penniless Princess for review and brought it to the desert to watch with Bubby, Mac, and mommy Megan. Mac, being just over a year old, wasn't all that thrilled with it, but Bubby, Megan, and I enjoyed the show.

    Rather than give you my own rundown of the story, the following trailer provides an official sneak peak at the most recent silly-yet-sweet treat from VeggieTales:

    What we loved about the DVD: The Penniless Princess closely follows the original story of The Little Princess and has a dramatic, sweeping feel I've not yet found in the always cute and worthwhile VeggieTales DVDs. Whether that's because I'm a fan of The Little Princess movie, I'm not sure. I like the fact this is a VeggieTales program that leans more to the feminine side, as most of those I've seen (and I admit, that's not a lot) have been more for boys. Bubby still appreciated the story, though, and was quite empathetic toward little Sara Crewe and others who were not being treated kindly.

    I especially appreciated the moral of the story, considering the rough economic times of late, that we all should know our own true worth and trust in God, no matter what happens in life.

    Megan's favorite part of the DVD was, hands-down, the bonus feature singalong "Silly Song" Best Friends Forever in which two little Veggie gals sing about being BFFs. The song, full of texting lingo that went right over Bubby's head, made Megan and me literally LOL...and replay the feature so we could LOL again and again at the part in which the animated girls do indeed ROTFL. So cute—and an earworm, for sure, once you figure out all the abbreviations.

    Additional bonus features include a special tour of London with the French Peas, a silly history of the Teddy Bear, behind-the-scenes clips and a discussion guide for parents.

    The Penniless Princess—God's Little Girl was released August 14 and can be purchased on the VeggieTales website for $14.99.

    You can make a great gift set for a birthday or other special occasion by purchasing the VeggieTales "365 Daystarter Devos for Girls" for $6.97 to go along with it.

    Disclosure: I received a free DVD and book for review purposes. Opinions are my own, with input from my merry band of fellow reviewers (Megan, Bubby, and Mac).

    Wednesday
    Aug222012

    Introducing Sonny the Seal: Ring-toss fun for the family

    In my family, we've joked for many years about owning a monkey because, well, haven't you always wanted a monkey? I've purchased stuffed monkeys for each family member; even Mac got one of the leftovers from the bunch purchased long before he was born.

    We're all set on monkeys. And now, thanks to a new game from Goliath, we can have our fill of seals. One seal, in fact. A seal named Sonny.

    Sonny the Seal is an interactive, electronic ring-toss game for ages three and up. As my regular toy reviewers—Bubby and Mac—weren't on hand when Sonny arrived at my door, I enlisted game players at a recent barbecue with friends. No, we didn't take turns tossing rings as we tossed back beers, there were actually youngsters in attendance. Youngsters the perfect age for playing Sonny the Seal.

    My little guest game players, whom I'll call K and R, since they're not my children and I don't want to reveal their real names here, loved Sonny. It didn't take K, at five years old, long to figure out not only the rules—which are pretty simple: toss the ring around Sonny's neck, get a fish for each successful toss, the winner is the one and the end of the game with the most fish.

    It also didn't take her long to become a pro. Form is everything, and K had form in spades.

    It's harder than it sounds, as Sonny bobs and weaves erratically so you don't always know exactly how to succeed in tossing. Believe me, I'm not a successful tosser. K, though, was quite the tosser, regularly getting rings to land where they should and slide down over Sonny's tail again and again. Each time she had a successful toss, Sonny clapped his flippers and barked in joy. Then she got to take a fish. And win the game. (I must admit: I never got Sonny to bark and I never earned a fish. But I'm working on it.)

    K's two-year-old brother, R, was quite enchanted by Sonny. So K took the time to teach him, and let him give ring tossing a try for himself. Being a two-year-old playing a game intended for those three and older meant R got a bit of a handicap. Meaning, he was allowed to sit right at Sonny and plop the ring on his head. Sonny was just as cheerful each time R succeeded from his starting spot as he was when K made it from hers.

    While the claps and barks from Sonny are reward in themselves, K said her favorite thing about the game was the little orange fish she collected for each successful toss.

    My favorite thing? The opportunity to try the game by myself, once K wasn't around to show me up and nab all the fishies. Made no difference, though, as I still couldn't manage a successful ring toss. I'm planning on using R's method next time—starting my tosses right next to Sonny. Grandmas should be allowed a handicap now and then, too, I say. At least when it comes to tossing rings onto a seal's head.

    Sonny the Seal—for 1-6 players, ages 3 and up—has a suggested retail price of $29.99 and can be found at Toys R Us and other toy stores.

    Disclosure: I received this game free for review. Opinions are my own, with input from my fellow reviewers.

    Monday
    Aug202012

    Best Loved Recipes: Taste of Home's latest offering

    I've been a fan of the Taste of Home brand for quite some time. Take a look at this:

    That is my collection of Taste of Home's Quick Cooking magazines, pulled from my cookbook shelves for the photo. The magazine on top? Take a closer look:

      

    That is the premiere issue of one of my favorite cooking magazines. I obviously have pert near every issue since that first one in 1998. Yes, I'm a Taste of Home fan.

    I recently received free for review Taste of Home's Best Loved Recipes cookbook. Considering the number of Taste of Home recipes I've looked at through the years, I think I'm pretty well qualified to tell you, yes, the 1,485 recipes included in the massive tome are indeed some of the best.

    Upon receiving Best Loved Recipes, I spent quite some time going through the 26 chapters, everything from Appetizers to Soups. In between are chapters on anything and everything cooks—from beginning baker to accomplished chef—need to know, need to offer. A few of my favorite chapters: Cooking for One or Two (equally important for my empty nest as well as my little birdies who are now living solo), Mom Made It Best, Mealtime Express, and Grand-Prize Winners.

    From the many chapters, I chose a handful of delights to try in preparation for this review. Of the few desserts and main dishes I prepared, these were my favorites...so far (photos and recipes directly from the book):

    CANDY BAR APPLE SALAD — In my husband's words, "Any time a candy bar is included in the meal, it's a good meal."

     

    TOFFEE POKE CAKE:

    SHORTBREAD LEMON BARS:

    My friends and family enjoyed those goodies in just the first week or so of having the hardcovered book in my hands. With more than a thousand left to choose from, I have no doubt we'll find many more favorites, many more that will be our very own best-loved recipes.

    What I loved about the cookbook: As is the case with most Taste of Home offerings, the recipes are the real deal from real people, with no hoity toity kitchen acrobatics meant to impress judges over taste buds. I love that the cream of the crop—the very best of the best loved recipes—are marked with a Top 100 Recipe icon or included in the Grand-Prize Winners chapter. The quote from each contributor preceding their recipes provides a homey touch. the Mom Made It Best and Our Favorite Contributors' Meals chapters were especially delightful to peruse.

    What I didn't love so much: I love that there are so many recipes between the covers, but that makes for a massive cookbook (928 pages!) that doesn't stand up real well on my cookbook holder. There are several full-color and glossy pages of luscious photos of many recipes batched together throughout the book, but I'm a phot fiend and would have loved to see more—though I realize that including more photos would make the book ridiculously large, so I get the reasoning on limiting them.

    Taste of Home's Best Loved Recipes hardcover cookbook has a suggested price of $34.99. The cookbook will be available at all major book sellers September 13, but can be ordered now for $24.99 (with free shipping) through the Taste of Home website.

    Thursday
    Aug162012

    Marlow and the Monster — A review and a free book

     

    When my oldest grandson, Bubby, first stayed the night at Gramma's house without Mom and Dad, he was just two years old. And it was a dark and stormy night. Soon after putting him to bed in a room of his own, I heard a small, quivering voice on the monitor. "I'm...scared...I'm scared...," Bubby said quietly again and again. I, of course, quickly went to his room to comfort him and rock him to sleep.

    Bubby was afraid of the thunder that night, but many other nights—and for many other kids—the fear is the monster in the room. Well, the imagined monster in the room. Under the bed. In the closet.

    Author and illustrator Sharon Cramer has created a book just for such times. A monster-banishing manual to keep by a child's bedside for reading when worries about the critter in the closet and elsewhere keeps a kiddo from falling asleep.

    Marlow and the Monster tells the tale of Marlow and the wacky monster that won't leave him alone. The wacky monster that Mom and Dad try to convince him isn't real. Marlow eventually resorts to relocating the monster to his sister Sarah's room—but then gets in trouble for scaring Sarah, when it really was that pesky monster who did the scaring.

    Together, Marlow and Sarah come up with a solution for the monster. And let's just say it involves French fries.

    Marlow and the Monster is delightfully illustrated in black and white, quill and pen ink drawings. The monster, though, the highlight of the book, is in full color. Cramer says the reason for that is that, "Only children can see him."

    What I loved about the book: The text is cute, but I must say the illustrations are the best part of Marlow and the Monster. But isn't that what picture books are all about?

    Marlow and the Monster by Sharon Cramer retails for $14.95 hardcover and is available at Talking Bird Books and Amazon.com.

    But you can get it free through August 18! The e-book of Marlow and the Monster is available as a free e-book download on the Talking Bird Books website as well as on Amazon.com.

    Like I said, though, it's free only through August 18, so head over there now.

    For more help on ridding a little one's room (and imagination) of monsters and other scary things, check out Sharon Cramer's tipsheet on How to Deal with Monsters, Bad Dreams, and other Scary and Frightening Things That go Bump in the Night.

    I received a free copy of this book for review. Opinions are my own. There are no affiliate links in this post. No real monsters, either.

    Friday
    Aug102012

    Win an experience from Xperience Days [CLOSED]

    Who needs more stuff? I certainly don't. I'm willing to bet you don't, either. Our closets are jam-packed, our bookcases overflowing, and every flat surface in the house is filled with collectibles, tchotchkes and memorabilia that forever needs dusting.

    Most of us don't want any more stuff. If you're anything like me, though, you do want more experiences. Learning experiences, tasting experiences, physical experiences, exhilarating experiences that take our breath away.

    Which is why Xperience Days is the ultimate spot for shopping for gifts for others—and for making a wishlist of what you'd like others to give to you. Xperience Days offers thousands of unique gifts of experiences, things to do all across the country. Everything from the sedate—think spa treatments, wine tastings, scenic train rides—to ultimate adventures—flying lessons, kayaking adventures, gondola cruises and more.

    Experiences make perfect gifts for men, women, couples. They can be given for birthdays, weddings, graduations, Christmas, and more. Gifts are presented in the form of a gift certificate in an attractive gift pack, to be redeemed by the recipient at their convenience. Not sure what experience a recipient may want? Simply get them a gift certificate, so they can choose on their own.

    So cool. And so much better—so much more appreciated!—than more stuff.

    Thanks to the good folk at Xperience Days, I'd like to give you an experience! Or at least $100 toward an experience of your choosing. The cool thing is, there are plenty of experiences for less than $100 (and many for more than $100, too), so the winner of the $100 prize can choose one that's completely paid for with the prize, or put it toward an experience that's a wee bit more. Winner's choice.

    Like I said, so much better than stuff, don't you think?

    Here's all you have to do to be in the running for the $100 prize: Go to Xperience Days and peruse their offerings. Then come back here and let me know which you would love to do. You're not obligated to choose that particular experience if you're the winner. You don't even have to use it on yourself—you can purchase an Xperience as a gift for a loved one who needs a break and to experience something new.

    Speaking of something new, I'm conducting this giveaway a new way, but one that should work out great for all involved. And this new way gives you several opportunities for entries. This will be a new experience for all of us—with one of you winning the real experience: A $100 credit to Xperience Days!

    Good luck!

    a Rafflecopter giveaway