My favorite survey and “try it” sites

I was thinking the other day, when a box of five General Mills cereals showed up on my porch, that I really enjoy participating in the online survey communities I’m a member of.  Of course I love getting free products and coupons, but I also enjoy finding out about new products before anyone else and being able to help shape companies’ new product lines and marketing strategies.  I thought I’d share some of my favorite survey and “try it” websites:

ePoll – This site offers surveys about once a week or so, usually related to television shows.  Occasionally, they’ll send an email to have me or my kids watch a particular show on a given night, then they’ll send a follow-up survey asking how we enjoyed the show.  The main perks of ePoll are the points you earn for each survey, which you can redeem for Amazon.com, Best Buy, Target or Red Lobster/Olive Garden gift cards.  I usually earn enough from surveys to cash out a gift card at least once a year.

ERewards – This site offers paid surveys on all different types of topics, from auto insurance to magazines to food products.  You earn “dollars” and “cents” for completing surveys, which you can cash out for rewards such as airline miles, hotel points, coupons and discounts and magazine subscriptions.  The surveys are fun, aren’t usually too long and I earn enough rewards to cash out for enough Hilton Hhonors points to get a free hotel night about once a year.

ExpoTV/Tryology – This site offers rewards points for completing video reviews of the products you and your family buy and use.  You can also sign up to try and review new products.  Rewards range from restaurant gift certificates to iPods and iPads.

Pssst – This program from General Mills offers members the opportunity to contribute opinions on new and existing products.  They often send out product samples and freebie coupons for you to try new products, then surveys for you to tell the company what you think.  I just got a box of five of their new whole grain cereals with Original Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Lucky Charms and Total.  When they sent the email that they wanted to offer samples of the cereals, I thought they meant the small, sample-sized boxes.  But no – these were full-size boxes of cereal!

Pinecone Research – This site not only pays you per survey (typically $3-5 each), but they also occasionally send you product samples of new products to try out, then pay you to complete another survey on what you think of the product.  They aren’t always looking for new members, but it never hurts to keep checking as they are one of my favorite survey sites.  They pay via PayPal and I’ve reviewed dog food and treats, cereal, macaroni and cheese, beauty products and home cleaners for them.

I thought I’d also mention House Party and Bzzz Agent.  Both of these sites offer home “party” kits for you to invite your friends and family to sample new products.  I’ve signed up for parties from both sites and it is super fun to get a big box full of product samples, literature on new products and coupons to hand out to your friends and family.

If you’re in the Richmond area and are interested in doing market research surveys and studies around town, there are two good companies to check out:

Martin Focus Group – With offices located in Innsbrook, Martin Focus Group holds focus groups on various topics, from blenders to politics.  They send out emails with the demographic profile they are seeking for a particular survey.  Possible focus group participants are requested to call or email to complete an in-depth screener.  Once you are assigned to a focus group, you’ll be given a date and time to come to the office.  You’ll typically receive a snack and drink, or a meal if it’s a longer focus group.  Payment is in cash at the conclusion of the focus group, and typically runs from $50-100 or more, depending on the length of the focus group.

Alan Newman Research – Their offices are located in Southside, but they operate essentially the same way that Martin Focus Group does.  They typically also offer pre-screeners online.

Have fun, and enjoy making money!

Okay Heather!

Let’s see I have a few things I want to tack on to 2012!! I have already started planting bulbs for the Spring and just cannot wait to hopefully be able to afford to build a flower garden of some sort.. I “LOVE” the idea of my own vegetable garden as well. I am just worried about those pesky little critters that have made our back yard a tunnel city!!I just think if I had a garden they would eat everything I plant..Our yard is crazy when you walk through it , what I mean is it’s so soft you almost sink a tiny bit with each step.From the constant tunnels they have made. I don’t like the idea of putting stuff down that would kill them !Though I would love any tips on keeping mole’s , rabbits and such away.See with the big garden next door ,I just feel like those mole’s and bunnies are living it up underground in our yard and eating their meals next door.If you ladies have any ideas of non harmful ways of keeping them away from the veggies , I would fo’ sho’ jump on the band wagon..

It makes me cringe to see the prices of veggies going up. So if I could grow my own that would be one less expense. Another thing I have been doing is couponing. I love saving whenever I can. I have decided to get more detailed about it though. I usually just get the Sunday paper and clip away (if there is enough to clip) . Now I have decided to actually put the effort into finding the deals and actually going to more than 2 stores to shop .Especially if it saving us money. The printing of coupons has already begun.

I  do hope to keep running with my friend.She is great to have as far as bootcamp style jogs! The more we get into the frosty air seasons the less it makes you want to push through. We do have a goal to do the Monument Avenue 10K .. We have been running 3 miles to start. So you see we need to step it up and it’s just getting crappier weather wise. I want to do this not to only drop some of that baby weight (9 months later) but to try and not get put on all those meds when I get older for blood pressure and such.Like my Grandma was. I will never forget watching her throwback a glass of water with a handful of medicine to pretty much stay alive.. Lots of extra weight will just add lots of extra issues like diabetes and such!! I just loathe any type of medicine (even tylenol) .. So the thought of having to take meds to live worries me but yet  push’s me even more to keep it up!!

I do want to be more organized . I have a routine everyday with my little ladies but I am not really that organized. Organization is a must , with the added school (mine) and the homeschooling for each Bailey and Gracie. Oh yeah and the teaching time to my “Sadie Boo” as well. The days come and go so fast. So I need to prioritize and organize. haha..So I decided to continue college where I left off at in 2010 to get these classes moving.Web design here I come!! Although I plan on teaching our children’s education all the way through high school.I still want something under my belt. So in case I need to work it will be in the field I love, computers!! …. I feel like everything can be a bit messy so to speak at times!!

Another big thing is my friends!! Yes, you ladies know my crazy germa phobe issues during the cold and flu season .It’s not just that though, I see what I do . I hibernate in our homestead with our little ladies. We just hunker down during the winter months  and just really concentrate on school. I think it’s a good thing though . I think the added worry of the cost of doing anything to even driving makes no sense to me as well. Why waste money, to drive (gas ) or just go anywhere. Because we all know how much these little ones still end up needing or wanting something, even after you pack them drinks and snacks.. Plus I have to wake everyone up at 6am to just drive Steve to work so I can drive. It just makes no sense to me really. With the added germa Phobe issues of stomach flu season I just don’t bother alot.. haha.. Now I do still try to meet up with other mama’s  that have their kiddo’s home. Don’t get me wrong , but it’s cut way back. The Spring and Summer time feels like the time we do ALOT of  stuff. .LOTS!!. lol!!So I do hope to hang out with my friends more. Family life is amazing and I would not change a thing. Although I do think good friend time is the added bonus in life!

So Steve and I have talked in the past about actually trying to do real vacations at least one week out of the 3 he has off during the year. So I do hope this year will be the start. Our vacations are either to see his Mama in Hillsville, Virginia (yes the name says it all). This place is way up in the mountains and wow the accents are thick dripping with country.It literally stops me in my tracks when I hear someone talking to someone else passing by me. My favorite store Target is not even there. One Walmart and Magic Mart is all you get, oh a little dinky Kroger too . Call me a spoiled baby, but I would hate it. Not being 10 mins every direction to a Target would be crazy. ha! Yes, it’s the finer things!  The other place we use with one of the other weeks is Kitty Hawk . We really like going there because it don’t cost a whole lot and it’s 2 blocks walking to the beach.Kitty Hawk and Hillsville  are the two places we tend to use up our time with. Now Kitty Hawk is very fun and relaxing. So I would not mind going again this year. I would just plan it out alot better.Last year was fun but it sucked planning wise:) .By the way ladies we could plan a summer trip (with our other week off ) just a thought.Who knows!So this year I do hope to venture out with our family for at least a week of exploring in another place we have never been before. 

On a side note my Lovah has been working for the same company for 6 years now and he was just promoted!!!! He will be the manager for the “Project Excellence Department”.. Its so exciting , he deserves it .. He really does!

I know I have lots more thoughts on what I want or need to do for 2012 ,but these things have been on my mind alot more than the others…Till next time ladies!

Getting back on track

OK, fellow Momsters.  I have an assignment for you:  what projects will you be working on in 2012?  I’m curious (*nosy*) and want to know what goals you have for your self and your family.  I’ll start:

*  Writing – I definitely need a creative outlet, and I have so many ideas for stories.  From my “Richmond vampire” novel (yep, I’m still working on that novel) to a short story project based on the genealogy research I’ve done, to possible guest blog posts (like my recent one on The Pagan Household) to random ideas that I jot down in notebooks, there are so many things I could be working on.  I just need to force myself to turn off the tv, leave the internet alone, call the muses and WRITE.  There really is no way around it.  I think I’m going to try scheduling writing and sticking to the “one page a day” tenet.

*  Gardening – My hubby and I are building a hoophouse to add to the raised beds and expand our gardening “operation” in the back yard.  The raised beds will remain, mostly for herbs and plants that do better outside, but everything else will go into the hoophouse.  We hope to have it be about 20 feet long and 10 feet wide, with a door at the front.  Since it’s made from PVC pipe, we can hopefully rig some sort of irrigation system into the “ribbing” of it to provide moisture.  I also want to till up an unused space in front of our shed and plant it with hullless oats.  It’s my first foray into grain growing, so we’ll see how that goes.  I also want to get a few wine grape vines and some hops rhizomes to plant, so in a few years we can make our own wine and brew beer with our own, homegrown hops.

*  Baking Business – My Tavern Biscuits were a big hit at our family holiday gatherings, and I’ve been considering starting some kind of small baking business on the side for a while now.  In 2012, I hope to “get real” – figure out a logo/brand, packaging, places around town I can sell to, etc.  For now, I’m starting with an Etsy shop selling made-to-order goodies with artisan ingredients.  I’ve sourced flour and sugar from a mill in Ashland, and I hope to find a local source for eggs, butter, milk, etc.

So ladies – what projects are you working on for 2012?  What goals do you have?  And, most importantly, how can we all cheer each other on?

Welcome 2012!

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and rung in the New Year with friends, family and lots of celebrating!  I don’t go in much for New Year’s resolutions, but this year I want to:

*  stick with my eating and exercise plan to be in better shape and (hopefully) lose some more weight (Thank you, EA Sports Active 2 and Mike Dolce’s “Living Lean”)

*  talk less and listen more

*  unplug and hang out with my family as much as I can

*  devote time to my writing projects

*  have a bountiful garden

*  make more food from scratch

I love this poem, from one of my favorite bloggers Farmer Jane:

“This year, let your love for the world grow wild;
like your garden;
real, or inside you.

Plant some seeds for the future;
pull some from the library;
think about what you will “do” versus “watch.”

Our lives are our gardens, full of wild creatures, weeds, and delicious gems.

Like any fruit we start with a flower;
we too must be open to bees;
to ideas;
to wind.

And as we sit in our gardens;
we must think about what we are willing to “do” for our passion;
for our future;
for ourselves;
and with love turn our faces towards the sun.”

So what are your New Year’s resolutions?  What do you hope to accomplish in 2012?

Tori’s Tribe

Monday night, me and Melissa made the trek up to DC to see my favorite musician, Tori Amos, perform at DAR Constitution Hall.  Though I wish she could have joined us, Leanne was too sick to go.  But, as expected, the show was amazing.  The opening performer, Thomas Dybdhal, hails from coastal Norway and had a folky, expressive style.  I liked him!

The string quartet that played with Tori on “Night of Hunters,” her latest release, opened her set with a brief piece.  Then Tori took the stage, to thunderous applause, squeals and screams.  She began with “Shattering Sea,” the opening piece from “Night of Hunters,” which is a 21st century classical song cycle dealing with the fracturing of a relationship and the dark night of the soul that the main character, Tori, finds herself in.  From there, typical of Tori, her setlist ran the gamut from solo piano pieces (“Crucify,” “Pretty Good Year” and “Ophelia,” as well as beloved b-sides “Cooling” and “Seaside”) to works from her back catalogue rearranged for the string quartet, including the electro-vibed “Suede,” a tear-jerking “Winter” and a rousing “Cruel” complete with a headbanging string section.  Interspersed throughout were songs from the new album as well, like “Fearlessness” (my favorite!), the mostly instrumental “Star Whisperer” and “Edge of the Moon.”  As has always been her stock in trade, Tori couldn’t forget the covers, namely the oft-compared Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” and a warm and inviting version of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”  The show definitely had a certain vibe – namely a big middle finger to “the establishment,” whoever they might be.  I don’t think it was coincidence that she played songs like “The Wrong Band,”  “Seaside,” “Spring Haze,” “Imagine” and “Big Wheel” at a show in DC, the seat of American political power.  With lyrics like “Heard from the tv of the latest bombing… shells fired out, flowers mowed down.  Innocence targeted.  Whose god is this?” and “Senator, let’s be sincere, as much as we can,” she was calling out those in power, and it was obvious her fans were with her.

All in all, the night was amazing.  I’ve seen Tori many times, and each time it’s like seeing her for the first time all over again.  Her setlists vary so much night to night that every show stands on its own as an artistic work and as a message for her fans in whatever city she happens to be.  I was still on my post-Tori-show high the next day, when I came across this review of the show:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/click-track/post/in-concert-tori-amos-at-dar-constitution-hall/2011/12/06/gIQAzKLpZO_blog.html.  Now I’ve been a Tori fan long enough to know to pretty much dismiss most reviews of her shows.  The standard, canned line on Tori in the mainstream media is that she’s a weirdo, new-agey sparkly fairy-loving fluffball or that she’s a shrew who’s railing loudly against the patriarchy and male-dominated religion.  Unfortunately, reviewers who stick to this canned storyline and base their reviews on articles they may have read about her in the mid-1990′s miss the point entirely and, in my opinion, aren’t earning any journalistic cred.  First and foremost, simple fact-checking and research would help ensure that your review doesn’t include blatant misinformation.  Saying she “spent the first three-quarters of the nearly two-hour set on the ambitious and largely hook-free new material” is just untrue.  She played 6 songs from the new album.  The other 17 songs were from her tremendous back catalogue ranging back 20 years.  And quoting lyrics from the wrong song is just unforgiveable.  The reviewer quotes lines from “Spark,” a single from her 1998 album “From the Choirgirl Hotel” that deals with one of her miscarriages, as being from “Big Wheel,” a single from her 2007 “American Doll Posse” album that chides the male-dominated music industry.  Any music reviewer who has access to the internet has no excuse for getting artist-related research wrong, especially not with an artist like Tori, whose rabid fanbase has spawned a plethora of websites detailing every song, every album, every lyric, every interview and every song meaning for every work she’s ever done.

But more than those relatively minor gaffes, my biggest problem is with the general tone of the review.  I don’t think it hurts to mention here that the reviewer is a man.  I’m not trying to paint him as a misogynist, just giving the context as I’ve seen reviews before that repeat the same standard drivel about Tori’s shows.  Rather than digging into the multitude of promotional material available related to Tori’s new album, in which she describes in detail exactly how the project came about, what its major themes are and how she has reinterpreted the works of male composers, he instead takes the easy way out, saying the album is “a collection of tunes she wrote based on classical compositions by the likes of Schubert and Mendelssohn, united by a lyrical concept allegedly having something to do with the sea.”  You see what he did there?  Richard Wagner composes operas about fairies, valkyries and King Arthur and he is hailed as a musical genius.  Yet when a woman composes a work based on classical themes and containing mythical characters, she’s brushed off.

The reviewer also seemed to be irked that her music is hard to label and pin down.  Saying, “Record execs aren’t the only ones who can’t hear a single on it” and that the new album is “largely hook-free” is dumbing down her music.  True music fans don’t give a shit about singles and hooks, and neither should good music reviewers.  Besides, what the fuck does he think “Big Wheel” is about.  Oh wait, he got that confused with “Spark.”  And actually, for a work that was released ON A CLASSICAL FUCKING MUSIC LABEL (note to Mr. music reviewer – classical albums typically don’t have “singles”), Tori managed to chart in the top 40 of US charts, as well as breaking a record for charting in the Top 10 of the Classical, Alternative and Rock charts simultaneously.  It would have been nice to have that information in the review.  But of course, there’s always the standard “compare her to Kate Bush” trick, saying Tori is using her voice “to sound almost exactly like Kate Bush.”  Saying Tori is basically Kate’s vocal understudy is basically saying “all female voices sound the same to me.”  Both women play piano and sing soprano, but come on, the ‘ole Kate Bush comparison is so tired.

And then the reviewer writes off most of her lyrics as “religious-ish mumbo jumbo.”  Yes, he actually said that.  The Who can write a song about God being asleep before the big bang, The Rolling Stones can write a song about the devil in the first person, Michael Stipe can write about “losing his religion” and Jim Morrison can write poetry about all sorts of spiritual and religious themes.  Musical heavies all around – sheer genius!  But coming from a woman, religious lyrics and themes are so much “mumbo jumbo.”  Maybe I’m just missing the point here, but could someone please tell me how “Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste” is any different from “God sometimes you just don’t come through.  Do you need a woman to look after you”?  How are Jethro Tull’s lyrics “People — what have you done –
locked Him in His golden cage.” any different from “trusting my soul to the ice cream assassin”?  Why is it that when male artists use hyperbole, metaphor and religious and mythological imagery, they are artistic geniuses, but when Tori does it she’s a loon?  And while we’re on the subject, how is Ziggy Fucking Stardust any different than American Doll Posse?  As a woman and longtime Tori fan, it always bothers me to see her musical works brushed off because a) she’s a woman and b) she doesn’t fit into a nice, neat box with an easy label on it.  Maybe I just shouldn’t expect more from a culture that seems to have lost its ability to comprehend any meaning below a surface one.

For those who may not know, Tori Amos is an anomaly in the world of disposable female pop stars.  Though she began her career on a major label, she learned along the way how important it is to stand on your own two feet as an artist.  She built her own recording studio and management team, including lawyers and tour booking pros.  This has allowed her, 20 years into her career, to leave the world of major labels and record contracts behind and pick and choose the projects she works on.  Because of her large worldwide fanbase, she has the ability to do work for art’s sake, not just for a paycheck.  She has full creative control of her musical empire.  At 48 years old, she controls her musical destiny.  Even if you don’t care for her music, you have to admit that’s impressive.

At least while I was at the show, I could imagine what the world would be like if it were populated only by Tori fans.  I mentioned to Melissa how cool it would be to live in a society of Ears With Feet (Tori’s chosen name for her fans).  It’s rare to see such a varied yet accepting group of people.  And then it hit me.  We aren’t just fans.  That term is way to casual and small for what the people who are so deeply moved by Tori’s music are.  We are her tribe.  We are a ragtag group, a motley army of weirdos, artists, outcasts, singers, nerds, musicians and poets.  We are moms and dads (I saw more children at this show than I’ve ever seen before), daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, lovers and warriors.  But most importantly, we are the dreamers of dreams.  We are the creative ones, the accepting and compassionate ones, the readers and the thinkers and the imaginers.   Often, those who don’t quite understand the devotion of Tori fans compare us to a religious cult, with Tori as our goddess.  But really, she’s our tribal elder.  Like an older sister or aunt, Tori is our way-shower.  As in one of the pictures from the “Night of Hunters” tour program, she literally carries the torch in front of us to show us the way.  She travels the world like a nomad, bringing her magical message to those who need to hear it, those who can then go out into the world and live it.  In her latest album, she tells us directly what we need to do now:

“There is a grid of disempowerment
All forces are being called to dismantle this
as job’s coffin looks down…
to see what mankind is gonna do”

“I can see I must activate the force of which
I am made”

“you must out-create, it’s the only way”

“the children’s dreams
must now be reclaimed”

Albert Einstein said that our problems won’t be solved by the same mindset that created them.  Tori is telling us that we must “change the frequency.”  I hear you loud and clear, Tori:  ground yourself spiritually, through whatever means is right for you, and get busy creating.  Write a book.  Paint a painting.  Play a song.  Raise your child in love and compassion.  Start a charity or business that helps others.  Reach out your hand to someone who looks like they need it.  Open other’s eyes to injustice.  Let those who are different know they are valued.  Occupy everywhere.  Start a Mother Revolution, a Velvet Revolution.  But don’t just sit idly by and listen.  We’re Ears With Feet for a reason – so that when we leave a Tori concert, we can go out into the world, stand proudly in our truth and change the world for the better.

P.S. While I didn’t agree with your words, I do appreciate the beautiful pictures of Tori that were in your review, Mr. Music Reviewer :)

Addicted to making Etsy treasuries – giveaway!

Hello, my name is Heather, and I am an addict.  I am addicted to creating treasuries on Etsy.  Etsy, in case you’ve been living under a rock the past few years, is a website where crafters and small companies can sell their homemade wares.  Companies and individuals on Etsy make products ranging from clothing, food, perfume, home decor, candles and art to furniture, coffee and tea and jewelry.  Over the years since I first started browsing Etsy, I’ve built a pretty extensive listing of favorite shops.  My favorite way to search is to do “Search Local,” then look for shops in different countries.  I’ve come across some awesome fashion shops in France, bag shops in Finland and soap makers in the UK this way.  Then I discovered how to make a treasury.

Etsy treasuries are compilations of a number of different items revolving around a central theme.  I’ve used my Etsy treasuries to highlight favorite seasonal items.  My latest is called “A Winter’s Carol” and features items for the winter holidays.  I love compiling Etsy treasuries because they allow me to help promote my favorite Etsy shops and the shops I feel are creating unique, quality items.  I’ve also done treasuries for Fall (“Fall Must Have’s“), Halloween (“Happy Halloween!“) and a general one of kiddie items (“Tres adorable pour bebes et enfants“).  Have a look and find out about my favorite cute, neat and quirky things!

Now – on to the giveaway:

Prize:  $15 via PayPal to spend on your favorite item from Etsy.com

How to enter:  Must be a subscriber to my blog (look on the right hand side of the page for information on subscribing).  Create an Etsy treasury of your own with your favorite Holiday items in it.  Leave a comment below with the link to your treasury.  I’ll choose my favorite treasury on Friday, Dec. 9 and award the winner $15 via PayPal.  Be sure to include your email address so I can get in touch with the winner.  Good luck, and have fun creating your treasuries!

Heelys for Christmas!

OK, so I have always been one of those moms who have simply despised Heelys.  I’ve seen kids whizzing around on them at the mall, at Target and the grocery store and I always cringe imagining the injuries that are imminent.  So when I had the opportunity to have my son try out some Heelys for himself, I was hesitant, but interested to see them close up and in person.   Heelys sent me a pair to review, so I kept an open mind and checked out the website.

My five year-old son picked out a skate-style shoe, which we received in about a week.  On the day the package arrived, he was so excited to open it!  We ripped into the box and took out his shoes, then followed the directions to remove the small plate on the back of each shoe and insert the wheels.  Once we finished, I helped him get his shoes on and we watched some of the “How to Heel” videos on the Heelys website.  Then we went in the kitchen so he could try them out.   It took him a while to get the hang of moving around in his Heelys, but once he did he really enjoyed moving around.  I will say that five seems to be a bit young to have the balance necessary to use Heelys in the way they are truly intended to be used, but he had fun scooting around on the wheels.

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Pros:  The “skate” style of the shoes.  The brand recognition (my son, when I told him he’d be getting some Heelys, immediately said “Heelys?  Awesome!”).  Easy assembly – it literally took five minutes to get the shoes ready for use.  The fact that you can remove the wheels and the shoes can be worn as regular shoes.  The wealth of resources available on the Heelys website, including safety tips.

Cons:  They appear to have a pretty steep learning curve for balancing and maneuvering, especially for younger kids.  Because of this, there is still the possibility of injury.  Plus a lot of places have banned their use or lumped them in with skates and skateboards, so be sure to check beforehand if you’re taking your child out somewhere and they’re wearing their Heelys (although the quick disassembly makes removing the wheels and re-inserting the plates a snap!).

Overall, I’d say that Heelys are a very good value, especially for kids who have good balance and love to be on the move.  The fact that they can be used as wheeled shoes and also as regular shoes adds to their value.  They come in many stylish models for both boys and girls.  They are sold online at Heelys.com, as well as at Journeys and JourneysKidz.com.

Heelys is also holding a Black Friday Special.  If you buy any pair of Heelys between November 25-28, you’ll get your second pair for only $25.  Or buy a Nano, and get a pair of shoes for $25, and get free ground shipping on all orders!

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