Thursday, September 20, 2012

U.S. Cellular - Promising More With Hello Better

This is a sponsored post.

There are certain products that we have to have in this day and age that people generally bemoan.  So many people hate their cable company. I  hear constant dissatisfaction with pediatricians.  Don't get me started on the airlines.  And cell phone companies tend to fall into that mix for far too many, too.

Personally, I switched carriers in April of this year, and I'm happy with my carrier now, for the most part.  Before that point?  I was counting down the days until my contract ended.  From about seven months before my contract ended, I could tell you exactly how much longer I was stuck with them, and you can bet that the day my contract expired, I escaped and went to a new carrier - who I had been researching for months prior to determine what I wanted and who best fit it.

Why was I so unhappy with my previous carrier?  Well, it's one of the two most expensive carriers out there.  And money matters.  Yes, they had great coverage - for the most part - but my husband and I had 1400 minutes to share, and I had a data plan.  Neither of us had a text plan.  And we had a nice 17 percent discount on the first line only thanks to the company I had worked for.  Even still, we were paying $125 a month for that, primarily because the first line was $49, and the second was $49.

As more and more of my friends started using texting as their primary method of communication, it was difficult for me to explain to them why and how I didn't text.  Texting would add another $19.99 to our already too high to really justify for two people bill.  Each.

The worst part was that even if I wanted to add texting, any changes to my plan would restart my contract date, adding another two years before I could move to another carrier without penalty.  Trust me, I checked on that one, although it took me talking to three different people to get the same answer.

That was another pet peeve of mine with that carrier.  Whenever I would call or stop in with a question, I wouldn't get a consistent answer.  Unfortunately, that meant I really lost faith in any answer I received and instead just held out, counting down those days.

U.S. Cellular (who FYI is not the carrier I selected, although it was in the running!) understands that far too many people aren't satisfied with their carriers.  And they want to do something about it.  They introduced the Hello Better campaign.

Far too often, people stick it out because the penalty for moving carriers is just too high - or they feel like there's nothing better out there.  In fact, 56% of respondents in a survey admitted to being unhappy with their carrier in the past year, but only 35% of respondents had ever broken up with their carriers.  U.S. Cellular aims to prove that there is something better, and that they're it. Their goal is to treat their customers like neighbors instead of numbers.  I love that concept.

And friends who have U.S. Cellular plans have been happy with them.  It's one of the few carriers where I don't hear regular complaints from friends.  Even the carrier I have now has some complaints from people, but we're now paying $81.24 per month for two phones with 700 minutes, unlimited texting and 4gb data usage on both phones.  I'll deal with a few pockets here and there of coverage issues for that difference in price and respect.

So what is U.S. Cellular doing that actually proves they're different?  They have the industry's only points-based reward system so that you earn rewards for the things you do as a good customer.  My personal favorite is that there is no contract after the first contract ends.  The free incoming calls and texts really would have saved me with my old carrier - think of how many minutes you wouldn't use!  And the offer free overage protection and a free battery swap for your device, other things that come in handy far too often with your mobile devices.

Are you happy with your carrier?  If not, why are you staying?

This has been a sponsored post from One2One Network.  That said, all opinions remain my own.

Gutzy Gear Winners!

Ok, so first of all, THANK YOU to my Facebook friends who let me know that Blogger at some point in time turned on word verification for my blog and that it was not friendly.  I had zero intention of having word verification, because I hate it.  Unfortunately, it didn't show up for me when I tried to comment, so I had no idea that it was there.  When you see things like this, let the bloggers know - sometimes they aren't aware.  Needless to say, my settings are updated to allow for more people to comment and there is no longer any word verification.  If you see it, let me know!


I have three winners to announce for the Gutzy Gear giveaway, and I apologize for the delay in announcing them.  I have started getting migraines more and more often, and I've been down and out with them for the majority of the past two weeks.  It kept me from my computer for way too much, but knock on wood I'm up and running now.

So yay, three winners!

They are:
Mel S from Two Mom, a Little Time, and a Keyboard
Paula from Frosted Fingers
Melanie from Tales from the Crib

Congrats, Ladies!  You have 48 hours to get back to me with your contact information, or I have to chose a new winner, and I don't want to do that!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mister Man Loves 2Toots in Bartlett

If you know anything about me, you know I love to cook.  You also know that I am careful about what we eat, and I care about where my food comes from.  While that doesn't preclude me from eating out, it's something I think about and don't do nearly as often as many I know.  Not all restaurants make it onto the list of those I feel good about, but 2Toots Train Whistle Grill in Bartlett (with an original location in Glen Ellyn) definitely fits the bill.

First, 2Toots is a fun restaurant.with every seat in the restaurant next to the train track that delivers the food. Though the wee ones have grown out of their train obsession where everything from toys to books to Halloween costumes revolved around trains, they still love thematic restaurants like this.

Food delivery when you sit next to the tracks

In fact, Mister Man has declared that this is his new favorite restaurant.  He thinks the food tastes much better than other restaurants, and I cheered him on as he said that.  Why?  2Toots is a little different.  They use only Tallgrass Beef that is grassfed on pastures that doesn't use herbicides or pesticides.  Yes, he can taste the difference, and he loves it.

2Toots is a 50s style diner, with the music and decor to suit it.  As one would expect with a diner, the menu includes hamburgers and hot dogs, along with other favorites like BLTs and tuna salad.  There is chili and hot chocolate in the winter to keep you warm, and of course there are the requisite milk shakes served in the huge tins.

Menu for 2Toots Train Whistle Grill in Bartlett and Glen Ellyn

Mister Man barely needed to look at the menu to choose his order.  He knew he wanted a cheeseburger, although I had to remind him that he got to choose a side.  He went for the fruit cup - and I appreciate the 2Toots offers this option front and center on the menu.  The drinks also include milk, and I noticed that the milk was the Horizon organic milk.  It took some doing to convince Mister Man to try the chocolate milk, since he doesn't like the overly sweetened chocolate milk at most restaurants.  Once I convinced him to try it, he looked at me in disgust, asking why I hadn't ordered it for him earlier.  He loved it, and kudos to a fast casual restaurant for providing organic milk.

When Mister Man's food arrived, he gave me one small look of panic.  The burger was topped with pickles, tomato, and lettuce.  I thought that was a somewhat odd choice for a kids' menu.  While I am all in favor of encouraging veggie consumption, and Little Miss would happily eat the tomato and lettuce, most children avoid them like the plague.  I would have appreciated knowing they were coming or - even better - the option to have them served or not.

Kids cheeseburger meal at 2Toots with fruit cup

On the plus side, the lettuce was on the bottom and kept all the "icky" (his words, not mine) juices off the burger.  Personally, I loved that my cheeseburger came with the veggies, so I simply added his veggies to my burger, and everyone was happy.  The only other oddity about our meal is that Mister Man was not provided with a fork to eat his fruit cup.  The grapes can easily be finger foods, but mandarin oranges are messy.  Fortunately, Mister Man is a quick study and took the spoon from our shake to eat the fruit.  And within five minutes, this is all that was left.

Mister Man ate every bite of his 2Toots meal

That included eating some of my fries, because I'll be honest that there was too much food for me to eat, although I know my husband would have disagreed with me - and obviously Mister Man did, too.  We also shared a strawberry shake that was delicious.  It's one that can truly be called a milk shake, made with delicious ice cream, and oh so thick in the tin.

Mister Man enjoyed the 2Toots shake

We also took home a decent portion of the milkshake.  The staff conveniently provided us with a to go cup.  As delicious as it was, it's rich.  That's part of what I love about eating real food.  It fills you up faster and better, so you don't need to eat as much of it - my personal experience, anyway.

Half our milkshake went into a to go container at 2Toots

We enjoyed our meal, and Mister Man can't wait to go back, especially with Little Miss.  And I'm pretty sure we will, not the least of which is that there are added benefits of eating there.  But I'll save that for another post.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a gift card from 2Toots for participating in this campaign.  As always, all opinions expressed remain my own.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Fun With HERSHEY'S CAMP BONDFIRE - Summer Never Ends

The wee ones asked me this morning if summer was over.  It's the first time it's been under 70 degrees since the start of school, and it's a grey, dreary morning.  We carefully checked the calendar and decided that no, summer wasn't quite over yet - even though it felt like it this morning.  And, I promised them, there are some things about summer that we'll keep alive so there's a part of summer always in our hearts.

Their eyes brightened at this notion, and they immediately asked what we'd do.  Put on the spot, there were only a few things I could come up with in the heat of the moment.  We'll still do lots of playdates, I promised.  That's something we frequently do in the summer, but once school hits, we get too busy to think about it.  And, I smiled broadly, we will still make S'mores every once in awhile.

At that, the mood brightened and lifted, and I was off the hook.  It will never cease to amaze me how simply mentioning s'mores or setting a few ingredients on the kitchen table induces such excitement not just in the wee ones but in everyone who sees or hears about them.

Always ready to have fun with s'mores

We've been having "HERSHEY'S CAMP BONDFIRES" this summer, and it's been a blast.  The lure of making s'mores is a draw for just about anyone I know.  And they come running.  Even at BlogHer this year, the Hershey's S'mores Suite was one of the places to be.  I know I enjoyed my visit(s) - and my s'mores.

Warming our hands over the fire at the Hershey's S'mores Suite at BlogHer

Back home, we've had just as much fun.  We invited friends over to chill with us in the evenings after we've left the pool so exhausted we can hardly move.  There's just that last bit of energy we need to expel before we all head to our own homes, and Camp Bondfire was born.  It rotates from house to house sometimes, depending on whose house is clean enough to host others.  The first words out of the mouths of every one of my friends is "Oh please excuse the mess.  My house is a disaster right now" - regardless of how spotless it is.  It's become a running joke.

Camp Bondfire is ooey gooey fun

You need a big mouth to fully appreciate Camp Bondfire

I remember the days as a Girl Scout sitting around a fire roasting marshmallows for our s'mores and telling stories, bonding with the others there.  It's the same idea today.  Sitting around and chatting - you can't do much else when eating a s'more - is a great bonding experience for the kids and adults.  I'm so proud of the wee ones that they're starting to learn to toast their own marshmallows.  We've lost a few soldiers to the fire along the way, but there always seems to be just one more in the marshmallow bag when we need one.

And once the marshmallow is done to the perfect level - perfectly evenly golden brown on all sides and gooey for me, burned to a crisp for my husband and Mister Man - we sit back and enjoy with family and friends.  When the wee ones were on their RV trip with my husband and parents, the nightly s'mores were a favorite treat, too.

While the kids are usually the ones who ask for seconds, the adults rarely turn down the offer of a freshly toasted s'more.  The gooey marshmallow melting the creamy milk chocolate with a crunchy graham cracker to hold it all together is something that appeals to everyone.  Even when Mister Man had his sensory issues and couldn't eat many foods because of the textures, s'mores was always a winner in his book.  It was our little therapy to give him something with so many different and gooey textures.  At least that was our justification, because who just makes one s'more?  We always had to make enough for ourselves, too, because... yum.

Because no one can resist HERSHEY'S CAMP BONDFIRE.  And really, who wants to?  Especially when you have the opportunity to enjoy a "double s'more."  Lucky boy, right?

Enjoying Camp Bondfire

How do you celebrate your own Camp Bondfire?

In the interest of full disclosure, I received supplies to host my HERSHEY'S CAMP BONDFIRE gathering to share with my friends.  I was also compensated as part of this campaign.  As always, all opinions expressed remain my own.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

We Recycle (More) At School. Do You?

There are definitely things in my life that I'm passionate about.  Doing the right thing for the wee ones is paramount, and in my mind that includes things from eating as healthfully as we can to teaching them to give back to being mindful of the waste we create.  Today, I'm working on a #BagItForward project with Elmer's that combines two of those three passions, and I'm thrilled.

Elmer's has the first glue stick and bottle recycling program in conjunction with WalMart.  The special plastics used in creating glue bottles and glue sticks can't be recycled at just any location, so this partnership ensures that they are appropriately turned into new products.  I love that as part of this project, schools will receive $0.02 per for every glue bottle and glue stick from Terracycle so long as the donation is of at least 250 bottles or glue sticks.  I love "fundraisers" that don't cost parents anything!

Before I can start counting the pennies from the donation, I need to create my donation box.  My first step was to go shopping for my #BagItForward Glue Crew project at WalMart.  I love going through the craft and school supply aisle on a regular basis, but I'm still always surprised by the fun new products I find.  Did you know that Elmer's now makes glitter glue in easy to dispense bottles.  I found it in red, blue, yellow, and green.  I can only imagine what I would have done with this as a child!

#BagItForward Glue Crew shop at Walmart

I'm sort of sad that with the school year now underway, the giant back to school section has been replaced by fall products because I love back to school shopping, but I'm happy to report that the products are still there.  Well, they were.  Once I bought out the entire stock of glue sticks to donate to our art classroom, the section looked a little more empty.

Poor moms on a last minute hunt for glue will find an empty WalMart shelf

Once I arrived back home, I started to put together my Glue Crew donation box for the Bag It Forward project.  I had decided to put the collection bin into the art room at the wee ones' school because the specials are so often ignored, and I know our art teacher goes through glue!  Plus, since this project includes making a donation to the classroom, how perfect to get something extra for her when she rarely gets anything from parents?  She was thrilled when I told her about the opportunity.

As I sat sitting with an empty box and some art supplies in front of me, I began to regret my decision a little.  I'm not an artist.  On the Glue Crew website, they provide a ton of information on how to set up a donation project from templates to help you to examples of other schools' donation boxes.  That's when I was officially intimidated because there is truly some awesomeness out there.  I can only imagine what other awesomeness is already out there on the Bag It Forward Pinterest board, too.  After sitting in fear for a little while, I remembered that this is about doing good and not about making sure that this is the best looking box ever created.  I gathered my materials and got started.

Templates and Elmer's products and a donation for my Glue Crew project

I decided to go a classic route, since I am someone who loves things that are simple and still beautiful.  The box I created has the relevant information so the students know what it is, and it incorporates the recycling color of green.  I love that I left the top of the donation box open so that kids can see how much glue they've recycled so far.

Simple recycling box creation

The students at our school haven't heard of the Elmer's Glue Crew project before, so it was important that I also include some educational information for them, as well.  Why should they recycle?  And how does this project work?  They need to know that this is for Elmer's glue sticks and glue bottles only, although there are plenty of other things that can and should be recycled elsewhere.  I also made sure they understand that the glue sticks and bottles that go into the donation box need to be clean.  As easy as I discovered this is to do with just a little warm water, I don't want to be the one responsible for cleaning out all of them come April when I bring them into WalMart to be recycled!

I decided that the Elmer's tri fold display board I purchased was the perfect vehicle to communicate this.  Instead of just putting the instructions, I included some recycling information that I hope will encourage them to recycle at home and school.  So what do you think of the fun board?  And yes, that is one of my empties that I glued as an example.  I'll be sure to include it in the bin when I take it for recycling though!

#BagItForward recycling facts

Now that I completed my donation box, it was time to bring it into the school and show the art teacher and students.  One additional benefit to having the open top of the box is that I can put my trifold inside it, along with the items I purchased to donate to her classroom.  Between crayons, colored pencils, markers, and tons of Elmer's glue, she has quality school supplies for her art room to last for at least a few weeks, right?

Glue Crew donation ready to go!

When I showed up in the classroom, the art teacher beamed.  She knew the box was coming and that I was going to bring her "something," but she had no idea it was going to be a box full of fun stuff for her.  As we chatted, she shared how grateful she was for the Elmer's donation bin.  She hates not being able to recycle them so never throws them away.  She showed me in her classroom where she has a cache of empty glue bottles just waiting for her to discover a way to reuse them.  This is just the glue bottles she has sitting awaiting storage until she can find a use for them.  There is a whole cabinet in her room filled with them.  You can only imagine how thrilled she is that we'll now recycle them.

Our art teacher's partial stash of Elmer's glue bottles awaiting recycling

She placed the bin prominently on a shelf where the students enter her classroom with the display above it so that students know exactly what to do.  As for me, I'm excited to check on it every once in awhile and determine how full our box is getting.  I have a feeling I'm going to have to stock up on more empty boxes to store all the recyclable empty Elmer's glue sticks and bottles I receive before I can start bringing them to WalMart in April!  This is how I love to make a teacher's day, and Elmer's is a huge part of that with the Bag It Forward campaign.

The Glue Crew is officially part of the wee ones' school

Elmer's is doing more than just the Glue Crew project to recycle glue sticks and bottles.  They have also launched the Elmer's 1st Day app for smart phones and tablets.  It's easy to download and sign up, and once you do, you can use it to capture the school year from both the teacher and the parent perspective.  You can easily take photos and share them securely with just who you choose via the app, rather than having photos of your children more easily accessible online.

It's easy to tag children so you can organize the photos by child.  Each photo is easily captioned so you remember exactly what was happening in the moment.  That's always my failing.  You don't want to know how many years it's been since I've printed photos.  At least with captions I have a chance - you know this is why I blog, right?  I love that the app also sorts photos by date so you can find them, as long as you remember around when you took the photo.

Photo of Little Miss with a caption for the 1st Day app

Oh, and did I almost forget to mention?  Elmer's donates one product to the Kids In Need Foundation for every photo that is uploaded using the 1st Day app up to 200,000 products.  Kids In Need distributes free school supplies to students whose parents can't afford them.  So far, Elmer's has donated well over 26,000 products.  How awesome is that?

For every photo uploaded, Elmer's 1st Day app provides a donation to Kids In Need

You know, it's easy to get involved in giving back with this #BagItForward opportunity.  You can download the 1st Day app and upload photos to help Elmer's get to the 200,000 donation level.  And does your school participate in the Glue Crew?  I love that this was so easy to do - and wow was the school receptive!  The more we can get kids involved in helping out, the better off we'll all be.  What can you do to get involved?

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the Collective Bias(tm) Social Fabric(r) Community.  This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias(tm) and Elmer's, and all opinions remain my own.  #CBias #SocialFabric #BagItForward