Random Neural Firings

the inner workings of a restless creative brain

Black Friday Deals


Let the shopping begin! According to Gallup, Americans are planning to spend more on Christmas gifts this year than last (and much more than they planned to spend in 2008-2009). I don’t care how much I’m spending, I like to get a deal. Great deals abound online; Amazon’s been running Black Friday deals all week. I’ll be tweeting out deals as I see them and posting links on my Facebook page so check in with me at either place for up-to-the-minute specials.

For those of you braving the mall traffic, or standing in line at Best Buy, first of all, my lazy hat’s off to you. I prefer to click my way to great savings. But while you’re mentally debating whether or not that ginormous flat screen TV is really a good deal, whip out your phone, scan the barcode and find out if it’s being sold for less somewhere else.

You’ll need an app, of course. There are dozens, but here are the ones I use most often:

1) ShopSavvy – scan the item’s bar code and it will return prices for both local stores and online

2)  Amazon’s App – this app has a feature that allows you to scan a barcode and it will tell you the price on Amazon. You can add the product to your wish list, or buy it from your phone. And if you can’t find the barcode, or the store has it covered with their own price sticker (which happens more often than I like!), you can take a photo of the product and Amazon will use an image search to match the product. It’s pretty slick. Android version here.

And before you head out, you might want to plan your trip using BlackFriday by DealNews. The app is chock full of ads (including some “leaked” ads) and has comparison shopping tools. (You can also visit the DealNews website which is a great resource for the best deals, by product or store.)

All right, so while you’re out and about, I’ll be chasing my toddler and some good deals from my laptop. Or my iPad. Or my phone. DO NOT LET ME BUY A KINDLE FIRE or anything else that connects to the Internet. Happy Shopping!

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for up-to-the-minute sales. Follow me on Pinterest for unique gift ideas.

The Opposite of Lent


I watched this 3 minute video, featuring Matt Cutts, on TED Talks today. The speaker’s premise is simple: try something new for 30 days. It’s like the opposite of Lent. Instead of STOPPING a behavior, try STARTING one. Instead of giving up sugar, try adding a serving of vegetables. 30 days is just long enough to make a habit of something, too.  Mr. Cutts  started small and found that as he completed each 30 day challenge successfully, he grew in confidence and took on bigger challenges.

I watched the video and immediately thought of what I want to do for the next 30 days: watch a video on TED each morning. I mean, seriously, I always put off watching because I think I don’t have time when, duh, they’re never longer than 6 minutes and I can surely find 5 minutes or so to watch smart, inspiring people impart wisdom. It’ll be a GREAT way to start my work day, get me thinking and motivated. And surely something I would look forward to doing for the month of July.

If you aren’t familiar with TED, get thee over there right away! Famous people and some who aren’t famous but should be, all videotaped giving short, interesting mini-lectures.

My Most Favorite App Ever (Tech Tuesday)


I love Grocery IQ. First, the fine print: it’s free and available on iPhone, Android and iPad. So you don’t even have to think about whether or not you want to spend the money or whether it’s available on your phone. It is available, unless you have a Blackberry, of course, but if you have a Blackberry, you’re already used to getting the short end of the app stick. (It’s free because Coupons.com owns it and wants you to use their coupons. I don’t have a problem with that.)

This is my favorite app, hands down. I use it every day. It solves a problem I have – multiple grocery/drugstore/Target lists laying around on pieces of scrap paper, scattered around the kitchen, and NEVER IN MY PURSE WHEN I NEED THEM. It also solves the memory/responsibility problem. What’s that? It goes something like this:

Chris: We’re almost out of paper towels. We should remember to get that next time we’re at the store (transferring the responsibility to remember to me).

Me: (scrambling for one of my scrap papers OR barely listening/registering what he said because I’m wiping snot off my son’s nose) – Uh, yeah, sure, and uh, we need garlic. I think we’re out of garlic. Do you know if we’re out of garlic? And lemons? (transferring the responsibility to look to him)

Fast forward to the next day at Publix as we’re cramming the kid into a “car” cart and rushing to the bakery for his free cookie:

Me: what was that thing you said I should remember to get?

Chris: Uh, uh, uh . . . oh gosh, what was it? (wiping chocolate off son’s mouth)

This app SOLVES all that and more. Next time you run out of something, whip out your phone, and add it to the list. You can choose which list because the app lets you organize by store. Which is perfect for me because some of the items we like are only available at certain stores. So I have a Whole Foods list, a Publix list, a Target list, and so on. The app is smart and uses predictive text, so as I start typing, it pulls up a list of suggested items – including brands they carry at your selected store. Once you add the item, it automatically categorizes by department, so all your produce items are grouped together, deli items together, etc. How freakin’ awesome is that???

Maybe you don’t care which store you get your toilet paper from. That’s fine. When you add your item, just pop it in the list for “any store” and it’ll show up on your list no matter which store you’re at.

Back to the kitchen and the oatmeal you just ran out of. You also have the option to scan the barcode and pop it into your list that way. Nice. Or click on the coupons tab and see what deals are out there. You can send those coupons to your printer straight from the app, too.

Or, let’s say you’re working late and don’t have time to go to the store, but your husband does. You can EMAIL HIM THE LIST right from the app! (Or, if he has the app on his phone, too, you can sync the lists.)

I’m telling you, GroceryIQ is the THE MOST USEFUL APP EVER. At least, until I come out with my own app, which I hope to launch in a few weeks. For real! Pinch me and all that.

Perfect Gift for Angry Birds Fan


Any Angry Birds fans out there? Angry Birds is an addictive little game for your mobile phone and one of the most popular apps available. Cheap for iPhone users, free for the Droid. My husband plays it. I play it. Lots of other people play it. This guy likes it so much he turned his children into birds and pigs to recreate a bird suicide mission in photography.

Or there’s this guy who created a set of Angry Birds out of Legos, which I dare not show my husband for fear I will lose him all weekend to the tackle box of Legos he saved from his childhood.

If you’re a fan, or know someone who is a fan, I’ve put together some links to Angry Bird merchandise for your shopping pleasure.

  • The official Angry Bird shop. i-Phone cases and plush dolls.
  • Looking for something hand made? Check out these crocheted angry birds. My husband wants this pig and I think it would look great in the built-ins in our living room. I think home decor should have a sense of humor, don’t you?

So there you have it . . . the perfect gift for the Angry Birds lover in your life. Rumor has it there’s a board game coming out soon, too, but I think we’ll skip it. Half the fun of this game is its low commitment; you can play it for a few minutes in line at the grocery, or anywhere, anytime.

Cross-posted with a few minor edits over at my work blog.

Friday Random Roundup


Here are some totally random blogs from famous people that I find fascinating:

Jay Rayner, food critic and judge on Top Chef, writes with wit and a full arsenal of sharp critiques. How can you not love a post that begins like this:

If I see someone using a knife and fork to eat spare ribs, I just know that I will want to punch them . . . I am yet to meet a meal that absolutely demanded a trip to the cutlery drawer. It’s amazing what you can do to a risotto by scooping with the middle and index finger, and the only thing that stops me lifting up a bowl of soup to my lips is the appalled stares of others. When I’m alone, the spoon can go hang.


Roger Ebert’s blog is nothing short of a revelation. He writes of movies, of course, but also of current events, pop culture, his critics, and whatever else moves him. His post about his father was moving, but not overly so. I felt I really got to know him and his family reading it, and I never felt he tried to manipulate my emotions as so many writers would when writing of a departed one. His writing allowed me to feel what I wanted to feel. No easy feat.

Until the day he died, I always called him “Daddy.” He was Walter Harry Ebert, born in Urbana in 1902 of parents who had emmigrated from Germany. His father, Joseph, was a machinist working for the Peoria & Eastern Railway, known as the Big Four. Daddy would take me out to the Roundhouse on the north side of town to watch the big turntables turning steam engines around. In our kitchen, he always used a knife “your grandfather made from a single piece of steel.”

And then there’s Diana Agron, the actress who plays Quinn on Glee. Her blog isn’t wordy so much as it is a series of pictures, short posts, and videos that all add up to what I think is a great introduction to a young, creative soul in Hollywood. Here’s part of her tribute to her mom on Mother’s Day:


I know I already wrote you something else, but this is my second note to you. You introduced me to Audrey Hepburn and I fell in love with movies, found my passion and dreams. Just like all my observations of her and her life, you demonstrate grace, compassion and humanity better than most.

I keep a folder in my RSS reader marked “fun” for blogs like these. I could just as easily mark that folder “inspirational” because I find these bloggers’ creativity and ability to communicate inspiring.

What do you read for fun? Have any interesting blogs to share with me?

Hope you all have a great weekend. We’re going to the PDK air show tomorrow. My little boy LOVES airplanes (is there a child who doesn’t?) so we are really looking forward to this.

Cutest Burp Cloths Ever – New Mommy Monday


Sure you can just use cloth diapers or any old towel to catch that spit-up, but I wanted cute burp cloths.  I figured if they were going to be laying around all over the house, they ought to match the decor.  I found TONS of cute burp cloths on Etsy — just like the designer ones at the baby boutiques, only less-expensive, plus you’re buying directly from the mom who made them.  I dug that.

Here are a few of my favorites (the photos are linked to the seller’s shops):

But some of my all-time favorites are the Monster Burp Cloths from Etsy shop Frank and Me.  I think this design is hilarious and the cloths are super-soft (made of fleece).  I also bought some of her little “swipers” (think booger-wiper or wash cloth) and a funny monster tooth fairy pillow for my monster-obsessed 4 year old nephew.  (Big hit!)  How cute are these?  These would be great to stuff in a shower basket for the next non-traditional momma you know.

Those burp cloths are fast-becoming my son’s “lovey.” Here he is cuddled up with them the other night. Isn’t this sweet?


Just a reminder: these are all items I actually own. Nobody sent me anything to review. Everything I blab about is something I own, know someone who owns, or want to buy.

Cutest Baby Boy Clothes (Zutano) – 50% off


Zutano’s on sale, y’all! Go to BabySuperMall and get 50% off. Don’t know about Zutano? Here’s the back story on my love affair with this brand:

My husband and I hate baby blue. We are allergic to boys’ clothes with dogs, cars or trucks. I think we gave away at least six baby blue teddy bears that were given to us as gifts. So buying clothes for a baby boy has been a challenge. It’s also become something of an obsession for me. If you find yourself in the same situation, I have one word for you: Zutano. Check out their website or Facebook fan page.

Zutano is a line of children’s clothing created up in Vermont by a husband/wife team. The wife is a graphic designer and comes up with the most delightful prints. Big, bold, colorful and fun. Twice a year, they release a new set of prints that all coordinate with one another. It’s like Garanimals, only much, much cooler.

In his Celery Dot footies and bib (with matching food!)


I can’t buy enough of them. And since my not-so-little munchkin keeps doubling his weight on me, I have to keep buying the next size up (sometimes before he even gets a chance to wear the current size). Alas, Zutano does not sell their baby line on their website (they do sell their ItzyBitzy line on their site). Here’s my two cents on where to buy them:

  • 50% off all Zutano right now at BabySuperMall
  • Nicest customer service, good selection, but doesn’t have the most recent prints: Bambino Mountain. (Navigation is also a bit clunky but prices are good.)
  • Best selection: ComfyKids.
  • You can also find them at local children’s boutiques. Search Zutano’s site for a store near you.

Some of my favorite prints: Elephant Parade (mixes great with chocolate stripes and chocolate dot, orange, brown or pool solids); Bugs (out of print but I still find it occasionally); Cabana Stripe; and Celery Dot.

OK, how sick is this? I actually have all the prints memorized. They make cute stuff for girls, too. LOVE their new owls print for girls. The cotton is soft and washes well. If you have a friend who delivers early, they have a great line for preemies called Itzy Bitzy. Their cotton booties stay on way better than any socks I’ve found.

If you decide to buy some and want help with sizes, shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to tell you what I’ve learned about how the sizes run.

My lil guy dressed in Elephant Parade footies.


Travel Shorts and All Aboard T-shirt


Toy Parade Jumpsuit and Cabana Stripe Booties


Works for Me: Zutano Baby Booties


Just about every mom I know complains that they can’t find socks that stay on their babies. I’m glad to know it’s not just me; my chunky monkey has cute little fat rolls where most of us have ankles. I assume that’s why socks don’t stay up. Thank goodness for Zutano‘s booties. They snap around his ankle, with two different snap settings (adjustable to fit your puddin’ pop’s foot). And they STAY ON! Doesn’t matter how long he jumps in his Jumperoo, his booties stay put. Try that with socks!

I know I’ve blogged about Zutano before because I love their bold, graphic prints, but I neglected to mention the practical aspects of their line. The booties are on the pricey side, but they last a long time and mix and match well with their clothes. I’ve often found them on sale online and stocked up then. Regardless of whether or not you find them on sale, they’re worth it!

You can find Zutano at local children’s boutiques. I’ve bought them online at the following retailers:




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This is part of the Works for Me Wednesday series, hosted by We Are THAT Family. Great tips there!

Friday Round Up


I have web wanderlust . . . here are some of the random things I came across this week that I thought you might dig.

Safe Mama’s Safer Dishware Cheat Sheet — I was getting ready to buy some new baby bowls and spoons and thought to myself, “hey, maybe I should be looking for BPA-free stuff.”  Any time I have a question like that, I head straight for Safe Mama. She’s done all the homework so I don’t have to.

One Year Birthday Party Ideas. Four months to go and I’m already trying to figure out what to do for my son’s first birthday. Did I mention my husband calls me “Planner Girl/Research Girl” when he’s not rolling up his eyes at me for thinking so far ahead. (Hey, his family would never have a birthday gift if it weren’t for me.) So I came across these cute party favors/cupcake toppers on Etsy and really like these owl and circus designs . . . giving me ideas . . .

Pirate Gifts. Speaking of Etsy, my 5-year old nephew is coming for a visit and he’s into pirates. He also likes to help his momma in the kitchen. How cute would this little Pirate Chef Hat and Apron be?

We’re also going to go swimming at my dad’s so I got him this pirate float (complete with water gun to shoot down those enemy pirates) from Amazon.

We Love Dance. Last, but not least, Brandon and Janette’s Argentine tango Wednesday night on So You Think You Can Dance was flawless. My husband and I saw a professional tango troupe perform at the Fox two years ago and Brandon and Janette were just as good. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Random Contests for Baby Gear


Send in a picture of your baby and his/her dad to enter LeTop’s Father’s Day contest.  Winner receives $100 in LeTop merchandise.  Cute clothes.  Contest deadline:  June 19th.  My son owns the Jurassic Fantastic romper pictured above.  (Sorry I don’t have a picture of him in it, but will work on that!)

Zutano June Contest:  Post a pic of your baby in Zutano gear (gee, wonder if I have a pic I could enter?) on their Facebook fan page by June 30th for a chance to win a $200 gift card.

dsc_0003_02-2Kushies Baby-of-the-Month Contest:  Kushies does this every month.  You can enter up to two pics at a time.  Each month’s winner receives $75 in the Kushies store online.  <sigh> I’m going to keep entering until I win!  The pic above is Kushie’s Zebra Layette pattern.  I haven’t blogged about Kushie’s yet, but they’re a Canadian company, great clothes, soft, cute prints (more subtle than the bold Zutano stuff), comfy pj’s, AND they send awesome reusable shopping bags with your purchase.

Becoming-Mom Weleda Baby Starter Kit Giveaway. Ariana tells a great story about how she used to work for this company and closes wtih a giveaway.  Read her blog entry, comment on the Weleda product you’d most like to have, and you’re entered to win the baby starter kit.  Contest deadline:  June 18th.

An Apron Full of Giveaways. All the contests I mentioned above are with products or sites I have personal experience with.  But of course, I can’t be everywhere!  So follow this link for a list of over 70 contests.   And good luck!

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