Freshen up your bedroom

Make your bedroom a refreshing retreat, any time of year

Many a travel-weary soul has exclaimed, “There’s nothing like being home in your own bed.” Your bedroom is your private sanctuary, so make it an inviting place where you can rest, sleep and feel restored, surrounded by pure comfort and beauty.

Blooming bed

Bring a lasting bouquet beauty of seasonal blooms into your bedroom with Ted Baker London floral bedding.  The designer known for its rich, vibrant hues and elaborate prints is launching a new line of luxury linens for spring, including the Blue Beauty collection, inspired by souvenir photographs taken by the designer on a bicycle ride around Holland’s tulip fields. The tonal blues create a striking statement against a pristine white backdrop.

The soft 100-perfect cotton comforter sets, coverlets, and decorative pillows are available at Nordstrom.com, priced between $65 to $285.

Counting sleep

Sleeping in total comfort not just a dream. PONS bedding has made it their mission to create the ultimate environment for perfect sleep. The PONS mattress (starting at $599) will help you rest well not just because of its gel infusion for cooler sleep, its breathable knit cover for airflow and its body-conforming foam with three levels of pressure point relief for restful shuteye, but you will sleep well knowing the materials under you are 100-percent eco-friendly and CertiPUR-US certified from head to toe.

The mattress contains no ozone depleters, mercury, lead, and other heavy metals, or formaldehyde or phthalates, and low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions for indoor air quality (less than 0.5 parts per million). PONS made the perfect match to its mattress in a bedframe ($1,199) equipped with USB ports for recharging while you sleep. Soon PONS promised to offer cooling and ultra-dry sheets, comforters and pillows.

Airbn-be-better

Nature’s bounty of trees, plants and flowers, as well as our beloved animals, bring us beauty and joy that make our house a home, inside and out; but they also bring into the home pollen, dander and other indoor pollutants that can be harmful to our health and comfort. Blueair Classic 405 ($599) air purifier filters out the polluting particles to clean unhealthy air in your home environment. It operates quietly, and its modern design discreetly blends in with home décor. Integrated smart technology allows it to be operated remotely with a smartphone.

The clean-air companion to the Blueair air purifier is Blueair Aware ($199), a sleek, small air monitor that continuously measures indoor air quality and quickly detects airborne pollutants, including ultrafine particulate matter (PM2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde and benzene and carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2). You don’t need to know what any of these chemicals and contaminants are – just that when the Blueair Aware indicator shines blue, the air you breathe is A-OK. If the indicator light turns orange, it’s time to shut the windows or eliminate other sources of air contaminants.

Clean case

Feeling good under the covers begins with a fresh, clean bed and pillows. Cover your mattress and pillows with an allergen-barrier to keep down dust mites, pollen, pet dander and other household allergens. AllerEase Ultimate zippered mattress protector ($55.99) and pillow protectors ($9.99) fully encase mattresses and pillows in antimicrobial, hypoallergenic fabric to reduce exposure to irritants; and because the top fabric is soft and pliable, the covers do not alter the feel or breathability of your sleep surface. As an added benefit, the waterproof coverings offer protection from spills, and they can be machine washed and dried for easy care.

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Celebrate the Fourth in style

Surround yourself with the patriotic spirit of America’s favorite summer holiday

flagpillowcroppedIndependence Day is around the corner, so get ready to celebrate in style and spirit. Be a star at your July 4th party with festive food, drink and Americana accoutrement made for entertaining and enjoying your holiday.

Hole-in-won!

You can’t miss with a flag themed bean bag toss game. This stars-and-stripes Americana Edition of the popular corn hole game comes with two 24″ x 35″ boards and red and blue bean bags for two or four players, with a built-in compartment to store the bean bags and Velcro fasteners to keep the boards together for easy storage and carrying. Available at TJMaxx for $79.99.

Spirit wear

Dress in indie spirit with patriotic themed Trucks Surf & Co. swim suit or a R, W & B Life is Good T-shirt ($7.99 – $14.99), available at TJ Maxx. Dress up or dress down with a versatile and comfortable Discovery skort from Royal Robbins ($55), with a zipper pocket, built-in UPF 50+ sun protection, and a wicking quick-dry fabric perfect for outdoor fun, trekking or travel.

 

Music go-round

Keep up the beat wherever you are, with the Yatra Aquatune 5712 ($34.99), a small but booming weatherproof wireless Bluetooth speaker that can jam up to 12 hours on a charge. It’s so compact it can clip on a belt or beach bag so you can bring along the tunes on the go. www.shopyatra.com.

A-la more

What’s more American than apple pie and ice cream? Scoop on the red, white and blue with Turkey Hill All Natural ice cream in pure vanilla bean and new flavors of raspberry chocolate chip and blueberry.  Like all 20 flavors in the All Natural line-up, all flavors are made with only milk, cream, sugar, and natural flavors, and they include no artificial colors and no stabilizers. Available at select grocers and convenience stores wherever Turkey Hill products are sold.

Not your grandma’s camp chair

Rock out while you view the fireworks in a GCI Outdoor FirePit Rocker ($60) that will make you the envy of everyone sitting stiff in their old-school camp chairs. This low-ride spring-loaded rocking camp chair lets you lean back and look up at the fireworks, and for camping it’s the perfect height for an evening around the campfire, with a mesh backrest and padded armrests for cool comfort, and a beverage holder to keep your drink close-by. Available at national sporting good retailers.

Take out the sting

Keep the skeeters and other pests from biting at your picnic or fireworks party with Nobitech insect-repellent performance wear. Their collection of Skintex-treated T-shirts and long-sleeve pullover sand hoodies ($19-$35) are suitable for the sports-minded athlete but also stylish enough for regular folk and can help ward off Zika-carrying mosquitos and Lyme-disease carrying ticks.

Pop star

Break out the Popcornopolis and make your Fourth of July party really pop.  Popcornolpolis chef-designed artisan popcorn one-ups America’s favorite snack food with decadent gluten-free, non-GMO confection varieties like Zebra, drizzled with premium chocolate; Chocolate Stripe carmel corn drizzled with dark and white chocolate; Chocolate Peanut Butter caramel corn; and White Chocolate Macadamia; or try the Popcornolpolis new line of organic popcorn Nearly Naked; Herbed Butter; Three Cheese; Pesto Mozzarella; Avocado Lime; Kettle Corn; Karamel Kiss; and Chocolate Macaroon. Available at Popcornopolis stores, grocery and club stores, sports stadiums, movie theatres and at www.popcornopolis.com.

Mix it up

 

When it’s hot as a firecracker outside, quench your thirst with a sparkling refreshing beverage from Zevia.  The zero-calorie, zero-sugar Zevia drink varieties include flavored bubbly waters, like Cucumber Lemon, Lime and Mandarin Orange. If you want a little punch in your drink, add your favorite spirits to Zevia mixers, perfect for cocktails or mocktails in Dry Lemon Lime

Ginger Beer, and Tonic flavors. If old-school pop is more your style, step up your health game with Zevia’s sodas, naturally sweetened with stevia, exploding with taste in flavors beyond cola including Black Cherry, Grape, Grapefruit Citrus, Lemon Lime Twist, Mountain Zevia, Orange and Strawberry.

 

Come share the wine

Invite friends over and chill out with your Little Black Dress on the table. No, not with a lampshade on your head, but with LBD wines. For a refreshing summer wine, try LBD Pinot Grigio, with aromas of apple, melon and lemongrass before a zesty tangerine finish; or for something a bit more complex, there’s the Pinot Noir, with layers of cherry and clove with soft floral notes, hints of strawberry jam and pomegranate; or everyone’s favorite party wine, the LBD Chardonnay, a crisp and fruit-forward wine with flavors of apple and pear, and creamy accents of vanilla and oak.  Available in wine stores, bars and restaurants and select grocers including Safeway, Wegmans and Harris Teeter.

Sit a little

When America’s poor tired huddled masses come to call on the Fourth, be ready with a little extra seating.  Sit in style with Dar Living Folding Stool, in red, blue and other colors. When your guests leave, the chairs fold up compactly for quick storage, and the built-in handle makes for easy carrying. Get the stools in a four-pack ($35) so all your company has a place to rest their laurels. Available on Amazon and home goods retailers nationwide.

For the Fourth, and forever, it’s true, it’s never the same place twice

LA Parenting

My addiction to TJ Maxx, and my one-stop shopping binge for everything Fourth of July

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As I loaded up for Independence Day festivities at my secret place, before I noticed two hours had passed. I wondered how the time had gotten away from me, as it always does when I go there; and more broadly, I wondered how my TJ Maxx compulsion had started.

It began innocently, many years ago.  I wandered into TJ Maxx.  I wondered, “What is this odd place; a sort of no-frills mini department store?” I discovered, it is just that.  Officially, TJ Maxx is considered a department store, but sans the helpful sales associates to bring you different sizes in the dressing room. I have come to peace with my TJ Maxx habit, because if you are going to have a shopping problem, or more positively referred to as retail therapy, at least TJ’s is…

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The coffee table fidget spinner

REVOQ creators dazzle with fully loaded fidget spinner that just won’t stop


The hot new fidget spinner REVOQ from WeFidget is the best thing I’ve seen since the faux Cartier diamond encrusted solid gold spinner on SNL. https://youtu.be/iN6df0twmJQ

Though I’m not a connoisseur of fidget spinner’s, my nine-year-old son he is. He and his friends are so addicted to them that they got banned from using them at school.

My son’s collection of fidget spinners is vast, including one constructed from a recycled motorcycle chain, custom spinners with Batman style wings, several cheapies purchased at Wegman’s and a few homemade devices, including a couple he fashioned from the bearings of a salvaged old skateboard. He has watched countless YouTube videos on spinners and how to make them, such as instructional videos on making edible fidget spinners. He also has fidget cubes and a fidget stick, or “roll-over toy.”

So now that we have established his qualifications, here is what he has to say about REVOQ’s premium spinner.

“This is the best spinner in the whole world.”

For boys and spinners, faster and longer matters, and this one spun nonstop for over five minutes. The website for REVOQ says it can go up to seven minutes, which perhaps was initiated by more forceful spin, in perfect conditions.

The only people other than my son and his friends I have seen more passionate and serious about spinners are developers from WeFidget, who on their Kickstarter page have a mini documentary featuring a number of grown adults explaining how the fidget spinner will replace rattling keys in their pockets or twirling hair or other compulsive fidgeting acts.

While teachers and developmental specialists have pretty much debunked the idea that fidget spinners are actually helpful in increasing attention span, the folks from WeFidget and their followers still believe that this true, at least for them. for most fidgetier, spinners are pure fun, and a competitive challenge to make faster and better and to perform tricks. There are even books like Fun with Fidget Spinners: 50 Super Cool Tricks and Activities to help guide users in making the most of their spinners.

For my son, the spinners have become like Pokémon cards, something to collect, compare, share and trade. This one he won’t be trading though.

What he likes about it: among other thigs, its weight. This is one heavy fidget spinner. Its solid metal construction gives it a satisfying heft to hold. It is also loaded with bells and whistles – or rather switches and levers to feel and flick. In addition to simply spinning, this fidget device has buttons and balls that click and roll to occupy the user’s hands.

My son likes these extras, thought he did note that the levers could be rounded, so they were smoother and more tactfully pleasing. Keep in mind, his is a prototype, and our feedback hopefully be used to improve later productions.

While he liked the balls embedded on one side, that he can roll with his fingers, the protrusion of these balls keep the fidget spinner from lying flat on one side. For avid fidget spinners, laying the spinner on its side to measure its speed and length of spin is important. While one side was impeded by the balls, by placing the spinner on a flat surface on the other side, the spinner did indeed spin freely.
For added tactile interest, one side the spinner has an oblong groove that feels good when the user places their finger in it or rubs across it. It also has jagged sunburst-style grooves around the center button on one side, to provide some tactile stimulation.

Of course, looks are important too. And this regard that we fidget excels. Its shiny beauty and its sleek two-wing styling makes it stand out from the typical three-prong colored-plastic spinners.

One aesthetic that my son objected to was the exposed screw heads on one side, but this was a double edge sword, because while he would like a more finished appearance, he also likes access to the inner workings of his spinners, so that he can disassemble, examine and cannibalize them if he wishes, but this is one he will be displaying, and not dissecting.

The REVOQ will retail for $45

Wax on, Wax off – keeping your car in top shape for summer

LA Parenting

Protect your paint and interior and keep all systems go for summer road trips

Just like your Mom told you, even if the sun is behind the clouds, UV rays can be damaging to your skin; but bet she didn’t mention what those rays can do to your vehicle.  Sun, heat, salty sea air and other harsh environmental elements can take a serious toll on your car or truck, inside and out, and under the hood.  Get your car ready for summer vacation with these DIY maintenance tips.

  • Check your tires. There’s nothing worse than a flat tire on your road trip. Be sure to check for proper inflation pressure, especially since under-inflated tires consume more energy, therefor giving you poorer gas mileage.

  • Protect your car from the sun. Similar to protecting your skin with sun tan lotion, it’s important to shield vinyl, plastic and rubber surfaces on your…

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Three super easy DIY ways to transform a room

Bring out your inner interior decorator and give a room a new look, in a day, or minutes

Giving a living space a new look does not always require a major renovation, or a contractor.  Here are a few DIY ideas for refreshing and reviving a room with a fresh new style, no home improvement experience required.

Cut a rug

Do-it-yourself and rug are not usually terms that go together, but FLOR is changing that. This innovative flooring company allows anyone to design their own unique rug, one square at a time, using self-adhesive carpeted tiles that can be laid in custom sizes and shapes, using a huge variety of gorgeous patterns, styles and colors with many textures and piles.

The beauty of the system is that the options are limitless. FLOR tiles can be arranged to fit odd spaces, such as hallways or a room with a nook or a jagged floor plan, or the tiles can be placed to create an area rug or seamless-looking wall-to-wall rug to fit any room. Designing an inspired and creative custom rug is made easy with FLOR’s online Design Studio tool, or you can choose from a selection of pre-designed signature pieces.

 

For those who like to change up a room’s look often, the tiles can be taken up and moved much easier than an installed carpet; and in areas like kitchens or kids’ rooms, where floors suffer the most spills and stains, individual soiled tiles can be replaced, rather than an entire rug. Available at flor.com. Prices range from as low as $11.49 to $24 and up per square.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throw some shade

Recessed lighting has its benefits, but it can lack variety and versatility. Make a room with recessed lighting stand out with EzClipse, stylish shades that fit around recessed lighting fixtures that can transform the look and feel of a room within minutes. A lackluster flat ceiling in any space can be instantly upgraded from traditional to modern.

The shades come in several styles, including metallic and fabric options, and in round and square shapes and several colors and profiles. The covers can be used on an entire ceiling, or only on selected lights or areas to add an element of style, draw attention to an area, highlight artwork or furniture, or give a feeling of separation between multiuse rooms, such as a living room that doubles as an office.

The inner fittings of the shades can be adjusted for the size of the recessed light opening, and even if the existing rims are plastic, self-adhesive magnetic holders can be installed without any tools. Installation is so easy that you can remove and change the covers whenever the mood strikes. EzClipse are available on Amazon or at EzClipse.com and also at Costco in Canada. Prices start at $13.99.

Launch pad-ding

There is another way, besides painting or adding artwork, to dress up plain walls. Vänt Wall Panels give an instant new look to a room with a wall décor system of padded panels that snap into a track that anyone can install, no special skills required.

Each wood-backed panel is 1.75” thick and either 30” or 39” long. The panels are filled with foam padding and batting for comfort, and covered with a variety of easy-care materials in a variety of collections of different colors and textures, such as Vintage Leather Finish in Black Coal, White Dove, Saddle Brown, Grey Pewter or Dusty Taupe; and Cotton Weave Finish in Black Denim, Midnight Blue, Toasted Wheat Ash Gray, and Gray Mist.

The panels are ideal as a back board for any size bed, or for use in living rooms to add an inviting softness to a room, in a dining room to add a sleek sophistication, in offices and dens to make a stylish statement, and in kitchens, kids’ playrooms or any room to cover an entire wall or as an accent to enhance the look of a room. The panels can be arranged in a solid-colored configuration, or colored panels can be mixed and matched to create unique, custom configurations to transform the style and ambiance of a room in minutes.

 

Improve your home without losing your mind

Organized planning can make your DIY go smoother, and save your sanity

Getting ready to undertake a home improvement project? Many homeowners get overwhelmed at the magnitude of a large DIY project or a contracted job, even simply not knowing where to start it and how to get organized. Erin Condren, organization expert and creator of the

Erin Condren, organization expert and creator of the LifePlanners organizers, offers these professional tips and the tool of her “Level Up Your Life” activity sheet, a customizable actionable checklist Condren created with Liberty Mutual Insurance to help people get organized before, during, and after their home improvement projects. “I’m all for taking pen to paper when it comes to preparing for any project, so this is a great tool for people to utilize especially if they’re unsure where to start,” said Condren.The first section provides mini checklists to help get organized before embarking on a project, perfect for de-cluttering a room and getting ready for a tag sale with items you plan to sell. When it comes to hiring help and setting a budget, under “Planning for the Big Picture” you can find an easy-to-follow guide that shows what you should be writing down when creating a budget plan and what to make note of when researching contractors.In addition to the activity sheet, below are tips to follow when taking on a home renovation.Organization from the Ground UpI’m currently in the middle of a home renovation,” said Condren, “And I can’t urge people enough to clean out their clutter before starting their renovations.”According to a recent survey from Liberty Mutual Insurance, lack of organization causes worry for nearly one-fifth of Americans on a regular basis. You do not want to begin a home improvement project with this feeling of worry. Clean out clutter room by room and set solid completion dates for each room to be organized. Setting dates helps hold you accountable and makes sure no room is overlooked.If the room you’re renovating was used as storage space, sort through your items and decide which can be sold during a tag sale. There might be a reason this stuff has been in storage. De-cluttering this space will help you realize which items you can keep, toss, sell, or donate. You do not want unnecessary belongings taking up living or storage space in your new, remodeled space.How to Hire HelpAnother home survey from Liberty Mutual Insurance found that over one-third (38%) of Americans feel that they need assistance or advice on managing a home improvement project. Some home improvement projects, such as those that involve plumbing or electrical, are best to leave to a professional.When hiring help, it’s important to research multiple contractors to ensure the most bang for your buck. Create a list that includes the contractors’ names, phone numbers, pros vs. cons for each, project type, and budget quote. This helps organize your thoughts as you’re meeting with each contractor and allows you to reference your conversations later in one fell swoop to make your final hiring decisions.Budget AppropriatelyNo matter the home project – big or small – leaving a 15-20% cushion in your budget is necessary. The cushion allows you to be prepared for the unexpected without hurting your wallet in the long run.Use an organizer, such as the LifePlanner, to write down the project type and project to-dos. Document what you plan to accomplish during the renovation project and the exact improvements that will be happening along the way.Writing down the step-by-step process will help you visualize how big or small of a project you’re planning. Mapping out the project details in this manner will also make creating the budget an easier process since you can go line by line for each item.For more budget tips, Liberty Mutual has a new go-to resource MasterThis where you can view more home improvement budget tips in the “Tackle Home Repairs” MasterKit.“Techorate” to Add ValueMany of us have recently hopped on the smart home bandwagon and installed items like smart home security systems, smart lighting and thermostats, and smart locks in the home. If budget allows, consider purchasing smart home devices, such as locks, security cameras, leak sensors, or smoke/fire alarms. You might be surprised to find that installing these devices can save you money on your home insurance.

Mother’s Day gifts for Mom at home

Show Mom your appreciation for the many ways she always makes a house a home with a gift on Mother’s Day that she will use around the home, and for herself.

 

Fry easy

Mom can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, so give her cookware that’s worthy of her culinary abilities, from the Hexclad collection (starting at $79.99 for 8” frying pan). This new high-tech cookware blends tri-ply stainless steel with a patented nonstick surface that can handle whatever Mom throws at it. It has faster heating and greater heat retention than traditional cookware, so it uses less energy to cook, and its unique hexagonal honeycombed-pattern nonstick surface takes less energy to clean up — and Hexclad ware even can go in the dishwasher. It has a stay-cool handle, so no potholders are required to handle it, and it can be used in the oven up to 500°.

Drink up-scale

Mom can stay hydrated in style with Not Vodka bottles, the sleek and colorful line of designer insulated drink thermoses that keep beverages cold for up to 30 hours and hot for up to 12 hours. Not only will Mom enjoy having her drink taste cold (or hot) and fresh all day (and night), she will feel great about using this reusable container to replace disposable bottles and knowing that the company donates a portion of proceeds to charities that help hydrate humanity in water-starved areas of the world. The line comes in an array of feminine and pretty hues, like rose glitter, neon pink and Tiffany-ish sea foam, emblazoned with the conversation-starter brand name Not Vodka — but if you do fill it with vodka, who would know? $25 for 17-oz., $32 to $59 for 25-oz.

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A cut above

Mom can cut it anyway she wants it with a new shiny set of Edge of Belgravia stainless steel precision knives ($86.00 for complete set), the remarkably light but durable cutlery that will look stylish in her kitchen and makes slicing and dicing quick and easy. A unique creation of contemporary London designer Christian Bird, the ergonomically designed diamond-like facet shape handles offer a comfortable and steady grip, and the razor-sharp non-stick coated stainless steel blades can cut through the toughest meats like butter.

Black Diamond Knife Block

Sweet dreams

Let mom sleep in on Mother’s Day, but let her rise and shine other days with the gentle and hi-tech wake up experience of BEDDI Glow ($79.99), the new smart alarm clock that features a glowing LED light that mimics a sunrise and can be set to wake her up to her favorite radio station or streaming her favorite tunes from iTunes or Spotify premium music services. The light changes color to suit mom’s mood and even pulses to her favorite music if she desires. Other features include two USB charge ports and a white noise generator with a variety of sound effects, such as rainforest or crashing waves.

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Cover girl

Spread out Toad &Co’s Debug Ground Cover ($55) and treat mom to a bug-free Mother’s Day picnic. The light-weight ground cover can fold up compactly to carry along wherever she goes – from the sidelines at soccer games, to camping, the beach, or anywhere bugs might be pesty. The odorless Insect Shield Technology built into the fabric is a safe and effective alternative to insect repellant sprays, and it stays effective for up to 70 washings. Toad & Co also makes fashionable insect-repellant Debug apparel for Mom and the whole family, made of eco-wise and organic materials.

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Grill momma

Summer is coming, and moms who are flippin’ crazy about cooking on the grill will love quick-and-easy cleanup with Grill Daddy ($14.99), the mother of all grill cleaning tools. This baby is a wire scouring brush with steam cleaning power that will shine up a grill rack in no time, so that mom can get to some serious searing and enjoying steaks, burgers, whatever she wants to charbroil without worrying about the mess.

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Sprucing up your home and yard for spring

No handyman, no problem

I spoke with HGTV handyman Chip Wade about his best tips for spring cleaning, inside and out, and here is his advice.

There are a variety of simple, DIY spring home maintenance tasks that you can tackle without hiring a professional. Start with window cleaning and while you spritz and spray look to see if they need resealing. Re-caulk or replaced damaged stripping where needed to save on air conditioning come the warmer months.

Speaking of air conditioning, take time before spring to change or wash your HVAC filters. Turn the system on to see how it’s working before the summer months when repair shops are busiest.

Outside, sweep up any remaining gravel, salt and sand left over from winter de-icing.  This can hinder grass growth, so it is important to. You can use a power washer to clean everything from the driveway to vinyl siding, the front walkway, and patio furniture.

Spring is also an ideal time to inspect outdoor plumbing and your home’s exterior. For more advice and details on how to do these tasks, check out MasterThis a resource from Liberty Mutual Insurance for new homeowners.

Safety first

Following the winter months, it’s important to check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Not only should you do this to check if they are working, but because installing protective devices such as smoke or fire alarms can lead to savings on your home insurance. Additionally, clearing out your gutters and having your roof examined are two essential home maintenance checks that should be conducted after winter. Since safety is a big factor when it comes to climbing up on ladders to access gutters and roofs, this is when hiring a professional is the best course.

Spring forward

 Spruce up the back yard and garden and keep it that way with simple plantings that require minimal maintenance. Start by creating very focused areas and clearly defined paths from one feature location to the other. This forces the eye exactly where you want. Rubber mulch around planting beds and foundations is another easy gardening hack. Rubber mulch is great for pets and kids it great to place next to the foundation and is a cost-savings investment. The color should last up to 10 years versus dyed mulch, which must be replaced every season. Check out this 360-degree video for more DIY tips to spruce up your yard.

Take inventory and purge

 Take inventory of your belongings to help you determine what items are most valuable and what items you can throw away.  Home Gallery® App is a helpful inventory tool that lets you store images and information, such as purchase price and date for each item, on your phone, which can be exported and saved on your home computer or backed up on a cloud server in case of theft or damage. Once your items are properly documented, it’s easier to see which are necessary to keep and which you might have been holding onto for too long. Often the general two-year rule can apply – if you have not worn it or used it in two years, toss it (or donate, consign, etc.).

 

 

The smart home hub of the future is here – enter to own the Xess – giveaway deadline April 6, 2017

AS FEATURED ON DWELL

The next generation of smart devices is here, to make your life easier, and more fun!

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The joke among tech geeks at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, the annual massive showcase of new gadgets, was “Does it work with Alexa?”

Indeed, Alexa will soon be commanding the market – or rather we will be commanding Alexa – and the innovators at the helm are the ones finding new and exciting ways to incorporate the voice controlled app into our homes and lives.

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One of the most anticipated incarnations of this technology is TCL’s Xess, pronounced “excess,” the next generation of Amazon Alexa enabled devices, in the form of a tablet. Similar to Amazon’s Echo and its offshoots Dot and Tap, and Google Home, the device uses the Alexa wake word, or it can be programmed with the user’s chosen word, to turn respond to voice commands. In addition to following voice commands, the Xess 17.3-inch touch screen responds to hand gestures, which can control functions like scrolling, taking pictures and other tasks.

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Xess also comes with a home security camera that can remotely monitor a room on 1/3 of the screen or on the full-screen, to keep an eye on kids, pets, or an area of a home.  Tapping on the camera icon can activate a video recording or capture still photos.

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Using Alexa app on Xess I am able to turn lights on and off and dim them, and I can also raise or lower the room temperature of my Honeywell Lyric thermostat.  I can also listen to my New York Times or NPR news briefs, get the weather or traffic report, find my phone with a tracker, ask Alexa to tell me a joke, and even be inspired by a daily motivational quote or guided in meditation or lulled to sleep by various skills I have enabled for those purposes.

My favorite companion for Alexa is the Lutron app, which works with Lutron’s Caseta wireless lamp plug-ins and remote controls as well as other peripherals, such as Sonos.  At this time Xess and Echo and its offshoots are not Alexa-enabled to use voice commands to control Sonos, but using the Lutron app I can play music on Sonos using scenes.

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Using programmed scenes on the Lutron app, which I can assign custom names and icons on the Lutron app, I can set lighting and music to match a desired mood or activity, such as dimmed lamps and mellow music for nighttime, or pop music and bright lights for my workout, which I can activate with the commands, “Alexa, turn on Sonos Chill-Out,” or “Alexa, turn on Sonos for Workout.”

Another terrific aspect of using the Lutron Caseta wireless platform is that the plug-in lamp dimmer acts as a range extender, which relays the wireless signal between smart devices, giving me an extra 30 feet for spacing devices.

At this time Xess is not integrated to use voice commands to play music from Amazon Music or read Audible books from Amazon and the like, but you can use these services on Xess just as you would on any tablet by selecting their apps on the screen and using the tablet interface.

One big difference between Xess and Echo/Tap/Dot and Google Home is that Xess can be controlled by hand gestures, such as an open hand to stop playback, a swipe motion to move screens or turn pages, a countdown with fingers for photos, and a shushing finger-in-front-of-the-mouth gesture to mute Xess.

Whereas the speaker-style Alexa enable devices are designed to be discreet, tucked away on a shelf or residing unnoticed on a countertop, the Xess is made to see-and-be-seen.

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The Xess is basically a portable mini flat screen TV. It features a retractable carry handle and an adjustable stand, so it can be set down on any flat surface and set a variety of angles. It comes loaded with a couple very useful apps, such as Kitchen Stories, a step-by-step cooking demo app loaded with recipes, making it a great chef’s assistant.  It also has a pop out hub for connecting USB devices, headphones and inserting memory cards.

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As an Alexa addict, I love having two dimensions in which to interact with the Alexa app. I still love my Echo, for its awesome seven-speaker sound capabilities, but Xess offers another dimension with its visual capabilities, plus it features JBL built-in audio for decent sound; and besides, when I am not using it to control my smart home, it’s a carry-anywhere oversized tablet, for homework, online shopping, or streaming video, like this great video series of Xess how-to videos:  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLnby6EE00VpVsaAP8pPR39Kgvddasgers.

If you would like a chance to own a Xess, compliments of TCL, valued at $499, please follow these easy steps to be entered into a random drawing, to be held April 6, 2017.

  • Like TCL’s Facebook page and follow on Twitter using the hashtag: #TCLXess.
  • Like this blog’s Facebook page and Follow us on Twitter
  • Post a comment on this post stating what feature(s) of the TCL Xess would get the most use in your home.

The recipient of the Xess giveaway will be notified by Twitter and Facebook. Good luck!