Category Archives: Reviews and Giveaways

My Life Before Tile

World changing events tend to earn a certain tense in life and history. BC = Before Christ. Postpartum = After you popped the kid out.  And now – in my world – BT and WT = Before Tile and With Tile. 

I know what you’re thinking… Oh, Lara you silly, hyperbolic nut is it really that dramatic? Yes. Yes, it is. You see dear friend my world has changed and its all due to a tiny square of plastic. Tile

Let’s back up just a little here. You may not know this about me, but I am a chronic loser. Not like, “…her finger and her thumb om the shape of an L on her forehead,” loser. Though come to think of it, I did just quote Smashmouth. More like if my head wasn’t attached I’d lose it.

If ever I were to find all the pairs of sunglasses I’ve misplaced I could open a store. Keys evade me like the Cheshire Cat. I’ve actually left my passport in a cab. I’m that cliche.

I’ve tried all the fixes. Keep a journal (left that on a train), tie a ribbon around your finger… wait, that’s for remembering things. I may have an issue there too. There may or may not have been a clapper in my past. I once drove round trip to NYC and back to retrieve my laptop left under a desk in my mother-in-law’s house. Told ya, it’s epic my ability to lose anything but weight.

So when my friends at Verizon asked if I’d like to give a new product that keeps track of things you lose, I was so in. Would Tile be a match for me?

Yes… SO. MUCH. YES.

tileWhat is Tile, you ask? Tile is a tiny Bluetooth tracker and easy-to-use app that finds everyday items in seconds—like your phone, keys, and wallet… and hooray, sunglasses!

Here is how it works

Ring It – Loudly ring a lost item from the app and find it by sound.

See It – Check the map in the app for its last known location and time.

BONUS – Press Tile to make your phone ring—even if it’s on silent.

Tile provided me with one tile to try out and it was so awesome I had to get more. Seriously, the options for using it are endless. I’ve Tile(d) all the keys, my planner, sunglasses, iPad case, the kid’s lunch boxes, and even the dog.

 

I dig a good gadget but by no means am I one of those people who has to have all the things. Every once in a while though something comes along that I can’t wait to try. Being the Queen of, “where the hell did I put it?!” I was excited to see if @tiledit could keep up with me. (Seriously, I once left my keys in the deep freezer. It’s in the basement. Why did I even have my keys in the basement?) Well…. I am blown away. My phone finds my keys – thanks to the app. Had my keys this morning but couldn’t find my phone. Called it. It was dead. My keys found the phone, it even chimes when the battery is dead! Thanks to my #collab with @verizon who sent me this to try, I may have a Tile addiction in the making. Picked up a four pack so the kids and dog could get Tiled. My Da is getting this for Father’s Day. Yup, the losing crap thing is genetic. #tiledit

A photo posted by Lara DiPaola ✈ (@dipaolamomma) on

He has a microchip and has never gotten out of the yard, thank god. If he did though Tile would beat the chip, hands down. I’d just open up the app, ring him and look on the map. Being the newly minted Crazy Dog Mom that I am, this gives me huge peace of mind. A few months back we got robo calls from a pet tracking company telling us about a missing dog in our area who had medical issues. I can’t imagine that sort of worry. With Tile I hopefully never will. 

Even if you aren’t an epic loser, like me, Tile can still change your life. Give it a try.  Verizon offers them in packs of four for around $69.

Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less!

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2016 Mazda CX-3 Touring (review)

Mazda CX-3 Touring ReviewThe quest continues. Our second in line to the keys – the 17 year old – is still in need of a car and we’re still looking.  Thus far we’ve taken fully loaded SUVs and cool crossovers through the paces. Now we’re starting to think a little smaller.

Collaborating with Drive Shop has allowed us to do a few extended test drives (averaging a week or so) for cars we’re considering. The newest ride to hit our driveway was the 2016 Mazda CX-3. Let’s say this was a whole new road for us.

2016 Mazda CX-3 Touring Review

It would be remiss of me to not mention [before the review] that it’s been quite awhile since we’ve spent time in a sedan.  Even with not-so-little nugget number four off on his own doing the grownup thing, we are still a big family. Five humans, one french bull-dog who loves his bye-bye. I typically takes a bit more car to get us all around. There was certainly and adjustment period with the Mazda CX-3.

Is It Big Enough for 5?

If you don’t have too far to go, and the dog doesn’t mind staying at home, five can fit. The leg room may not be much if you had full-size folks in the back seat though. Were the teen just shuttling her sibs or besties about, it works out fine.

Best Safety Features?

Three BIG pluses in this category:

  • Blind Spot Monitoring – In my humble opinion this safety feature should be as mandatory as a seat belt. Every car has a blind spot therefore they should all have this potentially life-saving feature. 
  • 24 Hour Roadside Assistance – Toss me a thumbs-up if you’re a parent and could rest easier knowing your kid had this!
  • Skyactiv Body Ring Structure – So, explaining this can get a little engineering-deep and I’m no engineer. To put it simply Mazda has figured out a formula that makes the body structure both lighter and more rigid. How is that a safety feature, you ask? Basically they built a better egg shell. Learn more about Skyactiv and why I was blown away by how it improves safety, here.

Let’s Talk Tech

Here is where I started to figure out that I may be just a little bit on the spoiled side when it comes to car tech. Though the CX-3 we drove came equipped with navigation system and satellite radio, the tech pretty much stopped there. Beyond the fact that it was tech-lite the monitor/hub isn’t integrated into the design very well. It pops up above the dash and is just cumbersome. 

 

 

Kick off Monday with a laugh and a new ride for a week. Gives me hope Monday might not suck too bad.

A photo posted by Lara DiPaola ✈ (@dipaolamomma) on

The model we drove was supposed to have integrated technology that works with Pandora® but we couldn’t get that to work. The teen herself practically lives on Pandora so she was stoked about this. Seems though that it may only work with a paid subscription.

SSM Text Messaging sounds like a great feature for a teen-driven car. The problem is this works about as well as most other talk-to-text platforms… meaning, not so good.

Gas Mileage

Here is where the Mazda CX-3 Touring gets the biggest points. (drum roll please) We averaged 33 miles highway and a whopping 29 driving around town. WOWZERS! That could really go a long way towards saving a college kid some coin.

Price Tag

One surprising perk of stepping down to a sedan from an SUV or crossover – in this case at least – was GOOD sticker shock. I can’t recall the last time took a car for a test drive that boasted a price tag under $30k. This particular car came it at $26,150. That included some premium package additions. 

Lifestyle Points

Not much to report here. The rear seats do fold flat to give you extra cargo space, but you pretty much can’t have passengers when you do that. I will say though that the lines on the body are pretty cool. This doesn’t look like a sedan, and honestly it may even have a different classification, but to me 4-doors and a low profile says, sedan. It has a unique profile that sort of says crossover but in a sedan sort of way. Maybe when an SUV and a sedan have a baby you get the Mazda CX-3 Touring? ha!

Sometimes I think my parents had it easier – “You want a car? Go get a job. Until then  you can borrow the station wagon if you pay for your own gas.” In retrospect that was likely better.

2016 kia sorento SXL AWD (review)

It’s a funny thing, how different the lives of our kids can be from those we lived as children. For example, my offspring have zero clue what a hand-me-down is. My first car was one, and yet my husband and I are still on a quest to find the right brand-spankin-new car for our teen.  I call this the, up hill in both directions’ effect. Always wanting better for our kids while continually reminding ourselves how we never had it so good. Ha! 

Collaborating with Drive Shop has allowed us to do a few extended test drives – one week or so– for cars we’re considering. The latest ride to go through the paces was the Kia Sorento SXL AWD.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD Review

First let me start by saying that I completely get that this car isn’t exactly what most would think of for a 17 year-old. I’ll go a step further and say that part of me is green with envy at the thought of my kid driving a shiny new set of wheels all decked out with nearly every bell and whistle you can imagine.

Here is the thing, it seems the kiddo has her heart set on a couple of colleges in the frozen North. Like… way north! So having a car that can handle both harsh winters and ski gear could be a plus. Also, she’ll be home for well over a year so this is going to start off as a family car. That brings us to this 2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD review – and spoiler alert this one tops her list so far.

Is It Big Enough for 5?

Driving around town it certainly felt like it fit the bill. It has tons of leg space and three rows of seats you can configure to your needs.

That configuration ability is a saving grace as the rear cargo space is nearly non-existent. As we’ve done with all the cars we’re testing though our Drive Shop collaboration, we took this one on a road trip for a real test.

2016 Kia Sorento XSL AWD reivewThree hours – and enough in tolls to nearly make a car payment— later, we landed in the Big Apple. Packed into the Kia were not only bags for a family of five, but also our newest fury family member, Gordon Von Ottawa du Barkimedes a.k.a Gordon the Frenchie. I swear this dog has more gear than all the kids combined. All that fit easily into this car. 

Major points in the roominess category and extra props for the panoramic sunroof that makes you feel like the space is even bigger.

Best Safety Features?

Three words… Electronic Stability Control. Driving in harsh winter weather is about more than scraping ice off off the windshield. My first winter on the East Coast Maryland got hit with an epic storm. After three days being snowed in when I finally ventured out I took a epic skid on black ice. It was terrifying. If my kid is going to drive in the Tundra THIS is the must-have safety feature.

This model also boasts Side Curtain airbags in the first and second row seats and my other must-have feature, lane departure warning. I have to tell you, going back to a car without lane departure warning is tough. It’s like walking a tightrope without a net. Seriously, how is this not a mandatory feature?

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD review of tech

Let’s Talk Tech

Hands down the tech in this car is the reason it makes the whole family’s short list. As you might expect the kids were stoked about the plethora of power outlets for their gadgets. We aren’t talking just a couple of old-school cigarette lighter style outlets that need an adapter.

Just about every seat has a USB port nearby. There is even a rapid charge USB port in the center consul. The real swoon inducing moment was finding the AC plug! I’ll admit it takes some getting used to how it works – plug, turn, push – but man what a great option for a family on the go.

Telematics. Know what that is? You need to. It takes the rear camera concept and turns it into an all-around view from above. I am the worst parallel parker in history – or I was until Telematics. 

Infinity surround sound was made for satellite radios and people who love to drive. Or in my case mothers who like to cruise the pickup line at school with the base cranking on some Jamiroquai. The kids totally loved that, not-at-all.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD review safety feature

Gas Mileage

Every rose has it’s thorn my friends. You might find yourself getting poked by a few at the gas pump. While we aren’t talking Hummer-bad gas mileage here we aren’t exactly in hybrid land.

I drive a minimum of fifteen miles a day and with an average of around 19 miles to the gallon… ouch. The Sorento did do better on the highway clocking in at about 24 mpg.

Price Tag

The 2016 Kia Sorento follows on the heals of it’s older brother , the 2015 winner of the JD Power “Highest Ranked Midsize SUV in Initial Quality” and the price tag reflects that champion lineage. That said, with all the tech, safety and luxury features {hello Napa leather cooled and heated seats and surround view monitor} I’d say it’s still a good deal.

The 2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD we drove came in at $45,600.00

Lifestyle Points

50/50 fold third row seats. Panoramic sun roof. Kickin’ sound system and tech galore made this ride score super big in the Lifestyle category.

 

Having the roller coaster all to yourself.

A photo posted by Lara DiPaola ✈ (@dipaolamomma) on

We trekked to, from and around New York without one single, “She’s touching me.” That alone puts this one high on my list. I may not let the teen abscond to college with it.

Do you have a teen driver? What are you looking for in a car for them? I’d love some advice!  

 

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring (review)

Ssh… nobody tell our teen.

We are car shopping for her. Well in all fairness it won’t really be a car just for her. It will need to work for the whole family, even if she’ll be the primary driver {gulp}. We recently took one of our short-list cars on an extended test drive, the Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring.

mazda cx-5Road trips are our thing. Being a family of five that means our cars have got to be roomy enough to allow for ample, ‘Stop! Touching ME!’ space. Since the teen will be the primary driver of our next car, safety features and tech are at the top of the list too. Good gas mileage? Well who doesn’t need that?!

Overall the Mazda hit quite a few of those sweet spots. It certainly surprised us in some areas. A covert questioning of the teen’s thoughts {she still thinks the old mini-van is going to be her ride} resulted in a two-thumbs up for some of the following…

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring (review)

Is It Big Enough for 5?

We tend to travel with lots of gear. Sometimes that means folding chairs for the basketball game, other times it’s backpacks and hiking supplies. More often, it’s luggage for five,  electronics and roadtrip snacks. Our cars need to have ample cargo space. The CX-5 Grand Touring has this in spades.

The cargo area was even big enough to serve as our ‘base camp’ sledding this winter.

That said, the rear passenger seating space is smaller than we’re used to. The kids say they’d have liked a bit more room. It felt, “too darn cozy” according to the 11-year-old. But anytime he’s closer than arm’s distance to his sisters it’s to close for comfort.

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring ReviewBest Safety Features

Hands down the blind spot monitoring wins in my book. When thinking of a teen driver changing lanes in traffic on the highway {or honestly, anywhere} I get hives. The CX-5 has both a chime and blinking alert to warn you of items in your blind spot.

Three point seat belts for ALL! 4-Wheel disk brakes, front and rear stabilizers, are pretty sweet too. 24 hour roadside assistance brings it all home. I’d have to say that the safety features were my favorite things about this ride. 

Let’s Talk Tech

The navigation system in the CX-5 Grand Touring was a little cumbersome. I think that can be said for most any system. Having tested out dozens of them I’ve figured out there is certainly a learning curve that takes longer than a week to get over.

The suite of tech and entertainment in the model we drove was… well.. sweet. I could connect my Pandora account to the audio with an app that is already installed. Syncing my phone was a breeze. It seemed I discovered something new nearly every time I turned on the car.

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring ReviewThe only draw back for me was the control dial used to navigate the technology features. It’s located in the center console and I found it distracting and clunky.

Gas Mileage

Pretty darn good! We drove mostly in city traffic, stop-and-go, the pickup line at school, and averaged 28 miles a gallon. One of the things that certainly contributes to the great gas mileage is Mazda’s SkyActive technology.

From the ground up SkyActive is at work. The body, chassis, transmission and engine are designed to give this car better handling, safety and fuel efficiency. The most noticeable impact of SkyActive for our test drive was the gas mileage for sure.  

Price Tag

Gone are the days when you could snag your teen a ride in the $5,000 range. {Wait, you could do that? Okay, maybe in 1989} so we knew that sticker shock might be a factor going into this. Prepared for that we also took into account that this wasn’t going to be a teen cruising mobile but more of a third car for the family.

The model we drove came in at $29,470 with standard equipment. Not over the top price range we were considering but also not a bottom price either.

Optional equipment included; navigation system, LED headlights, adaptive front lighting, trim, cargo mats, a really cool cargo cover, daytime running lights and a few other options, but these only bumped the price up a little over $1,500. Totally worth it.

Lifestyle Points

All the nooks and crannies – cargo nets, storage space and even a brilliantly designed center console that has a cutout recessed far enough I can get my giant water bottle for Yoga class in it – are obviously designed for people who spend time in cars. Extra USB ports and AC/DC outlets are lifesavers for the family that travels with tech.

Mazda earned big bonus points in my book with their charitable efforts – whether you buy one of their cars or not. The Mazda Drive for Good® Event gives back to communities across the country. During the campaign Mazda pledged one hour of their time to a local worthy cause with every test drive. When a lease or purchase came through they donated $150 to one of four national or 40 local charities.

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Review

The total amount of the 2015 Mazda Drive for Good® Event ended up in the ballpark of $5,354,000 and over 72K hours of service. They also kindly supplied us with a gift card for our favorite local charity. I’m a sucker for brands that give back! 

On a scale of 1-5 {five being best} in the Will this be The Teen’s Ride score book, the Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Edition lands a solid 4, maybe even a 4.5. We’ll certainly keep shopping. Remember… mum is the word.

Do you have a teen driver? What are you looking for in a car for them? I’d love some advice!  

Motorola Droid Turbo Giveaway: Take Better Travel Photos

Take better travel photos from anywhere in the world with Verizon WirelessIf I had a dollar for every time a member of my family rolls their eyes over how many pictures I take I’d check one of those items off my bucket list.  Take an epic solo trip – CHECK! How many travel photos do you think you’d take if you won a Motorola Droid Turbo giveaway?

Though they may find my laying on the sidewalk to get the best shot both annoying and disturbing, there is a reason why I take so many pictures. Kathleen was her name.

I can still remember the sound that marked her arrival in our one-tumbleweed town – a low rumble, followed by a roar. I was five years old the day Tropical Storm Kathleen sent a nearly four foot wall of water through our town. I’ve never forgotten that sound.

Her wake washed away life as my family had known it. Once she was done I’d never again hold my mom’s hand, a trembling ball of excitement waiting to get a wave back from the Engineer driving the train that ran past the house. No train would ever travel those tracks again. The friendly rabbits that took shelter in Manzanita grove behind our neighborhood would never come back. Nearly every photo my mother treasured was damaged or destroyed.

We were lucky that September day. The sandbags held, for the most part. Much of our town was damaged. At the bottom of the mountain they weren’t so lucky.  Homes, lives, almost the entire town was lost.

So much can be gone in the blink of an eye, in the roiling waves of Nature’s furry, on random happenstance. Having seen that first-hand at such a young age shaped me. A quiet voice in the back of my head tells me to hold on. Pictures are how I hold on to the people, places, emotions that shape our lives.

With my very first “job” {hocking greeting cards from a company that advertized in the back of a magazine} I earned myself a Polaroid 1000 Land Camera – complete with Instamatic film cartridges and a fancy disposable flash bar. I was well on my way to becoming the next Dorothea Lange. 

Or… not. 

My photography skills – or lack there of– were fodder for endless comic relief. “Hey, look! Jason is Flash Gordon. See the blur?!” I was notorious for beheading my subjects, on film at least. Shaking a photo to aid in development became the preamble to public humiliation.  Yet, I was undaunted. I wouldn’t let a few bad photos {okay, a ton} keep me from snatching those memories and holding on tight. 

In the many decades since that first camera I’ve gotten a little better at snapping a photo. I’ve also had the chance to capture pictures in some of my favorite places around the globe. Sometimes there is still blur, but for the most part everyone has a full head on their shoulders.

I took this photo with the HTC One M9 Smartphone while visiting Canadian Parliament in Ottawa. Taken in the dark, the only filter used was the low-light feature on the phone. Not bad, eh?
I took this photo with the HTC One M9 Smartphone while visiting Canadian Parliament in Ottawa. Taken during their Northern Lights display, this is a night shot. The only filter used was the low-light feature on the phone. Not too bad, eh?

The advent of smartphones with good cameras {and let’s be honest, great filters} may not have made me a better photographer,  but it has made for better pictures. I’d like to think my willingness to lay on that sidewalk, stretch out over the precipice, and elbow the elderly out of my shot has had an impact as well. 

I hope that one day the rolling of eyes and the exasperated sighs of my family will fade. It may be a bit much to think that they’ll ever appreciate my insistence that they never take a bite before I get a picture of the food. I hold hope that they’ll eventually forgive me for forcing them to ask the Irish Customs Inspector wait until I was set up to get the shot before he stamped their passports – and then sharing it on Instagram because I have great Global Service with Verizon.  Even if none of this ever happens, no matter where we roam in this crazy adventure, I will  have the pictures to remember. These are the moments that I never want washed away.

A group of some of my favorite Wanderlusters have teamed up with me and OM Media Group to let you know about Verizon’s Global Service, help you stay connected while wandering the globe, and make sure you never miss a shot. Share your favorite travel photo(s) for a chance to win (a Motorola Droid Turbo). Be sure to join @theonlinemom and the Verizon Wireless Buzz crew for some fabulous Twitter chats – every Friday at 3:00 p.m. eastern using the hashtag #VZWBuzz
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Terms:

 

Valid to residents of the United States only. All photos must be original with no copyright or distribution restrictions. Photos remain the property of the entrant, who further agrees to give Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom, OMMedia Group, and participating bloggers permission for use solely in promoting this giveaway. Entries with nudity, violence or illegal activities will be deleted and the entry voided. Prize fulfillment will be completed by OMMG. No cash value or substitutions. Winner will be chosen by random number generation and announced within 48 hours of the contest end date (8/30/2015). Winner will be notified via email and has 72 hours to provide shipping information for the prize. If 72 hours lapses without contact, a new winner will be drawn.

 

 

 

Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less!