Florida Day Trip: Orlando Airboat Tour

2013-09-01 14.31.25

We spent our day today doing something we’d never done. An airboat ride through the Florida swampland. We drive over to Orlando for the tour. Orlando Airboat Tours was the company we chose. We paid about $145 for the two of us for a 90-minute ride through some swampland. I’d hoped to see some alligators, wild boars, birds, etc. You know, Florida wildlife. Maybe a skunk ape or two.

Mainly, I took a bunch of pictures (see the slideshow) and enjoyed the ride. It was pretty fun. The boat goes very fast (about 45 mph) and my eyes were tearing up during the fast portions. It’s an odd sensation to have wind directly against your face at that speed!

Overall, it was nice…but I’d probably recommend a sunset trip, where you are probably more likely to see more alligators and wildlife. It was nearly 100 degrees out there, so most of the animals seemed to be in hiding.

 

Bok Tower Gardens Day Trip

Panaramic Shot of Bok Tower

We took a trip to the Bok Tower Gardens in Lakes Wales, FL this weekend. Check out some of these great pictures we took.

The highlight (for me) was probably the huge koi pond in front of the Tower itself. We fed the fish for a while. They’d even let you touch them. They were voracious eaters, that’s for sure!

Some of the plants were very cool looking – but the wife complained that most of them she already had in the yard. It wasn’t too hot and the price was right, so it was a pretty good trip anyways.

Pictures were taken with my Galaxy S4; so I got a nice vertical panaramic shot of the tower. Only problem with the phone is that it’s nearly possible to see anything in the sunlight so taking photos a bit haphazard. Otherwise, the detail is very nice!

Electric Fireplace Buying Guide

The real flame fireplaces that are now available have solved many of the issues that came with traditional fireplaces. They require no ventilation, making them ideal for in the home. You will also avoid costly installation expenses because there is no need for a chimney or a gas hook up. Real flame fireplaces are the best way to bring the warmth and look of an actual fireplace into your home.

With so many options available, it can be hard to decide which real flame fireplace to choose. They come in both indoor and outdoor versions, and each type has several design options. It helps to know a little bit about what is available before shopping for one.

Indoor styles come in wall designs that hang up, giving a contemporary feel without taking up a lot of space. Corner fireplaces are a more traditional space saving choice. You can even purchase real flame fireplaces that are inset within entertainment centers. Insight fireplaces stand alone in the middle of a room, and can be viewed from all sides. Of course you can always get the classic feel of a fireplace, mantle and hearth with a traditional style.

Among these many design options, you can also choose sizes. Because they are offered in small, medium, and large versions, you are sure to find the ideal fireplace for your room. Larger rooms can handle bigger fireplaces, yet small rooms can be overwhelmed if the fireplace is too large. This needs to be kept in mind.

When purchasing a real flame fireplace you will also be able to select from plenty of finishes. The Oak finish can create a charming country feel to a room, while black adds a contemporary distinction. White can be both contemporary and quite elegant. Mahogany is the most traditional choice.

Pricing is always a major concern when buying anything for the home. Real flame fireplaces fit nicely into any budget as they can be found anywhere from $199 on up, depending on the style and design.

When purchasing an outdoor real flame fireplace you will still have many decisions to make. Most people immediately think of the fire pit style. These look wonderful on any deck, patio, or backyard setting. For those who don’t have a lot of outside space to work with, they can still enjoy the warmth and style of an outdoor fireplace. The fire column easily blends in with existing architecture, and it adds a touch of elegance. Even if all the space you have is on a table top, there are real flame fireplace options for you. Both the fire rocks and fire pot work perfectly as a table top center piece.

No matter which real flame option you choose, you are sure to be delighted with the appearance and performance. This new technology allows every home owner to enjoy the beauty of a fireplace within their home.

How to Choose a Fireplace for Your Home

A Real Flame fireplace is a ventless fireplace powered by gel fuel. A ventless fireplace means you can get warm by your fireplace and add beauty and style to your home without the extensive remodeling required to install a tradition fireplace and chimney. Real Flame fireplaces are safe and come in many styles so there’s sure to be one that suits your home.

Real Flame fireplaces are available in traditional, modern, rustic and contemporary styles. Small outdoor fireplaces for your patio are also available. You can even choose a small tabletop fireplace for indoor or outdoor entertaining. Your guests will be amazed and impressed when you tell them that yes, it really is a miniature fireplace on your dining or patio table.

These ventless fireplaces are so safe that they can be built into an entertainment center. You can put your television right on top of your fireplace. A small fireplace built into a multi-purpose furniture unit is ideal for small spaces. You don’t have to go without a fireplace just because your den is small. Real Flame fireplaces don’t make the mess of a wood-burning fireplace and they don’t require the traditional set of fireplace tools, so they’re perfect for small rooms or your vacation cabin. You can even choose one that fits neatly into a corner and has a useable tabletop surface for family pictures or a small Christmas tree.

If you want a large fireplace with a traditional look, you can have that with one of our ventless fireplaces. Dark wood colors like mahogany are the perfect accent for your study or office. Black is a popular color for contemporary homes, while oak is a nice traditional choice for your living room. Your Real Flame fireplace can have a rustic or polished look. Either one will look charming decorated for Christmas with pine boughs or garland. Your family will love creating a new holiday tradition by hanging their stockings by an electric fireplace. Your ventless fireplace will quickly become the center of your holiday decorating. And, if you make your fireplace part of your entertainment center, it will quickly become your family’s favorite place to hang out together.

A fireplace is impressive in a kitchen or dining room. If you have a formal dining room, white is popular choice for a fireplace. If you’re lucky enough to have brick in your kitchen, a fireplace with a rustic finish set against a brick wall can give you the feeling of living in the old days. Hanging your cast iron or copper cookware above your fire and using the mantel to display antique kitchenware will make you the envy of all your friends, and you’ll actually want to spend more time in the kitchen.

Bedroom fireplaces are cozy and romantic. Neutral colors like ivory or antiqued colors are pleasant and relaxing in the bedroom.

If you’re ready for a Real Flame ventless fireplace, call or email us for more information. You can have the fireplace of your dreams without renovating your home or breaking the bank.

Top 10 Thanksgiving Meal Ideas

Dinner with all the fixin’s. Who could ask for more?

Are you hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year? If you are inviting the in-laws or your family, you want to impress everyone and send them out of the door satisfied and full. But if this is your first time making a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you might not know where to start when you are roaming down the grocery store aisles to pick up all of the ingredients you will need. Sure, you know that turkey is a must-have, but how will you cook the turkey and what will you make to compliment it? Here are 10 of the top dishes to serve at your Thanksgiving dinner so that you can put smiles on everyone’s face and leave them asking for the secret recipe.

  • Turkey Made with Bubbly: If you are looking for a unique way to cook your turkey why not use champagne or sparkling apple juice. This will help brown the skin and also keep it moist. Stick butter between the breast of the turkey in the skin. Cut up apples and place the apples in the cavity. Use a bit of salt and pepper, add crushed garlic cloves to the bag, and drench the turkey with sparkling cider or champagne and you are done.
  • Roasted Sweet Potatoes: If you are looking for a spin on yams, why not consider cooking roasted sweet potatoes with pine nuts. Peel the potatoes, slice them into wedges, salt to taste, toast pine nuts for about 15 minutes, and bake the sweet potatoes tossed in oil for 30 to 45 minutes. Once the sweet potatoes are cooked, toss them with vinegar, maple syrup, mustard and top the dish with the toasted pine nuts and you have a perfect side dish.
  • Eggnog to Put You In the Mood: Not everyone loves eggnog, but those who do know just how much eggnog can put you in the holiday mood. Skip the stores and make your own adult eggnog by mixing Kahlua, half-and-half, a teaspoon of vanilla, a half teaspoon of syrup, an egg, and crushed ice. Blend everything together and serve the adults while you are preparing the rest of the delicious eats.
  • Green Bean Casserole: What dinner would be complete without green bean casserole. Simply mix a can of cream of mushroom with fresh green beans, butter and garlic. Top the dish with crunched up fried onions and bake it to be ready in no time.
  • A Unique Stuffing Creation: Stuffing can be more than just breadcrumbs, onions and celery. Italian sausage and mushroom stuffing will put a great twist on the stuffing and compliment your turkey wonderfully. Add roasted chestnuts, onions, and it will be a sweet and flavorful addition to eat with your bubbly turkey.
  • Onion Au Gratin: If you already have a potato dish but you want to cook something au gratin, go for onions au gratin. Slice onions thick, smother them in melted butter and cheese, and bake until tender.
  • Cauliflower and White Cheddar Au Gratin: If you do not like onions, you can turn one of your favorite vegetables into an au gratin dish. Roasted cauliflower smothered in a white cheddar cheese sauce and topped with white shredded cheese is sure to make people ask for seconds. This simple side dish is filling without being too heavy.
  • Cranberry Sauce: Who wants turkey without homemade cranberry sauce. Skipped the canned pre-made packages and make your sauce with fresh cranberries. It is best to make your sauce at least a day in advance because it will have more flavor and time to meld together.
  • Garlic Mashed Potatoes: Who doesn’t like to add some flavor to their foods with garlic? Buy minced garlic to make your mashed potatoes have a fresher taste. Make sure you splurge and use real butter to blend and you can even mix in some sour cream to add even more flavor while you are blending.
  • Creamed Corn Bread: Ever wonder how to make your corn bread moist? Use creamed corn instead of kernels. With yellow cornmeal, salt, a teaspoon of sugar, baking powder, a half teaspoon of baking soda, a cup of buttermilk, two eggs, and a cup of creamed corn, you can make delicious homemade corn bread that deserves to be served in a restaurant.

As you can see, traditional Thanksgiving dishes can be modified to make them more delicious. If you want to impress the family the first time you host a Thanksgiving dinner or you simply want to switch things up, try out some of the meals.

Credit Card Fraud Detection Tips

Detecting online credit card fraud is an ongoing problem. As the fraudsters get more intelligent, the problem gets harder to handle. Sure, AVS helps but it’s not nearly foolproof enough to be reliable.

Lately, the new pattern has been to have an item ship to the credit card’s billing address then attempt to reroute the package after it ships to the new location. Calling UPS to disable this option on your account can solve this, so at least you can get your item back, if there is a fraud attempt. We did this years ago.

Lately, I’ve found the easiest way to detect fraud is to look at the email address – assuming you smell something suspicious about an order. For example:

 

Ship to                Elizabeth Standard

E-Mail                 itlockskilimni@XXX.com

Notice how the email address has no logical connection to the ship to or bill-to’s name. It’s (more or less) a random string of characters going to a free email address such as yahoo or MSN. Now, not everyone will make their email address “estandard@XXXX.com” or “elizabeth.standard@XXXX.com” of course. But, generally, people will try to relate their email address to themselves, simply so they can remember it. Such as “lizsflowers@XXX.com” or “Lizlovestoknit@XXXX.com” – where there is a somewhat logical connection to the person and their email address.

Over the years we’ve been doing this, very few people will have a name such as “Elizabeth Standard” and then have an email address that doesn’t, in any way, connect to the person. Even if the email address is “ilovefuzzybunnies@XXX.com” the logical string of words makes it far more likely that this person is real and that this order is not fraudulent.

If you are new to verifying credit cards, I’d recommend a basic flow chart questionable transactions, something like this:

  1. Does AVS Match? CVV?
  2. Is the shipping address same as the billing? Are they valid addresses?
  3. Is the phone number valid? (This can be hard to know, though, especially during business hours – customer might be at work)
  4. Is the IP address logically close to the billing address (IE, if the IP originates in CA, while the person claims to live in VA, it might be suspect – but this is not 100%)
  5. Is the email address related to the person in some way?

Another suspicious things that a fraudster will do is to send a weird email after the order has been placed:

GREAT SITE VERY WELL LAID OUT

This sort of communication should immediately raise a red flag. You’d be surprised how many fraudsters will obsess over their criminal activity by contacting you constantly about their order, so it’s smart to keep track of contacts in relation to orders – especially if they do so “too soon” after an order is placed. This sort of thing can take a while to get used to; but your average customer will not pester you about shipping information moments after an order is placed but, oddly, a fraudster will.

This year is already gunning for a bad year for credit card fraud online, so merchants, try to protect yourself.

Casey the Cat: He Died on a Wednesday

Died on a Wednesday

When I first met Casey, he was a loud annoying cat who wasn’t very friendly to anyone and had the smell of a sweaty old man. The more I got to know Casey, I realized that he wasn’t very friendly, but was loud and annoying and smelt like a sweaty old man. But he loved me and I loved Casey. He was a great cat. He died on a Wednesday.

A killer cat to be sure. Not many days would go by when he didn’t kill a lizard, a moth, a butterfly, a rabbit or a snake. He was our pest control service. He was also our pest. And we loved him. I don’t think he ever caught enough animals to satisfy him. Always one more that needed to be caught.

Over our years together, he had to go to the vet for many things: a snake bite to the foot, a wound in his other leg and, at in the end, cancer. He was a cat you’d think would have gotten his comeuppance in a fight with a neighborhood cat or maybe a snake that would finally get the best of him. But no, in the end, it was his own little body that failed him.

Never again, will he wake us up at 4 in the morning demanding to be petted or be fed. Never again will he bring a moth into the house, let it loose and meow proudly – as if laughing at our efforts to catch it. He’ll surely be missed. He could never get enough attention at night; while not wanting to be bothered during the day.

Casey wasn’t really a cat though. He was a dog in a former life and he’ll be a dog in the next one. Always dirty – bringing in mountains of dirt from his favorite hobby, rolling around under the sheds. Or hiding in boxes full of popcorn. If he wasn’t dirty when he came in, it was an unusual day. He’d scream at us when it rained; trying to blame us. He loved the dogs and always ran over to them to greet them when he came back inside.  Then cuddle up on the couch and eat sunflower seeds till he had enough.

On a Wednesday, he had enough. For a cat, a full life – finally at peace after his body let him down. For the wildlife in the yard; peace at least.

Godspeed, Casey.

Top 10 Kids Costumes for Halloween

Choosing a Halloween costume is exciting for kids, but the incredible variety of costumes available can be overwhelming. For those who are on the fence or who need some ideas, the results of the National Retail Federation’s 2012 costume survey can provide direction. Detailed below, the results include a mix of trendy options and popular classics.

  • Princess: A time-honored favorite costume for little girls, the princess tops this year’s list. The good news is that a princess costume is easy to put together. A fancy dress topped with a tiara is traditional, but any outfit topped with a tiara or crown can work.
  • Batman: The enduring popularity of the Batman costume is probably due to the many movies, comic books and cartoons that feature this dark crusader for justice. With his trademark mask, cape, utility belt and the bat symbol on his chest, Batman certainly is an instantly recognizable figure.
  • Spider-man: Spider-man appeals to children with his classic bright red and blue webbed costume and his ability to climb walls. The Spider-man costume also has the advantage of completely covering the face, so it allows a child to feel like a truly different person on Halloween.
  • Witch: This classic costume is always popular with both kids and adults. Whether a child opts for a pointy hat and black clothing or wears a more nontraditional witch outfit, he or she will be sporting a very Halloween-appropriate look.
  • Disney Princess: Disney Princesses, including Ariel, Snow White, Belle, Pocahontas, Jasmine and others, are more popular than ever. In addition to being featured in Disney films, these princesses appear in children’s specials and are visible in every toy store, so it is no wonder that these costumes are popular for Halloween.
  • Superhero: Children love the idea of wearing capes and possessing superpowers, so it is no surprise that superhero outfits are popular. The good news about superhero costumes is that they are extremely versatile. A child can dress as one of many existing superheroes or don a cape and come up with his or her own super alter ego.
  • Pirate: Due to the popularity of pirate movies, including “The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” and shows, like “Jake and the Neverland Pirates,” many children are clamoring to dress as buccaneers for Halloween. From specific characters, like Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow, Izzy and Jake, to generic pirates, stores have plenty of options for would-be pirates.
  • Vampire: Vampires are another Halloween classic, and these costumes never go out of style. While many children opt to dress as traditional evil vampires with bloody fangs and claws, some kids choose friendly or humorous vampire costumes instead.
  • Zombie: Portrayed in popular video games, movies, television shows and books, zombies appeal to kids who want to embrace the scary and ghoulish aspects of Halloween. Zombie costumes can use torn and bloodied clothing combined with masks or make up to create the necessary impression of menace and decay.
  • Ghost: Ghost costumes are great for kids of all ages because ghost outfits can range from cute and friendly to terrifying. While the classic ghost disguise consists of a sheet with eye holes cut out of it, there is actually a lot of flexibility in creating a ghost costume. In addition to generic white-sheeted or robed specters, kids can choose to dress as ghosts of famous people or individuals from different time periods. This means that the options for ghost costumes are virtually limitless.

Given that this is an election season, I also feel like there will be a strong desire for political messaging in Halloween costumes this year. From my past experience, it seems like every four years we get lots of costumes coming to the house in favor of one political faction or another. The costumes are almost always tedious but if the parents feel the need to express their political beliefs through their kids – who am I to judge, I guess. And from the recent political discussions, we can bet that Big Bird will probably be pretty popular with Obama supporters; while empty chairs will be popular with Romney supporters.

Clint Eastwood at the RNC in September points to an Empty Chair that represents Obama. This analogy has caught fire with Republicans and has even taken over the left.
Romney’s mention of Big Bird at the First Presidential debate has rallied liberal support to the big yellow bird.

Outdoor Halloween Decorations

If you love Halloween, you might be ready for a few new ways to decorate your home’s exterior for the holiday. Outdoor decorations help you set a spooky mood for your Halloween trick-or-treaters. If you want a few more ideas for this year’s decorations, read ahead.

Spooky Graveyard

Making your own graveyard in your front yard can help invite a few curious trick-or-treaters on Halloween. You can use store-bought tombstones or create your own custom tombstones. To make your own, use gray paint on thick pieces of cardboard for the bases. After the paint has dried, write a few names and dates on the fake tombstones with black paint. You don’t have to take this step too seriously. Feel free to inject some humor on your tombstones.

After finishing your tombstones, you can attach them to wood stakes for easy placement in your grass. If you want to enhance the look, consider adding a few embellishments nearby, such as plastic bones. You can also place a few lights near the tombstones so that your guests can read the your funny inscriptions.

Invite Some Scary Guests to Your Trees

If you have trees in your front yard, use them to hang a few fun decorations. Plastic bats make a fine addition to your tree and are easy to hang with string. You can also create your own bats with black cardboard. Additionally, you can add in a few more Halloween characters to your trees, including ghosts and witches. If you don’t have trees in your yard, you can also hang these decorations on your porch or your fence.

Pick a Porch Theme

On Halloween, your porch will see plenty of activity from trick-or-treaters. You can stick with the traditional collection of pumpkins or try something new. For example, you can turn your porch into a creepy crypt complete with plastic skeletons and cobwebs. A single candle will add to the scary atmosphere of this look. Alternatively, turn your porch into a small home for a Halloween witch by setting up a cauldron and a few broomsticks.

New Twists on Pumpkins

If you plan to include a few pumpkins in your decorations, you can try a few tips to create interesting pumpkin designs. For example, instead of carving your pumpkins, use paint. You can create some truly spectacular looks by using a full range of colors on your pumpkin. Try adding a few fun items to your pumpkins. A pair of plastic eyes from a local craft store can bring your pumpkin friends to life.

Creative Wreaths

You can dress up your front door with a Halloween wreath. If you want a truly frightening look, add a bunch of rubber snakes to a basic wreath from your craft store. This creepy wreath will make your guests look twice before knocking on your door. You can also use a wreath to house plastic spiders and other creepy pests.

Halloween Inflatables

If you want decorations that invoke the Halloween spirit without scaring young children, consider filling your yard with Halloween inflatables. For a simple look, try a collection of inflatable pumpkins. If you want something more intricate, you can select a pirate ship or giant spider. These decorations are easy to store during the rest of the year.