Wednesday, May 29, 2013


It pays to have a big mouth.

No, not in a I-can-fit-my-fist-in-my-mouth way (and in no way is that statement an admission of fact on that matter), but in more of an I-like-this-thing-so-much-Imma-tell-everyone-about-it way.

The latter. This post is definitely about the latter.

Influenster is a new site that allows you to turn your social media influence into opportunities to get free stuff. It takes more than social media clout (not Klout with a K, but bona fide clout) to enjoy the Influenster experience; upon receiving products, you're expected to use your social media channels to honestly review them.

I'm going to mention an aside here: In social media circles, it is considered in very bad form to accept a product or service and not deliver on some form of social media engagement, whether that be via blogging, tweeting, YouTubing or whatever social media channel you prefer. 

The exchange of goods is considered a payment for your service of review/promotion. You don't have to lie about your opinions - brands want honest to goodness perspective, but you are expected to deliver on your end of the transaction. You are welcome to decline the invitation or product if you are not interested in engaging with a brand.

And consider the FTC disclosure rules, which specifically highlight rules for blogger/social media compensation disclosures.

Okay, that's enough about that.

Influenster invites you to connect all of your social media channels to an online account, and then you're given the option to pursue different badges that highlight interests including cooking, travel, fashion, fitness, etc.

Once you connect your social channels and secure a few different badges, you're sent free products to review. The packages they send are very similar to Birchbox, a paid subscription service that sends product samples every month.

I received my first Influenster package last weekend - the Spring Fever VoxBox. Inside, I found:

  • A full-size Secret Outlast Clear deodorant
  • A tube of NYC New York Color Applelicious Glossy Lip Balm
  • A Tasty Kake Kandy Bar Kake
  • A full-size bottle of Schwarzkopf USA Osis+ Gelastic
  • Broadway Nails imPRESS press-on nails - Over the Moon color
Influenster asks you to try the products and use channels including Twitter, YouTube, Vine, and Instagram to share your thoughts with your personal network. 

I've shared some of my social media engagement with the different products below; the brands are interested in seeing Influenster participants share content about their products. I assume people who fail to participate will not receive future offers from the review service.

My product reviews: 
  • I liked the Secret deodorant. It didn't leave a mark on a LBD I wore out and about this weekend. The product may sting a bit if you apply after shaving/showering, but the stinging subsides in a moment.
  • The NYC New York Color lip balm was great. Felt nice on the lips, and the tube features a cute apple logo designed in the center of the balm. Check the Vine video below to learn more.
  • Tasty Kake: Haven't had one of those in years. It was delicious but probably too decadent for day-to-day snacking.
  • I tried the Schwarzkopf Gelastic hair product. I don't have short hair, so I'm not sure I'm the target audience, but it did seem to give me good body when I applied it to my roots before drying.
  • Broadway Nails: I'm probably not the target for this product. The set I was sent is very wild - maroon and taupe swirls all over the nails. I'm a classic clear/red/pink nail kind of girl, so I may test these out purely to see how they apply and last, but this was not a win for me.

(Disclosure: I received these products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.)

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Summerfair Cincinnati

It's time to roll out the seersucker and celebrate summer.

With a swift Memorial day weekend under our belts (did yours go by quickly, too?), it's time to celebrate the true, unofficial start of summer.

Forget what the calendar says - no need to wait until June - the calendar's fairest season has arrived.

And with it, Summerfair Cincinnati. This event celebrates artists from around the Tri-State area and helps promote year-round art across our region.

To kick off this weekend's Summerfair event, you're invited to a special Little Black Dress event and fashion show this Friday at Coney Island's Moonlite Gardens at 7 pm. Click here for more information and ticket details.

I am humbled to be one of the event's Honorary Fashionistas (along with the fabulous Ilene Ross of 513 Eats and the equally amazing Peggy Shannon of Queen City Cookies) and can't wait to don my favorite LBD (it's magic, I tell you) and some fabulous shoes.

The Summerfair folks asked me to write about how I inspire others, and I am afraid that's a mantle I'm not fit to wear. However, I told them we each have the power to inspire others with everyday actions; you can read that message here.

Here's an excerpt:

It might sound terribly old fashioned and contradictory to my ever tweeting, technology lovin', modern woman self, but there's a part of me that deeply treasures the thoughtful, intentional actions that arise in moments of transparency and selfless kindness. Sometimes those occasions get lost from behind the computer screen, and that’s why living In Real Life is so important.

See you on Friday, with your best LBD!

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sandy Safari

The desert offers up a perfect combination of some of my biggest fears.

For one, I hate isolated areas. I've joked before that I like to stay within a 15-mile radius of the nearest Starbucks, and there's some truth to that. No, I'm not a big fan of the Seattle coffee with the green mermaid on the cup, but I do enjoy the urban population that surrounds it.

I can tolerate bucolic, pastoral scenes for an hour or two, but any longer and I start itching with hives that can only be cured by ambulance sirens and traffic congestion.

I also really dislike dry climates. I don't know if that is in part because of my Midwest/Northeast upbringing, but I historically prefer mild climates with lots of natural bodies of water.

And deciduous trees. Lots, and lots of deciduous trees.

So, a desert safari 30 minutes outside of Dubai was a bit nerve wracking for me. Compounded by the arid surroundings of sand dunes and singeing, 100 degree heat, and I knew I was well out of my comfort zone.

Our driver, Mushtar, met us at the hotel in a reinforced all-terrain vehicle. Roll bars and plush seats for seven - we crammed into the Toyota and headed far away from Dubai's gleaming glass skyscrapers and mirage-like water features.

After a quick stop at the requisite roadside souvenir shop, we guzzled water and set off for desolation.

The lady bobblehead pictured above now proudly sits on my bookcase

Mushtar drove off the main road onto the sand. The ride was quite tame in the beginning, but then the dunes turned into towering hills with steep grades. We careened up and down the dunes, zigging and zagging to avoid sandy cliffs carved out by the desert winds.

At times we motioned to grab the rooftop handle bars, jostling and sailing through the sand.

We met our group of cars, five or six in all, and jumped out of the dunes for a photo op. Some couples posed with sandy hills in the foreground, the sun beginning to dip toward the horizon in the distance.

A few of the women in the group dropped their LV Neverfulls to strike glamorous poses in the desert, reclined and waving silky scarves in the wind. These women were a regular embarrassment to the group, and their hackneyed photo session was par for the vacation's course.

We had to wait a good 20 or 30 minutes to allow the vehicles' hot engines cool to a safe temperature before we journeyed on. A man and boy came to entertain the group and talk about the region's tradition of falconry. The bird was a beautiful creature, but I was not inclined to spend 10 dirhams ($3) to pose with it.

I preferred the candid shots of the boy and the man interacting on the top of the sand dune. The desert gives way to stunning shadows and light.

We piled back in our vehicles and set off to cross the rest of the desert. Up and down we sailed, clutching our stomachs and letting out mild yelps when a sandy crest got the best of us.

We had to make another pit stop in the desert - yet another engine cooling opportunity - and we got to snap more beautiful photos of the region's vast expanse. Dry, desert air and sand as far as the eye could see.

Thank goodness for bottled water.

By this point, Mushtar asked us to call him Mushi (or Mushi-Mushi for the ladies). He was very generous with humor and consideration - always offering to snap photos for us, handing us chilled bottled water. Mushi was a great driver and tour guide, and I'd head into the desert with him in a heartbeat.

We stopped for one more picture before we headed back to civilization, or, a destination with paved roads. Back on asphalt, Mushi took us to a side excursion - a camel farm!

Mushi gets dangerously close to the camels

In a future post, I'll tell you about the next leg of our desert journey, which included a camel ride, belly dancing, and a fantastic oasis barbecue.

But first, enjoy a little video of our wild ride on the dunes. Warning: you may want to avoid this video if you experience motion sickness. Truly.

Click here to see my Flickr set for the entire trip.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Three Nights in Bangkok (And Several More in Dubai and L.A.)

So, I got lost in the world a little bit.

After ten days of traveling around the globe (the wrong way, I might add, but that's another story for another time), I am safe and sound in the confines of Over-the-Rhine.

I have so many stories to tell - about delicious food, beautiful Thai silk, the progress of Dubai, and the discovery that I am easily excitable.

To tide you over, take a look at the Flickr album of my recent adventure and enjoy some sights from the Middle East and Asia (and the Left Coast).

Dubai, Bangkok and L.A. 2013

More to come. Promise.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Money Honey

Money makes the world go 'round. 

That's what Sally Bowes said in the Broadway musical "Cabaret". And as trite as it sounds, I'd tend to agree with Liza's character. Money gives you freedom, opportunity and the security of knowing you can stay afloat during a rainy period.

I remember my 20s, when my income was low and Maslow's needs were expensive, and I didn't have the opportunity to save for a rainy day.

Those were the days when I had to choose between auto repair and paying a late utility bill. I didn't manage what money I did have, and I got stuck in a cycle of poor financial decisions.

There is a bit of an upside to those woes. I learned to live on cash and within my means. To this day, I only carry one credit card with a $300 credit limit. Everything I have or do is paid for with money I've already made. Otherwise, I have zero debt.

Nothing lost, but nothing gained, I suppose.

At 36, I'm finally ready to take control of my finances; it was easier to live in a state of denial when I was younger and I felt like retirement was a million miles away. These days, I realize I'll likely be retiring in 30 years or so and that I need to make some smart decisions to ensure I'm not living in my sister's attic and eating Kraft Singles and Spam.

My sister would hate that. And truth be told, so would I.

Ready to take stock of my future, I met with my financial advisor to roll over a 401k from a previous employer and get some advice on my current employer's retirement options.

The meeting set me ablaze.

I used to think money matters were a boring and scary entanglement, but this weekend I've crawled the internet to find sound advice and make some big decisions.

  1. Set a budget. I can't believe it took me this long. A lovely friend of mine tried to help me a couple years ago, revealing an extensive spreadsheet she developed with her husband. I remembered hearing her say the budget hurt in the beginning, but she was inspired and excited as she watched her savings and investments grow.

    I'm finally in a place where I can be more truthful about my expenses and savings.

  2. Remember the 50/30/20 Rule. LearnVest says you should designate 50 percent of your budget to life's essentials (rent or mortgage, e.g.), 20 percent to savings, and 30 percent to lifestyle choices like charitable giving, fine dining and hobbies.

    LearnVest goes on to more explicitly define those categories; my expenses and lifestyle are a little non-traditional (no car, no kids), so for now, I'm designating my expenses to each of those categories on my own. Regardless, I'm most excited that I've earmarked 20 percent of my income for savings and have managed to designate an additional savings budget to buy a condo next year.

  3. Diversify your savings. This is a no-brainer for you financial types, but it's a bit of a new thing for me. As part of my savings, I've designated eight percent of my income to my Roth 401k (this option involves contributing taxable income now as opposed to getting squeezed by taxes when I'm older), as well as nine percent savings to savings account at a bank, and three percent savings to a portfolio managed by my financial advisor.

    This second savings effort will give me access to liquid cash; the other investments carry penalties if I decide to dip into the well before retirement. I can use this cash to cover things like unexpected medical expenses or planned vacations.

    Let's hope it's more of the latter and less of the former.

I know this is going to hurt a bit in the beginning - the discipline, the choices in the name of frugality - but the end result is the difference between my living in a retirement community with a margarita fountain and living in my sister's sweaty attic in Atlanta.

Easy decision.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.