The Infinite Possibilities of Disney’s Infinity

Guest post by Robert Morgan

First off I want to say that I had been looking forward to the arrival of Disney Infinity ever since I heard it was coming out. My son and I have been playing Skylanders for the last year and this is somewhat like it — but it’s Disney!

If you like Disney (and who doesn’t with their catalog), you will find more than a few new friends in this collection. You have live action hits like Pirates of the Caribbean as well as Pixar, Marvel and as of late Star Wars (hopefully) and that is what makes it so awesome.

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For those of you who are unfamiliar with this type of game it’s available for all the best known gaming platforms (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii).  You place character figurines onto a USB-connected portal, and when you do you will see the character of your choice in the game.

You are the character in the game, controlling, making and creating. You have two main options with the game. The franchise-specific adventure in which you can unfortunately only use the characters of that franchise within the adventure. Meaning you can’t take Jack Sparrow into Monsters Inc. or Dash into Radiator Springs.

In the Toy Box option you can build worlds that you can fill with whatever you want, and this part of the game is my favorite.  Not only can you build anything, you can do it with any of the characters and even mix franchises. How does an Aladdin and Mr. Incredible team-up sound?

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I suppose my biggest complaints are that it doesn’t matter how many characters you own, you really only need one per franchise to complete that character’s franchise adventure, as all the characters have the same capabilities.

With Disney Infinity you just need your favorite character from each franchise and you are all set unless of course you desire extra variety in the Toy Box.

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Overall I’d say it’s a great set for younger players age 6-10 who want to go crazy with their favorite Disney characters without being over encumbered with complicated gameplay. The actual character game pieces are really nicely done and look fantastic.

As Disney Infinity and the latest Skylanders starter set are fairly close in price, about $75.00, the question you have to ask yourself is are you more interested in a tame fighting experience (Skylanders) or an even tamer fighting experience that also allows for more creativity and world building.Image

Door Decor for Thanksgiving

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The day after Halloween my six-year-old son was teary eyed as I pulled the faux spider webs off our boxwoods in the front yard and put away our Six-Foot Grim Reaper and Styrofoam tombstones.  He begged me to get out the Christmas decorations to replace them.

I had to remind him that before Christmas we have Thanksgiving.  And my family tradition is to get a Christmas tree and put up decorations after Thanksgiving.

So, my son said, let’s decorate for Thanksgiving.  Great idea.  But, then, how does one decorate for Thanksgiving?  Just try to find Thanksgiving decorations in the seasonal isle at your local sundry store.  Whatever happened to those multicolored dried Indian corn arrangements hung on doorways in my childhood?  I searched high and low, but besides a few picked over pumpkin ornaments left over from Halloween, there were little to no Thanksgiving or harvest-themed decorations to be found.

Then I came across Harry & David’s Heirloom Wreath ($49.95, http://www.harryanddavid.com, a wonderfully suitable autumn wreath that I felt captured the spirit of Thanksgiving.  It’s made of mix of fresh and dried herbs, including fresh salal and rosemary, dried safflower and tansy, and dried orange slices.  It is so fragrant that when I open the door the aroma wafts inside.  I love that is it is handcrafted and made of natural materials, and because its colors are muted fall hues — and it isn’t decorated with red Christmas bows or faux frosting, it’s perfect for the fall season.

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This elegant spin on the traditional door wreath is the perfect décor for Thanksgiving.  My only concern is that the birds may love it too, but so far they have just been admiring it, as I have.

Getting Intimate with Milo and Olive

Neighborhood Eatery Charms with Warm Atmosphere, Fresh Ingredients and Bread Delights

Milo & Olive has been around for three years, but from the buzz inside you would think the hole-in-the-wall bakery and pizzeria on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica had just opened its doors.  With just two large tables surrounded by chairs and a long bench, and bar seating overlooking the kitchen, about 30 lunchtime diners vie for a place at the tables and counters, where they sit beside and chat with strangers, off-line style.

Despite the din of patrons’ voices and clatter in the kitchen, the mood is relaxed, and of course intimate.  Chef Erin Eastland smiles from the large open kitchen, greeting guests as they enter.  Servers lean over customers, which can’t be helped in this small space, to deliver an assortment of fresh small plates, salads, pastas and wood fired pizzas to eager guests.  It’s a happy place, and once you’ve sampled the menu, you know why.

The salads – like the daily beet salad special, are so fresh you taste the aroma before you take a bite.  Likewise, the small plates are bursting with flavor, like the sautéed kale, pickled with fresno chili and garlic, that won over even a lukewarm kale eater like myself.

Arugula & Radiccio salad - credit Emily Hart Rothlores

When they say “small plates,” they mean it; but it doesn’t mean you won’t get enough to eat. Something about a truly satisfying dish, like the potato gnocchi and market vegetables prepared with basil and walnut pesto and Parmigiano Reggiano, fulfills in taste what heaps of bland food could never satiate.  And as the European-style shared-table seating inspires, the small plates are perfect for sharing among your party, so that you can satisfy your appetite with a diverse sampling of several dishes.

While many of the exotic pizzas are tempting – such as the pork belly sausage pizza with escarole or the roasted eggplant and greens pizza with mascarpone — one of the most popular pizzas at Milo & Olive remains the staple crispy pepperoni, so covered with spicy slices of meat that it actually crunches.

Milo & Olive Pizzalores

Aside from their pizzas, the not-to-miss signature item at Milo & Olive is the wood fried garlic knot, a twisted soft bread ball soaked in extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.  Worth the extra 20 minutes it takes to prepare, this the ultimate garlic-lovers treat.
Garlic knot - credit Emily Hart Roth

Other rustic bread and pastries offered include classic baguettes and country boules; green olive, lemon and thyme breads; three-cheese cheesebread; whole wheat potato bread; and homemade bagels.  All are the creations of co-owner Zoe Nathan, who along with business partner Josh Loeb, who are together the team behind Santa Monica’s other restaurant gems Rustic Canyon and Huckleberry and the recently opened Sweet Rose Creamery ice cream shop.

Pecan Sticky Buns - Emily Hart Roth Photo Creditlores

The concept behind Milo & Olive is warm and inviting: a place where guests can come enjoy morning coffee and pastries or gather to dine with friends, or meet new ones, for lunch or dinner.  The crowd is mostly local office workers during the weekdays, but weeknights and weekends guests drive in from across Los Angeles, or from as far as Paso Robles, as were a couple who shared our table for a late lunch.  Despite Milo & Olive’s popularity, they don’t take reservations, so prepare for a wait if you show up at busy times.  Nobody gets special treatment for seating, but just like at the family table, if you don’t mind getting cozy, they will squeeze you in.

A Match Maid on Handybook

New Site is Home to a Clean Home

My previous experience with a maid service proved a fiasco, i.e., every surface was covered with a slimy haze looking worse than before the cleaning, so I was skeptical about Handybook.  But for housecleaning at the affordable price of $105 for a three-bedrooms and two-baths home, I gave it a try.   My, was I surprised.

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Two friendly women arrived bright and early on the scheduled day, equipped with buckets, cleaners and all the accoutrement of their trade – except for a toilet brush, which for sanitary reasons clients must provide.  Later I learned the crew was a replacement for a co-worker who was unable to come that morning, sadly due to a death in the family.  Despite this circumstance, Handybook had a team at my door within a few minutes of the scheduled time, without missing a beat.

I gave the ladies a quick tour and told them my focus areas:  The coffee-stained grout of my tile kitchen counters and sinks, the dirty wood floors throughout the house, and everything in the bathrooms – toilet, tub, shower, sink.   They nodded in agreement when I asked them to be careful vacuuming the fringes of my antique rugs.  I have made this request to every cleaning person I have hired, but it never fails that more fringes disappear with each vacuuming.

Then the ladies went to work.

Spiffy in a Jiffy

I stayed in my home office while they cleaned.  They found their way around like pros and never interrupted me once.  About two and a half hours later, I took a lunch break.  While I relaxed on my patio eating a sandwich, they completely dusted up my office, which is also my bedroom.  I returned about 20 minutes later to find my bed sheets changed, my floors washed, rug vacuumed, furniture dusted and trash emptied.

The whole house was tidied up in about three and a half hours.  I inspected with the ladies at my side.  The place looked and smelled pine-scent clean.  The wood floors shined.  I then checked the fringes of my rugs.  All intact.  Phew.  The kitchen sinks and tile still had faint stains, so I suggested Clorox to get the tile grout whiter.  The ladies explained that the company does not use bleach, opting for less toxic solutions.  Eager to please, one of them mixed up a concoction of scouring powder and organic solvent that did the trick.

While they were scrubbing down the place, they also were doing laundry I had set out.  By the time they were done, I had two sets of sheets, a bed coverlet washed and dried and a load of clothes neatly folded on the dryer.  After the ladies left, I learned from the Handybook website that laundry was an extra service ; but the ladies never mentioned it, and I was never charged.
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Above and Beyond

My rating for the job was excellent, which is a high score from me, whom my very particular Mother calls, “The pickiest person I know.”  While I did see a few straggling cob webs on my 10-foot ceilings, and I found some dust atop pictures and on my tall armoire, to be fair, even on a ladder those places are hard to reach.

My rating for the customer service is 11.  I award this over-the-top score because Handybook team made sure I was completely satisfied with the service and did everything I asked and more.  They cleaned nearly every nook and cranny in my home, without whipping out a ridiculous checklist (Handybook does have one, but it seems to be more of a “guide”) like the other maid services that charge extra for deluxe services, like washing up a few dishes in the sink.  I noticed they even washed the jar of my Blendtec, which I thought was clean enough.  Again, I learned later that dish washing is extra; but the ladies did not ask for more.  Really, it was just a few plates and silverware;  o I appreciate that they simply washed them up without a lot of penny pinching.  I did tip them, of course, though tips are included in the initial price, so that is optional for customers.

Clean, Rinse, Repeat

I was so pleased with the two housecleaners who were sent, I requested them a second time, which is common.  The service will fulfill this request, so long as the individuals are available.   Also, usually only one maid comes to clean.  I got lucky as my two experts work as a team.

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In the past I have always preferred to have someone I know clean my house – through a referral from a friend or neighbor – so I was hesitant to have strangers come into my home.  But I felt assured by the Handybook policy if something is missing or broken in the home then Handybook will cover the cost.

In any case, hopefully there will never be an issue, as the company has a rigorous screening process for potential employees that includes background checks, reference checks and in-person interviews.  According to the company, only 3% of applicants are accepted.

All in all, it was a very satisfactory experience.  My house was cleaned the way I like it, and I found a reliable service I can book as needed.  Now that’s Handy.

Collection at PLUSH Showcases Trends in Baby and Children’s Apparel

Las Vegas Show Debuts New Event, Attracts A-List Celebrity Parents

At the 2013 PLUSH Show Las Vegas last month, the question on the red carpet was not, “Who are you wearing,” but, “Who are the kids wearing?”

Jina Park, CEO and founder of PLUSH, was there to answer the question.

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At this year’s show, held October 15-17 at the World Market Center, Park launched the first-ever apparel pavilion showcasing the most fashionable and elegant clothing lines for children, “The Collection at PLUSH.”

“The clothing lines we are targeting are directly attributed to the trendy and chic lifestyle, which is an aesthetic that drives PLUSH,” said Jina Park, CEO and founder of PLUSH. “We’ve already tapped into the juvenile industry’s finest products and services, and with the success of our previous shows, we knew that the apparel pavilion is just what we needed. Our goal is to ultimately enhance what the industry has to offer, which makes our newest addition an absolute necessity.”

Park ought to know what kids and parents want.  A mother of three children under the age of 6, Park has been an industry trend-setter with her premier show, PLUSH, an exclusive juvenile industry show that spotlights unique, eco-friendly and trendsetting products and services designed for the most stylish and trendsetting parents and buyers.

What started as an event to showcase fashionable and eco-conscious baby and toddler products and services for modern parents has continued to evolve and grow into an anticipated industry networking event for retailers, consumers and media that attracts top luxury brands in the juvenile industry.

Participants value not only the elegantly produced event but the many celebrity marketing opportunities it presents.  Many A-list celebrities have hosted PLUSH and appeared as guests at PLUSH events, including Jessica Alba, Garcelle Beauvais, Nick Cannon, Jason Kennedy, Kathryn Morris and Lisa Rinna.

The launch of the Collection at PLUSH, featuring brands in both the domestic and foreign markets, opens new doors and potential relationships for retailers and buyers seeking to reach upscale juvenile industry audiences.

At this year’s PLUSH, Park teased attendees with a preview of PLUSH 2014, stirring up excitement with a glimpse of the industry’s future, and the unveiling of PLB’s Ultimate Military Family Giveaway and Getaway, a national contest to further honor and respect families who have served our country. The preview event wrapped up with PLUSH’s after party hosted and DJ’d by Nick Cannon.

Park has earned a reputation in the industry as a trend-spotter who is always a step ahead of the industry.  With four shows under her belt, Park has shown that PLUSH is definitely in the gifted and talented class.