New obsession, my $400 blender

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Been trying to figure out how to get more veggies into the bellies of the Philips household. My go-to breakfast is a protein shake with a handful of frozen spinach or broccoli thrown in, but my current KitchenAid blender – though beautiful – just wasn’t cutting it in producing Jamba Juice-like consistency. So I started thinking about buying one of those super high-end ones – the kind that can actually blend up raw veggies in a few seconds and make luscious, gorgeous green smoothies… and soups and ice cream and bread dough, oh my.

The two main choices in this space are VitaMix and Blendtec, of the viral video “Will it Blend” fame. (Side note: I am somewhat displeased by those wasteful videos… would rather them get the hottest tech product and auction it off in lieu of pulverizing and donate the money to a worthy cause. But I digress…)

The guy who makes the awesome green smoothie fix at the local Farmer’s Market uses a VitaMix so I became fixated on that. I’m an as-seen-ov-tv/informercial type of gal, so I checked their site to find a live demo… nothing scheduled soon in SoCal, but they will be at a State Fair in Massachusetts when I’m visiting the East Coast next week. Thus, plans were made to attend.

But Blendtec would have none of that. Seredipity prevailed during my run to Costco yesterday. With perishables in the cart, I reached the back corner of the warehouse and lo and behold… the Blendtec girl was there showing her wares. LIVE DEMO! I was hooked. I did not move from that spot for at least 90 minutes, jotting down recipes while the cottage cheese and soy milk sitting in my cart spoiled, I’m sure. I did some quick research on the spot with my smartphone to see what others had said about the VitaMix vs Blendtec face-off… and ultimately made my decision. Blendtec.

Both brands are priced similarly and supposedly perform similarly. You can read all about the differences but for me, my main reasons for selecting Blendtec were:

  • Height. Can fit on my countertop because it’s a few inches shorter than VitaMix (Blendtec is actually same height as my KitchenAid blender). This may not sound like a big deal but those Vitamix inches would’ve contributed to the blender not clearing the cabinet above and therefore would lived out of sight, out of mind and tucked away in a bottom cabinet. Not ideal since I plan on making this blender part of my daily life.
  • Brainless operation. The pre-programed buttons of the Blendtec (soups, ice cream, smoothies, etc) take the guesswork out of operating your blender – controlling not only the various speeds for each cycle, but the time of the cycle. At first I thought I’d prefer the easy dial of the VitaMix until I realized that you could overdo say, crushing ice and blend it too much or too fast and bascially get a snow cone. I’d much prefer to just press a button and walk away… which is exactly what I do as I’m running around the kitchen making breakfast for my boys and packing lunches. It’s nice to not have to hover over my blender and try to figure out how to get the consistency right. 
  • Versatility. If you want to do stuff like grind your own flour or seeds, you’d need a second “dry” blade for the VitaMix – with Blendtec you don’t need a special blade. And while I don’t fancy myself Laura Ingalls Wilder in that I’ll be milling my own flour, I have already used my Blendtec to grind up flaxseed, which I can add in the green smoothies and a range of other foods without detection by the kiddos. The versatile Blendtec blade makes it so this blender is like a food processor.
  • Easier to clean. The Vitamix has a big stick that you can use to get large chunks of food into pulverizing range. Vitamix touts this as an advantage but really, unless you’re putting whole apples in the blender (which is probably not a good idea bc apple seeds are poisonous) you don’t need the stick in the Blendtec product. The stick, plus the extra dry blade I talked about above would make this a little more complicated to clean and store than the Blendtec.
  • Social media prescence. Ok, so this is for the dork factor only, but I tweeted a photo and said I was buying a Blendtec at Costco and soon thereafter someone from @Blendtec wished me well on my purchase… on a Saturday, no less. ‘Round the clock Blendtec Twitter people? I think that says a lot. Couple that with the fact these guys proudly emblazen their product with the 800-number and web site for customer service inquiries, I feel good that they will listen when I need them to.

One last thing. I think Vitamix comes with a 7-year warranty and Blendtec comes with a 3-year warranty; however, when I purchased the blender from Costco yesterday, it came with an extended 4-year warranty, making it a 7-year warranty. So I had no reservations about buying this with the full confidence that I was really getting the best blender for me. I’ve already used the thing 20 times in 30 hours (how do I know this? They have a counter on the front, presumably so you see how many times you use it and don’t feel so bad about dropping $400 for a blender) and I have a feeling I’ll be sharing more about this new addition to the household.

Great read about TEDx conference – via NY Times 9.26.10

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ONCE a year, there is a mass migration of the intelligentsia to Long Beach, Calif.

Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times

Participants make signs expressing goals.

Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times

Melinda Gates listens.

There, inside the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, a block from the Pacific Ocean, they gather for four days to share ideas and score gift bags at the TED Conference. Sold out a year in advance, the conference has scholars, scientists, musicians as speakers. They are boldface names:Bill ClintonSteve JobsJane Goodall. And as for any A-list party, an invitation is required.

The price to get in: $6,000.

Unable to meet the growing demand for access to TED, its organizers decided to democratize. They imagined a new conference that was TED but not TED, organized by local groups like schools, businesses, neighborhoods, even friends — at an unTED-like price: free.

And so last year the TED principals introduced a new concept called TEDx. They encouraged would-be organizers to apply for free licenses, and hoped for the best.

“It wasn’t clear at all that it would work,” said Chris Anderson, the curator of TED, which takes its name from the conference’s original areas of focus: technology, entertainment and design. He figured the inaugural year would bring 10 to 30 TEDx events, primarily in the United States.

To his surprise, there were 278 events last year in places as near as New Jersey and Florida, and as far as Estonia and China. There was TEDxKibera, held in one of Africa’s largest shantytowns in Nairobi, Kenya. And there was TEDxNASA, which had space-themed lectures.

Already this year there have been 531 TEDx events. Another nearly 750 are to take place this year and beyond.

“Students can’t afford to go to TED,” said Marina Kim, 27, who in 2009 organized TEDxAshokaU — part of Ashoka, a network of social entrepreneurs based in Arlington, Va. — and is planning a TEDx event for February. “The power of TEDx is that people can spread the same message but it’s user-generated,” she said.

Many TED and TEDx talks can be seen free on the Web, where they are the antipode of the viral videos of laughing cats and dancing babies that entertain millions of bored office workers each day. And yet the TED videos, too, have gone viral — viewed more than 319 million times since they went online in 2006.

There are TEDx talks about math curriculums, health care and mastering the work-life balance. Often, they capture the local flavor of the city in which they are held, like the TEDx event about breaking down walls held on and around the Great Wall of China. Rarely are they as polished as TED talks, though the best ones end up on TED.com. They can be gatherings of more than 1,000 people, or a few friends in a sparse room. But as is the case with TED, the most powerful events use multimedia, humor and audience interaction to make lectures about serious topics inspiring and easy to grasp.

Take Hans Rosling, a physician and a professor of international health at Karolinska Institute in Sweden. He has spoken at both TED and at TEDx about economic development, health and poverty by narrating eye-catching animations of United Nationsstatistics as if he were a sportscaster at the Kentucky Derby.

On Monday he spoke at the Paley Center for Media in New York during TEDx Change, a conference organized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, about the progress of the global health goals set forth a decade ago by the United Nations.

Behind him was a large digital graph showing the relationship between child mortality and family size. A box of countries labeled “Western” had lower child mortality rates, while a box of countries labeled “Developing” had higher child mortality rates. Visualization software he developed (known as Trendalyzer) sent orbs representing various countries floating across the graph while time fast-forwarded from 1960 to today. Dr. Rosling spoke faster and faster, narrating what was happening as time flew by: “Now you get eradication of smallpox, better education, health services — There! China comes into the Western box here! And here Brazil is in the Western box! India’s approaching! The first African country’s coming into the Western box! And we get a lot of new neighbors. Welcome to a decent life!” (Video of the presentation is on the Gates Foundation’s Web site.)

If you think that was a unique way to enliven statistics, consider the 2007 TED talk at which Dr. Rosling wanted to show attendees that the seemingly impossible was possible — so he swallowed a sword.

“We rehearse and rehearse in my hotel room,” he said in the lobby of the Paley Center after his TEDxChange talk. “Twenty-five times.” (And that was for a sword-free lecture.) Then he reached into his breast pocket and flashed a reporter a Boy Scout-style sword swallower’s badge.

Also at TEDxChange was Mechai Viravaidya, a former senator in Thailand known as Mr. Condom. He shared his unusual tactics to teach Thai people about family planning and H.I.V. and AIDS prevention, including asking police officers to dole out condoms, organizing condom-inflating competitions and selling condoms and caffeine at a Coffee & Condom stall. Efforts like these helped new H.I.V. and AIDS infections in Thailand decline by 90 percent between 1991 and 2003, he said, saving millions of lives.

When Melinda French Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was asked what she hoped the people watching live via Webcast in 40 countries would take away from that particular TEDx event, she replied, “that change is possible.”

The first-ever TEDx was in March 2009 at the University of Southern California, organized by Krisztina Holly, vice provost for innovation at the University of Southern California and executive director of U.S.C.’s Stevens Institute for Innovation. She held a second event this year, selling out all 1,200 available seats and turning away hundreds of people.

“Students were just beating down the door wanting to sign up,” said Ms. Holly, who goes by “Z.” “We actually had a student write in his application that the whole reason the student came to U.S.C. was TEDx.”

Yet she pointed out that just a year ago, TEDx was a major risk because TED’s organizers had to relinquish control. On the other hand, TEDx is an example of a new model of business plans that harness fans of the brand to help it evolve.

Mr. Anderson agreed, though he said the looming questions were “How do you avoid damaging the TED brand? Can you package TED in a box?”

Apparently you can. A TEDx license is required to organize an event. The rules: recipients must not be associated with a controversial or extremist group, and cannot use TEDx to promote religious or political beliefs, or to sell commercial goods. There are also rules governing the event format, including that speakers must be filmed and that they don’t speak for more than 18 minutes each. TEDx organizers cannot charge for tickets, though TED makes some exceptions for groups that need help with production costs. Organizers who want to charge a fee (which can’t exceed $100) must seek permission from TED.

Today, TED executives are looking to the next phase of growth: leveraging TEDx as an educational tool.

“We know teachers are using the talks in classrooms,” said Lara Stein, TED’s licensing director. “What could we do to move that along?”

After all, as Mr. Anderson pointed out, the rise of online video means a teacher doesn’t have to be someone sitting in front of a classroom talking to 30 people. Especially if something like TEDx can make learning and social change “sexy,” as Ms. Kim of Ashoka put it.

“It’s an experience,” she said. “It’s not a lecture. It’s transformational. That’s why people like me are hooked.”

 

New workout essential – Action Wipes. Because… “Your face is not a baby’s butt. Don’t wipe it like one.”

Love that quote in the title. It’s from Martha Van Inwegen, creator of Action Wipes, a person I recently “met” via Twitter. We had entered into a discussion about the ubiquity of the baby wipe (as a mom, I keep those suckers handy) and she mentioned that Action Wipes are a terrific alternative to baby wipes for quick wipedowns or even quick showers between workouts. My interest was piqued and she graciously sent me some of these Action Wipes to try out.

The wipes were burning a hole into my workout bag and into my brain… could they really be that different than baby wipes or just a workout towel? My workout schedule has been a bit erratic so it was about a week before I even had plans to get sweaty.

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The good news is… I finally had the opportunity to try them today during the season opener of my “old-lady” soccer league. The bad news is, this opportunity was preceded by me actually face-planting into the dry, hard earth, on a patch of ground that so charmingly had both a previously-chewed blob of spearmint gum and remanents of dog feces in one square-foot area… the area where my FACE was. Lovely.

Anyhow, I diverge. I was helped off the field (ankle injury) and immediately thought to freshen myself up using the Action Wipes. I ripped open the packet and was pleasantly greeted with a fresh, natural scent. Not an artifical I’m-a-lemony-hand-wipe-who’s-never-met-a-real-lemon smell, but an honest to goodness “fresh” smell that reminded me of high-end, clean shampoo. The texture of the wipe was quite perfect – the woven-like material helped me release the caked-on grime of a full game of soccer from my skin yet it was soft enough for my face. The size of the towel itself was generous… I didn’t really need a second towel though I used one because I was so dirty from laying in the dirt for several minutes. It was satisfying to see how much dirt I removed from my body – and I was pleased that my smell had much improved.

At the end of the game, I handed out several of the wipes to my fellow players and heard them echo my excitement — “it smells so good!” and “where can I buy these?” A couple of the women on the team do the 3-Day Walk every year and are thinking Action Wipes would be a great addition to their packs. (Sorry, Martha, I wanted to get some Flip video of the reactions but I was laid up with a bum ankle).

So, bottom line… loved ’em. They really are a perfect complement to any sweaty workout – I can think of so many instances where I would use these, noteably when I finish a run with my running ladies and head out to Starbucks or out to eat before having a chance to grab a shower.

Disclosure: As stated above, Martha sent me these to try out as part of a nice discussion on Twitter. There were probably 12-15 of the wipes (value $15). She never asked me to post of tweet about the product but I wanted to share my opinion. The last time I reviewed something “soccer-related” was about Cleatskins… and for the record, I think that product matches the awesomeness of this product! The opinions expressed in this post and on this blog are my own and my disclosure policy is here

Orange slices and youth soccer memories

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Tonight as I cut up dozens of oranges for my son's very first soccer game, it occurred to me… tonight I join a sisterhood of thousands, maybe millions, of moms that have come before me by filling a critical role: the soccer snack provider.

Yeah, I know this is not an 'official' parenting milestone nor a Hallmark-worthy occasion but nonetheless, I'm kinda stoked… got a new cooler for the occasion, I'm already icing the drinks for the game, I even packed trashbags and wipes for sticky, grimey, hands.

Preparing tomorrow's snack for ten little 5-year-olds makes me feel closer than ever to my own mom, who logged YEARS of thankless service as chief carpool scheduler, banner organizer (back when it was DIY, baby), and – get this – hair accessory coordinator (ok, so I made up the title,  but she would crochet a pair of color-coordinated curly-que hair ribbons for each player every season). She kinda raised the bar for Team Moms everywhere.

While I honor her by carrying on the tradition of pitching in to bring the snack tomorrow, I realize its not just the Team Moms and Coaches that deserve a back pat.. it's everyone that plays a role in encouraging kids to take part in team activities. So while your kids kick off their season tomorrow, kudos to you for simply being there… I raise an orange wedge to you!