VIDEO: Cyber Monday Tips & Gift Ideas

We know Cyber Monday is a made-for-the-internet event but it keeps me busy every year.  I spent most of the morning speaking with radio stations across the country as I gave listeners tips on what to watch out for and avoid.  The afternoon found me in a few TV stations showing up some neat gear that was either on sale or to give viewers interesting ideas on what to buy.  Here are some clips from my HOUSTON LIFE (NBC) appearance.

This first clip includes the hot new Samsung Galaxy Note 8 smartphone, the Samsung IconX wireless earbuds and the Nest Thermostat E:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here I yapped about the Arlo Pro 2 security cameras, Saddleback Leather bags and the Weatherman Umbrella:

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Cyber Monday Tips

I have no clue if Cyber Monday is the biggest day for online shopping in the U.S.  Some stat says it is while another disputes it.  It’s a made-up date anyway thanks to the National Retail Federation.  But it is my duty to write blogs like this and make media rounds each year to either hype up this “special” day or warn you about all those nasty, evil cyber criminals lurking to steal your credit card and personal information.  Since it is almost impossible to keep an updated list of every online store offering 50% off a kitchen blender or free shipping if you spend $100, I will go with the super hero angle of protecting the world from the bad guys.  But feel free to email me if you find a good deal on a pair of black, size 11 Chelsea boots.

Yes this is the most wonderful time of the year but here are a few things to keep in mind before you click the BUY button:

Use a credit card vs. a debit card – Your debit card is linked to your bank account, thus exposing your available funds. By using your credit card there is an added sense of security knowing that you are using borrowed money. If you see or sense something odd with a recent purchase contact your credit card provider and they can dispute the charges.

Don’t save your information – If you frequently shop on a specific website, you probably have an option to save your credit card information.  Definitely a convenient and time-saving trick but not the safest thing to do especially if you use a public computer or a device that others can access easily.  Suck it up and take the extra minute to enter your information each and every time.

Use a secure connection – We love WiFi but try to avoid making purchases through a public wireless network.  It’s not that difficult for cyber criminals (Boo! Hiss!) to hack into that WiFi signal and access your details.

Change your passwords frequently – Blah, blah. How many times have you heard this?  JUST DO IT!  NOW!  Especially when doing frequent online purchases. Changing your passwords often is important, but so is making sure you have strong passwords too.  Throw in some characters like $ or % or !.

Update your antivirus – This should happen automatically but check your computer’s software regularly to keep it up-to-date.  Don’t forget there is also antivirus software for your mobile phones.  Download a copy from either Avast, Trend Micro, or Sophos.

Happy shopping and get out there to find me those boots.

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I remember not too long away perusing the Thanksgiving Day newspaper ads so I could plan out my route and shopping list for the next day…Black Friday.  The day after turkey, stuffing and the Cowboys’ game meant finding parking spaces along with finding good deals on products that I really didn’t need.

Nowadays there is no need to look at a newspaper just as there is no longer a wait until that Friday after Thanksgiving.  Black Friday has turned into Thrifty Thursday and now seemingly into Nifty Thrifty November.  Sales are either leaked or officially released online weeks before Black Friday and many stores begin selling these items immediately.

Before heading to stores (if you still dare) or click that link to buy a product, make sure to do some research.  Shipping costs can add up.  Some stores match competitor prices.  And batteries may not be included.  Plus if you happen to sleep in after all that tryptophan consumption, don’t worry.  Studies have shown that Black Friday deals are not the cheapest prices of the season.  Many retailers mark prices down further in December as the days before Christmas dwindle.

Here is a list from Mashable.com that tracks Black Friday deals from major stores like Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Nordstrom.  Happy hunting.

P.S.  If you do find some good deals my favorite color is purple and I’m a size Medium shirt.

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VIDEO – Hurricane Harvey Preparedness and Rebuilding

As Southeast Texas continues to dry out and recover from Hurricane Harvey, here are some products to help you rebuild, repair and prepare for future disasters.  As seen on NBC Channel 2 in Houston.

CLICK TO WATCH

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Save Your Wine Until Another Time

I don’t know about you but I can’t drink an entire bottle of wine by myself.  Beer – yes.  Wine – maybe I can go half a bottle before I decide what to do with the rest.  And I do not like wasting a good bottle of Pinot.

There are several options to save those lonely ounces of red juice.  I could try to recork the bottle or even screw the cap back on.  But those methods sometime seem to leave the leftover wine with an odd taste.  I recently tried the Savino Wine Preservation System and so far the results have kept me from losing one sip.

It’s a resealable container that you can store wine in. Savino is a two part system – the carafe and the float. The float is designed to create a barrier between the wine and the air, is made from BPA-free plastic. The system should keep your wine fresh for up to one week, which is longer than the average 2-4 days for an opened bottle of wine.

Pour the wine into the Savino and then drop the float on top. The disc floats to the top of the wine while a silicone ring around the edges blocks most of the wine’s surface from being exposed to air.

Savino comes in two options – a glass carafe for $49.95 and a plastic carafe for $24.95 which is a nice option for outdoor use.  

A very smart gadget for wine aficionados.  Now if they could only invent one of these for beer.

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Summer Live Broadcasts Continue. Where In The World Is Garf?

We are trying to keep you entertained throughout this hot summer by taking our show on the road to give you ideas of where to travel and stay cool (or at least have some fun).  From Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to Chicago, we have brought you some fun sights, sounds and ideas of where to go and what to do with your family.

Next stop:  Orlando in August.  Stay tuned…

And THIS is how you make a splash upon arrival at a live show!

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One (Fun) Night in the Mississippi Gulf Coast

Driving cross-country can be an experience that some people despise while others enjoy a leisurely, cathartic trip across our great country.  I generally remember my family trips when I was younger sitting in the back seat of our station wagon.  The only that kept us entertained between nightly stops at a Holiday Inn was playing the license plate game on passing cars.

Today’s driving experience is much easier thanks to luxuries like satellite radio, GPS directions and – with all due respect to Holiday Inn – much nicer places to stay and a lot of entertaining (and appetizing) cities to stop over in.

On a recent journey from Orlando to Houston I wanted to stay the night where I could take in some nice scenery, experience local food and culture and relax a bit to get my mind off the 1,000 mile trek.  Based on that smart GPS map I found that Biloxi, Mississippi, was the perfect place to chill out for about 20 hours.

I contacted the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional CVB for some tips on what to do in the area during a quick stop.  I was inundated with a variety of options that could have kept me busy for a week.  Here are some of the places I checked out and recommend when in the area:

  • Harrah’s Gulf Coast.  It helps that I like to gamble so why not stay in a hotel/casino.  Harrah’s is centered along the seawall with sweeping views of the gulf and other large hotels that twinkle at night.  The rooms are spacious and the pool is situated on a deck a few floors above the street which provides a wonderful place to watch the sun rise or set with your favorite cocktail.  I spent some time in the vast casino just off the lobby area.  The table minimums (as low as $5) make it easy to hang around awhile and the dealers were some of the friendliest people I have ever met.
  • Magnolia House by Kelly English.  We had reservations at this restaurant which I imagined was a stand-alone house with a 100 year-old back story.  I actually appreciated the fact it is situated in Harrah’s just inside the pool deck area.  But the easy and laid-back décor made it seem we were dining in that heritage home I had envisioned.  Kelly English is a 2009 Food & Wine “Chef of the Year” who makes a very creative menu that highlights the southern and Gulf Coast roots of the restaurant.  It is a luxurious experience that is romantic; made even better by the attentive and knowledgeable wait staff.  Must try dishes: Fried Oyster Spinach Salad, Black Truffle Burger, Gulf Snapper with Pontchartrain Sauce, Cheese Grits.  You will thank you me later.
  • There is a great deal of history throughout the Gulf Coast and as you can imagine a number of interesting museums, tours and sightseeing for all ages.  The Lynn Meadows Discovery Center is a top 50 children’s museum and the Infinity Science Center should also be a stop with the family.  History buffs should visit the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum which will impress and make you hungry at the same time.  Beauvoir is very unique as it the home of Jefferson Davis, the last president of the Confederate States of America.  The Walter Anderson and Ohr-O’Keefe Museums of Art offer lovely exhibits and pieces showcasing the Gulf Coast. The design and architecture of the Ohr-O’Keefe itself is a work of art.
  • We did not have time to play on the water and beaches during our brief stay but Biloxi is not lacking in adventures for those that like sun and sand.  Kayak and jet ski rentals can be found up and down the shoreline.  Biloxi Schooners and Ship Island Excursions take passengers out on the water to a variety of destinations or just to sightsee from the water back to the land.

Though our stay was short lived the entire area is inviting and I look forward to a return trip with a longer stay.  I plan to bring my golf clubs, sandals, sunscreen, dancing shoes and maybe even my kids.  It’s my turn to show them how to travel in style and have fun doing so…unlike their dad in the backseat of that station wagon and playing in above-ground motel pools.

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Sandos Resorts In Mexico – A Nearby Escape To Fun & Sun

20150903_143539One great thing about living in Texas is our close proximity to Mexico. This allows for quick flights to some of the best resorts in the world.  Pack your passport, some sunscreen, flip flops, and maybe a hat, and then head down south for fun in the sun.

My crew and I did just that over Labor Day weekend as we partied it up and do a live radio show from Sandos Caracol Eco Resort.  Sandos has four resorts in Mexico spread out from Cabo San Lucas to Cancun to Playa Del Carmen.  Working with the great Sandos staff we flew to Cancun and then took a short bus trip down to the Eco Resort in Playa.

Getting to Cancun (or most anywhere on Earth, for that matter) was simple as we booked travel through United Vacations.  With United Vacations’ low deposit payment plans, the guaranteed best prices on United Airlines flights, you know you’re getting a great deal.

United Vacations has a great feature called Premier Vacation Protection.  It gives you extra piece of mind before and during your vacation.   Benefits include baggage protection, medical coverage, cancellation for any reason and more.

I also like the fact that you don’t have to worry about waiting around for a lower price. If the price of your hotel stay goes down, you can be refunded the difference if you’re covered by Premier Vacation Protection.

It was less than four hours travel from the time we departed IAH to the time we checked in at Sandos Caracol. We were greeted at the resort with a frozen concoction of tequila or rum (does it really matter when on vacation?) and the most important item of our stay – a wristband that allowed for all the food, drinks and fun across the sprawling property.20150904_104133

The resort has 956 guest rooms with access to an all-inclusive food and beverage program featuring 3 buffets, 6 a la carte restaurants, 8 bars and 24-hour room service. We hit every bar and restaurant during our stay with our favorites being Las Mascaras (Mexican), La Riviera (Mediterranean), and La Toscana (Italian).  Fresh food and friendly service was abundant.  And did I mention tequila and rum?

This particular resort in the Sandos family is eco-focused to promote sustainable practices to their guests and suppliers.  Guest rooms are “green” by using certified materials, LED lighting, and a system for recycling gray and soapy water.

The property is family-friendly with an Adults Only section and several areas for kids and teens.  Even though I didn’t bring my kids on this trip I still found myself splashing around the Aquapark.   You just can’t keep me off a water slide.  There are 17 slides and a splash zone here.

20150903_184232The adults section features an exclusive guest reception, beach club house with private bar service, private pool and an adults only restaurant for breakfast and lunch.  This area was nice and quiet for lounging around during the late afternoons however we spent most of the day on the beautiful, palm tree-lined beach.

White sand and clear blue water borders the large property.  Beach chairs and day beds are pristinely lined up waiting for guests to do nothing but sit back, lie down and relax.  Beachside bars are no more than a few yards away and the large, main pool is nearby if you want a chlorinated dip and inviting party music.

Fans of water sports have many options to choose from with kayaks, boogie boards, snorkel gear and sailboats included in some of the guest packages. SCUBA dives and deep-sea fishing trips can also be planned.

And what is a resort vacation without a trip to the spa?  Spa Sandos has luxurious facilities with 16 treatment rooms, saunas and steam baths, gym and spinning room and a beachfront massage palapa overlooking views of the Caribbean Sea.

Sandos Caracol offers some unique things that I you must check out when visiting.  I partook in a unique Mayan therapy called Temazcal. This ancient tradition guides guests to different levels of heat and steam generated by volcanic rocks and medicinal herbs in a spiritual atmosphere.  My body, mind and soul were purified…at least until I found the bar later that night.20150905_130608

The Xcalacoco Experience allows guests to learn more about Mayan and Mexican culture with different daily activities.  Each day of the week is set aside to honor a different element.  Four live theatrical shows are performed on the property each week.  Make sure to catch at least one during your stay.

Our trip went by quickly before we hopped back on the short flight from Cancun to Houston.  The radio show went well with one of the most gorgeous backdrops we’ve ever had.  Our suntans should last a few weeks which will serve as a conversation starter with friends back home. And I now have a top-of-mind recommendation when I’m asked where to escape for a nearby vacation, incentive or wedding:  Sandos Caracol Eco Resort!

Click HERE to hear the radio show podcast from beachside at Sandos Caracol Eco Resort

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Touring San Francisco – A Treat Indeed

I have been to San Francisco many times and – just like the song says – I have left my heart there each time.  The Golden Gate City is arguably the most unique city in the U.S. with its hilly terrain, sweeping views, late 19th century charm mixed with 21st century buzz, and different international-flavored neighborhoods everywhere you turn.

Why do I keep going back?  And why do I recommend it as a “must see” place for one’s bucket list?

Maybe it’s the weather.  Not so much the fog but the cool, dry air that makes me ask myself why I live in a hot, humid climate (oh yeah, probably the cost of the living).   It could be the food.   Within a few blocks walk one can dine on fresh seafood, authentic Italian, world-class Chinese and old-fashioned Mexican.

I believe the answer is all-of-the-above.  Like the city itself, I love the melting pot atmosphere of the residents and the tourists that come from all over the globe.  I recently spent a few days traversing the area by foot, go cart, subway, boat and bicycle.  I even threw in old school transportation with a ride on the famed cable cars and new school with an easy to grab Uber car.

So let’s go find my heart:

The first place I began my journey was online, of course.  Before your visit, take some time to plan your trip on San Francisco Travel, the city’s official guide for visitors and meeting planners.   Everything from activities to dining, nightlife to shopping, and even hotel suggestions are found on this website.  I knew I would be there for three nights so I made an itinerary that allowed me to play, eat, exercise and eat.  And eat.

My home base for my stay was Union Square.  I really enjoy this vibrant area as it is located near the city center with easy access to cable car lines, the underground subway, busses and trains.  It is an easy walk (despite some of the notorious hills) to get to Chinatown, the financial district and of course, all the shopping you can handle.

Yes there are high-end stores that can also be found in places like Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue and London’s High Street but I found many boutique shops and local hangouts with a northern California flair.  The fact that a pub or bar seemed to populate the area also added to my pleasure.

One must not forget a nickname of San Francisco – “The City By The Bay.”  So it makes sense to get on the bay to view the scenery and cityscape from a different vantage point.  First-timers to the area will enjoy a dinner cruise on the Hornblower, a sightseeing ship with several decks for fine dining, weddings and parties, and perches with unrestricted views no matter which way you look.

This three-hour cruise departs from the Embarcadero not far from the Bay Bridge.  Guests are welcomed at their assigned tables with a glass of champagne and a four-course dinner menu.  Live entertainment and dancing will keep you having fun down below when you aren’t on the top deck looking at the beautiful sights.  The Hornblower breezes past Alcatraz Island, circles underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, all while delivering breathtaking views of the city.

San Fran (we are pretty tight so I can call it that) seems synonymous with fishing and seafood which is why a visit to the Wharf is a must.  Two cable car lines drop off passengers within walking distance of this area where cool breezes during the day and night may call for a stop at one of the many souvenir shops for a lightweight jacket.

No doubt many of the restaurants, stores and venues are geared to tourists but you can find some wonderful food and plenty of things to keep busy.  Lunch at Cioppino’s on Jefferson Street was a treat as I sat on the outside patio sipping a local beer.  The menu offers – what else – fresh seafood along with Italian fare that draws customers from blocks away with smells of garlic and clams.

It would be a sin not to get the clam chowder in a freshly made bread bowl.  The Dungeness crab cocktail is also very tasty but those appetizers only led up to the main dish of which this place is named.   Cioppino is the signature dish here.  A bountiful seafood extravaganza of Dungeness crab, clams, mussels, snapper, calamari, shrimp, and tomatoes braised in a fennel scented stew.  ‘Nuff said.

It is no secret that I try to keep in shape as much as I can so when I enjoy a fine meal I need to find a way to work it off.  A glance down the street found Bay City Bike Rentals & Tours.  I haven’t been on a bike in years but there was no time like the present to hop on for good exercise but also a fun way to see more sights.

Bay City Bikes rent several types of equipment for a leisurely or a high-performance stroll.  I opted for a lightweight, 21-speed model with a front camera bag, lock, water bottle holder and a map.  They also offer an electric hybrid bike with a battery and pedal assist feature lets riders experience the fun with less exertion.  I almost regret not choosing the hybrid but at least I worked off my lunch.

I opted for a guided tour and took my place amongst a dozen fellow tourists donned with bike helmets and spandex pants (No such pants for me.  Shorts will do just fine.)  We departed from the Wharf on a two-and-a-half hour journey that led us on paved trails and streets with sweeping views of the water.

The final destination of the tour would be in Sausalito, a small town just north of the bay filled with stunning sidewalk restaurants, shops and parks.  But to reach this point we would need to cross the water.  And the only way would be to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Bam!

I have driven across this (arguably) most famous bridge in the world several times but traversing it on two wheels was almost an out-of-body experience.  An exclusive lane for walkers and bikers was crowded but allowed for a slow-paced pedal underneath the rust-colored towers of the bridge.   I had to stop a few times only to take in the view of the city to the south, Marin County to the north, and lots of water right below.

After crossing the bridge with high-fives amongst my fellow pedalers it was literally all downhill into Sausalito.  Part of this tour package from Bay City Bikes included a ferry ride back to the Wharf that allowed me to soak up the sights from the water again and rest up from the bike ride.

SF June 2015

Similar to dining at a restaurant, touring the city and visiting places can be done by itself (a la carte) or enjoying many things on an all-you-can-eat menu.  Like a buffet, the GO Card is a smart way to visit a variety of places across San Francisco and saves money in the long run.  A 1-day card can be purchased for $60 ($45 for kids) up to a 7-day card for $160 ($115 for kids) that gives entrance and discounts to over two dozen venues around the area.

The GO Card can be used to access several museums from the Asian Art to the U.S.S. Hornet; even to Madame Tussaud’s and Ripley’s Believe It or Not!.  My favorite place to use the card was another way to tour the city…the GoCar Tour.  The card allowed for a 30 minute use of these yellow, battery-powered vehicles equipped with a GPS-enabled storytelling experience.

The GoCar is easy and fun to drive.  As you drive, it tells you where to turn and gives an audible story of sights like Ghirardelli Square, The Presidio, Cliff House and Golden Gate Park.  My personal highlight was driving the GoCar down the curves of famous Lombardi Street.

As if I hadn’t had enough touring – and one can never get enough in this city – I found an intriguing way to learn about the vastly different neighborhoods while experiencing the unique cuisine each is famous for.  The Local Tastes Of The City Tour makes it easy to learn, eat and explore within a few hours but an experience that lasts a lifetime.

Offering several tours daily one can hop on its decorative bus or choose to walk a late morning, early afternoon or evening stroll through a choice of celebrated districts.  I opted for a night walking tour of Chinatown and North Beach as I wanted to learn about these two different cultures but also chow down on some good Chinese and Italian grub.

Our small group was led by an exuberant guide that started at the foot of Chinatown.  We were led at our own pace while listening to the historic significance of the neighborhood and its architecture.  Walking creates an appetite so every few blocks we stopped to sample local cuisine.  A dim sum selection was offered at a local shop followed by samples of freshly-made fortune cookies at a baking company in an out-of-the way alley.

We spent about an hour leaning about tea while sipping several varieties at Vital Tea Leaf.  I have never been a lover of hot tea but after learning the health advantages of these drinks I found myself purchasing several bags to take home.  Tip: try the Pu-erh.

Before we found our way out of Chinatown we popped into Begoni Bistro Wok & Wine.  The stop was initially for a bit of wine but after seeing the prawn salad spring roll and grilled French rack of lamb we could not help but have a quick snack.  (Say hello to the gregarious owner, Ming, for me)

That snack tied us over only for the next two blocks as we entered North Beach, a vibrant district named after the part of town that used to be the northernmost section of the city.  The iconic pyramid-shaped TransAmerica Tower hovered over us like a welcoming concierge.  We meandered slightly uphill to pass inviting clubs, book shops and restaurants inviting us with tempting scents of Italian flavor.

A few slices of pizza and a glass of wine were waiting at final stop of this journey.  We tipped our gracious guide and then tried to remember the spots we had just passed to go back and enjoy a little more of the local sounds and flavor of these unique neighborhoods.

I could go back to San Francisco every year for the rest of my life and still be able to discover something I haven’t seen before.  Maybe a small park with centuries-old trees or an alleyway that winds its way out to a view of another part of the bay I have yet to see.

There is no doubt when visiting this great city that every one of all ages and from all places around the world will leave with several things:  great memories, suitcases of souvenirs, an appreciation for a beautiful cityscape and atmosphere, and recommendations for others to go back and enjoy.

Oh yeah, and you won’t leave hungry either.

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VIDEO: Hot Summer Gadgets

It’s not even summer yet but things are already heating up.  The place to be is OUTSIDE and on my recent “Houston Life” appearance (NBC) I showed some gadgets to help you have some fun.  Enjoy!

Click HERE to watch


 

 

 

 

 

Origin Acoustics AcoustaLandScape Outdoor Speaker System 
Nexia Wi-Fi Outdoor HD Camera
TecTecTec Golf Rangefinder
Arccos 360 Personal Golf Shot Tracking System
Huawei Watch 2 

 

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