Make Free Music Videos with Animoto

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You too can create videos like this one for FREE! Animoto allows you to turn your photos and videos into 30 second slideshows with very little effort. All you have to do is upload 8-10 images, arrange them in the order of your choosing, pick out a song and theme (earth, water, fire, classic) and let Animoto create a music video for you. They choose the transitions and make sure the timing works with the song. You can even add text, like I did for the video above. One of the difficulties I’ve had with the service is not knowing how many photos will fit in my video. I often upload the number recommended with two or three text slides and find out that the last 2 photos didn’t make the cut. I think this may have to do with the length of the songs I choose; some are less than 30 seconds long.

However, if you’re looking for something more elaborate, you could just purchase an All Access ($30/year) or a Pro account ($249/year). For $249 a year you can make music as long as you want, as many as want. Unlike the free account, they won’t be branded–no Animoto graphics for you. With a professional account you also have the option of downloading your videos so you can upload them where you please and create DVDs. Members with free accounts can email their videos or share them on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Blogger, MySpace and a few other places. Videos can also be embeded on a person’s website. However, the video above had to be exported to YouTube first, then the embed code for that was used here on this blog.

I like using Animoto because I know next to nothing about editing videos, but I do like to showcase our commercial clients, like Rejuvenation Station Studios. I usually export my video creations to YouTube and then share that link on Twitter and our Facebook page. If you’d like to try out Animoto for yourself click here to create your free 30 second video. Don’t forget to show us what you made!

Banyan Tree Catering: New Partner of Patrons

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Debbie Murray

We’re happy to announce our newest Partner of Patrons, Banyan Tree Catering. If you’re looking to cater an event of any size, on any budget, you need to call Debbie and Nevar Murray of Banyan Tree Catering. You may have seen Debbie on the Home Shopping Network (HSN) with world-renowned chef, Wolfgang Puck. In fact, they’re on the air all weekend, for Wolfgang’s 12th Anniversary, selling all kinds of wonderful WP products like a rice cooker, 3-in-1 blender, convection oven, knife set, grill/griddle and a cook set.

In addition to being an on-air demonstrator, Debbie is also a cookbook author (she has 8 published so far!) and has been catering for the elite in Tampa Bay. Her beautiful daughter, Nevar, recently worked the star-studded  Governor’s Ball and other red carpet events with Wolfgang Puck.

This mother-daughter duo is known for making delicious food that looks amazing. They cater weddings, dinner parties, graduations, benefits. Patrons Insurance Agency customers can get a special discount of 10% off. Just print out your coupon here. You can also find Baynan Tree Catering on Facebook.

Contact Debbie at 727-403-4978 or debbie@banyantreecatering.com. Don’t forget to tell her that we sent you.

Car Shopping – Retrospective

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Just recently the time came up to purchase a new car for our family. Our sedan served us well, but its time had come. Not only did it not start at times, but the cooling system was gone. (Who doesn’t like pulling their car over to cool down every 10 minutes? Oh, wait, that’s me.)

In our car search, as a family of four (with two small children) the main things that we were concerned with were safety and affordability. A good look over government crash test ratings immediately ruled out some car options. We wanted 5 stars on all impact angles, and 4+ star rollover.

After we had a list of  attractive and safe options, we evaluated cost. The true total cost to own a car is much more than ticket price alone. Factors like gas mileage, dependability, and cost of repairs can quickly make a car more expensive over the life of your five-year loan and beyond.

As a family, we also wanted a car with some features (power locks and windows are a must with two small children!). But, too many features–however fun or useful they may be–can quickly add up to a greater number of very costly and unnecessary repairs in a few years.

Depreciation is also something we wanted to consider, as paying a little more now was worth getting a much larger resale or trade-in several years from now. Lastly, we were concerned with the cost of insurance, because our insurance premium would be just as regular a payment as the car payment itself, and last as long as we owned the car.

A helpful website in this process was Edmunds.com. Some especially helpful information were professional and customer reviews, cars’ true market value so you don’t overpay, current dealer incentives so you don’t miss out, and details about features and gas mileage.

There are also some tools that were valuable, especially the True Cost To Own calculator, which takes many of the above financial concerns and calculates the approximate true cost to own over a five-year period. We were surprised to find that despite differences in ticket prices, our two final choices of a Honda CR-V and a Mazda 5 were essentially the same price, total cost to own.

Due to better reviews and more space, we decided that the Honda CR-V would be the right car for our family. Finally, to help us find the right time to buy, we were even able to utilize the Predictive True Market Value to get the best price for our vehicle!

Flood Insurance For Your Business

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My husband’s family lives in Rhode Island, along with our friends at Astonish Results. Last night my mother-in-law told me that the Warwick Mall recently reopened after being closed for nearly five months. In March, Warwick, Rhode Island underwent historic flooding. You can see how severe the damage was in this photo gallery. Dan says the mall was at or below sea-level. It took millions of dollars to restore the mall.

If you own a business here in Florida, you know you need flood insurance. It rains here nearly every afternoon and evening. Can you afford to rebuild or put your business on hold due to flooding? One of the mall’s largest department stores, Macy’s, isn’t scheduled to reopen until the Spring of 2011. They must have lost so much keeping their store closed for so long. Just think of all the employees who were suddenly out of work.

If you’d like to learn more about commercial and flood insurance, please call us at 1-888-721-1949 or stop by our office at 11322 Seminole Boulevard in Largo, Florida. You can also check out www.FloodSmart.gov and find out if your business in a low-to-moderate risk area or a high risk area–if it’s in the former you may qualify for a lower/preferred rate. Don’t forget that there’s a 30 day waiting period for flood insurance from the date of purchase to the date the policy goes into effect. So don’t put off that phone call or business.

Restaurant Review: The Conch Republic

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16699 Gulf Boulevard North Reddington Beach, FL

One of my favorite things about my birthday is the traditional birthday dinner out with my family. Every year my parents let me pick where I want to eat and buy us all dinner. I love to try new places so I asked my friends on Facebook for recommendations. They said I should go to the Conch Republic on North Reddington Beach, so I did.

The food was awesome! We started with the smoked fish spread on Club crackers that was so good that my fish-hating dad ate it and so did my 3-year-old. My son kept eating the spread off the same cracker (yes, it became gross) and asking for more. Then, I had a house salad with bleu cheese dressing–pretty good. For my main course, I had the Stuffed Pork Chop–amazing! It was a Bone-in oak-grilled pork chop butterflied stuffed with their own apple bacon chutney dressing, topped with an apple walnut glaze. I only wish I could’ve eaten while it was hot. I was holding the baby when it came out, but it was delicious at a few degrees above room temperature.

I would love to go back, but next we’ll go with the kids when it isn’t so busy. We went on a Friday night and the restaurant was packed. We were seated very close to a full bar so it was cramped and LOUD! It was also difficult to get a high chair. There was only one left when we showed up at 6:30p.m., but the buckle was broken, something my 7-month-old can’t be without. We had to take turns holding him and eating until another chair was free, which wasn’t until halfway through our main course. Yet, these were my only issues and I could easily avoid them by eating there on a weeknight or at lunch time. And, if you don’t have little ones and don’t mind some noise, it’s not an issue at all.

On the bright side, the food was great and everyone sitting to the right of the bar had a great view of the beach. The staff was very friendly and helpful and it was reasonably priced ($15-$25 per person). Next time I’ll try some of their seafood, like the Cedar Plank Salmon or the Fresh Gulf Grouper (my mom and husband had, and loved, grouper sandwiches).

Just a reminder, Patrons Insurance Agency insures restaurants and other businesses. If you’d like choosing a policy for your business, please call us at 727-394-1890 or get a free quote online at www.patronsinsurance.com.

Win Giveaways

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One of my favorite coupon bloggers, Mindi over at Moms Need To Know, is teaming up with 10 other female bloggers to give away tons of prizes from their sponsors. All week long they’re announcing new prizes like laptops, $100 AMEX gift cards, backpacks, snapfish.com gift cards, and much more. All the winners will be announced this Friday. If you’d like to join the fun, “like” the Win Giveaways page on Facebook. There you’ll find out who’s giving away what prizes. Entering is easy and you can do so multiple times. They usually ask that you leave a comment…

1. about their post
2. that says you subscribe to their blog
3. that you shared the giveaway on Facebook
4. that you tweeted the giveaway

Sometimes you can enter more than 4 times. It’s very easy! I actually won a $20 Diapers.com gift certificate in one of Mindi’s giveaways last week and my order should arrive tomorrow. Some of the prizes can be won on all the blogs and other prizes can only be won on one or two. However, they’re all giving away a $100 AMEX gift card from Invisalign Teen, a Land’s End backpack and Belkin laptop messenger bag with accessories. Just keep checking the Win Giveaways Facebook page for the latest postings. Good luck! Don’t forget to let us know if you’re a winner.

We Have a Winner!

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Congratulations to Facebook fan, Laura G., who won our I ❤ The Road photo contest. Here’s the winning photo…

"Our arrival in Ila, Georgia! Others should go there because they have plenty of fencing to crash through, someone has to finish the job." -Laura

Laura clogged up all her friends’ News Feeds with requests for votes. Her friends were annoyed (I think she liked that), but she was able to secure the lead. Great job, Laura! She stopped by our office on Wednesday to pick up her prize, a $25 VISA gift card. Here’s a photo of Dawn awarding her the gift card…

Maybe she'll buy a new pair of sunglasses with it.

Laura, thanks for stopping by. We hope you’ll come back soon and remember us when you need to shop for insurance. We plan on doing more contests and giveaways in future, so please keep checking back. In fact right now, we’re just a few fans shy of 300 on Facebook and when we hit that number we’ll randomly choose 3 of those fans for prizes. Click here to learn more.

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