August 29, 2013

Playskool ShowCam Review

Before BzzAgent sent the Playskool ShowCam, I doubted my 3-year-old would find it easy to use. When the package arrived and I saw how big the camera was, my first reaction, was "Oh man that's going to be too much for her." I was wrong!

My daughter's eyes popped wide open when she saw the camera and she giggled excitedly while I unpacked it and loaded the batteries (note: this camera does not come with batteries). I showed her how to turn it on and take a picture and let her take it from there.


Less than an hour later, my daughter had taken more than 100 photos, many of which were well-posed or super fun action shots. There were many portraits of her favorite stuffed animals in several poses, plus pictures of our dog, and of course me and her dad. Once she learned how to add effects, she enjoyed putting silly eyes on our faces and hats on our heads.

There are 50 silly effects to choose from!
We first tested out the projection feature in our hallway but we quickly learned to go into a dark room for the best view. For a toy camera, it's not bad. The projection looks like an old television, kind of retro.

Checking out the projection feature in a dark room
Picture size is 640 x 480, so not really big enough for prints, but still nice to look at on a computer screen or for a phone background image. Photos can be loaded onto a computer with a USB cable. We used the one we have for her Violet doll since the camera didn't come with one. I wish the connection was on the side of the camera since I have to leave the camera in an awkward position while plugged in.

We used a USB cable from another toy
A couple days later, she's still saying, "I need my camera" and "Mommy, I need to get a picture of you." She loves it.

Say cheese!
The camera body is large, which accommodates larger buttons. It's not heavy, however, so my daughter's little hands hold it up just fine. She's dropped it a couple of times, but so far, nothing has broken and my wood floors aren't dinged up.

Dog portraits
The main reason I'm giving this four instead of five stars is price. Getting it for free to try out was fabulous, but I don't believe I'd ever spend $60 on it when for just a bit more I can get a better quality point and shoot that she can play with. That said, I do love that it's durable. If it were in the $30-40 price point, I'd probably buy one as a birthday gift for my daughter's friends.

Penny loves taking photos of Scout and Violet
My daughter loves the camera and I love that she is embracing photography. Watching her feel in control of something that in her mind is very grown up is awesome. The Playskool ShowCam is a winner!

Loving the new camera!
Also, I found the photo below when downloading images from the camera. She has a knack for cool abstract photos, however unintentional they may be.

August 25, 2013

Betty Crocker Gluten Free Cookie Mix Review

For the past three years, results of a past medical test have occasionally been misinterpreted by non-GI physicians. I was aware of this situation (long story) but sometimes, a doctor would say, "you know you have Celiac, right?" (I don't) and to avoid gluten. I've always ignored their advice, knowing it wasn't valid, but with results of a new test pending, I thought it would be interesting to see what gluten free cookies taste like.

I picked up Betty Crocker's Gluten Free Cookie Mix from Hyvee because the picture on the box is really enticing. That cookie on the box looks totally yummy and, honestly, more appealing than typical boxed cookie mix.

For those of you who really need to avoid gluten, this mix calls for gluten free vanilla extract. I do not have any gluten free extract and used a Target brand vanilla. I used unsalted butter and a cage free large egg.

Like the directions suggest, I mixed this by stirring by hand, not with a mixer. Thankfully, it was a quick process, resulting in a crumbly, but moist, dough. I tasted the dough (note: raw eggs can make you sick) and it was unusually good. The flavor was light and unprocessed tasting. I was pleasantly surprised, expecting "gluten free" to mean "tasteless."

I went with a larger size cookie size and baked them on my AirBake sheet with parchment paper. When done, these cookies look and feel done, but have a slightly dough-like taste and texture. Unfortunately, since it's a crumbly cookie, quite a few fell apart when I tried to pack them up when cool. While eating, they crumble a bit as well. This is not a grab-and-go cookie.

So the taste? Really, really good. Based on taste alone, I'd buy these over any other boxed cookie mix I've tried, so yes, I'll be buying this again. It's crumbly as heck but they taste homemade. In my book, a little mess is worth it for a yummy tasting cookie.

My only pet peeve has to do with product packaging, not the cookies themselves. The nutritional information printed on the box front boasts 110 calories and 1g of saturated fat per serving. Since this is before adding butter and egg, of course it won't be totally unhealthy. It's not a big deal for me, since I'm looking to gain weight, but I wanted to point this out for those of you who believe all nutritional facts on a box should be clear and honest. Not that this isn't honest, but it's shady.

August 24, 2013 Hair Color Review

It's now May 2014 and since my original review, I've had a chance to fly out to eSalon and see how orders are processed, learn the right way to apply color, and find out the differences between box color and eSalon color. I learned a lot and have a totally different perspective now and would definitely recommend giving eSalon a try.

When you order from eSalon, be sure to upload a current, well-lit photo of your hair and don't hesitate to ask their color experts for advice. The eSalon team are experts. Let them help you find the right shade and apply color correctly. It's a learning process if you're used to box color products.

Last August, I tried eSalon. At the time, I found the color was fine in that it was even and matched what I had seen online for that shade, but it wasn't really what I was going for. eSalon's customer service was helpful, with a colorist calling to explain how their product differs from what I buy in-store and the risks of going darker or lighter with a highly pigmented  product. At the time, I decided not to try eSalon again, though I definitely thought about it every time someone commented on my review post.

In April, Courtney from eSalon called with a once-in-a-lifetime proposition. eSalon would fly me to Los Angeles to tour their facility, meet with the CEO, and have my hair colored by their color director.

I was floored.

I'm not one to say no to a chance to see the inner workings of a start-up company, so I agreed and plans were set for me to visit in early May. In the meantime, I used a clarifying shampoo once a week to try and clear out lingering color from the last time I dyed my hair, which meant when I flew out, my hair looked like it would usually look when it's time to color. I grabbed a picture from my Photostream that is close to what my hair color looked like when I left for my visit.

I straightened my hair before I left so I wouldn't look too frizzy, but I left it unwashed for about two days with no product, like I used to before a salon color appointment.

Courtney sent me a few product samples before the trip, so I could see what eSalon has been working on since my coloring experience last summer. They continue to develop new products, from color-safe shampoo and conditioner to leave-in treatments and a temporary root touch-up called Color Kiss.

Last Monday was a whirlwind. I left for the airport early in the morning. Living in a rural area, that means I was at the gate munching on breakfast a little more than 30 minutes after leaving the house. I hopped a small plane to Chicago, grabbed a snack and a magazine, and boarded a long flight to LAX. American's wifi service is convenient, so I was able to Skype with the guys at work and chat with my husband to pass the time. I even churned out a project proposal while watching (aka listening to) a movie.

From LAX, I hopped a cab to eSalon's office in Culver City. Courtney greeted me at the door, made a few introductions, and led me on a behind-the-scenes tour. Imagine a super hip brewery, but instead of beer, it's hair color. I had no idea how color is made or the range of tones that go into making the right, customized shade for each customer. It's awe inspiring.

I don't want to get into too much detail to protect their proprietary processes, but I will say they have built and evolved a process to ensure each customer gets the product that is right for their hair and that the product ordered is the product delivered. While behind the scenes, I had a chance to meet their R&D guy, a super talented Michigan grad who helps make sure products arrive as they should, without leaks or damage. Back in August, I experienced a really rare product leak. This is actually quite unusual and eSalon continues to experiment with their product packaging to make leaks even more rare than they are now. I'm very confident I won't experience another product leak.

Francisco Gimenez, the CEO of eSalon, along with Courtney, took me to lunch in a cute, trendy part of Culver City. I'm impressed with the revitalization going on there. My last trip to Culver City was about two years ago and I could see a major difference since then.

Chatting with Francisco and Courtney allowed me to share in more detail what my past experience had been with eSalon and what I have found with box color. They took the time to explain how eSalon is different, a salon-quality formula, and the benefits of using eSalon vs what I've been using. This part of my trip was incredibly educational. I'm fairly knowledgable about home color, but a lot less experienced with salon formulated products. I'm now feeling confident that not only can I have amazing color at home, but I want all my friends and family to try it, actually follow the directions (yep, I'm guilty), and enjoy a quality product that comes with outstanding service.

After lunch, Estelle, eSalon's superstar color director, talked to me about my color and custom formulated a beautiful shade of brown that is somewhere between light and medium. It's warm without the brassiness and matches my skin tone better than I've ever achieved with box color. Rather than my usual problem of darker ends and lighter roots, the color is even with a touch of lightness at the ends, how it should be.

Before leaving, I observed how customer service works and the attention to detail that eSalon's customer service team lives by. This is a team that consists of real colorists, so if you have a question about your order, or you aren't sure what color is right, you are calling or emailing experts who can look at your photos and help you find the right shade. 

Truly impressive is that customer satisfaction is a priority. If eSalon isn't right for you, someone will let you know and explain why. Maybe your hair is too damaged or you need color correction, or your goal is something that is outside the realm of traditional (bright blue, for example). It's okay to talk to eSalon about this because they'll let you know if you can't achieve a great result at home. They'd rather have you happy than sell you something that won't work for your situation.

A few days later, I was back home and eager to try my new products. Before I even had a chance to use the shampoo and conditioner on myself, my daughter needed a good washing after a trip to the kids' salon for some "rainbow hair."

We tried the shampoo and conditioner first. A little shampoo went a long way and left Miss P's hair gently cleansed and easy to comb. I added a bit of leave-in conditioner and let it air dry. The leave-in conditioner smells amazing!

Now that I've got a color I love, I have a formula in the eSalon system I can reorder whenever needed. I have a better understanding of how to apply the color and can't wait to try it at home in about two months. In the meantime, my sister is going to try eSalon so she can have a fresh look for college graduation and both my parents are willing to be my guinea pigs.

If you read my previous review, or you are on the fence, I'd now say give eSalon a shot. If you have any questions, just call them or leave a comment in your order asking for help selecting the right shade. But most of all, please, please, please read the directions. eSalon isn't like box color and the directions may be slightly different for each customer. Pay attention to where you want to apply color first (roots), the length of time to process, doing a color rinse, and shampoo when you rinse out the color.

Curious to try eSalon?
Let me refer you and get $10 off your first order! If you subscribe to their recurring order process, that would make your first order just $9.95 plus shipping, not much more than buying box color. So definitely consider trying eSalon!

Here is a link to the original review post from August 2013.

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August 10, 2013

Aveda Inner Light Tinted Moisturizer

After a relaxing facial at City Looks, I took home some Aveda Inner Light Mineral Tinted Moisturizer in "03 Sweet Tea." This tinted moisturizer promises to improve moisture up to 25% and keep hydrating for eight hours of wear. I have no idea how to measure a 25% improvement in moisture, but does it make my skin feel awesome? Yes!

I actually enjoy putting this on each day. It feels that good.

See below, I did what I'd consider a pretty typical application:

I know it's not easy to tell from these photos, but while the evened out skin tone is nice, the best part of using the tinted moisturizer is how wonderful my skin feels when it's on. My skin not only looks fresh and youthful, but it feels smooth, moisturized, and soft. A little pressed powder, blush, mascara, and lipstick, and I'm out the door in less than five minutes! It's easy to layer on more or less tinted moisturizer. I've never found that adding more leaves my skin cakey like traditional foundation. You can add more and still look normal and fresh-faced.

I do want to share that this stuff lasts all day. I have 100% switched to the Aveda tinted moisturizer for day wear. The SPF 15 helps me feel more confident spending some time outside and at the end of the day, my skin feels good, not tired and dried out like traditional foundation.

Aveda's tinted moisturizer comes in 7 shades (including a sheer, colorless one). I consider myself fairly light skinned but the "medium" level 03 was the recommendation of City Looks' makeup artist and surprisingly, it's just perfect.

I do fear this will be a pricey investment in my skin over time, but we'll see how much I use. I was assured I will get a lot of use out of one tube, which I paid $28 for. My hope is to get six months of near daily wear from it.

I don't often suggest spending more than $15 on a foundation, but this one is a worthwhile investment for anyone with very dry skin. If you normally find your foundation cakes on, looks flaky or heavy, or leaves your skin just as dry as when you applied it, go to your nearest Aveda salon and ask to try the Inner Light Tinted Moisturizer. Amazing stuff.

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