October 31, 2014

Dr. Song Rosehip Oil

I received a complementary bottle of Dr Song Organic Rosehip Oil to try in exchange for a product review. Truly, I've used rosehip oil very little, while reviewing another product several months ago. Oils are mostly my husband's territory as he uses them during and after shaving, so I let him try this one out.

I've come to the conclusion I really don't have a need for rosehip oil, but I'm not going to ding a product just because I don't see much personal value in it.

What I noticed was that Dr Song oil doesn't smell bad (I've tried some stinky rosehip oils), it's definitely moisturizing, and my skin doesn't react badly, so no irritation, which is nice. If you're looking specifically for rosehip, of the few I've tried, Dr. Song would be my preference based on my skin after using it and the smell.

This oil is really potent. Basically, a tiny amount goes a long way. I had a hard time not applying too much because even a drop for me is more than plenty. If your skin is quite dry, you might find this really moisturizing and great soothing legs after shaving.

So, overall, it's a good oil. I may not use it, but my husband probably will and if you're looking for a good rose hip oil, this one seems well produced without the stink.

I received a bottle of Dr Song Organic Rosehip Oil for free in exchange for a review. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

October 13, 2014

Vitamin C serum review

I've been trying a lot of vitamin C serums lately. This one was offered to me by Morea Naturals to try out for free in exchange for a product review. I immediately noticed it's a larger amount of serum than I get from comparably priced serums and it's in a totally opaque bottle, which I honestly don't often find. The serum itself is a bit thicker than the ones I've tried in dropper bottles and it feels like I don't need nearly as much to get the same benefits. Therefore, I get more product and I use less of it. That's enough to convince me to buy it when I run out.

The opaque bottle that Morea Naturals uses makes me happy because skincare ingredients can break down when exposed to light and the pump style makes me more confident that I'm not getting bacteria in the bottle every time I use it, which is kind of how I feel when I use a dropper style product.

It honestly can take a while to see any real benefits from using a vitamin C serum, so I'm not going to make up a story about my skin looking 10 years younger after just one week. What I will say is that my skin hasn't had any bad reactions, the quality of the serum seems high (thicker, with beneficial ingredients), the packaging is better than what I'm used to, and overall, I feel like I'm being good to my skin using a vitamin C serum. I just want to stay looking like I'm 5 years younger than I actually am for as long as I can and I feel like I can do that using this serum every night.

Here I am, makeup free and my skin looks pretty smooth and moisturized:

I've also enjoyed how moisturized my skin feels after using Morea Naturals serum. Maybe it's the green tea or the hyaluronic acid, but I do seem to have less dry skin since trying this product.

Disclaimer: I received a bottle to try for for free from Morea Naturals in exchange for an honest review.

October 9, 2014

Leather Nova cleaner, conditioner, restorer products

I was given the opportunity to try a set of Leather Nova products to try recently. While we don't have a lot of leather products, what we do have is in pretty terrible shape, so I was pretty eager to try out something that might help clean and restore a few things in my house.

My husband's had this big Ikea man-chair for 8 years and it's been through the ringer. We've moved several times, we have cats who scratch furniture, and we've never properly cleaned the leather. We also have a dining seat with leather chairs, and while the big issue there is the cat damage, they could use a good cleaning.

Leather Nova sent three products. I tried all three this week so I could see what each product does. The packaging of each is very similar, so when you're shopping online, make sure you are buying the one you want, whether it's leather cleaner, conditioner & cleaner, or conditioner & restorer.

I first used Leather Nova Leather Cleaner on the big chair. You can see in the next couple of images that we have taken terrible care of this chair. It was dull and scratched with unknown markings from animals and children.

Mystery marks on the arm of the chair
Dried out, worn seat of the chair
Leather Nova's cleaner is designed to work on leather, vinyl, and plastic furniture, clothing, purses, gloves, and saddles, and you can use it to clean the leather in your car too. You can use it to clean off dirt and oil and since it opens the pores of the leather, after using the cleaner, you are ready to treat your leather with Leather Nova's conditioning products.

I tried the Leather Conditioner & Restorer next. This step helps protect the leather after it's been cleaned, with water and rain repellant (great for jackets and purses). While the cleaner did a good job getting the grime out of my chair, it is the conditioner & restorer that helped the leather become more shiny, smooth, and soft.

Leather chair after using Leather Nova
While the cleaner did a good job getting the grime out of my chair, it is the conditioner & restorer that helped the leather become more shiny, smooth, and soft.
Chair arm after using Leather Nova
Leather Nova also makes a Conditioner & Cleaner, which had me confused because they sell just a cleaner as well and I'm not sure why I wouldn't want to just buy the one combination product or how exactly it differs from the Conditioner & Restorer (noting that the cleaner version also says it provides instant restoration).

I ended up trying the Conditioner & Cleaner on my dining room chairs and it did a pretty good job. I think they're too far gone with deep scratches and tears from Simba and Little Kitty though. 

I blame these cuties for my scratched up leather
Overall, I'm a fan of the Conditioner & Restorer and think I could find more uses for it than the other products. I also just don't like to have so many similar products around taking up space, but I think if I had more leather, I might feel differently.

One thing that did irk me a bit is the smell. Leather Nova's product description calls out a "rich, leather fragrance," but it reminded me more of the stainless steel cleaner my husband uses, or this shoe protecting spray we use on my daughter's sneakers. Not pleasant. It dissipated after a few days, thankfully.

What's nice is the big black chair looks way better, almost new. The small scratches are less visible and the scuff marks and mystery stains are completely gone. It's worth buying just for that.

Disclaimer: I received a set of products for free from Leather Nova. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

October 6, 2014

A review comparing the Roomba 581 to the new 870

iRobot provided a significant discount so I could purchase the Roomba 870 for review. The iRobot Roomba 870 is my 4th robot vacuum. The first two were also Roombas, the 530 and 581, and the more recent robot was a Neato XV21. Roomba 530 died a few days out of warranty, but iRobot awesomely sent me a 581, before they were even sold in the United States, as a replacement. The 581 has lasted more than 4 years with one replacement battery. Neato totally konked out after a year, but we aren't keen to replace him with another one.

Roomba 870 & 581
Basically, I feel like at this point, I know my robot vacuums, so here's what I think of the Roomba 870:

The 870 is much better than the 581 and the 530 before that. The beater bars are almost zero maintenance and the dust bin is way easier to empty. It's a sealed bin, so it picks up a lot more too.

Roomba 870 dust bin
What I'll call "Old Roomba" (581) got fine hairs and dirt particles but the bigger stuff would get pushed around and left in big piles when he transitioned between types of flooring, like wood to carpet or tile to wood. So a trail of stuff was being pushed around, kind of annoying and gross when I'd step in it with bare feet.

"New Roomba" (870) picks everything up and hasn't pushed anything around, ever. Of course, if I leave out a sock or drop fabric on the floor, it gets caught, but that's like all the robot vacuums, and like a traditional upright as well.

Easy-to-clean beater bar of Roomba 870
New Roomba really isn't any smarter than Old Roomba. It gets stuck under one of my couches and sometimes under my husband's recliner. It gets stuck in the bathroom when it happens to close the door while cleaning, so I have to wedge something under the door to keep it open.

Getting a room cleaned happens and it cleans well, but it takes longer than my Neato, which is more methodical about going about a room. Rooma seems more random.


I liked neato's methodical way of getting a room compared to random way roomba. super long battery life, so gets it all, just takes longer. Thanks to the extra long Roomba battery life, taking longer doesn't mean it has to stop to charge. The battery can handle my 1200+ square foot main level.

Typical emptying Roomba after cleaning my first floor
There is something I don't like about the 870, but it's not annoying enough to give it less than 5 stars. When the dust bin is full, the detector works great and puts a light on. But that's it. Roomba keeps going and there's no alert, no stopping, so unless I check on the robot, I have no way to know if it's still cleaning or just running around with a full bin. Full bin means nothing is being sucked up. For my first floor, the bin needs to be emptied once a cleaning cycle.

September 25, 2014

Jimmy Dean frozen entrees are terrible

With coupons from Jimmy Dean, I bought two Jimmy Dean frozen meals to try, Golden Roasted Turkey and Southwest Style Grilled Chicken, for free. Both had pretty enticing box photos and I know Jimmy Dean is well-known for their meat products, so I figured it had to be at least as palatable as a Stouffer's or Marie Callender's meal.

Reading about a few options on BzzAgent, they actually sounded pretty decent. Imagine a grilled steak bowl with "savory grilled steak, golden potatoes..." or a pulled pork sandwich that's "pulled pork covered in chipotle BBQ sauce on a pretzel bun."

Good marketing, I guess because the reality was so disappointing!

Both meals look pretty lovely on the box, with nice portions of meat and just a touch of sauce for flavor. What's actually in the package is mostly sauce with a little of everything else. With the chicken meal, there was a reasonable amount of meat, but again, so much sauce! I really hate when a frozen meal is just a bowl of sauce. I was hoping for a nice plated meal, not a stew.

the picture on the box and the actual meal look nothing alike
The turkey was gristly, which I'm not sure how is possible. Usually chicken in frozen meals is tough and chewy, but turkey shouldn't be. Both meals were quite salty. I expect frozen meals to have a lot of sodium, but I don't expect to really taste like that.

all sauce, almost no meat
The chicken meal had a small sprinkle of black beans, a lot of rice, a little meat (enough, I suppose), and a bowlful of sauce. The flavor isn't bad, but that isn't enough to make me feel satisfied. I'll give Jimmy Dean credit for convenience. Like many frozen meals, it's easy to microwave and eat from the bowl. But quality? Ehh... and flavor, maybe average. Maybe I'm picky, but this isn't something I enjoyed. I tried two flavors and both were pretty terrible. Unfortunately that means I won't be giving Jimmy Dean frozen meals another chance and honestly, I'm not sure I have much interest in trying other Jimmy Dean products now.

If you're curious to know more, you can visit their Facebook and Twitter pages. I'm just one opinion, so shop around for other reviews, but definitely don't buy these based on the box photography.

September 22, 2014

A review of FURREAL FRIENDS®: Get Up & Go-Go, My Walkin' Pup™

Hasbro sent me the FURREAL FRIENDS®: Get Up & Go-Go, My Walkin' Pup™ to review for free. My daughter is almost 5 and has a neighborhood full of friends her age she plays with outside nearly every day. I expected her to drag the toy out each afternoon and share it with all her friends, walking it around the block, pretending to feed it and telling it to sit and stay.

The first time she played with the dog, she quickly figured out how he works, getting him to walk and sit. After I loaded it onto my phone, she also played quite a bit with the FURREAL FRIENDS iPhone app. One neighborhood kid came by and joined the fun, but they quickly began to argue over the dog and sharing issues, which we've never had with her friends before. For a short time, they worked it out with one walking and the other sticking twigs in the dogs mouth like a bone.

I thought the sharing issues meant my daughter wanted more time with her dog, but after that first day, she really hasn't shown any interest in it or the app. Her friend comes by nearly every day asking to play with it and to borrow my phone, so I gave a coupon to her mom to get it for her birthday. If she doesn't get one, I might pass ours along as a gift since my daughter has no interest in playing with it now. Since my daughter has been in love with her Violet for four years (goes everywhere with us) and a simple stuffed dachshund, I assume each kid has his or her own preferences.

The dog is cute and works well. It's a nice size and not too heavy to pick up. It moves along the sidewalk easily and doesn't scare our real pets. However, there's not much to do with it. It walks, barks and whines a bit, and sits but I can't figure out if there's anything else that makes it more engaging. My daughter would rather play with her regular stuffed dogs than the FURREAL FRIENDS®: Get Up & Go-Go, My Walkin' Pup.

That said, given how our neighbor absolutely loves it, I wonder if it's an age thing, or just that some kids will love it and others just won't. Our daughter happens to have no interest in it.

The dog is cute and works well. It's a nice size and not too heavy to pick up. It moves along the sidewalk easily and doesn't scare our real pets. However, there's not much to do with it. It walks, barks and whines a bit, and sits but I can't figure out if there's anything else that makes it more engaging. My daughter would rather play with her regular stuffed dogs than the FURREAL FRIENDS®: Get Up & Go-Go, My Walkin' Pup.  

That said, given how our neighbor absolutely loves it, I wonder if it's an age thing, or just that some kids will love it and others just won't. Our daughter happens to have no interest in it.

One thing I need to say that absolutely irritates me is the name of this dog. I know it's hard to come up with unique trademarkable product names, but this is way too long, and way too hard to remember. If I want to tell someone about the toy, I'm definitely not going to walk up and say, "Hey have you seen the new "furreal friends get up and go go my walking pup," lol. It's a fluffy toy dog that moves on a fake leash. Companies need to get smarter about product names because sharing online sometimes has its limits too - like wasting all my available characters on a product name if I mention on Twitter. My two cents.

September 15, 2014

Covering an office chair

I have this old office chair I got on sale several years ago. Honestly, I hate how traditional office chairs look and those that are nicer tend to also be much more expensive or simply too big for little me. So I end up with those rolling task chairs that never hold up or are boring gray or black when I yearn for a pop of color.

This was my task chair. My husband took the back off since I don't really use it, but it was still kind of blah.

This was my task chair. My husband took the back off since I don't really use it, but it was still kind of blah. In my stash, I found a yard of striped home decor fabric, which looked to be more than enough to cover the chair seat.

Now, there are plenty of proper ways to cover or reupholster a chair. My way is not the most durable or neatest, but it's quick!

1. Set the chair upside down on the fabric. Since it was a wavy stripe pattern and I knew I wouldn't get a perfect straight across doing this quickly, I set the chair on the bias. That way if the stripes don't go across perfectly, it's not obvious.

2. Pull at the fabric in all directions to make sure there aren't any big wrinkles.

3. Loosely cut the fabric around the chair leaving a lot of excess in case it has to be adjusted.

4. Staple on one side a few times, then staple on the opposite side (keep it taut). I worked around kind of back and forth around the chair to make sure I was pulling evenly on all sides. Around the corners, I folded the fabric like I would for a bed corner and most of those wrinkles are underneath where no one would see.

5. When it's all secure, cut off the remaining excess. I used pinking shears to hopefully keep the fabric from fraying over time. Since it's not getting washed, this is not a huge concern.

6. Flip the chair back over and see if any fabric hangs down where you could see sitting or standing near the chair and trim that back.

That's it! Less than 10 minutes and it's a whole new chair that looks way more awesome in my office.

Now, if you don't often sew and don't have a stash of fabric, you could go to the local big sewing store, but you'll have more selection and greater access to nice home decor fabrics at a low cost by looking online. My favorite site is Fashion Fabrics Club. Shipping isn't cheap but they have really sweet deals on fabrics in their discount section and have a huge variety of home decor and apparel fabrics.

September 6, 2014

Upcoming reviews: Roomba, Jimmy Dean, Furreal Friends, & Paula's Choice

This fall, I have some exciting reviews planned! Here are just a few of the interesting products I'll be trying out in September and October:

iRobot Roomba® 870

We are on our second Roomba and it's about 6 years old so it's not terribly efficient anymore. We've also got a Neato, which works just fine but needs a new battery. I hate how loud it is so I can't wait to try out the new Roomba, which has a unique new brush style that makes it WAY easier to clean the robot and their new battery lasts twice as long. Since our first floor is nearly wide open and almost 1500 sq ft, I want to test if it can handle our space without kinking out. Thanks to iRobot for a substantial discount to buy and review the 870!

Paula's Choice Resist C15 Super Booster
You guys probably know I love Paula's Choice. I trust their reviews and expert advice on other brand products and since I also enjoy reviewing C serums, I definitely can't wait to try this one out. Paula's Choice is providing a free bottle to test.

Furreal Friends®: Get Up & Go-Go, My Walkin' Pup™
I'm really quite done reviewing this but need to come up with a decent post to explain how I feel about it. It's a toy dog for kids with a phone app that offers some additional play features that go along with the real toy. I wasn't impressed but haven't come up with a good way to explain why just yet. Soon though.

Jimmy Dean Lunch & Dinner Entrees
I have some coupons for free Jimmy Dean entrees. It's not my thing but my husband definitely wants to try some. We just can't find these in stores around here, so I'll keep looking and hopefully they'll pop up at Hy-Vee or Walmart soon.

September 3, 2014

Helping butterflies and bringing back the prairie

I live in Minnesota. Those of you who live elsewhere may think of us as cold and snowy, but there's much wonderful green and beautiful parkland to enjoy during the warmer months. Minnesota's prairie is what sold me on moving here, but less than 2% of the native prairie is left! Farming, like in many states, has taken a toll on natural landscapes, as has city expansion and housing developments. In the early 20th century, preserving and restoring the native landscape became a "thing," but it takes far longer to restore than it does to destroy. Farming is necessary and critical to our livelihood, but there are steps that everyone can take to help the environment and keep certain species from becoming extinct.

We have a tiny plot of land that is mostly house with a steep hill and tiny front yard. When we bought the house, there were a few simple plants, but most weren't a good fit for their location and either died off or aren't thriving. We need to do a good deal of landscaping in the next couple of years to prevent erosion of our hill and better handle runoff, but it's expensive. Add to that the cost of plants, even native plants, and we're looking at a very long and slow process.

While we save for the bigger projects, we're taking tiny steps to help butterflies, bumblebees, and to reduce the amount of water we use in our non-edible gardens. Eventually, we're planning to install a raingarden with help from a local grant to reimburse some of the costs, but for now, it's baby steps.

There were two huge prickly bushes along the sidewalk in front of the electrical boxes. They had to go, both for safety and for aesthetic reasons. After we pulled them out, I amended the soil and put in several young native plants.

Since it could be 2-3 years before they're full and lush, I added three gayfeather plants for a pop of color. When they're all grown, it will be pink and purple and a mecca for our bumblebees and butterflies.

The area around our tree is the beginning of a butterfly waystation. We have a basking rock, lots of flowers, shade areas and sunny areas, and places for caterpillars to do their thing. It's still an immature garden, but I expect it will look pretty full by next July. Some of the natives are from just after I bought the house, so nearly two years old and finally getting full. I'll be moving some flowering plants from elsewhere to fill out the area in front of the rock before the cold sets in. The only thing we're not adding is standing water for butterflies to drink. I'll probably spritz the flowers for water beads on hot days instead.

If you want to learn more about creating a butterfly garden, there are great resources through the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Zoo.

Here a few plant types if you'd like to get started:

  • Aster
  • Sunflowers
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Violets
  • Phlox
  • Lavender
  • Milkweed

These offer a nice variety of color and size. Be sure to plant several of each type so the butterflies will notice their preferred plant. Different butterflies each like certain plants more than others, so a nice variety will bring in more species.

September 1, 2014

Best stylist in Southern Minnesota

Ok, so I didn't take a survey to find out who is the best stylist, but I've certainly been to several and with really difficult hair to style, when I find someone awesome, I stay loyal. Since moving to Rochester and finding Kristan I haven't been anywhere else. She always gets my hair smooth and healthy, understands the craziness that is my texture and thickness, and suggests products without being pushy.

A year ago, I started taking Penny to have her hair done by Kristan because it's rather thick for a kid her age and most cuts we would get at the chain salons looked kind of blah or inappropriate for her face shape. Kristan gives Penny the real grownup experience with a kid-like twist (see the cute apron).

 I usually bring a giant sucker or other treat to distract from the less fun stuff like hair washing and sitting still for the cut. We don't have a kid-focused salon in our area, but the big lollipop usually works out well.

Penny's latest appointment was scheduled on the day of her first walk/run event (Mayo Clinic Healthy Human) so I let Penny scour Pinterest for some hair ideas. She picked a cute star braid and asked Kristan if she could come up with something similar. Penny's hair was a lot shorter than the girl in what she picked, but Kristan came up with a nice solution that looked adorable and held up all day. She got a lot of compliments while jogging around downtown Rochester.

If you live in Rochester or the surrounding small towns, definitely check out Kristan at her new salon near the Galaxy movie theater! She treats Penny like a real, grownup customer, which means Penny feels like she has her own stylist, which makes her feel really proud.

August 30, 2014

I used to be a plugins kinda girl

We had a lot of Glade and Airwick plugin things around the house. When you have three pets, one of whom is a dog who spends his days frolicking with horses and goats, you gotta have something to mask the smell of manure and dog sweat. I got tired of how quickly they run out, failed attempts at home refills, and what seems like a chemically stink of the ones from dollar stores. I love the look of reed diffusers, but I didn't know if they really add scent to the room so until recently, I never thought to buy one.

When I helped my sister move into her first apartment, I got her a nice diffuser for her bathroom and was wowed by not only the pretty look, but the great, noticeable scent. So next trip to Target, I took my husband through the smelly stuff aisles and we picked diffusers for our bathrooms. 

We have a larger one in the master bath, but chose this cute mini one for the guest bath. My husband selected Bonfire Nights from Nature's Wick as a scent he was comfortable with and I set it next to some old potpourri and waited for magic to happen.

It took a full day before the scent was really noticeable but it did happen and weeks later, it's still going strong. The scent is perfect for a bathroom, like sandalwood, kind of earthy. It's not overpowering, which is good since the room isn't huge, and the look is cute, yet subtle enough that it's not the focus of the room. That means, people notice the scent but not the scent-maker. The plug-in I used to keep there is long gone.

We still have plug-ins in the cat box room (aka laundry room), dining room, and by the front door, but I'm going to wean off those soon and put a diffuser on my dresser and the laundry room. With our crazy cats, I can't try it in the dining room or living room unless I can find something that won't spill if tipped over, but for now we'll see how things go with one room at a time. I don't want to overpower people with scent. I just want to mask the smell we get in the summer from our musky hound dog.

August 29, 2014

Painting with little kids

I'm a huge believer in art education, especially for young children. Art helps with critical thinking skills, focus, creativity, and helps with an emotional outlet before kids are able to effectively communicate verbally.

Kids don't need to paint in the lines or be neat and tidy. Messy is just fine. With Penny, we have times where we have shorter art activities with more focus to guide her fine motor skills (trying to get her to want to write letters and numbers vs type them on the iPad), but we also like to let loose. 

It's summer, so get outdoors with a big canvas or piece of cardboard. Grab some washable paint and cheap brushes and let your kids play with color. You can show them how certain colors work together and what happens when you mix them all together. Demonstrate what happens when you paint on wet color compared to when the first layer has dried. Just have fun with it!

Painting outside is a fabulous summertime activity because it's easy to hose off to keep the paint from getting on floors and walls inside, and the summer sun dries the paint fast so artwork can come right inside.

Penny had an old canvas painting she never finished so I gessoed it and let her create something from scratch with a box of paints and brushes. One afternoon, we set everything out on the lawn and she had a blast experimenting with color. Penny takes her painting seriously, deliberately selecting brushes and colors, but she also likes to have fun painting herself and me.

2-year-old Penny working on her painting

For back-to-school, we picked an Igloo Creatures lunch cooler

During a quick trip to Menards, Penny noticed this adorable lunch box on a shelf in the Halloween decoration section. It was lonely, sitting there by itself, probably misplaced by a customer. So, of course we brought it home.

Now, seriously, we were looking to add another lunch box to the collection so I can rotate through and have a clean one on hand at all times. This wasn't quite my plan, thinking I would have preferred something bento, hard plastic, or machine washable. However, it was Igloo brand, which I trust for all things cooler-related, and easy to carry, appears durable, and while it may be a bit annoying to clean out the inside, Penny will love it and that matters most to me.

The outside is kind of a relief sculpture. It's not just a printed design. The size is good for a growing kid, meaning if it lasts, we should be able to provide a filling lunch for years to come, not just while she's in Pre-K.

Inside is roomy and can be cleaned with a wet cloth. The way Penny tosses her food containers back in her lunch box, though, I expect this will be quite a mess when we send warm-up meals.

When I was looking for info on this line of lunch coolers, I learned that Igloo is revising the product line for 2015, with a couple of their characters moving forward, some getting a face-lift, and new ones releasing next year. We probably found the only one left at the store. Sadly, it looks like this guy isn't on the list to continue in 2015.

For those of you who need to send a drink with lunch, this cooler has a side pocket just for that - or for a thermos of soup. We don't send drinks but the idea of adding a soup to her lunch is quite nice. Then I can just put a sandwich and carrots inside. It's really big enough to fit it all inside at Penny's age, but when she's a couple years older, that outside pocket will be quite useful.

August 28, 2014

It's time for another awesome eSalon experience!

Last night, I was looking in the mirror at my hair and realized the color still looks pretty darn good. So I'm standing there thinking, well it can't have been that long since I colored because the overall color hasn't faded much, but when I logged in to eSalon's website to see when my next order ships, I was shocked that it's scheduled for early next week!

It has been almost 10 weeks, so I left the order as scheduled and added a bottle of color-safe shampoo and conditioner and the handy cape that eSalon sells, so instead of dying my shoulders, I can keep 'em clean.

If you want to know why I post about eSalon so frequently, or why I just love the brand, check out my May 2014 post about eSalon. I'm really proud to be a customer, and there are few companies that leave me with a good feeling: eSalon, The Honest Company, Target, ModCloth, and Craftsy.

I'm looking at that list and what they seem to have in common is a primarily web-based experience and being relatively small, yet successful startups. But what else exists is a commitment to a great customer experience, whether online or in the store. These are companies I would feel comfortable working for, not just being a customer - okay, maybe not the big corporate experience of Target - but you get the idea.

I'm trying something new as well - for the next few weeks, I'm going to look through my blog and Facebook comments and pick some lucky people to get $10 off an eSalon product order. That means you could try one of eSalon's awesome styling products at a substantial discount! Comment on my blog or my Facebook page and share your coloring experiences in detail and tell me if you've tried eSalon in the past and I'll pick a few people to get $10 off a product order.

In the meantime, if you're ready to try eSalon hair color for the first time, let me refer you and get $10 off your first order! Subscribe to their service and your first order is just $9.95 plus shipping!

An inside look at my wish list: August 2014

My Amazon wish list has evolved over the summer. I got some books I've wanted and my daughter got some books and toys on her list. So what's on there now?

Even though I'm stepping away from plug-ins, I did absolutely love Glade's toasted marshmallow scent. It was the most real smelling, delicious one I've tried but alas, was a seasonal offering.

Note: I drafted this a few days before posting and in the meantime found one toasted marshmallow pack at Menards, so of course, I snatched it up and plugged them in at home. So far, a neighbor kid walked in and said, "wow, what's that yummy smell?" Win!

There's a cookbook I want, as if I don't have enough already. My daughter and I aren't big meat eaters but I struggle to come up with new vegetarian meal ideas. The Accidental Vegetarian: Delicious Food Without Meat looked like a good book to try.

We have lunch boxes but I'm trying bento style this year. Finding a box that won't leak and isn't too big or too small and can be easily brought to school by 4-year-old and doesn't have famous cartoon characters on it, well that's a fun challenge. This one is cute though!

Note: During that trip to Menards, Penny found this lunch box sitting alone on a shelf. We brought it home to try, so I guess we're good on lunch boxes for a while.

Penny watches a lot of Tinkerbell but doesn't know the story of Peter Pan. It might be fun to start with a Peter Pan Little Golden Book.

I am getting into pattern drafting but lack some of the useful tools to square down and make certain curves (I have a set of French curves and a ruler). This set looks like a nice treat for myself around Christmas if budget allows.

There are plenty of other items like moisturizers and retinol, hair creams, mascaras to try, clothes, and kitchen gadgets, but most won't end up purchased. It's just fun to browse and mark down what looks interesting.

August 25, 2014

Art Activities for Kids: Bean Mosaics

After a visit to family day at the Rochester Art Center, we got the idea to make mosaics with dried beans during the downtime while camping. It's pretty easy, loads of fun, and a good way to work on motor skills, creativity, color and contrast, and gluing skills.

While we definitely loved making mosaic art, what ended up being unexpectedly fun was simply putting together sets of colored beans.

I grabbed some craft paint (and a few colors from my collection of heavy body acrylics - I don't recommend that). We put some beans on a paper plate and I drizzled paint over them. Penny took a brush and used it to move the beans around until they were well coated.

We waited for the paint to get tacky and then I transferred the beans to another plate to dry. This just helps them stick less to the plate, but it would probably be okay to scrape them off after they dry on the first plate.

You could also work faster by putting the beans in a baggie and coating them in paint like using Shake and Bake on a pork chop.

When we had a nice collection of colors using two bags of beans, I put them (after they're dry) into bags and packed them with a few sheets of thick paper and Mod Podge for the trip. It turned out to be a great activity for camping, easy to set up on a picnic table for kids and adults to enjoy.

August 24, 2014

How do I get my kid to take a shower?

Until recently, my daughter absolutely would not take a shower. We're nearing five years of just baths and it drives me a bit nutty. Baths are fine but they take a long time and aren't always the healthiest choice after she's added bubbles and colors and sits in shampooey water. We've cut back on the bubbles and don't use soap until the end of bath time, but how I longed to just say, "how about you take a quick shower?"

My husband explored some options since the biggest issue is that my daughter was scared of the steady stream of water spraying from what she perceives as very high over her head. He found this fishy shower head adaptor that makes it so the water comes down from a much lower spot on the wall without a permanent change to our shower. You do have to switch things up a bit (super quick) for grownup showers, but it's fairly easy to install and does the trick. She takes showers now!

We did find, like many other customers (see Amazon's reviews), the hose is a bit short and the plastic is cheap. But it works, I don't care that it's cheap, and my daughter will shower. So, I love it.

The official name is Rinse Ace My Own Shower Children's Showerhead if you're looking for it online, or just check it out on Amazon. We found it at Fleet Farm for not much more than the online price.

August 19, 2014

Alpaca products for your home

My friend and coworker, Brett, runs Pauley Alpaca Company in southeast Minnesota. I was familiar with the amazing yarns they sell, but until I went to their open house recently, I had no idea all the cool, unique alpaca products you can find.

alpacas want you to buy stuff
At the open house, I bought a bar of soap that is covered in dyed alpaca fur. Not only does it smell lovely, but the soap isn't slick like a plain bar, doesn't seem to stick to the tub, and seems to be lasting longer, probably because it's not all melting into the tub water. It's quite clever and pretty to look at so makes for a great gift idea or for a guest bath.

alpaca-wrapped bar soap
Pauley Alpaca Company sells more than yarn and soap (soap was only available in the gift shop). They sell these neat dryer balls that help reduce static cling and wrinkling as a natural alternative to dryer sheets. They'll last for years, so you can buy a set of 6 for $30 and be done with sheets. Talk about saving money!

In our house, we focus on reducing waste and living a more Earth-friendly lifestyle, so I love the idea of never tossing another dryer sheet in the garbage. Since the answer to that lately has been to not use dryer sheets, I'm thrilled at the idea of dryer balls I can use to keep clothes fresh without added waste.

So if you want beautiful yarn (see this Snapchat from my sister):

snap chatted picture of an alpaca yarn scarf
or maybe dryer balls, compost for your garden, socks for cold winters, or a cute alpaca stuffed animal, check out PAC for some neat stuff.

August 15, 2014

Crafting with Creativebug

I'm an experienced sewer who mostly made kids clothes and crafts until six months ago when I started using Craftsy. I love the easy of picking a class and having permanent access, the ability to get answers from the instructor, and the depth and quality of each class I've taken. I know they're not all fabulous as I read reviews before picking a class, but so far, I've had amazing success at picking classes with so much information it's like I've been attending in person.

That should give you a sense of my expectations of an online crafting platform.

Creativebug invited me to review their crafting website, which offers a similar style as Craftsy, but with different enrollment models and more short-term workshops that remind me of quick lectures or Craftsy's free mini-classes.

The first class I picked was Homemade Apothecary. It was well-timed because I had a tub of shea butter and a desire to make some homemade products for my husband. We went to our co-op and got some other ingredients and watched the short video on how to make toner and lip balm.

The class was only 30 minutes long, so there wasn't much substance. I honestly felt like I was getting nothing out of it because I have found more information in random blog posts. Some things were the same product with different labels. It just was very simple. I was hoping to make something more lotion-like, but there wasn't any information on making that type of skincare product.

I gave Creativebug another try and looked for classes on painting. I want to learn watercolor, but painting options were limited. So next, I looked for quilting and picked one that teaches the basics of machine quilting. I've made some simple quilts before but actually don't know how to make them properly and never so much as read a book on the subject.

This time, I felt like the instructor does know her stuff and has a lot to offer but in the very short lesson, I didn't learn anything new. I know it's for beginners but it seemed aimed at people new to a sewing machine, not just new to quilting.

I watched some sewing classes and looked at the options. There's a lot for people who do paper crafts but that isn't something I have any interest in. I mostly like fabric crafts. There was a good class on making a round pillow, but while the content was more thorough and engaging, the instructor wasn't relatable. Maybe that's a personal thing, but I didn't enjoy her lesson style.

As for the site itself, it's not easy to navigate. It's okay for browsing, but there aren't a lot of ways to drill down to just the type of classes you want and I didn't see a way to just look at more substantial classes vs the super short ones.

I'm not a fan of the pricing model, but that's because I prefer to engage in one class and work on it for a while and come back to it later, but I don't like doing a whole bunch of different things in a short time. If you sign up on subscription, you can do it all but you pay every month and when you stop paying, you lose access. Comparing my favorite class at Craftsy, a couture sewing class, that one would have cost $70+ and I'm not done with it yet.

If you like shorter, quick workshop experiences to learn something here and there, Creativebug may be perfect. If you want to engage with instructors and go more in-depth on long-term projects, Craftsy seems to have more to offer.

I'm guessing there are a lot of people who are a fan of one site or the other and a few who visit both sites. Creativebug is neat. There are a lot of what I'd call "mini classes" but it's not for me.

 I received a month of access to Creativebug for free using Tomoson.com.