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

August 14, 2014

Art Activities for Kids: Watercolor Painting

I'm an artist and I want to encourage my daughter to embrace and enjoy art no matter her professional aspirations. She's still quite young at 4 years old, so art time has to be super fun, quick, cleanable (yet messy), and to entice her, it needs to relate to something I'm working on - using mommy's paint brushes or markers.

This week, we're working on watercolors. I have practically no experience with watercolor painting. In college, my classes focused on gouache and acrylic, and a bit of oil, but never traditional watercolor. After a quick web search, I found a tutorial on basic techniques and got a set of cheap paints to start with.

12-tube Fine Touch watercolor paint set for $7.99 at Hobby Lobby
I had a pad of Strathmore student quality water color paper I've used for other projects, so I pulled off a couple pieces and put them each on a sheet of large fingerpaint paper. Fingerpaint paper is great for using as palette paper to mix colors and protects the table from any bleed through or small spills.

Strathmore watercolor paper pad for $5.99 at Hobby Lobby
Penny usually paints rainbows or trains from memory, so I encouraged her to try drawing from real life. She referenced a flower basket she made at camp for inspiration and selected colors that came close to the colors in her still life model. She didn't need to mix too much, but she was able to easily make a lovely pink for the flowers.

Mixing paint colors on fingerpaint paper
While I worked on a painting of flowers, she began by outlining the basket, filling it in with impressionist style flowers and added the handle last. I reminded her once to use more water since she's used to craft paints she doesn't water down, but for the most part, she worked independently.

Penny's watercolor painting of a homemade flower basket
Her final piece is really cute and definitely captures the spirit of her craft project. What was great was this was a nice 30 minute indoor activity for a hot afternoon and we have plenty of supplies left for future projects. Using dollar store brushes, this activity costs just $1 each time you sit down to paint, using the materials I used. There are cheaper materials (generic kids watercolors and inexpensive stationary paper), but using a slight step up like the entry-level student watercolor paints and papers lets your child feel like they're doing something that mommy would do. Kind of cool!

Mommy's watercolor painting of a flower

August 13, 2014

Fun with Shea Butter: Cleopatra's Choice 100% Organic African Shea Butter

Cleopatra's Choice sent me a free tub of pure shea butter to try and I do like it enough that I'd buy it myself when I run out. It's definitely been valuable in our house.

At first I had no idea what to do with this stuff, but I read some homemade skincare recipes online and ran kitchen experiments for a week. Now, I've made aftershave for my husband, body butter for me, face cream for friends, and even used it as is on my cuticles at night.

Homemade calming cream
I love that you can melt it and use it for so many skincare needs or leave it alone and use it as it comes.
100% Organic African shea butter
Shea butter has a lot of skincare nutrients like Vitamins A and E and works fast to help with dry, cracked skin. It's like a super powerful moisturizer that's often one ingredient in other lotions and creams. This is the pure thing, just shea butter, which means you know what you are putting on your skin and can skip all the added fragrances and irritants if you have sensitive skin.

It's a fairly affordable way to keep your skin happy and healthy, so check it out on Amazon if you're ready to buy or want to read more reviews.  

I received a tub of shea butter for free using I only recommend products I believe will be good for my readers.

August 4, 2014

Enter to Win a Bottle of Azure Naturals Ultimate C Skin Repair Serum

I'm kicking off a giveaway for Azure Naturals! 
Want a chance to win one of three bottles of vitamin C serum? Keep reading to find out how to enter (bottom of post). Enter by August 14 at midnight for a chance to win!

I have been using a vitamin C serum for a few months, since I first had a chance to review a product through Tomoson. I honestly don't know if it does anything for my skin since I don't necessarily see any major changes, but I feel like I'm doing good things and helping my skin stay youthful and healthy as I approach 40.

Azure Naturals offered a bottle of their Ultimate C Skin Repair Serum for me to try and I made sure to give it a few weeks before reviewing. With these types of products, there isn't going to be a miracle cure, overnight magic, all-powerful change. It's more about preventing future issues, helping your skin age gracefully, and staying healthy. What I look for is whether my skin reacts, do I break out, is there a smell or residue, and do I have any problems wearing makeup after applying a serum.

With Azure Naturals, I liked that it was super easy to use. The dropper doesn't drip unless I squeeze it (these little things matter). The bottle color is dark, which will help keep the vitamin C stay fresher longer with less impact from the light. I prefer pump products, but I think most of these serums come in this dropper apothecary style bottle, so it's fine.

I didn't break out. I didn't have redness. I didn't react negatively at all. It's so easy to apply and absorbs quickly that I use it every day, sometimes twice because it's such an easy part of my skincare routine. I'd like to add it to my husband's homemade aftershave, but I'm still researching the safest and best way to make that at home.

I still have plenty left and I'll keep using it until I'm out. Then, I suppose I need to decide whether to buy it again and it this point, I can't see why I wouldn't.

Want a chance to win a bottle of Azure Naturals vitamin C serum? See below for details!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Check out Azure Naturals on Facebook or on the web.

Note: I received a bottle of vitamin C serum for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Using Australian Tea Tree Oil For Home and Skincare

My husband had a beard and mustache for a long time but decided it was time for a change, got himself a straight razor kit and shaved. The problem is his neck area is tough to shave. The hair grows in different directions and the skin in that area is super sensitive. He hasn't found anything that really helps and so he gets some redness, irritation, and acne when he shaves. One evening after shaving, he asked if there was anything I could make that would help. I like a good challenge!

I had a couple review products on hand, so I first grabbed Apothecary Extracts 100% Pure Tea Tree Oil and a few other things (I'll post about making the aftershave later this week) and whipped up a creamy and calming treatment that included several drops of tea tree oil to help prevent acne and reduce redness after shaving.

Thanks to the free recipe guide that came with the bottle of tea tree oil, I learned about all the ways that you can use it around the house. I'm not a huge believer in "one-size-fits-all" products, but there are definitely some great ways to reduce the amount of store bought products and make quick cleaners and skin treatments at home. You can use it to help with dandruff, with tooth brushing, and keeping refrigerator door gaskets clean.

While my husband tolerates it well, the smell is too much for me and gives me a headache. Everyone reacts to scent differently but it's strong enough that I would be cautious to never use any tea tree oil lotions or creams before going to work just in case people have allergies or sensitivities. Everyone has different workplace guidelines, but I tend to err on the side of caution.

I haven't tried it on my hair because I'm extra careful about maintaining my color and don't want to risk trying anything homemade unless I'm ready to touch up the roots. I get dry scalp in the winter, so that might be when I try a homemade scalp treatment if I can balance the tea tree oil aroma with something a bit less potent.

It's been fun to experiment with homemade products, but I don't know that I'd buy this again. It's a good product, but it's too strong a scent for me.

One thing I should mention - I usually like to research a company that is offering a review product before I post, but this is one of the few that are hard to check out. I couldn't find a website and have found several possible parent companies. It's a bit inconsistent when I'd want to know more about who is making a product I'm putting on my body. Though the product label says it's Australian, it's bottled in the USA, so I don't know if this is an Australian or American company, where it's based, who runs it, and the background on how they got started. It may not be necessarily in order to form an opinion about a product, but it's just good business to be transparent.

Here's a link to the Amazon product page if you want to read other reviews or order the product:

Note: I received a bottle of Australian Tea Tree Oil for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.