Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December in Review

Hello!  It's been awhile, hasn't it?  I meant to take a little break from blogging over the holidays and a week turned into, well you know...  Things were busy, a bit stressful, but also lots of fun.  In December our Elves on the Shelf came back.  That's Holly above, all tucked into her gift wrapping sleeping bag for a well deserved nap.  The magic continues to be real for both our eight and three year old.  ER even wrote out little signs for each one and had a welcome back note waiting for both.

My alumnae chapter of Kappa Delta Sorority had a Pinterest party for our December event.  We made cute ornaments out of clear bulbs, and it was fun to be surrounded by so much creativity!  I was really impressed by the Santa and Rudolph ones made by filling them with glitter and then adding paint details.

I also had farro for the first time, in a dish also made with butternut squash.  Now normally, I stay away from any form of winter squash and "weird" new grains aren't too high on my to try list, yes at times I am as adventurous as a toddler when it comes to eating!  Maybe it's true and bacon really does make everything better, but this was delicious and a big hit at the party.  I would never in a million years have predicted that!

One of the biggest things to happen at home, was that our basement project is finally finished!  Or at least close enough to begin moving our stuff in, organizing, and setting up my new crafting and office area.  I'm currently writing up this blog post in the new space.  I think the last cosmetic things to be done are adding the last of the flooring to the stairs and touch up painting on the stairway.

This was how it looked before we moved in all the furniture and bought a new sofa.  It's set up for the Christmas Craft Brownie meeting, that was scheduled to happen that night.

I'm the last remaining leader out of the original three of our troop.  I plan on stepping down this year, and our size has dwindled so now it's possible to do more elaborate things with the girls.  We decorated cupcakes, that's ER's wreath above, and also made waterless snowglobes, 5X7 handprint snowmen canvases, and plastic spoon snowmen pots.  It was a lot to fit in our two hours but the girls really loved the variety of projects.

I linked the projects we did to the pins on Pinterest that inspired them.

We also did our own crafting, ER made the mini wreath, she got to go crazy picking out glittery floral decor for it and had a grand ol' time.  LB made the craft stick glittered snowflake in preschool and was very proud of his surprise gift.  He also made trees, like these, but never quite finished them. Both of them made the annual gingerbread house with Daddy.

We spent a lot of quality time with family and friends: holiday parties, special outings, play dates over break, and out of town visitors.  The kids were glad one special guy in red came by, and as usual between Santa, the Grandparents, and us...the kids had no shortage of presents.

I hope your Christmas and holiday season was a full of happy memories, as ours was!


Friday, December 12, 2014

Sugar Paper Planner Comparison & Thank You to SweetSimplifiedLife

First, I wanted to quickly thank the really lovely YouTuber SweetSimplifedLife.  I recently began following her and was even fortunate enough to win one of her giveaways! She sent me this pretty pink and gold 15"x12" wall calendar (similar).  It's got nice big spaces to write all our activities in and plenty of room for notes too.  I love the pretty script font used for the months! Thank you so much!

The then new planner & calendar line by Sugar Paper at Target was how I found her channel, as I was looking for reviews.  Her video gave me a sneak peek at the new products for 2015, even though technically they had been released, they were late in arriving at my local Targets.  At first I felt 1) odd that I was the weird planner stalker lady and 2) somewhat relieved by the YouTubers sharing their Sugar Paper hauls.  I wasn't the only person anxiously awaiting these planners!

I used their pink 8.5"X11" planner last year and I really liked the size, basically it's like a spiral notebook.  I get so many schedules and notes from my kids' schools that it's easiest to clip them to the back cover for quick reference.  The plastic covers are sturdy enough to hold everything securely. I like having everything all in one place without having to cut down or fold any of the notes they bring home from their teachers.  While it is bigger than many other planners, since it's spiral bound I'd just fold it in half and still be able to see my entire week at a glance.

I also liked last year's format, shown above, which had the week all on one side and then a full page for notes on the other.  This was great for making lists and planning.  All in all, it was an inexpensive but well laid out planner that wasn't plain jane like other planners in the same price range.  For me, that's what made the Sugar Paper products such an anticipated buy for 2015.

I'm not as happy with the new planner layout.  Now the days of the week are spread out over both sides and the weekend days only get half as much space as the weekdays.  There is only one full page for notes at the very end of the planner.  I think Sugar Paper might have switched over to this format for it's weekly layout because it does seem to be more of a standard layout and is similar to the one Kate Spade uses. Also, I preferred the dates to be extra large, like in 2014,  That works a lot better for the visually challenged, like me!  

After taking a look at the offerings this year I did select this design, because it came with a pink interior, but am not sure if I'll keep it.  I won't want to use it if the front gets all gunked up and the front piece is white with gold polka dots.  It's just cardstock weight and not laminated like the 2014 front page was, so I anticipate the white page getting bent up and stained.  Yes it's certainly beautiful, but will it stay that way even with the plastic over protectors?

The main points in favor of the 2015 planner are:
  • Sturdy plastic covers - these are now a frosted & semi transparent versus the full opaque pink color so I'm already worried about them getting dirty looking.
  • Laminated month tabs - same as last year
  • Full month at a glance - nice large format that covers both sides of the page
  • Daily entries now have lines to write on
  • Size - slightly larger than 8.5X11, still perfect for adding notes and schedules that come from school etc without having to cut down or fold.
  • More aesthetically pleasing but perhaps at the detriment of durability & extra reference sheets, see below for more on this
  • Pink is the main interior design color - this is my personal preference versus navy blue or gold.  Glad they provided color choices!
  • Inexpensive cost, $9.99
Drawbacks to the 2015 planner:
  • Thin pages - bleed through and ghosting possible, this is the same as last year
  • Front piece is no longer laminated - by this I mean the first page you see when you turn the thick plastic cover.
  • White front piece - is likely to be easily damaged, bent, etc. mine came with a very slight blemish already on it and the other two at the store were already significantly marked up
  • No "Yearly Overview" page - in the 2014 version an over view page of 2014 & 2015 was provided on the back of the front piece.
  • No "Quick Reference" sheet for important addresses - I liked to add doctor & school information here, to make calling for appointments easier
  • No "States, Capitals & Time Zones" page - I don't really need this but wanted to note that versus last year this feature is missing, without any thing really replacing it.
  • No weekly full page for notes - only one full blank lined page in the entire planner
  • Weekend daily entries are half the size of weekday entries
  • Dates - printed in a significantly smaller size
  • Font - again this is personal, but I wish they'd have used the same pretty cursive font as on the calendar I won, for the months instead of the all capital font they selected.  

All that being said, overall, the 2015 8.5"X11" Sugar Paper planner still delivers an on trend and attractive planner for a very reasonable price.  There is a lot to love, while still some drawbacks.  Not my perfect dream planner and I don't like it nearly as much as last year, but still a nice fit for just $10!


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Birchbox: November & December 2014

*Referral Link Included

I've got a two for one post today, since I forgot to ever share my November box.  I'm not sure how it slipped my mind as I was excited to finally be able to select a Guest Editor Birchbox.  I have now spent enough to earn Aces status so I got early access.  November's was a partnership with BuzzFeed Life the resulted in the Happy Holiday Hacks box.

I have never been able to choose the Guest Editor box because they've always been sold out when I tried to choose before.  I picked it without thinking too much.  I've had a little bit of selection remorse as I've been seeing some amazing boxes this month, but knowing my luck I would'n't have gotten one similar to the ones I've liked.

(4 out of 5 items, I had misplaced the mask!)

Here's what came in mine, from left to right in the photo above, none of which were a surprise.  I think it's just a case of the grass is always greener that's keeping me from loving what I got...that and the Silver Spruce scented Greenleaf candle!  Whew, that's stronger than I would've liked.

Dr. Lipp Original Nipple Balm for Lips, full size $14.50: Great for lips—and cuticles too, this isn't usually something I'd get excited about but it does really work and well!  I save it for my cuticles and since we've already got snow on the ground, I'm probably going to need it this winter!

amika Perk Up Dry Shampoo, $9 for 1fl oz.: I've gotten a sample of this before and it absorbs oil and adds volume and smells pretty nice.  Plus, let's be honest, I like the pretty container.  I don't use dry shampoo very often but recently went through my samples so it great to have more!

Greenleaf Signature Candle in Silver Spruce, $1.92 per votive:  This is described as a fresh wintery aroma of crisp Siberian Fir and cedarwood, softened with sandalwood.  It's not for me but I might light it once our artificial tree is up because I do miss the smell of a real tree.  I just don't think I'd feel the need to burn a candle to get the scent very often.

Mirenesse iCurl Secret Weapon 24hr Mascara, full size $35.96.  This claims to have a formula that lengthens, curls, and lasts.  Those are all things I'd love to find in a mascara but I've got three other samples open right now.  I'm going to hold off on trying this, so I'm sorry I can't give any feedback yet.  I did see that it's one of sample choices for December, so if you're interested you might try to snag one for your box.

NOT SHOWN in PICTURE: Dr. Jart+ Pore Minimalist Mask, $7.50 for one mask.  I have really liked the Dr. Jart samples I've gotten so far and I although new to masking, I've been loving how my skin feels after the ones I've tried so far.  I just got my first facial, loved it, and was told that I don't really have large pores except for a few around my nose.  I guess I don't really need minimizing products anymore.  This is also supposed to refresh and refine skin plus detox, tighten, & brighten in minutes so I'm still excited to try it, but it's probably too pricey for me to purchase.  Hope I find this soon!

This was actually a decent Birchbox for me, as I really like or am excited about four out of the five samples.  It's my first time getting a Guest Editor Box but maybe trying to pick one sample is a better option for me.  I think knowing exactly what I was getting kind of took the excitement out of it for me.  What do you think, do you like knowing everything you're getting or being surprised?

Turns out I probably should've picked the Guest Editor box for December because I probably would've liked the lip sample in it, better than the one I selected.  However, it does have seven products in it, if you count the bonuses so there's a far amount of goodies to slather and rub on!  Should be fun!

Manna Kadar Lip Locked in Lucky, full size $24:  This was the sample I selected, after missing out in October I think I was determined to snag one!  Lucky is a nude petal pink, and I'm always thinking I need to find the perfect neutral and the preview looked so pretty I thought it was bound to be a hit.

Let start out by saying, it's a really nice product; primer, lip stain, and gloss all in one.  It feels nice and creamy & it's pretty opaque.  It's full of good things like vitamins and free of undesirables like parabens & is also cruelty free.  The only issue for me is that I can't stand the color.  On me it's very unflattering, I think I'll have to accept that neutrals don't do much for me and that berries are the way to go.

It was nice to see what the formula is like, since I wouldn't have bought one for $24 without a sample, but it would've been better to have a sample I will actually get some use out of.  This color is pretty much a dud for me.  I only used it once so maybe a friend will take.  I think in Pinot Noir it wold've been love, but I can see why it's safer to send out a neutral for sampling.

The Number 4 Hair Care Hydrating Shampoo, full size $34, is the real sample.  The foil pack conditioner is a bonus so although it's a foil pack I'm not complaining.  It's always nice to try out both the shampoo & conditioner from a line together.  I just got my highlights redone for the holidays so it's nice to have a sulfate free product to try.  Based on it's price, I doubt I would ever pick this up in a full size.

Yu-Be Moisturizing Skin Cream, full size $16: This is a supposed to be a super moisturizer that will help the most stubborn spots, but is still gentle enough for infants and children.  I probably would've been more interested in this, if I hadn't gotten also gotten the nipple balm in my November Birchbox.  They both seem to be for the same purpose.  It has an herbal scent, but it's too strong for my taste, to ever use this on my lips but it'll be fine for cuticles.

Ojan rare blend oil Rejuvenating Therapy, full size $35: I feel like this is a brand I used to see on home shopping channels & therefore kind of dismiss.  Well shame on me.  It's  my favorite product of the month!

You shake this up and then use a drop on either wet or dry hair to help strengthen & protect, increase shine, soften texture, & fight frizz and flyaways. I have been using this on dry hair and it's great for touch ups since I usually notice frizz after heat styling.

W3LL PEOPLE Bio Brightener Stick, full size $33: This was also one of three sample choices you could've selected this month.  I've mentioned before that I don't use highlighters so I'm not sure what I'll do with this.  The color looks pretty in the container but is basically shimmer when I swatch it on my wrist.

My bonus of the month is this Miracle Skin Transformer Miracle Revival Mud Mask, full slize $38 and is the sample I'm second most excited about.  Designed to unclog pores & firm skin, I hope there is enough in the foil pack to get a thin layer on my entire face.

Before I finish, I had to give a shout out to this beautiful box, that everything came packaged in for December.  The gold foil is so pretty, I am probably going to end up keeping this one too!  I hope I don't end up a crazy Birchbox box hoarder!

Overall, these boxes are okay but not fabulous boxes.  I feel they were worth the price, when you factor in the points I will earn towards products in the Birchbox store by doing reviews.  However, I wasn't wowed by either but that is partially due to my poor self selections.  Guess I can no longer complain about what Birchbox selects for me, since I didn't do much better these two months!

I should've picked an item over the editor box in November and done the opposite in December since then I'd have gotten a Cynthia Rowley Lip Stain, which I've been wanting to try, and a Ruffian nail lacquer, that I know I'd have loved.  Oh well!  Birchbox is still super fun to get each month and I do try a lot more stuff and a lot more higher end stuff than I ever would without it.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chuggington Snow Rescue on DVD, Now Available!

*Complimentary Review Product Provided
2014 Holiday Gift Guide
Newly released, Chuggington: Snow Rescue on DVD has just chugged into the stores and is also available online.  It's ready for you to bring home for some traintastic fun for the family!  My son is three years old and one of the first favorites he developed was for trains.  He was and is crazy about them!  He is a big ball of energy, but he's been into Chuggington since the first time he first heard, "Honk your horns...choo, choo!"

Ever since we got this for review, he's been watching it whenever I let him!  It's such a hit that it goes from the house, into the mini van's DVD player, and back inside because he can't be without it.  It's his favorite train themed programs, and his sister's pick too, since she ends up watching them with her little brother.

I think the bright and colorful world of Chuggington, the delightfully animated characters, plus the interesting & varied story lines really make it stand out.  With a well rounded group of main characters to choose from, each episode is new and different as they frequently shift around which Chugger is the focus of the story.  When the show first debuted on Disney Junior, and I hadn't seen nearly every episode multiple times, I would find myself finishing a episode even if the kids went off to baths with their Daddy.  I wanted to know how they ended!  

Enjoy this preview clip from this new Chuggington DVD and then look forward to the the following -

Episodes Included:
  • Snow Rescue Special: It's wintertime in Chuggington and the Chuggers make special preparations for the magical Winter Parade.
  • Iron Chuggers: The Chuggineers compete with the Steam Team for the coveted Iron Chuggers title
  • Deputy Chug Patrollers: Koko, Brewster and Wilson have a day off. Meanwhile, Chatsworth is helping with the filming of Action Chugger's latest movie and gets wedged in a tunnel.
  • Movie Maker Brewster: Brewster makes a movie about Chuggington for Mayor Pullman which even impresses Action Chugger.
  • Toot’s Tall Tale: Toot pretends to be ill to get out of doing track inspection.
Special Features:
  • Bonus Badge Quest Episode: Wilson Winter Feed
  • New Character Montages: Fletch, Cormac and Tyne
  • Coloring and Activity Sheets (DVD-ROM)
I also have some fun resources to share with that will extend the fun after your little Chuggers have finished watching the DVD.  You can turn it on and then make a yummy treat and color in your favorite Chuggers for a fun family activity night!
Click Communications: BLOGGER BUTTONS &emdash;

Click the image above to download some delicious treats from buttery cookies to "Steaming" hot chocolate and even sweet teat that begins with fresh snow!  Plus make a cool train cake, with tips on how to turn box mix into something really special, without a specialty pan!

Click Communications: BLOGGER BUTTONS &emdash;

While your waiting for the "Traintastic" treats to be ready, keep little hands busy with two coloring sheets.  These are great for hanging on your child's bedroom wall afterward so he/she can always see their favorite Chuggington friends!

I hope your family enjoys Chuggington: Snow Rescue on DVD as much as mine has.  My little guy is fascinated by trains.  This program is full of friendly role model characters that help guide the Trainees Wilson, Koko, and Brewster and teach them valuable life lessons.  It's a great show for kids that teaches values, with positive story lines that I never have to be concerned about being inappropriate for my children to watch.  


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