Friday, June 29, 2012

Froyo? Ohhh, no!

One of the great things about New England is its abundance of little ice creameries...cute little stands with everything you could ever want. For dessert anyway. They don't sell Edward Cullens or Christian Greys, but they should. Can we talk about the word "creamie," though? It's descriptive, sure, but it sounds so, well, dirty coming out of my mouth. Creeeeamie. Creeeamiiiiie. Ewww. Let's move on, shall we? You walk away from these little gems satisfied, chocolate covered, and bloated from all the dairy. It is one of life's greatest offerings. This is one of my favorite places to partake in such naughtiness...the Northfield Creamie in Northfield, Massachusetts.


My ever-expanding rump is begging me to stop devouring a treat every time I pass, but alas, I cannot. The best part? They have old school frozen yogurt like I used to get as a kid. While froyo bars seem to be all the rage right now, they are lacking the thick, rich froyo of my youth. I can't get enough. I definitely do not need to be consuming rich dairy products at all, but I am pretty picky about when and where I'll eat it. That's what I tell myself, and now you, anyway.

Today's flavor? Tart cranberry froyo. Sinful.

Please, you must stop. Can't you feel your ass expanding and your glucose levels surging? I can't. It is just too lovely. Nom nom nom...


If I had the motivation or cash flow, I'd reopen a TCBY franchise in every town in America. Who am I kidding? That is never going to happen. That kind of cash flow would definitely go toward buying a llama farm. I love llamas. Or miniature ponies. They're super cute. No, definitely llamas. Or alpacas, their underrated cousins. I've really lost my way here. My point is this: a) I'm rallying to bring back real froyo, b) April through September this is my 'hood, and c) llamas are super cute. Except for all the spitting.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Tale of a Craft Market Fail

In an attempt to be more productive, I have started going through the products of my various crafting ventures. Some of them are good, some not so much...but none of them suck. Have you been in a Claire's? They are way better than what they sell there, and my stuff won't give you lead poisoning. Anyway, one day I was wondering out loud what I should do with said chachkies. My husband, always quick to fix my woes whether warranted or not, found a local farmer/crafter's market at which I could peddle my wares. So last Thursday I packed up my stuff and headed down, a little nervous to be putting myself out there via my creations. I should not have wasted my time worrying...no one was there to see them. I was one of about 8 tables set up (and the only one without a canopy), it was ninety-five degrees with a cloudless sky (did I mention no canopy?), and I was stationed next to lamb meat. Between the entry fee, a jar of pickles, cherries, and a froyo run, we ended up about $30 in the red and I sold...nothing. Oof. It's not because my jewelry sucks, right?

Fast forward to today. At 2pm, my son and I arrived bright-eyed and bushy tailed, ready to give this another go. I put out all my best summery pieces. Forty-five minutes later I had sold nothing, my skin was starting to crackle despite my sunscreen application, and we were $15 in the hole due to my son's new found pickle addiction and the entry fee. Double oof.

After about two hours, I started to think this thing was hopeless and I must be displaying a table of turds, not jewelry. I made another realization as well...this was not my kind of crowd. Here I am trying to sell mod-looking jewelry composed of funky vintage beads and brooches, yet the women walking by look like they haven't been properly introduced to mascara, let alone accessories. I started to wonder why I even bothered applying rouge this morning...maybe I would have fit in better without it.

The day was not a complete failure, however, as I got some very useful feedback:

"Do you have to pay to be here? Only $5?" Then looking at her daughter, "You should bring your anklets and stuff to sell...they're actually good!"

"I love this ring, but I'd be too worried the cool part would just fall off."

And my personal favorite: "This ring looks like a boob!"

The ring in question. Okay, so it's a tit bit nipple-y. But answer me this: What is more womanly than wearing a boob ring?

Let's be clear: I have also thought on several occasions that the ring looked like a boob. But I would never, ever say that to someone crisping in the sun in front a table full of duds. The organizers of this craft fair are selling it short! How could they fail to mention what a morale booster it is? As I packed up my sad, unsold pieces, I vowed never to return. It's not worth the blow to my self esteem and the leathering of my skin. But wait, next Thursday will be July 5! The crowd will be much better because of the holiday. Oh yeah, there will definitely be some people who can appreciate my art form. For. Sure. Wait! How is this happening...again?


In all fairness, this afternoon was not a total loss. I got to play Cat's Cradle over and over again with the man of my dreams. I felt like I was in junior high again! I haven't wanted to rock a side pony that bad in a looong time.


My pathetic craft market adventure was then followed by a "better luck next time!" dinner date with the same handsome fella. He has a mastery of "Cat's Whiskers" like no one I have ever met.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Camper So Cute I Could Pinch Its Cheeks


I would not classify myself as someone who enjoys confined spaces. Especially when other people are involved. I am more of a "personal space" kind of girl. My husband would testify to that fact in a hot second. However, this trailer has me rethinking my idea of camping. I might just be willing to put up with the close quarters for the opportunity to snuggle up in this little cutie. Although after a long weekend of becoming one with nature, it will likely end up cute and stinky. That is a risk I am willing to take.

My yard MUST look like this some day.

I am pretty sure my husband has always harbored a deep seeded dream of selling off all our belongings, buying an Airstream, and driving around North and South America. While I'm not quite there yet, I do love the feel of the open road. This little guy wouldn't necessarily be appropriate for long trips, but it does in some ways epitomize my idea of what life will be like once we are empty nesters: intimate, free and serene. Of course that's just an ideal, but my husband and I will be sending our son off to college before we turn forty, giving us plenty of time to enjoy our relationship like most of our friends did in their twenties, before they had kids. That is not to say we don't enjoy our relationship now, we definitely do, but because we were young parents our relationship has involved little alone time for the most part. Every once in a while something like this trailer infuses a little excitement into the prospect of our relationship being more about us and less about carpooling. We are in no rush to see our little man grow up (most of the time), but we can still dream about our future, can't we?


I first became acquainted with this little nugget when a friend posted the photo above on her Pinterest board, which then posted it on Facebook. I'm so confused. I don't have a Pinterest account, nor do I know much about it, so I took to Google (which I do understand) to find out where this picture originated. As it turns out, the May 2012 issue of Sunset Magazine featured this trailer on its cover, along with an article entitled "Glam camping: Rethink the pitched tent."


There is actually a company in northern California that custom makes these, known as Teardrop Trailers, which were popular in the 1960s. The company, Vacations in a Can, also rents them. I hail from SoCal and my husband's company is also headquartered there, so we visit the West Coast a lot; making this doable. This trailer will definitely be the newest edition to our vision board. We don't actually have one, nor have we seen The Secret for that matter, but if we did it would be on it. For now it's on our mental vision board. How cool would it be to go camping with your partner in one of these?! That's assuming you're fond enough to get this close.

I'm All Cooped Up, Mm Mm, Oh Yeah...

stir-cra·zy [stur-krey-zee]

adj. Informal

Distraught or restless from long confinement in or as if in prison.

Yep, that sounds about right. It seems that for months on end, while deep in the throes of classes, homework, various appointments and while enduring the twice-daily drive to and from my son's school, all I wanted was a break. A break from the mind numbing monotony, stress and the go, go, go of daily life. However, every year as the break nears I usually find myself dreading it, and today is one of those days when I realize why. You see, I can only do "laid-back" for so long before I lose my mind and feel like a prisoner in my own home. I'm not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom. Believe me, I wish I was.

My summer courses have come to a close and my son is home for two whole months. Summer has officially begun. We always plan a trip to see family and find ways to stay busy during these off months. However, this week my husband is out of town, we have few plans, and Mother Nature seems to think it is October. This is no Elvis song. Despite my new found freedom, I feel anything but free. My son just wants to sit around the house and play Legos, watch movies only he loves and read vintage Marvel comics. He feels wonderful spending day after day in his own filth. I was even willing to go see Brave today just to break up the monotony. Alas, no. He might get the opportunity to play the Wii, so there is NO chance he's leaving the house today. Or tomorrow. Or the next day.

Unfortunately, the longer I go without functioning the less I want to do. Boredom is a viscous condition that can be hard to break free from. When my husband called this morning he said, "you sound like you have ennui." He knows me too well. I have to abandon my morning cup of joe because it gives me the energy to do something, yet I can't seem to get anything going. I can acknowledge that pile of laundry and dirty bathroom, but chances are low that I will get to them. Instead, I just end up stewing in my own caffeinated restlessness. Should I clean out the basement? Yes! Or not. I know! I should make a vision board. No, wait! I should watch The Secret then make a vision board! Wouldn't it be fun to organize your makeup samples? Ooh...cookies sound nice. I should make some! You know you'll eat them all, right? Your goal was to lose about 20 pounds before our trip. Let's go for a bike ride! Naw, too cold out. Tomorrow. For. Sure. Welcome to my personal hell. It's lovely here. Really. Never mind the fact that I'm about to go batshit crazy.

If only my life were a movie starring Gene Wilder & Richard Pryor...
I love my son more than anything and relish every opportunity to spend time with him. So why can't I simply let go and enjoy all this freedom? And better yet, what can be done about it? How can I spend months wanting some uninterrupted downtime with him only to lose my mind two days in? As frustrated as I am that I can't just be, I have to accept that this is who I am. I also don't have the same interests as a 12-year-old boy, so I am at a disadvantage from the get go. While this may appear to be a simple case of mental instability on the surface, the fact is, I am a person who needs regular and consistent mental stimulation in order to function properly. My legs need to be shaved and I need to leave the house at least once a day, even if it is only a short walk out to the mailbox. Otherwise I start considering things like having another baby...and that is very dangerous territory. Catching up on my DVR is fun for a bit, but spending a significant amount of time doing so leads to an emptiness I can feel deep down in my gullet. I am a restless soul, and just like my blonde hair turns green in too much chlorine, my brain turns to an aggravated pile of mush without something to keep it occupied. Why do I feel so guilty, then? Because it taps into the "you are a terrible mother" part of my psyche. There is this unrealistic expectation that I should always be endlessly entertained by my child. The truth is, this is not always the case. When hanging out and doing mindless things with my son day after day isn't enough for me, I start to question my devotion to him. Logically I know that I am a good mom, great even, and my inability to lounge around indefinitely has nothing to do with my competence as a mother. Still, don't we all feel that pressure to be everything all the time to everyone, especially our kids? So when times like these threaten my overall well-being, I have to take a step back and reevaluate.

My son is my little soulmate. He makes my life better and richer, and my lack of interest in watching The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for the umpteenth time has no bearing on that. In fact, the two are completely unrelated. I can still be a superb mom and enjoy regular breaks from him. In fact, the breaks are what make me a better mom. I am not just a wife and mother. I'm an independent human being with wants, needs and desires. My identity doesn't end with them, nor should it. Also, it is not a sign of weakness to admit that I need a routine to feel normal. I am not a "by the seat of her pants" kind of girl when it comes to my day-to-day life. So what? It doesn't make me old or uninteresting. It just makes me, well, me.

The truth is, we as a family seldom sit around. It just feels like it today. We have two cross country trips planned over the next two months, my son is in weekly tennis lessons, I've committed to a weekly craft market, and my husband will be home in 3 days to help out. I would never let my son waste away all summer, so why am I allowing myself to? Instead of sitting here feeling inadequate as a parent, I am going to put on a bra, comb my hair, turn off the television, and go to the library. I need to find something to do with my brain and a new book is a good place to start. There. That was easy enough! Maybe tomorrow. No, now.

Update: The library was a good choice and the perfect diversion from my funk. Now I am back home enjoying our evening with a new perspective. It looks like this:

My pick and an all-time favorite. Is it weird that I find David Bowie strangely attractive in this movie? Meeeooow.

Chinese takeout. I was the picture of self discipline when I ordered the steamed vegetables and teriyaki chicken on a stick. That means cookies are in order, right?
I'll be tucking myself into bed with a book off my long neglected reading list. There is nothing better than a library book, which is why I will never be a true eReader convert. I joined my library's summer book club, so reading this book will not only expand my mind, it could expand my home library. Each book read enters me into a weekly raffle to win bundles of cool books. J joined the kid's reading program, so he and I are reinstating our weekly library date which had fallen by the wayside and become more sporadic over the last couple of years. See if your local library offers a program like this!


Monday, June 25, 2012

Coffee, Coconut and Cupcakes...Oh My!

 
Last Wednesday was my son's final day of school for the summer.  Alas, my weekly vegan cupcake extravaganza has come to an end...for now, anyway.  Next year he is going to a small charter school, so I'm not sure who I'm going to test my new discoveries on.  Since it was my last treat, I wanted to go out with a bang. I think I accomplished that.  I even bought new cupcake papers for the occasion.  How cute are these prints?! Two hundred liners for about $5 at Michael's (I didn't have a coupon, I am ashamed to admit).  After much contemplation, I settled on the Toasted Coconut Cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream Frosting from my trusty Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World cookbook.  They were awesome!  They are garnished with toasted coconut and chocolate covered coffee beans, and I think the pick-me-up was welcome after a week of dealing with rowdy, restless kids.  The cake was full of fluffy chocolate coconuttyness (I made up a new word!), which was complemented nicely by the light, airy coffee buttercream. Do not be intimidated by the need for ingredients like coconut oil and coffee extract. They are easy to find. I was afraid that I wouldn't find coffee extract (I'd never used it before), so I did a little research and found that a lot of people just use instant coffee instead and it turns out wonderfully.  Just make sure the crystals dissolve completely when mixing in. I always try to keep coconut milk and coconut oil in my pantry and they've come in handy more than once.  The unsweetened coconut flakes are from Whole Foods and the rest are just regular grocery store finds.  I whipped these up in no time...they were really easy and fun to make.  Enjoy!

Cake Ingredients:
  •  1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 cup coconut milk 
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp coconut extract
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut


Directions:
  •  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin pan with cupcake papers.  *Note:  I always preheat 25 degrees above the recommended temp (375 in this case), then immediately turn it down upon putting the cupcakes in.  I've found that this gives me great rounded cupcake tops*
  • In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt, cocoa powder, and baking powder.

  • Melt the coconut oil in a small saucepan over very low heat. Once melted, turn the heat off but leave it in the pan on the stove so that it stays warm and does not solidify. *Note: Our coconut oil was in a glass jar and there was only a bit left, so we simply placed it a saucepan with a little water over low heat and it melted nicely (a thick plastic jar would work as well as you are using low heat).  Coconut oil should always be measured once it is melted...you don't want to try measuring it in its solid state*
  • In a separate medium bowl, mix together the coconut milk, sugar, vanilla, and coconut extract.  Stir in the melted coconut oil.
  • Add the flour mixture in batches, beating well after each addition. 
  •  Mix until smooth, then fold in the shredded coconut. Batter will be thick.
  • Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake for 24-26 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. *Note: Mine were perfect after about 20 minutes, so if you use my round-top trick, be sure to check them early as it seems to shorten the baking time by a couple of minutes*

Coffee Buttercream Frosting:
  • 1/4 cup nonhydrogenated shortening (in the natural foods section of most grocery stores)
  • 1/4 cup nonhydrogenated margarine, softened (I use Earth Balance sticks)
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 2 Tbsp coconut milk or soy milk (I used the same coconut milk from the cake part...there is no such thing as too much coconut flavor in my humble opinion)
  • 1 1/2 tsp coffee extract
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy.  Alternately add the sugar and coconut milk to the shortening mixture, beating well after each addition.  Add the coffee extract and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy (about 3 min with a hand mixer on med-low or 5-7 minutes with a fork...I used my Kitchen Aid mixer on medium for about 5 minutes).  Refrigerate until ready to use.

  • For the garnish, toast 1/2 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut.  To do this, preheat a small frying pan over medium heat for about 2 minutes.  Pour the coconut into the pan and stir/toss constantly until honey brown colored and uniformly toasted; approximately 90 seconds.  Turn off heat and continue stirring/tossing for an additional 30 seconds more.  Transfer to a plate and spread out to cool.  I didn't really time it, but rather, went by the color.  The smell is divine!
  • Spread a generous amount of the Coffee Buttercream Frosting onto the cooled cupcakes.  Roll the edges of the frosted cupcake in the toasted coconut to create a ring around it (I didn't have enough shaved coconut, so I added in a little flaked...hence the differing textures).
  •  Add a couple of chocolate-covered coffee beans to the center for a decorative touch.  My husband selflessly offered to test them first to make sure they were good enough to serve.  Isn't he generous?

The finished product:

These were so decadent!  The combination of chocolate, lots of coconut and coffee is simply delish.  Plus, how fancy do they look?!  This page in the cookbook is definitely getting dog-eared because they are too good not to make again.  If you decide to try them, let me know how they turn out and if you discover any good variations or techniques.  Happy Baking!














Sunday, June 24, 2012

Farm Sharing the Wealth


Several years ago we discovered a local community farm that sells summer shares (they have since introduced spring and fall shares). We were instantly attracted to the idea of getting a basket full of fresh, organic produce each week. We have not been disappointed. For about $300 per 3-4 month season, we get a basket bursting with that week's harvest. What is also amazing is that we had no idea what "real" radishes, garlic, lettuce, and tomatoes tasted like before. When allowed to grow as nature intended, these vegetables are like nothing you have ever tasted. Never a big fan of tomatoes, the ones grown at the farm changed my entire outlook on what a tomato should be like. When I came home with our weekly bounty yesterday, my husband said, "I get so excited to see what is in our basket! It's like getting a present every week!" He's right! Unpacking it is like unwrapping a surprise...and some of the items don't even make it to the fridge before they are gone. I also like the fact that we are at their mercy in terms of what we get. It has allowed me to experiment with new vegetables (bok choy and pineapple tomatillos, for instance) and seek out new recipes (sweet and spicy canned beets...yum!).


While $300 may seem like a lot, it really isn't. And we are pretty frugal people. We think of it as more than just a basket of vegetables. It's an investment in our community (they donate several shares each year to needy families and local food banks) and our planet (they use only earth-friendly organic farming practices). Yeah, yeah. I sound like a hippie. Put on some more patchouli and straighten your hemp skirt, Sarah. But the fact is, if more of us supported these types of organizations, we would come a long way towards improving the food we put into our bodies and the land around us. By reaching enough people, we can change our perception of what food should be. Alright, I'm getting off my soapbox. However, if you are going to take on a cause, this is a good one. Another bonus of having freshly picked produce is that it lasts a really long time. I've had farm share lettuce stay crisp in my fridge for a month. I am lucky if I make it a week before the bagged stuff from the grocery store turns to slime. In that way, we actually save money because we throw a lot less away.

Another way in which our farm share supports the community is to get people familiar with some of our other local farmers and business owners. So for the first two weeks of the season we receive a jar of local honey (which I put on/in everything to help with my allergies) and a large loaf of freshly baked bread from a local baker.
If you want to see what farm shares are all about, I found a great website below that introduces the concept of community farms while providing a way to locate farms in your area. Check it out! You won't regret it.
 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Complexion Perfection

My husband and I decided a few years ago that there were no more bambinos in our future. So at the suggestion of my nurse practitioner, I opted for a more long term solution...in the form of the Mirena IUD. TMI? Sorry about that. Anyway, what I thought would make my life easier ended up being a HUGE problem for my skin. "Oh yeah, progesterone will do that," was her response upon hearing my complaints. Uh, thanks? You could have warned me! Sure, I didn't have to remember to take a pill at the same time every day, but about six weeks after getting it installed my skin exploded. I was breaking out like crazy! It wasn't just my face, either. My neck and upper back were adversely affected, too. Sexy, right? I'd had the normal breakouts on my T-zone as a teen and struggled with oiliness in adulthood, but I had no idea how to handle this. And bacne? Fuhgetaboutit. I'd always been blessed with pretty decent skin and almost ten years on The Pill hadn't hurt, either. I tried everything I could find, yet the problem persisted for the first 18 months I had the IUD. Prescription creams just dried out the skin around my zits. Proactiv worked pretty well, but it bleached the necklines of my shirts and pillowcases. And while effective (but drying), Proactiv was annoying to buy. Get it sent regularly and risk having too much or too little of one product, or spend forever finding a mall kiosk. Ugh. Being a beauty product hoarder in the making at the time, I decided to seek out some awesome, effective products on my own. However, navigating the world of acne products left me feeling like Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth. Minus the Muppets. And David Bowie. Wait, those are my two favorite parts! Bummer.

There are a million products out there and it is really easy to spend a fortune trying to find what works. For the past three years or so my skin has (thankfully!) been under control...just in time for me to get my Mirena replaced. I haven't been able to let my guard down, though, and I still use these products diligently to maintain my clear skin. I've actually considered going back on The Pill for fear of dealing with this again. Don't be afraid of Mirena, though. This was just my experience and everyone is different. Otherwise it has been fine. If I do go back for more, at least I'll be more equipped to handle the inevitable breakouts next time around. As a result, my hope is that I won't experience the same skin struggles I did before. This post is intended to help you navigate the world of acne products. My biggest piece of advice: give them time to work. I would get frustrated when my skin wasn't clear in two days, but it does not work that way! Sometimes my breakouts would initially get worse. Then they'd get better. Give a product a week or two of daily use before trashing it. Trust me. I wish I'd had me four years ago. Or something like that. Oh, you know what I mean.

Best Cleanser:

I would marry this product if I could. We have developed a close, personal relationship over the last several years and I'm a better woman for it. In all seriousness, Murad's Clarifying Cleanser has been a lifesaver. It has a nice citrusy smell and gives my skin a cool, tingly feeling. I use it every day and love, love, love it. It is non-drying and contains salicylic acid so it won't have a bleaching effect on your clothes and towels. The bottle is pretty big, too, so I've been going strong for a year and still have plenty left. Murad has a whole acne treatment line that this belongs to. I recently bought the toner after using up a sample size. It has the same effervescent feeling and makes my skin feel refreshed.

Best Spot Treatment:


I have been obsessed with Philosophy's lip glosses for ages. I should really find a support group because my purse is bursting at the seams with delicious lip lovelies. Acne treatment, though? Well, they proved me wrong. The On a Clear Day spot treatment is awesome. I put it on before bed and my zit looks way better in the morning. I've slathered it on my whole face before out of sheer desperation. It is also non-bleaching, as it uses sulfur rather than benzoyl peroxide to dry out blemishes. Sure, it smells a little like putting a tiny dab of fart on your face, but hey, if it works it works. And the smell really isn't that sulfur-y.

Best Tool:

I initially cringed at the thought of recommending this because it is not cheap (around $120) and I'm all about reasonable prices. But it is just too good not to mention. I bought the Mia a couple of years ago after coveting it for a long time, and I still maintain that it was worth the investment. I use the sensitive brush heads and never feel over-exfoliated. You know that feeling, and it is not pleasant. I started out using it three times a week and have worked my way up to using it with the Murad cleanser every time I shower. The only exception is if I'm using another exfoliator. One charge lasts for 20-30 uses (it turns off automatically after 1 minute so you don't overdo it), so I keep it in my shower. My skin easily looks dull, but this has never failed me. Shop around with this one for sure. Many websites offer coupon codes (the website attached to the pic has a 20% off code). You shouldn't have to pay full price.

Best Kit:


I purchased this while going through my "I'll do anything to get out of this skin" phase. It is a two step process that involves applying the exfoliant (in the jar), then the peel portion. Once added it foams up in a very satisfying way. I use it only occasionally now that my skin is under control, but I remember why I love it so after each use. It has a lovely orange scent. My skin glows like crazy and is more balanced. My blemishes improved considerably for at least a week after using it. It is pricey, but one set has lasted me two years with occasional use. Even when I was using it weekly, a little went a looong way.

Honorable Mentions:

I was first introduced to this product through my Birchbox subscription (more about that in a future post). It looks like a little container of baby powder, so I was interested to see what it had to offer. It also feels a lot like baby powder (its main ingredient is rice powder). You sprinkle some of it into the palm of your hand and add a little water to form a paste. Then gently rub into your skin for a bit. It doesn't feel grainy at all, so the first time I used it I thought it was a mean hoax. I have real skin problems, people! However, my skin felt awesome! Smooth, calm and balanced as a baby's butt. Now I keep a vial in my shower and use it a couple times a week when I want to feel fancy. And butt-like.

This mask was another Birchbox introduction and is made by June Jacobs. It is a creamy moisturizing mask that smells so good I've been tempted to lick my own face. I have a really long tongue. You probably didn't want to know that much about me. Sorry. My only hang-up is the price. The thought of paying $60+ for 3 ounces of something I rinse off after ten minutes makes me feel icky inside. But it feels SO good on my outside. I'm still milking my sample for all it is worth, but when it is gone I am going to be forced to have a really intense conversation with myself about the cost of my beauty habit. It is super balancing and calming. I want more.


I tried to put this one as far away as possible from my "Proactiv is a pain" comments. But I'd be remiss not to share it with you. And in all fairness, I did use words like "effective." When I was knee-deep in acne, this product really did help me crawl out. I smeared it onto my face, neck and back like a junkie. I still maintain that Proactiv is a pain, though. I didn't use the toner, and the Repairing Lotion lasts a really long time, so I was always running out of cleanser and stockpiling the others. It wasn't cheap, either. I keep a bottle of this in my medicine cabinet for times when my skin decides to be all-over naughty. A little dab covers a large area, so one bottle lasts forever these days (at least a year). It can be drying in a I'm-going-to-claw-my-skin-off kind of way if you use it daily but don't moisturize. That's the nature of the beast in acne care, though. Just remember to wear a scrappy shirt and use a white pillow case or one that you don't mind ruining. For those times when I'm feeling out of control (especially on my neck and back), it's a good tool to have. It is the only product in the line I use, and rarely anymore, so I buy it at a kiosk if I know where one is. I also included a link to Amazon, who sells it for less than half the kiosk price. If I need more in the future, I'll probably get it there. Murad also makes something like this, but I haven't tried it as it is pretty expensive and I just can't justify paying that much for a product I very rarely need anymore. If I have the same experience I did before skin-wise and my other products aren't cutting it, I will definitely give it a try.

So this is my acne arsenal and it works incredibly well for me. It just took a while to compile it. Part of the problem was the fact that I was trying mostly drugstore products in the beginning and they simply were not effective in my case. In fact, they frequently made the problem worse because they were so irritating. When I realized that spending a little more for really good, quality products would make all the difference, I was liberated. Besides, it wasn't really that much more expensive if I thought about it. Trying ten different drugstore products actually cost three times as much as one bottle of the Murad cleanser. I try to take really good care of my skin in general, and although rough, that 18 month period really reinforced the importance of good skin care. Silver lining and all, folks. A post on the the other products I use is on the way, but I have an eight page paper analyzing Fifty Shades of Grey due tomorrow for my Human Sexuality class. Being a blogger is a big responsibility! But I love you all dearly and would never let you down, even at the expense of my graded homework. Now leave me alone and let me write.



Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Little Bit of Popcorn Heaven


The kitchen gadget that sees the most action in our house is without a doubt our Whirley Pop popcorn maker.  In about the time it takes to microwave a bag, we can make an amazing batch of popcorn.  Without all the junk.  A little oil + kernels + a little elbow grease = fluffy white pieces of heaven.  So good.  It's nice to be able to control the amount and type of oil, too.  I typically only use about a tablespoon per batch but my husband likes a bit more.  He's naughty that way. We like to experiment with infused olive oils (chipotle is sooo good), peanut oil, or just plain canola oil.  A while back, a friend suggested using truffle salt.  Seeing as I don't have a million dollars or a mushroom-sniffing pig, I possess little knowledge about these expensive little nuggets.  But the salt?  Hello!  Although it's a little pricey for salt (around $8-$15), a little goes a long way.  There are tons of different kinds.  Whenever we are in a fancy schmancy kitchen store, we check to see what they have to offer.

We use either white or black truffle salt.  Black is a little smokier...but they are equally delicious. We've made dozens of batches between these two jars...so they last a while.
 
The process is really this simple: add the oil and kernels to the Whirley Pop, turn on the stove and rotate the lever until the popping stops.  We dump the freshly popped popcorn into a brown paper bag, add the truffle salt to taste and shake it like a Polaroid picture.  Needless to say, we go through a lot of kernels...but our fiber intake is excellent.  While I realize I'm not reinventing the wheel here, it sure tastes like it.  If you don't have a stove top popcorn maker, you should.  We've lost our taste for microwave popcorn which is a good thing.  It just doesn't stack up to the real thing.  Once you go Whirley, you never go back.

This one is shiny and new.  Ours looks rugged and well loved.  That's code for grimy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hello My Name Is: Crafty

I am the queen of what my lovely aunt refers to as UFOs, or "Unfinished Objects."  I guess it is hereditary because she could definitely relate. I once went through a mosaic phase that prevented my family from walking barefoot in our own home. Later, I made a scrapbook page for every day of my son's life thus far.  Good thing I stopped at age nine...we were running out of space.  Next came a needle-felting phase that left my fingers with more holes than swiss cheese; but I have some awesome ornaments to show for it. I made so much jewelry that I have many Rubbermaid totes devoted to carrying the hundreds of dollars in beads, chains, hardware, tools and settings I purchased during the course of this hobby. There are even more that hold the finished products.  I still experience the thrill of creating something, but it tends to be less committal...like, say, a batch of cupcakes.

The fruit of my needle-felting phase.  I made dozens of these for family, friends, and the staff at my son's school


Three years ago I decided to go back to school.  Playing crafter and stay-at-home mom didn't suit me.  My picture could have been next to the definition of "stir-crazy" in the dictionary. I sincerely admire and respect moms who do.  I simply can not be in my own head that much.  Before I figured out what would really, truly fulfill me, I turned to craft after craft and hobby after hobby to find something to occupy my time and brain space.  Although each has a special place in my past, I would end up discarding one and proceed to search for my next "fix." For a while I sold my creations on Etsy.  Then I created a second Etsy account to sell my excess supplies. 

One of my MANY bead totes

After enrolling in college I packed up my supplies, let my listings expire and haven't looked back.  However, now I'm feeling the urge to purge (hey, that rhymes!), so I've dusted off the old Etsy account and reposted some of my items.  If they sell? Great!  If not, that's okay, too.  But in doing so, I felt a spark of sorts...perhaps the remnants of the excitement crafting once provided for me.  I definitely don't have the time now, but I realized that I'm not ready to give it up on it completely.  Maybe some day I'll find a way for it to be fun again without being all-consuming.  In my attempt to channel my restlessness, I burned myself out.  I didn't just make earrings, I made earrings all day and all night.  I was chasing a dream...I just didn't know what it was at the time. The thing is, I was really good at all of them.  Maybe not a professional, but definitely good.  I'm not saying I am a natural, either.  But once I decided to try something, I typically practiced a lot.

One year I made earrings for the teachers at my son's school.  The next, I needle-felted snowman ornaments.  They absolutely loved them, and raved every year about how much thought was put into their Christmas gifts.  They were not always ornate, expensive, or too time consuming, unlike most of my hobby habits; but they definitely came from the heart.  Much like a mom who loves, loves, loves her child's homemade cards it is about the thought put into the gift rather than the gift itself.  So I'm not hanging up my crafter's hat just yet. Rather, I am just putting it on hold for now.  Besides, school is my hobby right now.  And I don't think I'll ever abandon it completely, as unique homemade Christmas gifts have become a tradition over the last few years.  If nothing else, they are a great bonding experience for our family.

In going through my jewelry to decide what to repost on Etsy, I came across those fruit earrings I made for my son's teachers several years ago.  I made oranges, apples, blueberries and cherries...oh my!  They went over really well and tend to get a lot of views on Etsy.  They are super simple to make, so I thought I'd share with you.  I'm not a jewelry whiz, I swear!  If you were already thinking they look amateur, well, you are not wrong. If you can improve on them, do it!  I won't cry myself to sleep...for long. What is amateur, however, are my photos.  I didn't try hard enough.  But I wanted to post this, so I sacrificed beauty for content.  It's what is on the inside that counts, right? These are sweet, unique gifts anyone can make with the right tools and some practice.  And should you decide that you like them better when I make them, well, my Etsy account is now back in business.  Until I burn out again.

"Hi Ho Cherry O" earrings


"Blueberries for Sal" earrings

"Orange Blossom" earrings

Here is a quick tutorial on how to make my "An Apple a Day" earrings.  They are so cute and fun.  Gosh, that sounded a lot like I was tooting my own horn.  I promise I wasn't.  But I'd toot yours in a second. They make great gifts and look professionally made...so everyone will be amazed that it was little old you.  The sky is the limit!  If you can imagine it, you can make it, and it doesn't even have to be real fruit.  Get funky and make a lemrazeach.  They'll love it.


First step? Choose some fun, colorful beads.  They don't have to be fancy!


Decide what tone of metal you want to use.  For these I went with antique gold hardware, but there are tons of different shades to choose from.


I found some great bead caps that reminded me of leaves and used them.  Think outside the box!  Check out Etsy...there are some great sellers that carry jewelry-making supplies. You will also need a small pair of pliers.  I like a small traditional pair to cut the wire and one with rounded tips to shape it.  Don't spend a fortune!  The Home Depot or Michael's carry them for just a few bucks.



Take your chosen pieces and simply stack them in whatever order looks good to you.


Finally, add the earring hook, trim the excess wire and curl it around on itself.  Tuck the end into the bead hole as much as possible so it looks seamless.


There you have it!  Super easy!  I promise!  And the recipient will be so touched that you made them something.  Just because we are past the finger-painting phase in our lives does not mean we can't make something for the people we care about.  But don't be surprised if you develop a beading fetish.  I did.  One piece would inspire another and before I knew it I was scouring the internet for crazy and unique beads and hardware.  Don't say I didn't warn you...

What are your favorite do-it-yourself gifts?  Share! Please!