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 their 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.

July 29, 2014

Coloring My Hair at Home: eSalon Root Touch-Up

Two months after having my hair colored at eSalon headquarters, my hair still looked pretty good. I had some root growth and gray hairs appearing at the temples, but otherwise, the color was lovely, rich, shiny, and not brassy. After a week in the California desert visiting my in-laws, using terrible hotel hair products (my bad for leaving my good stuff at home), I was a bit bleached out on top. It was definitely time for a root touch up!

before coloring
My eSalon kit had arrived while I was traveling, so as soon as I got home, I grabbed the kit and made the grey and the sun-bleached hair disappear.

I was super careful in reading the instructions because I wanted to be sure I'm touching up the color without over darkening the ends.

Once thing that is new since I first posted about eSalon is the gloves all come in one bag now. They supply two pair but rather than packaging them separately and wasting plastic, they're combined in one set. Perfect!

I still have the bowl, brush, and timer from when I colored my sister's hair, so I used those for my root touchup. It's way easier to work on roots with a brush compared with the bottle and hands.

I first applied some Vaseline-like goo to keep the color from dying my skin. I mostly put it along my hairline and the back of my ears though I should have remembered to hit the back of my neck too. If you have long hair, definitely don't forget your neck and shoulders.

Then I mixed the color and applied it to my roots. This took a while since I have a LOT of hair. If I went to the salon, my stylist, Kristan, would probably book twice the time of a typical color appointment.

Once the roots were covered, I pulled it down a bit with my fingers since I did have so much lightened from my desert vacation. Keep in mind, I'm talking an inch or two, not the entire length of hair. I then waited the amount of time in my instructions before doing the color rinse in the shower. That part is messy but really important for even color and shine.

I do use eSalon's styling products for shine and conditioning, so I mixed a little of those together and applied to my wet hair. I then blew it dry with a round brush and flat ironed it smooth. I don't usually blow it out, but it stays straighter longer when I do that compared with ironing air dried hair. Below is a pic on a nice sunny day, about 24 hours after coloring.

So here's the before from earlier and an after photo (in the same room indoors):

I love the color. It's still just what I want, just like how it came out when the eSalon colorist did my hair, and it looks super natural. When my sister first saw it in person, she said it looks great and it's just what I've always said I've wanted my hair to be - reddish brown without being brassy. Warm, but not orange and brown, but not mousey.

I set my reorder schedule to be 10 weeks, figuring that's about the time I'll want to touch up the roots and grey. In the meantime, I'll keep using Tinted Love a couple times a month just on the ends and middle of the hair to enhance the color and keep it from from getting brassy in between coloring. My stylist suggested Aveda's clove conditioner as an option as well, but that's a bit pricey. I'll have to do a price per ounce comparison and see which makes the most sense. 

There's no question in terms of actually coloring my hair, eSalon is definitely more affordable than going to the salon and better quality than going to the drugstore aisle.

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