Friday, December 30, 2011

2011's books

Most people know that I'm in a book club (I have been for over 2 years now), and as a result, I'm constantly getting asked for book recommendations. I decided to compile a list of books I've read (some with my book club, some without) over the past year. Here goes...

Treasuring God in Our Traditions,  Noel Piper
The New Dare to Discipline,  Dr. Dobson
*Gone With the Wind,  Margaret Mitchell
*The Story of the Trapp Family Singers,  Maria von Trapp
Stay Home, Stay Happy,  Rachel Campos-Duffy
Excuse Me, But I Was Next...,  Peggy Post
*Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul,  John Eldredge
*Bringing Up Girls,  Dr. Dobson
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child,  Marc Weissbluth
*Room,  Emma Donoghue
Babywise 2,  Gary Ezzo
Summer and the City,  Candace Bushnell
What Southern Women Know,  Ronda Rich
*Pride and Prejudice,  Jane Austen
*Drowning Ruth,  Christina Schwarz
*Twilight,  Stephanie Meyer
*New Moon,  Stephanie Meyer
A Place of Yes,  Bethenny Frankel
Waiting for Daisy,  Peggy Orenstein
*Eclipse,  Stephanie Meyer
*Breaking Dawn,  Stephanie Meyer
*Freakonomics,  Steven Levitt
Bringing Up Boys,  Dr. Dobson
SuperFreakonomics,  Steven Levitt
*Before I Go to Sleep,  S.J. Watson
*The Hole in Our Gospel,  Richard Stearns
*A Christmas Carol,  Charles Dickens
On Becoming Pre-Toddlerwise,  Gary Ezzo
Habits of a Child's Heart:,  Valerie Hess

Looking back over that list, I'm surprised and delighted! 29 books?! Man, I love to read! It's definitely my #1 hobby (as evidenced by the amount of time AND money I spend on it).

The books that stand out as being my top favorites from the year are "Treasuring God in Our Traditions," "The New Dare to Discipline," "Gone With the Wind," "Pride and Prejudice," "Waiting for Daisy," "Superfreakonomics," and "Before I Go to Sleep." I don't want to go into a review of each book on here because it would make the post much too long, but if you have any questions about any of the specific books listed above, feel free to ask and I'll tell you what I thought!

*=books I've read with my book club

What have you read this year that you liked?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I Can be a Snob Sometimes

If you read the title of this post and agreed with it in any fashion, stop what you're doing and call me. Immediately. Because it's obvious that we have some chatting to do.

If you read the title and were somewhat confused, good. Keep reading!

I admit it. I can be a snob sometimes. A brand snob. And this isn't with all things, of course, but for certain, seemingly-random/strange things, I must have a particular brand. This, of course, tends to throws off all manner of savings and only-buying-when-on-sale which is how I normally shop, but I can't seem to change this. I must have certain brands. But only for these few certain things.

1. Spices. Must be McCormick. I remember when Seth came home with an off-brand (that I think was a Whole Foods off-brand!) of some spice. I about cried. I couldn't believe he would subject me (and our taste buds) to something other than McCormick! Crazy, I know. It is probably exactly the same, coming from the same plant or something, just put into a different container... but that means it's a No Go for me. And as McCormick is rarely on sale, and I practically never see coupons for it, I'm always buying them at full price. (I didn't say this list would make sense.)

2. Tissue. I have to buy Kleenex, Ultra Soft. Not the kind with lotion (does bad stuff to my acne-prone nose), not the kind with aloe (does worse stuff to my acne-prone nose), not the cool sensation kind (just plain weird). And not some off-brand. Or even some other brand that ISN'T generic. I like these. They stand the test of a real nose-blowing experience. Not the wimpy kind of blowing, but the real, nose-clearing kind. As a person who is prone to sinus infections, having boxes of sub-par tissue around simply doesn't work. These are soft and gentle to my nose, but I don't have to use multiple layers to prevent the dreaded blow-through situation. Who wants snot all over their hands after a thorough nose clearing? Not this chick. And I also don't want to walk around looking like Rudolph!

3. Paper Towels. Gotta be Viva, baby! I blame Seth for this one. I used to buy another very common brand of paper towels as they were always on sale and they publish TONS of coupons for them. And then he complained. Well, maybe "complain" is a strong word, but he asked why I never bought Viva, explaining that he really liked them and preferred it when I bought those (which I never did because of the lack of coupons and sales!). But now I do. Coupons, Shmoupons. My husband cares enough about our paper towels to take the time to mention it? I'm sold. And frankly, I'm a personal convert as well. The quilted-ness (which I used to think I liked) is a scam, I think. I prefer how soft and durable these are and they soak up better, too. I also buy the ones with the half-sheet size so you can determine how much you want without having to get one huge one. I often get by with only using one half-sheet and I feel better about my impact on the environment as a result.

4. Baby Goods: Diapers=Pampers, Wipes=Huggies. Give me a Huggies diaper to put on my son, and my internal workings will practically stop. I HATE Huggies diapers. Always leak. Terrible fit. Awful. Can't. Stand. Them. BUT, I do LOVE their wipes. The Natural Care ones, specifically. I buy them through an Amazon subscription account, and get them for less than 2 cents/wipe. I love how they don't have the added chemicals, love the price, and LOVE how durable they are. Thick, not very stretchy, and always make the job easier. Give me a Pampers diaper, though, and I'm thrilled! The fit and non-leaking success that we've had with Pampers (Swaddlers and now Cruisers, specifically) has made me a Lifer. However, I DISLIKE their wipes. They're too stretchy. They only ever seemed to smear the mess rather than clear the mess. Yuck. 

5. Napkins. Must buy Bounty. I used to buy whichever one happened to be on sale, and then I got a package of generic ones. Bounty Imposters, really. And well, with a baby (and a dog) around, napkins get used a lot. I don't have the patience for my napkins to disintegrate during use. I immediately swore off anything but these Bounty ones. And even went so far as to tell Seth to remind me should I ever waver over spending that much on them. I'm anti-quilting when it comes to our paper towels, but there's something about the different uses we have for each that makes these quilts ok. And the actual paper is tough, too. They don't tear when wiping food off of little fingers (or big ones, for that matter!). LOVE these.

6.  Laundry products. I ALWAYS buy All and Downy. I love this All because it's safe for the baby skin we have had around here, and it cleans well AND has a nice smell. I use the white bottle of Downy because it's safe for baby skin, so when I combine them, the boys' clothes are safe, soft and have a smell too. But for the hubs and me, I use a Downy that has a smell in it.

7. Body Soap. We use Dove in the Spofford household. I'm not sure how I got started using this, but I'm a Loyal Customer. I buy this whenever it's on sale, with coupons and end up paying about as much as I would if I were to buy the cheapie stuff. The difference, though, is that I won't end up with flakey, dry skin.

8. Hand soap. I always buy Method, Sweet Water, foaming hand soap. But only for the guest bathroom. These Method containers are refillable too (I recently realized this is true even for the foam kind of soap!), so it's an environmental and monetary savings this way!

9. Shampoo & Conditioner. Aveda. Aveda. Aveda. I began using Aveda skin products a number of years ago because of some fairly serious skin issues I was having, and decided to try the shampoo and conditioners as well. Total fan. #1 convert. Never going back. My hair is extremely fine, gets colored several times a year, and has a "nice," Hawaii-esqe wave to it. I currently use the Color Conserve line and love it. I have used the Smooth Infusion line too, but it turned out to be a bit too heavy for my fine hair. 

10. Mascara. Lastly, though not leastly, is my Covergirl Mascara. I'm not sure how this one got started either. It's not the kind my mom uses. It's not Aveda. I don't actually know anyone else who uses it. But I've tried others, even other Covergirl ones, and always come back to this. Thankfully, though, this is something I often find on sale and/or have a coupon for, so it's not something I have to spend a lot on in order to be the brand snob that I am.

This is not an exhaustive list. By any means. I walked around the house just now looking for things which I would only buy of a certain brand and found many other items I could list. But given that most of them were found in the bathroom, I think that's probably a bit too much sharing for a public venue like this. (If you're interested though, feel free to ask the next time you see me!)

Am I alone in this? Is there anything you're a (brand) snob about? Perhaps you have a product suggestion for me/us. I'm open to trying new versions of products. Just not of certain products. ;-)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I'm a Sponge Convert

I used to detest sponges. (And dish rags.) Detested them. All I could think of was the smell. And the germs collecting inside. Only to be spread around on whatever you were trying to clean. It seemed to me that things would be dirtier, not cleaner, post-sponge use (or post-rag use). Yuck. And then there's the smell again. Double yuck. 

So, because of this, I became A Wipe User. I've been A Wipe User for most of my adult life. Clorox Wipes. Pledge Wipes. Baby Wipes. Wet Wipes. Anything I could use to clean something up, and then throw away. I could avoid both the smell and the lingering germs this way. I keep a pretty clean house this way--all the nasty germs and smell are tightly sealed in the trash can.

And then I saw a commercial that rocked my world. I was sitting on the couch a couple weeks ago with Anne Marie, each of us minding our own business, when this commercial comes on. It struck us both so much that we stopped talking, watched it, and then turned to look at each other with our mouths hanging open. And then we both, at the same time, started talking about how great it was. It was crazy how much power this sponge commercial had!

The thing that really got me is that you can put it in the dishwasher to clean it. That was the kicker! I wouldn't have to worry about the smell. Or the germs. But mostly, the smell. I bought the sponge as soon as I could, and I've been completely converted. I am now A Sponge User. 

I like how well it cleans and can scrub, but without scratching anything. I like that it's made from natural fibers. I like the color (it doesn't show dinginess). But best of all, I like that I can put it in the daily dishwasher cycle, and it'll be clean and ready to be used again tomorrow. (This is different than dishrags. Dishrags collect for almost a week, smelling up the laundry room, cuz I don't do laundry every single day like we run a daily load of dishes.) 

I am excited about this change in my cleaning routine and excited about the money savings we'll enjoy. And, of course, the environmental savings. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Growth Chart Tree

Last fall, when we were ready-ing Oldest's room for his arrival, one of the things we did was replace the closet doors. Well, when I say 'we', I really mean 'Seth.' This left us with several usable closet doors which were too good to just throw away. I had to find a project for them. 

After much brainstorming, we came up with the idea to make a Growth Chart out of them. We like the idea of measuring kids every year to track their height changes, but as we can't be sure we'll be in this house for the next 18+ years, we also like the idea of taking the growth chart with us. The marks won't be lost, forever-gone, in a house where someone else can come along and simply paint over them. If we mark the heights on something moveable, it will move with us.

So, once the plan was established, I spent time thinking of creative ways to display the chart. I didn't want to just nail a closet door to a wall, I wanted it to be decorative. I came up with the idea for a tree, and after about 11 1/2 months of stewing on the idea, I finally got around to making it a reality! lol

I first painted the closet door to look like a tree (my interpretation of a tree, anyways), and then applied vinyl dashes and numbers to the length of it, which will serve as our growth guide--we'll know how tall the person was when the mark was made by noting where it falls on the ruler. I then got a Bible verse to put at the top, reminding us that God is our #1. (It is 2 Peter 3:18.) I then sprayed it with acrylic coating, and finally, Seth hung it on the wall. 

The following pictures document the process--turning a 60-year old closet door into a growth chart for our family. :-)
After sitting in the garage for nearly a year, I had quite a bit of cleaning to do first.
My first step was to paint it really dark brown.
Once I had gotten a good base, I went over with a slightly lighter color, painting in streaks.
Using two other, lighter shades of brown, I painted my interpretation of tree bark along the sides.
I bought these vinyl numbers and dashes off Etsy.
My fingers had indents after all the rubbing I had to do.
starting to peel off the paper...
what it looked like after the numbers were on...
after it was sprayed...
the top
My men hanging the growth chart tree. 
(Austin is actually trying to hand Seth the level!)
The finished project!
He's been measured! :-)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Crafting with Baby?

One of the things I was most excited about regarding having children is doing crafts with them. Recently, at church, there was a plastic water bottle filled with a slow-moving clear liquid (as well as beads inside) in the room we were working. Oldest loved it. He played with it every chance he could. Seth and I chatted about what the clear liquid was, and our best guess was Karo syrup.

A week or so later, I saw this bottle of lite Karo syrup on the clearance shelf at Tom Thumb, and decided that I would buy it and experiment with kids and crafts. I knew I had tons of beads at home and plastic baggies and figured this would be an easy one to start with. We've been pretty cooped up this week given the chicken pox situation and this gave us something to do, which was perfect!

He wasn't much help with the project, so it mostly resulted in me doing all the work and him playing with it afterwards, but I'm still pleased with how well it went/worked. I got out a sandwich-size baggie, poured Karo syrup inside, and then dropped a few red beads inside. I attempted to have Oldest drop a few beads in (he's great at putting things inside other things), but the beads were too shiny and tempting. They went right in his mouth. I sealed up the baggie, and let him play with it. Below is our documentation.

the supplies
the less-than-thrilled guinea pig
He would have preferred to just suck/chew on the baggie all day.
This is what it looked like when combined.
Austin had a pretty good time squishing the beads around, and then squeezing the bag entirely.
"Ok, I decided I like crafts."

It was fun and only took about 1 minute of preperation and 30 seconds of work. Time well spent!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

And the Doctor Said...

This is a post about facial moisturizers/sunscreens. 

The title is evidence that I have read "The 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed" too many times in recent days. ;-)

Ok, so for years I have been promising myself that when I hit the big 3-0 (which happened February 2011), I would go to a dermatologist to see about wrinkle prevention/general skin care for someone my age. I mean, I don't have any wrinkles yet, and most of the advertisements you see are for repairing bad skin, not keeping good skin good. So, I didn't know where to begin other than seeing a professional.

It worked out well, too, because since I'd birthed a child in that insurance plan year, I had met my out-of-pocket maximum and thus every doctor visit/situation was free. Well, free to us because we'd been paying full fees prior to meeting the maximum (which is several thousand dollars, I might add). But, this is not about insurance costs/types/plans, it's about skin care. Back to that... 

So, after doing an all-over skin/mole check (which is very humbling, I might add), she asked if I had any questions (after telling me that all my moles were fine--which, after what Seth went through last year was a HUGE relief!). I asked her about skin care for someone my age. I explained that I want to know what to do to prevent wrinkles, not get rid of them, and all the advertisements seem to only sell to the older population that already has wrinkles. 

She said, first of all, none of the OTC products you can buy really do anything. Because they are sold OTC, they can't have the main ingredient be strong enough to really do what they claim. She did say there's one Olay product that comes close (is the strongest level on the market), but as that's for repairing damaged skin, I didn't pay much attention to the name of it. She did give me a prescription for a cream that is to be applied nightly to the main areas of concern--forehead, corners of eyes, around mouth, etc. This is to help keep the skin fresh and less likely to develop wrinkles. I apply this about once every two weeks because I can't seem to remember to do it.

However, the second thing that she said in response to my question was the one that really struck a chord with me. She said it very emphatically, very convictingly, and I was left thinking that I had to get my act together ASAP! She said that if I (and other people my age) were to do one thing for our skin, it wouldn't be those millions of products you can find near the makeup section in any department store, it's not makeup itself, it's not what you wash your face with or how often you wash it, etc. It's wearing sunscreen. Every. Single. Day. Hand's down, it's the number one thing you can do for your face, she said.

And as she said this, I thought back to my bathroom closet and how I had virtually nothing that has SPF in it, and I certainly didn't wear it every day. So, I began the journey... the journey to finding a facial moisturizer with SPF that I could commit to wearing every. single. day. This is the documentation of my journey over the past 6 months.

I started off cheap. I went to Target and bought the cheapest thing I could find that seemed to fit the bill. I wasn't sure where to begin, so decided to use cost as the determining factor. It even says "helps protect skin from premature aging" right on the bottle. I thought I'd found The One.
Boy, was I wrong. This product, as evidenced in the picture by it sliding off my finger within seconds, was very greasy. I guess I didn't have any expectations when I started this journey, but I quickly found that 1) the greasiness resulting a super-shiny face all day long and 2) the strong sunscreen odor prevented me from wearing this every day. I did NOT look forward to wearing it, and if I wasn't wearing it, then it was a waste of money. I decided to love my skin enough to keep searching. (I should add a disclaimer here that I have normal-oily skin to begin with, so this was a bad product for me for that reason, but might work fine on someone with dry-normal skin. I would also add that if I'm going to the pool or something, I do use this on my neck, shoulders, arms, etc. Mostly just to use it up, though, not because I love it.)

I then decided that perhaps I should look for something with some tint in it. If this was something I was to wear every day, I reasoned, perhaps I could replace my powder foundation with this, and after slapping some mascara on, be ready for what my SAHM day might throw at me. My makeup routine would be shortened and yet I could still look (somewhat) pulled together.

More back-story: When I was 25, I started breaking out like I never had before. I had finally graduated from grad. school, had my first full-time job and thus actually had money coming in, so I decided to treat myself to a series of facials to figure out what was going on. I had previously been an admirer of Aveda from afar, and so I booked several sessions with a wonderful woman who turned my skin around. She explained that 25 is a huge hormonal shifting period for women in general and given the climate change of moving from MI to GA, the combination was the problem. She set me up with some products aimed at my specific skin type, and within months, my skin was cleared up. I am now a HUGE Aveda fan. I use only Aveda hair and skin cleaning products, and have told Seth that if money gets tight, everything else will go generic before that does. Or I'll get another job. It's that important to me. It's that important to me because I've seen what it does for my skin and hair if I use something else. I'm sold for life! (Whew! long back story) And oh, I now get a facial at least once a year, just to even my skin back out from the previous-year's 'damage.'

So I decided to check out what Aveda had in the way of tinted facial moisturizer/sunscreens. (Did you know that if you go to the Aveda website, there's an instant chat feature where you can ask all sorts of skin questions? Well, now you do. Seriously, check it out, it's great!) Side note: Aveda currently does not make an untinted facial moisturizer/sunscreen which is the reason I didn't start out with Aveda. I hadn't thought I wanted tint when I began this journey.
What I'm about to say almost hurts my heart. I didn't like this product. At All. Not one bit. I dislike it so much that I'm pretty sure the entire tube will expire before I use it even one more time. The main problem with it is that it's SO heavy! I mean, it's not just tinted, it is like full-on foundation. I almost felt like my pores were suffocating it was so thick. I was afraid to touch my face to anything for fear of it rubbing off, and couldn't wait til I could wash my face to take if off! It was also quite greasy and left my skin pretty shiny. (The disclaimer here is that I don't like liquid foundation. I have only worn powder foundation for as long as I can remember. I hate the thick coating/mask feeling of the liquid foundations. I like my natural skin--I pay a lot for it to look good--so to completely, 100% cover it up is not of interest to me. But, if you don't mind that feeling, or don't like your skin, this product might work for you.)

So, I felt like maybe all tinted versions would be like liquid foundation and so I decided to go back to Target and do more research in The Aisle to see what non-tinted versions exist. After literally about an hour and reading all of the labels of all 30+ products, I decided to go with this one: 
I liked that it was Neutrogena. I have been using their powder foundation for years, and figured that they were a trustworthy company that makes good products. I also liked that it says "oil-free" on the bottle. However, I wasn't in love with this product. I did wear it most of the time, but the strong sunscreen smell made me feel like a walking advertisement for our local pool. It was also quite greasy, despite it's claim as "oil-free," which is evidenced by it also sliding off my finger after just a few seconds. I realized, after some time, that the smell honestly, literally prevented me from wearing it every day. Since I was looking for something I could wear every day, and be 100% happy to do so, and I was also concerned about it plugging my pores with its grease, I was back on the journey.

Then I saw an advertisement for this:
I had swung back to the opinion of having a product that has tint in it so as to make my morning routine fast, so I was back to searching for products in that category. When I saw the advertisement for this, I was intrigued! (I even went so far as to ask Seth if I would be 'fair to light' or 'medium.' To which he had zero answer. ;-)

The only experience I have had with Aveeno is a really wonderful smelling bathwash that I bought to use in the hospital after Austin's birth (which I still use and still love), so I wasn't in the fast lane to purchase this, my next product in what had become a long line of products! My friend Christina happened to come to town that next week, and as I had still not found my perfect product, I relayed what my doctor had said and asked what she uses, if anything. She replied that she uses an Aveeno daily moisturizer, but after further clarifications, I discovered she didn't use this tinted one. But, her happiness with hers made me bite the bullet and buy it.

I LOVE IT! I absolutely love this product and have used it every single day since I bought it. I can only count the ways, I love it so much! First of all, it's just the right amount of tint. It blends into my skin and looks very natural, but does cover up some redness/marks that I have. It does not leave a weighty feel on my skin, but covers me just enough. Secondly, I love that it doesn't smell like sunscreen. I hadn't fully put together the strength of the negative feeling I had towards the sunscreen smell until this product didn't have the smell. It actually has a nice scent, floral-ly almost, which disappears soon after it's applied. Thirdly, it's not greasy! It makes my face shine a bit at first, as I'm applying it, but minutes afterward my face looks normal, but better! I HIGHLY (highly, highly, highly, highly) recommend this product.

But whichever product you decide to go with, use it. Decide that you are worth it enough, that your skin is worth it enough, to wear sunscreen every. single. day. I'll be praying that you find something that you love enough that putting it on each morning isn't a hassle, and that you're not disinclined to put it on for any reason. You owe it to yourself and to your skin to start your own facial moisturizer/sunscreen journey. Here's hoping your journey isn't as long as mine was!

I feel like I must issue a disclaimer for the cheesy-over-the-top pictures I took of the above products. Our bathroom counter top is granite and created a massive shine effect when I was taking the pictures, thus the towel behind as a back-drop. It wasn't done to look professional. My point-and-shoot camera doesn't 'do' professional. ;-)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Making Baby Food: Corn

Here's how I make Corn baby food:
-steam frozen corn until well done (about 20 minutes)
-wash with cold water to cool down so as to touch easily
-blend in Magic Bullet
-freeze in cubes
-reheat as needed

This was actually my first time making corn baby food as it's on our pediatrician's 10-12 month food chart, and he just turned 10 months. I enjoyed it as much as one can--steaming veggies on the stove while the temperature outside is a steamy 105+! The corn was steaming, and I was steaming. :-) The smell of steaming corn filled the house and took me down memory lane which was both nice and sad. I wished for years gone by, making homemade sweet corn with my extended Mattison family. My heart aches even now, just thinking of it. Anyways, I didn't find corn much different than the other frozen veggies-turned puree and will definitely make it again.
my supplies: ice cub trays, Magic Bullet, foil, Sharpie, measuring cup, and a spoon
This is my second-biggest pot, with the steamer inside.
Two packages of frozen corn. Beware of the brand you use because some companies add salt. Make sure the ingredients list includes just the vegetable and nothing added.
After putting several inches of water in the bottom of the pot, I add both bags to the steamer, and let them cook for about 20 minutes (from the time the water is boiling). (The yellow splotch you see on the cover is not butter, it's a reflection of the hood light.)
the cooked corn, in my big colander, which is sitting in the sink... I do this so I can spray it down with cold water.
I scoop it out with the measuring cup and put it into the Magic Bullet container. 
I then add some water to the container and puree it.
This has been one of my best investments!
I scoop it out of the container with a tablespoon and put it into the tray.
I would have gotten a little over three trays, but I was making two veggies this day, and needed the two other trays for that veggie. So I froze some in these bowls we have.
sealed, labeled and ready to freeze
what it looks like straight from the freezer..
and right after I take the foil off..
Corn has so far been THE hardest veggie to get out of the trays. I normally let them sit out at room temperature for just a few minutes (like 2), twist, and out they come! But, the corn had me sweating and nearly swearing they were so challenging! I finally caved in and ran some water over the back of the tray to get them out. I don't typically like to do that because it makes the outsides just ever-so slimy/smudgy that they don't freeze as nicely.