Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013's Books

You know what adding a second kid to the family does to your reading? Chops it, people, simply chops it. I used to have a goal of reading one more book per year than the previous year, but that's pretty much impossible. I've been keeping track of my books since about 2010 when I began using Goodreads (If you like to read, you have to use this site! It's SO helpful for tracking things!), and my reading has gone down, not up. :-( I just keep reminding myself that it's a season. All of life is a season.

Anyways, I read 28 books in 2011, and 26 books in 2012 and just 23 books in 2013!

Here is my list of 2013 books:
*Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed; Glennon Melton
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible; A. J. Jacobs
MWF Seeking BFF: My yearlong Search for a New Best Friend; Rachel Bertsche
Live, Love, Laugh, and Laundry?; Terri Bonin
Beyond Ordinary: When a Good Marriage Just Isn't Good Enough; Justin Davis
*The Secret Keeper; Kate Morton
Out of the Spin Cycle: Devotions to Lighten Your Mother Load; Jen Hatmaker
*Anna Karenina; Leo Tolstoy
Farewell, Rob Bell: A Biblical Response to Love Wins; Larry Dixon
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking; Susan Cain
*Shepherding a Child's Heart; Tedd Tripp
Raising Godly Tomatoes; Elizabeth Krueger
Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God's Word; George Guthrie
*Pollyanna; Eleanore Porter
The Pollyanna Plan; Talli Roland
Pollyanna Grows Up; Eleanore Porter
*SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bobers Should Buy Life Insurance; Steven Levitt
*Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith; Jon Krakauer
The Well-Lived Laugh: Designing a Life That Keeps You Smiling; Rachel St. John-Gilbert
Sh*t My Dad Says; Justin Halpern
*Life of Pi; Yann Martel
Bebe By Day; Pamela Druckerman
*Sparkly Green Earrings; Melanie Shankle

My favorites (for myriad reasons) are MWF Seeking BFF, The Secret Keeper, Quiet, Raising Godly Tomatoes, and Sparkly Green Earrings.

What did you read this year that you loved?

*= Books I read with Chapters, my book club of over 4 years.

To compare this list with 2012, click HERE.
To compare this list with 2011, click HERE.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

BzzAgent Kit: International Delights creamers

I'm ready for Thanksgiving! I was thrilled to be a offered a chance at this BzzKit with BzzAgent because it gave me two coupons for free creamer and several coupons for $1 off a creamer. I bought these three because they seemed like the most appropriate for fall events. I host a monthly book club and we host our friends and family for Thanksgiving, so these three will be a perfect addition to all of our upcoming events. The creamers make the coffee sweeter with the mild hint of flavor. It's not at all over-powering and I'm glad to be introduced to them! My husband still prefers old fashioned half and half, but these last longer in the fridge (and have flavors!) which is better in my opinion. We'll probably buy both in the future.

Stocked and Ready!
** This review was done as a part of my participation in campaigns with BzzAgent. I have gotten to try (for FREE!) all sorts of products. If you're interested in learning more, click HERE.**

Friday, November 15, 2013

BzzAgent Kit: Kroger Skillet Meals

I recently got chosen to do another BzzKit with BzzAgent, this time it was "Kroger Skillet meals and easy sides". I got a voucher for a free garlic bread, a free bag of salad and a free skillet meal. Everything was super yummy and though the garlic bread burned, I would definitely buy the Kroger brand skillet meals again. It was very tasty and had REAL ingredients!

Here are some pictures of the meal:
Look at all that buttery, garlic-y goodness!
There wasn't as much in the bag as I thought, but it was good quality salad!
I chose the "penne with grilled chicken" meal.
This is what it looks like when you first pour it in the pan. 
The orange chunks are the sauce, frozen into cubes.
And when it starts heating up, the chunks of sauce melt and you stir to coat the food. 
Look at the amazing chicken chunks! 
The bread was burned even with several minutes left of the smallest time estimate on the directions. 
We scraped the insides out and still ate it. 
The baby loves some garlic bread!
**This review was done as a part of my participation in campaigns with BzzAgent. I have gotten to try (for FREE) all sorts of products. If you're interested in learning more, click HERE.**

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Few New Things I'm Trying...

I recently noticed several friends on Facebook posting things about BzzAgent (BzzAgent is a company that provides you with free products in return for a review of the products.) and it got me thinking...

I've been doing BzzAgent for YEARS. Like probably 5 years or so. I started out really slow and since that was before I had a blog, I didn't get much traffic from it (you get more products the more your reviews are seen and my having a blog means more people can potentially see my reviews). I LOVE BzzAgent. I like trying new products with not much commitment or cost, of course, but I also love that it's something to focus on besides my boys. It is a creative, a brain-using, stimulating outlet that doesn't involve dressing, changing, or feeding other people. 

So in effort to try to increase my participation in similar types of things, different ways of expending mental energy on things besides the boys, I'm trying a few new things. I love my sons dearly, and I don't want to work fully outside the home--it's important to me to be home full time during these early years, but I'm a healthier mom (and wife) when I have something besides them to think about--it balances me. In an effort to increase these sorts of things, I've signed up on two new websites: Swaggable and FlyBy Promotions. I just signed up, so I have not gotten any free products, nor have I even been invited to participate in anything. I'm hoping that will change very soon, though. I'll let you know what I think of those sites once I have an opinion.

I'm also going to try to start being better about doing reviews on Amazon. I use this site probably at least once a week, and they have an amazing "club" called The Vine where they give products to their top reviewers in exchange for a review. You can't ask to be a part of it, Amazon simply selects you based on the amount of good reviews you submit. And it can't hurt to try! So that's the third new thing I'm trying.

The biggest new thing I'm trying, though, is working as a Consultant for Rodan + Fields. It all started a couple months ago when I got a free sample of their products. I LOVED how much better my skin was, and as someone who's tried million different skin products over the years (HERE and HERE) and still been unhappy, it was like a God-send! I have been using R+F for two months and my skin is noticeably better! It's softer, smoother, emptier, cleaner, and protected from the sun with a sunscreen that I absolutely love. Love. Love. Love! So, I decided to make a go at having a little side business with Rodan + Fields. It's still very early, but I'm hoping that this is something that works for me.

Are you a member of a site/company/club that gives free products in exchange for reviews? Do you know of any that I haven't mentioned up above? I'd love to give other ones a try as well!

Do you know of anyone who's looking for a new skin care line? I seriously love the products (and business model!) of Rodan + Fields. Get in touch with me if you or someone you know is looking for something new. It has a 60 day money back guarantee, so you're out nothing if you find you don't like it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

BzzAgent Kit: Lysol Power & Free!

I recently got to do a BzzKit with Lysol products and I was SUPER excited. I had seen these new products in stores and the non-chemical/oxygen promise was super appealing. And yet I hadn't actually stopped to buy them. I just passed right by and bought what I normally buy. So when BzzAgent offered me a chance at this campaign, I JUMPED at it. (I can hardly believe I was that thrilled about cleaning supplies, but I really was!)

I actually like the material the wipes are made out of. 
They are more cloth-like than the others I use.
worked great!
the spray really seemed oxygen infused--very bubbly
the bubbles are very obvious
and so are the streaks! (This is dry!)
The summary of my experience with these wipes is that I like them well enough but won't be buying them. They work great on my laminate countertop, but left horrible streaks on my fridge and they leave some sort of film on my kitchen table. So, basically, I can't use them for everything in my kitchen/house, and that's too much hassle to worry about. I love the idea of the boys not coming into contact with chemicals, but the film and streaks is just too much.

I like the cleaner well enough and it doesn't seem to have the same negative effects as the wipes, but I didn't love it more than what I currently use, so it doesn't seem enough like there's enough motivation to change products.

**This review was done as a part of my participation in campaigns with BzzAgent. I have gotten to try (for FREE!) all sorts of products. If you're interested in learning more, click HERE.**

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A True Tale of Customer Service (AKA: Why I Will Love Gap Forever)

In order to fully appreciate the story I'm about to tell (about Gap), I need to back up and tell a story about a recent experience at Jo-Ann's.

It all start innocently enough: I needed some scrapbook supplies and Seth agreed to stop there with me one Sunday afternoon so that I could shop in peace (and really let my brain figure out what I wanted vs. what I needed) because he was watching the boys (mostly chasing Austin up and down the aisles). I use the Jo-Ann app regularly and had recently noticed a 15% off coupon so I was shopping with the 15% off in mind (that is, I was buying a large quantity of stuff).

I got to the register and when I went to show the check-out lady the coupon, it was gone. I gasped and she guessed "If you're looking for the 15% off one, it expired yesterday." She then offered that there was a 25% off one coming soon for the following weekend, beginning on Friday (this was a Sunday). It was awesome of her to offer that information, I say, but I can't come shopping on Friday because I'll have my boys with me and I need these supplies for Friday evening. Then I ask "Can I simply purchase everything now and then come back with the coupon for a price adjustment?"

(See, the problem wasn't making a trip to Jo-Ann's with the boys in tow, but having them along would zap my creative abilities as far as knowing what I wanted to buy. It wasn't a matter of making it to the store, but of being able to spend enough time there to make all the decisions I needed to make.)

A cashier next to her says "You can only use the coupon once. And you have to surrender it at the time of purchase." That's fine, I say. I'm only making the one purchase and would only want to use it once. She, the other cashier, then says "Well, that's on your conscience." WHA? I look at my cashier like "What in the world!?" and she smiles and replies she will be there on Friday and will help me with the transaction. Ok, I think, that was weird. And rude. I was a bit miffed at the lady saying that, and it made me question my conscience, but at finding no policy stating what I was doing wasn't ok, and knowing it was neither illegal or taboo (I ask for price adjustments all the time), I forgot all about her.

Until Friday.

I got to the checkout and it's the same girl I had on Sunday. I remind her of my coming in on Sunday and state that I simply need a price adjustment on my items since there's the 25% off coupon now. I hand her the items and the receipt. She goes about returning everything (finding each item on the receipt and crossing it off... a very lengthy and annoying process in my opinion) and then asks the manager next to her for a merchandise return card (I'm so distracted by trying to keep my oldest out of the automatic doors that I don't realize what she's doing until it's all over). The manager cashier asks about the transaction and once my girl explains what's happening, she looks at me and says "If you'd asked me to do it, I would have told you 'no'." And then walks away.

I was stunned. "Tell me you won't help me!?" I'm thinking. I tell my cashier that I don't appreciate the attitude the manager just gave me and said that I didn't understand why her and the other lady were giving me such grief when I wasn't asking to break the law or any policies. WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL!? I wanted to shout. IT'S JUST A PRICE ADJUSTMENT. I DO THIS ALL THE TIME. JUST DO YOUR JOB. sheesh! As she's ringing everything up, I notice that classes are on sale right now and ask about a class schedule (there weren't any on the table where they normally are).

My girl talks into the headset "Can someone please bring some class schedules up front? I have a customer who wants one." She finishes the transaction which leaves me $26 on a merchandise card. Store credit. Which is obviously not what I had asked for, but I'll likely spend $26 here at some point in the future, so I don't argue the point, though it does make me upset. I then stand by waiting for the class schedules, still fighting with Oldest to keep him from getting smooshed in the automatic doors. While I'm waiting, my cashier returns a clearanced item for a lady after getting another manager's approval (who rolled her eyes at being asked to help). This is blatantly against policy. I'm thinking "I got all this grief about a non-against-policy request and here they are letting her break policy without even a fight? What about HER conscience!?" I was starting to get steamy.

And I'm still waiting for a class schedule. WHILE trying to keep a hold of Oldest. I'm standing right by the table where the stack of schedules usually is when the manager cashier from a few minutes ago (who told me she would have said no) walks past me and sets them on the table saying "I don't know where to put these, so I guess I'll just throw them here" setting them on top of several sewn display items. I wait several awkward seconds for her to move (because I'm obviously standing here waiting for them) and then because Oldest is out of control at this point, I decide to slink my arm around and grab one from the stack saying "Thank you!" as I do so. Now I was HOT.

I was so mad that after strapping the boys into their seats, I immediately call Jo-Ann customer service. I mean, I'm 30 feet from the front door, sitting in my car, on the phone ready to complain about how I was treated. The lady at customer service was AMAZING. (I do have to give them credit for that.) She verifies that she doesn't understand why I got such a hard time, that what I was asking for is fine, that she's sorry and says she'll have the district manager call me directly. I felt MUCH better after that phone call.

The district manager calls later that day and I relay the story to him. I tell him that I've never before been treated so poorly by people at this store and cannot believe the things these ladies said to me. He seems apologetic enough for the behavior of his people but then says "But it IS against our policy to use coupons on previously purchased items. It says so on the coupons." What!? After a slight gasp, I start apologizing for having even asked them to break policy. I clearly never read the fine print well enough to notice that and wouldn't have asked for it to be done if someone along the way had simply told me about the policy! In two seconds flat, I went from steaming mad at how I was treated to feeling super guilty for breaking the rules. (I am the girl who once bawled her eyes out at having accidentally stolen a pen from the gas station check out. I am not a rule breaker. I use my blinker every single time I change lanes. I come to complete stops at stop signs and before turning right on red. I am a by-the-book person. Side note: I think that has something to do with why I get so easily upset by situations like this.)

But once I've apologized for breaking the rules, I ask him why they didn't state the policy to me. I mean, why are they telling me "That's on your conscience." and reminding me that I have to surrender the coupon at time of purchase instead of "Our coupons can't be used on previously purchased items." If someone, anyone had simply said that, I wouldn't have even asked for it to be done. (Though that means I would have abandoned ship on Sunday and would not have gotten such a good deal on so many things on Friday using the 25% off.) He offers to "help me out" if I can come back in that day, but I couldn't because it's naptime and I'm hosting an event later and so I've not been compensated for this situation which still irks me even though I was asking them to break policy. (Side note: I have since looked at the coupons and it does clearly state that coupons may not be used on previous purchases.) A policy I think is stupid, but whatever. (Returning unused items for a price adjustment should be fine, in my opinion.)

Fast forward to today...

I went shopping at Gap today. For sales. See, I go every so often to Gap to look for clearance items and I also needed to return something I had bought online (also clearance items). (Oldest is at gymnastics camp this week, so it was good timing to only have one with me. The small one. The one in the stroller. ;-) The clearance section was missing so I ask an associate about it and she says there is some in the back and offers to go looking for the specific items for me (in the size and with the description I gave her). She comes back with four or five things--all exactly what I was looking for--and then says "And if you come back on Saturday, we're having a 30% off sale and we can give you the price adjustment." ! SHE JUST OFFERED THAT INFORMATION TO ME. Just offered it!

I explain that coming back is hard because I also have a toddler and the money I would save wouldn't be worth the hassle with the boys along. I ask if I could call for it, though, and she explains that I could if I use a credit card. An associate just walking by (JUST WALKING BY!) says that if I happen to have a Gap, Old Navy, or BR card, I can save the hassle and just get 30% off today because "there was a coupon that went out." ! Y'all. I was stunned. STUNNED. Stunned AND glad I have a BR Luxe card that I've kept all these years.

I thank them both profusely and then decide to venture to the baby/toddler section where I find some awesome deals, including coordinating shirts for the family picture, before heading to the check out to do my return and make my purchases. The guy who offered up the 30% off information walks by while I'm checking out and I tell my cashier that he has a 30% off coupon for me and he smiles and then just tells her the coupon code. No coupon needed. ! No. Coupon. Needed. And then the cashier explains that because it's Tuesday, I'll get an additional 10% off because I'm using the BR card. ! Holy. Smokes.

Needless to say, I got some amazing deals today at Gap, given that I bought sale and clearanced items and then got an additional 40% off. But the biggest thing is that they were SO helpful in my trying to save money. I mean, I didn't ask for it, they just offered it up. The service was a night and day difference to my recent Jo-Ann experience. And though I realize the industries are fairly different, I still believe in customer service.

I do not, however, think that the customer is always right and don't expect rules to be broken on my behalf, but Jo-Ann's could have simply explained the policy to me whereas Gap was going out of their way telling me about policies to save me money. One place never explained the policy and treated me horribly (though I still saved money, though NOT because of their help) and the other went out of the way to tell me the policy, treated me wonderfully, and because of their help (information sharing), I saved 40%! I was bowled over! I'm a Gap shopper for life. For life.

I'm planning on calling their customer service number to compliment them. That's something else you should know about me. ... 1) I'm a rule follower. 2) I am quick to complain. BUT 3) I'm ALSO quick to compliment. If my water glass goes empty during my entire meal, I start ticking off percentages of my server's tip. But if they go out of their way to ensure I have a good experience or save money or something, I start adding percentages to their tip. So despite some people thinking I'm too hard on people in the service industry, I disagree. It's a two-way street with me. (And if someone wants to go ahead and psychoanalyze how my being a rule follower is related to the second two points, please do. I'm too close to the trees to see the forest.)

Moral of the story: ask for price adjustments, but also be sure you know their policy on price adjustments. Also: Shop at Gap. The End.

Friday, April 12, 2013

BzzAgent Kit: Garnier B.B. Cream

I am LOVING BzzAgent right now. I have gotten to try (for free!) so many different things lately! (2013 has been a very full year of trying of free stuff.) I tried cereal (well, really, Austin did), handsoap, and now something for moi. :-) And this is something that was VERY interesting to me because I did my own research on tinted sunscreens already, but this is a new product and I'm always open to finding something new, better, cheaper, etc.

A full-size tube!
I put a little on my finger and was immediately worried that it would be too greasy.
I rubbed it on the back of my hand and immediately worried that it would be too dark for my face, and I'd be unable to wear it.

Given my experience with putting it on my finger and on the backs of my hands, I was nervous to try it. It took me over a week to actually try it out, but I did eventually muster up the courage. (I was simply afraid I'd hate it and didn't want to be stuck with something on my face when I wouldn't be able to take it off.) And I'm happy to report that I don't hate it! I don't love it either, but it's definitely something I'll continue using.

I had found that the stuff I was previously using was clogging my pores so I stopped using it faithfully and so I really need to get something that I'm 100% happy with. This B.B. Cream claims not to clog pores (the other one does too, though), so I'm sticking with it for awhile to see. And it wasn't too dark at all! Once applied to my face, it blended in very well and did a good, light job of covering my skin. It wasn't greasy or heavy which is exactly what I look for in a tinted moisturizer with sunscreen.

UPDATE 8-15-13: This product makes me break out so I've stopped using it.

** This review was done as a part of my participation in campaigns with BzzAgent. I have gotten to try (for FREE!) all sorts of products. If you're interested in learning more, click HERE.**

Saturday, April 6, 2013

BzzAgent Kit: Lysol Foaming Handsoap

I'm on a roll with BzzKits! After doing the cereal one recently, I got invited to two more and I was SO excited. These were products for me rather than for the kids, so it kinda felt like I was getting some presents. Some Momma Spoiling. Which everyone can use a little more of, right?

Anyways, the first one I got was for Lysol Foaming Handsoap. I was excited about the timing of its arrival because it came just in time for Easter Weekend. A weekend during which we host a series of events, so I would have the chance not only to try out some new soap myself, but get all of our guests to try it as well.

The smell is "creamy vanilla orchid."

A whole stack of coupons!
I just put it where my soap normally sits.
And started trying it! (It foams out just like other foam soaps I've tried.)
Upon using it for the first time, I asked my husband what he thought. His immediate reaction was that the scent is too strong and too feminine for him to want to use on a regular basis. I agree that the scent is strong and though I like it, the scent does linger on your hands awhile (not a bad thing), but it's a little girly-girl to expect my husband to use it. I'm not sure if they make this new soap in other smells, but something that is more gender-neutral, simply fresh smelling would be nice.

But the magic of this soap isn't in the use, but in the after-effects! The soap leaves my hands feeling like I just applied lotion. I'm serious. I didn't think that I would be ready to switch soap brands after doing this BzzKit, but I AM! As someone who changes two sets of diapers throughout the day, I wash my hands constantly. And I regularly feel like the backs of my hands are about to split open they are so dry and raw. I haven't had this new soap long enough to see if helps that dramatically long-term, but I'm excited about the possibility!

I asked my Easter Weekend guests if they had any feedback to give me so that I could add it to my review and I heard the same things my husband and I had come up with: the smell is strong and feminine and the soap leaves your hands soft and without need of applying lotion. So, overall we like the soap and yet wish for a different scent. (Which may already exist, I don't know.)

UPDATE 1-27-14: It's all I buy, now! I've totally converted to a Lysol Touch of Foam handsoap user in both our bathroom and the guest bathroom!

** This review was done as a part of my participation in campaigns with BzzAgent. I have gotten to try (for FREE!) all sorts of products. If you're interested in learning more, click HERE.**

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

BzzAgent Kit: "C is for Cereal"

I got my latest BzzAgent kit in the mail yesterday and immediately opened it up to see what my oldest would say about it. I managed grab the camera first, too, so here's my review of Post's "C is for Cereal" product.

1) I'm impressed with the fact that they sent us two full-size boxes of cereal to test: 1 box of Elmo Apple and 1 box of Cookie Monster Banana. (And seven $1 off/one box coupons for the future/to hand out to friends.)

2) The actual cereals look identical--some X's and O's. It has a bit of a freezer-dried effect or something in the texture. It reminds me of space food.

3) The two cereals taste exactly the same to me and taste neither like apples or bananas. My oldest seemed to prefer the Cookie Banana flavor though, as he chose it even when I switched the bowls around. He promptly ate all of the cereal I set out for us to taste test, so it definitely meets his approval.

4) He saw who was on the box and was giddy at the thought of eating something with Cookie or Elmo on it. (He calls all cereals "heerios.")

5) The nutrition doesn't much matter to me at this stage because he eats so little cereal, but it seems about as healthy as Kix or Cheerios or the like. It doesn't explicitly come with sugar inside--no marshmallows or such.

6) Depending on the price, I would buy this. I tend to buy whatever's on sale because, again, he eats so little cereal and doesn't have much of a preference yet. So, if we are shopping, need cereal, and its a good price, I'd get it. It's not so awesome I'd make a point to, though.

** This review was done as a part of my participation in campaigns with BzzAgent. I have gotten to try (for FREE!) all sorts of products. If you're interested in learning more, click HERE.**