Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Stitch Fix #4

My latest Stitch Fix arrived the day after Christmas, which was dangerous planning on my part.  My stylish, Rachel, used inspiration from my pinterest board and blog to get ideas.  And she completely hit the nail on the head! I probably would have kept everything if the jeans fit a bit better.

When I first opened the box, I saw the items were wrapped up in the Look by M Sammie Plaid Infinity Scarf ($34).  I cringed at first, because sitting on the chair right next to me was an almost identical plaid blanket scarf I ordered from Jane.com two weeks prior.  I knew the one I already bought was cheaper and figured I would be sending this one back.  However, it's an infinity scarf, not a blanket scarf and I have worn my favorite knit infinity scarf into the ground.  I purchased another Stitch Fix a few fixes back, but it's not as heavyweight.  I decided to keep it since I know I'll get lots of wear from it.  I'm considering selling my other one, but it's also nice to have both styles. 

When I opened the polyvore set card that comes with each fix, the RD Style Maureen Twisted Seam Elbow Patch Sweater ($64) was first to grab my eye.  I tried it on and immediately knew I was keeping it.  I love the marled knit, the elbow patches are cute, but I would have kept this sweater without them, even though I like the detail.  It's the fit.  I love the high/low cut and the shape is just flattering, comfortable, and totally my style. I've already worn it.

(once again, apologies for the mirror iphone shots and sheet washing day)

I tried on the Papermoon Strewie Striped Mixed Material Top ($48) next.  I was actually surprised once on.  The fit was flattering, and while I initially wasn't sure if it was my style, I knew it would be something I would wear.  However, I couldn't get over the quality.  The knit felt acrylic and cheap and the back draping very cheap polyester.  It reminded me something I would buy at Forever21 for half the price.  Sent back.

Next, the Skies are Blue Everette Lattice Detail Blouse ($58) (similar).  I wasn't expecting to like this enough to keep it, cute, but not special.  But once I tried it on, I was sold.  For some reason I find the cut really flattering (if boxy/flowy can be flattering?) and totally my style.  I love the longer length bell sleeves as I'm starting to get annoyed with the bracelet sleeve trend.  For the price I don't think the quality is that great, I would have been happier if it was $48, but I kept it anyway.

Last was the Kut from the Kloth Kate Distrressed Boyfriend Jean (or Catherine jean) ($78).  I was really happy they included a boyfriend jean because it was something I wanted to try.  I love the look and trend on others, but always have a hard time deciding if it works on me since I usually feel frumpy in looser jeans.  These were actually a bit more flattering than I expected, but were a little too loose in the waist.  I could tell the denim would stretch and they would ride even lower than they already did. This made them fall a bit too low on my ankles (I'm 5'2") and were a bit too baggy in the butt.  If they would have fit, I probably would have kept everything since you get 25% Off if you keep all five items.

Overall, this was definitely my best fix yet.  I'm glad my pinterest board was helpful and I really feel like she included items I wanted (bf jeans, casual pullover style stweaters, flowly blouses, and a scarf I pinned like 10x).  Already excited for my next one in 8 weeks!

Have you started Stitch Fix?  (You can sign up here with my referral link)  Have they been on the mark for you?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas Cheer

It seems like Christmas was ages ago, but of course we have to recap it!  The Husband has been home since Tuesday which has been extra nice.  He always saves vacation days so he can take off at the end of the year, which I love since it just feels wrong having to work between Christmas and New Year's.

Christmas Eve the weather was really crummy.  We wanted to get out of the house and do something, but knowing the traffic around town was insane and only a mad person would head to the mall on Christmas Eve 'for fun' we just stayed home.  We drank some bellinis and gorged on brie and cranberry chutney while we let Ashlynn watch some Home Alone. We baked some fresh chocolate chip cookies for Santa and let Ashlynn fill the plate and carry over his glass of milk. Thankfully bedtime went fairly smoothly and Santa stopped by early.

Kenley has been out of sorts lately, her poor gums are so swollen yet the molars have yet to cut through.  Her sleep is completely hit or miss, and on Christmas morning she was up at 5am.  I finaly brought her downstairs around 6 since she kept saying "cup" and about a half hour later Ashlynn was up.

We had her come downstairs to see what Santa had brought and she had a field day.  She opened all our presents for us and stopped to play with a few here and there before having to be redirected to find another.  Kenley wasn't a happy camper and finally I just brought some breakfast in for her so she could hang out and cheer up.

Ashlynn was really happy that Santa brought her the little Elsa she asked for and balance bike. Although, I think the biggest hit was the trampoline from Bopo.  Now she can go on the "jumpingbean" whenever she wants.

We had an early dinner at our inlaws and then went to Frozen on Ice the next day (a gift from Mommy and Daddy).  Kenley wasn't too into sitting in the dark, so we had to take turns walking her around the concourse. Ashlynn though LOVED it.  It was a really great show and we will definitely return to a Disney on Ice event in a few years.  

We had so much fun this season with Ashlynn "getting it" and I can't wait until Kenley is a little older and they can experience the magic together.

... and take a picture where they both are looking!

I hope everyone had a great holiday, what was your favorite gift??

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Merry

Wishing everyone a happy Christmas!  We will be enjoying the holidays with our families and appreciating all the blessings we have been given.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

[Review] Finding Frames with Firmoo

Something you are probably unaware of, is my terrible eyesight.  I'm nearsighted, and have been wearing glasses since I was in 5th Grade.  Except, I refused to wear them around and only put them on to see the chalkboard when needed and then take them off as soon as I was done.  By the time I was in 7th Grade, my eyesight worsened, and after some pleading my parents allowed me to get contacts instead.  And ever since, I've worn contacts usually from the the time I brush my teeth in the morning to the time I brush my teeth before bed.  However, I still need frames for when my eyes are irritated, watching tv in bed, getting up for all those middle of the night wakings, or just occasionally being lazy around the house.   

So most people have never glimpsed me in glasses, and because of this, I've only owned three pairs in the last fifteen years. The last pair I bought was about six years ago, and replacing them has become a priority due to all the little hands that have pulled or played with them over the last few years.  I had been thinking about using a mail order service instead of going through my optometrists office, but have been putting it off.  I was recently contacted by Firmoo.com, a global optical online store, to try a pair of prescription or non-prescription glasses.  I checked out the site, I was impressed with the options and styles, and mostly, how affordable the prices.  

I found a pair of frames I liked, used the online try on tool where you can upload your photo to see how the frames look on your face and began placing my order.  Since I was ordering prescription glasses, I  did need to get my lens rx from my optometrist.  I entered the information and picked the features I wanted (UV Coating, Anti-Scratch, etc), and placed the order.   

My order was placed on December 2nd, and they arrived a week later on December 10th.   They came with a nice hard glasses case, soft pouch, cleaning cloth and screwdriver.  

I was stunned that even with the single vision lenses and features, the glasses were still under $50. The only reason I never get new frames is because I always put my insurance coverage towards my contacts and never want to pay the hundreds that prescription glasses can cost.

Even better, Firmoo offers a First Pair Free program on selected glasses to new customers and Free Shipping on orders over $39 with code FREESHIP.  They are also offering 30% Off all frames for the holiday with code HD30.

If you are looking for an affordable pair of glasses or sunglasses, definitely check out Firmoo's options.  


FTC Disclosure: I received a free pair of glasses from Firmoo in exchange for a review on my blog.
All opinions expressed are my own and I received no monetary compensation. This post also contains affiliate links.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Life Happenings

The holidays are such a busy time of year, I swear December is the fastest month despite having all 31 days. We are still in the midst of a master bathroom reno, which has actually kept us home more than normal, though the second week of the month it lined up fine with passed around illnesses of fevers, sniffles, and coughs. We've spent time with almost all of the grandparents, attending (and hosted) birthday parties, baked dozens of cookies, had playdates, Santadates, and finally hit up our local trampoline park for toddler time.

The bathroom should be almost done next week, aside for the shower glass.  We did a full reno, and right now are waiting on the painter.  I can't wait to see it all come together and hopefully not be disappointed in our choices!  Pictures (and details) coming!

We finally visited Santa last Wednesday, and the girls surprised me.  I thought Ashlynn would refuse to sit on his lap and take a picture and Kenley would be all over him. Nope, Ashlynn, while still shy, was excited to talk to him and promptly said she wanted a Little Elsa. Kenley was as happy as a clam in the stroller until I took her out, and tried to take her paci.  She wasn't too pleased with me and by the time we got up to Santa she let the tears start.  We took pictures with just Ashlynn and then they said, "well, she's already crying if you want a picture"... no shame here, I stuck that baby on his lap and got the money shot that will be framed for all Christmas futures.

Lastly, we finally hit up the trampoline park for toddler time.  I've been wanting to head over the last few months, but since Kenley was in that stage where she was mobile, but not walking, I wasn't sure how I could watch Ashlynn and have Kenley contained at the same time.  Since Kenley is a walker, she's allowed to jump so we met up with friends and let the kids jump themselves into some pretty stellar naps.  This is will probably become a fairly routine happening this winter.

Yesterday, Santa made his final rounds with the Fire Department before heading back to the North Pole to finish some toys and pack up the sleigh.  Between getting to have Daddy home for two weeks and Christmas Eve and Morning, I can't wait for this week.  There is simply nothing more heartwarming than the smile of amazement and pure joy on children.  I hope everyone has a magical holiday with their families and loved ones!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Toys not just for Boys - Chuggington StackTrack Playset

Like a kid on Hanukkah morning...

...not quite the same ring, but the Christmas tree and jammies still give you that feeling of holiday excitement.   The first night of Hanukkah was Tuesday and since that day we dealt with the most epic meltdown ever coming home from school, I decided to nix the gift of the night.  Actually, since we only celebrate the holiday for culture and family and not traditional or religious reasons, we don't do a present every night.  If we did, they'd probably just be getting stickers and Little Golden Books. So since my mom usually sends a Hanukkah gift, as does my step mother in law, we just space them over the 8 nights.

We were lucky enough to receive a Chuggington StackTrack playset from TOMY to review and knew it would be the perfect Hanukkah gift.   Since we also received the Chuggington Snow Rescue DVD to go along with the StackTrack's Koko's Icy Escapade theme, I thought we'd get a lot playtime without having twenty other shiny new toys alongside it.  Not to mention, having a holiday DVD to inspire play and get a break from the repeat of holiday Sofia and Jake episodes.

I was really excited when we were asked to review this playset.  Chuggington was one of the first shows Ashlynn was interested in watching and we still catch episodes onDemand since they are fairly short, I can get away with only allowing one, instead of a whole half hour.  Aside from the fact Ashlynn is a fan of the show and characters (she has no idea who Thomas is), I was stoked we were being asked to try a toy that is so classically labeled a "boy toy".  

Of course, we have our fair share of tea sets, dolls, and princess dresses, but I really try to stay aware of the gender stereotyping that is forced upon us when shopping at toy stores.  Pink aisles and boxes for girls and blue for boys.  We have a nice collection of cars, Green Toys trucks, and a pirate ship, but we don't have a train.

Ashlynn was so excited.  It's recommended for ages 3+, but at 2.5, she plays and is entertained with it just fine.  Of course, assembly was all me, but I had her help with handing me the pieces I needed.  The die cut stack track allows you to build elevated layouts and it can built multiple ways, which gives it new life when toddler ADD casts it aside.  The pieces all easily snap together, however, the instructions noted it's best on a flat (not carpeted) surface.  Which we figured out after godzilla Kenley walked into about three times knocking the risers off from the track.

I definitely think this toy would be a great gift idea for any Disney Jr fan - boy or girl!  The creative and imaginative play, as well as the track building - future engineers?? - is fun for any child.  I love that the track goes with the Snow Rescue episode and it also connects to any other Chuggington StackTrack set.

Of course, Kenley on the other hand was more interested in the box.  ;)

If you'd like to pick up your own playset in time for the holidays, Koko's Icy Escapade playset is now available at Target and Amazon.com.

Do you buy toys marketed to the opposite gender for your children?


FTC Disclosure:  TOMY generously sent us the Chuggington StackTrack playset and Chuggington Snow Rescue DVD for our review,  however all opinions and excitement are our own.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Our Holiday Traditions

I have such fond memories of the holidays as a child and I hope we create a home and atmosphere for our girls to make happy memories of their own.

Passed Down Traditions

1 - Driving around and looking at Christmas lights (this has always been a favorite of mine!)

2 - Cookies! My mom always made a huge variety, I love doing this too! This year we did sugar cookies, buckeye balls, peanut butter kisses, and (my favorite) chocolate ribbon cookies.  I also like to do eggnog balls, Finnish cookies, snowballs, cocoa cookies, and double chocolate biscotti. 
3 - Waiting for Santa on the fire truck!  Love that our town does this just like my hometown.  Our Santa came at night growing up, this one comes during the day, but the fire firefighters hand out candy canes, so that works too!
4 - Giant gingerbread cookies.  I have the 1980 cookie cutters my mom used with us.  A gingerbread man, girl, house, and snowman.  We got to decorate them with icing, sprinkles, red hots, etc.  We didn't do a gingerbread house, but this was just as fun and probably easier when we were preschoolers.
5 - Hanukkah.  I grew up with parents who were raised in different religions.  Since my parents didn't actively practice either, they shared the diversity of the season and our extended relatives and we celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas.  I have my mother's heirloom menorah and I look forward to teaching the girls the history.  And since my husband's step mother is Jewish, it's nice to be able to celebrate with her traditions, as well. 

6 -Visit Santa!  I still have a lot of my old mall Santa polariods.  Time honored tradition filled with joy or tears, and perfect either way.  Wish us luck, we are headed out for our trip today!
7 - Tree (artificial) goes up the day after Thanksgiving! 

New Traditions

1 - Elf on the Shelf.  We joined the masses, it's silly, but cute. 
2 - Gingerbread house.  I know I said we would do the giant cookies, and hopefully that's what we'll do the next few years, but I would love to do some awesome gingerbread houses maybe when the girls are in elementary school and can handle having the creative freedom a bit more.  
3 - Day of service.  It is better to give, than to receive  - and I want my girls to remember how lucky they are in a season filled with want, want, want.  Whether it's a local volunteer opportunity, doing small acts of kindness for neighbors, or going door to door to collect canned goods or clothing to bring in to donation centers.
4 - Go ice skating or a winter activity as a family.  (Skiing/snowtubing/etc... just a fun family activity that will help us bond as a family and have fun memories of the special activity).
5 - The Nutcracker.  When the girls are old enough to sit still, I would love to start taking them to see The Nutcracker in the city.  I was never a dancer, but I saw local productions of The Nutcracker as a kid and always loved the movie... even if it oddly stared Macaulay Caulkin.

6 - Advent calendar.  We had the little Hallmark ones growing up, but I would love to our new version year after year. 

I'm sure there are lot of other things we'll add over time, traditional meals - like baked french toast or cinnamon buns for breakfast Christmas morning - with Irish coffee for mom and dad and hot cocoa for the girls.  However, I just thought I'd share what we do and plan to do as I know I always love hearing what others do and what preferences are.  

What is your favorite tradition you look forward to each year??

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Insta-spired... Photo Dump

@houseofjadeinteriors | | @michellearmas007
@dolcebellabyerin | @danielleoakeyinteriors | @houseofjadeinteriors
@cindyconfettisparkle | @urbanwalls | @_brittbass
@thealisonshow | @henandco | @laurenfair
@houseofjadeinteriors | @stitchmyfix | @kirstenkrason
@dolcebellabyerin | @schuelove | @meganjbailey

It's been a while since my last screen shot dump of instagram inspiration.  Looks like lately I've been obsessed with interiors and cookies.  Considering we are halfway through a bathroom reno and I'm living off Christmas cookies, I'd say it's art imitating life indeed!  Who are your favorite accounts to follow? 

And a Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate, enjoy your evening!

Monday, December 15, 2014

How I Cookie Party - Royal Icing Sugar Cookies

Okay, so I've shared most of my sugar cookie royal icing attempts on here and instagram, and while you can learn all the same tips, tricks, and recipes with Alison's Cookie Party, I thought I'd share a little about my experience now that I've "partied" five times in less than two months.

Have I ever mentioned I love cookies?

Moving on.  Some background.

I love baking.  Cooking I can manage, but I am no chef. I am just not really into it and if it includes meat I become obsessive that it's not fully cooked and end up refusing to eat it.  Baking, now that includes my love language - sugar.   I could probably survive on muffins and cookies alone.  And some days, I do... just add coffee.

I've seen some royal icing tutorials or photos here and there and never really felt compelled to do it myself.  I was never a huge fan of the decorated sugar cookie.  Usually the cookies were more along the lines of shortbread and didn't include chocolate, so interest lost.

As you probably have figured out by now, I freakin' love Alison of The Alison Show.  She's ingeniously creative and business savvy, but she also basically spews positivity and rainbows and puppies and unicorns too.  Anyway, when she was promoting her Cookie Party course and said there would be a discount for the presale, I jumped in.  I had been seeing all her promotion pics on instagram and it might have been the emoticon cookies that did me in.  After learning that she enjoyed doing the cookies because it helps ease her anxiety, it was like she was speaking directly to me.  I love any type of crafting, sewing, painting, or baking because of how it's a nice relaxing escape for my brain, and I've been this way since I was in high school.  This year was particularly hard for me with dealing with post partum anxiety, and this was a light bulb moment.  Since I stopped making teepees, I was craving something that used the creative side of my brain to keep the balance.  This was the perfect answer.

As soon as I finished watching the tutorial and perusing the included e-book, I started ordering my supplies and committed myself to getting enough experience under my belt that I could make cookies for Kenley's birthday party and knock it out of the park.   While I waited for my AmeriColor gel based food coloring to arrive, I used an old Wilton kit I had and just didn't get the colors I needed, but was still able to make some fairly cute Halloween cookies.

Not perfect, but I was definitely encouraged that I had the ability to do it and would improve each time.  Learning the right consistencies to the icing, techniques, and color schemes.  The AmeriColor gel definitely has more vibrant colors and options, and according to Alison has less effect on the taste of icing.

Tangent here, but a bit more personal background.  When I was in elementary school, my mom got really into baking and decorating cakes.  She was very talented and soon began making cakes for neighbors and friends and word continued to spread.  She ended up with a nice little at home business making wedding, birthday, communion, you name it cakes.  Of course, this was the early 90s before the craze of fondant and reality tv extreme cakes, but she was really good.  She broke her wrist when I was 10, and she wasn't able to continue her cakes after she got her cast off since she was never able to squeeze the piping bags with the same precision.  However, the skills she had, I must have picked up along the way by watching and making many of my own 'for fun' cakes.  Let's be clear, I'm no professional cake decorator, but I know how to handle a piping bag and not be a total hot mess.

Point of the story, those skills definitely translate right into cookie decorating.

I've had a nice stash of piping bags, couplers, and tips for years.  However, I needed to purchase a standard number 1 tip since it really allows you to get the tiny detail for the cookies, that takes them from cute to professional.  There is no way I could have done the snowflakes above without that tip!

I actually ended up buying a second so I can do detail in two different colors.

I also ordered edible writing pens.  Alison used them a bunch in her tutorial and I loved how you can fancy up a rather plain cookie, like above, with text or a drawing. Let's face it, I can barely write in fancy or cursive handwritings with a pen, let alone an icing bag, so this was genius to me.

When I made the Thanksgiving cookies, I made the error of using icing that was a bit too stiff.  You can see above how the cookies didn't set in a nice smooth and glossy surface. This is definitely something I would warn, learning to do this whole royal icing technique is not something you learn on your first try.  My first batch was actually much better than these, which were actually my 3rd attempt.  I'm slowly learning my lessons as I go, evidenced below.

As for flooding my cookies, a royal icing term - search any tutorial to learn more, but basically the runny consistency icing that "floods" your cookie and hardens to a smooth surface overnight - I went with Alison's technique of using squeezy bottles.  Some people just use spoons and spatulas to drip and spread it, others piping bags, but I think the squeezy bottle is the happy medium.  There is enough control that you don't get sloppy like a spoon or spatula, but it's also easier and quicker than using a piping bag. And I like that you can put the cap on it and store it if need be.

The next thing to note, the actual cookie itself.  Alison also gives her sugar cookie recipe and tips how to bake them in her course.  These cookies aren't quite the Pillsbury sweet sugar cookie that I'm used to, but they aren't dry boring shortbread cookies either.  I did have a nice collection of cookie cutters, though I'm not sure where some of them came from, especially considering I didn't even own a rolling pin.  I bought this one, and it's awesome (and it was cheap).  I prefer to keep my cookies on the thicker side.  When baking, you definitely want to error on the side of underbaking to overbaking. This density will help keep the cookies soft and fresh, especially if you choose to bake them one day, and then decorate them the next night like I do since it a time consuming activity.  Once they are iced, it's also as they are almost "sealed" and the icing also helps keep the cookie from getting stale too quickly. 

For Kenley's birthday,  I baked her cookies on Wednesday, and decorated the bears on Thursday night and the number 1s on Friday night.  Her party was on Sunday.  They stayed fresh stored in an airtight container and we actually just ate the last ones over this past weekend.  While not the freshest, they were still good and worth eating. 

Royal icing takes a while to set.  I would say you generally have a few minutes while it's wet to manuever it around on your cookie before it starts drying.  After ten minutes or so, if you add more icing, it will bump up against the drying icing and create that groove that you see between the bears feet and body, and body and arms.  When I did the bears I first did the feet and ears (dark brown) of each bear, I had 21.  Then I went back to the first and did the head.  Then the body.  And then light brown on the feet.  Then arms and finally the mound for the snout nose.  After I finished the snout, I piped the eyes and noses and them set on cooling racks over night.  After ten hours or so, they are fully set and you can CAREFULLY stack them back in an airtight container.   Warning:  Do not try to stack them if they appear set, but significant time hasn't passed.  The outside may appear dry, but underneath is not and they will smudge and like nail polish, they will be almost impossible to fix.   I know it's hard, but.. patience!

So there is my ode and too many words about cookies.  The best coincidence is that over the weekend, after I already planned on putting together this post for today, I was notified by Alison that she is offering 20% off her Cookie Party course thru Wednesday with code COOKIEFACE for anyone who would like to gift it for a holiday present or purchase it for themselves.  She says she most likely will never offer a discount lower than this, so if you were on the fence, you are probably being swayed the way I was when purchasing during the pre-sale.  Personally, I've definitely gotten my monies worth taking her course and while I don't know if I'll keep up the speed at which I've been doing these cookies - which seems like every other week - I definitely love having this skill in my wheel house to impress when needing to bring something to a party or event.

And full disclosure, I am not getting paid or receiving swag or flamingos from Alison for all this promotion.  I seriously just genuinely love this stuff and love supporting other blogger moms.

Did I miss anything?  What is your favorite impressive dessert?  Cupcakes? Cake Pops? Cookies?...

I've never made a cake pop, truth.