August Birchbox Review

It’s that time again!  It feels like I’ve had my August box forever, but that’s probably because it came hot on the heels of my wayward July box.  August had some excellent samples, so let’s get to it!

August Birchbox

1.  R + Co Death Valley Dry Shampoo (Full size:  $17-29):  As I’ve discussed before, dry shampoo is one of those things that I see the use for, but don’t personally use all that much.  This was a decent dry shampoo, but I preferred my previous sample, and would purchase that before this one.  It simply wasn’t the perfect dry shampoo for me, but I’m certain it is the perfect one for someone else.

2.  Supergoop! Advanced Anti-Aging Eye Cream SPF 37 (Full size:  $45):  When I read the description of this cream I was excited about what it promised, but was unsure it could really deliver.  Because you need so very little of this cream to coat your under-eye, this small sample lasted me a week.  I was happy to see that it really did depuff for me.  I think it also reduced my dark circles, but because I didn’t take pictures to compare, I can’t be sure it wasn’t just me wanting to love this product.  I would probably buy this product because it delivers and a little will go a long way.

3.  LAQA & Co Charm School Kit (Set of 3 $20):  This product was thick and creamy, and it was easy to apply.  However, my sample was an orange/coral sort of color and it just did NOT work on me.  It looked pretty terrible with my complexion.  The other colors might be better for me, but I wouldn’t purchase this since I know for a fact that one third of the set won’t be right for me.  However, I’d be willing to try out more products from this company, and if purchasing the colors individually was an option, I might consider it then as well.

4.  Air Repair Complexion Boosting Moisturizer (Full size:  $20):  I LOVED this product.  I was so excited to get another moisturizer to try out because of my very dry climate.  I really liked how my skin felt and looked after applying this product.  It really felt like a treat for my skin.  I will be purchasing this product.

5.  Curly Hair Solutions Silk Leave-in Conditioner (Full size:  $18):  This product alone made this box amazing.  I am always looking for great products for curly hair.  I hate crunchy hair, and I hate how my hair is often dry.  I tried out this leave-in on its own and with other products.  I was amazed how fabulous my hair looked when I just used the conditioner.  I will be buying this product, I’ve already recommended it to my family members, and I can see this becoming a staple in my hair routine.  I will even be checking out other products they produce because I loved this that much!

There you have it!  This was an AWESOME box!  Two products I can’t wait to purchase, one product I will probably get around to, a company that I’m interested in (even if the one product wasn’t my color).

Want to check out Birchbox yourself?  You too can get five samples a month for just $10 each month.  Follow my referral link, give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Planner Stickers

Recently I was on the lookout for a new planner, so I started researching my options.  I am very picky about what I want in a planner and it changes regularly.  I bought my last planner back in January, and thought it was a good fit for my new lifestyle.  However, after using it for 6 months, I decided there were some issues that made it less than perfect.  So I hunted.  During that hunt I watched  a lot of planner reviews on YouTube and read a lot of reviews on blogs.  Slowly I got sucked into the “planner community.”  I ended up purchasing my planner from May Designs, but I couldn’t stop thinking about everything I had seen and read.  I had to get into planners like all of those ladies were!

In order to fully immerse myself in the craziness that is the planner community, I have ordered some stickers.  The first stickers I ordered came in this week, and it was pretty exciting!  I ordered from Sweet Ava’s Paper, and was very happy.  First, some technical background.  I had ordered from two other shops, and was a little concerned that none of those had shipped yet.  So when I decided I wanted to also order from Sweet Ava’s, I messaged her to check whether or not items would arrive before I left on my trip to Indiana.  She was super easy to chat with, responded to my questions quickly, and totally delivered on her promise.  I ordered from her on Aug 17, and got the order on the 24th.  I ordered three items:  two theme sheets and a “grab bag.”  Let’s take a look!

First up are the specific sheets I ordered plus the small sample she sent me as well.

Sweet Ava Order Part 1

The image in the upper right corner is the sample set she sent.  It’s a nice combination of colors, and they are intended to be boarder stickers.  In the middle is Pink and Navy Coffee Cups.  I liked the color scheme of these cups as well as the cute little heart on the cup.  I plan on using these when I’m meeting up with people or when we have an event that we’re attending.  The bottom row is the Pumpkin Spice Everything set.  I plan on using this in the same way as the coffee cups, but during October and November aka Pumpkin Spice Season.

Next up is the grab bag.  Basically, this is a random set of 5 sheets that she throws together for you.  I thought that this would be a nice way to check out some of her other offerings.  The listing says that the order will add up to 5 full 8.5 x 11 pages, but it might not come as full pages.  You might end up with two half pages, for example, to make up one of the 5 pages.  My order ended up being 5 full sheets.

Sweet Ava Grab Bag 1

First up is this Thanksgiving set.  I like that most of the items on this sheet are non-specific Fall so I can use them anytime during the season.  That said, Thanksgiving isn’t one of my favorite holidays, and there’s no way I would use all of these stickers.  I like that it’s a large variety, but I also think I might be looking for a good home for some of these.  Luckily, I know a few people that might want to trade with me!  (Yes, I suckered some o my friends into the community too.)

Sweet Ava Samples 2 and 3

Samples 2 and 3 had less variety.  These sheets are a Laundry set and a Paw Print set.  I like the colors on the laundry set.  I’m a fan of how each part is one color with differing levels of fade.  I plan to use these to remind me when I need to wash sheets and towels.  I’m not sure what I’ll do with the hangers, though.  As for the paw prints, I plan on using them for when I need to schedule/drop off/pick up the dogs from the kennel, for vet appointments, and for heartworm and flea and tick reminders.  That said, I had already bought laundry and paw print sets from other shops.  However, those shops haven’t shipped yet, so I might see if I can drop or replace those items from my order.

Sweet Ava Sample 4

This is the “To _____” set.  There are 16 of the checklist boxes and 14 shopping cart stickers.  They’re fun, but they’re kind of huge (especially compared to the space in my planner.)  I’ll use them because I have them, but they aren’t something I would order again for myself.  I’m not sure what I’ll do with the shopping carts.  I guess I’ll put them on my Mondays since that’s when I grocery shop.

Sweet Ava Sample 5

This is the Hot Air Balloon Washi set.  These types of stickers are something I see often in videos, but hadn’t given a lot of thought to for myself.  I’m not sure which planner my set is specifically made for, but these are usually made to fit into a specific planner.  What’s kind of cool is that each of the patterns comes in a variety of sizes, so this sheet really has a ton of stickers on it.  I like the hot air balloon theme and think all of this is pretty cute.  I also think the colors on this sheet, in general, are great.

So that’s what just came in the mail.  Originally I made a video and was going to share that, but I was having difficulty getting it to edit.  I mostly just needed to cut off the end where I turned off the camera.  Oh well.  Better luck next time!

**A version of this post also appeared on my personal blog.

Sweet and Spicy Tilapia

The great tilapia recipe search continues!  I am still looking for a great tilapia recipe that feels like the flavor penetrates the meat instead of sitting on top of it.  Today’s contender is sweet and spicy citrus tilapia.  For this recipe you will need:

  • Tilapia
  • Orange Juice
  • Lime Juice
  • Brown Sugar
  • Pepper (black and red)
  • Paprika

Check out the full recipe here, or my pin on my Yum board.

Sweet and Spicy Tilapia

Review

I really felt like this recipe did not live up to it’s name.  I got plenty of sweet (which was helped along by a very sweet orange), but I didn’t get a whole lot of spicy.  I feel like this recipe had potential, but didn’t deliver.  It also was another in a long line of “flavor on top” recipes.  I think that it had potential to go deeper, but just 15 minutes of marinade time was not nearly long enough for that to happen.

I can’t say that I would try this again, because trying it again would require so many tweaks that it would be come a new recipe.  That said, I might try to make all those changes.  I think the idea of the orange and lime juice as a base is a good one, but the spice factor needs to be punched up, maybe with a pinch of cayenne, or with some diced peppers.  I would also up the marinade time.  for some reason, tilapia seems to really fight flavor infusion, so I’d probably look at marinading for an hour or more to help combat that.

Overall, the recipe, as is, was a let down.  It has a lot of potential, but it’s up to the chef to take that potential and make it into something special.

Lavender Cupcakes

I love lavender, and I love cooking with it.  I’ve been eyeing these lavender cupcakes for a while, but for some reason I haven’t gotten to them.  Finally I decided that any day is a good day for cupcakes and went for it.  For this recipe you will need:

  • Lavender
  • Butter
  • Sugar
  • Eggs
  • Flour
  • Milk

Check out the full recipe here, or my pin on my Just Desserts board.

Lavender Cupcakes

Review

Most of the recipes I’ve tried with lavender say to strain out the lavender after doing something with it (like steeping in a mixture).  This recipe, though, leaves the lavender in it.  I kind of wish I had a food processor because it was actually pretty hard to cut those tiny buds without them going everywhere.  But in the end, I could see why the chopping and leaving was the best option-the lavender flavor was super strong in this recipe, which I liked because lavender usually feels more like an essence to me in most recipes.

I didn’t add food coloring to mine because I didn’t have any, and no one but my husband and I would see or eat them.  If I was making these for a party, though, I would add the coloring because it is a great visual.  Once the lavender is chopped, this recipe is pretty much like any other basic cupcake recipe.  It was easy to follow and there were no difficult techniques.  The same was true of the icing (which was a perfect complement to the cake).

Overall, I would totally make these again.  I think that this is a great recipe to “show off” a bit to your friends without having to actually put in more effort than your normal cake.  They’ll think you did something fancy, but really, you just chopped some lavender.

Making a Quick Quote Picture

I use Picmonkey a lot for this blog.  I use it to make all my collages because of the ability to do a little bit of photo editing (like fixing the contrast or brightness when one picture is taken in light that is different from the rest), and the ability to add text to my pictures.  I love that even the free option (which I currently use) is full of features.

Last night I finished reading The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, and one of the quotes near the end really stuck out to me, so I wanted to make a quick quote picture for it, and I thought you might like to see how simple it is to make!  (Note:  This is just me showing you something I use.  This is NOT a sponsored post.)

Step 1:  Set Up

Step 1

First you need to decide what kind of project you want to do.  Usually I pick “collage,” but for today’s project I picked “design.”  Once you make you choice, the page will open and you can pick the canvas color.  I picked black because I wanted something fairly stark looking.  One of my favorite options is that you can make the canvas transparent.

Step 2:  Add Text

Step 2

Next I typed up my quote.  In order to get to the text options, select the “T” on the let side of the screen.  I chunked it into different parts based on the phrasing, and changed the font for the different parts.  You can type it all up as one text box and change within that, but I prefer to make each chunk its own text box.  This makes it easier to change my font as I go.  I am not really great font mixer, but I like to contrast thin cursive options with chunkier print options.  For this picture I had three fonts because I wanted “love” to be different from everything else.

Step 3:  Embellish

Step 3

Once I was happy with my fonts, I picked the overlay options to add just a little pop of color.  Overlays are the butterfly icon on the left.  I wanted a heart and an arrow and that was it.  I played around with the doodled hearts until I found one I liked.  Then I added the arrow and right clicked on it to send it behind the text and heart.  I considered adding more embellishments, but I decided not to because I wanted the focus to really be the word “love,” and doing more would probably detract from that.

Step 4:  Save

Screenshot (10)

Across the top of your work space are a few options such as merging the layers.  This is also where you select “save.”  Once you decide to save, the left side menu will change so you can name and save.  Once saving is done, you will be back at the work space.  You can work some more after you save, but once you navigate away from the page, your work is lost.  It’s also important to know that the site doesn’t automatically save the progress of your work, so make sure you’re saving as you go, especially on a larger project.

Once you’re done, your image is complete and ready to use.  I did this when I woke up this morning and the entire project, screenshots and all, only took me about 10 minutes (but of course I’ve done this before and knew exactly what I wanted and where to find it).  Do you use any sort of photo editing/designing sites?  What do you like and why do you like it?  I would have never found pickmonkey if a friend hadn’t shown it to me, so I’m always willing to try something new!

Love Quote Vonnegut

Boot Camp One Week Workout

I get bored easily with workouts, so it’s important to me to find things that change the routine and keep me interested.  Sometimes it’s hard to find those workouts, so I”m grateful for the one week workouts I find that help me bridge the gaps.  This boxing boot camp is one of those bridging workouts.  Check this out here, or my pin on my Let’s Get Physical board.
Boot Camp Challenge

Review

One thing I really liked about this workout was that you didn’t need any sort of equipment.  It’s literally just punching and kicking.  I’m sure you could do it with some weights in your hand if you felt so inclined.  Another thing I liked was that there were videos to show proper form and technique for each move.  Sometimes I do a workout and I’m not sure what it is they want me to do, so I go searching for answers.  No need to do that here.  Everything was laid out perfectly.  This is also nice because you knew which variation of a move they wanted.  I have seen a zillion different takes on a burpee, so it was good to know which one of those they meant.

The first day I did this I kind of felt like, “that’s it?”  But as I worked through the week, I understood how each day was building on the last.  I wouldn’t necessarily call this a “boot camp” kind of workout, but it did give me the solid basics of a boxing based workout.  One thing I wish it had was a link to how to continue on with the workout if you wanted more once the seven days were over.  I really enjoyed this workout, but had nowhere to go once I was done with it.

Overall, I would recommend this for anyone looking for a quick workout that is also fun and builds from day to day.  It was a nice bridge between workouts, but I wish there had been more.

Quilt 2 and More Lessons

I have finally boxed up and mailed off quilt number 2, so I figured this is a good time to discuss just what I learned from it.

IMG_3015

Actual Sewing Lessons

  • I can’t sew straight.  That’s not totally true, but when sewing over long distances (such as the binding), I found that I wavered…a lot.  I had some serious difficulty keeping my lines straight any time I had to sew something longer than 10 inches.
  • Stitch in the ditch is hard.  Stitch in the ditch is when you try and sew in the seams you made when joining two pieces of fabric together.  If your lines weren’t perfect to begin with, this will be difficult.  My problem seemed to be with when I ironed seams.  I wasn’t getting my seams to fall completely flat, so stitching in the ditch meant I sometimes ended up sewing over an ironed seam that wasn’t quite where it should have been.
  • Seam ripping happens.  I did a lot of seam ripping on this project.  Some of it was productive and really enhanced the final product.  Some of it wasn’t as productive and meant wasted time.
  • I need to work on “squaring up.”  If you don’t sew everything exactly perfect, your final product won’t be exactly square.  This can be a problem when you’re trying to do things like miter corners.  There are tips and tricks for making things square, but, at the end of the day, they only work if you’re a fraction of an inch off over the entire project.  I need to work on having more consistent internal seams, but I also need to work on these little tricks too.

IMG_3014

Life Lessons

  • It’s okay to take your time.  Several times during this process I would find myself ripping the same seam over and over again.  I would get frustrated that things weren’t going as well as I wanted.  So I’d step back.  Sometimes I just took 10 minutes to do something else, other times I took an entire week to do something, anything, else.  If I hadn’t stepped back when I needed to, for as long as I needed to, I would have ended up with a much sadder final product.  I need to remember that taking time and taking breaks from projects doesn’t mean there isn’t progress and that things aren’t getting done.  It means I care enough to do it right, and I know that means I need to be in the right frame of mind to do it properly.
  • Draw out your path.  When I was working on joining the triangles, I drew in my seam allowance on every triangle to help me make sure I was doing things right when pining and sewing.  Without those lines, my triangles wouldn’t have had as sharp of points, and my rows wouldn’t be as even.  It’s okay to map out the path you intend to follow, especially if this is the first time you’re doing it.  In the future I might not need to draw my seam allowances on triangles (and in fact didn’t need to when I was playing with hexagons), but that’s only because I spent so much time trying to do it right with my initial run through.
  • You’ll always see all the things you did wrong, but that isn’t what others see.  Every time I finish a project like this, all I can see is every mistake.  I see every wobbly line, every blunted point, every misplaced thread.  But that’s not what others see.  They see the good because they didn’t sweat the process and see every mistake being made.  They can look at it as a whole while I still see individual parts.  While they might notice the stitching being off here or there, they don’t see it as part of a catalog of everything that is wrong like I do.  When they give you a compliment, take it at face value (and don’t mention problems x, y, and z).

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Blueberry Muffin Smoothie

A while back I just couldn’t stop myself from buying some blueberries at the store.  They just looked so good!  I had no idea what I was going to do with them, but I knew I had to get them.  One of the ways I decided to use them was in a smoothie.  I love blueberries in smoothies because I never find the taste overwhelming.  For this smoothie you will need:

  • Blueberries
  • Oats
  • Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Banana

Check out the full recipe here, or my pin on my Drinks on Me board.

Blueberry Muffin Smoothie

Review

As usual, I love smoothies, so you’d be hard pressed to find me saying it wasn’t good and I would never make it again.  This one is no exception.  The banana helped with the grittiness that I sometimes get when using oats in smoothies, and the flavors were well balanced.  I won’t say that it reminded me too much of a blueberry muffin, but that’s okay because I can see how the ingredient list would lead to that name.  Most of the items in this smoothie can be found in my kitchen on a regular basis, so this is an easy go-to for me.  I think you could substitute just about any fruit for the blueberries and still have a winner.

Creme Brulee

I love cooking desserts, and creme brulee has been on my list to try for a while.  It is always so satisfying to eat, that I had to know if I could make it at home.  Plus, using a torch in the kitchen just sounds like fun.  (Too bad I don’t have one and tried using a heat gun instead.)  Of course, though, I couldn’t try plain creme brulee.  I had to go big, so I went with caramel coffee!  For this you will need:

  • Eggs
  • Heavy cream
  • Coffee
  • Caramel syrup
  • Sugar
  • Torch

Check out the full recipe here, or my pin on my Just Desserts board.

Creme Brule

Review

Making creme brulee is a million times easier than I anticipated, which makes me super happy.  I can now make this fancy dessert any time I want to impress guests (or I just have a craving!).  That said, this is a “plan ahead” sort of dessert, so don’t think you’re going to be able to whip this up on a moment’s notice.

What I liked about this recipe is that the caramel and coffee flavors came through in a perfect, mild manner.  I could taste both, but neither was overwhelming, and neither overpowered the other.  This recipe is full of all those things you shouldn’t eat, so only pull this one out for special occasions.

I don’t have a kitchen torch, but I do have a heat gun that I sometimes use for crafts.  So, when it came time to crystallize the sugar on top, I pulled out the heat gun and hoped for the best.  It wasn’t ideal (and you can see how some parts burned a bit), but it ultimately got the job done-just not in the pretty fashion I would have liked.  It also took longer than a torch would have.  That’s okay, though.  Now I have an excuse to buy a torch.

Overall, I would absolutely make this recipe again.  I can’t wait to try some new variations on the flavors!

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Smoothie

It happened again.  I got suckered in by some good looking produce at the grocery store, and I bought it without having any idea what I was going to do with it.  Luckily, strawberries are a great smoothie ingredient, so my path was pretty clear.  For this smoothie you will need:

  • 1/2 a banana
  • 8-10 strawberries
  • a handful of spinach
  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
  • ice cubes

You might have noticed that this time I gave you all the measurements.  That’s because this is my recipe, so no links to sources!

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Smoothie

Process

Peel the half banana.  If you have a frozen one, awesome!  I didn’t and it turned out fine.  Chunk the banana and throw it in the blender.  Cut the stems off the strawberries and add them to the blender.  Add the yogurt and chocolate chips to the blender.  Throw in as much spinach as you feel like.  I put in about 1/4-1/2 cup, but more or less is totally fine.  Finally, add your ice cubes.  I have one of those ice cube trays that comes with your refrigerator and used 8 of those cubes.  I think that’s equal to a cup or a cup and a half of ice.  Put as much in as you feel like.  Keep in mind that the less ice you add the warmer the final product will be.  Blend everything until smooth.

I really enjoyed this smoothie because it was quick and simple.  It really did taste like chocolate covered strawberries, and I felt fine about the chocolate chips because I also had spinach in there.  I’d love for you to give this a try and tell me what you think!