Thursday, June 30, 2011

EcoStore USA Laundry Detergent and Hand Soap Review

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I get totally excited over green products.  I have a feeling that if I ever became a hoarder, I'd be exclusively a green product hoarder, because I love them so much.  So when EcoStore USA contacted me about doing a review of two products, I was thrilled.  I checked out their website, and they have all sorts of choices - baby items, pet items, bath and beauty, and household.  I decided on liquid laundry detergent (seeing as how my life seems to revolve around doing laundry) and coconut vanilla hand wash.
 The products arrived in environmentally friendly packing - even the boxes are made from recycled paper.
 Both of the products I chose are plant based, not tested on animals, and do not contain any nasty chemicals.
The hand soap has such a mild scent - not overpowering at all.  Just the softest of smells.
Pierce actually really took to it.
Took to it so much that he used almost half the bottle in 2 days and I had to hide it from him.
I have to say - it's very moisturizing (but not in a sticky way) so I can understand the appeal - it makes for soft hands.

The laundry detergent I picked is for sensitive skin.  Cort is prone to eczema, so we have to be careful about detergents.   I came back from Type A Conference to find piles of laundry.  I thought I might never catch up, to be truthful.  The liquid detergent had the softest of scents, undetectable unless you hold the clothing right to the nose and sniff deeply.  I like that.  I'm not crazy about fresh linen smells, so it was nice that this wasn't heavily scented.
My colors were bright when taken out.  I dried the clothes in the dryer with dryer balls in lieu of a dryer sheet.  The clothing all came out very soft and there was no static whatsoever.  And I'm very happy to report that the detergent has caused no irritation for Cort's delicate skin.
I hope you'll check out EcoStore USA.  I was really pleased with the products I tried and love knowing that I'm not harming the environment or my boys when I use them.

I was provided with two products of my choice from EcoStores USA to write a review.  The opinions expressed here are completely my own.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sights of Asheville and Type A Con, The Final Chapter

On the last day of the Type A Conference, my roomie Good Girl Gone Redneck and I headed out to see some more sights around Asheville.
 In particular, we wanted to check out the old Woolworth's, which not only still had a soda fountain, but was also stuffed full of local artisan goods.

I fell in love with these little birds.  
I didn't end up buying any souvenirs, but if I had, I would've bought one of these 
adorable little fellows:

Native American crafts -

I don't knit or weave or crochet, but I thought these colors were beautiful:

And so much lovely jewelry: 

Old folksy friends:

Andrea and I fell in love with the bottle tree.
We both read the book On Folly Beach, which talks a lot about bottle trees.
So we were thrilled to find one in person!

And I had to take a picture of this guy, simply because he looks just like the Mad Banana that showed up in Muffin Tin Monday a couple of weeks ago.

Chicken wall art - totally loved these too!

After that, Andrea and I went looking for dinner.  The front desk of our hotel had recommended Doc Chey's, and we were totally craving noodles.

I ate this entire bowl-
in like 30 seconds.
Andrea had taken about 2 bites by the time I finished.
I guess I was hungry.  Plus, it was that good.

When we got back to the hotel, it was time for the closing party which was put on by Ubisoft.
They had a Smurf theme.
Being a child of the 80s, I could dig that.
They also had a Wii dance off.
 I don't dance.  
Because I have absolutely no coordination.  It's scary.
But I had fun watching.
And drinking my Smurftini.

And eating Smurf cupcakes and wearing Smurf flashing bling.
Because who doesn't love wearing a blue strobe light (or two!) on her hand?
 It was a very fun evening.

Here's a picture of all the swag.  In case you can't tell, it basically takes up the width of the king size bed:
When you go to a blog conference, there are brands there giving out fun samples to take home.  I had a genuine interest in quite a few products, and the representatives were very informative. 
Not pictured are a couple of Nintendo DS games (I'll be giving one away as a dog adoption fundraiser that This Old House Too is putting on in the near future), a large Papa Smurf, and a $25 iTunes gift card.
I'm glad I didn't fly, because I would've had a time trying to get all this into a suitcase!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

More from Type A Con and Asheville

The sessions at Type A Con were very inspiring and informative.  
Patti Digh did the Opening Keynote and she was brilliant.
There wasn't a person in the room that wasn't completely attentive to her dynamic speaking style.
She was the type of speaker that leaves you energized and motivated for hours afterwards.
I also really enjoyed a session about Breathtaking Blog Photography - lots of great tips and I definitely need to work on my photos.  I just need more time in the day!

A few key things that I learned and am working to put into place - it was recommended that bloggers who would like to do some reviews and giveaways be on LinkedIn.  I have reservations because I'm wary of connecting professional life with personal life in that way, but I went ahead and started an account.  Another recommendation was to pitch locally, and try to set up a presence where you live - even joining the Chamber of Commerce.  Foursquare and Yelp were both mentioned.  Be reliable to brands and put what you want in your twitter description. I don't think there is any magic way to be the perfect blog, but there were many good tips about increasing traffic and providing quality to readers. 

Friday evening I went to dinner with Holly, the co-founder of The Blog Frog, and my roomie Andrea from Good Girl Gone Redneck.

We went to Mayfel's, a creole-style restaurant, and enjoyed some fun and relaxed conversation.

I ordered shrimp and grits - a true Southern dish.
It was spicy as all get out but had the most wonderful flavors. 

Right across the street from the restaurant was a huge drum circle.
It was fun listening to the drums while eating, and the weather was so mild and perfect.
After eating, we checked it out.

Then back to the hotel for the Bloganthropy Awards and Reception.
I got to meet Blueviolet from A Nut in a Nutshell.
I've followed her blog for ages, so it was fun to meet.
And she was happy to solve my most burning blog question - one that I've asked many people and never found an answer for (how to figure out how many unique visitors a blog gets a month - if you want to know drop me an email!).  Thanks Blueviolet!

Come back tomorrow for more from Asheville and Type A Con.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sights of Asheville and Type A Con

This past winter I was fortunate enough to win a giveaway for a pass to any blogging conference from The Blog Frog.  I immediately wanted to go to Type A Con in Asheville.  My reasons were three fold - I "knew" several other bloggers attending, Asheville was driving distance, and it was a nice size - not too overwhelming for this first time blog conference attendee.  The conference was so fantastic, and I'm still processing a lot of it. 

The first day I was in Asheville I went to visit my uncle, Chris.  I hadn't seen him since I was pregnant with the twins, so it was nice to catch up with him.  We're very close and 2 1/2 years without a face to face visit is much too long!  We walked around downtown and enjoyed some fantastic Indian food.

Then I met back with my roommate (who is so fun and down to earth, just like I knew she would be), Good Girl Gone Redneck and a large group of other Type A Conference folks to head out for Tapas.

I forgot to take a picture of my food, but at least I snapped a shot with Jdaniel4sMom.  We ate breakfast together that morning, and had a wonderful time chatting about our boys.  She is so sweet, and she brought me the cutest beach picks to use for Muffin Tin Mondays.  

A few sights from walking around Asheville.  I've been here a few times before, but I never cease to be thrilled by the eclectic mixture of people in the city, the focus on local foods and artistry and individuality.  I could so live in this town.

If you ever pass by Ten Thousand Villages, it's one of my favorite stores.  It is run by Mennonites, and carries crafts from nations all over the world.  But the profits go back to the people who make the crafts.  And the prices are very reasonable.

I took this bell picture for Warren from My Home Among the Hills because he has a whole page on his blog devoted to his bell licking habit - and I figured this one might appeal to him.

And then?  I went in the most wonderful Appalachian crafts store.  I wanted all of the beautiful pottery! 

And these hand blown glass balls are just gorgeous and so colorful!

How cute would these mugs be for drinking hot cocoa on the porch swing on a cool fall morning?

Every which way you turn in Asheville, there is art to be found!
More on Asheville and Type A Con tomorrow!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reid Got Scared

This picture was taken at the Transportation Museum.  The boys were sitting on an old trolley from the 50s.  A train went by outside and Reid got scared.  So Cort had to step in.  Have I mentioned lately how much I love having twins?

This was my first attempt to use Picnik to do some "fun" editing.
Let me know what you think.

Linking up today with Your Sunday Best over at A Rural Journal.

On a side note, if you've ever wanted to wish me a Happy Birthday, today would be an appropriate day to do so.  The big 3-6.  ;-)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Costa Rican Chicken Casserole

My family has been making this casserole since I was 15 years old.  It isn't very forgiving in modifications - I've flopped it before by trying to reduce the amount of butter/oil or by trying to use brown rice.  You can, however, substitute tofu successfully for the chicken.

2 1/2 lbs. chicken
5 tbsp margarine
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. sherry
1 small onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 clove minced garlic
1 cup long grain rice (uncooked)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and sliced
2 tbsp. parmesan cheese

Cut chicken into small parts.  Heat oil and margarine in large skillet and brown chicken.  Add sherry.  Take chicken out.  Add onion, green pepper, garlic and saute until tender.  Add rice - saute another 2 minutes.  Add broth, bay leaf, and spices.  Bring to a boil.  Grease 2 qt. casserole.  Pour in rice mix and place chicken on top.  Cover.  Bake at 350* for 45 minutes.  Saute tomatoes in 1 tbsp of butter and place on top of chicken.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Bake an additional 15 minutes uncovered before serving.

This makes a good amount - we typically have leftovers for freezing.

Today I'm linking up for the first time with Sabroso Saturday, which you can find at Latina on a Mission.It is also linked up with Recipe Lion's January blog hop, which you can find here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A 7th Grade Vandal - Memory Lane Friday

Memory Lane Friday is a weekly blog hop where you can blog about your memories and link up.  All are welcome.  This week's suggested theme is 7th Grade, but you can blog about any memory and link up.

When I was in 7th grade I walked to and from school each day - a short 3 block jaunt.  Sometimes I'd get slightly side tracked on the way home.  Boys.  The playground.  Swinging on the flagpole.  There were plenty of distractions.

One afternoon as I walked down the long, ambling hill of the junior high school with two of my friends, one of them began telling a story.  A story of a group of some big bad older girls who had broken bottles on the pitcher's mound of the baseball field.  We all looked over at the field as we walked by.  It was swept clean now, the bases just lightly dusted with dirt, the bleachers quiet.

I don't remember who suggested we follow in the footsteps of the older girls.  But suddenly we were digging glass bottles from the trash.  We flung them, one by one, taking turns watching the glass shatter on the hardness of the pitcher's mound.  Great joy was to be found in the freedom of destruction, the knowledge of open rebellion.  Shards of glass crashed and splattered across the crunchy dirt, splayed over the field.

Finally, we ran out of bottles.  Our energy ran down too.  But the high over our actions lived on as we ambled back to the road to continue our walk home.  And that's when it happened.

The door on a tiny brick house across the street from the baseball field opened.  And out walked a lady, toting a trash can and several brooms.

"Well, you girls have had your fun.  Now you'd better clean this up before you head on."

Guilt descended on us all like a shroud, cloaking us in darkness.  Shame.  We each took a broom and a dustpan, and we began cleaning.  We knew what we'd done was wrong, and we made every effort to get up each stray shard of glass.  Then, and only then, did we go home.  And no, I don't think I mentioned this one to my parents!  

Want to participate in Memory Lane Friday?  It's easy!  Just add your link below. Please take the time to visit the blogs of other participants and leave them a comment.

Be sure to come back next week - the topic is Cookouts and Barbecues, just in time for July 4th!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Wave and a Wink

 It has been nine days since Red has taken a shower, and three days since she last went home.  She's been holed up in her tiny cubby-holed office deep in the lower levels of the William B. Tinker Science building.  The last time she spoke to another human was well over 48 hours ago, when a stray student mistakenly wandered into her office looking for Dr. Ranstaad, head of Physics.  They were in between sessions now and the halls were quiet, even on the rare occasion that Red did venture out to find a restroom. 

It was just Red, her murky herpetology collection, and a dwindling supply of Powerbars and Diet Coke.  She had surrounded herself with spreadsheets and maps of the Great George River Basin, a calculator and a few tottering resource books.  Red was so close to a breakthrough.

Numbers floated across her eyelids, over her brain waves, and through her senses as though she could see them in mottled rainbows of colors.  She could feel the numbers as they bumped their way across her synapses, trying to make connections that she knew must exist.  Every hour she was just a little closer.  It was there, she knew it was, if only she could just reach out and grab it in solid form.

Red pulled at her greasy ponytail with frustration, attempting to tuck withered amber strands back into order.  She looked for the hundredth time over the local habitat of the Eastern Indigo Snake, endangered since 1978, supposedly due to destruction of habitat.  Red knew better.  She'd seen the regional dwindling of reptiles and amphibians much too heavily over the past eight years, and she was going to figure out why. 

The connection had something to do with the grand Robicheaux estate.  It loomed on the edge of town in Southern luxury, attracting dreamy tourists during the summers from across the nation, and even overseas.  From her spreadsheets, Red knew that the concentrations of dead animals were heavier along the five mile perimeter of the estate.   She just needed to get some sleep, if the numbers would stop scrolling across her mind and let her rest, and then she'd grab McDonalds and head over there to see for herself.

She'd been sitting so long on the floor that her legs didn't want to unfold to allow her to stand.  Cramps surged across her muscles as she stretched out her feet.  She arched her back for a moment, and then raised her eyes to the jars on her shelves.  And that's when the octopus, the crown jewel of her herpetology collection, raised it's gelatinous tentacled arm at her in a wave, and slowly winked.
This is a piece of flash fiction for The Red Dress Club.  The prompt was to write the fiction in 300 words (just a teeny bit over, sorry!) or less, inspired by the word 'life'.  You can check out other writings HERE.  All of the pictures were taken when we went to the Natural Science Museum in Raleigh, NC last month.  I've been saving them for a little fiction ever since.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How Does Our Garden Grow? An Update

Our garden is doing really well!  
We've been getting lots of zucchini.

And I harvested our entire beet crop.
I wanted to pickle the beets when they were still babies.
After I cooked them and drained them the smell was divine.
I contemplated not pickling them at all - but just devouring the whole lot.
Then I contemplated planting nothing but beets in our entire garden next year.
I settled for replanting the row instead, in hopes of a second harvest.
And these?  They are wonderful.  Even the boys adore them!

My Dad gave me some sage, which is so delicate and beautiful! 
Hopefully I don't kill it.

Our beans are doing well.
We have LOADS of green beans!
Good thing they are one of my favorite foods!
I think we'll be picking these in a week or so.

And my neighbor, JP, from A Quiet Corner gave me marigold seeds.
Even those have obliged by coming up in the garden!

The perfect zucchini flower -

And Pierce's favorite - summer squash!
Our tomatoes are a work in progress, but hopefully if all the flowers will start turning into fruit we'll have some of those soon too.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I Want a Pallas Cat and Our Trip to the Zoo

Our last trip to the zoo involved snow all over the ground!  This past week proved to be a much nicer trip - although I kind of missed seeing Pierce running around in Buzz Lightyear wings. 

The prairie dog exhibit was finally done.  It was still a work in progress last time we visited.

We always take a picture in front of the funhouse mirror.

This is a Pallas cat.  They're from Asia and they look like really huge fluffy housecats with smushed in faces.  I couldn't get a good shot because the plexiglass kept reflecting a fence that was behind me.  At any rate, I thought it was the cutest little animal.  This guy just groomed himself so intently the whole time. Meow.

Our zoo has one of the best views around.
Pierce said he saw the grocery store from here....

 Inside the aviary -

This wolf is really camo, huh?  
Usually the wolves are asleep when we visit.  It was nice to see them up and about.
 His girlfriend came out to join him in looking out at the visitors -

Another wolf shot - this one in sheep's clothing -

This guy is cute too.  If I can't have a Pallas cat maybe I'd settle for one of these -

Greedy, greedy.  Save some for your brother!

 A few monkeys climbing around - I think they're pretty cute myself.

 The sun was out so the tiger was very hot to the touch.  I could only get Pierce to climb the tiger this time -

 A brief hike on the trails to the Discovery Center.

 Where we built some nests, just like the birds.

 And check out the bee action - maybe if I can't have a Pallas cat or a green wonky lizard I could have some bees?

 And lastly, one of those deals where you put a golf ball in the wall to see what each animal eats.
Pierce never gets tired of this game.
 A very fun day at the zoo!  I renewed our family membership, so no doubt we'll be back again soon!

This post is linked up with Show and Tail at WV Treasures and Summer Bucket List Party at Little Wonders Days.