Thursday, September 8, 2016

Survey Says... Taking Surveys Pays

I've been taking surveys for money for about 3 years now. I could lie and say I started because I wanted to have an impact on manufacturers, marketers, etc but I've always just been in it for the rewards. I regularly take surveys with three different programs and I thought I'd give a quick run down of the pros and cons of each.

VIP Voice

VIP Voice is the company that asks me to take the most surveys. It also nets me the most rewards. One of the unique features of this program is that you are rewarded for EVERY survey that you are sent- even if you end up being screened out. Points are awarded for each survey and the points can be saved and used to bid on a good assortment of prizes (gift cards, board games, electronics and more) or they can be used to buy entries into sweepstakes for larger prizes like trips. The number of points that you earn for each survey depends on your "level", which increases the more surveys you take. I'm a level 5 (top) and I earn 200 points for a survey that I am screened out of and 550 points for a completed survey. The surveys that VIP Voice offers are always the same and if you stick around, you will know as soon as you start it whether you will qualify or whether you will screen out each week. They survey about things like: clothing purchases, electronics purchases, dining out, video game/ tv usage and other household and car purchases. They also have a "Food Diary" survey that they tend to offer me about once a month. It's a special survey that lasts a week and asks you to record everything you or one of your kids ate for the whole week. You earn points for every day that you complete the diary and after 7 days you earn a 25.00 gift card to a selection of places (I always choose Amazon, but there are other options). Over the past 18 months I have taken this particular survey 15 times and earned $375.00 from Amazon. Also over the last 18 months, I've won two mobile battery packs (to play Pokémon GO, of course), 3 Xbox One games, 2 board games, a popcorn popper and a gift card for $50.00. Click here to join.

Springboard America

Springboard America offers me about 3-4 surveys a week. They are always different. They award a dollar amount for each survey- ranging from $0.75 to $2.50. If you are screened out you will receive an entry in to a monthly drawing for a cash prize. I have never won this prize :). What I HAVE earned though- is $200.00 in the past 18 months. Springboard America has a "cash out" minimum of $50.00. When you reach $50.00 in survey dollars, you click redeem and you are given the choice between an Amazon gift card and a Paylution account that is like a virtual Visa card to spend anywhere you like online. If you are interested you can click here to sign up OR you can let me know you want to sign up and send me your email and I'll send you a link to earn myself $2.00. Either way :)

American Consumer Opinion

American Consumer Opinion is the first survey company that I signed up with. I receive the least amount of survey opportunities from them. I unfortunately screen out of most of the opportunities I am sent. A screener is worth 10 points and a completed survey is worth 200-500 points. The points translate to a penny each. You need a minimum of 1000 points (or $10.00) to cash out. When you cash out, the payment is made to Paypal and then redeemed to your bank account for cash. I have earned $68.00 from ACOP in the last 18 months. Click here to join.

So, taking surveys isn't going to pay the bills, but it does get you some nice spending money on a pretty regular basis as well as some fun prizes. It takes a pretty minimal time investment, maybe a couple hours a week, spread out.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Baby and Toddler Products I LOVE

Every (expectant) parent knows that the internet is FULL of lists of things you must register for. A lot of these things are junk, one time fads or things that may be useful if you happen to have a baby who likes it. Well since this is my blog and I do what I want here- here is my list of products that I LOVE(D) for my babies. When I say "loved" it means that I liked everything about them and I thought there was nothing they could have done better. This list is by no means exhaustive of "things you need" but if you're going to register for/ buy something in one of these categories, I think these are the best choices.

1. Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant car seat
  The Chicco Keyfit 30 is my #1 go to when I recommend an infant seat in my capacity as a CPST. It's narrow (side to side) and compact (front to back) so it will almost always fit the car. The base is incredibly easy to install with either the lower anchors or with a seatbelt thanks to the built in seatbelt lockoffs. If you buy extra bases for each of your cars, it's super convenient to alternate pickup and drop off at day care with different caregivers. It fits premies well (not that my giant babies had that issue) and it lasts until 30lbs or 30 inches tall (infant seats are almost always outgrown by height before weight). It lasted my 99th percentile baby until 8 months. It's easy to tighten and simple to rethread the straps as baby grows. The cover is machine washable (on delicate cycle). If I had one quibble about it- the sunshade is a little skimpy, it was never an issue for me though. When I clicked it in to the stroller, I just pulled the stroller sunshade over the gap. It's right about middle of the road when it comes to price. You can get less expensive seats but you can certainly pay a lot more for a more difficult to use seats too.

    Sunshades are a necessity in a car without window tinting. I love these cling film style shades because they can be cut to any size (which I needed in my VW Beetle) and they can't become projectiles in a crash like the roller shade style ones. They're cheap too! Just spritz your windows with water and use a credit card to smooth out the bubbles.

   This is a shower cap style cover for an infant seat. It is NOT a BundleMe. Nothing comes between baby and the harness. This sits on top of the car seat and zips open to get baby out. It keeps the cold air out and baby safe. Very important for a winter baby (or for any season baby in Ohio, because you never know)

    I wouldn't put this in the essential column but having soft toys with fun things to do like the buckles on this turtle can be the difference between peace and quiet on the road and ripping your hair out. We all love him.

    I was somewhat skeptical of this product at first. You put it in your bra on the side you're not nursing from first and it catches the let down instead of it being absorbed by a pad and thrown away. Then you pour the milk into a bag and put it in the freezer. It worked the best in the early days- before my supply became well regulated, so about a month or so. Still, it saved about 2 ounces (for me) per feeding that would have been otherwise wasted. As any mother who works outside of the home knows- that stuff is liquid gold.

2. LilyPadz
   In the early days of breastfeeding, I definitely recommend Lansinoh Ultra Thin disposable nursing pads. Before your supply is regulated, there's just too much leakage to be contained with LilyPadz. After your supply is regulated though- LilyPadz are the perfect pad. They are not absorbent- instead they just seal everything up so there's nowhere for it to go. They are silicone pads that have a renewable adhesive. So you just smooth them on over your nipples and go. Then, at the end of the day, peel them off and rinse with water and let dry to renew the adhesive. Seriously, they work great. No muss, no fuss and you don't even have to wear a bra to keep them in place.

3. Hands Free Pumping Bra

    Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (#thanksObama), every woman is entitled to get a breast pump through their medical insurance. My insurance provided the Medela Pump In Style Advanced. It has a "hands free kit" that is a series of straps and clips to fasten it to your nursing bra. It's a pain in the ass. This stretchy band goes over top of your bra when it's time to pump. You just wrap it around yourself, fasten it in the front and stick the cones in the slits in front. It takes about a minute to do and is far more comfortable than any other hands free option I tried. If you're pumping because you're going back to work- you need to be able to double pump. Don't try to sit there and hold the cones- ain't nobody got time fo dat.

4. Comotomo Baby Bottles
    We all loved these bottles. With my first- I used The First Years BreastFlow bottles. I hated them because they had two nipple parts, a ring and a bottle to wash every night. The Comotomo Bottles were great because they are wide and flat, encouraging a latch similar to a breast. They have minimal parts to wash (nipple, ring and bottle) and they have various nipples (slow, medium and fast) and two sizes of bottles that are all interchangeable to fit your baby's needs. The bottles themselves are silicone and soft. I found them to be very durable and easily lasted the year that we needed them, and are in great shape still.

5. Boon Grass Drying Rack
    I love this drying rack. It's cute and so functional! The grass design makes it so you don't have to carefully place things on pegs, anywhere you set it, it's going to stay and have good airflow for drying. The added accessories (twig, flower, etc) are nice to put small pieces and straws on. Even though we are long out of the bottle phase, this drying rack is still on our counter because it's just so useful.


1. Keekaroo Diaper Changing Pad
    I have been through 4 changing pads throughout my two kids. Three with my first and then I found this. It's the perfect changing pad. The first pad I bought was the Kuster Jelly Baby Pad- it was cute and functional until the foam started picking out and breaking down. Then I tried two different "standard" mats. First- don't buy covers. Changing mats get poop on them. ALL. THE. TIME. They need to be wipeable- not launderable. Ain't nobody got time fo dat. So, when using the standard pads, without a cover, they are wipeable, but the vinyl is not durable. Both of the pads began to rip and break down after a short time using them. The Keekaroo mat is a soft, wipeable, durable mat. 2.5 years of diaper changes later, it looks as good as the day I bought it. I love it. There is no substitute IMO.

2. OXO Tot Perfect Pull Wipes Dispenser
    It's perfect! Most people register for a wipe warmer. I found that the wipe warmers tend to dry out the wipes too much. This is just a wipe dispenser (so you can buy bulk wipes instead of tubs) with a weighted piece that sits on top of the wipes so you don't end up pulling out 10 when you wanted one. The seal is great and the wipes stay moist forever. If you want a warm wipe, hold the wipe in your hands for a few seconds before you wipe.

3. Huggies Little Movers
    I've tried all of the disposables. Huggies are my favorite- by far. They have an elastic strip at the back to contain blowouts, fit great and don't sag (unless it's been way too long). Every time I try another brand we all quickly realize why we like Huggies best. Because they are the best.


1. Infantino Squeeze Station
    I make my own baby food. It's quick, easy and cheap. There are many ways to freeze homemade baby food. With my first, I used the little containers at first then switched to freezing it in ice cube trays. Ice cube trays are definitely the most economical and simplest option. With my second; though, I decided to try pouches. I LOVE it. You'll also need a funnel and the bag refills. Even though we are done with baby food, I still use the squeeze station to make homemade yogurt pouches for both kids.

2. Ninja Blender/ Food Processor
   If you're making baby food (and I highly recommend it!) don't bother with those cutsie "baby food processors". They're a waste of money. Buy a good quality food processor/ blender and never look back. It'll be useful long after baby food is done and it'll actually puree the food. We love our Ninja!

3. Bumkins Bibs
   I went through a lot of bibs with my first. Most of them were too small. The towel style ones were large enough but then you have to pull the mess over their hair to take it off. Finally I found Bumkins SuperBibs. They're great- large, washable, flexible, waterproof and attach around the neck with Velcro.

4. Keekaroo Café Booster

    From the same maker as my favorite changing pad, the booster seat is made of the same durable, easily wipeable material. It attaches easily and securely with straps to any chair and fits under the table when pushed in. We love it.


1. HALO Sleepsacks with Swaddle
    Safe sleep guidelines are for babies to sleep in a crib, on their backs, by themselves with no added blankets, sleep positioners, bumpers or stuffed animals. Sleep sacks and other wearable blankets became the way to keep your baby warm. I tried a couple other swaddlers with my first but I quickly found that these were the easiest and least escapable way to keep my babies swaddled. I did finally get the hang of swaddling with a blanket with my second but I still prefer the sleep sacks with swaddle for their ease of use. They make many different types for all kinds of weather.

2. AngelCare Bath Support
   This thing was amazing. I tried two different baby tubs and a different bath support with my first that I hated. It's so hard to hang on to a slippery, floppy newborn and wash them. This allows you to have a secure place to set baby while washing and you control how much water they sit in. It's great. I wouldn't do without it.

3. Safety First Magnetic Cabinet Locks
    These are just a massive upgrade from the push in catch style of cabinet locks. They unlock with a strong magnet. You don't have to stick your fingers inside the door and find the catch. They don't break. The worst that can happen is losing the magnetic key and then you'll have to find another strong magnet to get your cabinet open.

4. Sleep and Play outfits with ZIPPERS!
    I hate snaps. One piece, one zipper. Speed and efficiency!

There. I've now saved you all the trouble of trying a thousand things that suck. You're welcome. :)

Monday, February 29, 2016

At Home Laser Hair Removal

Today's post is a little bit embarrassing of a topic for me. Body hair.

Confession: I am a hairy beast monster. This is not new. I've been overly hairy most of my life. I am a dark haired woman of German decent. Thankfully, over the course of my relationship with my husband, I've gradually desensitized him to his hate of body hair. Don't get me wrong, he's not happy about it if I haven't shaved in a week, but he stopped saying anything about it years ago. On top of my genetic predisposition, I also have PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Sydrome). My body produces too much testosterone for a woman and as a result, I also grow hair where women shouldn't. For awhile, I used bleach and depilatory creams. I quickly developed skin sensitivities to every cream on the market. Then I switched to tweezing and waxing. SO TIME CONSUMING! Finally, I gave up and started shaving my face. EVERY. DAY. I know about my hair issues, but most other people don't (or at least are too polite to say anything). Well, now you do too. My hairy little secret.

This Christmas my mom asked me what I wanted. I mentioned a few things and then started kvetching about how all I really wanted was laser hair removal. Well on Christmas morning, much to my surprise, my parents got me a Silk'n Flash and Go. I was skeptical. I had tried the No-No in the past and was supremely disappointed when all it did was burn off my hair. My dad said he had watched a video from a man who was transitioning and decided that if it worked for her it would work for me. I decided there was nothing to lose by giving it a try.

I read the manual and watched some videos on how to use. The Silk'n is designed for people with light skin and dark hair. This is similar to "in office" laser hair removal. The manual recommends flashing the areas to be de-haired every two weeks. It also cautions several times to not flash anywhere that you want to have hair "RESULTS ARE PERMANENT!" Lol, we'll see about that.

Using the Silk'n is pretty straight forward:
1) Plug in and turn on the unit.

2) Press the plus button to turn up the intensity of the laser. They recommend starting on the lowest intensity and working your way up to level 5. You should stop when you feel discomfort. For me, level 5 is appropriate for all areas except my bikini line. It's really not painful.

3) Press the head of the unit against your skin and squeeze the trigger. Avoid looking at the flash- it's bright!

4) Repeat ad infinitum until you've flashed all the areas you want to be hairless.
So I did this. My whole upper body takes less than 15 minutes. Both legs take about 2 hours. It is super tedious. Because I am a very skeptical individual (or possibly because I got bored) I decided to leave one leg unflashed as a control. Here are my results after two treatments:

Control leg is on top, treated leg is on the bottom. I took the pictures after two treatments, and not shaving for a week to see the regrowth. The treated leg is far patchier in regrowth than the untreated leg. There are large areas that are completely hair free. I have to say- I was shocked. It really worked. I really can't bear to show my untreated face so you'll just have to trust me when I say, it has been working on all the areas I've treated. I am SO EXCITED to FINALLY have a permanent solution to my gross hair issues. Plus it's a FRACTION of the cost of professional hair removal. I've now done three treatments, in the privacy of my own bedroom for what it cost to do one and a half treatments at the dermatologist a few years ago. The heads have a certain number of flashes before they have to be replaced. After three full body treatments, I still have life left in my original cartridge. 

So this is the reason I felt compelled to lay out all of my dirty laundry on the internet. The Silk'n Flash and Go really works. It provides safe, effective, permanent hair removal at a reasonable cost in the privacy of your own home. If you have light skin, dark hair and a hatred for shaving- you need this in your life!

Friday, January 15, 2016

How to NOT make your own lip balm

Just because I no longer work in the cosmetics industry doesn't mean I don't get aggravated by misinformation about cosmetic products. Lately, my Pinterest has been blowing up with DIY lip balm recipes like this one or this list or the "all-natural" types like this one. I am an expert in lip balms. Literally. I've made thousands.

A small sample of my work

I'm not saying it's not possible to make your own lip balm at home. It's actually one of the safer DIY cosmetic projects you can take on because it's anhydrous (no water) and as such, does not require a preservative. You do; however, need to be aware of a few things before you start making your own lip balms.
  • It is not safe to put eyeshadow in to a lip balm
The pigments used in eyeshadow may be safe to use on your lips but they also may not. Pigments used in food and cosmetic applications are tightly regulated by the FDA. The Colorant Additive Inventory is a detailed list containing not only the colorants that are allowed to be used in cosmetics but WHICH TYPE of cosmetics products they are allowed to be used in. If a pigment is listed for use in "Externally applied cosmetics" it can be safely used in the eye area but it cannot be used on the lips. While your lips are an external body part, you lick your lips and will ingest whatever you put on them. Some common pigments that are used in eyeshadows that cannot be used on lips are Ferric Ferrocyanide (blue/ purple), Chromium Hydroxide and Chromium Oxide (green) and Ultramarines (blue/ purple). You may be thinking "I've seen green lip balms so this can't be true" but green lip balms are not made with green pigments. They are generally made by combining Yellow 5 and Blue 1 (or another combination of lip safe pigments). For this reason I would never recommend tinting your homemade lip balm with eyeshadow. Even if you are using a relatively innocuous shade of pink, you can't be sure what pigments the manufacturer used. It's just not a good idea. Use a product designed for the lips, like a leftover bit of lipstick if you want a tint.
  • Coconut Oil is not a good balm base
Coconut oil is all the rage right now. It's not a good base for a lip balm. It melts at 76F. If you put this in your pocket, it will melt and make a greasy, oily mess. Leave it in your car on even a spring day and you'll come back to a puddle of oil. It's possible to use coconut oil as a component of a balm, but you need to add a much higher melting point wax to it to firm it up like beeswax or paraffin.

  • Petroleum Jelly isn't a great base either
Petroleum Jelly or Vaseline isn't really a good base for a lip balm either. It's soft and goopy but it doesn't have much staying power on the lips and feels really greasy. It has a tendency to bleed from your lips as it melts. Similar to coconut oil, it has a low melt point (99F) and will turn in to a liquid if you leave it in a warm place. Again, it can be a component, but it shouldn't be the whole formula!

  • Don't put citrus oils in lip balms
I've mentioned this in the past but it bears repeating. Citrus oils are phototoxic when they come in contact with sunlight. They cause cell death. You don't want that. Don't use citrus oils or juices (not anhydrous anyway) in lip balms.

If you really want to make good DIY lip balms, check out this post from Point of Interest. She's a great home crafter of all types of cosmetic and skin care products who does things safely. It's more than just throwing together Crisco, Vaseline and eyeshadow- it's chemistry- and you need to do it correctly!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Learning: What's Important

This year Makayla started first grade. We made the decision to continue her Montessori education for several reasons. First, she loved her school, her teachers and her friends and they loved her and cared about her as well. Second, she was doing GREAT academically. Third, it seemed to us that she was in a delicate place where she could easily move to the "school is boring, school is drudgery, I hate school" camp and we really wanted her to gain a real love for LEARNING. We wanted to keep her in a happy cocoon of learning with individual attention as long as we are financially able to do so. Finally, we compared the public school curriculum for our city to the curriculum that she would have at her Montessori school and there was just no comparison. Most of the things that were expected for her to learn by the end of first grade she was already proficient in at the end of Kindergarten. I attended a Montessori school through Kindergarten. My older brother attended through the second grade but since I was just a kid then, I didn't really have any idea of what a Montessori Elementary program was like.

For the most part, Montessori Elementary is a continuation of the Montessori Pre-primary program. They don't have desks, they use specifically designed, self correcting materials called "works", and they have the freedom to design their own lesson plans. At Makayla's school, they start and finish every day with journaling to help them develop grammar, writing, spelling and paragraph construction skills. They have lessons from their teacher on every subject from science to math to a weekly cooking lesson. They have silent reading time after lunch every day and every day that's not frigid, they go outside and play in the outdoor classroom.

As a Montessori parent none of this came as a surprise to me. These are all normal parts of a Montessori classroom. What DID surprise me was that they do not receive grades. At all. At first, I thought to myself "How will we know if she's doing well? How will we know if she's on track?" We decided to trust her teacher and tried to not think about it. At the end of the first month we got a report of sorts that gave us a brief description of the things that she had been working on, the things that she had done well with and the things that she needed to work on. This included actual classroom work as well as behavioral and social issues. I thought it was really nice and it helped me to understand what some things were that we could focus on at home to help her in school. Sometime around October I realized that grades didn't matter at all! When we read together at night it was obvious how much better she was reading. When I looked at her writing I could see how much smaller and neater her penmanship had become and how much better her spelling had gotten. Her math skills were improving every week. Just being around her it was OBVIOUS how much she was learning. I realized that I didn't need a report card with a bunch of grades on it to compare with other kids, my child was learning and LOVING to learn! I came to realize that my desire to know "how she was doing" through a rigid grading system was more about ME than it was about HER. If I step back and look at her, I know she's learning.

That's what's really important.