All You Need is Love…Thankfully

We have reached that part of summer where everyone’s a little tired of being on vacation. It’s the most ridiculously first-world problem ever, I know, but I’m out of patience, my kids are bored and we’re all ready to get back into a semi-regular routine. To cap things off my husband is out of town right now, which really isn’t helping with my utter lack of motivation.

The one thing that is helping to see us through all of this is music. No matter what else is going on, some good tunes can really be a pick-me-up. My playlist is a bit eclectic. Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” motivates me when I’m washing the dishes. My children have learned how to “Vogue” thanks to Madonna. Lukas Graham’s “7 Years” was a personal favourite of my son right up until he turned 8 a couple of weeks ago. And when all else fails, I’ve got the Beatles.

I’m hoping that love really is all I need, because sometimes it feels like it’s all I’ve got. I’m just keeping it real, people.

love beatles beat bugs netflix

The Beatles are a slightly controversial topic around my house. I am a fan. When I was in my early 20s I bought a massive CD boxed set (remember when those were a thing?) with all the band’s greatest hits. I listened to it constantly, blown away by the breadth and scope of the music. They were amazingly prolific and their music really holds up.

My husband, on the other hand, is not such a Beatles fan. His father loves the Beatles, so I suspect that my husband’s dislike may stem from some youthful rebellion he never outgrew. Or maybe he just can’t hear what I hear. I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that I have overruled him and shared the Beatles with my kids.

If you’d like to share the Beatles with your kids the new Netflix series Beat Bugs can help. Watch this video to hear my kids and I attempt to cover “All You Need is Love”, and find out how you can win a 3-month subscription to Netflix Canada.

So, get singing or share your favourite Beatles song covered by the Beat Bugs in the comments!

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

Trying Soap Nuts + A Giveaway!

soap nuts green eco-friendly laundryIn my efforts to make doing laundry greener, I’ve tried a lot of things. I gave up dryer sheets. I’ve used eco-friendly detergents than I can count. I’ve hung my laundry to dry. However, until recently, I haven’t tried soap nuts.

I’d heard about soap nuts from a lot of different sources. Some people swear by them, and others are more lukewarm. I’ve considered trying them myself, but since my husband does the laundry and he prefers detergents that more closely resemble conventional options I hadn’t taken the plunge. When Ken McGowan of Sinfully Wholesome got in touch with me about a review and giveaway, I decided it was time to make the leap. I let him know I’d love to try some out, and not long after they arrived in the mail.

Soap nuts are actually not nuts, they’re berries that grow in Nepal and India. They contain a natural surfactant, which means they can be used as a cleaner. Using them is simple – you put 5-6 soap nuts in a small cloth bag and throw it in the laundry. It works for 5-6 loads, which is about how much laundry my family does in a week. You don’t need to remove it for the rinse cycle, which is good, because trying to remember to take the soap nuts out would be challenging. When you’re done with the soap nuts, you can steep them in boiling water overnight to make a household cleaner. After that, they’re compostable.

soap nuts sinfully wholesomeThe soap nuts I received were organic, and they came packaged in a bag made from handmade Nepalese Lokta paper, which is harvested from the self-regenerating Lokta bush. Nothing else is added – no colours, fragrances or chemicals of any kind. The berries themselves are non-toxic – in fact, Ken says you could eat them, although they don’t taste that good. They’re also good for people with allergies, and can be used in any kind of washing machine. From an environmental standpoint, the upsides seem pretty clear. I gave my husband the run-down on how to use them, and we gave them a go.

soap nuts review giveawayThe soap nuts do seem to work, in that our laundry was definitely cleaner after washing than before. The clothes smelled good, as well. The soap nuts do leave a slight residue on the clothes. This is touted as a natural fabric softening effect, but my husband found it off-putting. Also, he found it a little difficult to locate the bag of soap nuts amongst the wet laundry when removing it from the washing machine. In the end, I was more impressed than he was, which was not even a little bit surprising to me. My husband is a skeptic, especially when it comes to cleaning clothes. I would use the soap nuts all the time, but he prefers something that comes with a dispenser.

In the end, the most accurate opinion of soap nuts is probably going to be formed by trying them. To help you out, Ken is giving away two 500 gram bags of Sinfully Wholesome Soap Nuts. There are enough soap nuts to wash 150-200 loads of laundry in each bag (which is another upside to cleaning clothes this way – it’s actually very affordable). The giveaway is open to Canadian and US addresses. Just fill out this form before 9:00pm Pacific on Friday, November 22, 2013 for a chance to win. For an extra entry, subscribe to Sinfully Wholesome’s mail list. Good luck!

The contest is now closed.

What about you – have you tried soap nuts? What did you think? I’d love to hear!

Parenting: It’s Crappy … and Funny

Last September I shared what is still my most popular podcast to date: an interview with Amber Dusick of the hilarious blog Parenting, Illustrated with Crappy Pictures. Well guess what? She’s also written a book, which just happens to be called Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures. And when I got back from my trip to Disneyland I was thrilled to find a review copy waiting for me.

parenting illustrated with crappy pictures book review amber dusickIf you’ve ever read Amber Dusick’s blog, the style of the book will be familiar to you. It’s illustrated with her signature crappy pictures, and features herself, her husband (Crappy Papa), and her children (Crappy Boy and Crappy Baby). While it’s familiar, though, it isn’t repetitive. The majority of the content is new, so if you are a loyal fan you won’t be paying for something that you’ve already read.

The book is a quick read – I got through it in a little under 24 hours. I laughed out loud frequently, prompting my eight-year-old to ask what was so funny. I responded in the only way I could, by saying that it was only funny for grown-ups. She insisted on reading some of the word bubbles on the photos, but the humour passed her by. This is as it should be. If you haven’t lived parenting, you probably won’t really appreciate the humour. If you have lived parenting, few books will be much funnier.

As you may know, I really enjoy sharing the love. Since the publisher sent me this book for free, I’d like to pass it along so that someone else can enjoy it. To make that happen I’ve decided to run a giveaway.

If you’d like my copy of Amber Dusick’s book, leave a reply on this post before 9:00pm PST on April 1, 2013. I’ll draw one name at random and pop the book in the mail, no fooling. If you could be so kind as to leave one comment only, it will make my life much easier. And good luck!

*UPDATE – The contest is now closed. Thanks for reading!

Trying Homemade (Soda) Pop and a Giveaway!

Sometime a couple of years ago my sister gifted me with a Soda Stream soda maker. I didn’t use it much, partly because I didn’t really know what to do with it, and partly because my kids both hate fizzy drinks. While the latter fact works out for me in that I don’t have to work to keep them away from pop, it also means that my plans to make fizzy orange juice as an exciting treat haven’t panned out.

Homemade Soda Pop Artisan

Recently, however, I was offered the chance to review The Artisan Soda Workshop, a book that offers 70 recipes to help you make your own pop at home. Some of them are fountain classics, some of them are very exotic, and some are even alcoholic. Unlike store bought, all the recipes use natural ingredients like fruits, herbs, and actual sugar. Thinking that I would finally have a chance to figure out what to do with the Soda Stream, I seized the opportunity.

Making a fancy drink for dinnerI have spent the past few weeks sampling six different soda recipes, so that I could give you a thorough review. Here’s what I tried:

  • Sparkling Rosemary Lemonade
  • Blackberry Lavender
  • Cream Soda
  • Concord Grape
  • Chocolate
  • Egg Cream

Cream soda syrupOn the whole, the syrups were easy to make, and they kept well in my fridge. It takes a little bit of planning because you have to cook and cool them before you use them, but it’s something you can easily do in the afternoon to have pop with dinner. I also found that the homemade sodas were, by and large, less sweet than store-bought. This could be good or bad depending on your point of view, and you could always adjust the sugar to taste.

As for the sodas themselves, I was a big fan of the cream soda (so easy, so tasty), the blackberry lavender and the concord grape. I was sort of mixed on the sparkling rosemary lemonade, but once I added a little bit of gin it was quite delightful. As for the chocolate soda and the egg cream, which are quite similar, I was not a fan. However, this is really a matter of personal taste, and your mileage may vary, for sure.

Making grape sodaI do enjoy sharing the love, as you know, so I thought I’d give you a chance to try making your own homemade soda. If you don’t have a Soda Stream, you can either see if my sister is willing to give you one too (unlikely) or you can just buy seltzer water to mix it up with. I’m giving away my copy of the book, as soon as I finish writing down a few of my favourite recipes. I’m also throwing in a copy of Mommy Mixology: A Cocktail for Every Calamity. You can find out more about that book by listening to my podcast with author Janet Frongillo.

If you’d like to win The Artisan Soda Workshop and Mommy Mixology, leave a comment on this post on or before September 30, 2012. I’ll draw a name at random and pop the books in the mail.

Making the Green Bin Less Icky, Plus a Giveaway

Last summer I talked about my love-hate relationship with the green bin. I love it because it has allowed me to compost things that I can’t put in my backyard composter, like my kids’ half-eaten grilled cheese sandwiches. I hate it because it’s gross. And the warmer the weather, the grosser it gets. Week-old meat + heat = ew.

Compostable Food Waste Bag Boutique CascadesWhen the folks at Boutique Cascades offered to let me try out their compostable food waste bags, I wasted no time in accepting. I’ve seen food waste bags at the grocery store, and while I liked the idea, I wasn’t sure they were worth the expense. This was a way for me to get a trial run without spending any money. I like not spending any money. Plus, I loved the cardboard playhouse from Boutique Cascades, so I was already sold on the company.

The food waste bags from Boutique Cascades are smallish, at 7″ x 11″. They have a six liter capacity, and for my family that means that we go through two or three in a week. The bags are made of a double layer of paper, from 100% recycled fibres. Imagine two paper grocery bags and you have the approximate thickness. Unlike some other food waste bags, there’s no leak-proof liner. While the bottom of the bag does sometimes get a little damp, they held firm for me with my regular kitchen waste. You may not want to put anything really soupy in there, but they worked well with my run-of-the-mill leftovers.

The big part, though, was how the bags worked in my green bin – and they really did the trick. I had been lining my green bin with newspaper, but no matter how much I put in food was sticking to the sides and the bottom. The newspaper was sticking to the bottom, too. These bags eliminated that problem, reducing the “ick” factor considerably. Plus, since they’re only made of paper, you could use them in your backyard composter, as well.

Compostable Food Waste Bags Boutique Cascades

Boutique Cascades also sent me some of their yard waste bags to try. The bags themselves are fairly standard when you look at them. They’re the same size as all the other yard waste bags I’ve bought, and they’re made of the same double layer of kraft paper. There were two things that stood out, though. The first is that these particular bags are made of 100% post-consumer fibres. That’s important because using post-consumer waste ensures that there’s a market for the paper we recycle, plus it saves water and reduces your carbon footprint.

Garden Waste Bags Boutique Cascades

The other thing that distinguishes these bags from other yard waste bags is that they come with a cardboard stand to keep the bag open when it’s standing upright or lying on its side, even when it’s completely empty. I was smitten. My husband was less so. He found that it didn’t make much of a difference for him. My theory is that it’s because my husband’s arms are longer. He can reach all the way to the bottom of the yard waste bag to open it fully. I just can’t. The cardboard stand, which you reuse with each new bag, helped the bag to stay open and made filling it just that much easier for me in my shortness.

Cardboard Stand Garden Waste Bag Boutique Cascades

If you’d like to try the food waste bags or yard waste bags for yourself, there are two ways to do it:

  1. I have some bags to give away. Leave a comment on this post before 9:00pm Pacific on Monday, June 4, 2012, and I’ll draw one name at random for some food waste bags, some yard waste bags, and a cardboard stand.
  2. If you’d like to buy some bags for yourself, you can get 10% off at Boutique Cascades by using the code STRO10CEL.

Happy composting!

Giveaway: Sharing the Mother’s Day Love

Mother’s Day is this weekend, and while it’s not exactly my favourite holiday, it does have its charms. The handmade gifts the kids bring home from school. The inedible breakfast you choke down with a smile. The excuse to do absolutely no cleaning for 24 hours – all great things.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any sort of giveaway on Strocel.com, and Mother’s Day seemed like the perfect time to throw one together. I have some books and a DVD I received as promotional items and I’m using them to help share the love with my fellow moms. Or dads. Or interested readers. I actually don’t discriminate, when it comes to giveaway winners. If you are a childless bachelor, you too could win some books written with moms in mind. I bet you can’t wait! Here’s what’s up for grabs:
Strocel.com Mother's Day Giveaway

  • For my Children: A Mother’s Journal of Memories, Wishes and Wisdom by Dionna Ford
  • The Happiest Mom by Meagan Francis
  • Bad Mommy by Willow Yamauchi (I’ll be sharing an interview with Willow in an upcoming podcast)
  • Everybody Loves Babies DVD, which came in the same prize pack as the dreaded stretch mark cream
  • A gift pack from Rogers Chocolates in Victoria, BC

Fun, right?

I’m going to make this giveaway easy on everyone, including myself. Because, really, who wants a whole bunch of extra work on Mother’s Day? To win, just leave me a comment on this post before Monday, May 14, 2012 at 9:00pm Pacific time. I’ll draw one winner at random for the whole enchilada. Easy-peasy, right?

Also, whether you win this giveaway or not, you may want to head over to Crafting my Life. Today I’m launching my new, totally free, download on that site. It’s called “Four Ways to Kick-Start a Life of Intention”. This Mother’s Day, do something for yourself by taking some steps to create positive change in your life. Or lounge around on the couch all day, and get up on Monday and start taking steps towards positive change. After all, you’ve probably earned a little bit of couch time.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Crafting my Life: The Giveaway

As I like to point out every 15 minutes or so, I’m hard at work creating an online course on living with intention called Crafting my Life. The class lasts 12 weeks, and you do it in your own time, at your own pace. This snazzy video explains more:

I am in the thick of writing, shooting videos, conducting interviews and talking about the class to anyone who will listen. It’s a big, huge deal for me, and I’m immensely proud of how it’s shaping up.

The first session of the class launches on January 15. If you’ve been toying with the idea of taking it, now’s the time to jump in. Registration is easy, and all the cool kids are doing it!

I’m hoping to make the whole process a little bit easier for at least one person, by giving away a free course registration. If you’re one of the fabulous folks who has already registered, you can choose to give the registration to a friend, or I will refund your fees and give you the course for free. So, really, you have nothing to lose by entering my little giveaway.

You may be thinking, “Sounds cool, Amber, but how do I enter?” I’m so glad you asked. To enter, just leave a comment on this post. You can say anything that you want, but what would be really great is if you told me what you plan to do this year to change your life for the better. Just leave one comment per person, please.

But that’s not all! You can get a bonus entry by subscribing to my Crafting my Life email list. To do that, visit Crafting my Life and enter your info on the right where it says ‘Subscribe’. If you’re already on the list, you’re already entered. You do not need to leave an extra comment, or anything like that. Through the magic of technology I already know who’s on the list.

Hopefully, this is all clear. I will close comments on this post and choose the winner at 9pm Pacific time on Tuesday, January 11. Good luck!

The contest is now closed. Congratulations to Leslie, who subscribes to the email list, and got the lucky number!

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