Netflix Newbie

This is one of those posts that I start with a disclaimer. This means that I was offered something cool and I took it, because life is short and cool things are not as plentiful as I would like. This time the cool thing I was offered was membership in the Netflix Stream Team. In exchange for writing about Netflix I received a free subscription for a year and an iPad Mini. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the free gift part of it as you will.

netflixThe truth is that when I got the email in my inbox offering this opportunity I jumped on it because I have wanted Netflix forever. And so have my children. I had seen it at other people’s houses and even in my dentist’s office, and I knew I wanted it for myself. Plus I’d heard good things about shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. So, whether I had been offered this or not I would likely have jumped on the Netflix bandwagon at some point. It was really only a matter of time.

We don’t have Netflix on our TV yet because we’re waiting for the new Apple TV to use as a streaming device. In the meantime, though, we’re all watching it on our iPads. And a not-so-small part of me is lamenting the fact that every member of my family has an iPad (the kids got our old ones after my husband and I upgraded). Remember when I was TV free for two years? The mighty have fallen, and we’re consoling ourselves with TV and movies. I’m looking forward to when we can actually sit together as a family and enjoy some flicks, because I think that will feel better. A family movie night is in order, with popcorn and candy and all that jazz. And when I say “candy” I mean “Twizzlers” because those are the best movie candy hands-down.

Anyways, now I have it and I love it and my kids love it and even my husband (the lone voice who was sort of meh on Netflix) has watched it and enjoyed it.

I like that I can set my kids up with their own user IDs, and configure those user IDs to reflect the fact that they’re kids. The shows that are suggested to them are appropriate for children under 12. I was worried that there wouldn’t be anything that would appeal to my daughter Hannah as a 10-year-old but there are plenty of shows and movies that she likes. She’s watched Ever After High and Anastasia and Dear Dumb Diary. My 7-year-old Jacob has also found some new favourites, mostly involving superheroes. He’s also very much into The Adventures of Puss in Boots, which is a Netflix series.

So far I have watched some movies (I am happy to say that I am now up-to-date on the Hunger Games) and I’ve started The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. As a Netflix newbie, though, what I really want is your recommendations. Help me out!

netflix question

I haven’t seen a single episode of Scandal, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black or The Walking Dead, and I’m considering starting all of them. I don’t want to have too many going at once, though. Which one do you think I should try first? My brain needs a break from school, and I’m counting on you to help out. Or if there’s another series that you think I really must see, I’m open to hearing about that, too. Just let me know!

Censoring Queen Victoria: Who Was She, Anyway?

I have been really behind for a really long time. This means that while I received Censoring Queen Victoria by Yvonne M. Ward almost a year ago, I’m only reviewing it now. My apologies. You can expect more of these coming up in the not-so-distant future, as I embrace the policy of ‘better late than never’ and attempt to make good. Call it an exercise in forgiving myself. Anyways, on to main event.

censoring queen victoria history book reviewAs soon as I heard about Censoring Queen Victoria: How Two Gentlemen Edited a Queen and Created an Icon I was intrigued. I have a thing for royal histories, although I know quite a lot more about the Tudors than pretty much anyone else. I viewed this as an excellent opportunity to get up close and personal with one of England’s most renowned monarchs – and the mother of Canadian Confederation.

The premise behind the book is that Victoria’s son, Edward VII, commissioned a book containing the late queen’s letters. Two men – and gay men, by all accounts, to boot – were given the job of editing the volumes. As Victoria was a prolific writer this was no small task. The editors had to be brutal, including only a small fraction of the queen’s correspondence, and trimming even those pieces that they selected. They also had to be very careful that nothing they selected would portray Victoria – or anyone else – unfavourably. The were tasked with creating an interesting book that wouldn’t ruffle any political feathers at home or abroad. In short, it was no small task.

The title – Censoring Queen Victoria – suggests a more sensational book than this one actually is. It’s more about the politics of the editing process, and how the selections that these two men made framed Victoria in a very specific light. This is a history book, not a tell-all or a romance novel. Still, it was a fairly short and easy read. I wouldn’t describe myself as a lover of academic writing, and I didn’t struggle with this. If anything, I could have used more.

censoring queen victoria history book review

The editors

So, what was edited out? There are a variety of examples. For instance, the queen gave birth to nine children while she was on the throne, but pregnancy wasn’t deemed a suitable subject for a book of this type, so any mention of expecting or delivering a child was omitted. Similarly, while Victoria corresponded with many women, the editors found such letters boring, and included very few. Here is where I would have liked more detail from Ward here, though. What exactly was excluded that would really change our impression of Queen Victoria? A few juicy tidbits can never hurt.

If you enjoy history, specifically Victorian history, this book is a great, quick read. I enjoyed it, and I’m sorry it took me so long to actually pick it up.

Making Your Own Cleaning Products

homemade cleaners green living enviro-mama booksHave you ever had something nagging at the back of your mind? Something that you really want to do, and have been meaning to do, but just can’t seem to get around to actually doing? I’ve been feeling that way about a fabulous book that has been sitting in my tray for months. It’s called Homemade Cleaners: Quick-and-Easy, Toxic-Free Recipes, and it’s written by Mandy O’Brien and Dionna Ford. Unfortunately, being back at school, living through a major renovation fiasco, working and parenting all conspired to keep me away from this book.

I knew I wanted a copy as soon as I heard about it. I’ve always been intrigued by making my own cleaning products. I did attend a local event last year where I tried making my own all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner and tub and tile cleaner. It was good, and it whet my appetite enough to learn more. I’ve looked online, but I found it overwhelming. There’s so much out there, and people seem to experience such mixed results, that I’m not really sure where to start. This is why I appreciate this book, which provides a friendlier introduction to non-toxic cleaning.

For such a small book, Homemade Cleaners is packed full of information. It starts out by encouraging simple steps, and explaining why we should care about the chemicals in our cleaning products. Then it’s divided into sections by cleaning task. There are tons of tips, and recipes for everything from all-purpose cleaners to glass cleaners to furniture polish to laundry soap and more. There’s also information on dealing with bugs, keeping your yard healthy, purifying indoor air and choosing and cleaning a grill (which, being from Vancouver, I will insist on calling a barbeque).

I haven’t tried as many of the recipes as I would have liked, but even on first glance I’ve appreciated that green cleaning doesn’t require you to go out and buy a whole lot of stuff. If you’ve got baking soda, vinegar, borax, castile soap, lemon juice and some essential oils you’re most of the way there. There are multiple recipes you can try for most cleaning tasks, so if one doesn’t work for you there are lots more to try. With the renovations happening in my house and new wiring, tile, cabinetry and paint in my bedroom and ensuite, I especially appreciated the tips on how to use plants to remove chemicals from indoor air.

homemade cleaners non-toxic cleaning book review

I would say that Homemade Cleaners is mostly about how to adopt a simpler, less toxic cleaning philosophy for yourself and your family. It’s much more than a recipe book. If you’re wondering how to reduce the number of chemicals your family is exposed to at home, it’s a great place to start.

What about you – what are your favourite green cleaning resources?

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!

Nourishing Myself

For the longest time, I think I was waiting to get serious about my own health. I was waiting until I felt like it. Until I was less busy. Until after I had the baby. Until after I had the other baby. Until the kids were older. Until after the holidays. Until after this chocolate cake was finished. Recently, however, I’ve realized that there will never be a perfect time. There will always be other things competing for my time and energy. There will always be something else I’d rather be doing.

sarah goodman nourishing goods

Sarah of Nourishing Goods

Right now, today, I am the youngest I will ever be for the rest of my life. By extension, I am in the best place I will ever be to make changes. And right now, today, I see more clearly than I ever have that I deserve to be taken care of. I’d like to set a good example for my kids. I’d like to provide a healthy diet for my family. Most of all, though, I want to nourish and nurture my own health purely for myself. I want to get more sleep, eat less sugar and embrace vegetables because it feels good to me.

This is why, when Sarah Goodman of Nourishing Goods got in touch with me a couple of months ago to offer me a offer me a free holistic nutritional consultation and personal training session, I didn’t think twice before I said yes. The truth is I would pretty much never seek outside advice like this on my own. At the same time, I recognized that she might have suggestions and insight for me that I couldn’t gain for myself. I set about filling out her intake form and logging my food intake over the course of a few days in preparation for our session.

nourishing goods granola

Super Food Granola

Sarah took the information about me and my goals, and reviewed my current diet, before she came to my house. She created a two page print-out with nutritional recommendations, a quick exercise routine I could do in 15 minutes at home, and recipe suggestions. For example, she has a cauliflower crust pizza recipe on her web site that she suggested my family might enjoy based on what we were currently eating. Then she went through her recommendations with me, answering my questions and explaining her reasoning. Finally, she led me in a brief personal training session.

I appreciated that Sarah wasn’t preachy, and that she took into account my family’s preferences in her recommendations and during our conversation. I live with three very picky eaters – we’re not going to adopt an all-kale diet. She also said that it’s okay to eat less-than-healthy comfort foods sometimes, graciously letting me off the hook for my salt and vinegar chip obsession. I also found that the 15 minute workout she led me through really left me sweating. I’ll tell you, my arms were feeling those push-ups.

nourshing goods personal training squatsI learned a few things from Sarah. In particular, she talked about how adding strength training to my routine is helpful if I want to lose weight. She also told me that eating fruit is fine, provided that I pair it with protein so that my blood sugar doesn’t spike.

A few weeks out, though, I have to be honest: I did the workout precisely once, while Sarah was over. I am still struggling to find the energy and motivation to add push-ups to my daily routine. I have found the dietary changes easier to adopt by making small changes. In particular, I’m eating more greens since she visited.

In the end, I think most of us know what we have to do to take better care of ourselves. Other people can help us, but we have to do the work. Whether that means eating more kale, getting out of your chair and doing some squats, or turning off the TV at a reasonable hour and going to sleep, you’ve got to make your well-being a priority if you want to improve it. It may take a while, and a whole lot of baby steps, but that’s what I’m aiming for. I deserve it … and you do, too.

The First World Problem of Choosing a Tablet

My husband is an early technology adopter. This means that he had a CD player before I did, a computer with internet access before I did, a DVD player before I did, a cell phone before I did, a smart phone before I did, and a tablet before I did. He had his first-generation iPad for well over a year before I even considered dipping my toes into the tablet waters. For the longest time, I just didn’t see what all the fuss was about. I liked paper books, I preferred to type on my computer, and my iPhone offered me lots of apps if I wanted to play. Why did I need a tablet?

After watching Jon’s love affair with his tablet, though, I slowly started to come around. I could see the convenience of being able to keep a whole bunch of books, magazines and even newspapers on a single small device. Plus, I could see that it would be easier to do things like surf the web, look up a recipe while I’m cooking or answer email on a tablet vs. a smart phone or computer. So, last Christmas I asked my husband for a tablet. I couldn’t decide between a Google Nexus 7 and an iPad Mini – a thoroughly first world problem, I’ll concede – so I left the ball in my husband’s court. As an iPad devotee, he stuck with Apple, and I’ve really enjoyed it. However, I’ve always wondered.

When the folks at Staples.ca got in touch with me recently and offered me a complimentary Google Nexus 7 for review purposes, I admit that I was intrigued. I wanted to see what it was like, and how it compared. So I seized the opportunity, and then eagerly awaited my new tablet.

google nexus 7 tablet review

When it arrived, I tried my best to clear out all of my previous tablet experiences from my mind, so that I could evaluate the Nexus 7 on its own merits. My first impressions were that it was very pretty, packaged in a box like a present. It was already charged when it arrived, so I was able to play with it right away. Since I am already on the Google bandwagon, with my email provided by Google Apps, my life driven by Google calendar, an active Google+ account, and so on, setting up my tablet was as easy as logging in. I actually have two Google accounts – one personal account and one work account – and it was relatively straightforward to add both, so that my whole life was on the tablet within a couple of minutes.

google nexus 7 tablet reviewMy first order of business, once the tablet was synced to my Google IDs, was to check out Google Play. This is the app store, where you can download books, music, movies, games and so on. I found almost all of my favourite apps were there, and many of them were free. I was able to get all the tools I use without shelling out. I decided to buy a book, just to see how that worked. I chose The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan (aside – I really enjoyed the book). Since I already have Google Wallet set up, the purchase was very easy.

The truth is that while I tried not compare the Nexus 7 to the iPad Mini, it was impossible not to. In fact, even if I were to purchase one, I would likely be comparing my perceptions of the two products. What I found, though, was that there were both upsides and downsides to the Nexus 7. After using the Nexus for more than a week, I honestly can’t say which one is better. I think it comes down to how you want to use it. So, if you’re facing your own first world problem and choosing which table to buy, I’ll lay out my experiences for you.

What I loved about the Nexus 7:

  • It easily supports multiple user IDs. I created a separate ID for my daughter Hannah with her email info and some apps that she likes, and added a simple password to my ID. This means that if my kids are using my tablet they’re not messing with my settings, and I can remove access to apps I don’t want them using. This is a big upside.
  • The app icons are smaller, and you can place them where you want them. I’ve always found the app icons to be oddly large on the iPad, as compared to the iPhone. With the Nexus 7 you can fit more icons on a single screen, and they’re still more than big enough that I can see them. Being able to place them where you want on the screen, with gaps in between, also allows casual grouping on a single page.
  • The free e-book reader Aldiko is better with PDFs than iBooks. I’ve been reading some books on the Google Nexus 7 rather than the iPad for that reason.
  • It auto-updates software and apps. As someone who likes to stay up-to-date, this is easier for me than having to take the step of upgrading.
  • Google Maps! I love Google Maps, and while there’s an app for the iPhone, I was really sad when they removed it as the default map app for my phone. The Nexus 7 still uses it, obviously.
  • Google’s voice search works well, and is better at understanding my children than Siri.

google nexus 7 tablet review

What I would like to change about the Nexus 7:

  • Since I have an iPhone, integrating my two platforms is challenging. For instance, I can easily sync text messaging and share apps between my iPhone and iPad. If I had an Android phone, I could easily sync text messaging and share apps between that phone and my Nexus 7. However, I can’t easily share and sync between an iPhone and Nexus 7.
  • I don’t love the native books app, which only reads books you purchase through Google Play, and doesn’t allow you to download those books to your computer. To read other books, you need to get a free e-reader app, like Aldiko.
  • The Nexus 7 has a narrower screen than the iPad, and is a little heavier.
  • I miss FaceTime. While you can use Google Hangout or Skype on the Nexus 7, since the rest of my family is all on the Apple bandwagon, this would present a challenge for me if I wanted my kids to be able to chat with their grandmothers on Mother’s Day using the Nexus 7.
  • The Nexus has only a front camera. I don’t take a lot of photos with my tablet, but if you want to take a photo or video of anything other than yourself, you’d have a hard time doing it with this one.

See? Upsides and downsides.

My final verdict is best demonstrated by the fact that I’ve been using my Nexus 7 heavily for the past few days, since I’m reading a book on it right now, and I haven’t touched my iPad since Sunday. I’m not giving up either, which is a little ridiculous when I’m carrying around one smart phone and two tablets, but I can live with being ridiculous. I’ve already conceded my first world status, after all.

While Staples.ca gave me the Nexus 7, the thoughts and opinions expressed are strictly my own, and no other compensation was received.

Trying out Natural Earth Paint

As I discussed in my post on public relations, one sure-fire way to catch my interest is to offer me something that would be fun for my kids. I’m a mom, I like to be able to offer my kids new experiences. So when Leah Mebane dropped me a line and offered to send me some eco-friendly natural earth paint to try out with my kids, I was in. My daughter Hannah is quite the artist, and she’d used up her existing stock of paints, so the time was ripe. Plus, I was intrigued by the concept – these paints are made from mostly dirt.

natural earth paint

The concept behind earth paints isn’t new. Leah says, “Natural earth paints were the first used paints on the planet. Recent discoveries prove that they’ve been in use for atleast 100,000 years but they were probably in use long before that. Ancient people from all over the world used earth and minerals to make their paints.” When I explained to Hannah that this was the same kind of paint that was used to make cave paintings, she was ready to go find a cave of her own to leave her mark on. While I put the kibosh on the idea since I don’t really enjoy dark confined spaces, it was cool to be able to draw that line between a modern art material and ancient history.

natural earth paint

Earth paints have something else going for them, in that they’re made with natural materials. While pretty much all kids’ paints are labelled ‘non-toxic’, that doesn’t mean they’re good for you. Many of them contain petroleum products and other chemicals. Leah says, “Even ‘Low VOC’ or ‘non-toxic’ paint may contain fungicides and bactericides that not only cause headaches and dizziness when inhaled but can contribute (little by little) to greenhouse gases. I decided to call a very large commercial children’s art supplies company, whose paints are labeled ‘non-toxic’, and ask what the ingredients are in their paints. They were very nice but said that they could not tell me anything about the ingredients. This was very surprising to say the least and confirmed my resolve to spread the word.”

natural earth paint

Okay, so we know what’s cool about these paints, but how do they actually work? The pack comes with six packets of powder in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and brown, as well as six mixing cups made from plant-based bioplastic. You mix approximately one part powder with one part water to make a paint with a texture similar to tempera. If you want something thicker you can use less water, if you want something thinner you can use more. If you don’t use all the paint at one go you can cover it and store it in the fridge for up to two weeks, although I found that mixing small quantities to use in one go is better. If you do want to store it, I would suggest getting small jars with lids to make that easier.

Painting

Once it’s mixed the paint is a good consistency, and it spreads well. I did find that my daughter had a tendency to under-stir the paint, but once she was actually painting with it, the lumps worked themselves out. The colours were good, and far more vibrant than the watercolour pints we use, although not having white or black was somewhat limiting for my daughter. Black and white are available on the website, and so is violet, but they don’t come in a paint kit, so you would need to order them separately. My final observation was that the paint goes pretty far, so the kits should last you a while. And I made sure to ask – Leah will ship anywhere in the world from her home in Oregon.

natural earth paint

Of course, I’m not the intended audience for the children’s paint kit, so I asked my daughter Hannah what she thought. She gave the paints two thumbs up. She enjoyed getting to mix them together, and she immediately painted several pictures with them. She’s asked to use them several times since. The downside is that it’s more work on my part, because we need to mix them before we use them, but I’m on the hunt for some jars so that we can keep them for longer, which should eliminate that. Then she’ll get to paint more, I won’t have to be as involved, and we’ll both be happy.

Do you have a budding artist on your hands? What kinds of paint do you use? And how important is it to you that you know what’s in it?

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