Friday, December 30, 2016

**REVIEW** Metal Earth 3D Model Kit by Fascinations Inc

You're only as old as you feel, goes the cliche. Well, I must feel about fifteen because I got this for myself while I was Christmas shopping:

At least, that's what I will (or should) have once I put it together.

That's the 3D metal model of a praying mantis It's from a collection of kits from Fascinations, Inc's Metal Earth kits. I got mine from a local store (they are available on Amazon and from Barnes & Noble stores, etc).

My niece and I saw the praying mantis, different military machines, and some iconic buildings. My niece got one planes (I think the F-22 Raptor) and another machine for her brother. The praying mantis was my favorite because it was just so pretty. Thankfully, it was one of the cheapest models which ranged at that store from $12-15. 

They show the end product on the label
just to lure me in!

 At least, it will be (maybe) once I get it assembled.

Assembly might be tricky for someone with my motor skills and other brain (mis)functions.

My soul shivered with some regret the minute I opened the instructions. Those pieces are not as clearly numbered as the diagram indicates. And that is only a small portion of the instructions.

I don't see numbers on some of the piece...

 Still, this is such a cool concept. Most people, I imagine, will be able to put these kits together without too much hassle. I love the gleam and precision of the metal. (Warning here: be VERY careful handling the metal sheets and pieces.)

I was able to view some fully assembled items in the store and I'm impressed. One of the pieces we looked at had quite a few moving pieces. That one was pretty elaborate.

These make great gifts for certain people. My nephew, for example, likes tinkering and he has the patience to work on something like this. I am nervous about starting mine. I took it out of the wrapper and spent half and hour with a magnifying glass just inspecting the sheet of pieces. I will work on it with my nephew when he is assembling his plane.

I gave the warning about the sharp edges of the metal, but I think that once these are fully assembled (by an adult), they would be great to put on display in a child's room. DJ is really into dinosaurs right now.I'd love to have those kits put together for his room. How cool are these?

Check out their site and Amazon for the different ones. When I get my mantis done, I will update this post. Or not. Depends on how decent it looks!


**REVIEW** Smithsonian Interactive Library

Here's what I am learning about my gift-buying talents: I pick wonderful gifts but I pair them to the wrong people...

This is something I picked up a few months back (for a great price) at Costco:

That's the Smithsonian Interactive Library.  There was no clear marking of suggested age levels when I bought it, but I checked out the Amazon product page and see that it's "perfect for children aged 6-10". What I want to know is who are these brilliant six-year-olds? Where are they? DJ is only 5, but I don't think that he will be ready to really get into this gift until he's about 7 or 8.

Let me back up and tell you more about this product. Here's what you get for the price ($40 at Costco and $100 on Amazon)

  1. A really cool SD-X Reader pen to hear audio and interact with pages of the books.
  2. 6 interactive books.
Yeah. Glad that I got the Costco price.

Actually, the set is worth the $100 if you have a more diligent (or precocious) kid. I think that DJ would love this is the voices of the narrators were a little more animated. When I heard the voices, I was reminded of those museum tours with the slightly bored guide who is thinking of changing careers. That's fine for an older person who really wants to dig into the information. For a child like DJ who can't sit still long enough to sing the preschool class song, it's a little big of a challenge. (We are working with the little mister on his attention span, by the way.)

The books are interesting - as is the interactive information provided. The pen is very cool and is the one thing that might hold DJ's attention. It's a tiny bit like the Livescribe smartpen I use for writing and recording. Except the SD-X is limited to interaction with the books. I found that adjusting the volume (with interactive book buttons) was tricky. Either the included batteries are weak or the volume doesn't go very high.

The included books in this set are:
  • Natural History (DJ will love the dinosaurs)
  • Great Americans
  • American Experience 
  • Animals
  • Space
  • Air
I was pleased to see the range of topics covered. In the American Experience volume, slavery, the Vietnam War and, oddly, "Disability in America" are included.

When I picked this up at Costco, I did see similar sets. On Amazon, I see that Brittanica has sets covering various areas and there are probably other sets at local bookstores. Shop around for the best price. Like I said, I scored by getting this one at Coscto.

Other choices from different Sellers
I'm not sorry that I got this, but I do wish I had looked around for something more currently age-appropriate for DJ. I will work with him to take an interest in this set, but it is going to be a little bit of work. This would have been the perfect gift for the 13-year old daughter of a friend. 

This year, I congratulated myself for shopping early and more frugally. Next year, I want to top myself by doing better at matching gifts to people.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

**REVIEW** Telly the Teaching Time Clock

This year, I was determined to get DJ educational items for Christmas and his 5th birthday. I think I did well. Okay, I did get a couple of purely fun toys - like the robot - but I focused mostly on things to help in DJ's learning journey.

This cute thing is Telly the Teaching Time Clock:

It should be called the Teaching and Talking Time Clock. Because Telly does speak.

The dang thing was also great for teaching me a little bit of patience. I lost the box in the middle of our gift-opening mess and had to figure things out on the fly when DJ wanted to see the clock work. (By the way, there is a video on the Amazon product page for those of you who lose the box and need help. I, unfortunately, had no computer in the room where DJ wanted to start experimenting with Telly.)


I want to come right out and admit that either DJ is riding the slow train or other kids are quicker in learning. This toy is labelled as being for 3+ years. Do most 3 year olds know how to tell time? I'm old as hot sauce and I still have to think about whether midnight is AM or PM! LOL

What I am trying to say is, DJ is pretty smart and has been counting to 20 since he was three, but he doesn't have a clear grasp on telling time. Poor child. I think he absorbed some of his auntie's learning problems, (I just now tried spelling absorbed with an "O" at the beginning. Thank goodness for Grammarly. And writing is my strong suit.)

Telly is really colorful which helps keep a kid focused on him. DJ spent at least five minutes critiquing Telly's shoes before he even noticed the face and numbers. ("He can't tie those shoelaces!")

I should mention that, even if your kid isn't at time-telling age, Telly is still great for teaching younger children numbers and colors. DJ just started getting interested in telling time this past year, but he was into numbers and letters as soon as he could talk. If I'd known about Telly, I'd have gotten him for DJ as soon as he turned 3.

There are a few different ways to use Telly to help kids learn about telling time:

  • There are two quiz modes to help with learning analog and digital time.
  • The clock works as a real clock. Even when you aren't working with the kid, you can just check the time with him throughout the day (or let him check the time for you.)
  • I've started asking DJ what time it is when he first wakes up (so he can check Telly for me). He gets the big and little hands confused, but he'll get better.
  • You can have the kid watch for special times. I am going to point out to DJ the times for certain things, like his dad due home or time for us to go to the store, etc.
Telly is set up to teach in different ways, of course, but there are a lot of ways parents and other family members can use the clock to help kids with learning about time.

My favorite part of this clock is that it functions as a night light. That's useful and it might keep DJ's attention once he's gotten used to the clock. I don't want him to get tired of it and I don't want to make learning boring. That the clock actually keeps time and also serves another purpose makes it a good value.

Telly was $22 when I ordered him before Christmas and I think the clock is worth every penny. It even comes with batteries. That was great because I always forget to get enough of the right kind of batteries for the kids' Christmas toys.

DJ's Telly came in that vivid blue/yellow scheme, but there is a pink/purple Telly for the gals. (And, yes, I still do the boy blue/girl pink thing. Hate me if you want.)

When I mentioned to someone what I paid for this item, they asked if I thought it was good enough to rate the 22 bucks. Uh, yeah I think so. It's better than paying triple that for some mindless video game or toy. Learning is pricelessly important. I'd have paid more for this clock if I had to. By the way, for some reason the pink/purple Telly is a teensy bit pricier. Like a lot of products on Amazon, there are options for buying Telly "used".

Anyway. That's my take on Telly the Teaching Time Clock.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

**REVIEW** Toysery Electronic Walking Dancing Robot

Of all the Christmas gifts DJ got, I am going to start with my favorite! LOL

That up there is the Toysery Electronic Walking Dancing Robot. This photo does not do justice to just how cool this thing is!

It lights up and glides around the floor like a Michael Jackson clone.

Cute and mindless entertainment for kids and adults.
Looks really cool in the dark. So, even more entertaining.
Not badly priced.
Our dogs kind of like it & the baby is amused by it.
Doesn't need a lot of room.
Is not really loud

Not educational at all.
Does need a space clear of obstructions. It falls over if it bumps over anything.
While it's not real loud, it can get annoying after about 15 minutes.

It's so very cool. My niece's boyfriend told her that he wants one.I know the feeling. I've been spending more time with the robot than DJ has!

I got it at Amazon for around $25. Takes 3 batteries (that are included). It's not educational, but I'm not sorry that I got this one, The baby is fascinated with it and the dogs look at it like it's a UFO.

Keep in mind that it's a little bit loud - just a bit - it's not annoyingly loud, though.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Happy 65th Birthday, Sister

You would have been 65 years old today. Ten years my elder, but always my twin of the heart.

When I think of you, I imagine you "this day in paradise" with Jesus. I like to think of you with your body restored. If there are trees in Heaven, you are climbing them like the tomboy you were as a child.

You were so much a part of me that I felt abandoned when you left. You were so beautiful of a big sister that I knew I had to let you go.

While I am devastated by the loss of you (I cling to the word "annihilated"), I am also motivated to live a better life than I have been these past two years. I want to live life fuller and more content. I want to live it for myself and not for anyone else. I want to embrace better people and energy and let go of anything that is negative for me.

So, even though you are gone, you are still encouraging me.

Happy birthday, sister. I miss you so.

Image result for sister quotes

Image result for sister quotes


Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas and Reviews and Love

Once the fam opens their gifts that I got them, I will be doing tons of reviews. I can't wait to see what I get for a gift from my niece. She drew my name and I think she's really trying to blow me away this year. Bring it on, niecy, bring it on!

My little man, DJ (Boo-Boo) is who I went all out on this year. I haven't ever really reviewed lots of kids' stuff, so I can't wait to get to that. Since he is now five years old, I tried to go for more educational items this year. (I did get some totally toy stuff, but those are mostly stocking stuffer type things.)

As you know, I had a little ordeal with my Ulta order, but I'm hoping that I will be able to review those items at some point. Even though I was almost run crazy by the stress of dealing with Ulta, I am committed to being completely fair when I review the products.

Since I've done so many reviews of oils and hair care products, I'll be moving in a different direction this year. I'll be reviewing a variety of products and services (including those for writers, homemakers, and kids).

For now, I'm going to take a couple days off from the blog. It's family time! We generally open gifts with the kids on Christmas Eve so that we can rest up and start cooking the Christmas meal. I will be back here on the blog by the day after.

Here is wishing that everyone has a beautiful Christmas Day. For those of you with lots of family and friends, know how blessed you are and take the time to say a lot of I love yous. For those of you who might be feeling lonely or down, don't give up and please know that you are in my prayers.

This will be my second Christmas without my big sister. I'd like to think that she is having a better celebration than I can imagine.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Scrooge Award Winner: **UPDATE** **UPDATE**

**UPDATE #2**
This just gets better and better. Just now got a SECOND response from Guest Services. (By the way, my niece said she didn't see the snark in 1st response. Pshaw!)

So... at what point was Guest Services going to let me know that part of my original order was missing??? Does this mean that my original order was not late but instead not sent off? They don't even offer alternatives to the missing item. Wow.

I just told the family that their gifts would only be late. Now I have to let one of them know that their gift isn't even coming.

This whole thing has been a bad joke. What crap customer service. The best thing I can say about Ulta now is that their Twitter reps are way better at customer service than whoever is in Guest Services. 

What do you want to bet that if I were someone with a more important name (or social presence), I'd have gotten a better response to my complaints? 


I'm so mad now I could cry. No time to deal with this b.s. anymore because I have to go and find a replacement gift for my niece.


So. I finally get an email from Ulta "Guest Services". Their response to this whole fiasco is as strange as the fiasco... I'll just let you all see this for yourselves:

I shaking my head at a couple of things:

  1. "Reship"??? What happened to the original shipment? Are they admitting that something happened with that one? If so, I find it a little crazy that the best they can say is "Oh, sorry. Our bad. Merry freaking Christmas."
  2. Why so snippy since they are the ones who screwed this all up. If it is my choice to "no be" (yeah, I caught your sloppiness there) to be involved with their rewards program...
Yeah, I love it. They screwed up and can't even just admit that. Then they want to go and get all snarky with me.

Thanks Ulta. Glad I learned this lesson the first time ordering from you. Merry Christmas to you!

I think I was just bragging about how I did all my Christmas shopping early and on budget. I started buying gifts for the kids back in September so that I could get everything wrapped and paid for. Thank God I used Amazon for most of that because everything came in on time.

My problems started when I shopped online for smaller items to give to the adults in my family, plus a birthday gift. For some reason, I decided to pay attention to all the flyers and emails I was getting from Ulta. I have an Ulta credit card that I'd never used and, of course, I have the Ulta membership rewards card.

On November 25, I ordered approximately $80 worth of items for my nieces and nephews, including a birthday gift for a December 13th occasion. Even though we drew names this year, I still wanted to get something thoughtful for the other folks. And remember that Ulta was sending out all those emails and flyers with their holiday offerings...

(By the way, I have to say that when I placed my order, I didn't initially get the "free" shipping, Because ~drumroll~ I live in Alaska. A very nice Ulta rep refunded the shipping as a "one-time courtesy" when I questioned this policy.)

Image result for alaska vs lower 48 funny
Actually, the shipping was reasonable

You all know that I do a lot of product reviews. That means I get lots of package deliveries. That means I track my deliveries because I don't want to have parcels laying around outside my door, tempting passerby thieves. (I've already had my car broken into several times this past year!)

When I started checking the tracking of my Ulta order, I was surprised that there was zero movement after a few days. Finally, I notice that there was nothing done with my shipment until December 2. Still, I wasn't too worried because the estimated delivery date was December 14.

Of course, I contacted Ulta. Their response on December 14 was that there had been a "delay" in processing my order and it was sent on December 4th. (I don't know why USPS Tracking showed that they accepted the shipment on the 2nd, but, oh well.) I thought it was cute that they reminded me that they had refunded my shipping fees as if they had done it because of the inconvenience instead of because a rep had done that from the get-go.

The USPS site was not updating the Tracking info so, on the 20th, I used the USPS site to check on the package. They responded with a phone call. How amazing is that? The USPS actually called me about my inquiry. I wasn't given any more tracking updates but was told that my parcel should arrive within the week.

Me: "Before Christmas?"
USPS guy: "Hopefully. The package was sent regular rate."
Me:  "Regular?"
USPS guy: "Slow."

I wanted to scream at him, but what was the use of that?

Apparently, Ulta uses ground shipping (cheap) for Lower-48 customers. When shipping to Alaska, they pass the package off to the USPS for the rest of the journey.

I can understand that shipping to Alaska is not as easy as ground-shipping to the other 48 states. But how about this: how about you start with the USPS for Alaska and Hawaii destinations, It's not as if we are still using the Pony Express! By now, a horse could have made the journey up the AlCan with the package.
                                            Image result for alaska vs lower 48 funny

The same day, I contacted Ulta again with the info from the USPS guy and asked that they cancel my credit and memberships cards. I got the standard auto-reply ensuring me of their Ulta's full attention and the promise of a response within 24 hours.

Let me mention that I also kind of blasted Ulta on Twitter on the 19th. And I can tell you something, you get a much faster response on Twitter than you do if you use the standard contact email addresses.

Via Twitter, I at least got an apology. They encouraged me to send incident info to a specific email.

Now, today, on the 22nd (not exactly within the 24-hour time fram) Ulta tweeted that I should check my in-box for a response sent earlier today. I'm checking my in-box, spam-box, deleted mails, etc. I will keep checking, but it really doesn't matter at this point. I've already mentioned to the fam that their gifts will be late. I'd already apologized for the birthday gift so I'm getting used to being left empty-handed and red-faced.

I feel bad that I didn't go with my back-up plan of ordering gifts from another seller when I still had time. Thing is, I can't afford to double-shop like that.

Christmas is not about the gifts, but that's not my point. My biggest gripe here is that at any time of year, customers should be valued more. When Ulta had a "delay" with processing my order, couldn't they have stepped up their game and rushed the shipping to make up for that delay? Or is that my small order (and the fact that I didn't pay the six bucks' shipping) wasn't important enough for them?

Whatever the case, I got burned this time. I bet Ulta would not be so understanding if I was late making a card payment! No worries, though. I am going to pay that credit card off pronto, then cut it into little tiny pieces.

                                           Image result for bad customer service

Let me say right now that if I find out that I just missed seeing an email or am wrong in any other way, I will come back and apologize to Ulta. I'm not really expecting to have to do that, but I just want to be fair.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

**REVIEW** Fiber Challenge (with a personal story)

I am going to review my Benefiber challenge, but I'll give you the personal story first. Warning: this involves TMI...

I recently had my first ever colonoscopy. My doctors insisted. It's recommended that people have this done at age 50. I had enough other stuff going on with my health for a while so I managed to delay the procedure for 5 years. It wasn't as big a deal as I expected.

If you have ever been a big fan of Jeff Foxworthy (as I am), you may have heard that the worst part of a colonoscopy is the preparation. That involves cleaning out your colon so that the way is clear for the scoping part of the procedure. When the docs talk about cleaning out your colon, they are serious.
Image result for moviprepThere are different laxative treatments prescribed to prep people for the scoping. I was given something disgusting to drink called MoviPrep. Perfectly named. I was certainly moved and prepped. That stuff cleaned out my colon and the soul of my colon. I am not kidding when I admit (rather shamefully) that I literally lost 4 pounds. I'm pretty sure that half of that weight was from the calories I burned just making it to the bathroom. I haven't moved so fast since I was running from a childhood whipping.

Once I was good and cleaned out, I still couldn't stay away from the toilet. Maybe it's just my reaction to the MoviPrep, but I continued having the sensation of needing to "go". That lasted up until they gave me the sedatives for the procedure. I actually learned something interesting about this from the prep nurse. She said that I was having the weird sensation because, even though I'd emptied my bowels and colon, the body continually produces enzymes. I guess I was sensing those enzymes needing to come out of me! By the way, I will now forever refer to the laxative I took as "MoviPoop".
Image result for funny colonoscopy meme
I was really worried about having an accident on the exam table, but the sedatives I was given solved that. I wasn't knocked completely out by the drugs but I went into a bit of a Bobby McFarin haze of 'don't worry, be happy'. (Okay, I was still slightly worried, but that's just my nature.)

Let me just say here that I think there should be a law that certain doctors should be either really, really old or really, really unattractive. The doc who did my procedure was neither of those things. Thank God he kept chatting and eye contact to a minimum. That's the only kind of bedside manner needed for this kind of thing.

My procedure went okay and I have nothing to be concerned about. However, I was advised (strongly) to get more fiber in my daily diet. That's what brings me to this review of Benefiber.

If I was just going to be using something for temporary constipation, I would probably have gone with a chocolate-based product. Or maybe some of those new fiber-loaded cookies. I could also do a big change in my overall diet. Because I am really happy with my keto regimen (and am finally seeing results resume!), I chose Benefiber powder.

PRO: Benefiber is priced really well against other brands of fiber products. I was able to get a large size (200 servings) at Costco for around $14.

Usually, when I pick up a super-sized item, I end up regretting it because I don't use it up fast enough or I find that I really hate the product. This time, I'm glad that I got a big container. I am using more than the suggested daily dose of the Benefiber because I'm not getting much fiber from my food. Since I have gone keto, I get a lot of oils and fats (helpful to the bowels) but not as many fruits and greens.

PRO: What I like most about Benefiber is that it's easy to incorporate into my daily life. Also, it's totally tasteless. Perfect. Best of all, it forces me to up my water intake.

I add the Benefiber to my morning coffee and water. During the day, I add the product to my water bottle. One of the warnings about fiber supplements is that they can cause constipation if not taken with enough fluid.

While you can add Benefiber to food, I haven't done that. On a daily basis, I am down to about one meal a day - fish and steamed veggies or something 'cheesy and greasy'. Other than that, I stick to water and coffee.

CON: I drink more sparkling mineral water than I do flat water. Benefiber does not mix well with carbonated.sparkling beverages.

OBSERVATIONS:  It's been 20 days and I am starting to feel and see a difference since upping my fiber intake. For the first six/seven days of taking about 30 grams each day, I didn't notice any changes in my, um, movements. I continued with that dosing for another couple days and I mentioned that to my best friend. She thought that I should be careful to not overdo the dosing because I can be so lax (hah) about drinking enough clear water. I did go up to 40 grams a day though. By the middle of the second week, I started seeing some daily action.

Now that I am getting more and more clear water (not sparkling), I have been rotating my dose of fiber: 40-50 grams on the days when I drink less water (about 3 16-oz bottles) or 50-60 grams when I drink more than 3 bottles of water.

RESULTS: Here's the good part. I am losing my stubborn pot belly. I thought that was fat, but I think it must have been all bloat. On my keto diet, I had been losing the weight in my legs and butt and couldn't understand why I had that pudge-gut. It was very discouraging. The higher intake of fiber did make me feel flatulent for the first week. That has gotten better. Maybe I was just full of hot air, huh? LOL

                                               Image result for funny fiber

Anyway, I have heard from others that some people actually use Benefiber specifically to lose weight. That makes sense when you think about it. Fiber is filling and the fuller you feel the less you eat. In my case, I like that this fiber is helping to flatten my tummy. I just hope that as I do lose weight, I don't go back to a pancake-flat behind!

Finally, I don't think that it will hurt any of us to get more fiber. Benefiber is great for anyone who wants to keep it simple and just can't get enough food source fiber. This works well for me and I will be going back for refill of Benefiber in about 3 weeks.

Here is the Benefiber site, or just check out the FAQs. If you want to get an idea of how much food source fiber you are getting, this is their handy calculator.