Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Must-Have Hair Product: Aquage Uplifting Foam

I have been on the hunt for this supposed liquid (well, foam) magic for awhile now - Aquage Uplifting Foam. I must give credit where credit is due - I first heard of this exclusive hair product from The Small Things Blog. Kate has a phenomenal blog full of informative videos showing how to style hair, not to mention her cute outfits she blogs about, too! Please, please be sure to spend some time on her blog - it has been so helpful for me; I'm sure you will all love it, too!

Anyway, I had to look up online where to find it locally because it is not sold in all salons. I went to Aquage's website to look up where I could find it here.

I was so excited to try it! I started by towel drying my just washed hair, and making little parts all over my head and spraying the Aquage in it. Then I rubbed it in a little, and then blow dried my hair. For a detailed video, check out Kate's video here. This video is how I learned to do it! :)

After my hair was dry, I could already tell there was a ton of volume in my hair! I decided to do loose waves in my hair; I wanted to take advantage of the added texture. By the time I did the hair around my part, I could really see the volume at my roots! I was so excited and shocked I took a picture!

Don't mind the incomplete curling of the hair.
Now that is some lift! I have tried root lifting sprays in the past, and it's true - none compared at all! I have never been able to achieve that volume because my hair gets weighed down by its own thickness and length.

A second curl! Lookit that height!!

A little out of focus...sorry!
Look at those Tennessee waves, haha! I have never gotten volume like that. And this is just from the Aquage - no teasing, no hairspray. I normally part my hair on the other side, so I think next time I curl my hair, I will part it on the opposite side. That way, when I flip it back to the other side, I will get that insane volume like in the photo above. I opted to pin my bangs back this time, since this was my first time using the Aquage. Here's a close up of how I pinned my bangs:

It's kind of like the start of a braid - and then I just pinned it.

It is really, really hard to take a good looking photo of yourself in the mirror to capture a hairstyle. This was like the 20th photo, not even kidding.

Everyone needs to own this stuff; I spent $19 on this bottle, and needless to say, it was worth every penny.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Cat Traps: My "Wordless Wednesday"

So I came across a clever little blog in which the post was simply a collection of photos of the day, and she called it "Wordless Wednesday". I'm not sure if this is a new trend in blogging or if this was just a random thing.

I thought it was kinda clever, so I thought I would give it a shot.

Except its not Wednesday.

And so far, it's not wordless.

I'm not off to a great start.

Anyway, I call it, "Cat Traps". I hope you enjoy. :)

Okay, so he's not technically in the boxes, but being near them/on top of them is the next best thing.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

DIY Baby Board Book

Whenever shopping for a new baby or a young child, there are SO many cute things! Let's face it, anything for a baby is just adorable! Here is a great gift idea that is cute, affordable, and personal.

A homemade baby board book!

Here are the supplies you will need:

Mod Podge - I chose a glossy finish. A small bottle will be plenty.
A small roller sponge - I found mine at Walmart for a buck and change.
A small sponge or sponge brush
PLASTIC plate - not paper
Scrapbook paper
Printed words
Blow dryer (this will make it dry faster and save tons of time)
Fine-grain sandpaper, optional

...and of course, the book. There are two ways you can go here; either purchase a cheap board book and plan to cover every inch of it (which you can find these for $1 or sometimes less - check garage sales!), or purchase a blank one. I chose to get a blank one, seeing as how this was my first Mod Podge project ever (hard to believe) and I wanted to make it as easy as possible for myself. I got mine on for about $7! I ordered 2 so that I could have a back-up.

For this book, I chose the theme "first words". I took photos of items in my niece's life that have a simple, instantly recognizable label. Try not to choose something with a generic term, like "toy". Instead, choose something specific like "blocks" or "ball" or "doll". Whatever the child will be taught to call it is how you should label it.

Another cute theme would be "family album", in which you simply use photos of people in the child's life and label them. I included a few in the book that I made (mommy, daddy) and I included the four-legged brother and sister. For these photos, I labeled them not only with "cat" and "dog", but also with the names of the animals.

After you have your photos and words printed, now decide if you want the whole background to be scrapbook paper, or if you want just the photo or label to be backed in scrapbook paper. I decided, for the sake of time, that I would simply mount the label on scrapbook paper.

Let's begin!

First, pour some Mod Podge onto the plastic plate and roll the roller brush through it to coat thickly and evenly.
This was an "after" shot. You will need much more Mod Podge on the brush. :)
It is important with this project to do one page at a time, from start to finish. This will reduce the chance of your pages sticking together. You can, however, do the 2 adjacent pages at the same time.

Roll the Mod Podge onto the page and place the photo on top, or scrapbook paper if you are covering the whole page. Unlike Elmer's glue, you cannot really slide the photo around once you place it on top, so be precise the first time! You can use the Mod Podge just like glue to adhere all your photos, paper, and labels.
This is the texture of the Mod Podge when it is rolled on. Don't worry, it isn't really that noticeable and can be smoothed out with sandpaper at the end of the project.

Let everything dry for 5 or 10 minutes. Then roll another generous coat on top, using a sponge brush closer to the crease in the middle where the roller cannot reach. *After doing this project, I learned it is easier to do one, really thick coat instead of trying to do several thin coats. Just slop it all on!

Use the sponge to get into tight spaces. Remember, it goes on white, but dries clear!

It can be air dried, or to speed things up, use a blow dryer. It saved me so much time!
You can really see the texture here. According to the bottle, using a paintbrush can help reduce this look.

All dry!
Continue working on the pages in your book. I saved the cover for last, hoping that I would become an "expert" and end up with a phenomenal cover. Or something. Just so that you are not worried about your own book, here's what mine looked like as I was working:
A view from above.
Warped pages.

I discovered that using the blowdryer was a great idea until I saw that it was curving my pages. But as I worked through my book, once I did the page behind it, they flattened out. See the two pages in the middle? And the first and last page? Those only have one side done. After I did the middle 2 pages and the outside covers, they leveled out. So don't worry!

After I finished everything, to my surprise, I realized it only took me an hour or two. Amazing!

I will say that I never did figure out how to get the book to lay completely flat. I don't think that it will be able to, seeing as how layers of paper and photos and Mod Podge have been added.
BEFORE being smashed down under a heavy weight.
I put mine under a gallon jug of vinegar. We didn't have any heavy books!

Notes on this project:

If you want the book to be fully "slobber proof", be sure to run some Mod Podge over all surfaces, including the spine of the book and the 3 edges of each page. My book was made to be fully enjoyed, which includes mouthing, slobbering, and chewing. Mod Podge is non-toxc, so there are no worries! Of course, anything that your baby puts in the mouth should be closely monitored. I feel that goes without saying, but I gotta say it anyway.

Sand paper can be used to smooth down the texture that results from rolling the Mod Podge on. I chose not to - it was just going to be another trip to the store during the holiday shopping season. I was making this 2 weeks before Christmas and didn't feel like exerting the effort. Plus the thought of scrubbing down 14 pages? No thanks. I think the texture is fine - babies need sensory stimulation anyway. It's hardly noticeable.

Be sure to wash your brushes with warm soapy water when you are through. Once it dries, the brushes are useless and will have to be thrown out. Learned that lesson already.

The awesome thing about using a plastic plate is that, besides the fact that the Mod Podge will not soak through onto your workspace, once the Mod Podge dries, you simply peel it off and the plate is good as new for the next craft project! I think in the photo above you can see my peeled-off Mod Podge on the counter.

I think she likes it!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Army Wife, Army Life

Oh, the military journey.

As I am meeting more people who are in the active duty military, I am beginning to realize that despite our large connecting factor of being in the active part of the military, everyone's story is so different.

One of my neighbors, for instance, experienced her very first PCS without her husband, ALONE, because of an upcoming deployment. She has spent her first year all by herself on this post. Fortunately, her husband returned home about 6 weeks ago. She was telling me how excited she was to finally get some more furniture because she had promised him that she would let him pick some things out for their new house that he had never even seen yet.

Couldn't imagine that.

Another gal I met said that they got married, and then PCSed here. Then he had some sort of semi-minor surgery. He returned to work a bit too early before he was fully recovered, and long story short, he ended up in critical condition and spent weeks at Vandy Hospital recovering. Apparently it was pretty serious and was quite scary for awhile. Having just moved here, the poor girl had no friends here yet and family was practically on the other side of the country. Once that settled down, he deployed. His tour was extended, so hopefully he will return home soon!

Sounds miserable!

The point is, everyone has their backstory. Everyone has their own heartaches, pains, and struggles. I think that is what makes a military community so strong is that everybody needs support for one reason or another, or maybe several struggles all at once.

Thinking about things like these reminds me of a memory of a conversation I had with a new coworker several years ago. We had talked enough that she knew about my mom recently passing away, and the fact that my husband had just returned home from his tour in Iraq.

So you could say that I was sensitive.

She had THE NERVE to say to me, "I just don't get why people stop and thank soldiers, I mean, they choose to be in the military. Maybe you could explain that to me?"

I didn't have words for her.

I don't remember even saying anything to her. I think I just got up to go cut out some art activities or something. It made me so mad! Being that it was my new job and that there were sleeping children in the room, I felt it was not the time or the place for a discussion like that. I'm not sure how I would have handled it anyway given my state of mind. Clearly, she would never understand, so there was no point to waste my breath.

For your information, lady, it is SO much more than just saying "yeah, I think I'll be in the military". They don't call it "signing your life away" for nothing. You either literally give your life or sacrifice your lifestyle. Or both. And this is all by volunteering so that a draft does not have to be implemented to take away YOUR loved ones from YOU.

The "thank you" is for getting 2 weeks' notice that you are moving.

The "thank you" is for moving where ever you are told, whether that's in this country, or somewhere else in the world.

The "thank you" is for not being able to go home and visit whenever you like because of the restricted travel radius.

The "thank you" is for dealing with training schedules that constantly change, taking the soldier away from family, sometimes sending them to another base.

The "thank you" is for gee, I dunno...a deployment?!

The "thank you" is for not being together as a family during holidays, birthdays, and other dates of importance. Multiply that by 10 when there are children in the family.

The "thank you" is for being away from your support system when times are tough.

The "thank you" is for missing out on pregnancies, deliveries, and the baby's "firsts".

The "thank you" is for so, so many things; each family could probably come up with a dozen more. Easily.

I hope this answers that question for you, lady.

My original intent for this post was not supposed to be so...fired up...but I thought addressing that question from 5 years ago would help me. It's therapeutic in a way.

I almost feel bad that I haven't "paid my dues" as a military wife. We have no kids, and no deployments (yet) as an active duty family. It's been so long since his 2007-2008 tour that I sometimes forget it even happened. I think I have suppressed a lot of that time period, and it takes a lot of effort and emotion to dig up those memories. That time was my senior year in college, my mom was really sick and then she passed away, and Chris, who was my boyfriend and then fiance at the time, was deployed and encountered a scary event overseas shortly after her passing. I got my tonsils out right as he arrived in the states, and I couldn't even talk to him. Literally! I couldn't speak for a few days; thankfully my dad let me use the pricey text messages to communicate (back before texting was considered normal communication in my family).
His return home from his 2007-2008 tour in Iraq.

So far, even though it has only been a little over a year, I feel our active component of his military career has been normal typical ...quiet.

He has some scheduled training ahead of him this year. But here's the funny thing about that - training dates are always subject to change. It's kinda like that saying for crazy Kansas weather: "Wait 5 minutes - it will change". And that's how I feel when Chris comes home and says, "Oh hey, I have training for _____ weeks from (month) to (month). It's down at Ft. _____." I start mentally planning around it, and then he comes home and says "scratch that" or "the dates have changed".

I just reply "okay". That's about all I can do.

Things change all the time. Can't depend on any information, really, unless you have RECEIVED ORDERS for a deployment or a PCS. And even those can change, although it's not as often.

Oh, military life. I still can't believe that we live here. That we are active duty. We have waited a long time for this; this plan has been in place for many years. We talked about the military together back when we were dating. He wanted to join right away during our relationship; I basically told him "wait...I think I love you...let's wait a little bit before you leave me for the military". And then 6 months later, we decided the timing was better. 6 years later, we finally achieved active duty status after time spent in the Reserves and ROTC. Our life is just beginning, and I can honestly say after getting through our first PCS that I can't wait to see where this military life takes us, both where we live, and in our relationship as husband and wife.

Friday, January 4, 2013

"Thinned Out" Baked Potato Soup

Hello, y'all! It's been awhile since I've written any new posts. The last few months have been a little on the busy side with my new job (yay! More on that later...) and traveling back home to Kansas for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We were able to welcome Chris' brother home from Afghanistan and enjoyed a visit from Chris' mother and niece. So as you can probably guess, blogging was not exactly on my list of things to get done!

A week or so ago, after the dust had settled, it was back to the usual "what's for dinner" conundrum. The fridge was needing to be restocked, but neither of us felt like going to the store. We had leftover bacon from breakfast sandwiches and a bag of potatoes....and we had almost the whole afternoon ahead of us. The first thing that came to mind was Baked Potato Soup. My momma always used this yummy recipe that was rich and indulgent, almost like eating a savory dessert! I had just had a conversation with a friend who said she has yet to find a good baked potato soup recipe that didn't have such a thick, creamy texture. So, I decided to modify the recipe that I know and love into a much lighter dish!

I started by baking 6 potatoes. You can use any potato that you have, really. I think russets work best, but I had some sort of "jumbo" red potato. The texture is different - they won't be as fluffy after baking them. Which I think will be a positive thing, seeing as how the goal for this dish is to be more smooth instead of that lumpy, graininess that a baked potato soup usually has.

Anyway, I washed them, poked them with a fork to avoid exploding potatoes, wrapped them in foil, and baked for about 1 hour at 400 degrees. Once they are done (they should give a little when you squeeze them), carefully unwrap them and slice in half to help them cool faster to make them easier to handle. Spoon out the potato, unless you don't mind the skin, in which case you could just mash them all up with a fork.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat some chicken stock and SKIM milk on medium low. Now I say "some" because I did my usual approach of not measuring. The original recipe calls for an insane amount of WHOLE milk and NO stock at all, so I probably did equal parts milk and stock. I would say at least 2 cups of each. Maybe a little more stock. The beauty of stovetop cooking is that you can modify it as you go. The skim milk is important for this recipe because it keeps the liquid very thin, like a broth, and not a cream. If you are finding that this is not enough liquid for the amount of potatoes and/or people you are serving, just add more broth.

Once it is warmed up, you can turn the heat up to medium. I then remembered that the original recipe starts by making a roux, which is a butter and flour mixture that you cook for a few minutes before adding the milk. So I decided to just throw in a few tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon or two of flour. And then I decided to throw in a bay leaf.* I never use those, so I thought, why not?

Then I stirred the mixture around for a bit to incorporate the flour and butter.

I recruited my husband to get the bacon ready. I really hate cooking bacon. It splatters, it's greasy, it smells up your whole house and the clothes you are wearing, and sometimes that bacon fat pops and burns your skin. I decided to bake it instead of fry it up on the stove. It worked very well; I was able to get the crispy bacon that is perfect for crumbling. We put it in along with the potatoes while they were baking. We used one if those double pans with the drip holes along the sides for draining the fat - whatever that pan is called!

I would highly recommend using microwave bacon. Less time, less mess, less drippings, less "eau de bacon" stink, and it is so easy to crumble. Works like a charm every time.

Once the stock and milk mixture is heated through and a little bubbly, reduce the heat back to medium low and add about 8 ounces of plain Greek yogurt. The original recipe calls for sour cream, so I thought the Greek yogurt would be a good substitute. You want to keep the heat below medium after adding the yogurt to avoid curdling it. I barely had any shredded cheese left in the refrigerator; I used a combination of mild cheddar and mozzarella, totaling about 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup. If I had more, I would have added it!

Stir again to mix and warm the yogurt and cheese. Once your bacon has been crumbled and potato pulp mashed, add those to the pot as well. Stir and bring back to heat if the potatoes got cold, and enjoy!

*Don't forget to take the bay leaf out!

It still has great flavor without the thickness of most baked potato soups I've had. It still looks fairly thick in this photo, but it still has a smooth, thin broth. Enjoy, friends! :)

"Thinned Out" Baked Potato Soup

6 medium to large potatoes, washed, poked, and wrapped in foil

2-4 cups chicken broth*
2-4 cups SKIM milk*
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
8 oz. plain Greek yogurt
bay leaf, optional
1 cup mild shredded cheddar cheese
1 pkg cooked, crumbled bacon

Start by baking the potatoes for 1 hour at 400 degrees.
Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat 2 cups EACH of chicken broth and milk on medium-low heat.
Add bay leaf.
Add butter and flour.
Turn heat up to medium and stir occasionally until mixture is heated through and bubbling slightly.
*If you would like more liquid, add more milk and broth, depending the ratio of potato to liquid you desire.
Add Greek yogurt and stir to combine.
Turn heat down to medium-low.
Scoop out the pulp from the potatoes, ensuring that it is in bite-sized pieces or smaller.
Add potato pulp to the pot.
Stir in cheese and bacon.
Remove bay leaf!
Bring up to temperature if necessary; serve hot!