September 18, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
0 comments

Eco-Kids Eco-Finger Paint and Eco-Glue (mini-review)

Eco-Kids Eco-finger PaintTHE PRODUCTS

Eco-Kids Eco-Paint and Eco-Glue, $24 (set of five colours) and $6, respectively.

THE GOOD

Both products use totally natural ingredients, removing any concerns about accidental poisoning. For example, the Eco-Glue contains rice flour, water, sugar, citric acid, corn starch, potassium sorbate and rosemary oil; while the paints get their colour from ingredients like carrots, spinach, red grapeseed, purple sweet potato and gardenias.

Every product is made by hand and part of a family-owned business.

The paint is quite concentrated, so you get a lot once you mix it with water (1:1, powder to water). We tend to make smaller batches because it thickens a bit over time.

The glue works really well, and dries clear.

THE GAFFE

The paint hues are pretty muted. You won’t get vibrant reds, blues or yellows with Eco-Kids’ all-natural paints. As they dry, they get more and more toned down so you’re left with an almost pastel look. However, this doesn’t bother my kids and I’m happy to let go of colour saturation if it means my kids can lick their fingers after they’re done painting. Not that they do, but I think you know what I mean.

eco-glueI personally prefer glue in sticks or tubes, which makes for a mess-free application. But Miss Q has other ideas and just loves to glue anytime, anywhere with anything. She’s content.

THE GEARS

4/5 for both

 

September 16, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
1 Comment

Splurge or save? #instaGLAM gorgeous with COVERGIRL and Katy Perry

It’s no secret that I can be a bit of a brand snob. I like nice things, and I usually find that you get what you pay for.

And while a lot of my skin care and makeup is pretty high-end, I continue to give COVERGIRL products glowing reviews. Because it consistently blows me away.

I know it’s hard to believe that a drugstore-level makeup line has wow-worthy products, but this girl wouldn’t lie to you. I think we’ve established that by now.

One of my #InstaGLAM selfies on concert night.

One of my #instaGLAM selfies on concert night that I posted on Instagram. (Even though I was far from GLAM having just raced from my home office to get on the train to make it downtown in time.)

I recently got to see the awesome Katy Perry in concert on her PRISMATIC World Tour (thanks to its COVERGIRL sponsorship), and her makeup was stunning. So I wanted to share some of the products that she uses in concert and in her videos to prove that you don’t have to spend a lot to look glam.

And this got me thinking: if I only bought COVERGIRL makeup, how much would I save? What could I buy with all that newly found cash?

Here’s what I’ve been buying and spending per product (and I know I’m not alone here, ladies):

  • Primer from Giorgio Armani = $75
  • Foundation from Giorgio Armani = $75
  • Concealer from YSL = $50
  • Blush from MAC = $22
  • Highlighter from MAC = $32
  • Eyeshadow from MAC = $16
  • Eyeliner from MAC = $16
  • Lip gloss from NARS = $35
  • Lipstick from Givenchy = $38
  • Mascara. OK, I don’t wear mascara because I have eyelash extensions (that, realistically, I’m just never, ever getting rid of and I warn you that they’re so hugely addictive that not even the annual amount I spend on them will stop me), so I’m removing mascara from my comparison list
  • GRAND TOTAL = $359 (remember: that’s for one product only in each category…holy crap)

And if I replaced it all with COVERGIRL makeup, which frankly would be pretty easy to do since I really do like just about everything I’ve tried:

Some things I could do/buy with the $272 I’d save:

  • A small but lovely piece of sterling silver jewelry from Tiffany & Co.
  • Six to seven blow-outs (including tax and tip!)
  • A couple’s massage
  • A pair of designer jeans
  • Shoes and boots for my kids for an entire year
  • I think you see where this is headed…

A few notes about some of these COVERGIRL products:

The new COVERGIRL + Olay Facelift Effect foundation is awesome. Like, seriously awesome. I’ve been using it every day since it arrived and although I’m not sure I feel like it’s “firming” my skin, I do find that the coverage is so naturally good that my skin appears more flawless and younger.

COVERGIRL’s Bombshell ShineShadow by LashBlast is marketed as a highlighter for your eyes, or to give an extra bit of POW overtop of your eyeshadow, but it can absolutely be repurposed and used on your cheekbones and the little “V” on your top lip (your Cupid’s bow) as well. Just be warned: a little goes a LONG way.

The Flamed Out Shadow Pot colours are not as pigment-rich as MAC eyeshadows. If you’re used to deeply pigmented colour in one swipe, you may find that you need two or three swipes to reach that same intensity.

I really need to tell you about the new LiquilineBlast Eyeliner. I’m in love with it. I have used eyeliners that cost $2 and eyeliners that cost $20, and none go on as smoothly and easily as this. Now, if you’re looking for a really sharp, precise line, this isn’t your eyeliner; it’s definitely got a much more silky, smoky effect, especially coupled with the smudger on the opposite end of the eyeliner pencil. (Scroll to the end for a smoky eye how-to!)

The next time you want to wear lipstick but have a long night of wine ahead of you, try the LipPerfection Lipcolour. IT WILL NOT COME OFF! In fact, it may still be on the next morning. This is both a blessing and a curse. And the colours are very “true.” By that, I mean that the colour on the end of the stick (on the outside) actually ends up looking like the colour in the tube. Want to know which #instaGLAM shades Katy Perry’s wearing on tour? Check out Flame, Hot, Bombshell and Yummy (all of which I love to wear since I’m not afraid to rock a strong, bold lip):

lips

Katy also uses LiquilineBlast Eyeliner in Black FireFlamed Out Shadow Pot in Molten Black and Bombshell ShineShadow in Ice Queen, which are the only three products you need to create a smokey eye like this:

How to create a smoky eye

BEFORE & AFTER HOW TO: Use a flat eyeshadow brush and pat on a couple of swipes of the Shadow Pot eyeshadow, then blend it with a blending brush across your entire lid and up into and slightly above the crease. Take the tiniest bit of ShineShadow on your finger and use it as highlighter on your brow bone, then a bit more goes into the inner corner of your eye and finally over the first third (or so) of your inner lid, right overtop of the shadow. This part of the shadow will now be a more glittery, metallic grey. Using the flat brush again, deeply imprint the crease in your eyelid with the eyeshadow so it’s nearly black; using a blending brush, work it into your crease evenly but keep it as dark as possible. Use the LiquilineBlast eyeliner to line the top and bottom of your eye (including the “inside”!) and flip it over to smudge it as little or as much as you like to achieve the smoky effect you like best. If you don’t have lash extensions like me, be sure to finish it off with mascara – lots of it!

 Need other makeup product recos to SAVE instead of SPLURGE? Just ask me.

 

DISCLAIMER: I am a P&Gmom. As part of my affiliation with this group, I receive products and special access to P&G events and opportunities. The opinions on this blog are my own. 

September 15, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
0 comments

KURIOS by Cirque du Soleil: a Cabinet of Curiosities

The show: KURIOS (Cirque du Soleil)

When it’s on: Now through October 26, 2014, in Toronto (down at The Port Lands) and then it’s on to San Francisco starting November 14, 2014; then in 2015 it goes to Seattle, Calgary and Denver. Buy tickets here.

What it’s about: If you’ve never seen a Cirque show, you need to know going in that the stories are about everything and nothing and go here to there and back again all in an instant. The official word on KURIOS is this: “In his larger-than-life curio cabinet, the Seeker is convinced that there exists a hidden, invisible world – a place where the craziest ideas and the grandest dreams lie waiting. A collection of otherworldly characters suddenly step into his makeshift mechanical world… and turn [it] upside down with a touch of poetry and humor in an attempt to ignite the Seeker’s imagination.”

You’ll find that the story line is simply a loose veil, under which you’ll discover the phantasmagoria that is Cirque du Soleil. (Scroll all the way to the end for photos!) With the most fantastical creatures and characters, dreamed up by the wildest imaginations. With costumes and makeup that in and of themselves are standing ovation-worthy. All of the usual elements are present: beautifully sung, ethereal music; contortionists; trapeze artists; bodies so perfect and toned that you can only look at them in awe and appreciation; quirky characters that will steal your heart; and a set that helps bring this otherworldly brilliance to life.

KURIOS starts the minute you walk into the Grand Chapiteau area adjacent to the parking lot. Not even through the gates, you’ll be wowed by characters scaling the roof of the Big Top, and probably stopped by photographers (in full costume). There’s music playing and gives the illusion of lineups moving at the speed of light, because you’re already engrossed in performance. Past the ticket-taker, you can buy $8 popcorn and $5 water bottles, check out your photos or have more taken on a green screen, or simply move directly into the theatre. We took our seats at about 4:05 p.m. and there was already action on the stage, even though the show wasn’t slated to begin until 4:30 p.m. When you have small children with you, this is a God-send. Time slipped by and the closer it got to showtime, the more action started to happen on stage, with lighting crew members (also in costume and in character) scaling the walls to get up to their posts. Everything done with precision and perfection.

You really only know the “real” show is starting because the lights go down. And what a show it is. Time ticks slowly on a big clock centre stage, and the bulk of the show takes place in what’s represented as a mere minute. We’re introduced to a cast of characters who offer up the most delightful treats for the senses. And that’s one thing that I love about Cirque shows: it doesn’t matter where you look, there’s always something happening. However, since this is a temporary theatre with non-permanent seating, it’s a bit cramped. The seats are small and close together and not “stadium-style” like you may be used to if you’ve seen only permanent shows, like those in Las Vegas or Orlando. Unless our kids sat on our laps, they weren’t able to see anything happening on-stage. And that meant the poor people behind us had an obstructed view. So if you’re taking small children (and you should), get front-row seats or sit much higher up in the back.

Although many Cirque shows have a lot going on up high, this one actually has a lot happening right on the stage. It’s not as “elevated” as you might be used to. So you really do need to have a full view of the stage floor to see 100 per cent of all the glorious things going on. I had someone who can only be described as a WNBA player sitting in front of me and I had to careen right and left, dodging her shoulders to give Miss Q the best view. Which meant I missed a few things myself. That’s my only complaint – the seating. The rest? Pure, must-see magic.

What Miss Q (age 3.5) said: “The guys on the trampoline looked very funny; I want to do that when I’m bigger!”

What The K Man (age 6) said: “That was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen! My favourite part was the invisible lion.”

The verdict? Take the kids if you can swing it financially, or plan it as a fun date night if two tickets reach your max budget. Either way, GO!

  • The invisible circus

    Our kids thought this was just amazing. And it was...nothing. No, really. This was the invisible circus, where the "narrator" character showed off various invisible animals riding unicycles, jumping through flaming hoops of fire and diving into barrels of water. There are a lot of curtain-openings, makeshift splashes and well-timed sound effects. This proves that the magic of make believe is alive and well in my children's minds. 

    The moment that the invisible lion escaped its cage and ran into the audience (complete with sound that travelled perfectly through the stands) was thrilling for The K Man but slightly terrifying for Miss Q. But anytime someone has asked either of them about KURIOS, this is the part they always talk about.

  • Contortionists

    Sitting upon this massive, mechanical hand were four of the bendiest girls you've ever seen. If you've seen contortion before, you won't be surprised by their flexibility or stunning but mind-boggling movement. If this is your first time, be prepared to be amazed and grossed out all at the same time. It's truly amazing to watch the human body create the kind of shapes possible only with artists like these.

  • The Courroies

    Seemingly Siamese twins at the beginning of KURIOS, these two Adonis replicas "separate" for a spectacular section of the show. They fly through the air hanging on, literally, by a string, their bodies twisting and moving beautifully in, over, around (and even through!) each other.

  • The Russian Duo

    This is right at the top of my favourites list out of every component that makes up KURIOS. That man there, which I am affectionately likening to a tank, stands behind a belt (reminiscent of a WWF championship belt without all the gold plating) and uses only his hands and arms as a trapeze bar for his partner. 

    It is INCREDIBLE. His strength and the trust between them to complete her feats of gymnastic awesomeness is jaw-droppingly phenomenal.

  • The biggest trampoline you've ever seen

    This part had Miss Q asking to go back to Club Med Punta Cana to try the Circus School again! She wasn't the only one ooohing and ahhhing as grown men flew through the air like butterflies, reaching remarkable heights. One got so high he was able to latch on to that ladder way up there!

  • Meet Mini Lili

    Picture this character coming down from the sky on a rope, wandering around as part of the KURIOS vernacular and then, in a later scene, a little old lady pops out of his "belly." It's strange and wonderful and mysterious and perfectly Cirque. Mini Lili is probably a little person by definition but she is, by far, the littlest and oldest little person I have ever seen with my own two eyes. She couldn't have been more than 2.5 feet tall (seriously!), and had a voice so unique I couldn't do it justice by comparing it to Alvin and the Chipmunks. But you get the idea.

    She shows up again and again throughout the show, rowing a boat, talking on the phone, generally just being wonderfully odd.

  • As if balancing on the stage wasn't enough...

    ...he had to take his balancing act up high, on a swing! Although he had a bit of a misstep on his cylindrical setup on the main stage, he managed to keep the teeter from tottering when he was swinging to and fro 30 feet up. Just wow.

  • Upside-down world

    This was so cool! Picture a dinner party around a table, and the chandelier needs a fixin'. Obviously, you'd stack 47 chairs on top of each other to reach it, climbing in such a way that you won Core of the Year awards for your presentation. Then, imagine the same scene happening upside-down at the top of the tent.

    Yes! Performers were seated at an upside-down table with upside-down wine and food and a carbon copy of the entire dinner party, strung from the "ceiling," two performers climbing and stacking chairs on their way to the same chandelier. It was spellbinding!

    (All photos courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.)

September 11, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
2 Comments

Wheat Canada: clothes for cool kids

Whenever I’m writing a “best-of” piece for Canadian Family, I work hard to (a) report on things that I’ve actually tested pretty thoroughly and (b) find interesting stuff that may be new to most readers. I love discovering new brands and bringing them to your screen.

So I was pretty stoked this summer when I heard about Wheat Canada, a Danish brand of kids’ clothing distributed out of Alberta. Stay tuned all the way to the end for a slideshow where we mixed and matched only a few pieces to get several different looks.

THE GOOD

The clothes are easy to wear, easy to launder (though some do need to hang dry), look great and aren’t over-the-top expensive (we’re talking $12-40 for a shirt at full price).

I also have to commend Wheat for its fabulous fit. Miss Q, who’s only 3.5, is finding herself these days wearing size 5 from most of the “high street” labels (like GAP Kids and Tommy Hilfiger) and she fits nicely into Wheat’s size 4 (with room to grow). I did, however, order size 8 for most of The K Man’s clothes and they proved to fit long and lean, giving us an opportunity to just roll up hems and sleeves to get at least a year (maybe two) of wear out of it all.

I love that the boys’ stuff is just fresh and cool, and the girls’ stuff – while feminine – isn’t all pink-sparkle-girly-frilly-ish.

It’s super simple to mix and match nearly everything in the line from season to season. We paired floral-patterned harem leggings with a striped dress because the colour tones fit so nicely with each other, while one pair of boys’ pants went with every shirt, sweater and jacket combo we could muster. In the end, that means big style without a big budget.

When Wheat goes on sale, oh BOY!, snap it up. I mean, leggings for $6, Ts for $7 and dresses for $10? You can’t even buy stuff at Old Navy or Osh Kosh at those prices unless they’re on sale, and (I assure you), the quality and washability of Wheat over brands like those is incomparable.

I’ve washed every item in this mini-collection at least a dozen times, if not more, over the past month and everything – every last thing – looks and feels like it did when it first arrived. That’s impressive.

THE GAFFE

Like I mentioned above, some of the girls’ clothing tags demand that I hang or (egad!) line-dry the garments, but all of the boys’ stuff can go in the dryer. Thank the heavens. I understand that when you have Lycra in the fabric mix, the dryer shortens its life, but – oh my gosh – I can’t tell you how much I dislike it when children’s clothing can’t all get tossed in the dryer. Heck, I wish all of my stuff could get tossed in the dryer, too!

THE GEARS

4.5/5

THE SLIDESHOW

  • Wheat Canada

    I can't tell you how much I love the fit and feel of Wheat's T-shirts. The cotton is incredibly soft and has that slightly washed look to it, like it's been lived in a little. Then there are details on some of them like this octopus T, with rolled up sleeves that stay rolled up. 

    And I love clothing brands for kids that basically take a grownup's look and just shrink it, like they've done here with these button-fly trousers. Again, we put The K Man in a size 8 (he's six years old and usually wears a 7 at GAP Kids), which gives him some room to grow. These pants are rolled up a couple of times at the bottom but still fit so well around the waist and thighs. 

  • Wheat Canada

    Again with the details. 

    Wheat's fall jacket for girls has pouffy sleeves and an almost dress-like shape to it. I love the reflective "W" on the back and there's also a reflective moose about the size of Miss Q's hand that's attached to a front pocket.

    This is style wrapped up with function.

  • Wheat Canada

    I mean…cute!

    This little engineer's cap is light enough for summer months but will also work well moving into fall. We also threw a sweatshirt overtop of the octopus T here.

  • Wheat Canada

    The cotton on Wheat's long-sleeved shirts is also fantastically soft and easy to launder. This cute alphabet shirt went well with the button-fly pants, too.

  • Wheat Canada

    STRETCH!

    Putting the alphabet shirt under the octopus shirt, we've created a great layer for cooler months, with colours that complement each other nicely. Paired with harem-style track pants, it doesn't get much more comfy than this.

  • Wheat Canada

    I really like being able to take summer clothes and give them some longevity, which is easy to do with a heavier cotton dress like this when matched with a pair of tights and Mary-Janes.

  • Wheat Canada

    This is the example to which I referred in my review, where we "matched" a stripe with a floral print - and it totally works. 

  • Wheat Canada

    The K Man is in love with this coat, and frequently asks when he'll get to wear it. That must mean he thinks it looks good, feels good or will somehow procure candy or Skylanders for him.

  • Wheat Canada

    Wheat's clothes are made for megawatt smiles and gorgeous kiddos. (Yes, I'm saying my kids are gorgeous. Biased, much!?)

    This blouse has a great ruffle detail along the buttons up its back and paired beautifully with this Juniorbeads necklace from Chewbeads.

  • Wheat Canada

    Add a cardigan to a summery outfit and you instantly add an extra month or two of wear. This cardi is so adorable; it has a little ruffle all the way around the bottom without it being too girly. But you have to lay it flat to dry. After re-shaping it. Argh. Good thing it's cute.

  • Wheat Canada

    Miss Q found it easy to run, jump and play in everything from Wheat, and was a big fan of this long-sleeved shirt with an eyelet-type of design on it as well as these bamboo pants that gather at the ankles. Sophistication in small packages. Loves it.

September 7, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
34 Comments

Shannon Nicole Photography: four-generation photo shoot

So my grandma is 93. But, bless her, she still lives completely independently up in a little apartment that looks down on the church she goes to every Sunday.

At a family gathering about this time last year, I was watching Miss Q interact with her great-grandma and had flashbacks of doing the same when I was about her age. I’ve been one of those lucky kids who managed to know all four of her grandparents and even three of her great-grandparents. And as I watched them, I said to my brother, “I should really do a photo shoot with all four generations.” And he agreed, adding, morbidly: “You’d better do it soon. Just in case.”

Well, as it does, life got busy and I put off the idea. Until a couple of months ago when a photographer posted her information in one of my local “mom groups” on Facebook. And before the week was out, we’d scheduled a photo shoot with Shannon Nicole Photography.

My grandma (93), my mom (65), yours truly (39) and Miss Q (3). Four generations of women:

Shannon Nicole PhotographyObviously, I had to style everyone or Grandma would have shown up in a windbreaker from 1982 and Velcro sneakers. I was thrilled with the way the palette worked with the lush greenery around us.

If there’s one tip I can give those of you planning family photo shoots, it’s this: find some kind of common colour tone in your clothes, but don’t get too match-matchy. And be yourself. If you’re never without stilettos, wear ‘em! (Just don’t book a shoot in a park with only grass, perhaps.) We’re a pretty casual bunch overall, so I opted for classic white with different shades of blue. It was the middle of summer and it felt perfectly beach-y, despite the fact we were nowhere near a beach.

Shannon Nicole PhotographyActually, we did the whole shoot at the stunning Oshawa Botanical Gardens. It’s spectacularly beautiful down there, with plenty of trees, oodles of colourful flowers, a very architectural-looking bridge (if one can describe a bridge in such a way) and even a little fountain among some big rocks.

It all sits on either side of a creek that I played near often as a child. When we first moved to “the Shwa,” we lived just five minutes away from here — but it never looked like this. It’s incredibly peaceful and you’d be hard-pressed to get a bad shot anywhere there.

I was really impressed with Shannon, who managed to give us gentle direction while sort of disappearing a lot of the time so we could capture more candid moments, which I always thinks makes the most naturally beautiful photography. She shot for a little more than an hour and had dozens of stunning shots back to us within a couple of weeks. I’m VERY particular, and I have to say that I didn’t just like most of the photos…I loved them.

It turned out that she managed to capture us as a group and sometimes just two or three of us together. There were also some darling shots of Miss Q in the bunch, all on her own.

Four-generation photo shootI treasure these pictures now, and I know that one day, when my last grandparent on earth is no longer here, I’ll be so glad that we worked with Shannon Nicole Photography to freeze this moment in time.

Shannon is based in the Greater Toronto Area and does all kinds of photography, ranging from maternity and newborn shoots to family photography and weddings. And if you’re looking for a pet photographer, she does that, too! And let’s not forget boudoir photography for those of you brave enough.

Lucky for you, if you live in or are willing to travel to the GTA, you can enter to win a photo shoot with Shannon Nicole. You’ll get an outdoor photo shoot along with five fully edited and printable digital images (plus a 20 per cent discount for any additional photographs that speak to you). You can choose from portrait, family, engagement, pet, newborn or maternity shoots. Note that this is not a “mini-session.” It’s worth a whopping $350!

Enter here.

Shannon Nicole Photography