Friday, April 28, 2017

Plant Collection
& Earth Day Plant Haul

** This post contains affiliate links.

The best way to spend a morning is on the patio drinking coffee, basking in the sunshine and enjoying the company of my plant babies.

I recently got ahead of myself and started planting my little patio garden. It was the first nice day in Chicago so you could probably understand my excitement. I just couldn't wait anymore!

We have two patios at our apartment. In the front (facing the building's garden), we plant the flowers and other plants, and we grow our veggies on the back patio. (Sometimes if we have a plant that requires more sun I will move it from patio to patio, though.) I've read that it's smart to have flowers in your vegetable garden to attract bees, so I plan to move at least some flowers to the back.

We kept most of our plants alive over the winter with the help of a grow light. We moved all the non-veggie plants inside into a corner of our living room. The only plants we lost: an avocado plant, a succulent that was accidentally ripped out, and morning glories.

These were most of the plants we started with, including a bonsai tree, bamboo and succulents.

Lowe's Plant Haul

Our first additions this year were Dianthus plants, tulips and pansies.

Our veggie seedling choices were red, yellow and green peppers; jalapenos; lettuce; spinach; strawberries; and tomatoes.We grow these, with the exception of the tomatoes and strawberries, in the Patio Pickers garden bed** (ours doesn't have the wheels). I decided not to grow basil and oregano this year because last year I ended up with excess amounts of them and I don't really need that much of either.

The strawberries are in the container they came in for now.

We use two of the Patio Pickers containers.

Edible Plant Sale Haul

After my initial veggie seedling shopping trip in early April, I wanted to add more. The first weekend of the Peterson Garden Project's Edible Plant Sale took place on Earth Day weekend, so we paid it a visit to see what we could find. The line was already snaked around the one-room sale when we arrived just after opening time, so we quickly grabbed a few plants: chives, garlic chives, red onion and cilantro. I would have grabbed more, but we are limited on space. What was important to us was supporting a local organization that gives back to the community.

We reused small pots we already had to plant them.

Gethsemane Garden Center, Chicago

We next headed to our favorite garden shop in Chicago to find more flowers and other plants. Gethsemane Garden Center is a magical place.

Their greenhouse has an amazing selection of succulents and bonsai trees, two of our favorites. When we walked into the greenhouse, Graham said, "I could spend all my money here." He was in heaven. After much deliberation, Graham decided on a water jasmine pre-bonsai tree and a bamboo palm.

I decided to put together more potted succulents like I did last summer. I grabbed four of the bigger succulents and a pretty blue/green pot to be their new home. Victoria picked out yellow snapdragons and I loved some red Ranunculus. I also picked up more mini potted plants to replace what was killed over the winter.

I still need to find cute pots for these.

Victoria loved shopping for plants. She gravitated toward yellow flowers.

These orchids were beautiful, but Graham recently bought me some.

Potting your own succulents

Instead of paying a ton of money for potted succulents or terrariums at farmers market, I use what I see an inspiration to make my own. You can find succulents at any garden shop for about $3-8 each depending on the size. Then find a nice pot you love and plant them yourself. Planting advice is plentiful on Pinterest, though I question some ideas I saw recently, like placing them on a shelf where it looked like they didn't get much light. I love most of the ideas as long as the babies are getting the sun they need.

My humble advice on transferring succulents to a new pot:
  • Wear gloves, duh!
  • Plant the largest succulent first.
  • Place your largest succulent first and work around it.
  • If it helps, draw out where you want them to go.
  • Spray the soil with water first. Then place, add more soil and spray with water again.
  • It may also be a good idea to keep the succulent in the pot it came in and place that in a larger pot. You can then top with soil or pebbles.

What are you growing this year? 

Shop garden supplies**:

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mother's Day Gifts That Give Back

** This post contains affiliate links. 

When I shop for gifts for holidays and birthdays, I try to support companies that do good in some way, especially those that give money or products to charity. It used to be a challenge to find such companies, but now many popular brands have programs that give back. This Mother's Day will be my first one as a mother myself, so let's be honest: I wouldn't mind receiving any of these gifts!

My Mother's Day picks:

Floral TOMS wedges**: Mom can look gorgeous in these floral wedges all spring and summer long, and she can feel good about providing someone in need with a pair of shoes.

Coral Washed Twill Women's Platform Espadrilles**: For those who want more comfortable, everyday shoes, these TOMS espadrilles are perfect, and they come in blue and gray as well. Plus. these have a vegan microfiber liner!

Diff Eyewear: For every pair of Diff sunglasses sold, a pair of reading glasses is given to a child in need. I like these Barry Black/White Frames with polarized lenses. The mom friend in your life will love these this summer.

Little Market North Shore Overnight Bag: Little Market has a variety of adorable overnight bags for the traveling momma. You can also find makeup bags and trunks. Little Market says: "Every purchase empowers artisans in Guatemala working with Maya Traditions." Frankly, every item on the Little Market website is adorable. You also get a free luggage tag with overnight bag purchase (at least at the time this was written).

Kate Spade On Purpose Canvas Wristlet**: This adorable wristlet has a cute little bow detail. It benefits artisans in Rwanda as part of Kate Spade's On Purpose program.

Where are your favorite places to shop? What would you add to this list?

Note: It's up to you to do research on which companies are worth giving to and how much good they actually do. These are just my picks. Happy shopping!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Let's Dabble: Intro to Climbing Class

** I received a class credit for being a Dabble ambassador. All opinions have always been my own.

As a Dabble ambassador, aka Super Dabbler, I am regularly trying new hobbies via the countless classes on the website. I've tried SUP yoga, sushi rolling and photography, among many other activities. While each class challenges me in some way, my most recent class helped me take on one of my biggest fears: Heights.

This month's Dabble class was Intro to Climbing, which was offered by Brooklyn Boulders Chicago on the Near West Side. The hourlong class is an introduction to rock climbing taught by a CWI-certified instructor in a small setting. My class had only two students, so we had plenty of one-on-one instruction and coaching. We learned the basic concepts of climbing and were given the opportunity to try climbs based on our skill level. Because I had never climbed and I was terrified, I started with V0. (My fellow student was more experienced, so he did more difficult climbs.) After failing a few times, the instructor had me try something easier to build my confidence. Getting to the top of the wall was the mental boost I needed to try a V1. It was an exhilarating feeling to complete it. I forced myself past the certain point on the wall where I would start to panic and get tunnel vision. It's easy to miss an obvious path to the top because you are so close to the wall, but the instructor encouraged me from below. In addition to instruction and motivation, the $35 class includes your climbing shoes and a tour of the facility. The class will fly by!

Because I was climbing, I didn't get much footage, but I put together a video of my experience. Watch below and subscribe for more videos of my fun adventures. Also, if you'd like to try a Dabble class on just about any activity, you can get 10 percent off by using code MARETTE10 at checkout. (An easier method if to use my referral link, which automatically populates the discount.) Dabble classes are currently available in such cities as St. Louis, Seattle, Chicago, Austin and Denver, but hopefully Dabble will expand further. Happy Dabbling!

Have you tried climbing or bouldering? What Dabble class would you take? 

Watch my short climbing video:

Friday, April 21, 2017

What's in My Bag?

** This post contains affiliate links.

I love reading about what people carry in their bags and the items that people consider to be essentials. I was inspired by reading videos and posts to share the contents of my own purse. Into that sort of thing?

What's in my bag:
  • Phone power bank: I previously used a more expensive portable phone charger, but it didn't last long. I am now trying this Techlink Recharge power bank, which comes in four colors: black, white, blue and pink. I like to have this in my purse just in case I am traveling or at a baseball game.  
  • Faux-leather wallet: Confession: I have had this exact wallet for at least 8 years. Shopping for accessories is one area of my life in which I am a minimalist. I don't see the need for me to buy a new wallet until I need to replace this. 
  • Beats Bluetooth wireless headphones with case: I carry my headphones in my purse so I can listen to Audible on the L (train) or watch Youtube videos. These are also a necessity for travel.
  • Oakley aviator sunglasses: These were a gift from Graham, who wanted me to have higher-quality sunglasses. I have had these for about three years and have replaced the lenses once. Oakley had excellent service: They replaced my lenses for me in store. Sometimes I wear inexpensive  rose-gold sunglasses like these from H&M.
  • Pepper spray and whistle with light and compass: I have carried pepper spray in my purse since my days at the newspaper in Arizona. I worked nights (from 2 to 11 p.m. or later, depending on breaking news), so I wanted to have it on hand as I walked to my car in a nearby parking garage. While I never felt unsafe in downtown Phoenix, I liked to have it just in case. The whistle was given to me by a Chicago police officer last year. There had been a recent report of a woman being attacked during a jog.
  • Burt's Bees lip balm: I have written this before, but I can't live without this stuff. It feels like heaven on my lips.
  • Liquid lipstick: I have recently been wearing the Wet n Wild Liquid Catsuit Lipstick in Give Me Mocha every time I wear makeup. It goes with so many makeup looks.
  • Pen.
  • Flint Lint roller: This was sent to me in my September Popsugar Must-Have box, which I received for free. I love this because it is resuable and great for travel.


  • Baby wipes: Because I have a toddler.
  • Snacks: Usually an apple or an orange.
  • Hand sanitizer: Because the train.
  • GoPro Hero 5: I have recently been working on uploading more videos to YouTube. (Please subscribe!)
  • Perfume rollerball.

What's in your bag?

Shop the post**

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cruelty-Free and Green Products

** This post contains affiliate links. Also, it is your responsibility to check whether products are cruelty-free. That information may change.

In addition to looking for products that are cruelty-free, I was recently inspired to look for those with less packaging and that are more eco-friendly. I have made a few switches lately that I am happy with and wanted to share. This is part of my effort to be more mindful of how much waste I create. Sometime soon I'd love to take a class on making some of my own products such as candles and lotions.

The products I've been trying recently:
  • Tom's Lavender Tea Tree With Raw Shea Butter Natural Beauty Bar: I had reservations about using bar soap because I had been using body wash for years, but I have no complaints about it so far. (I am the only person who uses it in my home.) It combines one of my favorite scents, lavender, with tea tree and shea butter. Also, there's no plastic packaging. I use it along with my Eco Tools recycled bath sponge. I find that I use less product because with body wash I tend to squeeze too much out of the bottle, and this costs me less than body washes I had previously been using. 


  • Preserve Shave 5 Razor System: I initially tried Preserve's cheaper razor and hated it. The blade came off easily and was inconvenient to use. The Shave 5 Razor is a thousand times better. It's easier to grip and the blade stays on. I ordered my razor in coral, but it comes in six color options. You can recycle the handle with Preserve and it comes in a reusable container that is great for travel. (It's made from recycled plastic.)

  • Lush Massage Bar in Hottie. This is great to rub on tired muscles and doesn't use any plastic packaging. It also leaves the skin soft and maybe a tad oily/silky. The massage bar has a molded side to help with massaging and it smells like vanilla and spices. It doesn't come in any wasteful packaging when you buy it at a Lush store.
What products have you been using and loving lately?

P.S. If you're interested in reading about creating a zero-waste kitchen, Not Entirely Perfect has a post on this that I enjoyed.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Taking a Toddler to a Baseball Game
at Wrigley Field

Victoria is so lucky and she doesn't even know it yet. She went to a Chicago Cubs World Series game in October and to three games this week at Wrigley Field. While it's not easy to take a two-year-old to such a crowded place, it can definitely be fun for everyone involved. Of course, I don't plan to take her to every game I attend, but when I do, here are some lessons I've learned to make the outing easier. These are specific to Wrigley Field but can apply to other ballparks as well.

Skip the stroller. The fewer bulky items you bring on the train and to the ballpark, the better. For her first game, I put her in a toddler carrier (Ergo brand), and that worked out well. I was able to easily get her in the ballpark and to our seats. Besides, you have to check strollers, so not having one saves you time.

If you can, buy a separate ticket so he or she can have her own seat. (Unless you're OK with your toddler being on your lap for hours, that is.) While babies age 2 and younger don't need a ticket, those on the older end of that spectrum would probably be better off in their own seat and you'll be more comfortable. (I am not taking about infants who can be easily held and don't wiggle as much.)

Bring snacks and a water bottle. Fill it up at water fountains to save at least $5.

Arrive early to avoid the crowds that gather in the concourse. For popular games, you will be shoulder to shoulder with someone in the concourse at Wrigley Field, so it's best to either arrive early or late to the game. Otherwise, be patient. Also, enter through the gate on your ticket because it's closer to your seats.

Choose seats wisely. I would suggest sitting somewhere that's covered by shade in the summer to avoid getting too much sun or being soaked by rain. That means it's probably best to not sit in the closer aisles but rather in the 200-level seats at Wrigley Field. I also suggest not picking seats in the middle of a row, as it can be tricky to get out for diaper changes. The best seats we had with a toddler were in Section 108, Row 1 at Wrigley Field, because she had no seat in front of her to potentially kick.

Look up where family restrooms, stroller check and guest services are before the game. It's best to have an idea of where to go to save time.

Check the weather and dress accordingly. Chicago can have such deceiving weather. It was in the 70s on Opening Night but then it dropped down to the 40s. I brought a blanket this week to wrap her in on chilly Opening Night, but even then I wish I had brought warmer clothes and more accessories.

Get your first game certificate. I didn't do this for Victoria's first game but I wish I had!

Leave early if needed. Though you might not want to, play it by ear based on how well your toddler is doing. I left early this week to avoid the crowds walking toward the train (and because it was a night game and we wanted her to go to bed at a reasonable hour).

Have fun and stay calm. I was extremely nervous about taking her to a game, but I have found there is nothing to worry about. The people around me have always been welcoming of Victoria and many have even offered her snacks. On Opening Night, someone handed me a poncho for her. In October, someone gave her their freebie gloves even though she was already wearing gloves. She also made her big screen debut this week. Don't worry so much on what could go wrong and enjoy the game!

Do you love baseball as much as we do?

Shop carriers**:

** This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Running Playlist | At-Home Yoga |
Half Marathon Training, Week 3

** This post contains affiliate links.

One way to motivate yourself to work out is to create a new playlist. I put together a new running playlist every season to re-inspire myself and give me another reason to get out on the running trail. Need ideas for workout tunes? Check out my Spotify playlist below and let me know your favorite songs right now in the comments. I am constantly adjusting my playlists as I go, adding new and old songs and deleting those I stop feeling inspired by.

Week 3 training recap:

Week 3 wasn't impressive in terms of mileage, though I did feel more enthusiastic thanks to a fitness vlogger I've been watching. If you don't currently follow any fitness Youtubers, I suggest checking some out as a way to find tips, new workout jams and inspiration.

Monday-Tuesday: Rest. On Monday I had intense back and shoulder pain again. I took Tuesday off as well to go see Hamilton.

Wednesday: 45 minutes of yoga. I filmed my at-home yoga sequence and provided the full list of poses in the description box. Subscribe for more videos!

Thursday: 1.76 miles at Orangetheory. We did a ton of inclines! (All the all-outs were at an incline, from 3-5 percent.)

Floor exercises included: burpees, single-arm front raises with 12 or 15 pounds, 500-meter row, 400-meter row, plank to elbows, reverse crunches, etc.

Friday: 20 minutes of yoga at home.

Saturday: 1.75 miles at Orangetheory.

Floor exercises included: lateral goblet lunges, 100-meter row, 150-meter row, 200-meter row, reverse lunges with hops, etc.

Sunday: 3 miles outside. This was supposed to be 6-8 miles, but I got a late start. I had to wait until Graham came home from work and got settled, so I didn't make it out the door until close to 6 p.m. I feel like I could have run the at least full 6 miles if I had started earlier in the day, when I had more motivation.

Goal: 12 miles.

Mileage: 6.51 miles.

Yoga: 65 minutes.


While the mileage was down, the motivation was up. When it comes to tracking workouts, I find it more helpful to focus on what went right than what went wrong. Plus, better weather and a new playlist boosted my excitement for Week 4 of half-marathon training! I also am trying a new workout on Sunday that I can't wait to share. Stay tuned!

Related fitness posts:

Shop fitness favorites**

Monday, April 10, 2017

Fun Family Night at Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament Chicago

** We received complimentary tickets to facilitate a review. All opinions are my own.

One of my April goals was to visit a new place in Chicago as a family. Graham had suggested Medieval Times for months because neither Victoria nor I had been there. I wondered if it was appropriate for a toddler, though, so I did a bit of research via online review sites. We decided to give it a go and we are glad we did: It turns out toddlers fit right in!

You receive a crown as soon as you walk in, which Victoria loved. (She still wears it.) You also eat with your hands -- it doesn't get more toddler than that! And no one will judge you if your toddler screams and cheers throughout dinner because everyone else is doing it, too.

Victoria was thoroughly entertained during the entire two-hour show. She loved the horses, the knights and the princess, whose throne was directly to our left. We also gave her a light-up rose, because when in Rome ...

The Red Knight gave us a flower. :)

That Medieval Times Chicago is family-friendly doesn't mean childless adults can't fun, too. In fact, we saw many people on date nights as well as large birthday party groups. You can get your share of adult beverages in souvenir cups with your four-course dinner. (Either buy drinks before the show or order them from your bartender during drink service. Cash and credit are accepted for drinks.)

Vegetarians are welcome as well. I called ahead to request a vegetarian meal, but the server also asked about vegetarians or those with dietary restrictions. I ended up getting served my meal slightly ahead of others, which I was not at all upset about. My veggie meal began with hummus and veggies and pita bread. Next, everyone was served the "dragon's blood," aka tomato soup, with garlic bread. The main course was a veggie stew that I found satisfying (I didn't have to eat it with my hands, don't worry.). It contained rice, potatoes, tomatoes, and three beans, and I was offered hot sauce to go along with it. Meanwhile, everyone else munched on chicken, potatoes and corn-on-the-cob. (I, too, was offered the potato and corn.) Lastly, we capped the meal off with pound cake that I paired with one of the signature drinks.

After the show, the knights walk out together and you have the opportunity to take photos with them. Victoria loved waving to them and she introduced herself to the Red Knight. He was sweet to our toddler as we said goodbye.

Overall, Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament was an easy night out with Victoria. We didn't have to worry about her being entertained and making a mess. She had an absolute blast and has been asking every day since if we can go back. I found it a win because I was completely relaxed and we had a fun night out together. Win-win!

Have you been to Medieval Times? 

P.S. If you're wondering about the horses, I found these links interesting:

Watch our Medieval Times video:

Previous family outings:

Friday, April 7, 2017

Hamilton | Broadway in Chicago

Hamilton Chicago, Broadway in Chicago, Privatebank Theatre

Like many Chicagoans, I spent quite a bit of time scanning Ticketmaster for "Hamilton" tickets when they first went on sale. Most of them were super expensive ($300-400) and sold out, so I gave up. Then, in November, I heard about more dates being released and found two balcony seats available for $80 each (including fees). I scooped them up immediately!

My friend Rachael and I took the train downtown (to Monroe stop) and walked a block to Privatebank Theatre, where we found a large crowd gathering outside. The lines to get in were quite a mess. We stopped to take a couple of photos and just wandered through the doors when we saw an opening. I was instantly struck by how beautifully ornate the theatre is. It opened in 1906, and you sort of feel like you're stepping back to that time when you walk in the doors.

Hamilton Chicago, Broadway in Chicago, Privatebank Theatre

Because our tickets were on the balcony, we had to walk up stairs to get to our seats. I huffed and puffed my way up, wondering if my being out of breath was due to the excitement or a lack of fitness. (I'm sure it was the former. haha) The nearest women's restroom is down the stairs on the second level, by the way, but there's a bar/snack bar on each floor. Some seats on the balcony have obstructed views, but we were in Row M and I could see everything. At certain points a person a few rows down moved her head and blocked some of the actors' feet, but that's no big deal at all.

Hamilton Chicago, Broadway in Chicago, Privatebank Theatre

I won't recap the story, because I'm sure you know what Hamilton's about, but instead I'll tell you about how it made me feel. It was stunning. I was blown away by the talent of the cast; and the songwriting is incredible. I also feel like I learned (or was reminded) more about history there than in high school. Maybe that's an exaggeration. ...

I had completely forgotten that Wayne Brady is currently joining the cast to play the part of Aaron Burr. While I am familiar with Brady, I had no idea his voice was so impressive.

As you can probably tell, I enjoyed "Hamilton" and want to try to see it again. I think everyone should see it if given the chance. It's worth the hype!

Have you seen "Hamilton"? 

P.S. If you don't want to pay for theatre parking or want to take public transportation, consider using Spothero to find more affordable parking nearby. Using my link gets us both a $5 credit. Thanks!

Shop Hamilton tees**

** These are affiliate links.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Current Cruelty-Free Hair Products

** This post contains affiliate links.

Product photos from respective retailers linked below.

Besides switching over to cruelty-free makeup and skin care items, I also switched my hair products to those that avoid animal testing. The switch has been a long process, and I am constantly trying out new products to find my holy grails. These are the items I am currently testing out to see if I want to make them staples:

Renpure Coconut Milk Nourish Shampoo (about $9-15, depending on where you buy it): I actually thought I was buying conditioner when I picked this up, but that's OK. It smells like coconut and seaweed or bamboo (so it has a natural scent, I guess). It does the job.

Hask Monoi Coconut Oil Nourishing Conditioner ($5.99): Can you tell I look for nourishing products? I picked this up from Ulta just to try it since it also came with an oil. I believe it lives up to its claims to soften and strengthen; my hair has been pretty healthy lately. One gripe: I can't squeeze the product out of this bottle cap; I have to take the cap off. I do not like this packaging at all.

Hask Monoi Coconut Oil Nourishing Oil ($2.99, free sample with conditioner): This came with my conditioner. I only use a tiny bit on my ends because otherwise it's too oily for my taste.

Not Your Mother's Clean Freak Refreshing Dry Shampoo ($8): I use this infrequently, but it does the job. The large bottle lasts me forever!

Not Your Mother's Double Take Dry Finish Texture Spray (about $6): I thought I was buying hairspray when I bought this. Ooops! It does give you volume but there's no hold in my experience. (A note from NYM's website on this product: "There are no animal ingredients or animal byproducts in NYM products except: Knotty to Nice Conditioning Detangler, Way to Grow Leave-In Conditioner and Double Take Dry Finish Texture Spray. These products contain keratin protein extracts – a hydrolyzed ingredient that can be found in countless other beauty products industry wide. The keratin used in our haircare products comes from sheep’s wool, after they get a shearing. No animals are harmed for or in the production of our items."

Occasional products:

Briogeo Don't Despair Repair Deep Conditioning Mask ($36!): I haven't repurchased since I ran out but I kind of want to. It was a nice treat to do occasionally, though it's not cheap.

Yes To Coconut Ultra Moisture Shampoo and Conditioner ($5-8): I actually really like these and will probably go back to them unless I find something I like more. They smell great, nourish my hair and are affordable.

Josie Maran Argan Oil ($48, received as a free mini): I received this for free from Sephora. I've been enjoying using it occasionally. I am unsure yet if I will repurchase.

Do you have any recommendations? What are your favorite products right now?

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