{May 30, 2012}   50 Shades of Gray

If one person’s trash is another’s treasure, is one person’s boring to-do list another person’s bucket list? Is a ho-hum part of one woman’s routine a huge leap outside another woman’s comfort zone? The short answer is yes. Everyone is different. What you find scary—say scaling heights or squishing a spider–I might do without batting an eye.

So I understand you might not relate when I tell you what I find downright frightening: coloring my own hair. First, if you’re shocked to learn my hair is not naturally this color, take a moment to process the fact, then read on. Second, if the headline led you to believe I was inspired by the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey to share my first BDSM experience, let me assure you I’m not. Yet anyway…LOL.

I discovered my first gray hair when I was 26. When the grays became more noticeable, I went straight to the professionals. I wouldn’t trust anyone—especially myself—with covering the gray while keeping my color looking natural. In my opinion, salon hair color is worth the price. More than a few times, friends who took the matter into their own hands reinforced this belief.

Fast forward to this week. My professionally colored and highlighted hair has grown out, so my grays are showing and my dark roots need a touch-up. My regular appointment falls on a day next week when I’ll be in New York City.  (It’s my first visit to the Big Apple—yay for me!) My stylist, Kelly at Signature Salon & Spa, is in Hawaii this week getting married (yay for her!) So I’m in bit of a hairy situation. Do I trust my tresses to a different colorist before my big trip? Or do I color my curls with an over-the-counter product to hold me over until I can see Kelly in a few weeks?

I do a little online research about refreshing your roots at-home. Revlon has Root Erase. L’Oréal has Root Rescue. Clairol has Root Touch-Up by Nice ’N Easy. Obviously, women do this all the time. How hard can it be?

Clairol’s version promises easy application! Permanent color that blends seamlessly! Works in 10 minutes! I decide on this product but struggle to select a shade. There are 18 to choose from and they all look similar. My natural color—medium mousy brown—is mostly covered with a lighter brown, plus I have blonde highlights. (The camera’s flash makes my hair look red in the photos. It’s not.)

Will “light ash brown” be too dark? Will “dark blond” be too light? Ugh. I wing it and pick “light golden brown.”

I want to do this before I lose my nerve. I open the box and read the directions. Does anyone read much less heed the warnings that accompany these products? Let me paraphrase a few. (The SHOUTY CAPS are my emphasis.)

· DO NOT USE this product until you have completed an ALLERGY test. Apply the enclosed noxious CHEMICALS to the tender skin at the inside of your elbow and refrain from washing the area for 48 HOURS to determine any ADVERSE EFFECTS.

· Perform a “strand” test before coloring your hair. HACK OFF a chunk of hair from a place it won’t be missed (WHAT? WHERE?) then apply the CHEMICALS to these strands to determine the length of time your color needs to process. DO NOT SKIP this step.

· PERMANENT hair color can STAIN or DAMAGE skin, clothing, towels, bathroom surfaces and small children in the area. DO NOT WEAR clothes you care about and be sure to wear the HUGE plastic gloves (enclosed) that will hamper your ability to hold the PRECISION ANGLED BRUSH as you apply the CHEMICALS.

· NOTE: If your hair is highlighted, immediately STEP AWAY from the product and CALL our experts toll-free at 1-800-GUD-LUCK for advice before continuing.

OK, maybe I exaggerate a little. But do you see how this process is fraught with peril? (I love that phrase.) What if my hair turns orange? What if it’s irreparably damaged or simply falls out? What if it looks like (insert friend’s name here)’s hair when she did her own color? What ever happened to “nice ’n easy?”

I had set aside a half-hour to do this. I am not performing an allergy test and waiting 2 days. I am not lopping off my locks for a strand test. It’s now or never.

I add the activating lotion to the tray and squeeze in the tube of color. I stir them together. Oh, no. The mixture looks orange. I refuse to give into fear. I use the brush to awkwardly apply color to the roots along my part. I divide hair in sections, brushing the mixture on to the root areas without precision. I check the clock—the color should process for at least 10 minutes.

At 6 minutes, I start to panic. I envision stripes at the roots. I start combing the chemicals through my hair, hoping it will help blend the new color into my highlights.

At 8 minutes, I freak. What have I done? I run to the sink to rinse out the color. I rinse my hair again and a third time for good measure. I wrap my hair in an old towel.

It’s time for the moment of truth. Did I pick the wrong shade? Did I leave the color on too long?

I comb out my hair and breathe a sigh of relief—no stripes. In fact, once my hair is dried, the color blends nicely with my highlights, and most of the gray is covered. Had I waited a few more minutes, the gray would be completely gone. Whew.

Has my first experience with home hair color turned me into a DIY beauty maven? Not on your life. My next color appointment is scheduled. I relish the two hours of “me-time” at the salon, relaxing with a glass of wine and catching up with Kelly. But it’s nice to know I can do this in a pinch. (For the record, I use that word much differently than it’s used in that aforementioned best-seller.)

Want to learn more about my 47 and fearless project? Read my first post.


What do you do on Memorial Day weekend when the forecast calls for high temps in the 90s? Start the sprinkler? Pack for the pool? Make a beeline for the beach?

Not us. We headed to ChocolateFest in Burlington, Wisconsin. This 4-day festival celebrating all things chocolate draws more than 35,000 visitors each year. I’d never attended and was determined to get my chocolate fix despite the hot weather.

When we arrived in town, a bank thermometer read 103°. At the gates, the mini candy bars taken straight from a cooler and handed to us with a festival schedule started melting as we unwrapped them. The heat dashed any hope of carting home bags of chocolate, but didn’t stop us for heading straight for the Chocolate Experience Tent.

There, Dylan enjoyed a free Nestle Tollhouse cookie, then eagerly lined up to uncover treasure at the Chocolate Chunk Dig. With a plastic chisel and rubber mallet, he chipped away at chocolate rubble in search of gems. Hands covered in melted chocolate, he struck it rich, finding one plastic jewel for himself and one for his brother. (Next year, it would be wise to dress the boys in brown.)

Also in the tent, we purchased a Chocolate Chip Taster’s Ticket, which allowed us to sample chocolate products from 10 different vendors. Among the items were chocolate-covered graham crackers, turtles, cookies, chocolate-covered dried fruit, fudge and chocolate-dipped licorice.

Introduced at the Wisconsin State Fair in 2009, chocolate-covered bacon has become regular fare at festivals. But I had yet to try it. The bacon offered here was dipped, but not covered, with chocolate.  Before I had a chance, Dylan grabbed the first bite and loved it. (Of course, this is the boy who suggested bringing bacon as a treat to his brother’s preschool class.)

I thought the mix of sweet and salty was delicious, too. Along with iced coffee, this could be breakfast!

Jamie had had his sights set on ice cream. After sampling chocolate gelato, he went for the wedding cake flavor instead. Dylan also seemed to have had his fill of chocolate and chose a dish of vanilla ice cream.

Had the weather been a little cooler, we’d have stayed for some of the other events, such as chocolate eating contests, chef demonstrations, children’s competitions (feed chocolate pudding to a friend while blindfolded!), a candy wrapper fashion design contest and more.

Like most festivals, there was plenty of non-chocolate food and lots of entertainment, including area bands, dance performances, magicians, hypnotists, comedy acts, carnival games and midway rides. We passed up the chance to get zipped into a hamster ball for humans. But I’m adding it to my list of things to try. (The hamster wheel, which had openings on the side for air to get in, looked a little more inviting.)

On our way out, we stopped at SmashZone, an exhibit hosted by the United States Tennis Association to introduce the sport to kids 10 and younger. Our boys spent a few minutes playing Mario Tennis Open on Nintendo 3DS in a nicely air-conditioned area. Then a tennis professional gave them a quick lesson on a small court. Kid-sized racquets and balls that bounce lower, don’t move as fast and are easier to hit made the boys’ first time playing tennis a positive one. And Dylan thought having his photo taken in front of a green screen and made into a magazine cover was pretty cool, too.

We’ll be back next year. And in the meantime, Dylan won’t have to do much convincing to get me to agree to make our own chocolate-dipped bacon.

Want to know more about my 47 and fearless project? Check out my first post.

{May 22, 2012}   Braving the Water Slides

I started my 47 and fearless project to push myself outside my comfort zone by trying new activities, such as rollerblading, blowing glass and driving a back hoe.

Knowing my goal is 47 new things by next April, I’m constantly on the lookout for the next “big” thing. But having that in the back of my mind has changed the way I approach everyday life as well. I find myself trying little things I might have said “no” to before.

This past weekend, we took our two boys to Key Lime Cove Indoor Waterpark Resort for a night. Our 7-year-old is a bit on the cautious side and either skips the wilder water rides or only goes on them if my husband or I join him. Often, I’d let my husband take him while I stayed in the kiddie area to watch our 4-year-old splash and go down the little slides.

This time, I joined Dylan on a two-person inner tube down one of two giant water slides, Wahoo and Screaming Banshee. (In this photo, the yellow and orange tubes are the inner tube water slides; the blue and red tubes are the body slides mentioned later.) We loved it and screamed all the way down!

Next, we tried the Hurricane Vortex, which the boys describe as a big toilet bowl. (I didn’t take photos; the one featured here I found on the internet.) We had a blast! On our second time down, we went down the “drain” backwards. With the rush of water at the end of the tube, we almost lost our swimsuit bottoms. We came out sputtering, laughing and eager to do it again.

Taking advantage of our good moods, I told Dylan it was time to try the body slides. The park has two of these one-person slides, each an enclosed tube more than 500 feet long. It’s just you—no inner tube—inside a dark, twisting tunnel.

He didn’t want to go. And I have to admit, I didn’t really want to either. But I wanted him to try it, so I promised we’d go down the slides at the same time. Fortunately, the line was short, because Dylan was having second thoughts. We quickly got to the top and took our respective places at the tunnel entrances. I told him to say “go” when he was ready and off we went.

The darkness and unexpected turns made it disconcerting, and sliding down on your back was a little uncomfortable. We both decided that once was enough. (Dylan: “Mom, I am NEVER doing that again!”)

But I’m happy we did it. I also hope the experience will encourage Dylan to try something new in the future, even if it’s a little scary.

Want to know more about my 47 and fearless project? Check out my first post here.

{May 20, 2012}   Hula-Hooping It Up!

How did you spend your Friday night? While our normal routine is enjoying take-out pizza and a DVD, we switched it up this weekend. After dinner, the boys and I Hula-Hooped! (Note: Hula-Hoop is a trademark for a brand name of hoop. The hoops we used were not Hula-Hoops. I don’t have a better name for the activity, so I’m going to call it hula-hooping but drop the capitalization.)

In fact, I hula-hooped for 15 minutes straight—no stopping or dropping the hoop. Who knew I could hula-hoop? Not me. I don’t recall being able to hula-hoop as a child. So the idea of hula-hooping as an adult for any length of time was hard to fathom. But then I didn’t have access to the Internet when I was a kid, so I didn’t know a few important things about hula-hooping.

1.) Size does matter. Smaller hoops, like the ones you find at a toy store, are made for children and are more difficult for adults to use. The larger (and weightier) the hoop, the easier it is to use. A hoop should stand somewhere between the hooper’s navel and shoulder.

2.) Where do you find these larger hoops? You can buy them online or create one yourself. After finding these easy directions, I asked my husband to craft one for me with a handful of supplies from Home Depot. It was easy-peasy lemon-squeezy, as the boys say. So he made a second one for Dylan.

The larger hoop makes all the difference. I had bought a smaller kid’s hoop (called a Wave Hoop) from Wal-Mart just to try it. I could use it, but I really had to twirl it quickly to keep it going. It takes a lot of energy and probably burns a lot of calories. But that’s not my idea of fun. Fortunately, it’s the right size for Jamie.

Using the larger hoop made it so simple for me to hula-hoop! It required virtually no effort—just a small rocking motion—to keep it going (which is the kind of “work-out” I prefer.) I would even call it relaxing.

I hula-hooped for 15 minutes  straight in our yard while the boys practiced with their own hoops, played in a big dirt pile from a landscaping project and took turns flinging off their shoes to see how far they would go. So it’s safe to say that watching me is not exciting.

This is why I want to learn some of the cool moves I saw in a hooping video posted on a friend’s Facebook page several months ago. While some people use the hoop for fitness, the woman in the video did nothing like that. It was more like a dance or performance art. Her graceful movements, spinning single and double hoops over her head and around her body, are silhouetted as the sun sets behind her. (Here’s the video.) Watching it, I’m entranced. I’m months—maybe years—away from a performance like that, but I’m determined to try. Look for a video in the future.

Want to know more about my 47 and fearless project? Click here.

{May 15, 2012}   Amazing Glazing

If it’s fun to throw a pot, it’s even more fun—and easier—to glaze it after it’s fired.

Last month, my sister-in-law Lisa gave us the opportunity to use a pottery wheel for the first time. (Read more about the experience here.)

After our creations were fired in the kiln, she invited us back to glaze them. Pottery glaze is used to “coat, color, preserve, or otherwise leave the artist’s signature finish on a ceramic piece.” Glazes contain silica, which melts and forms glass when heated at a high temperature.

Before we started, Lisa pulled out examples of glazed cups, vases and dishes to show us how different glazes might look after the items are fired in the kiln. We could choose one color or combine colors for different effects.

The glazes we used look similar to paint. There are different ways to apply glaze, but we used brushes to paint or drip it on, depending on the results we wanted.

Four-year-old Jamie hadn’t used a pottery wheel, but had a ball making “marbles” and little “bowls” by hand. The marbles could not be glazed, but he decided to glaze each bowl in one color. He painted two with orange glaze and three in green. (He decided the largest one is just right for holding tiny LEGO studs.)

Dylan, 7, had thrown a bowl and two cups. He painted the bowl with two coats of pink glaze, let it dry, and then dripped Black Magic over the edge. The resulting color combination is reminiscent of a strawberry ice cream sundae…yummy!

One of his cups he painted with two coats of yellow, then dripped some red along its top edge for a cool effect. The second cup he painted green, then dripped a speckled glaze called Blue Caprice along its top edge. This glaze itself is light blue and has a gritty texture, so it was hard to imagine exactly what it would look like after it was fired. It turned out great!

I was taken with the Blue Caprice glaze as well. I painted my shallow bowl with two coats of leaf green. I then added the speckled glaze along its top edge, letting it drip down the sides and inside. After it dried a bit, I dripped an opalescent glaze called Bluebell over top. I love the contrast of the robin’s egg blue and darker blue flecks with the bright green base.

I decided to paint my plate with a purple glaze. When it was dry, I covered it completely with a coat of Blue Caprice. It didn’t look like much when we added it to the kiln. But after it was fired—wow—the flecks of gold, green and blue are amazing!

When Dylan saw it, he said, “Mom, it looks like a real plate!”

“It is a real plate,” I replied.

“No, I mean like a real manufactured plate.”

I’ll take that as a quite a compliment.

Want to know more about my 47 and fearless project? Click here.

{May 2, 2012}   Hot Girls! Hot Glass!

On a chilly Saturday afternoon, a cold drizzle of rain chased us into the entrance of Hot Shop Glass in Racine, Wisconsin. As we opened the door, we were welcomed by the warmth of the furnaces and the smiling faces of Liz, Doug and Amanda, who own the studio and gallery.

As we shook off our wet coats and reveled in the heat, Liz greeted us by saying, “It’s the perfect day to blow glass!”

My sisters-in-law Kathy and Lisa had been there before, but I joined them this time for an “Explore Glass” workshop. The other two students in our group were an amazing 80-year-old woman, who had taken her first hot glass class there just a few weeks prior, and her daughter, a rookie like me.

After reviewing safety policies and donning our safety glasses, Doug gave us a demonstration, walking us through the techniques we would use to create our own glass paperweight or blown-glass ornament.

Then it was our turn.  First, we examined the paperweights and ornaments on display to get ideas of the patterns and colors we wanted for our own masterpieces. Then we browsed shelves filled with containers of frit (small pieces of colored glass)—some translucent, some opaque, some with metallic or luster finishes—to choose our colors.

In the two hours that followed, Liz and Doug worked one-on-one with each of us.

The first step: get the right rod. A solid steel rod (punty) is used to make paperweights and a hollow steel rod (pipe) is used to make blown-glass items.

The first step is heating the rod in the rewarming furnace, which is set at 2,400 degrees. A yoke with ball bearings is stationed in front of the glory hole (the opening in the furnace) to rest the rod as you turn it by hand to heat it evenly.

When the tip of the rod is bright orange, it’s time to move to the glass furnace, which runs continuously at 2,025 degrees and holds up to 300 pounds of clear molten glass. Here, you gather the glass. (I’m a word nerd and love learning new ways to use everyday words. In glass-making, “gather” can be used as a verb to describe the act of obtaining the glass from the furnace or as a noun to refer to a layer of molten glass.)

Blown-glass ornaments are made with two gathers of glass with the color on the second layer. Paperweights use three gathers of glass with color on the second layer and clear glass around it.

The first gather is rolled on a marver (steel table) to shape and center the glass on the end of the rod. After reheating the glass in the rewarming furnace, you move to a wooden bench to sit as you shape the glass with a wooden block (a ladle-like tool.)

If making a blown-glass ornament, now is the point where air is blown into the pipe to establish an air bubble in the glass. With an instructor holding the end with the hot glass, you move to the opposite end of the pipe. To borrow a line from an old Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall movie, “You just put your lips together and blow.” Simple, right?

Not so much. Do you recall the resistance you feel when you initially blow into an unstretched balloon—like your breath isn’t going anywhere? It feels like that kind of pressure, but constant. You don’t feel the glass give like you do when a balloon begins to inflate. And because you’re at the other end of the pipe, you can’t see the glass and don’t know when you’re creating a bubble.

So when you’re told to quit blowing, you’re surprised and happy, because your face is red and you want to stop the weird noises you’re making as air escapes your pursed lips. (If my boys had heard the noises, they’d be proud!)

Once the bubble is established inside the glass, it’s time to dip into the furnace for a second gather. Did I mention it’s hot in front of that furnace? The instructors did the gathering while we stood a few steps back, squinting from the heat and brightness.

Next, it’s time to marver the glass again and roll it in the frit. Depending on the look you’re going for, you might roll the bottom edge in one color, the center in another and the top in a third color. Or you might roll it all in one color first, reheat it, then dip certain areas in additional colors of frit.

Once the colors are where you want them, it’s time to perfect your design. After reheating the glass, you head back to the bench to use different tools to create swirls, spirals and other patterns. For a spiral, you grip the tip of the glass with pliers while the instructor turns the rod. To make a swirl, you use pliers to grab a bit of glass on the side, pinch it and turn it.

At this point, the students making paperweights gather glass a third time to cover their design.

Those making ornaments now move to sit on a low stool, assume the position and blow. (Go ahead…you’ve been patient…make your risqué jokes now.) Even though you did this before, it’s not easier this time. You’re not blowing a small bubble; you’re blowing the glass into a 3- to 4-inch globe. That takes a lot of air! When the instructor tells you to “blow softer,” you’re relieved because you’re nearly out of breath. Thankfully, seconds later, you’re done.

The instructor takes care of the final touches—creating a clear glass loop on the top of an ornament and flattening the bottom of a paperweight. You can admire your handiwork for mere seconds before it’s whisked away to the annealer, where the glass is slowly cooled to room temperature before being shipped to your home.

You leave the studio hot, happy and eager to show off your handiwork.

Interested in trying your hand (and mouth) at blowing glass? Visit Hot Shop Glass for more information.

Want to know more about my 47 and fearless project? Click here.

et cetera