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(1) Dr. Bronner’s Soap

Okay so it’s soap. What’s the big deal? Well a lot of the soap that’s out today is full of synthetics, fragrance, and chemicals that can cause a whole slew of problems. Even using brands like Method or 7th Generation, I noticed that I would get rather dry skin or irritation. My dermatologist recommended using Dr. Bronner’s.

Dr Bronner’s is a company out of Southern California near Vista. They make a variety of products but we are goign to talk about two of them:

18-in-1 Pure-Castile Soaps

This is their signature soap. It comes in unscented as well as scents like peppermint, lavender, and more powered by organic essential oils.

This soap can be used directly as a hand and body soap as well as in laundry or other household cleaning tasks. I add a small amount of peppermint to all of my laundry loads and run it along with ECOS laundry soap.

One challenge to be aware of with this soap is that it does get “hard” and “clog” if left out. So many soap dispensers are no good here as the hole will clog up and you’ll end up causing a mess. For this reason, we keep it in the original bottles and then opt for the sugar and Shikakai versions for when we need to use a dispenser.

For travel, you can get the small 2oz bottles for as low as $1.99 at most stores (online tends to be much higher unless you buy in bulk). The reason the original containers work so well (including the small travel size) is that the lid has a longer piece of plastic that clears out the dispensing hole every time you close it. So just make sure you click it tight every time you are done.

Where to buy?

You can buy 18-in-1 Castile soap just about anywhere. For the best prices we’ve found the following:

  • Costco – Often carries peppermint and either in a larger container or a two-pack
  • Trader Joe’s – Often carries peppermint at a good price
  • Whole Foods – Carries a wide variety of options and is a good price when on sale

Shikakai Hand Soap

As good as the 18-in-1 Castile soap is, the fact that it is challenging to use it in a dispenser can be problematic. Luckily there’s an option. Dr. Bronner’s Organic Sugar Soaps provide a great solution. This soap adds additional ingredients such as sugar and shikakai that create a softer soap that does not seem to clog dispensers. It has the look and consistency of maple syrup and creates a rich soft lather. While this soap is more expensive than the 18-in-1, we highly recommend it.

Where to buy?

For the best prices we’ve found the following:

  • Amazon – Generally a good price all the time
  • Whole Foods – If on sale, this is usually the best price.

Note: just be aware of the size you are buying. Often the 24oz is just a few dollars more than the 12oz.

(2) Argon Oil

Argon Oil has been an amazing find. It’s a lightweight oil that can be used to moisturize your hands, face, neck, body, and hair. It has natural anti-acne properties and absorbs quickly and does not feel greasy. I’ve replaced nearly every lotion and face aftershave with it. This oil comes from a Moroccan plant.

There’s a variety of brands and prices. Personally I have not noticed a huge difference relative to price but you may need to try a couple to find one that you like best. Here are a few that we have tried that are pure 100% Argon Oil:

(3) LED Retrofit Lights

On the surface, replacing your lighting fixtures can seem daunting. Maybe you have those older recessed lighting fixtures that takes screw-in halogen bulbs. These bulbs tend to run hot, use more electricity ($$), and wear out as frequently as 1-2 years. However, you may have an easier solution in the form of LED retrofits.

Here’s how it works. The retrofits have a standard bulb screw-in. So no wiring required. Basically you just:

  1. Unscrew the old bulb
  2. Remove the trim (the ring and back refelctor) but not the actual wiring
  3. Screw in the retrofit into the bulb socket
  4. Snap the new all-in-1 bulb and trim kit

The result is a nice clean LED light and a professional sealed look (light and trim is all one piece).

Things to keep in mind:

  • LEDs come in a variety of “temperatures” usually around 3000K (warm) and 5000-6000K (cool). We went with 2700K lights from Costco and are very happy.
  • The Color Rendering Index (CRI) is an indication of how well the lights will render colors. The scale goes from 0-100 and most of the lights you see will fall the range of ~80 or 90+. The lights we bought were rated as 91+
  • Trim size is the diameter of the hole. Make sure that you get the size that fits the hole cut our for your light. Common sizes are 4”, 5”, 6”. Some trims are made to work in 5” or 6” sizes.

Dimmers and Switches

If you want dimmable lights, there’s a chance that you will need or want new dimming switches. The lights may just work and that is great. However there are a lot of new dimming switches that contain added benefits for LEDs. These allow you to do things like set dimming range so that you can get low-low dims. They can also help prevent flickering or any noise. We ended up going with a mix of Lutron Maestros (~$20-30/each) as well as the Feit dimmers from Costco (~$15 for two-pack).

Cost

LED Retrofits generally will cost around $5 – $30 depending on where you buy and brand. We purchased the Feit branded lights from Costco which were around $6-10/each. The have been great. Similar priced bundles can be found on Amazon as well.

(4) New Toilet Seats

A new toilet seat may not be the most obvious upgrade. But it can really make a big difference for you, your family, and your guests. It’s amazing how many will have cracked, chipped, stained, or just flimsy seats that move around. This upgrade is easy, cheap, and provides a lot of benefits.

Some choices:

  • You first need to know if you have a round or elongated toilet. Then make sure to buy that correct size.
  • Then you have choice of color and either plastic or wood. Normally wood is heavier and sturdier and plastic tends to be more flexible.
  • Then you have a slew of features like easy-clean and soft-close.

But really let’s try to simplify this here. We have recently replaced all of our seats with the KOHLER K-4636-0 Cachet and here is why:

  • Although it’s plastic, it’s very sturdy and has little to no flex.
  • It has a very soft-close. This means that if you push it to close it will slowly close and make almost no sound. No more late night crashes that wake everyone up.
  • It has a soft curve/edges which adds to comfort.
  • It has an easy to remove option. Basically you just flip up the back snaps and the seat just pops off and back on in seconds. This makes it really easy to clean.
  • It has rubber feet that keep it strongly in place when in use.
  • It comes in a variety of colors

Cost

KOHLER K-4636-0 Cachet white elongated runs about $30 online and maybe +$5-10 at a local retail store.

(5) Every Man Jack Face Wash

Some of us are plagued with the occasional break out on the face or scalp. My demotologist recommended use of a wash with _Salicylic Acid.

Finding an easy solution that does not break the bank or include a lot of toxic chemicals and fragrance can be a challenge. But we have found a solutions in Every Man Jack Skin Clearing Face Wash, Fragrance Free.

Here is why it’s good:

  • No fragrance
  • Has Salicylic Acid
  • Their products tend to get good ratings on EWG
  • Cost-effective (~$5-10)

I use it on my face and scalp and have had great results. They recently have added activated charcoal to their formula which means it’s now a black liquid instead of clear. I have not noticed a significant change in performance which is good.

Where to Buy

You can find these online at places like Amazon as well as in store at Whole-foods. You may also want to check out other products such as their SPF 50 Face Shield (also fragrance free).

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Original post: *2/19/2013

tl;dr – Current Top Picks

Easy Path: Nespresso Aeroccino + Trader Joe’s Whole Foods Almond Milk
A little challenge: Homemade and a Froth Au Lait frother (if you can find one)

As of 6/2018 Whole Foods Almond milk has changed formula and carton and is no longer recommended for foaming. Wev’e tried and just get soap-style-bubbles :(

Ugh. It seems both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are back to having quality control issues. One batch to the next it could be great or bad. After dozens of great results from Trader Joe’s Almond Milk we just had 3 cartons that produced sad bubbles. Luckily a recent batch of cartons from Whole Foods are working great.

To illustrate how big of a difference this is, check out the pictures below.

Here is the good, rich foam:

Here is the sad foam:

Almond Milk

We’ve made the switch to almond milk and for the most part could not be happier. The biggest challenge so far is finding an almond milk that froths/foams for use in such drinks as a cappuccino. What we want is the thick rich foam that you can just pour (or scoop) into the cup and that holds strong consistency. To make your cappuccino “dryer” you can let the foam sit for an extra minute or two and then scoop it out with a spoon.

Pouring frothed almond milk

The Foam

The foam is not just a “topper” that covers the coffee. A “topper” is much closer to a latte consisting of mostly steamed milk mixed with espresso and a scoop or two of foam on top. With a cappuccino, it’s a lot of foam infused with a shot or two of espresso. Taking it a step “dryer,” a common variation of the espresso macchiato can be made in the same manner, but using just a scoop or two of foam.

So you are looking for thick rich foam filling most of the drink:

Before adding the espresso:

Almond Milk foam/froth next to shots of espresso

After:

Frothed almond milk cappuccino in Bodum mug

Bubbles or Foam?

Answer: Foam! We are not looking for big soap bubbles here. You want rich small/micro-bubble foam that keeps a pretty strong shape. Notice how after pouring the shot of espresso in the drink below, the foam just has a small crater and keeps its shape. Again, 3/4 of this drink is made up of foam, leaving 1/4 for the shot of espresso and a bit of the steamed milk.

Rich almond milk foam cappuccino

Iced Variation

Below is a picture of an iced cappuccino. The foam to espresso ratio here is a bit different. This is mostly caused by the ice melting as the hot shot of espresso is poured over it. Also, I use a lot of ice. So the coffee part that you see here is still filled mostly with ice.

Iced almond milk cappuccino

Frothers – What works best?

Froth Au Lait

Froth Au Lait still makes the best foam. That said, the company is out of business and the machines are not the best build quality. We still have one, it’s somewhat loud, doesn’t heat that well, but nice foam production.

Nespresso/DeLonghi machine with built in frother.

This auto froths and steams cold milk at the bush of a button. It’s built into the Nespress pod brewing system as well. It does a pretty good job though we have moved away from it as our go to.

Nespresso Aeroccino

This is a stand-alone offering from Nespresso in that it is not attached to the actual machine. It is sold independently and in bundles. This unit will heat the milk and uses a small disc-like spinner at the bottom to foam the milk. It does a surprisingly good job (if the milk is right) though not quite as good as the Froth Au Lait on foam. Still this is our current go to option.

What Brands are the Best (updated 7.2018)

Below is a list of almond milk brands and the quality of foam that we’ve achieved:

Brand Foam Quality Taste Overall Carrageenan Organic Last Tested
Almond Breeze Good-ish Good (Bitter) Good Yes No 2016
Lucerne Non-GMO Almond Milk Poor Fair Poor unknown No 2016
Silk Almond Milk Original Fair Good Fair unknown No 2016
Pacific Organic Almond Milk* Great Good Good Yes Yes 2016
Whole Foods 365 Organic Unsweetened Original (orange carton)** Great Good Good No Yes 7/2018
Whole Foods 365 Organic Unsweetened Original (new container)** Random?! Good Fair No Yes 7/2018
Trader Joe’s Almond Milk Random?! Good Good No No 7/2018

** Sadly the quality and consistency of almond milk seems to change every now and then. You can track some of the Whole Foods saga below under “Update on Whole Foods.” Due to this constant shift we will try to update as store brands ebb and flow on quality. We are now back to using Trader Joe’s brand instead of Whole Foods after the recent formula change (Spring 2018).

Mixing it Up

We’ve been experimenting with blending the milks to get that closer-to-perfection foam. If you are not getting think enough foam, try mixing in 50% Almond Breeze. Note, the Almond Breeze does have Carrageenan.

Update on Whole Foods

All ingredients and nutritional information remain the same, but something clearly has changed. In 2013, we contacted our local store and Whole Foods corporate. They said no ingredients have changed and they will look into it. Perhaps it’s just a quality control issue on some of the ingredients. Recently we have contacted Whole Foods again due to the recent formula and carton change in Spring 2018. We’ll update when/if we hear anything.

History:

  • 2013: whole foods had some sort of production/quality-control issue that affected the stock of 365 Almond Milk in early/mid-2013. Some batches were good, some were bad, then it was pulled from the shelves for 1-2 months. It appears that something has changed in this latest batch. We have tested 2 cartons of the “Expires in June 2013” Almond Milk and they are not foaming at all (collapsing soap bubbles). We still have some “Expires in May 2013” that foams well. So for those trying it out for the first time, you may be out of look for the refrigerated stuff. I suggest that you buy the smaller $1.99 non-refrigerated version. We have tried several of the ones that “Expires in Nov 2013” and they foam very well. However, the “Expires in Dec 2013,” “Expires in Jan 2013,” and “Expires in Feb 2014” have not foamed well at all.
  • May 2013: We’ve tried the next batch of refrigerated Whole Foods Organic 365 Almond Milk (with expiration dates in July 2013) and it’s back to foaming. The foam is rich/creamy again but is a bit wetter than it used to be. This makes a really good cappuccino, but if you are looking for a dry cappuccino, you might want to stick with Almond Breeze for now.
  • June 2013 – OOS?: As of early June, it seems that now there is a production problem with Whole Foods 365 Organic Almond Milk and some stores don’t have any of the refrigerated in stock at all. Our local store is completely “out of stock” though no one at the store knew why. Whole Foods says that it’s just an out-of-stock issue with their supplier. Will keep you posted on any details that we hear.
  • August 2013: Finally! It’s back in stock at our local stores. We’ve heard some mixed feedback here about the recipe, but so far we’ve liked it. Our primary use is for foaming milk to use in coffee and we are glad to saw that the new recipe is back to actually foaming and foaming well.
  • As of August 2013, it’s back on the shelves and so far so good. Whole Foods Foaming Again
  • 2018: As of 6/2018, whole foods has introduced a new carton design an along with it has a new formula for their almond milk. This new formula is not as good. We tested side by side with the “orange” and new cartons. The orange carton (365 Original Unsweetened) was great, but the new carton consistently gave us foam bubbles.

Update on Trader Joe’s

Just as Whole Foods seems to have been taking out of the game (still not sure why) – Trader Joe’s has come back. Their latest batch that we’ve tried Oct 2014 seems to be creating that rich foam again. Let’s hope this lasts.

Quality Control

Still this poses the same question that we have about Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, etc.. Is there a quality control issue going on here or is it just a fluke? Does anyone have any insight?

Homemade Almond Milk Works too

Fresh Almond Milk

More Helpful Resources:

Note: For those that are interested, unless otherwise specified, the milks listed do not have any Carrageenan in them (a somewhat common ingredient to soy, coconut, and almond based milks).

Almond Milk foam/froth next to a shot of espresso

Here are a few other bloggers discussing foaming milk:

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An Awesome Toy for Toddlers

Our ~3 year old Toddler has been playing with this toy for well over a year and loves it. It’s been great to see how his play time has matured and grown with this toy. He started off excited to hear the noise and eager to watch us push cars down the coaster. Now he’s fully engaged and experimenting himself with different sized cars. When some get stuck or fall over, he learns how to fix things. He’s currently learning to stack several cards in line and watch them go down as one big caravan. This system comes with a couple Little People cars, but works well with a variety of cars including Matchbox cars.

We definitely recommend this toy for boys or girls. It makes a great medium-priced gift $30-50.

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As long-time users of the Brita Water Filter, we were not really aware that other similar form-factor filtration systems offered much difference. Generally I am not a huge water drinker. There always seems to be something funny about the taste or my throat feels a bit dry after a glass. Normally I’d pour a small amount of tea or infuse the water with something to overcome this issue.

When our last Brita filter reached its final days, I decided to investigate some of the alternatives. After reading a lot of review, I decided to try out the ZeroWater ZP-010 10-Cup Pitcher. This system received mostly high ratings and the negative ratings seemed to focus more on the longevity of the filters and not the quality.

ZeroWater Spout

The ZeroWater Pitcher can be poured just like our Brita Pitcher, but also has a spout so that you can get water without lifting it out of the fridge. This feature is especially nice if you just filled the pitcher. It’s true that the ZeroWater filter system does take longer due to it’s 5-stage filter process. So adding the clever spout on the bottom means that you don’t have to wait for the whole set of water to drain before use. Good thinking here.

How does it taste?

First and foremost, the filtered water taste great and is noticeably different from that of the Brita water. I find myself drinking straight water from this system and loving it. Our ZeroWater ZP-010 10-Cup Pitcher also came with a TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) meter to measure the water before and after.

Our tap water generally registers at around 022 on the TDS meter before filtration. We also tested Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water which registered at around 215. After running through the ZeroWater, both registered at 000. Phenomenal.

For comparison, we tested water through a friend’s Brita filter and it registered 008 after filtration. So there is something different going on here.

How long did the filter last?

The main complaint about these filters seems to be the longevity of the filter – that is, they tend to not last very long. Ours lasted a solid 3-months before registering above 000. Technically they say replace the filter once your water registers 006, but we ended up replacing it as soon as it registered 001. The main reason for this is that we noticed a slight difference in taste. 3 Solid months was plenty fine for us. With similar usage, this is what our Brita filters tended to last. And in reality, we probably drank a lot more water from the ZeroWater.

ZeroWater versus (vs.) Brita Water Filter

Feature ZeroWater Brita
Taste StarStarStarStar Star StarStarStar
Filter Longevity StarStarStarStar StarStarStarStar
Cost StarStarStar StarStarStarStar
Result Winner

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Blaze Truck Sharp

Fast, Rugged, Low-cost Radio Controlled Toy Car/Truck

Our kids love toy cars. They have ones that you can push around, ones that you can pull back and let fly, and even have a small Lightning McQueen Infrared RC car. The Lightning McQueen car is fun but really slow, can only turn while going in reverse, and gets stuck often. Chasing it around the house is a quick game as the kids can easily just catch up to it and pick it up. We wanted to get something faster, a little more rugged, and that could manage to torque its way across carpet, rugs, and various small toys scattered around. We also wanted to spend <$30.

After shopping around a few local stores and browsing online, we bought the Lutema Blaze Remote Control Truck. There are not a lot of reviews for these products, but the packaging looked professional and the features were impressive for this price range.

It’s worth noting that this is not a young kids toy and has small parts not suitable for ages 0-3. The recommended age listed on Amazon says 4+, but the side of the box says 14+. Definitely use your best judgement and supervise any use by younger children.

We wanted something that was rugged enough to drive around carpet, rugs, and hardwood while bouncing over toys and into furniture. We found the Lutema series remote control vehicles at one local retail store and they looked pretty solid. They retail for ~$30 but have also been available on Amazon ranging in price from $12.99 to $15.99. In this price range the Lutema remote control vehicles are quite a good deal, good value, cheap price. If you are looking for something more professional or something larger then you will likely have to spend out of the $15-30 price range.

Key Features:

  • Full directional control (independent Forward/Reverse and Left/Right)
  • Rugged build with flexible shock absorbing wheels and body giving enhanced stability
  • Sharp design and solid build quality & feel
  • Pretty fast speed
  • Unique traction wheels
  • Adjustable wheel alignment
  • Rechargeable battery pack (with charger) for the vehicle and a standard non-rechargeable 9V (included) for the remote.

The Blaze RC Truck speeds over hardwood and carpet without problems. It’s faster than I expected and can even spin out doing donuts on slicker floors. It’s able to drive right over smaller objects (e.g. small toy cars, train tracks). It has unique wheels that seem to give it extra traction. Most RC vehicles in this price range tend to have large rubber wheels that look shiny and dark. These wheels look a bit worn and dry, but the wheel compound seems to give extra friction.

Traction Wheels

The shocks on the wheels probably look more impressive than they truly perform. However, they do seem to give the truck a bit of a bounce and help recovering when driving over rough terrain and obstacles.

Blaze Truck Shocks

To keep things driving straight, the Blaze RC Truck includes an adjustable wheel alignment.

Steering Adjustment

When the car is turned on there is a glowing blue light coming form the cab.

Blue Light in Cab

The remote control is adequate but has a cheaper build quality and feel compared to the Blaze truck. In this price range, it’s hard to complain. It does function fine. The control does not have an On/Off switch but the light appears to only activate when one of the levers is pushed.

Blaze Remote

Conclusion

I definitely recommend this remote control truck especially at this low price.

Feature Rating
Performance on Hard Surface StarStarStarStar
Performance on Carpet StarStarStarStar
Performance on Grass Star
Build Quality* StarStar
Value StarStarStarStarStar
Cost <$30
  • Note initial built quality and feel was great. However our real axle broke after minimal use.

Additional information:

  • It’s footprint is about the size of a piece of paper folded in half: ~5.5” x ~8”
  • Lutema Blaze Truck 4CH Rechargeable Remote Control Truck – Yellow
  • Lutema Tracer Overlord 4CH Rechargeable Remote Control Truck – Yellow
  • Lutema Cosmic Rocket 4CH Rechargeable Remote Control Truck – Red
  • Lutema Tracer Overlord 4CH Rechargeable Remote Control Truck – Red
  • 27Mhz on the Blaze Truck/Vehicle.

Alternative Styles:

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