At Issue: Mindful Living

Mindfulness has become a buzzword. It’s joined authentic, vulnerable and validate as words I often hear tossed around but wonder, what does that really mean?

According to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, considered to be a pioneer in mindfulness based stress-reduction, “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

Psychology Today says that mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present, observing your thoughts and feelings from a distance without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

Since the early 1980s clinics have been established to teach the principles of mindfulness. Mindful parenting has been gaining traction as people struggle to find balance amid the chaos of juggling careers and parenting with the demands of everyday life. The University of Alberta offers a new course that promotes teacher mindfulness and NYU’s Stern School of Business has recently collaborated with Global Spiritual Life at NYU giving MBA students an opportunity to transform business leadership. Even Time magazine dedicated their February 2014 cover to “The Mindful Revolution”.

This week, we are trying to figure out what this mindful revolution means to us, how we can live more mindful lives and if we even care to add one more thing to our growing to-do list.

Toronto’s Only Urban Homesteading Store

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Little House In The City truly is a hidden gem in this city – maybe even the entire country!

Located at 555 Parliament St., just around the corner from the ever popular Riverdale Farm, Little House In The City is Toronto’s first urban homesteading and sustainable living store . . .and it’s co-owned by Carol!

What is urban homesteading? It’s really a lifestyle.  It’s about taking a step backwards, living more simply and making a conscious effort to create a more sustainable, low-impact life.

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Take time to sew using these whimsical fabrics.

Take time to sew using these whimsical fabrics.

 

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Buttons galore! Useful for a myriad of craft projects and very pretty to look at.

Little House In The City has a wide variety of supplies to support creative adventures and DIYs in and for your home.  In addition to being ethical and sustainable, these simple activities will encourage a newfound confidence in your homemaking abilities. They also have beautifully crafted ready-made gifts that made with organic or sustainable materials like the stunning cheese boards made of reclaimed wood that Nathalie received for her birthday.

These cheeseboards make for a lovely hostess gift.

These cheeseboards make for a lovely hostess gift.

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The neutral tones of this pottery would off-set a colourful, summer salad or rich, wintery stew quite nicely.

Whether it be cheese making, fermenting, soap making or sewing Carol, and her partner Carla, will guide you in selecting the right tools for the job.

Beginners: don’t feel intimidated!  I purchased the sprout growing kit with organic seeds and I followed Carol’s instructions.  Within a few days we were adding alfalfa to our sandwiches and salads – and I can barely keep houseplants alive!

Coming soon, Little House In The City will offer classes for adults and children, hands-on demonstrations and community events to teach and inspire others to live more mindfully.

Here are some of my favourite things!

Follow Little House In The City on Facebook

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Tequila Tasting in Toronto

It never fails to amaze me the many unique opportunities and experiences Toronto has to offer. There are the obvious: the CN Tower, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Hockey Hall of Fame, and the many orchestras, ballets and theatres, to name a few. It’s the hidden gems that continue to inspire me, delight me, educate me and make me thankful to be living in such a dynamic, colourful, and culturally diverse city.

El Caballito is one of these hidden gems. How does a tequila and tacos cantina qualify? First off, El Caballito, located in the heart of the entertainment district, is not just another tourist trap. The robust and lively atmosphere, with dimmed lighting and music pumping, instantly transports you from the hustle and bustle of traditional downtown Toronto to the vibrant streets of Mexico City. The place oozes authenticity and Manny Contreras will attest to its street cred, Certified Master Tequilier and bar manager, was born and raised in Mexico City.

El Caballito offers patrons more than just incredible Mexican cuisine. Whether you’re a scotch aficionado, a wine sipper with penchant for Merlot or a lover of craft beer, after some time in the private tequila tasting room with Manny, you’ll leave El Caballito at the very least with an appreciation for the art of tequila and quite possibly a new affection for the spirit.

Manny Contreras himself is a hidden gem. There are less than one thousand tequiliers working in North America and Manny is one of only two working in Canada after years honing his taste buds in Mexico City. He began at the age of 13 working behind his father’s bar and he is truly steeped in the tradition of tequila.

“You need to know everything about each tequila before you can sell it,” his father told him. Manny sipped from each bottle, discerning the various flavours before he had his first full glass at the age of 21. Manny’s interest in his country’s national drink was more than just a means to make money; it became a passion that propelled him to enroll in a five-year course to become a Certified Master Tequilier.

Tucked away in a room lined with his collection of tequila, that includes everything from Jose Cuervo to Clase Azul, the candle light flickers on the brick wall and the scene is set.

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Manny explains with vivid detail how tequila evolved from being the drink of the peasants to the kings and cycled back again to the peasants. Folklore, European invasions, wars, and big corporations have all had a hand in transforming tequila from pulque (fermented sap from the agave plant) to what we know it to be today.

“You have to be ready to really taste the tequila. You have to take your time with it. Let it be still in your mouth.” Manny guided us through our tasting with patience while describing the proper way to enjoy tequila. Drinking tequila is somewhat analogous to the vision that I have of the quintessential Latin lover.

There is much fore play: rolling it around in your mouth, breathing in the heady sensations, allowing the first sips to cleanse and prepare the palate.

There is much sweetness and intensity: the lightest in colour the blanco is young, and bites the tongue, while the darker anjeo is aged and has a sweeter, lasting flavour.

There is also the morning after that can leave one groggy and remorseful but Manny maintains it’s not likely if you savor the experience of a fine tequila instead of absently shooting it back in a flurry of debauchery.

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If you’re looking to experience something truly unique, even if you think you hate tequila because of a wasted night in Mexico on your 18th birthday, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.   Book an evening with Manny. He offers a variety of tasting experiences that are suited to all tastes and budgets.

Manny’s Picks

All Time Favourite: Don Julio 1942

Best Value: Tromba

Under-The-Radar: Casa Amigos

For Deep Pockets: Clase Azul

Theme Week: Hidden Gems In The City

I can’t tell you how many times I have discovered something- a place or an activity, a restaurant or a park and thought, wow, I can’t believe that I have been living in this city for this long and never knew this existed!

This summer when we explored the Evergreen Brickworks and No.9, I felt very smug. I wanted to proclaim to every non-Torontonian that we have these places in our backyard. I have that same feeling whenever I venture to the Toronto Islands or walk along the Beltline Trail, heck, I even feel that way when I gaze up at the CN Tower. Boastful? Prideful? You bet! I am continually awe-struck by the amazingness this city has to offer.

This week we are going to share a few of our favourite hidden gems in the city. It was painstakingly difficult to narrow it down so we may just have to make this an annual series!

What are some of your favourite places in Toronto? If you’re not from Toronto, what are the hidden gems in your town that everyone must know about?

Tips For DIY Fall Floral Arrangements

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Oh, the Fall! Be still my heart! Nature’s display of oranges and reds almost makes up for the dull, dreary winter that is looming before us and what’s better than bringing those colours into our homes to brighten up the day?

I remember reading somewhere years ago, when North Americans seemed hungry for everything French and their je ne sais quoi, that French homes often have fresh flowers throughout. While I am not a fan of foie gras or mass transit strikes, I can firmly assert that I side with the French on two things: champagne and flowers.

Lured by the vibrant colours and clusters of blooms, I stopped into neighbourhood florist Gilded and Green where I met owners Nancy and Charlotte.

If ever you’ve wondered why arrangements from florists cost more than corner store bouquets wrapped in cellophane, I can tell you. Nancy and Charlotte are artists. They agonize over every detail of each arrangement: the perfect vessel, the balance of blooms to greenery, the length of each stem and the overall composition. With their discerning eye and unwavering dedication to quality, they select only the best for their shop. Like curators of a museum, each vase, plant and flower is part of a larger story.

On the day that I was in the shop, oranges, reds, yellows and purples prevailed. And oh, they were just so pretty!

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I was amused by these whimsical moss sculptures that I was assured were low maintenance.

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I said that I thought they would make for lovely gifts and Nancy was quick to offer some other suggestions for thank-you or hostess gifts that are not the traditional bouquet.

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I couldn’t leave the shop without asking if they could share a few tips for budding wanna be florists (pun intended!) like myself.

  • Keep it simple. Stick to 1-3 different varieties of flowers.
  • Always add some greenery.
  • Don’t be afraid of using colour but keep the colours in the same family, or go monochromatic.
  • Cut the stems! Lop ‘em off! Very few arrangements actually look their best in tall vases. Tall arrangements are a tough look to pull off and you need the perfect space in your house to display them (think: hall foyer, large dining room table)
  • Think about the vessel. If you have a vessel that you want to use, make sure that the flowers are cut down, and there are enough to fill it.
  • Hire a professional. You may pay a bit more but a professional brings an understanding of the flowers as well as an artistic eye.

Want to see more of Gilded and Green’s work? Check out our Instagram here, and Gilded and Green’s website here.

Have an arrangement you want to show off? Send us a tweet, an Instagram or Facebook message – we’d love to see it and we like to share!

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How-To: Fall Tablescapes Made Easy

Toronto has a plethora of great restaurants. Whatever you’ve got a hankering for; chances are you can find it among the city’s thriving foodie scene. In the past few months I have eaten out a lot and with November looming and the holiday parties about to start, I want to change gears, simplify and return to the “dinner party”.

I love eating at friends’ houses and hosting at ours as much as I do patronizing Toronto’s finest restos.   It’s fun to play the host, decorate the table and fuss with the menu. My partner-in-crime is a fabulous cook (thank goodness one of us is!) and so while he handles everything in the kitchen, the table is left up to me.

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Here’s my take on a casual dinner setting. I never buy “all new”, instead I prefer to buy versatile pieces to add to my collection and re-purpose what I already have in my cupboards. The napkin is 100% linen and adds some whimsy to the table. Ideal for Thanksgiving, but it works for any meal because aren’t we always thankful to break bread with loved ones?

The chalkboard napkin rings work double duty as place cards and writing the guest’s name is the perfect job for little helpers.

I love fresh flowers on the table, but we all know the cost of larger arrangements can quickly burst the budget. A trick that an event planner once taught me was to create several smaller arrangements using cheaper flowers (think mums, carnations, baby’s breath, daisies) for the bulk of the display and then add a few stems of a more expensive bloom. Baby food jars, mason jars, small glasses are all easy, affordable vessels that can be dressed up with spray-paint, ribbon, twine or left as is. I am crushing on these green mason jars!

My glassware is a mason jar with a handle and instead of a traditional wine glass I opted for a terra cotta wine chalice.

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I swapped out my everyday flatware for a gold set that works well with this ivory plate and matching “thankful” bowl. I like the weight of this dinnerware – it’s rustic and reminds me of the harvest.

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To increase the “wow factor”, I traded the dinnerware for a bone white plate and an inexpensive gold charger from the party store. Here’s a tip: share! My sisters-in-law and I shuttle serving dishes, chargers and linens back and forth from each other’s house whenever one of us is hosting a dinner. It cuts down on the cost, and you can have more fun setting the table.

The stem-less wine glasses go well with these liqueur ones that add a pop of colour to the table. Indigo has a collection of reasonably priced linen napkins in a variety of colours. This barn-red reminds me of the autumn leaves but will work on a holiday table too.

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For a centerpiece I took a pumpkin from my son’s collection (where does he keep getting these from?), a pinecone from our Christmas stock and a stem of hydrangea. I grouped them together on a white cake plate for a more polished look, but I really like how the cluster looks earthier on this wooden pedestal.

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My grandmother’s china is one of my most favourite possessions and it has taken me a long time to get over my fear of shattering a plate. Every time I use it, I think of her and I know that she wouldn’t want me to keep it the cupboard like some sort of shrine, so I use it. I am sure there will be a day when a bowl gets chipped, and I am sure that I will feel a pang of sadness or guilt, but at least the set is being used.

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Here’s a more glam setting complete with a silver charger and matching napkin ring. My best Waterford crystal red and white wine glasses (not many have survived the ten years since my wedding registry) and champagne flutes (that I trekked home from a European back-pack adventure more than 12 years ago).

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Instead of a cake plate, I used the same cluster and placed in my great-aunt’s crystal bowl – that usually holds oranges on the kitchen table.

Here are some tabletop accessories that would make a nice addition to any collection.

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Linen napkins from Madderroot via Etsy

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Linen napkins from RecoverMeDesign via Etsy

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Linen napkins from Rosyeco via Etsy

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Copper napkin rings from Indigo

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Skull napkin rings from Pottery Barn

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DIY Hand-dotted glassware via 4Mothers

Thank you Indigo, for sending over the plate, bowl, gold flatware, linen napkins and wooden pedestal. We sure do love your store! Indigo didn’t pay me to write this post or to use their products . . . yup, I just really like ‘em.

 

Halloween Candy Bar Graph

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What to do with all of that candy that is about to infiltrate your gluten-free, sugar-free, locavore pantry? Why make a bar graph of course! I have posted about this before, but bar graphs are a great way to make a meaningful connection between math (data management and interpretation) and every day life.

Start by dumping all of the candy into a pile. This is fun for the obvious reason: seeing a mountain of candy! But ask your kids if just by glancing they can see any natural groups. Once they’ve determined the grouping, start the sorting. Sorting is a great activity for the littlest ones and possibly the older, more experienced ones can oversee and make corrections when necessary.

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Ask lots of questions during this part of the activity. Do you think we have enough to make a group? Why or why not? What are some other ways we can sort the candy? Could we sort by chocolate, candy and chips?

Once the candy has been sorted, write the title of each group (for example: gum, suckers, Rockets, etc.) on a sticky note.

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Then the children count each pile. This is where you can encourage skip-counting by 2’s, 5’s, 10’s. After the tally, record the number on the corresponding sticky note.

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Now it’s time to create the graph. Ask your child to recall the components of a graph: title, X and Y axis labels, data labels, and scale. Listen to their reasoning for choosing the scale. When working on this graph my boys engaged in a discussion about the best way to capture the data because the smallest group was the Play-Doh with 2 and the largest group was the Chocolate Bars with 125. That’s quite a range!

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Get out the ruler, the pencil and the colour pencils to finish the graph.

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Now here’s a problem: What do we do once we start eating the candy?

Best of The Blogosphere

Photography is one of those art forms that seems easy . . .until you try to perfectly capture a moment in time with a camera. Good photography manages convey emotion and beauty with one click and for this very reason, I remain in complete awe of good photographers. Elena Shumilova, a Russian artist and mother, photographed her boys with animals on the farm that she runs and the resulting images are simply breathtaking!

Someone I know recently lost her husband to cancer. She is a mom to three young children and for the past few years balanced caring for them and caring for her husband. There were times that I would snap myself out of a funk by thinking of her family and being inspired by the courage they demonstrated while faced with such incredible adversity. Paul Kalanithi wrote How Long Have I Got Left for The New York Times and so eloquently expressed his feelings about mortality, specifically his own. It’s a stark reminder of just how precious each day really is.

Have you ever called someone the wrong name, repeatedly? Even after being corrected? Or worse, like me, maybe you’ve chatted with someone so many times but have no clue what their name is? You can’t remember it for the life of you? I am guilty of this. I called my former neighbour, my neighbour for goodness sake, Michelle (repeatedly) but her name is really Sandra! It was comic relief for me to read Deanna’s account of Mistaken Identity on her blog A Mother’s Tonic.

Take a minute to watch this video by Kid President but don’t watch it alone; invite your kiddos to join. My middle one busted a gut laughing, and repeated “so true!” over and over, which begs the question, where on earth did he pick that up?

While your kids are at your side take a minute to flip through this slide show courtesy of Take Part. DIY World Change: 14 Kids You Should Know About and Their Incredible Projects is nothing but inspirational! There is the 12 year-old food blogger who is encouraging kids to eat healthy and the several teens dedicated to raising funds and awareness about a variety of worthy causes from Alzheimer’s disease to poverty. I was especially moved by Jessica Water’s Cupcakes for Camp benefitting kids and families with epilepsy – a cause close to my heart.

From Nathalie

Experience the power of a bookbook, a spoof commercial from IKEA for their catalogue (that paper thing that comes without cables or batteries).

We recently repainted all the boys’ bedrooms and included chalk walls for them to write and draw on.  Last year, Eldest did a unit in his art class about graffiti, and it’s been fun to seek out street art in the city and to think of ways to include it at home.  Here is a great article about ten female street artists from around the world.

We are going to try to keep up our drawing routine that we started in the summer.  (I’m going to need an intervention to stop me from buying any more absolutely adorable how to draw books.)  Good news: there is some absolutely adorable on-line instruction from Luke Pearson at The Guardian.  His is one in a series from children’s illustrators.  So great!

 

 

Six Benefits of Yoga

imagesIt’s starting.  The stress levels are rising.  The glow and relaxation that summer brought has been replaced with the hectic work/play/school schedules.  The season of holidays is gearing up and thoughts of Halloween costumes and Christmas gifts are cluttering your mind at night.  Was the hockey equipment aired out?  Where are those strands of lights?  Did that trip permission form get signed?

It’s hard to carve out time for yourself.  Moms and Dads are often pulled the minute they get home from work.  Replacing one “hat” for another, and collapsing into bed exhausted, only to wake up a few hours later and do it all again.

But the reality is, for you to be the best employee, caregiver, parent, friend or partner, you need to be the best you.  The only way to do that is carve out some protected time in your weekly schedule for yourself.  This time isn’t meant to be spent trolling Facebook or the half hour spent grocery shopping solo while you wait for your daughter’s karate to finish.

A few months ago, I made a commitment to myself and my family to take better care of myself.  The hope being, I would become a happier, more caring and more thoughtful person.  The first thing I did was get block off two one-hour blocks in my weekly schedule.  Full disclosure:  I work out almost every day, even if just for 20 minutes, and it does feel like something that I have to do.  My protected time was going to be time for me to really nourish my body and my mind while slowing down.  imgres-2

I was a regular at my yoga studio before kids and with the arrival of each son, my practice time slowly whittled to once a month, if that.  I knew that I missing it and so I recommitted.

It hasn’t been easy squelching my guilty feelings but I am back in the studio and it feels great!    I asked my yoga instructor Lori, of Harmony Yoga Wellness, to share what she believes to be some of the benefits from a regular practice.

  • Mental: Deep breathing and thoughtful movements help us to reset the mind to a state of calmness.
  • Physical: Movement combined with breath work improves posture and spinal alignment as well as increases flexibility and strength.

    Lori is a certified yoga instructor and graduate of the Esther Myers Yoga Teacher Training Program and teaches at Harmony Yoga Wellness.

    Lori is a certified yoga instructor and graduate of the Esther Myers Yoga Teacher Training Program and teaches at Harmony Yoga Wellness.

  • Neurological: Yoga nurtures the mind-body connection, stimulating our deep relationship with the power of our own brain, which in turn improves memory and our ability to focus and concentrate.
  • Psychological: By nurturing ourselves and showing self-compassion in our yoga practice, we learn to take these habits with us into our daily lives.
  • Community: Sharing regular time with others, in a safe, kind and peaceful environment creates a sense of belonging and community, a feeling of connectedness and compassion towards ourselves and others.

Sounds like a pretty good trade-off doesn’t it? Just a few hours of self-care for all of those benefits! But how do you protect your time, especially if you tend to be a people-pleaser? Here are some tips:

  • Block off the same few hours in your calendar each week.
  • Consider signing up for an activity outside your home. It’s a lot harder to skip-out when you’ve paid hard-earned cash in advance.
  • Tell everyone: your kids, your friends, and your partner. Tell them about your plan to protect your time and ask them for their support. You may be surprised by how little time it takes for those around you to adjust to your new schedule.
  • Don’t bail on yourself. When someone asks you to do something during your protected time say no. You don’t have to give any more details. A simple, “That’s not going to work for me,” will do just fine.
  • Practice what you preach. When someone else is practicing protected time be respectful and supportive.

Tried yoga and it’s not for you? Consider some other ways to nourish your mind, body and soul.

  • Take a walk outside but leave the iPod at home.
  • Exercise classes
  • Guided meditations
  • Art or photography sessions
  • Locking the bathroom door, and indulging in a warm bath
  • Cooking classes

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How do you practice self-care? 

I’m Thankful for My Bugaboo Stroller

I can’t live without my smartphone.  I have had marginal success with detoxing from my excessive use, but the thought of cancelling my contract and tossing it into a drawer  is never going to be a reality.

I felt the same away about my Bugaboo Frog stroller a few weeks ago when I was cleaning out the garage.  I just can’t part with it.  I have had my red Bugaboo Frog and all of its accoutrements for almost 8 years.  Eight years!

That stroller means more to me than a plastic, canvas and rubber contraption meant to transport my child from A to B.  There are times when it felt like a lifeline tethering me to the outside world from my post-natal cocoon.  I would push through the snow, the wind and the rain, my destination unclear but my motivation crystal.  I needed to be out and among the land of the living.  I needed to walk the busy streets and look in the shop windows.  I needed to create urgency to complete mundane errands.  My Bugaboo made it possible for me to do just that.

I knew from early on that Bugaboo was the stroller for me.  It took little convincing that we were a perfect fit.  Its sleek design; adaptable seats and functionality were in my mind unparalleled to the available options.

My parents generously gifted the Bugaboo to me when my first son was born.  My mom loved it too,  and like me saw value in its merits.  My dad took some convincing.  When he saw the price tag, admittedly not cheap, he choked out that his first car had cost less.  It made me think of this scene from Father Of The Bride:

In eight years that stroller has survived three boys, more spilled milk than one could imagine, and enough vomit to make Public Health concerned.  It’s been washed, scrubbed and de-Cheerioed several times, each time impressing me with its resiliency.  And I’ve easily put more kilometers on it than my car.

So when Bugaboo invited me to preview their exciting line-up for 2015, I of course said yes, not withstanding that my strolling days are numbered.  I am glad that I did.

Bugaboo is one of those brands that marry functionality and aesthetics so perfectly and come the New Year their fans will be delighted by their many collaborations.

The lifestyle brand Diesel, known for its rugged, utilitarian look has toughened up the Bugaboo Cameleon.  The dark green and brown colour combination give the stroller a decidedly masculine look, while the interior finishes are the soft, comfortable and functional details that Bugaboo is known for.

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 There is also the new Bugaboo Bee3 for the parents who zip around the city and live life on the fly.  The Bee is lightweight, easy to use and has a larger underseat basket for storing everything from groceries to a diaper bag.  For parents who like to express their individuality, the Bee is available in 64 different fabric colour combinations and provides UPF50+ sun and extendable sun canopy while being water repellent and washable.

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(Available in stores now)

And there is this . . . the Bugaboo Runner.  Oh, be still my heart!  Why buy two strollers when you can buy the Bugaboo Runner, a base that fits all Bugaboo models?  The three-wheel model, with its front wheel fixed, makes for a smooth run and the base collapses compactly making at-home storage easy.

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(Available Spring 2015)

 It’s not just the artistry of the Bugaboo that impresses me; it’s the story behind the product.  While at the launch I had the opportunity to meet members of the Bugaboo team.  Their passion for their product was inspiring and not overly surprising considering the quality of their strollers and accessories.  Bugaboo started off as a design school project by Max Barenbrug and twenty years later it has expanded to include numerous stroller models and functional accessories while staying true to their mission to create innovative products that inspire people to explore the world.

Speaking with members of the Bugaboo team, I learned that designers watch people with children navigating everyday life, identifying obstacles and dreaming of ways to make life simpler and more accessible.  I was fascinated, and not at all shocked, to hear about the push-back the North American team had in convincing the designers to create a cup-holder.  The Europeans were flummoxed as to why someone would need to take their coffee to-go and hesitated in creating what is now the best-selling Bugaboo accessory in North America.

It’s always the stories that attract me to products.  It’s the people and their passion, their commitment and their innovation.  Creative people always inspire me and I am moved to see the world through their eyes, whether the medium is a stroller or a bar of soap, because when I do, it’s enlightening.

 Disclaimer:  I didn’t receive a penny for this review, but when I do I will let ya know!