PhotoBarn Wooden Photo Ornament Review

I first discovered Photobarn a few months ago, through one of my favorite websites, There was a promotion at the time offering customers a free 5×7 wooden photo print–buyers only had to pay shipping. I considered ordering one, but decided against it because the company’s reviews were mixed and skewed negative. I didn’t want to risk wasting $10 on shipping for a product that might be flawed, assuming it would ever even arrive at my door. Still, I couldn’t help but notice the little wooden photo ornaments advertised on their site. They seemed like both a perfect thoughtful, inexpensive solution for a hard-to-buy-for person on my Christmas list, and like something I’d like to hang on my own tree.

I kept checking back, and one evening I saw a 45% off plus free shipping promotional code for orders over $50. This would allow me to purchase two ornaments for a total of $28.60! I selected a heart-shaped ornament (out of eight available styles) and uploaded two pictures of my daughters, one for each side. I chose color over black-and-white for the photo ornament, and then I was presented with options for the hanging ribbon. There were four colors of ribbon to pick from, and also the option of simple twine. I chose the twine because I was afraid the ribbon would clash with the colors in my photos.

I set a quantity of two, entered the promotional code, and placed my order, hoping for the best. The whole process only took a few minutes. My ornaments arrived four days later, and friends, they are fantastic! The wooden hearts are 3.5″ long by 3.5″ wide, and half an inch thick. They weigh 2 oz, and the twine they hang from is 3″ long. In hindsight, they would have looked just as nice with choice of ribbon.

The wood grain can be seen through the photos, and it’s really a neat look, though striations and markings on the wood do show through the picture in some places. The photos are imperfect as a result of having been printed directly on the ornament, so they may not be suited to everyone’s taste, but I felt the contrast with the wood added an artistic, one-of-a-kind feel to my photos.

As we get closer to Christmas, PhotoBarn will likely offer even better promotional discounts on their ornaments. I was worried about shipping time, but considering how quickly my products arrived, I think it’s safe to say you have several weeks left order a unique, personal gift for someone on your shopping list.

*This post was not sponsored by PhotoBarn. It is entirely unbiased, as I have not received any discounts or incentives in exchange for my review.


Happy Helpers

“It looks like our mommy has had a rough day

Maybe we can help her, Sis, what do you say?


(illustration: children sitting together, looking at their frazzled mom)


We’ll start in the kitchen, you re-arrange spices

While I run a bath for her mobile devices

(illustration: toddler dropping phone into bathtub)


Then I’ll ride the doggie up and down the hall,

While you draw a butterfly there on the wall


When we’re placed at the table, you cry–I will too

There’s no time to eat, we’ve got too much to do!


Later on when Mom’s busy washing my hair,

You’ll be scrubbing and shining the potty chair.


If she insists upon washing you too,

I’ll turn my attention to painting things blue!


When it’s time for bed, we’ll both feel so good

About helping our mommy as much as we could


We might just catch a glimpse of a happy tear

How do you think she managed before we were here?”

St. Louis Zoo Under the Sea Lions Overnight Review

imageWhen I signed up to sleep under the sea lion sound at the Saint Louis Zoo,  I had a lot of questions, but I couldn’t find many answers online about how the evening would unfold. The thrill of not knowing what to expect only added to my excitement, but today I’m posting a review in case anyone out there is on the fence about attending this event.

We received our logistics letter in the mail about ten days before our overnight. It had a list of items we should bring, and a list of items we should not bring. Following the directions on this brief letter, we entered the zoo through the South gate at about 6:15 pm. A zoo employee pointed us over the the fountain, where our group was gathering. The particular overnight we’d signed up for was adults-only (the family version welcomes children ages 5 and up, no little ones like E and C), but there were youth groups and girls scout troops meeting nearby for other sleepovers elsewhere in the zoo. At  about 6:30,  two employees came over and introduced themselves as our leaders. They explained that since the zoo was still open, we couldn’t take our belongings to the sea lion sound just yet. Instead, they lead us on a short hike down into the basement of the primate house to drop off our things and to listen to the rules of the scavenger hunt.

The basement of the primate house is set up a lot like a kindergarten classroom. There are paintings of animals on the walls, and several long tables with short chairs. We put our stuff into cubbies and sat down at the tables. Our leaders each told us a little about themselves and their work with the zoo, then they gave us a quick rundown of how the scavenger hunt would work, and they divided our group of sixteen participants in half to form two teams. There would be a prize for the first place team, and also a prize for the second place team, so no one would go home empty-handed.

We received our team’s manila envelop, and the leaders instructed us to open them at exactly the same time. I’m very socially awkward, so I was a bit nervous about being on a team with so many strangers. As it turned out though, the scavenger hunt was VERY well put together and it ended up being a great ice-breaker. While each team was required to stay together throughout the activity, there were four different tasks which must be accomplished simultaneously. There was a trivia portion, a part that required taking strategic photos throughout the zoo, a portion dedicated finding and describing specific landmarks across the grounds, and a series of games we all needed to find our way to and successfully complete.  Most people had come with one other person, be that a friend, relative or significant other, so each got to work with someone we knew to complete our own portion of the scavenger hunt, while occasionally pitching in to help out another pair or to get help from them. A leader stayed with each team to keep us honest (no googling allowed) and to ensure we didn’t get lost.

The scavenger hunt was a lot of fun, and my team finished first, so we were fairly confident we’d won first place. We waited beside the sea lion sound for the other team to catch up with us, and shortly after they arrived, our dinner was served. I had been curious about what the vaguely-mentioned ‘catered dinner’ would be, and it may not be the same every time, but we had sandwiches, salads, chips, drinks, and cookies from Panera. There was plenty of food for everyone, and our leaders tallied our scores from the scavenger hunt while we ate.

By the time we’d finished our meal, the sun was setting and the zoo had officially closed. We hiked back to the primate house to collect our prizes and our sleeping bags. It turned out speed was not the name of the game in the scavenger hunt, and the other team beat ours by about five points. They received very cute elephant mugs, and we received colorful lanyards featuring a variety of zoo animals. We had a chance to discuss where we’d gone wrong in the scavenger hunt, then everyoneheaded back to the sea lion sound.

There were no sea lions to be seen as we set up our sleeping backs.  We lined them all up in a long row, side-by-side, then grabbed our flashlights and headed out for a night hike and a flashlight tour of the herpeterium. By now there were no other people around. At the herpeterium, we were issued pieces of red cellophane to put over our lights so we didn’t blind the reptiles. I hadn’t been all that excited to look at them in a dark building, and one member of our group chose to sit this portion out, but it ended up being pretty neat in an almost-peeing-my-pants sort of way.

When we’d finished in the reptile house we walked around the zoo a bit and saw the lions and the polar bear, but of course they were asleep. We made it back to the sea lion sound at about 11:30 and settled in to sleep. The view over our heads was beautiful, because the water was clean and we could see the stars through it, but there was not a single sea lion.

At about 1 am, I opened my eyes to see the dark figure of a sea lion swimming over the top of my head. It was awesome, and I kept watching in the dim light for awhile, but I eventually went back to sleep. Then, at about 3:30 am, things got interesting. The sea lions had realized we were there, and they were EXCITED! A few of them kept swimming over us, back and forth, while others came down low so we could look them right in the eye. The woman next to me put her sweatshirt up to the glass and moved it in a circle, and a sea lion did flips while following it. When I yawned, a sea lion imitated me!

Someone noticed we could play peek-a-boo with them, ducking down just out of their sight and then popping up again. They played along! I alternated between playing with what felt like my own personal sea lion and lying down to watch the others swimming over us, two and three at a time, as the sun came up.

Once it was daylight, I was able to take some great pictures of the sea lions–the kind of pictures I always struggle to get during daytime zoo visits and never quite seem to manage. At about 7 am, when we headed back to the primate house for breakfast. The food was a step down from Panera, but not too bad. There was cereal, milk, orange juice, coffee, and muffins. We each got a glow-in-the dark ‘Wild Nights at the Zoo’ cup, and we had the opportunity to buy glow-in-the-dark t-shirts for $15. After returning our belongings to our cars, we all came back to pet the stingrays and we got to see them eating their breakfast!

It was clear that the St Louis Zoo had put a lot of effort into their Under the Sea Lions Overnight program, and our leaders certainly helped us make the most of our time in the zoo that night. What really set this overnight apart, though, was the sea lions themselves. We weren’t crowded an tripping over other participants in an effort to get a look at one animal who couldn’t care less about us. We were lying back, minding our business and the sea lions came to us! There were enough of them to keep everyone in the group entertained, an they seemed to genuinely enjoy our company.

Tickets to this unique event, as of August 2016, cost $75 for members, or $80 for the general public. The zoo only sells sixteen tickets per session in order to ensure they provide a quality experience for every participant. Family overnights under the sea lions cost $60/members and $65/general public, and as soon as E turns five, I’ll be checking that out!

Tips and Tricks:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes, obviously. There’s a lot of walking involved.
  2. Bring in a charger for whatever device you’re using to take pictures. You won’t have constant access to a power outlet, but there are some in the primate house you can use at the beginning and toward the end of the event.
  3. Consider your bathroom habits when you walk from the primate house to the sea lion sound with your sleeping bag. There’s only one way out of the tunnel during the night: the end that’s used as the entrance during the day. If you know you won’t be getting up to go, and you don’t want people stepping over you to get out, walk toward the front of the group and set up camp near what would normally be the exit of the tunnel. Similarly, if you want to go in and out without disturbing people, be one of the last ones into the tunnel and sleep near the entrance. Don’t be the very last person in though, especially if you have a full group of sixteen, because it didn’t seem like that person in my group was completely under the sound. He looked halfway under the water and halfway under the solid portion of the tunnel.
  4. Bring a sheet, preferably a light-colored one. When we first laid down in the tunnel, it wasn’t ridiculously hot, but it was too warm to sleep comfortably in my sleeping bag. A sheet will allow you to cover up without getting sweaty, and the lighter it is, the easier it should be for the sea lions to find you.
  5. I’m not sure the prizes will be the same every time, but if you happen to win a mug, I would suggest asking the leaders to let you leave it in the primate house overnight. You have no use for a mug in the sea lion sound, and one person in our group had hers fall and break.
  6. If you order a t-shirt, keep in mind that they’re unisex. That should have been obvious to me, but I got the size I’d wear in a women’s t-shirt, and it’s pretty big on me.
  7. Stash away some chips or a cookie from dinner to smuggle into the tunnel. You’re technically not supposed to bring snacks, but when you’re up all night, you’re going to get hungry. I smuggled in a cookie, and no one said anything to me about it.
  8. If you can think of nine other people who would enjoy this, consider scheduling a private overnight. I enjoyed getting to know the other participants in my group, but if there’s anything cooler than sleeping under the sea lions with people you’ve just met, it’s got to be sleeping under the sea lions with your friends.
  9. Enjoy your overnight under the seals! Yes, I said seals. Seals and sea lions aren’t the same thing at all, but the St. Louis Zoo houses both animals in the same enclosure. If you don’t know how to tell them apart before you attend this overnight, don’t feel bad–it’s about to become crystal clear! The seals are shaped more like torpedoes, and their skin is somewhat spotted. Their fins are different as well. You’ll see them swimming back and forth over you throughout the night, but they aren’t likely to come down and interact with you the way the sea lions do. The seals certainly aren’t the main attraction at this overnight event, but I found them to be a delightful bonus.

I’m not a perfect mom, but I play one online

My younger daughter,C, just celebrated her second birthday, and when she went to blow out the candles on her cookie cake, we told her to make a wish. Later on I heard E asking C what she’d wished for, and C replied sweetly, “a cookie!” I felt my heart swell with joy, first at the realization that C’s birthday wish had already come true, and second at how beautifully, perfectly easy it was to make her happy. Very small children understand what it means to be truly content. Unfortunately, most of us lose sight of that knowledge somewhere along the path to adulthood.

Anyway, I hurried to post a status update on Facebook about C’s wish. I posted it in part because it was sweet and I knew it would make my friends smile, but there was another motivation at play too, lurking just below the surface. I was proud of C’s ability to be content–as if it was something I had taught her–and I wanted the world to see what awesome kids I’m raising. If you’re a mom and you can’t recall ever doing the same thing, you’re probably in denial.

The sad truth is that we moms don’t get a lot of credit for what we do…at least, not while we’re in the trenches of early parenthood…and most of us will take some accolades any way we can get them. Facebook “likes,” make me feel like someone out there sees me, and in order to maximize likes and minimize unsolicited advice, I keep my posts positive. I didn’t tell the world, for example, about C’s antics at the zoo earlier that same day. She screamed so loudly, and for so long, she was scaring all the animals,. She also threw her special birthday lunch on the ground, in a small but mighty fit of rage. I kept those anecdotes to myself.

I don’t want to come across as incompetent, overwhelmed, or whiny on social media, despite the fact I am all those things at one point or another through out the day. So I put on my figurative mask, and I crop the literal mountains of laundry out of the background before I post a new photo of my kids. All my friends do the same, I think. Either that or they truly are on top of their game when it comes to mothering. I like to think the perfect moms in my news feed are all just playing along in this unspoken charade, presenting themselves as they wish they were rather than as they really are. Please, tell me I’m not the only one!

Diary of an Angry Baby

What my three-month-old daughter wishes she could say to me:


For the love of all that is tiny, woman, would you let me be?! Stop performing these horrific procedures that compromise my dignity, such at trimming my nails and cleaning my ears. Do you not realize that I came from Heaven exactly the way I’m supposed to be? Your tireless efforts to customize and improve me are fruitless and unappreciated. Until I feel you’ve learned to accept me for who I am, earwax and all, I will continue with our recent trend of 4 am wake-up calls. I trust that soon you will either come to accept my terms, or collapse from exhaustion. In either case, I will at last be free of your constant fussing and able to practice my pterodactyl call without interruption. In the meantime, keep calm and lactate on.




Stop the madness: when help doesn’t actually help

Picture this: You’re stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire. You have a spare, but no tools, and the embarrassing truth is that you wouldn’t know how to change the tire even if you had all the necessary supplies. You may or may not even know what the necessary supplies are. That’s a sad commentary about the competence of our generation, but it isn’t the point of this analogy. You pick up your phone to call for help or, who am I kidding, you post a status update on Facebook asking for help. The post conveniently provides friends and family with your exact location. You’re relieved to immediately receive a series notifications. Three of your relatives have commented saying they’re on their way. You’ve also received four likes, which is odd, because what’s to like about having a flat tire? Anyway…

The first person to arrive is your uncle. He has brought a tank of gas with him and immediately begins filling your tank. He mutters something about how you should have known better than to run out of gas. Before you can open your mouth to explain that you aren’t out of gas–that the tire is the problem–your sister arrives. She gets into her trunk and pulls out a bucket and a few jugs of water and begins washing your car. At this point you are at a loss for words. You pull out your phone to check the status you wrote, and there it is in black and white, “I have a flat tire! Can anybody help?” What the hell is wrong with these people, washing and gassing up the car, completely ignoring the problem at hand?

Just then, your mom pulls up–your voice of reason, your rock. While you aren’t sure you’ve ever seen her change a tire before, at least you know you can count on her to take charge of the situation and get things done, right? Wrong! She tells you to hop in–she’s come to pick you up! She read online that you have a flat tire, and since you can’t drive home with a flat, she’s going to give you a ride.

“What about my tire?” you exclaim in frustration. Everyone at the scene turns to look at you. Whether they say it or not, they now think you’re a brat (or worse). Who in their right mind wouldn’t appreciate a tank of gas, a car wash, and a ride home? They’re all here to help you, after all. They’re carving time out of their busy schedules to make your life easer. How could you be so selfish as to demand that someone change your tire as well?

This is oftentimes what it’s like to receive ‘help’ from well-meaning friends and family members, especially as a new parent. At best, it’s tolerable…we still have to solve the biggest problem ourselves, but it’s nice to have had someone take care of a smaller, auxiliary problem in the meantime. At worst though, our uncle fills the gas tank with diesel fuel, our sister scrubs the paint right off of our car, and our mom stops by the grocery store for two hours on the way back to our house. At that point, we would have been better off with no help at all.

You see, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t helpful to hold a newborn for hours while the baby’s mother brings you refreshments and keeps you entertained. It isn’t helpful to criticize the way a new father is burping his child and insist he use the method that worked for you. That’s the type of ‘help’ a new family would be better off without. Instead, visitors should consider folding a load of laundry, loading the dishwasher, or making a grocery run. If you, as a visitor, don’t feel comfortable enough with the couple to jump in and start doing that sort of thing, then there’s a chance they don’t feel comfortable enough with you to have you camped out on their couch for hours on end. Let that sink in for a moment. Did they invite you to visit the baby, or did you descend upon them without warning under the guise of offering assistance? If it was the latter, and if  you stay until you are actually asked to leave, it may not be the new parents who were guilty of rude behavior.

Of course, neither stranded motorists nor new parents are entitled to your help by any means. If you simply want to visit with these people on your own terms without the pretense of assisting them, kindly extend an invitation and wait for them to resolve the situation at hand (whether it be changing a tire or getting the hang of parenting) before expecting a response. Otherwise, I ask on behalf of all new mothers that you survey the situation and truly LISTEN to the type of help we’re asking for before jumping in. You may wash a car better than anyone else in town, but if we’re trying to change a tire, you’ll only be in the way. Trust us to recognize and articulate our own needs, rather than assuming you know what’s best for us, and we’ll be much more inclined to seek you out when we ‘need help’ holding the baby.