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  1. Time for braces

    April 16, 2014 by Cassandra Morgan

    My daughter got braces put on her teeth yesterday. I had braces back when I was in 7th grade but that was a millennium ago. I have vague recollections of wires being tightened and my teeth hurting but what I mostly remember is that my orthodontist had a Dig Dug cabinet in the office that we could play for free. Dig Dug was awesome. I think there was also a Ms. Pac-Man table but I didn’t play that nearly as much as Dig Dug.

    Needless to say, I went into this whole braces thing with a little bit of knowledge but not a ton.

    The whole thing started back in the beginning of February. Braces, nowadays, are fitted by computer. They take computer scans of your teeth. From these scans, custom brackets are made just for you. It takes approximately seven weeks for the orthodontist to get these custom brackets back from the manufacturer. Once the brackets arrive, those computer scans tell the orthodontist where on your teeth to place them. Depending on what all you are getting, that can take anywhere from one to two hours. My daughter’s appointment took just under two hours.

    And that is that. You get instructions on how to brush your teeth properly and about a hundred different devices to make sure both your brackets and teeth are clean. My daughter got a new toothbrush and a mini toothbrush-like tool to use at school. There were two different types of floss and a little mint-flavored stick-thing that helps in between teeth. Lots of little do-dads to help keep your teeth awesome.

    Then there is a list of types of food you shouldn’t eat. Chewy things, like caramel or sour patch kids, aren’t good because they can dislodge brackets and they are difficult to clean out of crevices in teeth. (Honestly, they aren’t good for non-braced teeth either.) Biting into fruits like apples is a no-go because you can rip the brackets off your front teeth. These foods need to be sliced up. To this day, I still slice all of my fruit. Popcorn is another snack that isn’t great for braced or regular teeth due to the kernel shells that get stuck in between teeth and gums. There are probably a ton more than I can’t remember off the top of my head.

    Yeah, it will suck having braces for awhile. (My daughter is supposed to have them for about 22 months.) But it will be better in the long run when your teeth function properly.

  2. Subscription Box: Graze

    April 15, 2014 by Cassandra Morgan

    I actually received this box about a week ago. However, I wanted to take the time to have everyone in my family try the snacks before I gave an opinion. I know that I can be picky about my food. A second opinion is always helpful in these situations.


    This is my first box from Graze, a healthy snack company. The plain brown box is designed very simply. The top just shows the company’s URL and catchphrase “Snacking Reinvented.” The bottom has the shipping label and helpfully tells you to turn the box over before opening it. This is a nice change from some other boxes.


    When you open the box, you find a personalized welcome note. My daughter thought this was amazing. “Mom! It has your name on it!” It definitely makes the box feel like it was made just for you. The note tells you a little bit about the company but the best part is that there is a link where you can rate the food you receive. If there is something you don’t like, you won’t receive it again. But if there is something you love, you’ll get more stuff just like it. There is also a code that you can give to your friends. If your friends join Graze, they get their 1st and 5th boxes for free and you get either $1 off your next box or you can donate that $1 to their charity, the graze school of farming. Finally, you’ll find the appropriate nutrition information along with the expiration dates for all of the food in your box on the back of the note.


    My box had four snacks. Fruity Mango Chutney with black pepper dippers, Billionaire’s Shortbread, Key Lime Pie, and Mississippi BBQ Pistachios. They come individually packaged in sturdy plastic containers. The plastic wrapping tells you exactly what is in each package. All of it is see-through so you know exactly what you are about to put in your mouth.


    The first snack we tried was the Fruity Mango Chutney. I knew from the beginning that this would not be my favorite. I don’t like mango or pepper. But I still tried it. The pepper dippers had way too much black pepper on it for me. The mango chutney was sweet but not enough to offset the pepper-taste. My husband didn’t like it much either.


    Second up was the Key Lime Pie, which was actually like a trail mix sort of thing. It contains lime raisins, mini meringues, sponge pieces, and green raisins. Individually, each piece was quite tasty. When you put all of the elements into your mouth, it did taste a lot like key lime pie. Strange but yummy.


    Everyone in my family loves pistachios so the Mississippi BBQ Pistachios were next on our list. Once again, they were strangely tasty. The flavoring wasn’t like barbecue sauce. Instead, it was like barbecue cooked over a fire pit. The result is a smokey nutty taste. Everyone enjoyed it.


    Last, but not least, Billionaires’ Shortbread. This is another trail mix-type thing. The ingredients are Belgian milk chocolate, almonds, cranberries, and fudge. My family thought this was the most delicious of the bunch. While the food listing doesn’t specifically state what type of fudge it is, it tastes like butterscotch. Everything else is pretty self-explanatory. It was just delicious.

    I found the entire box very interesting. We didn’t like every single snack but that is OK. It’s good to try new things and this allows us to do that. I really like that you can vote on the food you try to make it a little more custom to your tastes. I’d really like to try another box to see what else they have.

  3. Yacon Syrup

    April 14, 2014 by Cassandra Morgan


    I received this product last week and decided to give it a try. It is yacon syrup. According to the wikipedia entry it is a “sweetening agent extracted from the tuberous roots of the yacon plant indigenous to the Andes mountains.” Basically, it’s a sugar substitute made from a sort of potato-type thing. It is currently very popular because it has a low calorie content and rather low sugar levels, making it ideal for diabetics. There was a study in 2009 that a daily intake of the syrup decreased body weight, waist circumference, and body mass in obese women.

    There aren’t a whole lot of instructions on the bottle. It boils down to “take one teaspoon three times per day.” So I did a little Google research. From what I read, it may not be a great idea to start on a whole teaspoon of the stuff right away. Yacon syrup can have a bit of a laxative effect so you may want to work your way up. I started with 1/3 teaspoon and worked my way up. I haven’t had any gastrointestinal problems myself. Also, it supposedly works the best if you take it 30-60 minutes before eating. If you decide to use it as a sweetener, there have been reports that the fructooligosaccharides (the sweet stuff) breaks down at temperatures over 248°F so while you can use it as a sugar substitute in your coffee or tea, you shouldn’t use it for baking or cooking.

    I did not cook with the syrup nor did I use it to sweeten anything. (I don’t really drink coffee or tea.) I simply took a shot of the stuff 30 minutes before eating. To me, the syrup tastes like coffee. Other people have said it tastes like molasses but I don’t think I’ve ever had molasses. Either way, it wasn’t strong enough to deter me. I can’t make a comment on the weight loss aspect yet because I’ve only been taking it for a few days. It did seem to keep me from getting the munchies after eating a meal so perhaps that is where the big weight drop comes from. In the end, it is an interesting product. I might try to use it to sweeten some tea if I have a sore throat, which is pretty much the only time I drink tea, but I don’t think it’ll actually replace sugar in our household.

  4. Subscription Box: Beauty Box 5

    April 11, 2014 by Cassandra Morgan


    It is time for another subscription box review! Yesterday’s mail brought me the Beauty Box 5. BB5 gives you 5 beauty products. Most of them are sample sized but sometimes you get a full-sized product. In my opinion, the cost is very reasonable. If you pay monthly, it costs $12. However, if you choose the quarterly option, it is only $30. The last option is yearly, which is $99. Most women probably pay more than that per month on regular beauty products. Now you get to try new things!


    When you first open the box, you are greeted with the month’s informational postcard. The front of the card tells you a little bit about that month’s theme. Turning the card over, the back gives you a detailed description of each product in the box. You also get a card with five codes that allow your friends to get their first and fifth boxes for free. Update: Sorry, that is a different box that I will be reviewing next week.


    Here is the inside of the box I received. Due to the way it was packaged, you can’t see all five products in this shot. But there are definitely five products there. Let’s go through them one by one.


    First up, Blum Naturals All-Purpose Cleansing Wipes in Citrus Scent. The bottle contains 30 wipes with a grapefruit smell. I adore citrus scents so I think this will get a lot of use. If all goes well with it, I would buy the full-sized version for the house.



    Next up is the bh cosmetics California Collection eyeshadow palette. The palette has three shades: Hollywood is a deep purple color, San Francisco is a bronzey sort of color, and Malibu is a yellowish gold. These are some awful pictures of the shades but I couldn’t get both the purple and the bronze to show up without making the gold look garish. In reality, all three are very nice colors. I would most likely wear San Francisco the most but my favorite color-wise is Hollywood.




    The next two products go together so I’ll talk about them at the same time. One is NickAK New York Hydro Lipstick in the Gypsy Begonia shade. I love this color. It’s like a deep berry color. I really can’t wait to try this one out! With it came a Bonne Bell lip definer. Unfortunately, this came with the pencil tip broken off. So I can’t tell you much about the shade. It seems to match the lipstick but I can’t be positive.


    Finally, there is a 3-day Natural Glow moisturizer by Jergens. I believe this is supposed to be similar to spray-on tanners. I’ve never used fake tan products before. This appears to be a sample sized product so I’m not sure how much coverage you would actually get from it. You might be able to cover your face and your arms but it definitely will not cover your entire body. I doubt that I will personally try this one out but maybe I can find someone to try it for me.

    And that is it! I am quite happy with what I received in this month’s box. Out of the 5 products, I will definitely use at least three of them. I have two more boxes left in my subscription package so I hope this is a trend that will continue!

  5. Pittsburgh Soda Pop

    April 10, 2014 by Cassandra Morgan

    Back in February, I told you that we bought a SodaStream. We still have the appliance and we still use it very often. While it seems that a lot of people hate the SodaStream flavors, we really love the sugar cane cola one. There are actually two versions of SodaStream cola – one is labelled “Cane Sugar” and one is not. I’m not sure if that is the only difference but you can definitely tell by the taste alone.

    Since we are always looking for things to try, I bought six sample bottles from Pittsburgh Soda Pop. The flavors I chose were: Steel City Cola, Black Cherry, Down in the Valley Dew, Orange Cream, Sourball Orange, and Suzie Q’s Q-cumber. We haven’t tried all six yet but I think we’ve tried enough to make a decision on this group.

    Before we get down to the nitty gritty of the review, you should know the price of the product. The sample bottles each make 1 liter of soda. If you have a SodaStream, that equals one bottle. You can buy three sample bottles for $6.00. The regular sized bottles make about 4 liters of soda and they cost $6.00 each. (Except for the root beer flavors. They are $7.00.) In comparison, the SodaStream cane sugar cola makes approximately 6 liters of soda and costs about $10. Of course, the big difference is that the PSP syrups have to be shipped to you (shipping for me cost about $6.00) where you can buy SodaStream flavors in many stores.

    Overall, both my husband and I listed the flavors as “OK.” My daughter liked the Orange Cream flavor, but she also likes anything that tastes like creamcicles. The Steel City Cola is probably our least favorite flavor. I’m not sure how to put my finger on exactly what is “wrong” with it. I think that maybe it isn’t sweet enough for our tastes. The Black Cherry flavor was for me. While the taste is growing on me, I much prefer the Black Cherry flavor from the local Reading Draft Soda. (I will have to look into getting Reading Draft in syrup form.) The only two flavors we haven’t tried are the Q-cucumber and Sourball Orange. Unfortunately, my husband screwed up making the Sourball Orange soda and forgot to carbonate the water first so we won’t be able to taste that one properly.

    In the end, I would drink these again if a glass was handed to me but I am unlikely to purchase these flavors for my family. After adding in shipping, the price is a bit too steep for regular use and the flavors aren’t quite as satisfying as the SodaStream syrups.

  6. Finding Your Worth

    April 8, 2014 by Cassandra Morgan

    I am a writer.

    I have been a writer for a very long time. When I was a child, I would frequently write my own little fanfic stories, though the term “fanfic” wasn’t as widespread since the internet didn’t really exist yet. In high school, I majored in English. I took every English/Literature class that I could. In addition to the general academic papers we had to write, I was also writing speeches and drama scenes and poetry and, occasionally, a creative story. When I got to college, the major changed to Theater Arts and Communications. I wrote a fairy tale play for children.

    I am a writer.

    In recent years, I have been writing reviews. Some of them I have been paid for, many I have not. While searching for paid writing jobs, I have found that many people don’t want to pay writers very well. I frequently see job listing advertising to pay a penny per word. That would mean a 500-word piece would pay a whopping $5.00. I know that sounds like an easy five bucks to the average person but it’s not. That 500-word piece will likely require some form of research – be it actual fact-finding or having to try out a product to review or even just fact-checking your sources. Let’s say you have no other disturbances (no cell phones ringing, no checking emails, no grabbing a snack) and you are able to churn this out in an hour. (Depending on the topic, it can easily take me at least an hour to work on a piece. If it is an entire album I am reviewing, it will take longer since I will need to listen to each song more than once.) The only other job I know of that get paid less than minimum wage is restaurant waitstaff and that is because they get tips. Almost no one is tipping their writer.

    People need to find their worth. The reason these penny-per-word ads keep popping up is because someone is actually taking them. Someone somewhere is spending their precious time working for literal cents. Why? Refuse to work for so little. Your time and your writing is worth more than that. I know mine is. I absolutely refuse to work for pennies. Figure out what you are worth and stick to it. If clients really want someone to write well-written articles for them, they will pay for it. But not until we stop accepting chump change.

  7. TSA Week

    April 7, 2014 by Cassandra Morgan

    This week will be rather difficult for me. My daughter is in the States Competition for her school’s TSA club. The TSA is the Technology Student Association. They promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathemetics) ideas through various forms of competition.

    The Regional Competition took place in February. My daughter participated in two team events. Water Infrastructure was a pre-competition event where the students wrote a paper about various ways to save water. (I admit that I don’t completely understand what they did on that one.) The second event was a 2-person Problem Solving team. They received a toolbox and had to figure out a solution to a problem. Their problem was to get a marble into a cup from a spot two feet above the cup. My daughter’s team built a spiral slide. It was pretty neat.

    The Water Infrastructure team won second place in the competition. This qualified my daughter for States, which takes place this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

    This time around, the kids must participate in three events. My daughter has Inventions & Innovations, Environmental Problems, and Delta Dart. Inventions & Innovations is exactly what it sounds like – the kids have to invent something. My daughter’s team took an alarm clock and modified it so you can wave your hand over the clock to turn on the snooze instead of hitting a button. I have to say that I am very intrigued by this concept. I need more sleep after all!

    Environmental Problems is another team effort. The group had to write a 10+ page paper about an environmental issue. Her group chose smog. They ended up with a 12-page paper and they will be finishing their presentation today.

    Finally, Delta Dart. This is a solo event. Each participant designs and builds a glider. (Like, paper airplane-sized. Not human-sized.) The glider that flies the farthest wins.

    I am so glad that my daughter decided to join the TSA. Granted, I will probably have anxiety attacks for the rest of the week until she gets back Saturday night, but at least she will be having fun. She enjoys building things and the TSA gives her the ability to build whatever she wants. I highly recommend that anyone with kids that enjoy STEM classes look into the TSA. If your school doesn’t have a chapter, try to get one. You won’t regret it.

  8. Favorite Friday

    April 4, 2014 by Cassandra Morgan

    Because this week has been absolutely insane, I am going to give you some Favorite Friday videos today. This is a band that actually really exists. For reals. You will wonder when I went insane then you will fall madly in love with them. Today I give you – BABYMETAL

    And, as a bonus, here is a recent Fine Brothers production – YouTubers react to BABYMETAL

  9. A question for you

    April 2, 2014 by Cassandra Morgan

    Since the new relaunch of The Geek Within, I have been struggling to figure out what I should talk about here. There will always be reviews of movies and TV shows and whatnot. And I am going to talk about the various subscription boxes that will be arriving on my doorstep. But are you interested in the other stuff? Last year, I started a tumblr account where I planned on posting reviews of random things I purchased. Then I kinda forgot about tumblr.

    Would you like to see those reviews posted here?
    What other sort of things would you like me to talk about?
    Should I go back to posting individual episode reviews instead of just a series?

    Help! Post your wants and needs in the comments!

  10. Paper Towns

    April 1, 2014 by Cassandra Morgan


    Paper Towns is John Green’s third novel. It tells the story of Quentin Jacobsen and Margo Roth Spiegelman. Quentin and Margo have been neighbors for their entire lives. When they were children, they came upon a dead body in the park. The story flashes forward to their senior high school year. Quentin, called “Q” by his friends, is in her geeky clique while Margo, generally referred to by her entire name, is the queen of the school. As such, their friendship had fallen to the wayside long ago.

    One night, Margo randomly shows up at Quentin’s window dressed as a ninja. She convinces him to sneak out and the two go on a bit of a revenge rampage. The next day, Margo doesn’t show up to school. Three days later, she is declared missing. Quentin and his friends, Ben and Radar, spend the end of their senior year following the clues that Margo left behind.

    I have found that I love Green’s style of writing. Maybe it’s because I am rather nerdy myself, but I find myself relating to his main characters a little too well. Quentin is a strongly loyal friend and he often thinks too much for his own good. Margo Roth Spiegelman is the popular girl who puts on a fake facade so people don’t understand who she really is. As a result, people end up thinking that she is quirky and unusual. The two make an interesting friendship and I do kinda wish there was more of it in the book.

    It took me awhile to read Paper Towns. Not because it wasn’t interesting but because it doesn’t quite match up to The Fault in Our Stars. (Sidenote: I feel like I should have read TFiOS last. It is so good that it sort of ruins other books.) Once I really got into Q’s journey to find Margo, I was hooked. The discoveries that Quentin makes about himself and his friends are awesome. There aren’t very many people that get to really understand their friends the way that Q does. And I liked that the three of them stick together, even when they don’t like each other very much.

    In the end, I did enjoy the book. I was a little disappointed in the ending but the ending did make sense. Maybe I’ve watched too many romantic comedies where…well, you know how those usually end. I don’t want to spoil Paper Towns for you. Much like the rest of John Green’s books, I do recommend that you read it. Especially if you like solving puzzles. It will force you to see things in a slightly different light.