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Image courtesy Tyler Vunk Photography

Welcome our newest sponsor, Gabrielle (Gab) Melchionda of Mad Gab’s natural and organic bodycare, to the blog! In the early nineties, Gab started making lip balm in her mother’s kitchen just for fun. Family and friends encouraged her to sell her homemade balms at farmers’ markets and local stores, and in a few short years, her company received national attention. QVC featured her lip balms on television, and magazines including Vogue and Working Mother highlighted Gab and her sought-after products.

Flash forward 25 years and Mad Gab’s is looking to make headlines again. They’ve recently launched an exciting new line of products called MG, geared towards young women. The company is also a finalist on Greenlight Mainea local TV show that features up-and-coming Maine businesses.

MP sat down with Gab to discuss the challenges of running a successful business, balancing work and motherhood, and what she’s dreaming up next.

MP: How has the natural/organic beauty industry changed since you started 25 years ago?

GM: The industry has grown in leaps and bounds — so much so that Mad Gab’s decided to focus solely on the gift market. At Whole Foods, for example, our lip balms would be lost among dozens of other brands. That being said, the hope is our products will eventually have mass market appeal.

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MP: How did you balance business and parenthood early on?

GM: I didn’t have any kind of balance! I always put my kids, Silas (16) and Jasper (12), first. I sacrificed a lot of great opportunities for the business, but in the end, it’s important for me to know I was there for my boys when they needed me most.

MP: As a parent and an owner of a beauty line, what ingredients are best for kids’ sensitive skin?

GM: For any age, the ingredients in your kitchen pantry are best: extra virgin olive oil is as good as it gets, and liquid Shea butter, which you can buy at natural food stores, is amazing for sensitive skin.

MP: Your current schedule is so busy, I imagine you’re not creating new products in your kitchen these days. Do you miss the creative process?

GM: [laughs] You’re right. Most of our production is done at the Dana Warp Mill, where our offices are located. But I’m always creating a list of new products in my head. It’s important that our brand stick to the products people know us for, namely lip balms and body balms. But eventually, I would love to add a simple lotion to our line.

MP: You appeared on Green Light Maine, where 26 Maine entrepreneurs compete for a $100,000 prize. What was that experience like?

GM: It was fun to be a part of something new in Maine, and the competition was friendly. I was sitting with my competitor — Bill Zelman of Hot Tubes — and he wished me luck before I presented to the judges. There was just this great sense of camaraderie and support.

MP: Do you have a favorite Maine brand of maker?

GM: There are several Maine companies that I love. Grandyoats, an organic granola company, has done such a nice job marketing their brand. And I love that Mary Allen Lindemann of Coffee by Design travels all over the world to meet the farmers that produce the company’s coffee beans. Oh, and Jill McGowan. Her clothes really exemplify that made in Maine quality.

Many thanks to Gab for talking with us! And did you know? Mad Gab’s is one of 13 Green Light Maine finalists! Stay tuned for the next round of competition on May 17!

To learn more about Mad Gab’s or to shop their latest line for kids and adults, visit here.

Our family recently traveled to Camden for the start of Winterfest — a week-long celebration that features an ice-carving contest, polar plunge, freestyle skiing competition, family-friendly activities and the 2016 U.S. National Toboggan Championships, which take place at the Camden Snow Bowl February 5-7.

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Colder evening temps keep the chute running, despite the lack of snow this season.

chute-2MP and the kids have always wanted to try tobogganing down the ice chute at the Snow Bowl. When we pulled up to the parking lot, all of us looked toward the chute and agreed we could handle the ride. Although once we climbed the steep steps towards the deck, our confidence waned. The vastness of the pond below and the full length (440 feet) of the wooden chute gave us an honest perspective. Stuart Young, the toboggan chute master, showed us the release handle that launches each sled. “Maybe we should watch a few people go down first,” MP said out loud. The kids agreed.

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Chute master Stuart Young gets ready to send another sled down the chute.

Stuart, who has operated the chute for 16 years, assured MP that our family would be fine. “How thick is the ice on the pond?” MP asked. He’d checked earlier that morning and reported the ice was 11-12 inches thick, “plenty safe.” He told MP that he’d grown up sliding down the chute, which was built in 1936. “Kids as young as eight and adults as old as ninety have tobogganed down,” he said.

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A woman dressed in a fur coat and Mardi Gras beads volunteered to go first with veteran racer Jim Jefferson, who coached her to tuck her knees and arms inside the sled as tightly as possible. “You can burn a hole in your coat otherwise,” he mentioned. MP took note as the two prepared for their descent. Once the toboggan was released, the pair slid down in seconds. “We can do this,” MP said to CP#1 and #2. And while CP#2 was game, CP#1 still wasn’t sure. “I think I’ll watch you two go first,” she said.

Taking a cue from the first team, MP asked if someone knowledgable could ride with us. Landon Fake, General Manager of the Camden Snow Bowl, kindly agreed. “Good luck, Mommy!” yelled CP#1 as Stuart pulled the handle to release the sled. Our toboggan sailed at nearly 30 mph down the icy chute and slid halfway across Hosmer Pond before coming to a stop. “We made it!” MP said, delighted and relieved for a smooth ride. “I want to slide down again!” announced CP#2, his cheeks flush with enthusiasm. MP laughed and thanked Landon for joining our team of beginners.

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While we carried the toboggan back to the chute deck, MP asked Landon about race day. Landon said there are teams of two, three and four people that race in the Toboggan Championships. CP #2 learned that kids ages 8-up can also create teams. The teams are encouraged to dress up, and since this year’s race theme is Mardi Gras, MP expects there will be some impressive costumes on view. The Snow Bowl committee expects to have nearly 1,300 racers and over 6,000 spectators the day of the race.

Back at the top, and after much deliberating, CP#1 decided she would give the toboggan a try. MP joined her along with Aislinn Sarnacki, an Outdoors writer and blogger from Bangor Daily News, who was wearing a GoPro camera on her helmet. If you’re curious, you can watch our descent here.

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Photo courtesy Holly Edwards, penbaypilot.com

We spent the rest of afternoon enjoying Camden with lunch at Boynton McKay and a stop at Owl & Turtle Bookshop for peppermint hot chocolates, new books for the kids, and a welcome coffee for Mom. After shopping, we retired to the beautiful Hawthorn Inn Bed & Breakfast, where innkeepers Lisa and Ted Weiss made us feel right at home (more about our stay in a later post). That evening, we decided to order take out from Long Grain, an exceptional Thai restaurant in town. We ate in our room by the fire and then snuggled in bed with our books.

The next morning, we took our time before walking to the library amphitheatre to view the ice sculpture contest and freestyle skiing competition. The weather was unusually warm and spring-like — a great day to be outside by Camden Harbor. When we arrived, a DJ played pop music while the ice sculptors worked on their creations. The kids loved watching the sculptures in progress. MP had to coax them along to view the skiing competition, which was exciting to watch. Families cheered as each skier made their descent and a few boys at the bottom of the hill yelled, “Snow in the face!” in hopes that the skiers would send a little snow flying their way.

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MP and the kids were impressed with all of the great events Camden offered during our stay. If you and your family decide to visit this weekend, Friday night features a parade and fireworks over the harbor, and Saturday offers a full day of racing at the Camden Snow Bowl. The library will also be offering stories, crafts and free activities for little ones. You can find a full list of events here.

Happy Winterfest weekend, everyone!

PS: CP#1 and #2 talk about their toboggan experience on the news. Want to try riding the chute with your family? Find details here.

On a bright, January Sunday, we visited Ten Apple Farm in Gray for an hour-long goat hike in the woods. Owners Margaret Hathaway and Karl Schatz and their young daughters—Charlotte, Bea and Sadie—care for a herd of Alpine dairy goats that live in a big red barn attached to the family’s 1901 clapboard farmhouse.

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Photo courtesy Ten Apple Farm

Our family was joined by a couple from New Hampshire who came with another couple and their baby girl. Karl invited us all into the barn to meet the goats—some of which have lived with Margaret and Karl since they purchased the farm in 2005. The family raise the Alpine goats for their own use, mainly for milk, yogurt and cheese.

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The Alpines have impressive horns, which could be intimidating to some, but Karl explained that the goats are pack animals, and would follow our crew closely through the woods. At times, he said, they might gently nudge us along if they wanted to get by to chew tree bark or munch on white pine needles (a favorite snack).

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The goats were larger than MP expected. Some stood at nearly five feet tall on their hind legs. Many in the herd stood with their front hooves on the pen, as if to say, “Don’t forget me!” And MP swears a few were smiling when she took pictures.

While Margaret and Karl led the goats from their pens, the rest of us followed Charlotte and Bea outside towards a small orchard of apple trees. We waited there, as the goats bounded down the hill one by one. Just as Karl promised, all of the goats stopped when they reached our crew of hikers. The kids patted the goats’ big bellies and the little one who joined us giggled from her carrier.

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As we walked, MP asked Margaret about the 17-acres of land behind their home. She said the family called the woods Narnia, after the classic fantasy world created by C.S. Lewis. As we walked further into the woods, MP could see why. We reached a small, sparkling creek and then a narrow ridge, where Margaret and the girls once spotted a deer jump across just a few feet in front of them. The family has spotted fox tracks in the snow and an owl, who they call Mr. Brown, flying from tree to tree.

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All along the way, the goats happily followed and stopped here and there to chew on a tasty tidbit or playfully lock horns with each other (Margaret says they do this to establish dominance). We walked until we reached the edge of the property, where snowmobile trails made their claim. The youngest of hikers needed to get back to the farm to eat, so all of us looped back, passing stone walls and a cozy Cape which the family calls “The Woods House” and rents through Airbnb.

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Back at the farm, we gathered in the kitchen for a small celebration. The family treated us to their homemade goat cheese, which was just as creamy and delicious as you might imagine. And since it also happened to be Karl’s birthday, Margaret made classic vanilla cupcakes with chocolate buttercream frosting (made with goat’s milk of course). The kids were delighted with their well-earned treats. We thanked our hosts, who sent us home with some of their wonderful cheese. MP can’t think of a better way to spend a winter morning.

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You can learn more about Ten Apple Farm’s monthly goat hikes here.

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Last year, MP shared some of the adventures she hoped to try with the family during the winter season, and it was one of the blog’s most popular posts. We had so much fun exploring cross-country skiing and ice fishing, MP decided to come up with an updated list of activities for our family to try during the chilly months ahead:

Dog Sledding
The kids learned a little about sled dogs during L.L.Bean’s Winter Carnival, but they have always hoped for the opportunity to experience dog sledding first hand. Heywood Kennels in Augusta accepts Winter Kids passports, which offers families a generous discount on dog sledding adventures. Families get to meet the dogs, enjoy a sled ride and drink hot cocoa by the fire.

Discovering New Trails
We love getting outside during the winter months and exploring the woodland trails in and around our community. Libby Hill Forest in Gray, which was once an 18th-century sheep farm, offers easy snowshoeing and walking trails. Curious families can also walk to the location of the original farmstead.

Train to Boston
There comes a time in winter when we all can use a city fix. We typically drive to Boston for a day trip, but MP thinks it would be fun to take the Downeaster for a change. Everyone gets to relax, read a book, or stare out the window. And to make the trip more appealing to frugal Yankees like ourselves, the Downeaster lets kids ride for free on Sundays.

Board Games
Last winter, we made an effort to spend more time playing board games on Friday nights. All of us would like to revisit that tradition. We make popcorn, hot chocolate and hunker down for an hour or two. Monopoly and UNO are popular at our household, but MP also likes Apples to Apples and Beat the Parents.

Explore New Rinks
We are fans of The Family Ice Center in Falmouth, but we’d love to take a road trip to the Waterhouse Ice Rink, a state of the art indoor rink in Kennebunk, along with a side trip to Boulangerie for a treat. We also are looking forward to trying The Rink at Thompson’s Point in Portland, which has a warming room and food from PB&ME, a mobile kitchen that specializes in peanut butter sandwiches.

What are you and your family planning for the winter?

PS: Visiting Ice Castles and cross-country skiing for the first time.

Winter is finally here and for our family, the drastic change in temperature demands we pay better attention to our skin. Wind, cold and bright sun can be especially hard on sensitive skin like ours. CP#1 is prone to chapped lips, and MP, who runs outside throughout the winter months, has rough hands and feet. And whether we are cross country skiing or sledding, all of us need to protect our lips and faces from the elements.

For MP, the challenge has always been finding a bodycare line that appeals to the whole family. Enter Mad Gab’s — a Westbrook-based company that specializes in lip and body balms made with a balanced combination of natural and organic ingredients. Their line also includes convenient, SPF 30 Sun Sticks for sun protection on the go.

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A cool, camo design makes this a popular choice for kids.

The award-winning company, which has been in business for 25 years, is best known for their kid-friendly Menagerie line, whose packaging features an illustration of a smiling moose, along with many other fun cartoon animals. During the last year, Mad Gab’s updated the packaging and the formulas for this line, which now features soothing ingredients like organic extra virgin olive oil, organic beeswax and vitamin E.

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All of Mad Gab’s products are petroleum and paraben free.

In addition to the Menagerie line, the company also developed a signature line for teenagers and adults called MG. The hydrating, MG lip butters feature similar ingredients to Menagerie products with the addition of organic shea butter, and the body balms include Jojoba, a natural skin moisturizer. MP, who is drawn to beautifully-packaged products, likes the sleek, modern design.

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Mad Gab’s invited our family to try both lines. CP#1 was given an assortment of seasonal, Moose Smooch lip balms to try, which included fun flavors like sugar cookie and hot cocoa. CP#1 says she likes the hot cocoa flavor best because the balm comes in a natural color (white rather than brown) and the flavor isn’t overly sweet. And CP#2, who we affectionately call our man of leisure, liked the bright scent of the citrus Moose Body Balm after a hot shower. “Don’t I smell good, mama?” he asked after trying the balm for the first time.

MP has been using two Mad Gab’s products nearly everyday. In the mornings, she applies the MG raspberry lip butter before she leaves for work. The product also comes in coconut lime and peach mango, but Mom Potato prefers the simplicity of the raspberry flavor, which has a light, natural scent.

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The lip butter and lip balm tubes are recyclable.

In the evenings, just before bed, MP reaches for the lavender Moose Body Balm. The body balm comes in a recyclable tin and is easy to apply. With regular use, MP is finding that the rough spots on her hands and feet have diminished. She also likes that the lavender scent is fresh and light.

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Why is this moose smiling? Mad Gab’s products are never tested on animals.

Interested in trying Mad Gab’s for yourself? You can find their products at Hannaford, Cool as a Moose, Coffee by Design, Community Pharmacy, Apothecary by Design, Sherman’s Books & Stationery or at madgabs.com. And just for Cute Potato readers, Mad Gab’s is offering 15% off online orders of $15.00 or more through February 29, 2016. Enter the code “Cute Potato” at checkout.

Thanks again to Mad Gab’s for letting us try their new products. Here’s to happy, healthy winter skin!

Sponsored post

After a vacation week spent celebrating, visiting family and getting much-needed sleep, our troupe wanted a gentle return to a regular routine. We made this wish a reality by creating a simple meal plan for the week. MP and DP have learned that a ready-made breakfast, lunch or dinner can make the whole day go more smoothly. Really! The kids get up later, but still make the bus. Everyone goes to work or school with a packed lunch. And in the evening, dinner is ready to go, which is a gift after a long day.

With this idea in mind, MP made baked oatmeal—our go-to, healthy(-ish) breakfast—on the last day of vacation. This dish is so simple to make. All you need is a few baking staples and your favorite fresh or frozen fruit on hand.

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Ingredients:

• 3 cups rolled oats
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1
 cup milk
• 2 eggs
• 1/2 cup unsalted butter melted
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

On this particular day, MP had several apples ready to use, but she’s also made this dish with blueberries, peaches or pears. MP has found using a generous amount of fruit keeps the oatmeal from becoming too dry. If you’re using apples, peel and core them (this apple peeler makes the job easy), cut the apple slices in half and place them at the base of a 9-inch pie pan.

Next, mix together oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt with a wooden spoon. Once combined, stir in milk, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract until well-combined. Carefully spread the mixture over the fruit and place the dish in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until the oatmeal is golden brown. 

The baked oatmeal keeps nicely in the fridge and can be re-heated in the microwave with an extra splash of milk. Serves 4-6.

Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s to easy transitions.

 

 

Holy cow. This is a busy time of year! MP is trying her best to slow down and enjoy the season, but it’s easy to get swept up in the holiday hubbub. There’s our daily routine to maintain coupled with holiday parties, cards to order, trees to light, cookies to make and gifts to buy — all good things for certain, but it can be hard for a parent to keep up!

Thankfully, we live in a state where there are so many beautifully made gifts available to us, it’s easy to check a few items off the holiday to-do list. And it feels good to support our local makers!

For the littles (0-5):

Two Chickadees Design: Handmade Soft Sole Baby Booties

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Lilleputt Studio Brown Sheep Baby Blanket

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Tree + Vine Magical Cardinal Costume (available at Boutique Little)

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Aventyr Kidswear Tunic Dress  – Winter Foxes

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Older kids (6-10):

Moran’s Terrariums D.I.Y. Kit

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Cooper & Packrat Mysteries by Tamra Wight

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Azalea, Unschooled by Liza Kleinman

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Betty Louise Studio Hats (available at Daytrip Society)

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Stocking Stuffers:

Wooden Tops by Al Mather (via Center for Maine Craft)

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Woodland Fox Felt Animal from DelilahIris

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The Little Blue Birdie Activity Bag (perfect for long car trips)

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Black Dinah Chocolatiers – Solid Milk Chocolate Rocking Horse

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Lip Balm Holder for Backpacks – Yarn & Cloth Clothiers

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We hope our list of favorites helps make shopping a little easier. Merry, merry everyone!

PS: Have a Maine made gift you love? Share it here or send us a note.

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