Thursday, June 27, 2013

My FIRST Birchbox!!!

I first heard about Birchbox on Facebook, one of my friends had signed up for it and was really looking forward to trying it out.  Here's my link:

For $10 a month, they’ll send you a box of beauty samples from both new brands and brands that are more well-known. You start by requesting an invite, and in about 4 weeks they send you a link (invitation) to claim your subscription.  Much like a magazine subscription, they'll send you a box once a month and you can do it on a month-to-month basis or buy it for a year.  I chose month-to-month so that I could try this out, see what the samples are like (size, quality, ect) without signing up for a $120 year commitment. 

Looking over the website, I swear it was screaming my name as I am a total product junkie; the idea of new, fun beauty products showing up in my mail box makes me giddy.  But have you ever heard the phrase "caviar taste on a bologna budget"?  Totally me.  Don't get me wrong...I'm not using the lowest of the low, but I'm also not willing to shell out more for a product than I have to if I don't KNOW that it works.  Which is why this is perfect for me! The Birchbox website says they are giving you "the best beauty, grooming, and lifestyle products on the market"...I can try new things, play with trends and learn what brands are awesome before spending the cash on a brand name that may or may not work as good or better than what I'm already using.  I think it is really great that I can try new things without investing in the price tag of the full-size versions.

I received an email when my Birchbox shipped and I tracked it to my house.  I dumped everything out on my bed yesterday so I could take pictures (Tyler wanted to be part of the photo shoot yesterday, please excuse his paws all over my new products and the cat butt in the corner).  

The packaging is nice.  I really like these little boxes.  I kind of hope they come in the same boxes every  month because I could really use these for a few things.  That’s silly, I know.  But I’m all about re-purposing.

The inside.....Oooooo, pretty pink paper!

This month's box contents, not including the card with the contents and directions, and a stack of cute postcards

My box this month contained: 

Color Club Professional Nail Lacquer.  I got the second color from the left.  It's called "Mod in Manhattan".  Two coats and I was completely opaque.  It's a little different for me as far as color, but looks awesome.  (Collection, $8)

Birchbox Nautical Hair Tie.  Believe it or not, these are nautical themed hair bands.  They're really soft and according to the website you can wrap them on your wrist without cutting off circulation.  They're cute, but not really my thing.  Not to ties at my house get ruined daily.  They're cute, but not for my house.  (Collection $14)

 LAQA & Co.’s Lil Lip Duo.  I received the brighter pink one (on top).   Holy BRIGHT!  When I saw it, I was immediately like.... "Uhh, no".  But I watched some YouTube videos on how to rock a bright lip, then got up this morning and put on my big girl panties (and hot pink lips), and went to work.  I won't lie....I thought I looked like a kid who got into Mommy's makeup,  and it wasn't received well by Security.  So I took it off right away.  So I couldn't make the color work for me.  I was definitely not rocking it and I've grown new appreciation for women who can.  But what I loved about it was the concentrated color, just how incredibly bright it was and stayed for the 30 minutes I had it on, and the texture.  It was soft, smooth, really light (which was a surprise because of the heavy color), and had a very subtle mint flavor to it.  

I'm not even going to show you a picture of me wearing it, but here's what it looks like on the back of my hand (if you look close, you can see my Color Club polish too).

Suki Exfoliate Foaming Cleanser (4 oz. $32.95).  This felt like your standard sugar scrub, and smelled delicious (Lemongrass and Chamomile), but foamed up really nice like a normal cleanser.  I liked the scent and texture, and it felt good when I was using it.  But I didn't love the way my skin felt afterward.  It was similar to what your skin feels like after you get this bright idea to make your own sugar scrub with olive oil. skin looks nice so maybe it is just what I need. 

Klorane Gentle Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk (3.2 oz, $18).  I haven't tried this one out yet, but I'm very excited. 

*All the product pics above are from the Birchbox website*

Overall, I'm THRILLED with this month's Birchbox and all of the wonderful products inside.  I think I'm definitely going to have to avoid looking looking at the website, because I was incredibly jealous when I saw the awesome selection of stuff that went into this month's boxes.  I know some people might think $10 is a bit to pay for samples, but these are good products and the sizes are large enough that I'll definitely get more than one use out of them....and this is a much better investment than some of the things I spend $10 on in a month.  I definitely recommend trying it. Here's that link again

Monday, June 24, 2013

Why, yes, I AM a crazy cat lady

Growing up, I had a little doggie named Sam (was also called her Rags, I have no idea why).  She looked like Benji  (see Benji, from the Benji website, below).

  My uncle had found her on the side of the road while working and brought her home with him.  Through a series of events that I don’t actually remember (I think I was 4), Sam came home to live with us.  I can’t say enough about my little doggy.  She wasn’t too fond of the mailman or men in hats, but she was the perfect dog for two little girls.  She was the most tolerant creature, not once complaining or taking a nip as we dressed her in tutus or attempted to paint her little doggy nails.  My sister used to sleep with one thumb in her mouth, and the other hand over the dog’s nose because she believed if it dried out the dog would die (she says I told her that but I don’t believe ever telling her that), and Sam would stay there with her, face to face.  She never chewed our things, except for that unfortunate box of scented crayons which left rainbow chip messes in our yard for a few days (not that I blame her, I think I may have licked one or two just to see).

 I remember late one night after my mom had brought my little brother home from the hospital she had put him in his bassinet, and little Sam stood on her tippy toes, not touching it, and danced around it trying to peer in an the wiggling baby who was just beginning to fuss.  She normally slept with my mom, but if there was a sick kid she barely left your side.  I remember watching her try to climb the bars to my top bunk more than once, and there were a few nights where she woke my mom up so she could be put on my bed.

Poor Sammy lost her hearing the last few years of her life.  We suspect it was from being near an open window one July 4th for the lighting of a Piccolo Pete.  She still understood some version of sign language though.   I know that sounds crazy, but she would still dance in a circle for a treat, or would run towards the door if you did a potty dance to ask her if she had to go out. 

Sam even taught my sister’s cat a thing or two.  When we brought Angus home, Sam didn’t handle it with aggression or barking, she simply ignored him.  When we would put him in her face, she would just turn her head and look another way.  Angus later did the same to me if I came home smelling of another cat or if I went away for a few days. 

I went to college, moved to the other side of town, and got myself my own kitty friends.  Shortly after, Sammy suffered a stroke in the night.  The vet suggested that we give her a day to recuperate.  But poor Sammy couldn’t use her back legs.  My mom, my sister and I all took her to the vet.  My mom stayed with her, and my sister and I sobbed in the lobby. 

Now I have cats.  When I first moved out by myself, I’d just gone through a breakup, and I was lonely.  I had just moved out on my own and my house felt so empty.  I didn’t have any reason to come home…it wasn’t a home.  It was an apartment with hardly anything in it and I needed more.  I adopted Tyler first.  I saw his little furry face and I just fell in love.  He also had a brother who was very cute, and I had always wanted a black cat, but I was intimidated by the idea of getting 2 cats at once.  So I adopted Tyler.  He was my little love almost immediately.  He slept in my bed curled up against my chest.  Later, he began playing fetch.  He was curious about everything and for the first month of his life had terrible gas.  But he was a cutie.

My Tyler Cat, 2010

A few month later, I went to make a donation at the shelter and while I was there I peeked through the cat room as I had been thinking about getting Tyler a buddy.  I walked in an immediately saw Ryan.  Tyler’s brother.  He was still there!  I went right home and talked to my landlord about getting another cat, his first response was “Why didn’t you bring him home?”  Ryan came home the next day. 

Cuddles on the bed, 2010

I love my furry babies.  I’ve been called a cat lady quite a few times, and you know what?  I am.  I talk to my cats.  I sing to them and dance with them.  They sleep with me.  I started singing the Meow Mix song and now they come running whenever the commercial comes on.  I love them like crazy and if that makes me a crazy cat lady, I’ll wear the badge with pride.

The Meow Mix Commercial

So you can only imagine how upset I was when I noticed that Tyler cat was losing hair on his belly.  He had also developed two little bumps, one on his belly and the other under his front leg.  I took him to the vet last Friday.  It turns out that he is grooming himself and it is probably due to stress.  One bump (the larger one, thank goodness) is just a fatty cyst.  The other one, however, is a mass cell tumor.

Cue freakout.

The vet made it seem like this is no big deal.  We’ll remove it, test it and move from there.  They’re so relaxed and calm at the vet.  Then they hand me a quote.  Unfortunately, it isn’t exact because they don’t know how long the procedure will take so they gave me a range.  $600-900.  I’ve heard worse.  I’ve heard of people paying thousands for pet surgery so maybe I should just zip it.  But it’s a pretty weighty price tag for me right now.   

And then there comes the feelings about my poor, sick kitty.  What if this doesn’t “cure” him?  What if there are problems in the future?  I want to believe that everything will be ok, but the thought of having to bring home my poor little baby with stitches and give him pain medication brings me to tears.  I don’t want him hurting.  I’m trying to look on the bright side.  I’m trying to treat this like everything will be ok.  But I’m sitting here and I just want to cry, and I'm remembering the heartbreak when we had to put Sam down.  I’m just beside myself with worry and anxiety over my little buddy.  I just want to go home and snuggle my furry babies. 

 Hug your pets today, everyone.  They do so much more for us than we realize.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Snacking at Work

I sit at a desk all day and I admit that sometimes I get the munchies.  Maybe I’m not eating enough in the morning.  But I found that one of the best ways to get through those munchies days is to bring good snacks, and have a drawer full of snacks in case I forget….which I do, a lot.

So here is a list of work friendly snacks and a list of what I like to keep in my munchie drawer.

Snack Ideas to bring to work:
  • Fruit (slice it ahead of time, or grab an apple on the way out the door)
  • Cut up veggies
  • Yogurt
  • Light String Cheese (my favorite)
  • “Popable” veggies-things you can just pop in your mouth like cherry tomatoes and carrots (and dip)
  • Small Salads
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Cottage Cheese and fruit
  • Cheese (cube or slice at home)
  • Small wrap (think snack size, not lunch size)
  • Fresh juice
  • Baby Bel cheeses or Laughing Cow wedges with crackers
  • Cottage cheese
  • Celery smeared with Peanut butter, or cream cheese
  • Sugar free jello or pudding (add fruit for a twist)
  • Hummus

Ideas of things to keep in your desk (or bring with if it isn’t an option):
  • Nuts (separate individual servings into snack bags)
  • 90 calorie bars (I realize some people don’t care for them because of artificial ingredients, sugar content, etc but I think they’re great)   I usually have Sweet and Salty nut bars, Special K bars, etc in my drawer.  I try to buy bulk of what is on sale and stock my drawer.
  • Blue Diamond Nut Thins with a Hint of Sea Salt.  I LOVE these things.  I’m sure I could keep something lighter in my drawer, but these are slightly salted and crispy. 
  • Crackers.  I usually keep Nut Thins, but in the past I’ve kept crackers in my drawer.  A little tip?  These clips work really well for keeps bags closed and ingredients fresh.  Luckily my office has enough that they don’t care if I use them because they’re considering throwing them out.
  • JELL-O.  I love me some jello and pudding cups.  Buy the sugar free ones off the shelf and keep them for a special snack on those days.   The flavor I checked was 60 calories a cup.
  • Popcorn.  They make mini bags now, or you could share a bag with a coworker.  Buy “light”.
  • Boom Chicka Pop is popcorn, but I felt it was worth mentioning because it is already popped and incredibly wonderful. It comes in regular (something like 35 calories per cup) and lightly sweet (37 calories per cup).  I love the Lightly Sweet…it is Certified Gluten Free, and made with fair trade organic evaporated cane juice, sunflower oil, and sea salt.   
  • Tea.  No, that isn’t technically a snack but I find drinking warm liquids all day helps curb munchies.  I buy the fruity, sweet flavors and use a few drops of liquid Stevia if I need it sweet.
  • Snackwell’s Chocolate Drizzled popcorn.  I love the White Chocolate drizzled caramel corn.  But this is an indulgent snack.
  • Chia Seeds.  I keep them in my drawer and add to yogurt or soup to give it a little more substance. 
  • Dried produce.  You can find it in individual packs now, or buy a large container and make your own.  If you don’t want to buy it you could start making your own at home.  I really love cherry flavored prunes.  But raisins, bananas, kiwis and pineapple are good too.  I’ve also heard veggie chips are excellent to munch on and easy to make. 

Java making you Fat?

I have a problem.  I love coffee; but not just any coffee.  Life on the average day, in my opinion, ought to start with a LARGE Raspberry White Mocha or Salted Caramel White Mocha…with whipped cream, of course!  I'm so incredibly lazy that I much prefer buying my coffee at the little drive up coffee place with the smiling, over-caffeinated baristas that chatter like little birds at me before handing over my fix; I love the way they giggle at my coffee order, which probably comes out like "Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum....I want a giant Jamaican Butter rum!".   When I do actually make coffee at home...I load it with International Delight flavored creamer and sugar. mouth is watering just thinking about it.  I love little hard candies flavored like Irish Cream and Amaretto.  Chocolate covered coffee beans send me into a frenzy like starving piranhas....nibble, nibble, nibble until the bag is gone. 

Is coffee good for you?  Is it bad for you?  I have no idea.  One minute the caffeine is bad or something, the next week something in it prevents cancer...I have no idea. I can’t keep up.  I’m a coffee drinker. End of story.  What I do know is that from a caloric perspective, it’s pretty good.  Depending on the source, black coffee is anywhere between 1-5 calories per 8 ounce cup.   But then come the extras, and every time I enter those calories...I cringe.  Not to mention the cost!  Getting coffee at those expensive little joints makes quite a dent in the ol’ bank account; even if you only allow yourself one treat a week.  So here are some different ideas to cut the calories in your java at home:

Golden Rules of Coffee.  Check out this site to learn the basic rules about where to buy coffee, when to buy it, how to grind it and how to store it.  These are the basic rules when it comes to good coffee

Is your coffee maker clean and do you know how to use it?  Start by pulling out the manual (or looking it up online) and thoroughly cleaning your coffee maker.  Drip coffee makers should be cleaned at least monthly to remove hard water deposits, coffee oils (that become rancid over time) and other impurities.   While you have the manual out, make sure you know how to properly use your coffee maker.

Choose the right roast.  Sometimes I think that part of the “problem” with using too much sweetener/creamer is because of the flavor.  I loved my mom’s coffee growing up, but as an adult I realized that I didn’t really care for the roast or blend that she bought, I still add extra creamer and sugar just to get it to a flavor I like.  Try some new blends and see if there isn’t something you like more.  Visit a local coffeehouse and speak with someone there, they’ll be able to talk to you about what you like and suggest something.   Consider buying whole beans and a grinder.

Try Flavored Coffee.   Flavored coffee comes in about every flavor these days….chocolate, caramel, even blueberry streusel.  So if you find yourself adding lots of unnecessary calories via flavored creamers, try switching to a flavored coffee with a splash of skim milk and sweetener.  Many brands sell “one pot” samplers and depending on how much you drink, you could make it last a few days. 

Sticky, sweet syrup.  If you don’t care for flavored coffees or like to be able to control the flavor, coffee syrups are an excellent alternative to consider.  From my quick Google search (which by no means should be considered the end all be all), 1 oz of Torani Vanilla Syrup has 80 calories, vs. 110 in 1 oz of sugar.   This of course doesn’t mean anything if you opt for sugar free, which has zero calories and you can add a splash of milk.   The advantage of syrups is that you cut calories, and add flavor and sweetness (both a plus in my book).

Change your sweetener.  I have a problem with sweets and I’ve always put a lot of sugar in my coffee.  I’ve recently switched to Splenda and Truvia.  There are lots of options out there.

Change your creamer.  Personally, I’m a junkie for International Delight coffee creamer.   This is embarrassing to admit, but the other national brand of coffee creamer upsets my stomach and everything it touches after that.  So I’m not able to switch brands, but if you don’t have those problems, you should definitely be comparing labels and seeing if there is a fat free or sugar free option in your flavor.  I understand it can be hard to give up, but if the flavor is comparable then it is something to definitely look into.

Change your milk.  If you don’t use creamer, try using lighter milk like skim or switching to an almond or coconut milk which come in light and come in vanilla and chocolate flavor. 

Add Drink Mix.  Yes, I just said that.  I like to add a packet sugar-free cocoa mix to black coffee.  There is creamer, sweetener and flavor in the mix.  And instant cocoa comes in so many great flavors now!

If you're lazy like I am and like to have someone else make your coffee, to ask for skim milk with your lattes, and sugar free syrups at those coffee places.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Great Depression Cooking

Think you're on a budget?  Imagine what Great Depression Cooking was like!  This has been my obsession for the past 2 days.  I started watching Great Depression Cooking with Clara and I'm working my way through them all.  Wow.  Incredible.

Stopping Binge Eating Tips and Tricks

(originally posted 02/2013)

I'm been thinking about this post for a few days. Sometimes I want to talk about my binge eating…the reasons why and the things I do. So maybe we’ll talk about it a little today. I am a diagnosed binge eater. Binge eating is different for everyone. What I have found personally is that when I am upset, I sometimes choose to eat. I can down a bag of chips in one sitting, and then go looking for something else to eat. I once ate an entire deli chicken because I was working in a job with difficult people, was incredibly unhappy and had a worse than average day. I struggle with it every day.

I've working with an Eating Disorders Clinic, seen a therapist and dietitian. I've taken medication that sometimes helps people with binge eating disorders. I eventually left therapy due to cost, and because I felt like there were some things I needed to work on with myself...I was making progress in therapy, but I felt like a plateaued. I actually made some progress using MFP. At one point, I’d lost 26 pounds using MFP. But then life got hectic and I was tired of logging every single thing I stuck in my mouth. I thought I was doing so good that I could just stop. But the truth is…I haven’t made any of my good decisions into habits and this is something I’m probably going to struggle with forever. I’ll never be that person who can just eat whatever they want.

I see a lot of requests on the My Fitness Pal boards about binge eating…how to curb it, stop it, and fix it. So…here are my tips for cravings and binges. I’m hoping it will help someone who might be having the same problems, and I’m hoping that blogging my tips and truly thinking about the things I did for success before will get me back on track with my own eating.

-The first thing I needed to learn when I started on my journey is to not punish myself for bad days, and set small goals. I’ve said this before, but here it is again because we all need to hear it: Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither were you. The extra weight you're carrying, the bad eating habits, the self-destructive behaviors (and we all have them)....those things didn't happen overnight. Many of us have been perfecting "fat" as a lifestyle for a long, long time. If you haven't given up in spite of a bad day or a bad week, if you've made just a few good choices in a week of bad ones, if you changed one old habit or are doing one thing differently then you are doing great. We can't reasonably expect to be different after 20+ years after doing something because we've decided to be. So, even if your scale didn't twitch or your measurements stayed the're still building something new, and you're doing great. Changes will happen, we just have to remember it took time to get will take time to get to where we want to be as well. Hang in there.

-Set small goals. They’re important and if you only make one small change a week, that will add up to big changes. I started by logging everything. Every single binge, every piece of hard candy I took off a desk at work, every bite off a kid’s plate. Then, I opened my diary to my friends. Being accountable to someone really helps. My next goal was to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. Then I worked on staying under my calories.

-Drink water. What I found when it came to my bingeing was that if I drank all of my water (minimum of 8 glasses a day) and then some, when I binged I couldn’t binge as much because I was already so full.  Read how I get my 8 cups minimum in.

-Smart swaps…sometimes I think bingeing is more about the absentminded hand to mouth action. I’ve found that while I prefer to binge on junk food, if all I’ll allow myself is carrots then I’ll sit there and eat carrots until I’ve had enough. I’ve found it is best to go with something smaller and acidic, textured or crunchy. Things like grapes, popcorn, pickles, carrots, popcorn that isn’t completely loaded with salt and butter. Bingeing isn’t good any time, but chomping down cups of vegetables beats a bag of chips.

-Find a food less hobby. I snacked a lot at night. A LOT. Go home and eat a snack because I was hungry from my day, then make dinner and taste and nibble while preparing, then munch on some snack while watching TV for an hour or two. What I found was that if I found something to do where I couldn’t have my hands in food, I wouldn’t eat. So I started making jewelry again (an old hobby that I’d stopped doing), and I started giving myself weekly pedicures and doing nail art with hand painted designs that took a lot of time. I ate enough at dinner, and sometimes I allowed myself a snack when I was done, but I wasn’t able to eat my way through my favorite night shows.

-Invest in measuring cups and a food scale. Go to your local dollar store and buy extra measuring cups and spoons. I went and bought 2 more sets (1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 1 cup plus teaspoons/tablespoons guessed it. $1 each). I suggest this because then you always have something to measure your food out with. I've also heard of people buying extra sets and then leaving whatever size they need right in the container ...for example: leaving a tablespoon in the Chia seeds (1 serving=1 tbsp), 1/2 cup in the cereal, 1/3 cup in the oatmeal. It varies for everyone but if you do this you will always have the measurement you need and maybe that will help you. Learn what your glasses really hold. Just because you bought glasses that are 8 oz, does that mean you fill them to the top for 8oz or an inch below? All styles are different. Grab your glass and a measuring cup and figure out what is a cup in your glassware....after you have an idea, you can eyeball it instead of measuring out a cup of milk every time. It is also a good idea to do this with yogurt and cereal. After a while, you won’t need to measure everything out and it will help you when you go out or eat elsewhere to be able to eyeball how much you REALLY have (people tend to think they have less than they really do). Food scales will help you with raw ingredients.

-I try not to keep treats in the house…and by treats I mean sweets, savory goodies and those things I can’t leave alone (like Tostitos). I can’t keep them in the house or I’ll keep going back and nibbling until they’re gone. If I’m craving something sweet like ice cream, I will buy a single serving. No, this is not the most financially practical thing….everyone knows the bigger package is usually cheaper. But, it is what I have to do to not pig out. Sometimes I’ll buy better quality so that it feels like more of a special splurge and I will treat it as one.

-Eat the serving size if you can’t buy an individual serving. Even in the middle of a terrible binge, I try not to just eat out of the container. I’ll measure or weigh one serving of whatever I’m eating and put it on a plate or in a bowl. Then I put the container away completely (close it up, put it back where it was in the cupboard or the fridge…not leave it on the counter). I then go and eat my snack. When I’m done, if I think I want more…I get a glass of water first. If I still want more in 10-15 minutes, then I go get another serving, put the container away and repeat.

-Cravings happen. I get ridiculous cravings for things and I try not to always give in, but I’m not restricting myself either. If I want chocolate…I indulge in sugar free cocoa, have a few pieces of Dove chocolate, a bowl of Fiber One chocolate cereal, chocolate steel cut oats , Tofu chocolate pudding for a snack. Sometimes you just want a certain thing…and when I have those cravings, I try to ignore it and if it is persistent I’ll give in and let myself have it. I try not to make it an everyday thing, and I try to keep it to one serving.

-Snacking at work. I work in an office where there is food CONSTANTLY. Someone will bring in a treat for a special occasion, we’ll have potlucks before the holidays or someone will get goodies on sale. There is food around here constantly. I do nibble. Sometimes I graze. But I try to limit myself to what looks healthy and log everything the best I can. Drink my water. And chew gum…mint gum completely ruins the flavor of just about everything for me so when there is snacks, I try to chew gum. I also keep a stash of healthy, low-calorie treats in my desk and a couple in my purse as well.  Get some great work snack ideas HERE.

So….that’s what I have for now. I hope this helps someone out there. You can overcome it. I can overcome it. It is just going to take some time and hard work. We can do this!

Quick Meal Ideas

The schedules at my house are crazy.  My day job is a typical 8 hour day, while the boyfriend works 12-14+ a day which usually ends late at night.  I know it sounds crazy, but I stay up most nights and try to make sure he has a fresh, hot meal when he comes home from work.  It can be really hard to make dinner and not fall into the fast food trap when we’re both exhausted, it is late and we’re hungry.  So here are some tips for quick meals, links to recipes I’m using at home, and a couple of quick and easy meal suggestions:

Kitchen Prep.  Clean and slice your fruits and vegetables when you buy them and store in a prepared state…you’re more likely to snack on them if they are ready to go.  You can also do your preparation for meals like slicing onions, browning hamburger, ect ahead of time.  If you do it all in one day, then you have one day of dishes and cuts down on it the rest of the week too.

Separate Bulk items into serving sizes.  This is a great way to make sure you get your serving size, but it also makes it really easy to grab something as a snack on the fly or add a yogurt to a lunch.

Make the lunches in one swoop.  When my boyfriend worked construction and ate a lot of sandwiches, I would line the bread up and make all of his sandwiches at once.  I also like to make turkey wraps this way.  This isn’t for everyone (soggy bread factor), but I was using butter only.  The other solution I have for that person who needs Mayo/Miracle Whip is to buy the packets-not super cost efficient, but if you gotta have it…

Make large batches.  This goes with my next suggestion, but when I make meatballs I make an extra large batch and buy extra plain french bread.  We have spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread the first night, and the second night(after the sauce has gotten thicker overnight in the refrigerator) I toast the extra bread in the oven and we have meatball subs.  This also works great for tacos one night and taco salads for lunch or dinner the next day.

Repurpose Leftovers. Baked chicken one night, and make leftover chicken noodle soup or easy chicken pot pie the next.  Cook leftover steak with peppers and onions for a quick fajita.  Mashed potatoes mixed with a bag of mixed veggies, beef gravy and browned hamburger makes a quick Shepherd’s Pie.

Here is Betty Crocker’s Chicken pot pie recipe (with a photo courtesy of Betty Crocker)-you can make this recipe healthier by making your own cream of chicken, or chicken gravy and using less chicken and more vegetables.

Go Semi-Homemade and keep quick cooking items in the pantry/freezer.  I’m all about cutting costs by doing things at home from scratch, but many of my own “eat dinner quick” recipes incorporate things like frozen or canned seafood, veggies, dehydrated foods in place of fresh ingredients. 

 I almost always have these staples on hand for quick meals in a pinch: frozen beans (see bean burrito recipe below), pasta, shirataki noodles, rice, frozen veggies, jarred/canned sauce (alfredo/tomato/stir fry/soy), canned tuna/salmon.  I also really love Philly Sliced beef steak from Schwan's...I use it to make steak sandwiches, and fajitas on the fly. 

CROCKPOTS!  Have I told you how much I love my crock pot?  Toss it in and forget it for 8 hours, what could be easier?

Making a roast is super easy.  Peel your carrots ahead of time, season your meat (I don’t brown it ahead of time, but I suppose you could), and the next morning peel some potatoes, make a quick broth from bouillon and toss it all in before you leave. 

Chicken tacos: Toss in 2-3 chicken breasts, chicken taco seasoning, chopped onions/peppers (if you like), pour over it a jar of salsa and cook on high for 4-6 hours or low for 6-8.  Pull out the chicken and shred with a fork, scoop out the veggies with a slotted spoon to drain excess liquid, and serve with the usual garnishments (shells/wraps of your choice, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, fresh peppers, onions, guac).  You can add/omit what veggies and peppers you like.

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches….my family really LOVES this recipe from Emilybites.  I recommend using thawed breasts if you can, but they are delicious and easy…you can’t beat 4 ingredients.

I love this bean burrito recipe.  These beans can be eaten with some onions and cheese, made into burritos with all the fixins, or add a cup to some taco meat for extra substance.

Other Quick Meals

Hungry Girl Alfredo (double for 2 people, of course).  I also like to sauté some garlic, onions, and add veggies (broccoli, spinach, ect).

Veggie Rice: Bring 1 cup water to a boil.  Add 1 chicken boullion cube. Add dehydrated onions, garlic, and 1 cup mixed veggies, return to boil.  Add rice.  Sprinkle with paprika.  Cover.  Serve with a piece of pan fried, grilled or baked chicken or fish. 

Fish Patties: Mix a can of tuna or salmon (drained) or a packet with breadcrumbs, onions, garlic salt or sea salt, and one egg.  Make patties and fry in your choice of oil.  Serve with a salad. 

Cous Cous and Shrimp: Saute garlic and onions in some butter or margarine.  Add water (1 1/4 c per 1 cup of cous cous) and bring to boil.  Add Israeli cous cous.  Add frozen veggies.  Then add precooked shrimp.  Cook per directions for cous cous (8 minutes I believe).  Add fresh veggies according to cooking time.    Here's  mine made with shrimp, garlic, frozen corn and asparagus: 

My Experience with The Something Store

About a month ago, I was doing my morning Facebooking and I happened to notice a post by my favorite morning radio duo about a site called “The Something Store” (  You order one “something” for a flat rate of $10 (no shipping) and your something will show up in the mail.  My initial reaction?  Sounds hokey, but what a great way to get rid of garage sale crap. 

I must digress at this point to say that garage sales creep me out.  I think they're great for acquiring things on a budget, but I have hang-ups about buying certain things without knowing where they're coming from (bed bugs, anyone?).  There are things I can handle, like estate sales, but buying things like stuffed animals or things I feel I can’t wash thoroughly makes my skin crawly.  Not to mention, there are those people in the world who go dumpster diving and use the finds to make profit at garage sales.  I saw my own trash at a garage sale up the street from my office once.  Things like that will make you suspicious of garage sales, especially when I know the reason I threw out an item and they don't.

I was corrected by other posters, however, who claim that according to the website everything they send is worth $10.  Here’s the guarantee from their website:

Simply, we guarantee that your something will be worth at least $10, per MSRP, or we will refund the difference.
Note: MSRP stands for Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (I didn’t realize this at the time)

I read the reviews on the site.  I checked out their list of what my something will not be, and I went ahead and ordered.  I’ve created this cute little timeline to show you how the weeks following progressed.

I really just wanted a reason to make a timeline

I placed my order.  I was, admittedly, suspicious when my card was charged a mere 2 days after placing the order and I had not received any other information about tracking or processing.  According to their website, it can take up to 7 business days to ship your order.  They certainly mean that, as I did not hear from them again for 5 business days.

I received an email May 31st with tracking information, I clicked on the link included in the email and I was taken to the United States Post Office website.  The status stated “Electronic Shipping Info Received” and stayed that way for the next 13 days.   Finally, on June 13th, the status was updated to read that it was at the processing facility nearest my house (and, a little note here, the post office website now reads that they received shipping info June 1st).

I arrive home on June 14th to find a small, lightweight, brown envelope in my mailbox.  It was mailed from New Jersey.  Here’s what The Something Store sent me:

It came in a little plastic bag.  There was no note or card, just this bracelet in its plastic sleeve type bag.  I’m not thrilled with it.  Apparently, these wrap bracelets are all the rage somewhere.  When I went to check the value I found everything from $.01 to $215.00 and even instructions on how to make your own.  It’s white "leather" cord with light colored string, and citrine-colored glass beads (which is a nice, fancy way of saying: you’re-obviously-dehydrated urine yellow) with a silver colored button.   But aside from my issue with the color (because that is part of the chance you take), what concerns me about this bracelet is the smell.  There is a leather-y chemical smell to it that did not go away after I let it sit on the table to air out for 4 days (I haven't checked it since then).   The tag specifically states that it does not contain lead, which is important because it was made in China but the smell is truly offensive.  I’ll probably end up throwing it away but it has been 3 days since I checked it last.

I found many blogs and YouTube videos where people did get some interesting items.  But if I knew then what I know now (aka, what MSRP means) I would have never done it.   I should have known when I read the reviews on the website which are all on the website content, without links or references to any other sites.  

Truth be told, I understand that this was a risk that I took.  That is the whole point of the website.  It is a combination of online shopping and gambling.  You’re taking a gamble that you’ll get something good, like an MP3 player or an IPad (not that I expected either, but it would have made for a really cool story).  I will not be purchasing from The Something Store again…I can buy 10 somethings at the dollar store in the future if I really need "something".  If you have $10 you feel like throwing away, please contact me and I will mail you my miscellaneous garage sale crap "something" in exchange.  But if you’re doing something like a White Elephant gift exchange, or sending a gift to a relative you don’t know very well (or like very much) then this might be a quick way to spend $10 you don't care about and be done with it...just make sure you place your order at least 4 weeks in advance.

Easy Cheesy Potato Soup

I shouldn't be giving this recipe away.  I should just make people beg and plead for me to make it and be forced to have dinner with me in the cold winter months, or when my boyfriend begs long and hard enough in June.

This is the original recipe that has been modified time and time again.  Some people call it "Baked Potato Soup"  because I serve it with all of the toppings, but I just call it delicious.  I don't even measure anymore and I usually make a double or even triple batch.  My family loves garlic and garlic salt, so that part is to taste and can be omitted or adjusted to your tastes.  And this is a great recipe for kids old enough to peel potatoes.

4 Tbsp Butter or Margarine
1 ½ c Onions, diced
2-3 Garlic Cloves, minced
4 c Potatos, diced
2 c water
1 ¼ Tsp Salt, more to taste
½ Tsp Pepper, more to taste
3 c Milk
8 oz cheddar cheese, shredded*
2 Tbsp Fresh Parsely, chopped (or 2 Tsp Dried)
Garlic salt, to taste
¼ c Instant Potato Flakes or Potato buds**
Green Onions, Chopped
Bacon Pieces, chopped

In a large saucepan, melt the butter.  Sauté onions until golden, then add minced garlic.  Add potatoes, water, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.  Stir in the milk and heat until hot but not boiling.  Add half of the cheese; stir until incorporated into the soup.  Add parsley, and garlic salt to taste. Shake the potato flakes onto the top of the soup, soaking up leftover butter, and stir into the soup in the last minutes of cooking. 

*I usually use the 8 oz bags of shredded cheese.  Use half in the soup and the rest to top.

** My family likes a really thick potato soup.  This is the original recipe, but I usually add more. 

Seafood Quiche

The recipe for my super delicious Seafood Quiche.  This recipe makes two 9-inch, deep dish quiches.  My family loves this recipe. 

2 Frozen“Deep-dish” Pie shells
2 c Cooked Crabmeat, chop and pat dry*
2 c Natural Swiss Cheese, shredded
2/3 c Green Onion, finely chopped

Egg Mix:
6 large Eggs
3 c Whipping Cream or Half-and-Half
¾ Tsp Sea Salt
¾ Tsp Pepper
¼ Tsp Cayenne Pepper

Preheat oven to 425°F.  Mix crabmeat, cheese and onion, divide between the two shells and spread evenly in the bottom of the pastry.  Beat eggs lightly in a large bowl with fork or wire whisk.  Beat in remaining ingredients.  Pour into shells.  Bake 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.  Bake about 30 minutes longer or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

*I use flaked artificial crab meat which I cut into smaller pieces.  However, the original recipe allowed for shrimp, seafood sticks (imitation crabmeat) or salmon, none of which I’ve tried. 

Creamy Cukes

Incredibly easy cucumber recipe I stumbled across a few years ago.   I make this from time to time for family and friends and it is always a big hit, and it is incredibly easy!

10 Cucumbers, peeled and sliced
1 onion, sliced
¼ c Sugar
2 c Sour Cream
2 c Miracle Whip
1 Tsp Salt
¼ c Vinegar

Mix dressing and pour over cucumbers.  Refrigerate at least one hour. 

Shop Smarter in the Grocery Store

Buying cheaper food isn't the only way to save money and eat healthier. Learning to take advantage of sales and coupons, where to shop for what, and when to buy certain things is a huge part of it.  Here are ten tips on how to shop smarter at the grocery store...

1. Generic doesn't always mean cheaper.  Bring a calculator or use your cell phone to check.  Sometimes, brand name can be comparable or cheaper when on sale or if there is a coupon.

 2. Shop Local! Shop for things grown in your area and for things that are in season in your area!  When it comes to things like fresh produce the best thing you can do is eat in season. Watermelon is not cheap in December in the Midwest!  If you have a Food Co-op, check there.  Many times the sales at the co-op in my area are better than the sales at larger stores.  For example, I've gotten raspberries for $1.79 when they were on "Sale" at the larger stores in the area for $3.

Utilize your local Farmer's markets or local farms that run retail operations (like roadside stands).  They are a great way to boost local economy, and can be cheaper.  And sometimes, they mark things down to move product faster.  You also don't find JUST produce there. Many farmer's markets include vendors selling live plants, maple syrup, honey, baked goods, and cheese. In my area it is the only place in town you can find buffalo meat (which IS NOT cheap, but an example that Farmer’s Markets aren't just about things grown in the dirt).

3.  Pick your own!  This technically falls into shopping local, but deserves extra attention. Oftentimes, farms that run "Pick Your Own" operations. Many times they also run retail operations carrying their produce and locally produced goods. For the price of a little gas, a morning of picking and an afternoon of processing you can have pounds of food for little cost and your timeThe strawberry farm I like will provide you with a cardboard container and will walk you out into the strawberry fields where they will direct you to a row that hasn't been picked over yet. Then, you start picking.  You can eat as many berries as you like while you are out there and you can pick as long as you like.  If you have children, they'll eat berries all morning (you won't have to make lunch if they eat enough) the picking goes a lot faster and they think it’s fun!  And the price? Usually less than half of what you'll see in the store.

 4.  Consider growing your own plants.  Some people think their living situation means this isn't an option, but if you put a little thought into'll be surprised what you can make work!  Consider a Topsy Turvy for tomatoes; plant some lettuce or small pepper plants in some small window boxes.  If you have a balcony, try having a container garden. You could get simple planters at a resale store for very cheap. Seeds are cheap.  I reuse water from my home to water plants. When I change the water in the fish tank, I use the "dirty" aquarium water to water plants. You can collect rainwater in a bucket. You can (allegedly) reuse nutrient rich water used to boil pasta or vegetables. I've heard of people who collect that cold shower water that comes out before it warms up that normally just goes down the drain in a small bucket.

4.  Meat CAN be cheap! Grocery store sales tend to run meat sales in cycles....pork one week, chicken the next, ground beef after that, ect. Buy what is on sale. If you have extra money, buy extra and freeze it. This will make that a cheaper option when you want something but it isn't on sale that week. Look for the stuff that is "Manager's Special" or a "Surprise buy" as this is meat marked for sale that needs to used or frozen right away. Chicken is cheap. You can buy a whole chicken for under $6 and bake it for dinner, then use the leftover meat for enchiladas or chicken noodle soup. The bones can then be used for bone broth. Avoid buying meat at full price

5.  Grocery stores tend to put stuff on sale with a theme. For example, the store closest to my home will have things like tortillas, salsa, beef and cheese on sale at the same time. The next week, they'll feature pasta, pasta sauce, garlic bread and ricotta cheese.  If you can, buy the things that are on sale that you can incorporate into your own healthy recipes.  Also, if you can, buy extra of the items that are on sale or buy some of the items that you normally wouldn't use and use them with a different recipe later on.

 6. Take advantage of BOGO sales. If your store offers free potatoes and carrots with the purchase of a roast….consider the deal, what you’d be saving and go for it if it is good. You don’t have to use all the carrots and potatoes for that meal. The last time I did this I got free carrots/potatoes/dinner rolls with the purchase of a 15 lb roast (which was on sale).  I bought it and didn’t use all of the carrots or potatoes.  The first night, we had roast.  The second day my boyfriend had lunch and that night we had what we affectionately call “Hoo Hash” which is the roast recooked in a frying pan with a little broth and covered in cheese.   The leftover potatoes made hashbrowns that weekend. The rest of the carrots went into chicken soup the following day. The rolls were set aside because we had bread that needed to be eaten.  Those rolls ended up being a side for at least 3 different dinners.

7. Check local convenience stores.  We have stores here that sell certain things cheaper than any store in the area.  Here’s a list of some of the savings (Grocery store prices are in RED).

Bread:  (on sale for .69 cents but can be up to $1.50 for white OR wheat) – $1.79

Eggs (99 cents/dozen)--$1.59-1.89 depending on the store, but they can go as low at $0.99 on sale

Bananas (.39)--$0.59

Butter (on sale 1.99 for a pound)—2.15 on sale, or $2.50+

Milk (sold in half gallon bags, 2 bags are .60 less than a gallon at the grocery store)—$2.89 for 1%

Onions(.39), and potatoes (.39) –Sometimes 3 lb bags will go on sale for $1.  But normally you pay 20-30 cents more per pound 

8.  Coupons are great for things you are actually going to use. When you shop, compare prices/price per ounce to see if a saving is worth it. Always look for coupons on the package that are good right away!  Also, consider printing coupons. Swagbucks will let you print off grocery coupons and reward you with points for printing and using coupons. Those points can then be used to purchase things like Amazon gift cards. I also highly recommend apps like Ibotta that allow you to select items, then scan the barcode and your receipt to redeem the offer. Once you have earned $20, you can cash out and send money to your Paypal account. The Receipt Hog app will allow you to earn points for every receipt you scan. Fetch Rewards will give you rewards for buying brand name products (used my referral code FA1WR and you'll get an extra 1,500 Fetch Points - $1.50 - when you complete one receipt!).

9.  Always check the discount produce bins. Go to multiple stores in the same area if you can do it fast and you get the best deal! 

10. Meal planning is SMART.  The best way to start is to take the ad on Monday (they usually come out on Sunday) plan the following week’s meals.  Shop on Friday or Saturday for everything on sale in the current ad.  Sometimes you need an ingredient that isn’t on sale, if it isn’t on sale, you can choose to pay full price or wait until Monday or Tuesday and check the new ad to see if the items that weren’t on sale last week are on sale now.  This does require some extra time, and you don’t always come out on top, but sometimes this works in your favor.   This is also the best time to throw a few bucks towards ingredients that are on sale for future use.  I suggest doing this with canned/dry goods.   For example, if pasta/spaghetti ingredients are on sale you should buy what you want for the next week’s meal plan, and if you can afford it buy extra to use in the future when it might not be on sale thus avoiding having to wait and see if it goes on sale or buying full price because you need it.