recent finds for your lunch

I wanted to briefly share a few spectacular products that have been really helping me start off the new year in a great direction. One of my small goals for 2014 was to not only get my budget more in check, but to eat healthier during the work hours. We have an incredible cafeteria where I work, so it’s quite tempting (and very easy) to wander over and pick up a fresh salad or grilled item. However, this adds up quickly — as do quick stops in the morning for a latte or spiced chai (because I’m one of those people who never really enjoys coffee she makes herself).

20 oz Lunch Crock-Pot Food Warmer
(Buy at Amazon)

This little contraption has been an absolute delight for me. I’ve made this cabbage soup recipe (+ black beans for protein) and this Asian vegetable soup recipe (+ tofu) countless times and froze portions in 2 cup containers. A quick thaw in the refrigerator overnight and, ta-da, I’m ready for lunch! Simply plug it in at your desk in the morning and, in 3 or 4 hours, your food has been gradually warmed up vs. an unappetizing zap from a microwave. I bring the inner compartment home every night and leave the actual crock-pot on my desk, but it does come with a carrying handle for easy transport. Keep in mind that this is only for reheating food, not cooking it — no raw products can be added. It’s wonderful for leftovers and saves you from waiting in line for the microwave at the office (plus, things just taste better in it). I’ve found a new love for canned soups, as well, thanks to this little thing — Progresso’s Light Zesty Southwestern-Style Vegetable is a particular favorite (just make sure to add your own spices to zap it up!). It comes in a variety of colors and can be found on Amazon for quite cheap. Several various colors are usually less expensive, as well — I scored mine in pink for $19.00 at one point. Keep an eye out on it at Amazon and you could likely find it even cheaper. Replaceable inner-tins and lids can be found at Crock-Pot’s official site. Be prepared to answer questions when people are intrigued by it sitting on your desk!

BUILT Neoprene Gourmet Getaway Lunch Tote
(Buy at Amazon)

While this seems like quite the silly addition as it’s “just a lunch bag,” I wanted to list it as I’ve definitely found more use out of this neoprene lunch tote than any other bag I’ve used. First and foremost, it stores a ton. It can stretch around frozen meal containers and its zipper will easily zip if stuffed to the very top. It is lightweight and durable — which is so important for everyday use. It comes in a variety of patterns, which make it very easy to find a jam-packed office refrigerator. It comes in different sizes, but I’d recommend the gourmet size if you carry both breakfast and lunch with you frequently — it is not too big and, most importantly, not too small.

FOR LIFE Tall Tea Mug with Infuser/Lid
(Buy at Amazon)

A friend of mine had such a sweet smelling drink at her desk — loose-leaf tea! “Yuck,” I thought. I’d never been able to get on the tea train, particularly because the bagged tea-bags that I tried from various stores always lacked flavor. I’d find myself using 2-3 tea bags and still not be satisfied with the taste. After a visit to a local tea shop, I picked up two varieties of loose-leaf tea and this handy mug, which makes steeping  your loose-leaf tea very easy and also allows you to do so without using a million tea bags. It was a bit more expensive locally, but Amazon has a ton of colors to choose from (if you have no preference on color, I’d suggest browsing through the colors as they all have different prices — may snag a great deal!). You can also invert the top of the lid to rest the infuser on, as well, which makes things even more convenient. The only suggestion I would have is, if you’re planning to drink black tea, to avoid the white color (which is what I chose) as it stains very easily.

june 2013 barkbox review

Guess what?! My dogs and I won a BarkBox from Giggles, Gobbles and Gulps (thanks again, Linda!) earlier this month. I was excited! I quickly entered the code on 6/10 to make the cut-off for this month’s box. In case you’re not familiar with BarkBox, it’s a dog treat/supplement/toy subscription that sends a surprise box to your doorstep each month that’s filled with various products for your dog(s). According to their web site, this is usually expected to be four or more products or presents.

June 2013′s theme was appropriately targeted as a 4th of July picnic — I thought this was quite cute, since it has everything you need prior to the holiday.

Our box was shipped out on the 17th and arrived on the 22nd. It’s shipped out via DHL and then tendered by the USPS. It comes neatly packaged with little gift wrap and a card with everything you need to know about the products in your box along with a welcome message and a little “tip” sheet.

Included in this month’s box:

Heartland Premium bone (8 inches, retail value: $5.39)

Sourced from cows born and bred in Omaha, Nebraska. I like that this product is fairly local to me and that it provides a warning to certainly not use this on your carpet. This is definitely an outside bone, which fits well with an outside picnic theme. I’d likely give this to Quinn and Riggs on a day that’s a bit cooler where they can spend a considerable amount of time outside since they’re definitely not going to want to come back indoors anytime soon if this is hanging around! I’m a bit concerned about the hardiness of the bone, though, as marrow bones are known to chip teeth. I’ll have to think on this — it may be donated to the local shelter.

Bowser Beer by Busy Dogs, Inc (12 fl oz, retail value: $3.30 per bottle)

4th of July is all about celebrating and there’s definitely beer involved — so why can’t your dogs have beer, too? Wow! I’d never heard of this product before. I love that it’s 100% natural, bottled in the USA, and made from recycled material (a huge plus for me). This can be used as a topper to dry kibble or as an addition to water — the web site suggests serving over crushed ice which sounds like a great summer treat. No carbonation or alcohol, obviously. Definitely something I’d never even thought was manufactured for dogs. Kudos to the BarkBox team for this find.

Puptato Chips by Puppy Cake (2 oz, retail value: $4.99)

These look like they’re just made out of sweet potatoes (they look similar to apple chips), but they also have a bit of chicken liver added (which is important to note with any dogs with chicken allergies). Made in North Carolina with all USA ingredients and they’re great for sensitive stomachs because they’re a limited ingredient treat. However, I don’t really like that they don’t have a resealable bag, but that could also be because this isn’t a full-size product. Quinn was particularly pleased with this treat.

Grilled Sirloin Burgers Tail Mix by Whole Life Pet (1.2 oz, retail value: $3.15)

Made from 100% beef sirloin — I love that there’s only one ingredient. They’re also made and sourced in the USA, which is important these days given how many recalls with beef/chicken-based treats not made in the US. They’re freeze-dried and would work well as a training treat because they don’t leave that disgusting residue on your hands. I can’t stand beef-flavored treats that make your hand smell horrid! Definitely a high-quality treat, though, and my dogs went wild for them.

Calm K9 Nutri-Wafer by Dale Edgar Brand (retail value: $7.50)

What a cute idea to calm a dog’s nerves from fireworks! These chunky wafers are supposed to calm nerves and take about 30 minutes to kick in. Quinn is a very nervous dog outside of her element, so I can see a lot of potential with these. They smell decent, too. However, 14 wafers are $15 — so that seems a bit expensive, but not if you look at it from a situational point of view (vet visits, nail trims, etc). I love that these wafers have human-grade ingredients (chia seeds, hello!) and promote a sense of well-being. Really quite a great edition in a holiday-themed package and, thirty minutes after eating one, my dogs are calm and snoozing like babies.

Approximate value of this month’s box: $24.33

This appears to be a bit under the value of what you would pay for a box at full price. All prices were taken from retail sites or their official sites. BarkBox’s options for the large breed is $29/month, $24/3 months, and $19/6 months. Given the somewhat lower value of the box, I’d likely suggest going with the 3 or 6 month plan to get more of a value out of what you’re buying. It’s quite possible that higher-grade products or different quantities are included in future boxes and I will say that I’m a bit disappointed that there was no toy included. Overall, the surprise element and added fun make up for the few dollars off that this month’s box may have amounted to. Besides, when would you ever expect to try this variety of treats? The unique options alone make this subscription service a fabulous value. I’ll have to see what next month’s box brings.

Want to give BarkBox a try for yourself? Click here to get $5 off your first box. Keep in mind that if you’re just looking to try one box out, you will need to cancel your subscription before the next month to avoid being charged.

fresh finds for your taste-buds

I’ve been searching for summer-friendly recipes that don’t require me to fire up my oven and heat up the house. Once 70 degrees rolls around (and I should note — when it actually stays, unlike the freak May snowfall we had this year), I crave cool fruits, spiced up salads, and grilled favorites at all hours of the day. Below are some of my recent favorite discoveries. Enjoy!

  • Easy Sesame Noodles from Let’s Dish: Adapted from The Pioneer Woman’s Simple Sesame Noodles, Danelle offers a few suggestions for those of us who may not have hot chili oil or canola oil in our cupboards: substitute olive oil and hot water, along with red pepper flakes. I also added a dash of sriracha sauce — a delicious hot sauce that I discovered during a trip to Noodles and Company. I love it and even put it on pizza!
  • Healthy No Bake Granola Bars from Minimalist Baker: 5 ingredients. Yes, you’re reading correctly: 5! I had never worked with dates before, but found them by the dried fruit in our produce area at our local Hy-Vee. My boyfriend works at another Hy-Vee and commented that they’re located in the baking aisle in his, so be sure to check both locations. These were incredibly easy.  I didn’t have salted peanut butter on hand, so I just added some sea salt to the top before popping them in the freezer. I also added a few pinches of cinnamon as I’ve been trying to get rid of the 78 cinnamon containers on my spice rack (I seem to forget that I already have cinnamon on hand when a recipe calls for it). They’ve definitely changed my breakfast life. I’m not a fan of breakfast food, but it’s important to eat a little something to avoid the embarrassing stomach grrrrowling at your desk. I’ll never buy store-bought granola bars again. Really.
  • Healthy Peanut Butter, Banana, and Honey Milkshake from An Edible Mosaic: If I could eat ice cream every minute of my life, I would. This is a delicious chilled treat that has the consistency of ice cream, but is much better for you. I added a few chocolate chips to the top and, bingo, my Game of Thrones viewing just became that much better. The serving amount is plenty, too.
  • Grilled (or roasted!) Cabbage from Green Lite Bites: My mom makes stove-top fried cabbage with vinegar and this is the next best thing! I often forget about cabbage being a grilling vegetable, so this was a wonderful reminder.
  • Raspberry Tiramisu from Sophistimom: A great no-bake dessert for summer! This would be perfect for a 4th of July celebration (you could use raspberries and blueberries to fashion an edible flag — ugh, I’ve looked at Pinterest too much recently), a pot-luck, or just forever at home within your refrigerator.

Let’s not forget liquid recipes! I purchased a new Infuser Water Bottle (note: at time of purchase, it was cheaper to order on manufacture’s web site vs. Amazon) a few days ago and am looking forward to trying raspberry, mint, kiwi, and strawberries in my water. Goodbye, Propel Grape Water! I will not miss you. Find over 50 ideas of what to flavor your water with on over at 52 Kitchen Adventures.

a very etsy mother’s day

Since moving four hours from my mom, I’ve begun to realize just how much I miss her (something I’d never have admitted when I threw my car door shut and shouted dramatically “I AM NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVERRRRR COMING BACK HERE!” the day I moved away). I’ve come to pick up the 99 cent cards for meaningless holidays (hello, Columbus Day) and sending them out with little colored dots all over the envelope whenever I get the chance. They’ve really became less of the Lisa Frank style and more trendy than anything, haven’t they? I haven’t been disappointed in quite a while with my finds.

So, when it came to find something for the upcoming Mother’s Day, I began sauntering around my favorite online haunt: Etsy. For anyone who is new here: I’m definitely a person with a budget in mind. If I can find something of great quality for a decent price, I’m doing a little victory dance in front of my computer. While my mother is worth countless dollars to me, I still wanted to find her something that wouldn’t have me scrunching up my eyebrows in concern. So, keeping that in mind, here’s a few fun ideas I found!

Shelley’s Glass Studio | Playful and vibrant glass decorations
Price range: $7 – $30

This cute little Etsy shop boasts handmade glass art for your home, garden, and windows. I bought a bumblebee, ladybug, and snail garden stakes for my mother’s garden. You can choose your mom’s favorite color or ask for a custom color that may not be featured in her shop.


The Wheatfield by Katie Daisy | Beautifully illustrated prints of inspiration in many colors
Price range: $18 – $30

While I haven’t actually purchased a print from this shop, I’ve gazed from afar for years. If your mother enjoys bright, pastel colors and adorable illustrations, Katie has literally a zillion and one to choose from. Her artwork embodies spring itself and would look perfect in anyone’s home regardless of their taste. That’s why I enjoy checking out her shop so often — there’s something for everyone at all times, it seems.

Modern Radar | Screenprinted pouches and prints
Price range: $15 – $22

The pleated pouches featured in this shop immediately caught my eye — I love how playful they are, yet durable as they’re made out of a sturdy cotton canvas material. It appears as if she can take custom requests if you had a specific color or quantity in mind, as well.

Amber Alexander | A unique twist on nature and animal illustrations
Price range: $10 – $35

My mom loves anything that has to do with nature — so when I came across these paintings by Amber, I immediately clicked “favorite” and put them on my list of potential gift ideas. Her shop features everything from rodent to landscape to feather illustrations and also a small array of cute “critter” cards for any occasion.

There’s also several single items in various shops that caught my eye:

Want to make something yourself? Take inspiration from other Etsy sellers and branch out on your own.

Finally, a simple card always does it best.

Embroidered Card by Quill and Fox
Scanatron Card by Besty
You Complete Me by Paper Michelle

Not Raised By Wolves by Pigeon Pie Design

tips and tricks for your home

I’m going to be honest — prior to graduating university, I definitely didn’t spend much time worrying about household items or laundry. University life certainly didn’t count as my dorm room was the size of a small closet and I didn’t have to do too much other than keep it tidy. My incredible mother always did everything for me at home — something I didn’t acknowledge or appreciate enough! Since truly living on my own, I’ve picked up a few things along the way that have helped me (particularly in terms of expenses).

Dryer Balls:

Dryer balls function as a “natural” fabric softener and are sold in nearly every chain store that you walk into. They are marketed to cut down on your drying time, hence saving you a bit of money on your energy bills. I thought I was doing the “right thing” by using a set of the blue plastic dryer balls with the little grips on them. They were less than $5 and I’m sure they function as well as any other, right? After purchasing a new dryer and continuing to use them during every drying cycle, I discovered that they literally had stained the inside ring of my dryer after prolonged use. It took me several minutes to actually realize this, as I thought the dye from my new jeans was the culprit.

I’ve since decided to switch to wool dryer balls. They will cost you more than the store-bought type, but they will last for years and years without leaving any residue in your dryer or on your clothes. You can even have them scented, too, so there’s no need for dryer sheets (which have waxy chemicals on them) or fabric softener. I purchased my dryer balls from CleanSypria (you can purchase them in really cute color combinations and different scents), but there’s several sellers available if you want to look around.

Shower cleaner:

This little concept is certainly making its way around Pinterest — and for good reason! Fill a dishwand with half vinegar and half dish soap (I use one that has bleach in it) and scrub your shower while you’re bathing. I have one in both of our bathrooms and it’s made such a big difference. No more getting on my hands and knees and scrubbing away any longer! You can purchase everything you need at a dollar store, too.

Olive oil dispenser for your dish soap:

It seems like a strange idea, but throw your dish soap into an olive oil dispenser and keep it next to your sink. You can paint it with paint that is suitable for glass or leave it plain as I have. It helps to not have those ugly dish soap containers around but, really, it’s just easier. You’re not squeezing out a big glob when you didn’t mean to any longer — you’re just pouring as much as you need. Some people worry about the color, but I currently have green, clear, and purple dish soap partying in my dispenser and it doesn’t look abnormal at all. If you have a T.J.Maxx nearby, they always have a variety of painted and clear dispensers that are high quality and normally less than $4.

Countertop spray:

My first thought when browsing over the countless Mrs. Meyer’s products: why would I spend $4 on countertop spray that isn’t antibacterial when I can buy Lysol or 409 for less than $2? Sure, it’s “better for the environment” and that’s a really good thing but, when you’re on a budget, you’re looking to save money in any shape or form. Target was advertising MM products with a $1 coupon in celebration of Earth Day this weekend and I decided I’d give the lavender spray a whirl (normally $4.09 a bottle). I’m actually ashamed I was trying to squeeze my pockets to save $2 before. I’ll always keep an antibacterial on hand, but this product smells absolutely divine and is much better than coating my counters with 409 at every chance I can (read: I deeeeespise dirty countertops).

Cleaning paste:
I was asked (okay, pressured!) into going to a Norwex party a year or so ago. Norwex is a company that sells cleaning products through Norwex consultants. It’s the Mary-Kay of cleaning. I felt obligated to purchase something (which is the problem with these parties), so I decided that our stove-top deserved the most love. This cleaning paste (cost: roughly $29) took care of our problem when all other over-the-counter products didn’t. You can learn more about its uses here.

A little goes a long way and I’ll likely have this little tub for another 5+ years. You just use it with a little dab of water and scrub away! They’ll try to tell you that it’s “better” when it’s with their microfiber cloths that are made with silver (oh, come on!) but, as someone who fell prey to such talk, I can tell you that it really doesn’t matter what cloth you use. I’ve had success with even paper towels.

Speaking of clean-freaks, here’s a few useful ideas for your inner germaphobe:

  • 150+ Household Users for Vinegar (Reader’s Digest): vinegar has become my best friend. I love to use it to clean our washer and dryer, along with dumping it down drains with baking soda to prevent any clogs and clean our garbage disposal. Throw a bunch of orange peels into a jar of vinegar if the scent of vinegar truly bothers you. You can also clean your showerhead with the same mixture.
  • Freshen up your kitchen with citrus: throw your orange or lemon rinds down your garbage disposal to get rid of any disgusting scents (further details here). Be sure to chop them up a bit first, though. We used to buy those little lemon drops that were filled with chemicals, but this is much better. You can also clean your microwave with a lemon.

a bit of feedback re: pet beds

I’ve been on the search for a decent dog bed to throw outdoors in the summer. Now that we have two dogs rather than one, it has become more important as they enjoy spending hours upon hours in the backyard even on the edge of winter.

Last summer, I customized a bed from Kuranda for Quinn due to its orthopedic structure. Anyone who has researched raised beds has surely stumbled across Kuranda. Aside from the photograph below in which I tricked her with a bit of apple to look pleased, she wouldn’t touch it aside from licking the water that collected on the top after a storm (read: my own fault — I chose a fabric that was not breathable). Since the bed itself was $82 with shipping, I kept hoping she would start to enjoy it. Months later, I sold it on Craigslist to a lady with an elderly dog whose Kuranda bed finally gave out after several years of use. It’s clear that Kuranda is a trustworthy brand that makes a durable dog bed — an added plus is that they even offer a donation program for local animal shelters. However, something about the bed my dog was unfortunately not comfortable with.

On a whim, I decided to purchase a Coolaroo dog bed (in size large) to test out whether or not it would be a decent alternative. It had favorable reviews on Amazon and, more importantly, it was only $30! Definitely a plus for a budget-necessary household. But, really, come on — can a company that makes window shades and patio umbrellas really have a quality pet product? I was pleasantly surprised and, honestly, I think the design looks much more streamlined and pleasing to the eye. It has been durable with the two of them pouncing on top together (a combined weight of 100 pounds). It comes in several different colors, as well, but I decided on green so it would “match” our yard and blend in a bit more. You can read some very helpful reviews on Amazon regarding its quality.

A little photograph comparison:

Quinn | Kuranda bed
Riggs | Coolaroo bed

Needless to say, I’ll definitely be purchasing a second in the future so both dogs do not have to fight over who gets to sit on top of it. I hope I’ve provided some food for thought for anyone searching for a similar product!

(This post is purely my opinion and not sponsored by either brand in any way.)

make your own spring wreath

I had the strange itch to create something for my entryway last night. It’s rare that I venture into a craft store, so this was a bit out-of-the-norm for me.

I settled on making a spring wreath in a matter of a few seconds. This was my time ever using a hot glue gun! That should tell you how easy this project is. It would be a great idea for gifts, too: Mother’s Day, showing appreciation to your child’s teacher, etc. I plan to head to the craft store the next time I’m in my hometown, let my grandmother pick out her own colors, and then make one for her door together.

Items you will need:

  • Scissors
  • Foam wreath (mine is 16″)
  • Felt pieces (I used 9″ x 12″)
  • Yarn (I bought two spools in different shades of green)
  • Hot glue gun with 5-6 glue sticks
  • Ribbon to hang the wreath from
  • A bowl to trace circles with (I just used a plain cereal bowl) **
  • Pen to trace on the felt **

I hot-glued the ends of the yarn to the wreath and spun away. It took me a good half of I, Robot to do so as I wasn’t in a rush. It’s good to note that a regular spool of thread should last you two wreaths — I wasn’t sure if I would need more yarn if I decided to make another as a gift. Don’t over-think how you cut the felt for your flowers. Thankfully, felt is extremely forgiving. I messed up several times and can’t tell from the final product. Lines do not have to be straight.

Helpful links if you’re unsure of the entire flower creating process like I was:

  • Chrysanthemums: check out Infarrantly Creative to see how creating different types of cuts makes your flowers look different from one another. I’m glad I came across this site, since I’m not sure I would have put two-and-two together and bothered to do this on my own wreath had I not stumbled upon it. Craft Snob also has a nice guide with photographs of each step.
  • ** Rosettes: I thought this was more complicated than it actually is at first after reading Mrs. Priss’ tutorial. You really don’t need to do any tracing aside from the circle. After a few flowers, I even started free-handing that. I found the flowers looked better if I literally just cut a long strip and didn’t worry about fluctuating the spiral. Just go with it!
  • Blooms: Keeping Life Creative has a great little guide on how to make two different types of blooms. I didn’t use either of these designs, but I was eyeing them before starting.

Bring as many coupons to your local craft store with you as you can. JoAnn’s accepts coupons online and they accept competitor coupon’s, as well. I didn’t know this and have an extremely awful printer, so I came to the store and quickly grabbed one of their sales flyers from the front door to snab the 15% your purchase coupon. But, after watching someone in front of me have her phone scanned, I excused myself from the line and quickly searched for “JoAnn’s 40% off one item” and found a coupon on an external site. An extra few minutes saved me $4!

Scan the clearance bins. You can easily find the ribbon, for example, for less than 50 cents. There’s a lot of ways to cut down on project costs. I ended up making my wreath for less than $10.

Looking for color inspiration? Check out the creative things others have done.