enter: a paper life planner

I’ve always been digital-minded in terms of calendars, lists, and goals. I’ve never considered a paper planner — paper planners, after all, were for freshman year and only during times when boredom crept in and I spent half the period doodling in the corners of the pages. Despite being very detailed-oriented, I’ve just never quite grown accustomed to keeping lists collectively in one physical place (they’re always scattered all over my desk). After some research, I decided to purchase an Erin Condren Life Planner.

While my ordering experience from ErinCondren.com was like pulling teeth and I experienced some of the most delayed, unorganized (ironic!) customer service that I’ve ever experienced in my life (read: disconnected phone lines, week-long response times that didn’t make any logical sense when they finally did respond, and throwing one of my orders into “waiting” status without contacting me to let me know what they needed, thus delaying my ship date by a week — and not apologizing at any point for this), the planner was definitely exciting to have in my hands and the colorful, inspirational quotes were motivating. However, after a month of using it, I came to realize that it was a little too colorful for me and felt like it lacked structure. My weekly spreads felt like a beautiful mess. I found my writing to be drifting up and down within the boxes and, ultimately, ended up selling the inside of my planner to a girl on Facebook. I’ve since purchased a Plum Paper Designs planner and am eagerly looking forward to receiving it. I believe will suit me well. Plus, you can customize the layout of your weekly spreads — very helpful. Finally and refreshingly, their customer service is already leaps and bounds better than ErinCondren.com. I received a response to my (several) questions in just over 24 hours despite how busy they clearly are.

In terms of planner supplies, I also discovered that it’s often times more economical to get what you want by shopping online for handmade planner products. A few of my favorites are:

  • Karolina’s Krafts: adorable custom stickers and shapes, great customer service
  • Krissyanne Designs: custom labels and stickers, absolutely willing to help you create whatever you’d like
  • Bluebirds and Blessing: planner bands (although I ended up not using mine, they’re great in many colors/designs)

For generic supplies, Amazon seems to be the best possible solution in terms of price — and added plus is that office stores, such as Staples and Office Depot, will price-match Amazon.com as long as the item clearly states that it is sold by Amazon.com on its order page. A few items I’ve purchased:

I can’t personally recommend ErinCondren.com merely because of my experience with the ordering process (both times that I ordered — once for myself and once as a gift for my mother), but I definitely encourage you to make your own decision and do your research before purchasing your planner. Take a look at any company’s Facebook page for unbiased reviews of their planners and customer service before choosing an option, as well. Figure out what would work best for you and definitely wait on buying supplies (it’s tempting) before you have your planner in-hand — because you will certainly go overboard unless you have wonderful self-restraint.

Oh, and remember: planners aren’t just for 15-year-olds obsessed with Lisa Frank stickers as I thought they were. They’re a step towards taking the reigns of your day-to-day activities and making sense of them and outlining your priorities. :)

purging the house of unnecessary products

I’ve always been the type of person who can’t stand wasting a product — if I don’t care for a particular shampoo, I’ll wash my feet with it until it’s gone. If I don’t like a hand soap that I’ve bought, I’ll put it in the guest bathroom instead of tossing it. I physically cannot throw a container away that’s full of something. Because of this, my closet had become somewhat of an endless abyss.

Over the past month, I cleared out my closet by giving products to friends that I know would use them, along with re-purposing bottles of some products that were near their expiration date or had very little product left. In the end, I’m pretty satisfied with the amount of products that remain (including in the kitchen, bath, and laundry areas) — only what I consider absolute essentials.

Honest Conditioner: this is a product by Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company brand, which recently hit Target shelves in mid-June (previously, it had only been offered via mail orders and subscriptions). What I love most about this product is that it’s fragrance free, aside from the natural essential oils that have been added. Technically, it’s meant for small children, so it can be found in the baby aisle. I had never tried this product before buying it after Target’s press release, but I couldn’t recommend it more — particularly for people with sensitive skin.

(Update: I was able to sample a lot more products from The Honest Company by using the coupon code UBER40 at checkout for 40% off my purchase — new customers only. This is a fabulous deal! I was able to score 8 products — yes, 8! — for less than $30. Expiration of code is unknown. If you’re interested in learning more, click here (note: this is my referral code link — feel free to use, but certainly not necessary if you’d prefer not to). I’m really excited to try out several new products that I might not have had the opportunity to try otherwise.)

~ Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap: I prefer the Unscented Baby-Mild Castile Liquid Soap.I use this as both hand soap in my kitchen/bath, body wash (I use a bit more organic olive oil + a few drops of peppermint oil), and laundry detergent (Borax-free recipe + peppermint oil). While I doubt I’ll ever stray from the hand soap and body wash recipes again, after some experimenting with the laundry detergent, I’ve kept my bottles only for bedding and sheets (+ vinegar in the fabric softener compartment). This is because I found that my work clothes weren’t feeling as “fresh” as I’d like them to be, so I swapped to the free and clear Seventh Generation Powdered Laundry Detergent. I had never used powder detergent before as I generally preferred liquid, but this product received an A rating by the Environmental Working Group, so I figured I’d give it a try. I really like it!

~ Vinegar: I’ve also replaced my household cleaners with various recipes that include vinegar and water, along with a recipe from my grandmother for “the ultimate cleaner” that you can use on any surface: 1/2 cup ammonia, 1/2 cup rubbing alcohol, and 7 cups of water in an industrial spray bottle. I clean my mirrors, windows, and tough stains on my counter-tops with this. You can find more environmentally-friendly recipes for household cleaners on my Pinterest page titled squeaky clean.

~ Coconut Oil: I’ve been using coconut oil as a hair mask for several months and am more than impressed. I’ll never buy those crazy-expensive hair masks again. Take 1/2 cup of coconut oil (I like to use organic from Trader Joe’s — the best price I’ve found!) or however much you desire and warm it in the microwave. To save some time, remember that coconut oil melts with body heat, so you don’t necessarily need to heat it up. I just feel that it penetrates my hair better. I’ll pop it in the microwave for half a minute to a minute and slather it all over my hair. I’ll then sit with it wrapped in a hot towel while I watch a movie, when I’m doing laundry, or when I’m making dinner. When ready to rinse, just head to the shower and follow your normal routine — but rinse thoroughly and make sure to shampoo because the oil will remain in your hair if you don’t. Definitely give it a try!

(I also talked more about some frugal finds for the home in a previous post, located here — and I still highly recommend my tips.)

popsugar must have – subscription box review

I’ve recently become quite obsessed with subscription boxes — a recent fad with a multitude of categories. If you’re not looking to possibly become obsessed as well, you should probably stop reading this. ;)

It seems that there’s a subscription box for everything these days! I had heard of POPSUGAR Must Have’s monthly subscription service before and, admittedly, I did try it about a year ago and was not too impressed. I immediately cancelled, not giving them another opportunity to impress me. On a whim, I decided to try it out again and was disappointed in myself for not giving them a second chance to begin with. From looking at past boxes over the last half year, they’ve definitely found their groove.

I’ve always enjoyed POPSUGAR’s articles and their fitness app has a lot of buzz for good reason. So, when I discovered that there’s was a little box curated by the POPSUGAR editors, my ears perked up. The Must Have box is hand-selected, full-size! (very important — not samples!) items in fashion, home, fitness, food, and beauty. It’s all about giving you little perks for your own lifestyle — a little gift to yourself each month. What’s lovely about the Must Have box, as well, is that you’re able to cancel at any time (and you will want to do so if you do not want to be automatically charged next month). There’s a monthly charge each month of $39.95, but the value of the box is always far beyond that. Some people feel that the “auto charge” feature is a scam, but I find that you just need to understand how it works — if you don’t realize it’s an “auto charge” feature by a certain date each month, of course you’re going to be surprised to see a credit card charge on your account. Always read the FAQs before ordering any product. :)

If you’re interested in learning more about POPSUGAR Must Have, click here (disclaimer: this is a referral link that will get me a little credit — you certainly do not need to use it if you would prefer not to). If you would like $5 off your first box, enter code REFER5 at checkout.

Here’s a review of all the products featured for May 2014! Each box always has a general theme — a holiday or special event. This month, it was all about getting ready for summer.

Tone It Up One Day Fat BlastValue: $10

This is something that I’m looking forward to trying, although I’m not usually into fitness DVDs. It’s something I should be into, but I’ve never quite caught onto them. Regardless, I’ve read that the two ladies featured in the DVD are a lot of fun on a television show that they have, so that could definitely provide some entertainment and not be entirely mind-numbing. Note to self: you need to workout more. A lot more.

Zing Anything Citrus ZingerValue: $17

I had heard about the Citrus Zinger before and very nearly purchased one in the past. However, as a lot of Amazon reviews state, the Citrus Zinger is apparently very prone to leaking. I was prepared for it to potentially leak, so I put it in the fridge overnight with a towel underneath it and did the same when transporting it to the office in my car. It leaked a tiny bit, but not enough to warrant complaining. However, when I got to my desk and opened it to drink it, it just started to leak uncontrollably. After receiving my own in this box, I did find out that the leaking is most certainly user error (to a degree). I say “to a degree” because The Citrus Zinger is a little misleading because the official graphic on the printout that comes with it (and is all over their web site) shows half of an orange inverted in the fruit container. An average person would think: “Cool! I can do that. Awesome. Time to stuff it with fruit.” However, you can’t. You need to fill the Citrus Zinger with no more than 1 inch full with fruit. Just be mindful of the amount of fruit you’re using and you really shouldn’t have any trouble.

Obessive Compulsive Cosmetics Nail Lacquer in Pool BoyValue: $10

I’m not someone that’s really “into” nail polish and never thought I’d wear a color that’s so… bright and blue. But, I love it! I’ve also found it to be a fairly strong brand, with no chipping in scenarios that other nail polishes would have. I’m definitely keeping this — and I’m very surprised I’m saying that. It’s why I love this subscription box so much — it gets you to try new things. :)

Kerry Cassill Eye MaskValue: $24

Again, this is a product that I’d normally not use. But, after a round of quite severe weather last evening, I used it to stop me from waking up from flashes of lightning. No visible crimp in my hair after waking up, either (my original concern). Again, I’m surprised to say that I think I’ll be using this more often than I’d ever thought now! This was also exclusively-printed for POPSUGAR, so no one who didn’t receive this box can purchase the same pattern.

Smell Bent St. Tropez DispenserValue: $45

There’s always a “big ticket” item in each box — something that exceeds $45. This time, it was this lovely scent by Smell Bent that reminds me of a day at the pool. “With notes of jasmine, fresh coconut, aloe vera, and vintage musk.” It’s definitely potent, though, so you only need a spritz or two. I’m surprised that they picked a scent for their higher priced item, but I think they chose something that’s fairly mild definitely reminiscent of the season.

Hi, I’m Skinny Sticks in Multi-Grain Sweet OnionValue: $4

These taste really good — so good that I could eat the entire bag. I’m a little sad, because I’ve never seen the brand around before. It would be nice if I could find these at my local supermarket!

- – – – -

If you’re interested in learning more about the plethora of subscription box options, I’d highly recommend the very-addicting (WARNING: ADDICTING!) site My Subscription Addiction. The author provides honest reviews about all of the million boxes that she subscribes to.

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.

katied

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