Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Snapshots of Tampa // July 2015

You may remember this post, where I touched on the difficulties of traveling with family, and flying through rain, etc.... well ... 

Wayyyyyyy back in July, KC & I visited Florida with his family for a wedding and a vacation. Like 9 months later... here's a post!

We spent 7 days in and around Tampa and the Gulf Coast of Florida... so let's start with Tampa.

Ah, Tampa. 

Most of our family activities (the wedding, BBQ the next day, etc.) were centered around the greater Tampa area. So, while we didn't spend a huge amount of time exploring Tampa, we did see a few really great places! I really enjoyed what we saw, but have a HUGE list of things we didn't get to! Next time, I suppose. :) 

Eat: Columbia Restaurant, since 1905. Frequented by greats like Marilyn Monroe & Joe Demaggio. We reserved our dinner during a flamenco show, because, why not? Where else will you get to see flamenco?! It was well worth the price! The mojito was amazing, we had the "Joe and Marilyn" and we liked it!

*we did not try these, but what I would have eaten in Tampa.* Guava turnovers at Alessi Bakery and Aloe Smoothies at Cepha's Hot Shop. We also didn't get to try Cuban Coffee.*

See: Ybor city, the Cuban/Spanish section of the city. It is filled with beautiful tiles and buildings, as well as cultural places like the Columbia, art deco architecture, cigar rolling, etc. Take a tour or see a show at the Tampa Theater. It was closed when we went by, but they offer tours starting at $5. I bet it is gorgeous inside!

Shop: Ybor city has a lot of shops and restaurants, great for souvenirs and normal shopping. We also went to Oxford Exchange, aka one of THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOKSTORES EVER! Ohmygoodness, I could live there. It was expertly curated. The most beautiful books, the best decor, a cafe, a coffee bar, a tea bar, a gift shop side.... just head to toe one of the most impressive bookstores I have ever seen. (yes, this is coming from someone who nearly exclusively buys used books!) I would 100% recommend this store for anyone who loves to shop, read, or for anyone who loves design.

Do: Explore Ybor City. See a flamenco show at the Columbia Restaurant. Watch cigar rolling. Take an art deco walking tour. See a show or take a tour of the Tampa Theater.

Favorites: The Mojitos and show at the Columbia Restaurant. Shopping and just staring at the store at Oxford Exchange.

New Experiences: Seeing a flamenco performance. Having a full Spanish meal. I've had tapas before... and sangria... but not a full Spanish meal! My first mojito too!

Random Tip: When you're traveling, figure out what the place has, that you don't have at home! Even better, if you haven't seen it anywhere else. For example, Flemenco isn't popular in Kansas, but seeing it in a Spanish restaurant, with the food and the atmosphere was priceless. That goes for food too. Guava turnovers, how exotic and delicious! (Next time guava turnovers, next time). You certainly don't want to look back on your trip and realize that you had Starbucks and went to a mall. (unless of course that's what you WANT to do while traveling.) We try to shake it up, for us that's the fun of travel! :)

Have you been to Tampa?

Do you like Spanish food? Have you ever seen a performance on a trip that you could never have seen at home?

Anybody else want to go to Oxford Exchange and shop for books... like right now?!?! 

Upcoming Florida Posts: Dunedin, Tarpon Springs, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Orlando/Winter Park, and "The Treasure Coast."

Happy Travels!


Monday, March 28, 2016

What Should We Do in San Francisco? // Calling All Travelers

In April, KC and I head to San Francisco for a fun week exploring, seeing friends, and a little bit of conference-ing (on KC's part!).

We have never been to San Francisco, or California (outside of LAX) and are super excited!

Obviously San Francisco is full of mini cultural meccas and delicious food ... but what should we make sure not to miss?! What are the off-the-beaten-path places to see?!

What should we make sure to see/do/eat?!?!

Thank you in advance sweet blog friends!



Friday, March 25, 2016

Have You Heard? // Coleman Hell - "2 Heads"

Neither the band name, nor song title make me want to like this song... but oh boy... the banjo in this one though.... It's so good, I can't help it, I love it.

Give it a listen! :)

Other Posts This Week: The Easiest Veggie Ravioli, and 5 Books to Add to Your TBR.

What have you been listening to?

Happy Friday!



Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Easiest Veggie Ravioli

My guess is that many of us made a goal to eat better in 2016. Maybe you did, maybe you're doing great! ... maybe not so much. It's never too late friends, persistence is they key to achieving goals!

Sometimes, KC and I are just plain busy... and we need something fast, but something that's not awful for us... well, this recipe, is SUPER EASY, QUICK, and overall decently healthy. Eat a reasonable portion and serve it with a salad.... you're good to go!

*this recipe comes with some very specific veggies, but you can really use whatever you want! Spinach, onion, peppers... whatever sounds good to you!*

Veggie Ravioli

Serves 6-8**

18 oz. of refrigerated cheese or veggie ravioli (we tried a mushroom one last time...NOM!)
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced (you can use canned, drain first! Or use fresh!)
14 oz. canned artichoke hearts (in water), chopped
4 oz. canned sliced black olives (you can buy non-sliced, and slice them FOR SO MUCH CHEAPER!)
29 oz. jarred pasta sauce of choice
1 pkg. shredded mozzarella

1) Cook ravioli according to package directions. Prep. veggies while ravioli is cooking. Drain and return to pan. Add pasta sauce, and prepared veggies. Stir to combine.
2) Spray 9 X 13 baking dish, and put pasta mixture in pan. Top with cheese. Bake at 400 Degrees F. for 15-30 minutes or until cheese is melted. (ours only took 15!)
3) Serve with salad and enjoy!

Substitution Ideas: Like I mentioned above, any veggies would be great in this! If you choose raw veggies, you may want to sautee them to soften them a bit before baking... or let bake for the longer amount of time. You can also substitute other types of pasta/ravioli. You could use cheese, mushroom, squash, meat... etc. Even tortellini would work! Any sauce would be great here too!

**6-8 servings is a lot for some, but is convenient in terms of packaging of the ingredients. We each eat a serving the first night, save individual servings in 2 cup pyrex for lunch the next day, then we freeze whatever's left in individual serving sizes! So easy to pull out of the freezer on a day you need a lunch in a pinch!**

What's your favorite meal that's easy and healthy?!



Monday, March 21, 2016

If I Could Tell You To Add 5 Books to your TBR // Bookworm

Recently, I've been thinking about how much fun reading is. If you love to read, then you probably get me on this one. :)

I have also been thinking about how a lot of my reading choices have been made based on goodreads, and bookworm friends, and what's popular recently. Sometimes... this is AMAZING! Sometimes though, I wonder what happens to all of those incredible books that fall through the cracks once their popularity window ends. There are so many good ones in the world after all. :)

So here, I am going to share 5 books that I would recommend to you, if I could only recommend 5.

1) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 

Plot: Jane is orphaned at a young age and made to live with her cruel aunt. She is then spent to a strict and harsh boarding school. Despite her strife she emerges and becomes a governess at Thronfield. While there she falls in love with the mysterious Mr. Rochester, but everything isn't as it seems. When she uncovers mysteries, she leaves Thronfield, but she can't forget Mr. Rochester.

My Thoughts: My all-time favorite classic novel. It's such a great story of love, loss, madness, and growing into your own. It's especially nice for me that this one is not only a classic, but captivating to read. Sometimes language and plot can be tough to trudge through in a classic novel .... but not here. It's quite the page turner, especially for it's time. I would certainly recommend this to everyone.

If you are nerdy like me.... this edition... has really great footnotes.

2) Bel Canto by Ann Patchett 

Plot: I read this book in high school, but it is very much adult fiction. It is about a famous opera singer who travels to a South American country to sing at an event for visiting Japanese government officials. During the opening chapter of the book, the building is overtaken by terrorists. The opera singer, the various officials from around the world are now held hostage, with no common language to bind them. As the story progresses the hostages form bonds with each other as well as their captors. In the end, their current environment isn't stable, and something has to change.

My Thoughts: I found this book, so breathtaking. I was on edge reading the book, I was so attached to so many characters. I was enamored with their ability to bond amidst struggle and tragedy. The language is beautiful here too. In the end, this book will leave you a little ragged, but you'll be glad that you read it. I would love to re-read it.

3) Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey

Preface: Once upon a time we were taking a long road trip with KC's family (11 states in 10 days), and we were making a stop in Zanesville, OH. Home of the Zane Grey museum. For some reason, I got it into my head that I really needed to read one of his books during the trip. I picked up this one, which has been dubbed, "The greatest Western of all time," and the rest is history... but I'm SO glad that I read this book. It got rid of some genre stereotypes that I had in my head about Westerns!

Plot: Set in Utah in the 1870's (written in 1912) this novel centers around a woman named Jane who is being forced to marry an elder of the church. Enter Lassiter, a famous gunman searching for the people who killed his sister, who aides Jane in evading the marriage. She's reluctant to believe that she's being helped, but when she adopts a child, and is further persecuted, everything changes. The second plot centers around Venters, Jane's cowboy friend. When Jane's cattle are stolen by rustlers, Venters sets off in search of them. During a gun battle with the rusters, he wounds the infamous "masked rider." Upon inspecting the wounded "masked rider," he realizes that the rider is in fact a woman. Feeling incredibly bad about shooting a woman, he takes it upon himself to nurse her back to health. Along the way, other adventures happen, relationships develop, and escapes are made.

My Thoughts: I guess I have a thing for Stockholm Syndrome... ? I'm not sure. Nonetheless I am so glad that I read this book. It's unlike anything I had read before, overall, not naturally drawn to Westerns.... but this one was excellent. There was plenty of adventure, really gorgeous descriptions, mysteries, and a little bit of romance. It's a short read, the language isn't inhibiting... it's just a really good book. I would recommend it if you need a Western for a book challenge, or if you are just looking for something to spice up your reading!

*also, as with any old book, you'll have to take not-so-PC-things in stride... *

4) How to Sew a Button: and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew by Erin Bried

About: This book is written by Erin Bried after her interviews with 8 (I think!) grandmas. That's right, adorable, loveable, wise as can be, grandmas. You briefly "meet" the grandmas, and read about how they lived during the depression and WWII, etc. Then Bried uses their advice, and tips to form a sweet little how-to book. It is broken up into sections, such as cooking, gardening, home, entertaining, children, etc. The sections are short, and each has a little excerpt, a quote from a grandma ahead of the how-to. The tips can range from; how to make dandelion wine, to how to unclog a sink. How to develop a walking regimen to how to swaddle a baby. There are some really thrifty and fun tips in this, things I never would have known.... ever. I have legitimately used "How to unclog a drain," a lot of times! In different locations!

My Thoughts: I don't know how you guys feel, but for me, there are few people in the world that I love more, than grandparents. They're just the best. Reading this book had me smiling, laughing, and feeling like I was wrapped up in a cozy blanket. The short sections made it easy to pick up and put down, and I reference this book from time to time when I need to know how to do something! You will feel like you know these ladies, and you are soaking up their wisdom! Bried later wrote, "How to Build a Fire: and Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew," and "How to Rock Your Baby: and Other Timeless Tips for Modern Moms." I got the grandpa one for KC one year, and he has read it off and on and enjoyed it as well. Someday, we'll need that last one there... ;)

5) The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People With Too Many Passions to Pick Just One by Margaret Lobenstine 

About: The title kind of says the gist of this book, but it's such an incredible tool for people who read the title and think; "Hey! That's me!" *raises hand* I have always loved more things than I have time for. That's part of the reason I'm so busy! This book is geared toward the person who doesn't have just one calling or passion, but many. Lobenstine creates a practical manual, with real-life examples, of people who have many passions. She gives step by step examples of how different people pursue their interests at once, and the ways they format their days and careers. There are also some great activities for setting goals and determining priorities.

My Thoughts: Ok, this book is everything for me.... I have always loved everything. I wanted to be a marine biologist, an art historian, a librarian, a stationer, a yoga instructor, a nutritionist... a professor... College was so hard for me in that way, "What on earth do I choose as a major?!" This book helped me tremendously in determining what my passions were, and how to fit a handful into my days, rather than trying to choose one, or trying to pursue all 100 of them. How incredible. I even go back and work through the activities on occasion. In fact, I'm probably over-due to revisit. :) If you find yourself feeling like the title describes you... I can't recommend this highly enough.

There you have it 5 books I would recommend for your TBR!

**I am thinking of doing occasional posts featuring 3-5 books that I really loved (usually fiction!), but that are maybe not super popular anymore... following a similar format to this post. Maybe titled, "5 Unexpected Books to Add to Your TBR"...? Would anyone be interested in those types of posts...?!?! Let me know. :) **

If you could tell me 5 books to read, what would they be?



Friday, March 18, 2016

Have You Heard? // The Lumineers - "Ophelia"

Oh my goodness. Have you guys heard this song... ?!?!

So glad to hear that The Lumineers are back. This one has been stuck in my head since I heard it.....

Oh the piano!

What have you been listening to?!

Happy Friday! :)



PS: Trying to save money...? You asked, KC and I wrote up our top 12 Tips for Saving... check it out!

Also posted this week: My First Erin Condren Life Planner, 3 Months in Review.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

12 Ways to Save More Money in 2016 // New Year State of Mind

A lot like with travel... folks have been asking how it is we save money. We explained some of our travel budgeting tips... in our 12 Ways to Travel More in 2016 post, but what about everyday budgeting? Here KC and I have come up with 12+ tips for saving money every day. This is a dense one, but you guys asked, so we're delivering! :)

So here you have it, our top 12 Tips For Saving Money at Home.

1) Track Your Spending 
Use a site or app like Mint, pull records from online banking system, write down each purchase, put in phone, etc. Put those numbers and info into excel, seeing what you have spent, and where you have spent it is often enough to change some habits / create awareness.... (see #2)

2) See Where You Are Spending Most/Too Much
Do you notice particular places that you spend a lot of money? Or spend frequently and it adds up? What are you purchasing at these times? Maybe you've gotten into the habit of running out for a soda/smoothie/coffee/tea/etc. each afternoon or even a few times per week. Those $2 purchases really add up! Online shopping a weakness? Avoid it! Grabbing too many dinners out? Impulse buying at Target? Know your weaknesses so you can avoid them. Or at least be more conscious when you come face to face with them! Then you can actively ask yourself, "Am I buying this because I really want it? Or because it's a habit?" A little of this thinking can make a huge impact.

3) Evaluate Your Subscriptions and Services
Do you buy lots of magazines? Subscribing can save you upwards of $40 each year per magazine. You can do digital subscriptions as well! If you hold a subscription but don't like the magazine anymore, end it! :) Buying lots of books? Look into your library! Great options here. Bloggers and reviewers can sign up for Netgalley or blogging for books to receive free books in exchange for a review. Do you not actually use your Netflix? Skip it for a few months, and see how much you miss it! It saves you money, and if you really, truly, miss it, you can sign back up again. Same goes for home cable! Do you actually watch your cable? If not, you shouldn't be paying for it! Same with gym memberships, online memberships, bundles, etc. Do you really need to go "commercial free" on spotify? Or to get those extra channels? Can you do your own pedicure at home? Identify where you can downsize and eliminate! My thought is we are all paying for more things than we use! We shouldn't!

4) Use Coupon & Rebate Apps
We shop at Target frequently ( I should write an entire post on saving at Target... ) but, they have two great apps that will save you money while shopping there. One is Cartwheel, which gives small discounts on items from groceries to electronics at checkout. The other app is the Target app. It has a lot of store ads etc. It also has mobile coupons. Many stores have this! So search the app store to see if stores you frequent do too! Many times you can combine these coupons with paper ones, and sales... #megasavings I also use Ibotta. It's a rebate app. You scan your grocery bar codes and photo capture receipts for rebates. You can cash out in many forms, but I like to turn it into credit so I can buy books... or other things off my wishlist! :) I'm sure there are many others out there!  Michael's and Hobby Lobby both have app coupons as well, for you crafters! Are there any you guys love that I should try?!

5) Give Up Sweetened Beverages & Lower Your Bar Tab!
These are bad for our health, our teeth, and the budget. I am by no means perfect at this... but I try to buy less coffee out, and less soda out and at home. Especially if this is something you do regularly... it can add up! Same goes for all of you who go out regularly. Putting a limit on your drinks is a great way to cut your budget and stay healthy! Buying these less out is a first good step. Buying them less for home is a good follow-up. Putting a weekly/monthly limit on sugary and alcoholic drinks can help keep these costs down too. Even starting super small! If you drink 7 sodas a week, try cutting back to 5 per week! That makes a big difference.

6) Eat at Home
Similarly to getting drinks out, eating out is a huge way to spend money quickly! Try to save it for special occasions or put a weekly/monthly limit on how many times you can eat out to save some cash. Even if you make a specific goal, "I will only eat at Chipotle twice per month," that is a great way to start! Cooking at home can be extremely easy but also much much more cost effective! A week's worth of groceries could be the equivalent of just two meals out for a family of 2! (depends on where you are eating!)

Bonus: Eat veggie. Meatless meals are much cheaper, as well as healthier! Veggie pizzas... black Bean Enchiladas... veggie soups... cheese tortellini.... so many options! Grilled cheese, breakfast for dinner, veggie stir fry....

Check out these meatless recipes from my blog: Black Bean Corn EnchiladasCinnamon Vanilla PancakesVeggie Pot PiesBreakfast BurritosBelgian Waffles, Pumpkin Waffles, Easy Cheesy Potato SoupShell Stuffed Shells. 

7) DIY In the Kitchen
Eating at home saves tons of money, take it one step further by making basics that you use a lot! For example, seasonings are extremely marked up! If you use Taco Seasoning, Italian Seasoning, Poultry Seasoning, etc. frequently, just make it yourself. Buying the individual spices and renewing your stock over and over is SO MUCH CHEAPER. Same goes for things like broth or stock. You can make your own with veggie scraps or parts of a chicken, etc. Just keep a bag of the scraps in the freezer until you have enough to make the stock. We tend to go through a lot of broth in the winter months! Make your own desserts from scratch as well. Mixing your own cake mix or pie crust is much cheaper than buying them prepackaged! There isn't always time to do this stuff... but when you are able to... it really pays off! Sometimes, making a lot more than you'll need at that moment is also a good plan. That way when you're busy, you can pull a pie crust out of the freezer, or dig out your huge jar of taco seasoning and you're set! A super easy, but super cost effective kitchen DIY?! Vanilla Extract.

8) Freeze it!
When KC and I try recipes there are often too many servings for just the two of us. We don't do well eating the same meal 5 times in a row. If we can cut it in half, we usually will. If we can't or don't want to we will often freeze it! Things like chili, pasta sauce, some pastas, etc. freeze very well. We have a TON of 2 cup pyrex containers that we can take from the freezer to work. Easy peasy. Freezing is also a great way to use up weird things that you can't finish a container of for one recipe. For example, it's hard for us to use a whole container of fresh herbs. They can be frozen by themselves, in cubes of butter or oil for sautees, etc. Same goes for things like tomato sauces, adobo chiles, and even chicken breasts. We often thaw chicken breasts and won't have time to use them! Re-freezing isn't food safe. So we will boil them, shred them, and then freeze them. We can pull them out when we need them for a recipe. There are entire books and meal planning strategies that work around freezer meals. This is just a few basics!

9) DIY Around the House
Making your own cleaners, air fresheners, dryer sheets, swiffer pads, napkins, paper towels, etc. is easy and saves you money for a very long time! We recently made these wool dryer balls... and haven't bought dryer sheets in over 6 months! Our clothes are static free, we don't have to worry about chemicals .. and these will last for quite some time!! To top it all off, it saves on drying time as well! Which means our laundry is dry sooner, and our energy bills are lower! We also don't buy air fresheners. We don't like chemicals in our home, but it's also very easy to make your own vs. buying an eco alternative. I reused an old leave-in conditioner bottle, filled it with warm water and 20-30 drops of lavender essential oil. I leave it in the bathroom (where we keep the litter boxes....) and use it to freshen the room as needed but also during our box cleaning. It's so cheap and extremely easy to make. Get creative with places you can cut these costs in your home!

10) Cut Out Disposables
Similarly to above... is there a disposable item that you buy regularly that you don't need to? Could you cut out using face wipes, paper napkins, or paper plates? What about water bottles? Fill your own! Get your own to-go mug or thermos instead of getting the to-go containers for home. Even if you do take your containers out to a coffee shop, they will often give a small discount for bringing your own mug! Stop using paper plates, paper towels, paper napkins, etc. Taking just a month to try out life without those things can be enough to show you that you don't need to buy them. That saves so much money, not to mention it's easier on the environment!!

11) Carefully Evaluate Purchases
How many of you are impulse buyers? Inexpensive DVD, bought that. Clearance Find, bought that. Scarf that you definitely don't need and are pretty sure you like, bought that too. It's SO easy to purchase things that seem like a good deal. Or an opportunity that can't be missed. But can we really not afford to miss them? I've been trying for the past few years to purchase only items that I love or need. That means books that I want to read, I probably borrow it, get it at the library, or as a free ebook. A book I know I will read again, and want to keep, I buy it. Clearance top that fits mostly ok? Pass. Trendy dress, the last one in my size... unless I try it on a and LOVE it... pass. Cute new shade of nail polish, probably pass. Do I really need another coral-y pink? Is it really that different than the 3 I have at home? Probably not. So next time you're shopping, ask yourself, "Do I need it?" "Do I LOVE it?" It can definitely change how much you consume as well as how much you spend!! Make a conscious effort to borrow, trade for, and rent/check out what you can to avoid buying, buying, buying.

12) Buy Used When You Do Need/Want to Buy Something
When you do want to buy something, consider buying it used. After falling in love with a book, and knowing I'll want to read it again, I will decide I want to own it. I then either order it used on Amazon, or check out local bookstores that sell used books. If it's not there, I can wait. This also goes for DVDs, CDs, and even clothes/home items. When I am looking for a new lamp, an end table, something to spice up my wardrobe, etc. I spend an afternoon combing through local thrift stores. There are all sorts of treasures to be found there. Sometimes they're quirky, but sometimes it's the Target button up that I wanted to buy last year... but just couldn't allow myself to spend $30 on. Paying $5 for the same shirt, feels better! If you aren't into thrifting. Try things like Thred Up, Plato's Closet, and other resale/consignment stores. Amazon and local book/entertainment stores have great deals on used books, CDs, DVDs, etc. Kristen made this fabulous list of places to get books for free/cheap! :) :)

Bonus tips!

13) Unplug Sneaky Electronics....

Did you know that electronics and appliances suck energy even when they aren't in use? Your TV, your computer, your toaster.... they're all using energy when they are switched off! Which means you are paying for the energy they suck.... when you aren't using them! One way to combat this? Unplug them. Not practical? Plug your TVs etc. into a power strip, and switch the power strip off at night and when you aren't home. Doing this can save you $10-20 per year on your energy bill. It may not seem like a lot... but it adds up!

14) Use the Library!
Libraries stock most any book, audiobook, or ebook you may want to read. Not to mention DVDs and CDs. Use the library! It can save you money on cable, netflix, book buying, subscriptions to magazines, or things like audible. Maybe not all of these are for you, but changing just a few of them could save you $10+ per month! While saying goodbye to a magazine subscription might only save $10 per year.... saying goodbye to cable... well that's quite the savings! :) In addition to things you can check out at a library; libraries can also be a great way to use free wifi, reserve study or meeting rooms, join book clubs, and go to free events.

15) Use Things Up Before Buying New!
There is probably something for each of us, something that we buy way more often than we need to... For some, it's beauty products. We're always buying new eye shadows... but never finishing up old ones. We spend money on new products, yet we don't get our money's worth out of the old ones. There's nothing very good about that! Many beauty lovers participate in things like "Project 10 Pan," where they have to use up 10 products before buying any more! Maybe it's shampoos you've been trying but they just don't work for your hair, use them as shaving cream! (I'm serious!) If you like to buy books, to the point where it's racking up the $$$ consider reading two you own, before buying a new one. Even better if you sell the ones you finished before buying new ones! There are tons of places that you can apply this idea. But basically, use what you have, before you buy new. So what if body wash isn't your favorite, it still works... use it up! Maybe you are tired of a color of lipstick, why not try it with a gloss over the top, or just grin and bear it until it's gone?! It's easy to grin when you're thinking about saving money for something fun! This is one of the easiest ways to save money! The same goes for things that are on the verge of dying... jeans getting thin? Keep wearing them until they can't be worn anymore (even if it's just around the house on weekends!), keep using that old vacuum until it legitimately will not run anymore. You get the idea!

16) Sign Up for Perks at Places you Frequent
If you shop frequently at a bookstore, coffee shop, restaurant, hotel chain, online store, etc. See if you can sign up for a points, or frequent shopping card. I'm NOT talking about a credit card, I'm talking a punch card type thing, where you get a free cup of coffee after purchasing 10. I'm talking about getting "____ points" for your purchases you're already making, that will add up to free goods, shipping, coffees etc. down the line! We signed up for a program like this for a hotel chain... which at first wasn't really getting us anything. But as we stayed there more (when it was still the best $ deal), we racked up points. On our recent trip to Houston, we ended up with a free night in a king room! That's awesome, for not a lot of work on our part! We also occasionally get free king upgrade night vouchers in the mail, just for being a member! Which is great because we can pay the "two double bed" price and sleep in a king instead! Be choosy with these types of programs... but if you legitimately shop there... go for it!

Looking for more ways to get the most out of 2016? "12 Quick Things to Start the New Year Off Organized," "12 Ways to Invest in Yourself This Year," and "12 Ways to Travel More in 2016."

How do you save money at home? Do you use any of these strategies?

What are your tips for me? I'd love to know!



Monday, March 14, 2016

(My First) Erin Condren Life Planner // 3 Months In Review

Hi Guys, I know a lot of you are into planners like I am... so I thought I would share how things are going with my first ECLP. :)

I was not initially going to purchase one, they are a little bit bright for my taste, and obviously on the pricier end.... but they got me with the new rose gold design. (which of course was more expensive). So I made it my, "Christmas Present" to myself... and here's what I've got to say 3 months in!

Planner: ECLP - Rose Gold
Cost: $75 (YIKES)
Time Using: 3 Months

Extras Purchased: (... it was cyber Monday.... don't judge ....) budget book, activity log, pen holder stick-on, set of bands to hold closed.


-I chose vertical layout, I like it a lot. I divide my day up into, "brand", "home", and "self" - which works really well for me!
-It's pretty. I love the rose gold, I love the lavender.
-I like the stickers.
-I like how it is organized to include yearly goals, monthly goals, etc. and in general how easy it is to keep everything together.
-I like how many add-ons there are to customize your planner even more without actually ordering a custom planner.
-The post-its are very pretty, they look really cool on the monthly pages, and I like that they clip onto the spiral.


-Quality Issues:
     -After just 2 months of use, the rose gold started coming off of my spiral.
     -Also at 2 months, the top right corner of my cover (that it came with) has started to separate from      itself, (you can see this in the first picture, top right hand corner.)
-The paper seems a little thin all things considered. My pens and markers are easy to see from one side to the next... so it's hard for me to "decorate" it in fancy writing, etc.
-No address section! As someone who sends lots of snail mail, I was bummed to find no actual address section in this extensive planner. There is a small one in the perpetual calendar (which was included with the rose gold planner). But it holds maybe 10 contacts. We send 25+ postcards every. time. we travel. So this doesn't work for me... I will have to copy them into the notes pages I guess. Erin Condren does sell a separate full sized address book... but that seemed like more of an investment than I wanted. I just wanted a few pages tucked into this planner... : /
-With the pages, and the bookmark clip, and the pocket with my budget/activity trackers it seems really full. The band is helpful (and pretty!) but it still seems like it might be part of the problem with the cover splitting.
-The stick on pen holder does not stay in place.
-I've only used a hand full of the metallic post-it notes, (bought later...), which were one of the pricier accessories on the site... and the first one ripped when I pulled it off. Overall the paper must be thin... because they rip pretty easily. Not great quality. (you can see how some rip when you take them off in the photo above).
-While the do-it-all dot stickers are cool... they aren't the most practical for me. Who goes to the Dr. 6 times per year? Unless you have kids or frequent appointments it just doesn't make sense to have that many. Yet, I used the $ ones to mark pay days... and I ran out half way through the year... I have no idea what to do with the makeup ones... ? You get the idea...
-The cost, especially for the quality


I love the layout, I am glad I am trying it out. I doubt I will re-order in the future. The quality isn't great for the price, and the design is a little too loud and colorful for me. I do have several covers now... so I may consider buying an address book... to keep at home... so I can still use the covers, and have one larger address book around to reference. I'm not 100% sure I won't re-order... but I'm leaning toward no right now. If I did... I would go for the cheapest option with the clear coil.. and probably wouldn't buy a lot of add-ons.

If you are interested in purchasing the ECLP or any of the accessories use my referral code to save $10 on your first purchase:

What do you guys think? Have any of you tried the ECLP?

What planner do you use? What do you think of it?



Friday, March 11, 2016

Have You Heard? // Disclosure feat. Lorde - "Magnets"

This song... is SO. GOOD. Just cannot stop listening to it.

Welcome back Lorde. (btw... I tried to spell Lord the other day... and spelled Lorde instead...) So there's that.

Also Posted This Week: DIY Vanilla Extract and February Reads.

Happy Friday!



Thursday, March 10, 2016

DIY Vanilla Extract // Learn Stuff

I made it a goal this year to learn about or how to do 5 new things. The first thing I learned is how to DIY vanilla extract!

Why on earth would I want to do that?

1) Artificial vanilla extract tastes awful. Just say no. I promise you'll be able to tell the difference and prefer it!
2) Real vanilla extract is expensive! Especially if you buy organic!! I can only get about 2oz for about $10. (OY!)
3) Its' so flippin' easy & SO much cheaper to make it yourself!!


1) buy ingredients
2) find jar
3) cut open beans
4) put beans in jar, cover with vodka.
5) let sit in a cool, dark cupboard for a month or two.


Specific Process:


3-5 vanilla beans (can buy in spice section at grocery store, best at natural food stores, they were much cheaper there than at Target, or Amazon is a great source!)
8 oz of vodka (rum, brandy, or bourbon would work as well)
clean jar
dark place to store while aging

1) Cut open your vanilla beans length wise. Make sure they will fit in your jar. If they are too tall, you can cut them in half. (the alcohol just needs to fully cover the beans).
2) Put the beans in the jar, making sure they can all be covered by alcohol. Pour in the alcohol, and seal the lid.
3) Give the jar a few shakes.
4) Store in a cool, dark, space for 1-2 months. (the longer, the stronger)

When you use this extract, as is, after it has sat in your cupboard, it will have a vanilla bean fleck to it. If you don't like that, you can strain it through a coffee filter before using it.

Similarly, you can leave the beans in, to let the flavor strengthen, or you can remove them. You can also leave them in and refill the alcohol a little as you go. You'll be able to tell when the beans are all used up! Sources I have read recommend using beans later for vanilla flavored sugars. :)

5) Use and enjoy. As far as I can tell... as long as this is well sealed and stored in a cool and dry place, it should last until it's gone. I haven't read anything in my research to suggest otherwise.

6) Now make a bigger batch.... and never ever buy extract again. :)


Vodka will leave your extract with the most neutral flavor, but you can substitute rum, brandy, or bourbon if you'd rather. It will just change the flavor of your extract a little.

You're welcome!

For a cost comparison: I could get 2 oz of organic vanilla extract for about $10. I DIY'd this vanilla extract, which is 8 oz for just about the same price (we used 5 beans). That's a great savings, and obviously, the larger batch you make... the cheaper it is!

Lastly, this is like one of the greatest DIY gifts ever for anyone who likes to cook or bake. Why not make a huge batch of extract... and then funnel it into small jars to give as Christmas or Mother's Day gifts?!?! It's so easy... but so appreciated!

Have you guys tried this before?! Is anyone going to? Maybe I'm just a baking nerd... but I was SO JAZZED to try this! :)

Have any of you learned about or how to do something new this year?! I'd love to hear about it!



Wednesday, March 9, 2016

February Reads // Delightful

February Reads... :)

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

5 Stars - Tied for first as my favorite in the series with Cress. I would recommend if you have read Cinder and enjoy dystopian themes, science fiction, and fairy tale re-tellings.

Ok, so if you remember my whole rambly... "I have a hard time identifying with the dystopian female lead..." blah blah ... "but I think I'll be more attached to the story and characters as I read more books..." Well I was right. I really really really liked Scarlet. Both the character and the book. I felt like the second installation in The Lunar Chronicles had all of the plot development, unpredictability, character development, and fast paced plot I was hoping for. I loved how the story lines were woven together, I loved Scarlet and Wolf, I loved Cinder so much more, and Kai too. Thorne was excellent comic relief as well. I feel like I know so much more about all of the characters and the plot now. LOVE. I'm about to start Cress now! Eep!

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

4.5 Stars - I recommend if you're an Anglophile, who loves to laugh, or someone who could use a dose of "I've been there!". I thoroughly enjoyed this even though I'd already seen the movie!

I will be honest and say, I wasn't expecting to love this book. I was expecting it to be a little boring even, having seen the movie. (I just don't usually watch before reading) To my happy surprise, this book was very entertaining! It's really funny, and I think Bridget does a good job of portraying how women often feel. At times, I totally sympathized with her. "This is me!" I thought, just cracking up at how real the situations were. Other times I thought, "At least I can find something to wear in the morning and get to work before 10am!" There were times when it was also so sad, the way we view ourselves, the lack of confidence we have... it's kind of awful. But the delightful thing about Bridget is that she never gives up... even when she's not doing well at all. I found myself oddly motivated to start a load of laundry, or clean out a drawer in the bathroom, in between reading this. All in all, I really liked it, and it made me feel like we are all just fine, right where we are, just now. We are making progress, and baby steps do count. :)

The Heir by Kiera Cass

4 Stars - I recommend if you have read The Selection Series and enjoyed it.

Based on what I'd heard about The Heir, I wasn't expecting to LOVE it. However, after the whole whiny lack of communication thing between Maxon and America in The Selection Series... I found Eadyln very refreshing. Is she spoiled? Yup. But, her annoying-ness is more a product of her independence ... which for me, is much more relate-able. I think I am also really enjoying seeing the plot from the POV of the person who is having to choose from the selected. I think The Selection Series would have been very different from Maxon's perspective. The brother sister bond is really a sweet element of the story as well. I had read maybe 5-6 chapters of this, and then picked it up at about 9 pm one night. I was very tired before hand. But at 2:30 am I went to bed, having finished the book. So, I guess you could say I liked it. Very excited to read the next installment. I also purchased The Siren. Has anyone read it yet?!

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy - Ok... so I finished this March 1... it still counts...

5 Stars - I recommend to anyone and everyone. This book is brimming with heart, colorful characters, and relate-ability.

I will be honest and say, the cover of this book is what drew me to it initially. I knew people had enjoyed it as well, so I was happy to give it a try. Overall, I didn't know much beyond it was about a "self-proclaimed fat girl," living in the south, and something about pageants.... Well, this book is just delightful you guys! There is so much heart and truth in this story. It's colorful too-boot. I love love LOVE the Dolly stuff. Because, I think she's an American treasure. So, that was a fun surprise. Overall it's just a really honest and colorful look at what it's like to grow up. What it's like to figure out who you are. There is so much bravery in this book. I'm not particularly into pageants, books about high school, or Texas.... but I thought that this book is so worth reading. Wow. 5 stars on goodreads from me. :)

Have you all read any of these books?! What did you think of them?



* Asterisks denote titles that I was given advance access to by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. These reviews are my own opinion, and based on the edition of the book I was given at the time. Thank you Netgalley!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Happy Birthday KC!

Today, KC is 25.

I typically.. do kind of a mushy... bday post... (like this one). So let's mix it up. (though the mushiness is still true!).

12 Things You Didn't Know About KC

1) He was corn for Halloween as a baby. (his mom made the costume!)
2) He loves to play racquetball.
3) He has beautiful green eyes.
4) People who observe him outside of social situations think that he's very serious. That cracks me up.
5) He makes puns and dad jokes like they're going out of style.
6) He has a crap-ton of awesome mixes on spotify, which he dubs, "KC's Masterpiece (vol. #)" LOL, like the bbq sauce. (see #5)
7) Speaking of bbq sauce... He loves bbq sauce. Seriously, he gets sad when we travel and restaurants don't have bbq sauce.
8) He'll read a book I like, if I really want him to. He usually enjoys them.
9) He's into the "nerdy" stuff. He plays MTG and he DMs. (& he's good at it) He did a "home brew" D&D character guide, and put it up on a site, he's made like $400 off of it. It's insane.
10) He loves pets and kids. He's totally down to hold babies, and play with dogs when we visit people who have babies, dogs, or both. :)
11) He makes a mean margarita. Yum.
12) He's extremely selfless.

There you have it folks. KC in a nutshell.

We're midway through "bday week"... I'll post about it after! :)

I hope you have your favorite year yet my love!



Thursday, March 3, 2016

Two Months In // 2016 Goal Progress

In order to keep up with my goals for 2016 a little better, I have been trying to do monthly mini goals. :) See my 2016 goals here

Goals for February:

1) Try 5 New Recipes

Check! We actually tried 7! 2 cake recipes from Cake Magic (review here), for our Gilmore Girls nights. Each cake is 3 recipes (cake, syrup, frosting), even with overlap between the cakes (both had chocolate frosting!), 5 of the new recipes, were just cake related! hehe We also made an Irish Beef stew... YUM. With soda bread (not a new recipe). Lastly, I made vanilla extract. It will be ready in a month of two and it was the easiest!! See the tutorial here!

2) Read 5 Books

So close! I read 3 books in February (post coming soon!) and I finished one more on March 1. I am going to say that's pretty much 4.... hehe It was a busy month, not a ton of time for reading, but overall, I still manage to keep making some time for it, and pushing through starting books I think I might not like. It's a good challenge, because it's showing me I can indeed finish books that I'm not sure about... and usually like them quite a bit! :) With January's reads... I'm still above schedule on my goal for the year!

3) Plan a Pre-San Francisco Trip

Well you guys, we totally did most of this a few days before we left for Houston/Galveston... and we definitely did some of it while we were there/on the road. It worked out just fine, and it was son nice to get away. Full posts coming soon, but read the recap here.

4) Get Valentine's & Birthday Ideas for KC

We basically decided not to do Valentine's gifts, but just hang out together. It was great! I have a TON of ideas for KC's bday week... and I am super psyched to start that soon!! :)

5) Send A Secret Project to My Family in AZ - I promise to share later!
It is all ready.... I just need to take photos and get that sucker in the mail box! :)

6) Buy More Bras
Hmmm I only ended up buying 1 instead of 2... so I guess it still counts. I will make sure to buy two in March! :) For what it's worth I LOVE it! :)

7) Send Mom's Birthday Gift
Check! KU apparel for the AZ dweller! :) My dad also had this really pretty turquoise cuff bracelet made for her. It was made using a piece of turquoise that he bought in the '80's. Super cool. She looooved it!

8) Get Supplies for the Modern Calligraphy Summit

Nope, not even a little. I guess I'm lying. I did buy a watercolor kit. I definitely need to start working on the summit videos... because I was on our trip for most of it... I haven't really started. But I'm super excited about it!

9) Plan 1 Date with KC

I have planned a ton of trip and Bday stuff. So those would count. But I also think that going to Vance Joy and Elle King and getting burgers beforehand totally counts... even if we had the tickets way in advance, so there wasn't really "planning perse" involved.

10) Clean the Coat Closet
Nope. Not even a little. Carrying this one over to March.

11) Get an Oil Diffuser
Haha ... also nope.

12) De-Clutter! 

YAY! I did this! I tried on most of everything in my closet (still a little left) and got rid of a bunch, and learned that some things I thought did not fit... DID FIT! YAY! I also cleaned out some paper work and bags of miscellany. Lastly, a few teeny jobs, but cleaned out my bathroom drawer and jewelry box! I already took the stuff to donate too! Woohoo! Going to continue on this in March too!

13) Do Yoga/Dance/Work Out 10 SOLID Times
Fail, fail, fail. On the plus side... KC and I had 22+ hours in the car to discuss life... and we both are so ready to adopt some new workout habits... as in, looking into fun things like rock wall climbing, kayaking, racquet ball, boxing, etc. Super jazzed. I think that may have been the biggest set back that it's not fun or accountability motivating right now to do a yoga DVD we've done 1 million times before. I think trying new things... will definitely help! We'll see how it goes! (on the plus side, we've definitely been eating at home more, and eating better more as well! So that's great!!)

Completed: 7/13 - still not too bad! It was a busy month!!

March Goals:

1) Plan San Francisco Trip
2) Try 2 New Workout Methods (See #13 above)
3) Read 5 Books
4) Try 5 New Recipes
5) Buy 2 Bras
6) Do Modern Calligraphy Summit Lessons
7) Plan 1 Date Night with KC
8) KC Bday Week Prep
9) Clean Out Car (post road trip... ew!)
10) Clean Coat Closet (leftover from Feb!)
11) Read at Least 1 Book from Netgalley Shelf
12) Buy Limo Studios Light from Amazon
13) Write and Post Florida Posts (you know that was only July... *facepalm*)

What have you guys been up to in February? Did you meet any of your goals? 

What do you have planned for March?

Linking up with Kristen and Gretch for, What's New With You?

What's New With You