Wednesday, October 30, 2013

FREE Shutterfly Photo Book

Shutterfly is offering a FREE 8x8 photo book (valued at $29.99), just in time for the holidays! Just sign up or sign in by November 4th with this link and your account will be credited for the amount of the book. You just have to pay shipping (usually around $7.99).

The offer is valid until December 4th, once it's added to your account. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fall Deep Cleaning

Picture cred. go_greener_oz

One of my biggest joys in life is enjoying a clean house. I spend many hours of my spare time cleaning and organizing simply because I find it so therapeutic (don't feel bad for me...really!) . I realize not everyone shares my joy of cleaning....but who doesn't like a clean house?!
With the seasons changing and the cold weather coming, I've gotten started on my fall cleaning in preparation for the many months I'm about to be stuck inside. I decided to take the time to write out a few of the things that I do (or attempt to do!) every year.

1.Purge closets
If you're like me, you don't have enough closet space for all of your stuff. It's one of my biggest pet peeves to have things where they don't belong, so I utilize quite a bit of closet space. I share my bedroom closet with my husband, (I use the term "share" loosely, because he really only gets to use about 1/4 of the closet!), and it's ALWAYS cramped. So, I like to take this time of year to go through all of my clothes and decide whether or not I should keep it. If I haven't worn it since the last time I went through my closet, I need to get rid of it. I also take the time to pack up some things that I won't be wearing (i.e. shorts and capris) but I like to leave my tank tops and short sleeved tops out for layering.

2. Clean windows (inside and out!) 
Because of all of the summer rain and mud, it really is helpful to do this in the fall, even if it was just done in the spring. However, This is one of my least favorite chores because it's such a pain! We have really old windows (regular windows and storm windows) and so that makes twice the work. Many times I have threatened to hire someone to clean my windows....but I'm always so glad to be able to see outside without trying to peer through the dirt.

3. Wash all linens
I wash all of our sheets and towels several times a week, but I don't wash our throw blankets, curtains, and other barely used linens that often. Since the next several months will be spent curled up with a blanket indoors, it's nice to start fresh. Plus, if you have allergies like me, it'll cut down on your sneezing.

4. Empty out bathroom cabinets and wipe down
I like to collect beauty products like it's a hobby. At any given moment I'll have 3 different bottles of hairspray, several bottles of styling products, and a few different kinds of leave in conditioner. That's not even getting into all of my make up and nail polish and lotions. All of this stuff accumulates a ridiculous amount of gunk and so it's really important to take everything out of the cabinets every few months and wipe out the cabinets. I like to do it every few months so that it doesn't get too out of hand.

5. Empty out kitchen cabinets and wipe down
If your summer is like mine, it's full of quick meals and running out the door to enjoy the weather. This leads to lots of forgotten crumbs, grease, spills, etc. While a kitchen may look clean to the naked eye, look closer! And unless you want bugs in your house, (I don't!), it's necessary to clean out those cabinets that have accumulated so much of your summer grease and grime. I take out all of my appliances and dishes that have been pushed to the back of the cabinet, wash everything, and wipe out the cabinets. This also gives me a chance to move all of my Winter appliances to the front (hello Crockpot!)  and put my summer oriented appliances toward the back.

6. Wipe down walls 
Even though we have no kids, we do have a dog. And you'd be surprised how many fingerprints and dirt smears two adults and a dog can make, especially on light colored walls. For this particular chore, the magic eraser is my best friend. Note: be careful with the magic eraser on painted walls, as it will take paint off if used too roughly! I also like to take a rag that has been soaked in a water/soap mixture to get the grime off.

7. Mop floors really well
I try to mop my floors every week or so, but I'm not always successful. This is the time of year when I really aim to get at least one GOOD mopping session in to try and get all of the muddy footprints off of the floor and pay special attention to the corners. I do have a steam mop which makes the job a lot easier, but it's still time consuming with all of our wood floors.

8. Get carpets cleaned
We don't have a lot of carpet in our house, but I felt like it should be put on the list anyway. It's really important to me to have a house that SMELLS clean,  and fresh carpet is essential for that. I wait for a  good coupon or groupon and pay to have someone do it because it's pretty cost effective and frees me up to accomplish something else!

9. Dust all ceiling fans and light fixtures 
This is usually something that I enlist the help of the husband for. I'm not tall enough to reach all of those....or so I tell him. We keep our fans going all Summer long and they accumulate a lot of dust. Wiping the blades off not only makes them look better, but it helps not to spread dust around the house as well.

10. Wipe down all dining tables and chairs
Again, I'm not sure how two people can leave so many fingerprints and accumulate so much gunk on chairs and tables. However, somehow we manage to do just that. With all of the birthdays and Holidays that happen during the Fall and Winter months, I prefer to give our guests an enjoyable eating experience! I get a rag that is wet with soapy water and wipe down the whole table (top, bottom, legs....everything!) and do the same for the chairs. Once you see how much you are able to wipe off of your furniture, you'll thank me.

Hopefully this post is helpful for you and it doesn't label me as "owner of the messiest house EVER." I'd love to hear your deep cleaning secrets!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Greek Yogurt Macaroni and Cheese

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, which you can read here, macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite foods. We eat it at our house on a weekly basis, and we don't even have any kids. In particular, my favorite version is a recipe that I adapted from several different recipes in order to make it both delicious and semi-healthy.

 I was introduced to greek yogurt macaroni and cheese from my Cook This Not That cook book and I tweaked it to make it more to our liking. Several people have asked me to share this recipe with them, and I am TERRIBLE at remembering to send it! So, I thought I would take the time to put it together in one place and post it for easy access.

Now, anyone who isn't living under a rock knows that greek yogurt has grown in its popularity over the last several years...and for good reason! Greek yogurt has some fantastic health benefits, as well as providing more protein than regular yogurt. With its sour taste and thick texture, Greek yogurt is a great sour cream substitute and has far less fat. Pinterest has an awesome list of things that you can substitute Greek yogurt can find that here. However, be careful with how you cook the yogurt as it can curdle if not cooked properly.

Go ahead and try not to drool. This recipe is the perfect blend of creamy cheesy goodness!

Greek Yogurt Macaroni and Cheese
2 cups macaroni or cavatappi pasta (I like to use whole grain pasta, veggie pasta, or a combination)
2 T. unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
2 c. milk (make sure that you use 2% or higher, you need a little fat so that your sauce doesn't curdle)
1 c. shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 c. shredded colby jack cheese
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese (make sure that you use real parmesan, it makes a big difference!)
1/4 c. greek yogurt (I use Fage 0% fat)
1/2 c. Italian bread crumbs, or panko breadcrumbs mixed with Italian seasoning
1 clove minced garlic
black pepper and salt to taste

How to Make it:
1. cook pasta, according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
2. In a medium-large sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Slowly add the milk, continue whisking to prevent clumping. Add garlic and let the bechamel simer for 5 minutes, until it begins to thicken. Stir in the cheddar cheese, colby jack cheese, and 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese and cook until completely melted, stirring constantly. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the yogurt. Add the pasta and toss to coat evenly.
3. Preheat the broiler on low. Pour the macaroni mixture into an 8x8 pan. Top with breadcrumbs and remaining parmesan cheese. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Place pan in middle rack and of the oven and broil for 5-7 minutes, until golden and bubbly.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

FREE Redbox Rental

Redbox has released a promo code that is good now through November 7, 2013.
Use the coupon code 9MXW2LPC for a FREE 1 day DVD rental!
This freebie is only valid Redbox kiosks.
Thanks Money Saving Mom for the tip!

Monday, October 21, 2013


I have some pretty severe (and annoying!) seasonal allergies, as well as year round allergies. Because of these nasty allergies, I tend to get sinus inflammation pretty regularly and my Neti Pot has been a lifesaver! 

NeilMed Neti Pot
If you're interested in receiving a FREE Neil Med Neti Pot, head over to the Neil Med Facebook Page and complete the offer.
There are several steps to complete this offer:

  • Click the link that says “Click here to request your Free NeilMed NasaFlo Neti Pot with two packets.”
  • Fill out the product training application and view the short instruction video.
  • Complete the quiz that follows the video. You must score at least 18 out of 20 (you should be able to change your answers before moving to the next question, giving you 20 out of 20)
  • Receive confirmation email (make sure you check your spam folder!)

This free offer is only open to fans who have not previously requested the offer. Existing fans who have requested the offer must pay $4.99 shipping to receive the Neti Pot.

Thanks Freebie Finding Mom for finding this!

How to Organize a Meal Plan

I am a list person. I make lists for just about everything that I do, even if it doesn't really require a list. I write them, rewrite them, update them, change them, and write them again. If you were to come to my house, you'd find lists tucked away in just about every room. It drives my husband crazy, but I find it very helpful in keeping some semblance of order in our busy lives.
All of this to say, when it comes to deciding what we'll be eating, I make a list. I have found that it not only saves us money, but it makes coming home after a long day of work so much less stressful. Gone are the days where I'd stand at the fridge at 6:00 in the evening trying to figure out what I was going to cook, only to settle for something less than appealing and not very healthy.  I've come to enjoy the creativity that it requires to come up with several different meals, while staying within our budget.
I'm here today to share some of my tips on how to organize your very own meal plan and hope that you find it as helpful as I have. I typically only make a meal plan for 1-2 weeks at a time, but I have occasionally put one together that got us through an entire month, with only a couple of trips back to the store for fresh produce and dairy products.

Step #1: Print out a Meal Planner Template 
I like to use a free meal planner template like this one from The Project Girl. It makes it super easy to plug in your meals and even has a spot to list your groceries.

Step #2: Check your grocery store circular
If you're trying to save money or stay within a certain budget, it's essential that you do this step before picking your recipes. I admit that occasionally I get a craving for a certain recipe and I add it to my meal plan without checking to see if the ingredients are on sale, but I try to avoid that. Check to see what meat and produce is on sale at the time, and search for recipes that utilize those ingredients.

Step #3: Pick your recipes
I have certain easy recipes that I know are winners that I typically have on my meal plan, such as tacos or pasta. These recipes are the ones that I make on a day when I'm too tired to concentrate on cooking. However, I do like to throw in a couple of recipes that we haven't tried before, just to keep things interesting. While I do have an extensive cookbook collection, I love to find new recipes on Pinterest and Make sure when you are picking your recipes that you are utilizing what leftover ingredients you will have from other recipes. For example, if I have hamburgers on my meal plan for that week, I know we'r not going to eat an entire package of hamburger buns. So, I'll add sloppy joes to my meal plan so that we can utilize the extra buns. This is especially true about meat, because it is the most expensive part of a meal.

Step #4: Make your grocery list
When making your  grocery list, make sure that you are shopping at home first. I can't tell you how many times I've put something on my grocery list, only to get home and realize I already had it. Once you are sure that you need an ingredient, add it to your grocery list.

Step #5: Do your grocery shopping in one day 
Even if you need to go to several grocery stores for all of your ingredients, get it all done in one day. Multiple trips back to the grocery store will cause you to buy unnecessary things, resulting in a much higher grocery bill. While one large trip does require more money upfront, it saves you money in the long run. You will also be grateful when you realize that you already have what you need for dinner at home, and an evening trip to the store isn't necessary.

Step #6: Prep your food
Little things like portioning the meat into baggies and labeling it for the specific meal, and pre washing produce will make such a difference. If you plan to marinade chicken breasts for a meal, go ahead and throw it in a ziplock bag with the marinade and stick in the freezer. Take the baggie of chicken out of the freezer the night before you plan to cook it and let it thaw in the refrigerator.

Step #7: Organize your recipes
I like to type up my meal plan and hang it on the refrigerator for easy reference.  I also take all of my recipes and write them on recipe cards and put them inside of an envelope that I hang on the refrigerator. That way, when I am deciding what I'll be cooking that night, I can grab the recipe card that I need and I don't have to waste time looking for it.

There you have it! My methods may be a little over the top for some, so do whatever works best for you. If you start noticing your meals becoming less and less stressful, you've achieved the goal!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Homemade Taco Seasoning

While trying to figure out what to cook for dinner last night, I remembered that I had ground hamburger that I needed to use up. I gave Jordan several options of what I could make, and he decided on Tacos. Soon after the decision had been made as to what I'd cook, I realized that I had no taco seasoning at home. So, I did what I always do first, and that's check out Pinterest to see what I could find. After looking through several recipes, I wasn't overly impressed, and wanted something that included the exact amount required for a pound of hamburger. Finally I stumbled upon a recipe that was originally posted on Brittany's Pantry, and decided to give it a try. It turned out to be a hit! I am not a big fan of spicy food, (you may want to alter the recipe if you like your tacos spicier), and I thought that the blend of flavors were perfect! And the fact that it isn't full of sodium and MSG like the grocery store version makes this easy recipe even better. Enjoy!

Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix
4 T chili powder
2 T cumin
2 T paprika
2 T dried oregano
1 T onion powder
1 T garlic powder
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.  Add 3 level tablespoonfuls of the mix and 1/2 c of water to 1 lb of ground beef or turkey that has been cooked with 1/2 diced onion.  Stir well and let simmer a bit for the spices to rehydrate, distribute, and the water to evaporate.  Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fall Traditions

I've mentioned it before, but just to reiterate, I really love Fall! There's something so cozy and warm about it. The weather isn't so sticky and hot anymore, and it's replaced by cool, crisp weather that is perfect for bonfires! Fall also brings out my love for traditions. I have really enjoyed carrying on traditions that Jordan and I both loved as kids, as well as finding new ones to add to our own family of two. I'm including a few Fall traditions that we look forward to every year, and I would love to hear some of your favorites!

  1. Apple picking
As kids, we both enjoyed apple picking with our families and everything that goes along with it. Getting lost in a corn maze, running from bees that are chasing after your cake donut, and sneezing from playing in the barn of hay are just a few things that everyone loves, right?! As adults, we don't get the pleasure of enjoying those exact experiences anymore. But, I love the relaxing time we get to spend with family while gathering ingredients for all of the Fall favorites that I'll be cooking up.

2. Making Applesauce
I really like applesauce, but when it's homemade I absolutely love it. For one, it tastes like dessert, and who doesn't love dessert?! And two, it reminds me of being at my grandma's house, and I always love to be at her house. My mother-in-law was generous enough to share her delicious applesauce recipe with me when Jordan and I first got married and that is the recipe that I've used ever since. I shared it here on a previous blog post.

3. Baking
I've always enjoyed cooking and makes me feel like I'm contributing something healthy and beneficial to our daily lives, and I find very relaxing. I'd probably enjoy it even more if my kitchen magically cleaned itself afterward! This year I baked more than I typically do and tried some new recipes from Pinterest. I also tried my hand at making homemade bread for the first time which turned out DELICIOUS!

4. Bonfires
I waited three and a half long years for my very own fire pit to put on our back patio. I spent way too much time drooling over Pottery Barn magazines and the outdoor paradise that they created on every page. So, needless to say, I was very excited when we finally purchased one this year, along with an outdoor sofa. There's no better way to kick off the Fall season than curled up on a sofa with a warm fire  going while you drink hot apple cider.

5. Fall Cleaning
That's right....I just said cleaning. I am one of those people who finds so much joy in cleaning and organizing. It makes me feel as if all is right with the world and my own little corner of paradise is in order. I am also the type of person who thinks that homes need a deep cleaning more than just once a year. In preparation for all of the extra time we'll be spending inside the house over the next several months, I like to deep clean, organize, and purge our house. You can read my list of Fall cleaning tips HERE.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Homemade Applesauce Recipe

Since getting married in 2010, Fall has become one of my favorite seasons. Something about it makes me want to bake everything imaginable, clean my house, and pull out all of our blankets. Clearly I was meant to hibernate! It's become a fun Fall tradition around our house to go apple picking and load up bag after bag of the best looking apples that we can find. Apples are much cheaper when you pick them yourself, rather than buying them at the grocery store...and I can't pass up a money saving opportunity!  This is the first Fall that I have limited myself to one-20 pound bag of apples, and I found myself a little disappointed. But, with as busy as this year has been, I didn't want to get in over my head. The one bag ended up being plenty of apples for me to make several batches of applesauce, an apple coffee cake, apple fritters, and I am saving my last few apples for pies. Making homemade applesauce is much easier than it sounds, and tastes so good that you may never go back to store bought sauce. My particular recipe is one that my generous mother-in-law shared with me and it's the one that I've continued to use ever since. Feel free to experiment with different apple varieties, but we prefer to use Golden Delicious apples because of the sweet taste and soft texture when cooked. This applesauce will keep in your fridge for several weeks (it never lasts that long around here!), or you can freeze it in ziplock baggies or freezer containers, and it will keep for several months. If you're really ambitious, you could can your applesauce, but I don't have the patience for it!

Homemade AppleSauce

Golden Delicious apples (enough to fill your stock pot, I use a 6 qt. stock pot)

Peel, core, and slice all of your apples (I use a corer, peeler,slicer from Meijer that makes it super easy!).  Fill your stockpot to the top with the apple slices and add 1/4-1/2 cup water, depending on how juicy your apples are. Cover and cook on med-high heat for about 15-20 minutes, until soft, stirring often so that the apples don't burn. Once the apples are soft, mash them with a hand masher. (If you don't like your applesauce chunky, go ahead and throw it in a blender or food processor until desired consistency). Once your sauce is mashed, add cinnamon and sugar to taste. Enjoy chilled or warmed. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Show and Tell: my life in pictures

For my first post, I wanted to make it short and sweet and give you a little window into my life. Very soon I'll be sharing some DIY/home projects that I've been working on, my favorite recipes, budget tips and more!  But for now, sit back and enjoy the parade of pictures!

One of the many reasons that I married this guy: the way he looks at me!
This is how our dog prefers to ride in the car...(notice that she's in the back seat while we sit in the front)
We honeymooned in truly is paradise!

My favorite Bible verse: so much hope in a few words.

Our first house!
My favorite food: my homemade greek yogurt macaroni and cheese! Clearly, I love it so much that I forgot to take a picture until halfway through my meal.
My favorite place: Emerald Isle, North Carolina.

I truly do have a problem being serious.