Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Plated Review (A Meal Subscription Service)

In our household, we cook dinner at least 4 times a week.  And by cook, I mean from a recipe, not something frozen or from a box. I've never been much for cooking before, but in the past year I've come to really enjoy making new recipes and trying new foods.  That being said, even with Pinterest, sometimes it is hard to find new recipes to try (send me your links if you have any recs!) I had been curious about meal subscription services before, but never wanted to spend that much on a meal that I don't even get leftovers out of, but when a friend said she had Plated meals to give away, I jumped at the chance to try it out.

Meal 1: Green Chile Chicken Tacos with Mexican Street Corn (5/5 ★)

Even though I will eat just about anything if it is wrapped in a tortilla, I still thought these were exceptionally good. I had to toss the corn tortillas they came with since the were cracked in half when they arrived, but we had some small flour tortillas leftover from our last taco night that made great replacements. Also I’ve never known how to make Mexican street corn before, but now I’ve got a great recipe!

I was shocked that this turned out to be the perfect amount of food. I could only manage two of my tacos, so my boyfriend ate my third which left us both contently full.

Meal 2: Seared Steak with Bell Pepper Panzanella (3/5 ★)

The steak was tiny (probably because it’s an actual recommended serving, and not an American-sized serving) and honestly not that great. I used BBQ sauce with it (probably the only  time my boyfriend will let me put BBQ sauce on steak) and that help. The salad however was wonderful. It was made with arugula lettuce, roasted red and yellow peppers, capers, fresh Parmesan and croutons, and a vinaigrette made with olive oil and red wine sauce. I’m not a salad person, and no matter how hard I try I cannot get myself to enjoy peppers, but this salad was so good!

Although the steaks were small and the salads were huge, it was the perfect amount of food yet again (just proportioned differently than we probably would have!)

Meal 3: Duck Rag├╣ Rigatoni with Peas and Mint (3/5 ★)

I chose this meal because it had duck in it, and I had never cooked duck before.  In fact, I had only eaten it once previously, and it was just a bite on our cruise this past February.  Overall this pasta didn't have a lot of flavor.  If it weren't for the drizzled balsamic vinegar and the occasional mint leaf, it wouldn't have had any flavor.  It's not a recipe I would make again, but it was fun to try! 

We ended up making/eating this on Saturday, a full week after it was delivered.  They recommend that you eat your meals within five days of delivery.  I just thought it was funny that I made this after the recommended amount of time, but it was the only meal where are of the ingredients were in tact!

  • You can put in your food preferences/allergies to get recipes that fit your tastes and needs
  • You receive the exact amount of ingredients needed which means NO FOOD WASTE
  • Fresh ingredients
  • New recipes that you may not have tried before
  • New foods that you may have not tried before
  • No leftovers (a pro if you don't care for leftovers)
  • Helps with proper portion control
  • A time-saver if you're super busy and struggle to find the time to meal plan, grocery shop, etc.
  • Great customer service! The tortillas for our tacos came broken.  I emailed the customer support, and they within two days they had credited my account $24, enough for one meal. Then, when I opened my second meal, I found one of the garlic cloves was moldy (luckily they had put two garlic clove packages in there by mistake) and when I sent an email about it, they credited my account $6 within the next day.

  • You only get a small selection of recipes (20 recipes) to choose from each week
  • Although they rotate recipes weekly, I noticed that when I looked at the recipe choices for next week, two of the three I tried last week were listed. It's not a big deal to someone who doesn't consistently use Plated, but if you subscribed every week you may get bored of the options.
  • It can be spendy, depending on how much you usually spend on groceries each week
  • No leftovers (a con if you like to take leftovers to work for lunch the next day)
  • Since each ingredient comes packaged separately, it seems like there is a lot of packing waste- especially when you live somewhere (ahem, the south) that doesn’t have recycling readily available.

Overall, if you're someone who doesn't like to cook, but wants to eat an actual home cooked meal, a meal subscription service like Plated could absolutely be beneficial. I would think that if you are looking to eat healthier it would be a good option because it does teach proper portion sizes. I've come to enjoy finding new recipes based on the grocery store sales and learning to cook them on my own, so I don't plan on keeping my Plated subscription personally. (That being said, I received an email from Plated with a 40% discount if I re-subscribed. With the $30 credit added that they added to my account, I can get three meals for twelve bucks, so I will be getting one more week of Plated!) Have you tried a meal subscription service before? If so, which ones? And would you recommend them?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

9 Easy Smoothie Recipes

I am so excited that fresh fruit season is finally approaching! Though fruit is tasty on its own, I love how easy it is to make freezer bag smoothie recipes for when you're in a time crunch for breakfast or just want a cool, tasty treat in the summer. We've signed up for a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) starting in May where we will get a box of locally grown fresh fruit and a box of locally grown fresh vegetables every week. I am excited to discover new recipes to make with the vegetables, but I wanted to get a head start on trying out some fruit smoothies ASAP!

Smoothies can be made with a variety of liquids.  I typically make mine with almond milk, because that is what I always have on hand, but you could use any of the following:

Liquid Options
  • Apple juice
  • Almond milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Coconut water
  • Yogurt
The following recipes can be blended fresh, or tossed in a freezer bag and placed into the freezer for later use.

Berry A-peel-ing
  • ½ cup spinach
  • ½ banana
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • ½ cup strawberries
  •  + 1 cup liquid option

Kiwi to my Heart
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 2 peeled kiwis
  • 1 cup seedless grapes
  • + 1 cup liquid option

Have a Grape Day
  • 1 ½ cup seedless grapes
  • ½ banana
  • ½ cup spinach
  • + 1 cup liquid option

Berry Tasty
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • ½ cup strawberries
  • ½ cup raspberries
  • ½ large banana
  • + 1 cup liquid option

Orange You Glad
  • ½ cup orange
  • ½ banana
  • ½ cup mango
  • + 1 cup liquid option

Bananas for Peanut Butter
  • 2 large bananas
  • ½ cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp real maple syrup
  • + 1 cup liquid option

Tropic Like It’s Hot
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 orange
  • ½ banana
  • 1 cup mango
  • + 1 cup liquid option

  • 1 kiwi
  • 1½ cup watermelon
  • 1 ½ cup grapes
  • + 1 cup liquid option

Toucan Punch
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1½ cup pineapple
  • 1 cup mango
  • ½ banana
  • ½ cup strawberries
  • + 1 cup liquid option

With smoothie bowls as the newest trend, you can easily make your breakfast insta-worthy by pouring it into a bowl and adding fun toppings! I have suggested a few below, but you could throw in just about anything!

  • Honey
  • Granola
  • Sliced banana
  • Shaved almond
  • Shaved dark chocolate or chocolate chips
  • Coconut flakes
  • Cheerios
  • Frozen berries
  • Cinnamon
  • Crushed graham crackers
  • Peanut butter

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Spring Cleaning Challenge: 4 Weeks to a Cleaner Home

After spending the weekend in Minnesota’s below freezing temperatures, it was nice to get home and open the windows to Alabama’s fresh, warm breeze yesterday and today. There is something about the spring that kicks me into full-fledged Monica mode!

It helps that one of my favorite things to do is clean. Weird, I know. When I'm stressed out, I use cleaning as a means of de-stressing (which is much less crazier than people who run to de-stress as far as I'm concerned).  I love when spring is finally officially here and I can clean the house from top to bottom while playing my favorite podcasts with all the windows open letting in the spring air. I've learned that most people aren't like me in that respect, so I wanted to break down a full house cleaning spree into manageable tasks.

Fun fact: Did you know that this coming Saturday (April 7) is No Housework Day? Take Saturday to yourself, no cleaning allowed, then start this challenge on Sunday!

Grab a box or garbage bag and designate it as your donate container. As you clean, throw anything that you don’t need, that doesn’t have sentimental value, etc. and is still usable by others.

4 Weeks to a Cleaner Home

Day 1: Start with the junk drawer(s). Clean the junk drawers first, so you can’t throw stuff in them during your spring cleaning spree. If there are other spaces that you toss the things that you don't know what else to do with, clean those now too.

Day 2: Clean out all bedroom closets, making sure to donate anything that doesn’t fit or won’t be worn, and trash or mend anything with holes, missing buttons, etc. Repeat with dressers. Pack away winter clothing.

Day 3: Organize your email. Delete old messages, unsubscribe from junk and old newsletters you don’t read, and create folders for important content you want to save.

Day 4: Clean out the kitchen cabinets. Remove dishes, pots and pans, etc. and wipe down the shelving. Organize as you put everything back, getting rid of anything you don’t use. Wipe down the outside when through. If your cabinets are painted, patch up any chips if possible.

Day 5: Clean and organize end tables and night stands. If they have drawers, clean them out. Then dust and polish.

Day 6: Clean out your pantry. Remove everything and wipe down the shelves/drawers. As you put things back in, toss expired products, and organize the rest.

Day 7: Organize your storage room/area. Whether you have shelving in your laundry room or your garage, take it all out. Purge anything you truly don’t want or need. Often times storage is full of stuff we just don’t know what to do with. If it’s not seasonal (and used during that season), ask yourself if it is something you really want to keep. If not, donate it. 

Day 8: Wash all the windows and mirrors. Use an old toothbrush and bucket of soapy water to clean out the window sills. If possible, remove window panes so you can wash both sides. Also remove screens and hose them down outside.  Remember to wash shutters and blinds as well.

Day 9: Clean out the vents. Remove vent covers and wash them. While vent covers are removed, vacuum the vent out. Replace your air filter at this time too if needed. Wipe down furnace, water heater, washer/dryer and other utilities. 

Day 10: Clean out the fridge. Throw out old food, expired produce, etc. Sort through the condiments and toss anything that’s expired (or don’t if expired condiments don’t bother you; I’m weird about expired stuff). Remove the shelving and wash it with soapy water. Wipe down the outside of the fridge as well, including the top. If possible, pull the fridge out from the wall so you can sweep or vacuum underneath.

Day 11: Organize all desktop computers, laptops, and tablets. Delete apps you don’t use, files, etc. that are no longer relevant, and bookmarked internet tabs you no longer have a purpose for. If you’re really ambitious, organize your photos at this time too!

Day 12: Laundry day! Bring out the spring bedding if you haven’t already, and wash the winter blankets before packing them away. Also wash common blankets, such as living room blankets, etc. that are used year round. Replace pillows and rotate and flip mattresses at this time.

Day 13: Pull your vehicles out of the garage and give them a good spring cleaning. Take out anything not meant to be in the car, vacuum and wash seats, mats, and the floor. Wipe down everything else. Wash and wax the exterior of each vehicle. Bonus points if you Rain-X the windshield!

Day 14: Clean out the freezer(s). If you have a lot of frost build up, remove everything and defrost it before wiping it down. As you put things back into it, throw stuff you won’t eat. 

Day 15: Sort through paper files. Put loose papers that need to be kept into a labeled binder or folder. Shred personal documents that you no longer need.

Day 16: Break out the duster. Dust off all shelving throughout the house, as well as the items sitting on them.  Use a broom along your wall/ceiling line to make sure you get any hidden cob webs. Dust picture frames and wall hangings. 

Day 17: Pull out the vacuum. Vacuum each room, moving furniture if possible. Use the hose to get along the base boards and into otherwise hard to reach places. While it’s out, use the vacuum hose on couches on chairs as well.

Day 18: Sanitize your bathrooms. Clean buildup in faucets and shower heads. When cleaning out your medicine cabinets, set aside any old prescriptions and take them to a pill recycling bin (Walgreens typically has them).

Day 19: Organize and clean other closets (linen closets, coat closets, etc.)  Donate or toss items that are not used.  Pack up winter jackets so they're not taking up space in your closet all summer.

Day 20: Disinfect everything! Pull out a bottle of Lysol wipes and wipe down everything including door handles, railings, remotes, phones, light switches, etc. Wipe down the walls and doors and use a magic eraser to remove dirt and spots.

Day 21: Spend some time in the kitchen. Clean out the microwave and oven. Clean stove and wipe down range hood and vents. Wipe down the garbage bin. Wipe down/dust/vacuum kitchen chairs. Clean anything else in the kitchen that needs to be cleaned.

Day 22: Sweep and mop all wood, tile, etc. floors. Finish anything from the first three weeks of the challenge that you have not finished.

Day 23: Clean entry ways, mud rooms, and any outdoor common areas (patio, porch, deck, etc.)  Wipe down tables and chairs, and sweep floors.

Day 24: Spend some time outside. Clean outdoor buildings (garage, shop, shed, etc.) Organize and get rid of items that are not used. Sweep the floors and wash the windows. Clean out the gutters.

Day 25: If you didn't do it at Daylight Savings Time, replace the batteries in your smoke detector. Then, take some time for yourself. Take a bubble bath, cook yourself a fancy meal, go for a mani/pedi, whatever you need to do to relax! It's been a long month of cleaning, celebrate that you're almost done!

Day 26: Clean all kid and pet areas.  Wash or sanitize toys.  Clean pet bedding and wash food and water bowls, etc. (depending on the pet).

Day 27: Anything that hasn’t been cleaned or organized yet, do it today. Sort through your books, DVDs and CDs (am I the only one who still has those??), get rid of old accessories, etc.

Day 28: Buy some fresh flowers to spring-ify your newly cleaned house! Take everything in your donate box(es)/bag(s) to the nearest thrift shop or homeless shelter. Make some lemonade or sun tea then sit back and relax- you've earned it!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

#gretchensbooks2018 - March

Three months in and I've officially hit my goal of reading 24 books in 2018! I was looking at my "to read" list on Goodreads and was slightly intimidated by its 200+ listings, so I've decided to up my goal to 52 books for this year!

(Reminder: descriptions come from Amazon.com but all reviews are my own.  You can find previous book reviews here.)

15. Unreal by Riley Moreno (4/5 ★)

"Julie and Kim knew better. They went  anyways! When an innocent road trip takes a dark turn, two young women will end up fighting for their lives.

To celebrate her college graduation, Julie Edwards and her best friend, Kim, take off on a road trip across the country. But a simple pit stop becomes the end of the road when the two young women get tangled up into something they never saw coming... in their wildest dreams!"

I am going to start this review out with a trigger warning. If you are sensitive to events involving sexual assault then this book is not for you.  The craziness of this story picks up early in the book, so it doesn’t take long to be captivated by the plot line. There were multiple twists in the story that keep you guessing until the very end. It wasn’t the most suspenseful thriller I have ever read, but I really enjoyed it! Plus, if you follow the link in the title, you can get the kindle version of the book for free!

16. Bossypants by Tina Fey (4/5 ★) 

"Before Liz Lemon, before "Weekend Update," before "Sarah Palin," Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true.
At last, Tina Fey's story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon -- from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence. Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've all suspected: you're no one until someone calls you bossy."

I listened to this book on audiobook, and was really unsure of it in the beginning.  Tina Fey is a performer, but I wasn't crazy about her "reading" voice.  I wonder if its because I expect it to be like watching her on TV or in a movie. Anyway, I did enjoy this one once I got into it (which didn't take very long).  I especially liked that I could relate some of the things she talked about in her young life to the most quoted movie of all time, Mean Girls. (Don't fight me on that last part; I will win).  She even told about the person IRL that inspired her to write the character Damian from Mean Girls.  

17. Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin (4/5 ★)

"Does losing her dog mean losing everything? Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She's thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose's rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose's obsessions, her rules, and the other things that make her different – not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father. When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose's father shouldn't have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search. Hearts will break and spirits will soar for this powerful story, brilliantly told from Rose's point of view."

This book is definitely geared toward upper elementary/early middle school aged kids, but I really  enjoyed the last non-Baby Sitters' Club book that I read by her last year, so I wanted to give this newer one a shot.  I loved the message in this book and I highly, highly recommend this as a classroom read aloud! It gives kids the insight to a girl with Asperger's Syndrome which I love because it is likely they will come across a classmate like her in their school years and learning about differences through books and stories is so beneficial!  I gave it 4 stars only because it is so kid-oriented. It's not one of those books that I LOVED as an adult, but it is one that should belong in every elementary aged classroom.

18. The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon (4/5 ★)

"In 1991, fourteen-year-old Brent Runyon came home from school, doused his bathrobe in gasoline, put it on, and lit a match. He suffered third-degree burns over 85% of his body and spent the next year recovering in hospitals and rehab facilities. During that year of physical recovery, Runyon began to question what he’d done, undertaking the complicated journey from near-death back to high school, and from suicide back to the emotional mainstream of life."

I really enjoyed this non-fiction story because it gives the insight into someone's life who attempted suicide but failed.  I thought it was interesting to hear how his life changed after his suicide attempt.  Also, since it was such an unordinary means that he tried to use, it was interesting to see how burn victims cope and heal after their tragedies.  THe only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 is that since the book was written ten years after the events actually took place, it is hard to know what is real and what is falsely remembered (because as much truth as this story holds, I would imagine it is likely that memories changed too).

19. House Rules by Jodi Picoult (4/5 ★)

"Jacob Hunt is a teen with Asperger’s syndrome. He’s hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, though he is brilliant in many ways. But he has a special focus on one subject—forensic analysis. A police scanner in his room clues him in to crime scenes, and he’s always showing up and telling the cops what to do. And he’s usually right.

But when Jacob’s small hometown is rocked by a terrible murder, law enforcement comes to him. Jacob’s behaviors are hallmark Asperger’s, but they look a lot like guilt to the local police. Suddenly the Hunt family, who only want to fit in, are directly in the spotlight. For Jacob’s mother, Emma, it’s a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, Theo, it’s another indication why nothing is normal because of Jacob. And over this small family, the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacob commit murder?"

For many years I have heard people rave about how much they love Jodi Picoult's books.  I read my first one in high school and struggled hard to get through it. I read another by her two years ago, and though I liked it better, it still took me longer than it usually takes me to get through a book.  I had been recommended this book by a friend, but since I haven't been crazy about her books in the past, I decided to try this one on audiobook to see if it would be easier to get through.  I love that her stories have multiple perspectives, and what made the audiobook even more enjoyable was that each perspective was read my a different narrator.  This made it easy to follow along with and I didn't have to glance at the display monitor to see who each chapter was about as I was driving. Verdict was that I definitely enjoyed this book more than the others.  I'm not sure if it was the topic and plotline that I enjoyed more, or if the audiobook format made it more exciting for me. The only downside was that I predicted the outcome pretty early into the story which made the rest of the book lose some of the suspense.

20. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Illustrated Edition) by JK Rowling (5/5 ★)

For the first time, J.K. Rowling's beloved Harry Potter books will be presented in lavishly illustrated full-color editions. Kate Greenaway-award-winning artist Jim Kay has created over 100 stunning illustrations, making this deluxe format a perfect gift as much for a child being introduced to the series, as for the dedicated fan.
 Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility. All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley -- a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years. But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry -- and anyone who reads about him -- will find unforgettable.

21. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Illustrated Edition) by JK Rowling (5/5 ★)

Award-winning artist Jim Kay illustrates year two of Harry Potter's adventures at Hogwarts, in a stunning, gift-ready format.

The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he's packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike. And strike it does. For in Harry's second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockhart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls' bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley's younger sister, Ginny. But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone -- or something -- starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects... Harry Potter himself?

22. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (illustrated edition) by JK Rowling (5/5 ★)

For twelve long years, the dread fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort. Now he has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter's defeat of You-Know-Who was Black's downfall as well. And the Azkaban guards heard Black muttering in his sleep, "He's at Hogwarts . . . he's at Hogwarts."  Harry Potter isn't safe, not even within the walls of his magical school, surrounded by his friends. Because on top of it all, there may well be a traitor in their midst.

I am LOVING the illustrated versions of these books! Obviously all Harry Potter books will be 5-stars, but I'm including the reviews anyway.  If you love HP I highly recommend getting the illustrated copies!  As of 2017, only books 1-3 have been released in illustrated form, and the fourth book will be coming out in 2019.  I began reading the HP stories in elementary school, when only the first few were published.  Books 5-7 I read as soon as they were released, but since I have only read each book once, I figured it was time to give them another go-round this year.  Since I've had a dozen or six Harry Potter movie marathons (shout out to you, ABC Family), I know the movies like the back of my hand, so it has been fun to see what happens in the books that is different that the movies.

23. Resistance by Anita Shreve (2/5 ★)

Claire Daussois, the wife of a Belgian resistance worker, shelters a wounded American bomber pilot in a secret attic hideaway. As she nurses him back to health, Claire is drawn into an affair that seems strong enough to conquer all--until the brutal realities of war intrude, shattering every idea she ever had about love, trust, and betrayal.

I had a coupon for a free book at my local used book store, and since I'm a sucker for WWII historical fiction, I thought this would be the perfect pick. Unfortunately, that was not the case.  I really struggled to get through this one. Also this so-called affair doesn't even begin until over half way through the book, and there really isn't anything interesting leading up to it. 

24. Cut by Patricia McCormick (4/5 ★)

Callie cuts herself. Never too deep, never enough to die. But enough to feel the pain. Enough to feel the scream inside. Now she's at Sea Pines, a "residential treatment facility" filled with girls struggling with problems of their own. Callie doesn't want to have anything to do with them. She doesn't want to have anything to do with anyone. She won't even speak. But Callie can only stay silent for so long...

This book has been on my to-read list since high school and I only just now checked it out from the library.  I was reading it on a mini road trip and apparently I got into it enough that when my boyfriend asked me a question, it took me a minute to answer because I felt like I wasn't supposed to talk (like the main character in the book). Anyway, it is definitely geared toward more upper middle school readers than 26-year olds, but I still enjoyed it enough.

New Goal: 24/52 books read in 2018

Stay tuned for April's reads, coming to the blog on May 1st!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

DIY Brown Sugar Scrub Cubes

Goodbye, dry skin! Okay y'all, I have been OBSESSED with sugar scrubs lately.  I had originally gotten a sample of a coffee scrub from Lush and when I finally used it I was in love and made my own coffee scrub (that you can find here).  Then, I realized that I had a Mary Kay sugar scrub from years ago sitting in my linen closet. I had never used it because I thought it was just another body wash. When I realized what it was, I went through it so fast that I decided I needed to make my own sugar scrub as well.  I'm sharing my recipe, but there are many variations you could make depending on what you are looking to get out of it!


  • Orange essential oil
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • mixing bowl
  • ice cube tray
  • gel food coloring (optional)

  1. Combine the brown and white sugar in the mixing bowl and mix until fully combined
  2. Add the honey, coconut oil, and essential oil and mix until fully combined
  3. Separate into ice cube tray departments and freeze for an hour or two
  4. To use: you can either store your scrub in the freezer and take it out when you want to use it, or store them in a separate container in a space that is room temperature or cooler.  Typical frequency of use is about 1-2 times each week depending on your skin and the season (looking at you, never-ending winter..)


  1. The amount of brown sugar vs. white sugar that you use is dependent on its use. Use one cup of sugar in all, but divide it based on the benefits you are looking for listed below
  2. If you decide to use all white sugar (or mostly), you may want to use gel food coloring to give it an orange color (it shouldn't turn your skin orange)
  3. Though fractionated coconut oil is typically recommended (because it is already in liquid form), I like to melt down regular coconut oil and use it because I feel like it holds everything together better.  If you wanted to just put the scrub in a jar altogether instead of making it into cubes, fractionated coconut oil would likely be the better choice.
  4. Other essential oils could be used in place.  Additionally, the amount of oil needed varies based on the brand.  I used doTERRA which is pretty high quality, so I only needed a couple of drops

  1. Sugar pulls moisture from the air around you into your skin to hydrate it.  It also helps to break down the glue between skin cells, helping with cell turnover and removing dead skin cells, therefore healthier looking skin
  2. Brown sugar vs. white sugar: brown sugar is softer and better for sensitive skin or sensitive areas like the face whereas white sugar is coarser and is typically used for the rest of the body
  3. Orange essential oil helps to wake you up, but also has  a load of health benefits as well.  It is known to be used as an anti-depressant as well as a sedative- but not in the typical means of the word.  While it relaxes you and relieves anxiety, it also keeps you alert.  Orange oil helps with inflammation due to allergies or infection, and has anti-septic properties. 

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Haiti: 5 Days on a Royal Caribbean Cruise, Part 2

If you missed part 1, you can read it here, first! The following account is written journal-style, to incorporate my thoughts/feelings about that day and its experiences!

Day 4 - Labadee, Haiti

Thursday, February 22, 2018

After waking up and reading on the balcony for awhile, Carl and I meandered to breakfast in the Windjammer.  They have these delicious cinnamon roll type breakfast pastries that I just cannot get enough of!

We had some time after breakfast to continue reading on our balcony, because we weren't due to dock in Labadee, Haiti until 9 AM.  We used the binoculars Carl's parents had brought to peer at the island and skim over it, looking for signs of its inhabitants.

As we docked, a string of boats drove in a large ellipse in front of us, treating us to a mini parade!

Around 9:30, we were able to vacate the ship.  We wandered our way down to the white, sandy beach and claimed a spot in the sun next to a large palm tree.  I waded into the water a little, but it was COLD!  It was really nice laying in the sun, but then the wind started to pick up and was blowing sand everywhere.  Carl and I started to amble back to the ship some time after noon for lunch.

On our way back, I got a Jamaican rum drink called a "pineapple lava flow," and it came in a pineapple!  We took some pictures, then headed back to the ship for a late lunch.  We met a family in the elevator who shared with us that they had just gotten off the ship and walked to the end of the pier, but were turned away because of the strong wind.

After a quick shower to cleanse ourselves of sand, the captain came over the speaker to tell us that the ship was planning on changing the departure time to 2:30 instead of 5 due to the strong winds at port; it was too difficult to keep the ship docked.

We ate lunch in the Windjammer, and then got our books to read in the Olive & Twist bar up on the fourteenth floor for the afternoon.  We ended up departing Haiti around 2:45 PM and could see the storm approaching in the distance.

For dinner, Carl and I had a reservation for just the two of us at the Romeo and Juliet dining hall.  I indulged in creamy wild mushroom soup as a starter, chicken Marsala with mushrooms, mashed potatoes, and asparagus for my main dish, and warm chocolate hazelnut cake for dessert.

After dinner, we came upstairs so we could both finish off our books before finding the others.  It was nice listening to the rain pour into the seas below us as we reveled in the cool breeze that swirled across our balcony.  The sun drained me of m energy (and left me a little more sunburned than I realized), so by 10 PM I crawled into bed, ready to start my fourth book of the trip before slumber hit.

I have to say, it was strange being in Haiti, realizing that it was a third world country, and that although we were contained in the Royal Caribbean resort in Labadee,  just over the mountains was a whole population living in poverty. My privilege hit me hard.

Day 5 - Cruising

Friday, February 23, 2018

Our last day at sea! (booo!)  On one hand, I am ready to go home - there is only so much you can do on a floating hotel before you start to get bored.  On the other hand, it has been really nice being away from everything - no responsibilities, no plans, no connection to the real world.  I didn't even bring my planner and "to do" notebook with, so I was forced to relax and take a vacation from everything.

Carl and I went to breakfast a little later this morning because we slept in (until 6:45!)  We then wandered the boat so I could get a few more pictures.  It was really cool seeing/standing in the bow of the ship.  It was like a Jack and Rose moment (minus the whole hitting an iceberg thing and without Celine Dion singing in the background).

We met up with Carl's parents a little later and say up at the pool for a little while.  Carl ended up going to the hot tub with the girls and I did a little more wandering around the ship.

For lunch, there were (finally!) tacos.  They also had a GIANT 3-layer cake (think 5 feet long by three feet wide!) that said, "Thank you for cruising!"  After lunch, we continued to roam the boat.  We watched the belly boarding on the Flow Rider, played some shuffleboard, checked out the map (we were passing Cuba), and looked at the pictures that the photographers had taken throughout the week.

Over the course of the afternoon we lounged out on the balcony, enjoying each other's company and our last day of watching the waves and feeling the cool, sea breeze.

At 7 PM, Carl and I went to the end-of-the-cruise show, where we were entertained by a juggler/magician/comedian who was actually really good.  They ended the show with a song and dance number performed by some of the cruise staff members and the cruise orchestra.

At 8:15 PM, Carl and I met the girls for our last dinner at the Romeo and Juliet dining hall.  For my last meal, I ate fruit as my starter, beef tenderloin (best thing I ate all week!) in a morel mushroom sauce with mashed potatoes and asparagus as a main dish, and carrot cake for dessert.

Our night (eh...early morning?) ended at the Dog & Badger Pub, an Irish pub on the fifth deck within the Royal Promenade.  We watched the night's performer, Amy Hendrickson (who is awesome! Seriously, look her up!), play her guitar and sing for a couple hours with Ryan, Jodi, and Carl's parents.  Plenty of rum & Coke later, it was after midnight and the pub was forcing a shut down despite the still very lively crowd.  (We were told it was because all taps, even water, were turned off at that time).  After finishing our drinks, we headed across the way for some pizza before meandering up to bed.

On our way up to the seventh deck, we stopped at the map, which told us we were out in sea, just off the Floridian coast.  It was at this point that I realized that my fitbit showed I was just short of 20,000 steps for the day (there's a lot of walking to do on a fifteen floor cruise ship!) so Carl drug me up the stairs to the eleventh floor.  We observed the lit up city-scape in the distance before heading back down to our room for a short night of sleep.  We happened to look out on our balcony and saw that we could no longer see the city lights.  Eventually we realized the ship was cruising in circles, because we were not due to dock for a few more hours.  Finally, I fell asleep around 1:30 AM to catch some zzzs before my alarm was set to go off a little after 6.

Day 6 - Arrival

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Early in the 5 o'clock hour, Carl and I both woke up wide awake.  After turning my phone off airplane mode, I decided to avoid the overwhelming number of messages and notifications and hop in the shower so we could hit up breakfast ASAP.  The Windjammer opened at 6, an hour earlier than usual, so we headed up right away in hopes of catching the sunrise while we filled our tummies.  I got to enjoy my favorite cinnamon roll sticky buns one last time.

Once breakfast was over, we headed down to our rooms one last time to pack our last remaining belongings before exiting the boat.  We were told the doors would be opened for our departure at 7:30 AM, but ended up exiting the ship, going through customs, and taking the shuttle to my parked car all by 7:39 AM.

Final Thoughts

Cruises are perfect for people who like to vacation.  While I am undeniably more of a traveler than a vacationer, I am definitely looking forward to hopping aboard another cruise in the future!