Saturday, December 27, 2014

Wrapping up the Holidays!

Ah December 27th.  Holiday Spirit is in the air and New Year's is literally right around the corner!  It's also time to start prepping for the next holiday season!  May as well crank up the Christmas songs on Pandora and give yourself a boost of productivity for next season.  Check out my post from last year "Merry New Year:  10 Things To Do to Prep for Next Christmas."
Cheers to a productive and organized 2015!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Shedding the Plastic (Bags)

Plastic.  It's not good for us or the environment.  Yet, it creeps into our lives.  If you live in California, be prepared to say goodbye to plastic shopping bags being provided to you in 2015.  Stock up on reusables and make new habits now so it's an easy transition next summer.  Somehow I am still inundated with plastic bags.  This morning I decided enough is enough.  Do you have a drawer that looks like this?

I gathered up all of the bags that were not in my gingham bag holder and recycled them.  The bag holder is my physical limiter for bags.  If I get more than what fits in that holder, they will be recycled.  I anticipate using these all up soon, and filling that holder up with a more environmentally friendly option.  I have started using the Bag to Nature liners which are fully compostable and oh so much better for our earth.

Next step is to stop the plastic from coming in the house.  This is perhaps the hardest part!  We can be so accustomed to just running in a store and not bringing in bags.  Even if they are in the car, it takes an effort to make bringing the bags in a habit.  I got good at bringing my bag to to the grocery store, but you have to remember to bring them to other shopping venues too like the mall, drug stores etc.   I like to keep one like this in my purse:

Also, don't forget your reusable produce bags!


You Only Live Once.  This saying immediately brings visions of living life to the full, enjoying every moment, doing all the fun stuff, doing what makes you happy, and making decisions to go after dreams, goals, or perhaps simply just a new hairstyle!  Last weekend was packed with just fun and activities for our family.  But boy am I paying for it now!  Don't get me wrong, I am glad it was packed with all the fun stuff.  But reality set in on Monday and the cleaning and catch up must be done.  With a husband working extra hours, busyness of the holiday season, and the normal every day upkeep of kids, household (plus throw in a few extra random events and to-do's), life can seem just downright overwhelming.  When life hits you full force, every minute seems filled up and even simple tasks like keeping up with dishes and laundry can be hard.  It's times like these that renew my passion in living simply even more.  Own less, do more.  When we have less stuff to take care of, wash, dust, account for, it frees time up to focus on the truly important stuff.  It amazes me how many times I've needed to peel down the layers of stuff, and to-do's like an onion.  Once I purge one area of the house or life, I find other things I need to get rid of.  Also, isn't it amazing how stuff just creeps into life?  Paperwork is a repeat offender, and my favorite - all of the tiny little plastic things that kids seem to be a magnet for.  Have a container or treasure box for a few these things, and let the kids pick their treasures.  I often have to just sneak a bunch of that stuff (the pieces that were not deemed treasure) in the trash or recycle bin.

Conclusion:  I want to do all the fun stuff, and minimize the no-so-fun stuff.  To make that happen, focus on holding on to the things and people in life that really matter and be persistent in letting go of the things that take too much of your precious time.   Make it a daily habit to get rid of things, and you will be on your way to maximizing your YOLO factor.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Neat Doctor's Holiday Shopping Guide 2014

The Holidays are here!  Here are a few of my favorite gifts of organization for the season. Enjoy!

Card Cubby - My purse would not be the same without my Card Cubby!  Keep all of your gift cards, punch cards, and discount cards in the Card Cubby instead of cluttering up your wallet.  There are alphabetical dividers for quick access and they come in a variety of color options. 

Coupon Oganizer - This coupon organizer is so versatile!  Not only is is great for coupons, but it also serves as a great cash envelope system - only you don't need envelopes as this keeps your cash organized in easy access categories.  Added bonus - it hangs on a grocery cart!

Carabiner Clip - This makes a great stocking stuffer!  I don't know what I would do without one of these on my keychain.  It hooks to my purse & belt loop, keeps my keys handy and is handy in loss prevention of keys as well. 

Home and Office Labeler - A must have!  You can't go wrong with the Brother P-Touch, simple and easy to use.

Clever Shopper - Nix the plastic (and paper!) shopping bags and opt for reusables whenever possible.  It's a great way to foster eco-friendliness.  I love this bag because it hangs on the cart, holds up to 40lbs and comes in a variety of patterns.  If you live in California, we've got the upcoming plastic bag ban coming up in 2015.  Prepare now with this clever and cute shopper! 
Clever Container Product Image

Also check out my Clever Container website for even more fabulous items!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Check out my "5 Tips for Simplifying Your Holidays" Over at MOMS of Conejo Valley!

If you are a Mom in the Conejo Valley, California, go check out the MOMS of Conejo Valley site and Facebook page & group.  There is a wealth of info. there for local moms, as well as lots of support!  They are also featuring my holiday tips on the blog this week!

Friday, November 28, 2014

5 Tips for Simplifying Your Holidays

Life can be just plain busy most of the time.  Enter Fall and the busy-ness basically snowballs on through New Year's.  I've had years where I feel like I can barely catch my breath as I'm filled with a bunch of seasonal to-do's, on top of normal to-do's, all while trying my best to live in the moment and enjoy time with family and friends.  I've implemented some ways to simplify the to-do's and prep for the holidays throughout the year.  Even implementing just a few things can take your holiday season from hustle-bustle to easy-breezy!
1. Choose Your Favorite Traditions: 
With all the fun things on Pinterest, religious and family traditions of the season, throw in some things like parties, elf on the shelf, advent calendars, cookie exchanges and school activities, our calendars can certainly fill up fast!  Sometimes it's hard enough to just get our family fed, kids bathed and everyone driven to where they need to be, and now you have all the extra activities of the season to juggle.  I say choose your traditions wisely.  Keep it simple.  Only do what is truly important to you and what your family really enjoys.  Do a decluttering of your activities.  Make sure you have some down time and try not to schedule things back to back.  Block out events you know about on the calendar ASAP.  If it's something you partake in every year, put it on your calendar even a year in advance.  Have the courage to say "no" and confidence that you do not have to do everything and will be giving your family the gift of a less hectic schedule. 
2.  Have a Plan & Repeat:
Having a plan is key to having an organized, less stress holiday season.  One of my favorite holiday planning resources is  There are 3 plans to choose from, with a ton of free printable checklists.  I make a Christmas binder and simply print out the checklists each year.  If you celebrate Chanukah, or other holidays, you can  you can adapt elements from a system like this and make your own personalized binder and checklists.  You can print out the checklists again each year (I like to print mine in January while I still have some holiday spirit hanging around).  Scheduling routines for the months ahead can help simplify the prep work immensely.  For example, if you do family portraits every year, mark on your calendar an event to schedule portraits.  I schedule ours between late August and early October.  I also like to schedule reminders of when to purchase the stamps and greeting cards.  (Check out Costco's special in November!)  Another thing I love about the Organized Christmas checklists is that it includes tasks like cleaning the house and prepping food.  It's so nice to have a schedule to follow to keep me on track!

3.  Shop Throughout The Year:
I like to keep an Excel spreadsheet of everyone I need to shop for and keep it going throughout the year.  In January I do a "save as" for the next year and mark off people as I shop the post holiday and end of winter sales.  Keep a copy in your purse or car.  If I find things on clearance throughout the year, I make sure to mark it off the list.  Be sure to track money spent too for budgeting purposes, or even just to see how much you have saved.  By the time the holidays roll around, I usually only have a handful of gifts to purchase.  You may want to consider putting in columns for clothing sizes too.  For the gifts I need to store for Santa, I keep them in  a big bin in the garage. If you re-gift, be sure to keep a sticky note on the item with who gave it to you!  There are also some great apps out there to manage your gift giving.

4.  Write Everything on the Calendar:
I mean everything!  Family trips, annual events, even guesstimated dates of events you think might be happening, reminders of to-do's,  and don't forget birthdays! When there are Fall Birthdays in the mix, you've got even more planning to do!  Make sure you have a way to communicate your calendar with your family members.  Wall calendars or chalkboard/white board calendars are great.  I like to use Google Calendar.  We set it up so my husband and I share calendars with each other.  Everything he enters pops up on my calendar & vice versa.  I love the color coding option, and it syncs nicely with cell phones & tablets.  As the seasons events start to pop up, take a good look at your calendar.  Is it too hectic?  Do you have enough down time scheduled for your sanity?  You may even want to block off some down time to prevent yourself from scheduling something. 

5.  Letting Go: 
Ah yes, a reminder of the ever popular Disney song.  There is so much to be learned in just letting go of all the things we just can't quite get to and simply embracing our family, our beautiful messes, our unexpected happenings.  As hard as we may try, there is bound to be some things (or a lot of things!) we cannot control.  Let it go, make the best of things, and have an extra cookie or toast a glass of bubbly to a fabulous new start around the corner in 2015.  There's always New Years & Valentine's Day cards you can send!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Join the Farm Large Share Meal Plan - from the 9/18/14 Box

Here are some recipes for this week's share - Enjoy!
-Imperator Carrot
-Black Beauty Eggplant
-Green Curly Leaf Lettuce
-Italian Basil
-Sugar Baby Watermelon
-San Marzano Tomato  (saucing)
-Hass Avocado
-Canary Melon
-Green Bush Beans
-Heirloom Bloomsdale  Spinach
-Cherry/Jellybean Tomato
-Heirloom Brandywine  Tomato
-Butternut Winter Squash

Thursday Boxes:
-Acorn Winter Squash
-Heirloom Bloomsdale  Spinach
Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce - I used botht the San Marzano and Heirloom Tomatoes


And finally enjoy some salads as lunch & accompanying your dinners!

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Snippet of the Life of Karen, aka Mom, Snippet #1

It's 12:06am as I write this.  Tonight I did not pack lunches until 11:37pm.  I'm out of my routine.  I'm tired, yet energized.  My body aches for sleep but my mind is inspired and wants to do so much!  I experience this quite often.  I spent the evening with some amazing and inspiring ladies.  I feel filled with support, camaraderie (I just had to look up how to spell that!), and self realization.  Sometimes I have shied away from doing certain activities, even fun things because my life is too busy or I'm too tired.  I am so glad when I push through.  And you know what's weird?  I seem to find myself more productive, and often less stressed when I engage in things that take me away from the hustle bustle hamster wheel of life's mundane duties.  I pushed myself to get a few things done this afternoon, and was happy with that.  I would have gladly gone to bed with the house in that state of cleanliness.  Heck, I slept with laundry the other night because I was to exhausted!  To my surprise I came home to an even cleaner house with the dishwasher going and coffee set to brew for the next morning.  Thank you amazing husband!  I truly believe when you throw positive stuff out to the universe, positive comes back, even if it's in the form of little things you take joy in, like a picked up living room. 

My challenge to you:  Step off the hamster wheel of the mundane & do something different today!


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Join the Farm Large Share Meal Plan - Week of 9/1/14

Here is my plan for this week's box!

Large Share
Imperator Carrot
Italian Basil
Tomatillo (subbed with some kind of pepper for us - perhaps Jalepenos)
Romaine Lettuce
Cherry Tomato/Jellybean Tomato
Lemongrass Herb
Sugar Baby Watermelon
Sweet Bi-Color Corn
Green Onion
Yolo Wonder Bell Pepper
Brandywine Heirloom Tomato (Slicing)
San Marzano Tomato (Saucing)
Ruby Lettuce
Bloomsdale Heirloom Spinach
Hass Avocado

*Salad made with Ruby Lettuce, Carrot, Cherry Tomato, Roasted Corn, Bell Pepper, Green Onion & Avocado.

*Omelette Additions:  Tomato, Green Onion, Avocado, Spinach

How to Freeze Melon (I have a ton right now so I'm freezing some for smoothies!)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Join The Farm Large Share Meal Plan 8/21/14

Hello!  I'm back in the swing of planning for our CSA box again.  Sorry if you missed me 2 weeks ago. I am still getting the Large Share box bi-weekly.  Please note this list is subject to change based on availability from the farm.  Enjoy!

Large Shares

Imperator Carrot
Romaine Lettuce
San Marzano Tomato
Jellybean Tomato
Green Onion
Canary Melon
Brandywine Tomatoes
Green Beans
Bell Pepper
Ruby Lettuce

*Melons, Carrots, Bell Peppers and Cucumbers as stand alone snacks.  I love dipping bell peppers and cucumbers in hummus. 

*Salad:  ruby lettuce, carrots, bell pepper, tomato, green onion, and whatever nuts, dried cranberries & odds & ends you have in your pantry right now.

*Another Salad made with Romaine, green onion, and a dressing of lemon, olive oil, dill & a little feta.

*Reserve some lettuce to add to smoothies.

Crock Pot Tomato Basil Soup

Fresh Green Beans

Eggplant Tzatziki

Hominy, Tomatillo, & Squash Stew - I'll be using the Zucchini in this.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Neat Doctor's Back-toSchool Freezer Recipe Picks!

Wow.  Did back-to-school totally sneak up on anyone else?  I thought I was pretty prepared, and I am in some ways (uniforms, supplies, teacher's gifts & prep meetings with other moms, check!) but all of a sudden school is starting in less than 2 weeks and I still have so much I want to get done!  Luckily I have one kid starting preschool after labor day so I'm going to give myself some leeway and try to get things done by then.  One of my goals is to fill my freezer up with a variety of healthy prepped foods.  Prepping now will save time and make things so much easier throughout the year.  I will aim to have another prep session after New Years and throughout the year as needed.  Here are some links to my top recipe picks.  I'll be in the kitchen a lot these next few weeks!


Green Smoothies

Crunchy Raw Protein Balls - These could be in the snack category too, but these are a great option to power pack your kids with protein in the morning, and perfect if you need to grab them on the go!

French Toast Sticks - Note:  I am keeping these whole so when I stick take them out of the freezer they are easier to reheat in the toaster.  These are also a good breakfast on the go food.

3 Freezable Breakfast Bites

Breakfast Casserole - I know I will need to make at least 2 hot dishes for my MOPS group this fall, so whipping up this dish and sticking it in the freezer will save me a lot of time!  I'll be using my favorite vegan sausage, Field Roast. 

Crock Pot Freezer Jam - This just sounds so delicious so I'm going to try it!  It would pair wonderfully with some scones or even just on whole grain toast. 


Check out how this mom preps on Sunday for the weeks lunches:
School Lunch Project:  Organize Your Fridge to Save Time and Money and Feed Your Kids Better. 

I've got one kid I need to pack lunch for and one that will be with me for lunch.  I am going to try and pre-make my lunch and the preschoolers lunch ahead of time too.  If you have a busy weekend & don't have time to pack ahead, another way to tackle the prep is to make or package a few things per day.

Here are some more great pack ahead tips over at Happy Money Saver.

Homemade Yogurt Squeezes:  I like the idea of yogurt squeezes you can freeze, but I wanted a healthier non-dairy version.  I found these BPA free silicone ice pop molds on Amazon which work wonderfully to customize your own yogurt squeezes.   I simply took some plain (or vanilla) coconut milk yogurt and ran it in the Vitamix with some frozen mangoes (use the frozen fruit of your choice).  I then filled the molds up, leaving some room for expansion, and voila!  A healthier and more environmentally conscious yogurt squeeze!  Kids loved them too!

Lunchbox Smoothies - I love this idea!!


Apple Fruit Leather

Crunchy Roasted Chickpea Snack

No-Bake Granola Bars 

Mango Chia Popsicles - Who says popsicles have to be summer only treats?!  I'm going to try these for after school snacks.  Need a popsicle mold?  Here's a great one you can order along with the yogurt molds.


Black Bean Veggie Burgers

Vegan Crock Pot Freezer Meals


Cinnamon Ice Box Cookies - Great to have on hand for those last minute parties or evening get togethers (Mom's Night Out anyone?!)

A little bit of prep work goes a long way!  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

This is How I Coupon: 9 Tips for Simplified Couponing

So you want to do some couponing.  You hear it can save a lot of money and you see those extreme couponers getting some amazing deals on grocery bills.  How hard can it be?  You hear rumors of it only being good for junk food and wonder if it's even worth the effort.  I'm pleased to let you in on how I coupon.  I use a more simplified approach, and try to steer clear of junk food.

1)  Bloom Where You Are Planted:  What I mean by this is only focus on the stores that are closest in proximity to your home (or perhaps workplace if you coupon on lunch hour).  This reduces gas mileage spent, and limits the number of store ads you are focusing on for your "couponing homework" (I'll get to that later).  If you have many stores near you, pick 1 supermarket and 1 drugstore.  I want to note here that we do a lot of shopping at Trader Joe's, where I do not use coupons.  There are not many there to use, but you can look out for specials there. We also occasionally get things at Whole Foods, where I find occasional coupons in their ad and from manufacturers.  When I say pick 1 supermarket, I mean pick one in addition to these.  Stores like Vons, Albertson's, Ralph's and the like typically have more deals to use with coupons.  Then pick one drugstore - for locals to Conejo Valley, good deals can be found at CVS, Rite Aid & Walgreens.  Big stores like Target can also have some great deals to pair with coupons.  I happen to not live in super close proximity to any Targets, so if I know I need something there, then I will look at the coupon deals for that week and plan a coupon run.  If I am not planning on heading that way I skip it for the week.

2)  Subscribe to the Sunday Paper:  I have found the best deal with the Los Angeles Times.  Be sure to look at for online coupon codes you can enter.  (Never buy anything online without checking this site for a coupon code first!)  Delivery runs around 75 cents per week.  Use one coupon for 75 cents or higher and it just paid for itself!

3)  Routine:  Get into the routine of clipping your coupons at the same time every week.  For me this is usually Sunday morning or Sunday night.  I clip everything I think I will use and file it away in envelopes categorized by type of coupon.

Here are my categories:
Cleaning Supplies
Food (This can be a huge category!  You may need to split this up into types of food.  I try to utilize mostly fresh produce from our CSA box and only stick to some staples of packaged food, but it's limited, so this is not as huge of a category for me.)
Misc. Coupons (Anything that does not fit into these categories, like batteries.)
Oral Care
Paper Goods
Personal Care
Target Coupons
To Be Filed
Expiring Soon!

I also only keep the ads for the stores I am planning on going to for that week.   I may keep coupons for other stores like Macy's, Joanne's, Bed, Bath & Beyond (which do not expire!) etc. that come in the paper, just in case I need them.  Be sure to keep them in your car (I use a manilla envelope).  Many a time I did not have them with me when circumstances ended us up at a store and I found myself saying, but I have a coupon . . . at home! So frustrating. 

It's also important to have purging as a part of your routine.  Every week do a quick scan of your coupon stash to see if any have expired.  If you miss a week of purging, no big deal, just pick it up the next week. Just don't let it go for too long.  I just recently recovered form a 6 month hiatus from couponing.  My OCD side had to go through every insert looking to make sure all were expired before I tossed them.  I did find a couple non-expired coupons but the majority were past expiration.  That was quite a project that took me weeks.  So do not lapse for too long!

4)  Only keep the coupons that you will really use:  Be realistic with yourself.  Sure you have a wonderful coupon for toothpaste.  But does anyone in your family like that brand??  If you stick to one brand or flavor of an item and honestly do not use any others, find someone who will use it, donate the coupons to the military so families can use them on bases (they can use expired coupons!) click HERE for more info., or simply recycle.  You can also keep a folder of "Coupons I may use" and only access them if you need them, thus simplifying the coupons in your categorized envelopes. 

5)  Raise your "Coupon Awareness":  Once you start couponing, you will probably start noticing coupons everywhere.  I find them at stores in those machines that spit them out at the register (Catalinas), in those machines sprinkled throughout the aisles, in magazines, sometimes on the product or box itself, and even on the ground & in a grocery cart! 

6)  Figure out your Prime Shopping Methods & Times:  You have to do what works for you.  Doing coupon shopping with my kids stresses me out.  I can't concentrate, they usually end up wanting stuff that's not on my list and I may not have the energy to put my foot down and deny them.  It just is not a great way to shop for me.  So, I plan my trips in the evening when my husband is home.  Occasionally I do have to do a run to a store with the kids, but I try to make it a trip where I only meed a few things. 

7)  Use a website that does the hard work for you!:  This is what I consider "homework time!"  The hard work I'm talking about is matching up the store sale prices with coupons that are currently out there.  Keep in mind you may have a coupon you got from a package that may not be listed on their list, so browsing the ads to make your own match ups is a good idea too.  These websites will primarily focus on coupons found in newspaper inserts.  There are a ton of websites that do this.  Just google coupon website for whatever stores you like.  One of my favorite sites is Pocket Your Dollars.  This website covers Target, Walgreens, and CVS for my Conejo Valley readers. The Krazy Koupon Lady is another good site.  There are a ton of others out there as well.  Many sites have lists where you can just check off the items you are interested in getting then print it out. 

8)  Don't forget your store savings cards & coupons!:  One of the basic principles of couponing is that you can use a store sale, possibly a store coupon, and a manufacturers coupon all on the same item.  Be sure to still check the store couponing policy, but this is pretty much true across the board. After you pick your favorite grocery store and drug store, make it your homework to become an expert on their sales and incentive programs. 

9)  Have a place to store your coupons:  I use a 31 Bags Large Utility Tote.  Yes it's big!  It's the perfect size to hold my folder of coupons, as well as weekly ads, newspapers I need to go through etc.  I've been very glad a few times when I just grab the tote to take with me to work on them.  I use the Case It folder, which is available on Amazon HERE. I love all of the spaces in it to store things like scissors, pens, calculator, and even a separate filer section where I like to file my store ads. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Join me Over at Blissful & Domestic!

Good Morning!  In July I had a chance to share my tips on "5 Ways to Save Your Way to Disneyland" over at Blissful and Domestic.  This morning, I am being featured in the "Day in Life of" series.  Come check out "Day in The Life of Karen" , and while you are there check out Danielle's treasure of posts on saving money, managing a household, recipes, and more!  Enjoy!  This definitely was not my craziest of days, but it was a great experience to open up.

Monday, July 28, 2014

I'm Losing My Marbles!

There are definitely a few times a week if not more that I feel like I am losing my marbles in one way or another as I navigate through this crazy and wonderful life!  I really am losing my actual marbles every week, and it's one of the best little things keeping me grateful and in the moment.  It's actually something we've implemented called Legacy Marbles.  It was introduced to us in a sermon one Sunday at church.  The idea is that you only get 936 weeks from the time your child is born to the time they leave the house after high school graduation.  The concept is if we count our weeks, we make our weeks count more.  It's had an amazing impact on me.  It's helped me to focus more on what matters most, and spend more quality time with my kids.  My conversations are different with them, and I find myself enjoying moments more.  Every Sunday night I take a marble out of each kids jar and put it away in the bag the marbles came in.  It's a weekly ritual I've come to enjoy.  I meditate on the victories and even the shortcomings of the week, and say some prayers as I look forward to the next week.  Over time, you can see the marble levels decreasing.  This is not meant to depress, but rather to inspire us to perhaps live our days a little more intentionally.  In addition to the book, I bought the precounted bag of marbles.  You could buy your own, but last I calculated, the price is about the same, and it's worth it not to have to count them all!  You will have to count a while lot of them if you already have kids.  That was the hardest part!  I may have missed taking a marble or 2 out here and there, but I'll figure that out during the last few weeks of high school and adjust it then.  There are also special marbles for birthdays, graduation, and special events in the child's life.    I used 2 vases I found at the 99 Cent Store to display the marbles in.  One thing I thought about as I write this post - I really need to put some museum clay on them. We live in earthquake country and one big jolt would send them flying everywhere!  Check out this link HERE for more information on Legacy Marbles, the accompanying book, and how to purchase your own.  Cheers to losing your marbles!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Join the Farm Large Share Meal Plan - Week of 7/20/14

Large Share Box Contents:
Green Onions
Swiss Chard
Crookneck Squash
Green Beans
Bell Pepper
Casaba Melon

The Usuals (Stuff I make almost every time we get our box!):
Cut up Carrots, Bell Pepper & Cucumber to dip in hummus
Lemon Water
Avocado - Good plain, with scrambled eggs and in quesadillas. For a dairy free quesadilla, give Daiya Cheese a try - it melts the best!
Watermelon, Casaba & Oranges are amazing snacks in this summer heat - try infusing some in water too!
Fennel roasted with salt, pepper & parmesan

Lemongrass Tea
Imake a big batch of hot tea then simply save the rest in a pitcher that I put in the fridge for later to drink as iced tea.  I prefer the taste without any sweeteners.
If you don't want to do tea, try this:  Black Rice with Coconut (and Lemongrass)

Roasted Tomatillo & Tomato Salsa 

Roasted Beet Crostini

Zucchini Spaghetti (Zoodles!) & Meatballs - I'll be using Trader Joe's Vegan Meatballs

Green Bean Salad

Spicy Bean Soup - Using Crookneck Squash & Bell Pepper


Thursday, July 24, 2014

5 Tips for Shopping at the 99 Cent Store

1.  Find the Healthier Items:  Stores get different items in throughout the year.  While there are a lot of junk foods there, you can still find some healthier options.  In my opinion, even these healthier options are on the junkier side (whole and homemade foods usually being the best), but you can score some good finds that are perfect for days when you are out and about.  In my recent trip I got pretzels (which are there quite often), organic cheese crackers (for my dairy tolerant kid), applesauce pouches (I would prefer organic, but for every once in a while I'll get this), Honest Organic Juice, yogurt covered raisins and regular raisins.  There is usually a good selection of dried fruit and occasionally some granola bars that are not entirely sugar laden.  This is the perfect example of snacks I would stock up on for a family trip, as mentioned in my post "A Frugal Family's Path to Disneyland."

2.  Be on the Lookout for Name Brands and Better Quality Items:  You typically won't find great quality items, but occasionally some sneak in.  This week I found a pack of Hanes girls underwear, and sunglasses and tights of brands you will find at some big retailers.  You also can't go wrong with things like flip flops.  I like to get these for my kids to wear to the pool or beach.  I stocked up on a few sizes!  I also found my favorite kids flossers there.  Watch out though - a few weeks ago I got a pack of 60 plain white flossers, while these are only a pack of 30.  This brings me to my next tip.

3.   Read Labels Carefully!:  Something my look like a better deal, but if you look at the quantity you are getting, that may not be the case.  Take note of how much product you are actually getting to see if it is comparable to what you get at a grocery store.  Also note the expiration dates!  Sometimes items end up at the 99 Cent store because they are close to expiring.  If you are going to use them right away, go for it.

4. Shop the 99 Cent Store First, Before You Head to the Grocery Store:  This is important, especially if you do not use coupons or if you are on a little hiatus from couponing. I just finished such a hiatus and am glad to be back in the swing of things.  It was so nice to score some deals on things like toothpaste and flossers before I headed to the grocery store.  Discover what your 99 Cent store staples are.  One of my staples is band aids.  My kids go through band aids like crazy!  They love these animal print ones.  I also like stocking up on dried beans and veggie pasta. You could most likely find just as good if not better deal on dried beans at a store that sells bulk items, but these are good in a pinch. 

5.  Don't Forget Your Party Supplies:  Planning a party?  Wrapping a gift?  Shop here first for these items.  I don't think I've bought a gift bag in a long time because I keep recycling them, but if you do need one, don't pay over a dollar!  I was able to stock up on some party favors for a birthday party.

Did I mention they often have Disney items?!  I grabbed these items to add to my Disney swag bags - a collection of a few things I'm getting on the cheap to avoid the high priced gift shops at Disneyland.

I leave you with some other finds.  What are some of your best finds?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Slashing Sugar Intake!

It is pretty well known that sugar has some great dangers associated with it like diabetes, weight gain, reduced immune function, and more.  Sugar is extremely addicting as well.  Just have one candy bar or sweet of your choice and I'll bet your brain cells are doing the happy dance wanting more! I thought I had reduced my sugar quite a bit.  When I would eat or drink items that are high in sugar, it's like I can feel my body going into a kind of shock.  Best way I can describe it is that I feel like my immunity is plummeting and glands feel slightly swollen, followed by a crash.  I was curious to know more about the dangers of sugar, and to know just how much I should avoid it.  My friend Michelle D'Ambra wrote this fabulous e-Book, available on Amazon:

This book is a quick but powerful read.  It gives some great information on how much sugar intake we should aim for, why reducing our sugar intake is so important, and tips on helping you along the sugar detox journey.  One of the best parts is that Michelle offers a Facebook support group for those going through the detox.  I love me some accountability!  This was an easy detox to implement as well, making sure sugar intake is below a certain amount each day. Sugar tracking was a snap when I entered my daily foods in MyFitnessPal.  I had a lot of eye openers along the way too.  Some foods that you would think are pretty healthy, are actually loaded with sugar.  I am now reading a lot of labels and shopping for some new grocery staples.  I even have a new favorite coffee drink that is not only 35 grams less in sugar (That's a lot!) but costs a lot less too!  If you are on a journey of health, consider making this book and sugar slashing a part of your journey!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Join The Farm Large Share Meal Plan - Week of 7/6/14

I hope everyone had a fabulous Independence Day!  We start back up with veggie boxes this week, which means it's time to plan out what to do with all of that wonderful produce!  Please remember this list is subject to change a bit depending on availability & farming conditions.  Also note, we have switched our family to the bi-weekly plan, so I will not be writing out another plan until the week of July 20th.  Most of these recipes are vegan or vegan friendly. 

Large Shares

Green Onions
Fennel Bulb
Baby Watermelon
Summer Squash
Meyer Lemons
Imperator Carrots
Romaine Lettuce
Ruby Lettuce
Green Bush Beans
Rainbow Swiss Chard
Ruby Beets
Italian Basil
Golden Nugget Mandarin Oranges
Hass Avocado

Baby Watermelon & Oranges will be individual snacks, as well as a few Avocados - we just grab a spoon and eat it plain!  

I also cut up the Cucumbers for snacking. They are wonderful dipped in hummus.  Check out this You Tube Video on how to cut & seed them to reduce the gassy affects.

Salad made with Ruby Lettuce, Fennel Fronds, Green Onion, and some Orange slices.  I'll probably also throw in some dried cranberries and whatever nuts we have on hand.

Don't forget to drink your Lemon water every day!

Carrot Beet Juice - I'll just be throwing these in our Vitamix.  

Cheesy Summer Squash Spirals - I'll be using some vegan cream cheese mixed with some of the Thyme & Basil. Great appetizer!

Scrambled Eggs Over Fresh Sliced Tomatoes & Basil - Make it a breakfast for dinner night!

Orange Scented Green Beans with Toasted Almonds (scroll to end of page for this one - other recipes listed here too!)

Orecchiette with Roasted Fennel & Sausage - I'm cooking this one up again, using some vegan sausage.

Neely's Chickpea, Ham, & Swiss Chard Soup  - For the vegan option, use vegan ham.  Whole Foods has it.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Frugal Family's Path to Disneyland

Ah Disneyland.  If you live in or grew up in Southern California, chances are it has played a part in your cherished memories.  I have some wonderful childhood memories of Disneyland.  I have a cherished picture of my mom holding me at the entrance when I was a baby, and I even performed in Disney's Magical Music Days a few times.  Throughout the 1980's I visited there a handful of times for special occasions like Birthdays and even as a reward or ceasing sucking my thumb!  We lived approximately 2.5 hours away, and I think I only remember staying at a hotel once.  I have fond memories of falling asleep in the car ride home, all tired out from wonderful magical days.  Fast forward a few decades.  I now have 2 children of my own.  We have not been to Disneyland as a family yet, but boy do my kids know about it!  They know a few characters and have heard some friends talking about it.  My daughter is so cute when she pronounces it as "Dis-a-ney-land." We definitely want to give our kids this experience, but we do not want to pay the high prices!

We're a pretty frugal family.  We have financial goals and practices that I am pretty confident in saying are probably considered weird or different from the vast majority of Americans.  Being graduates of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University (which I think everyone should check out - his books too!), we do our best to practice "Living like no one else, so you can live like no one else."  It's sometimes the harder road to follow, and we still have some areas of finance that are going better than others, but it's a work in progress that is having some amazing results.  I do believe it's this different view of how to handle money that has me so perplexed at the whole Disneyland experience.  I have absolute sticker shock at the price!  We have been to Legoland (off season rocks!  I need to do a post on that!), Sea World, zoos, Knott's Berry Farm and a bunch of smaller attractions throughout southern California.  We took advantage of BOGO admissions, coupons, and season passes for the zoo that paid for itself in 2 visits.  We've learned some tough lessons along the way too, like beware of all the money traps at your local carnival. 

Let's first evaluate a few financial facts.  It's interesting to note the history of Disneyland ticket prices under Section 9 in this article Here.  I'll allow for some obvious inflation.  Comparing to the other theme parks, the current $96 adult ticket price and $90 kids price still has me shocked!  It is by far "ears above" the other parks in the experience factor - I'll give it that.  But if it's taking at least $700+ out of our budget for just a single day only (maybe 2 day) experience (I'm including gas, food, tax, and extras) you better believe I'm going to find out every way possible to save as much cash as possible, not have it affect our current budget and financial goals, and also make sure we are getting the biggest bang for our bucks. 

Check out my spreadsheet comparing the current prices and deals we found for Disneyland California as of July 4, 2014.  This is for a family of 4, 2 adults and 2 kids.

Considering we are saving up for this trip outside of our current budget, and we want to only spend a smaller amount, the only 2 options we are considering are the 1-Day (1 park) tickets or the 2-Day (1 park per day) tickets with the AAA savings.  Being realistic with ourselves, there is no way we would visit 6 or more times per year (see notes on the spreadsheet) to even break even with the cost of the annual pass options, nor do we even want to spend that much. 

Now for the fun part - building up our fund and finding even more deals on some of the extra costs!  Our trip so far has been funded by a combination of selling toys and household items, a monetary gift from a family member, and a small amount of some unexpected money that came in.  This has been a great way to teach financial principles and numbers to our kids.  Each time they sell a toy we track the money earned towards our trip on the flip board.  The amount has been updated since I snapped this picture, and we now stand at a total of $499.  We'd like to have $300 in addition to the cost of tickets to cover gas, food and extras like souvenirs.  This puts us at a goal of $672 (1 Day) or $966.50 (2-Days).  Just typing these amounts out makes me want to stick with the 1-Day option!

I also have some other tips & tricks up my sleeve for this trip that I've learned.  We like to pack our own lunches and snacks on trips.  I cringe at the theme park food prices - and for junk food!  Yikes!  I allow for some treats and junkier food on trips because, well it's a treat!  So, about a week before the trip I head to the 99 Cent Store first to see if they have some pretzels, granola bars, and other snack items that are junky enough that they are a treat, yet aren't entirely chemical laden. After seeing what I can score there, I also make sure to pack peanut butter, jelly, bread, organic apples, cereal, ziplocks, and a big flat of bottled waters.  We use reusable water bottles during the year, but on trips we opt for these because who wants to do dishes on a trip?!  If I've had time to do some couponing, I may throw some of those food items in our bag too.  Lunch and snacks are therefore covered.  We probably will have 1 or 2 snacks or meals at the park, but at least this limits the amount spent on food. 

Let's talk souvenirs!  Gift shops are another money sucker.  I want to buy my kids something to enjoy and remember the trip by, but I do not want to spend a fortune.  So, I like to buy some gifts ahead of time at discounted prices, then surprise them with it while we are there.  I also like to strategically avoid the gift shops!  Steer clear of them in the park as best you can!  If you live near a Disney Outlet Store, go there without the kids sometime and get a few things to surprise them with.  Zulily also routinely has Disney branded items at a discount.  To save even more, see if has some Disney Gift Cards available.  Raise sells gift cards at a discount.  If you have some extra gift cards laying around that you will not be using, sell them on Raise to make some extra cash! Then, use those gift cards at the outlet, or even at the park itself.  Be sure to read restrictions carefully!  Also keep your eyes open for Disney Gift Card deals at other stores like Target, and grocery stores.  If you have a Target Red Card, you will get 5% back. I've also seen some grocery store promotions throughout the year like get $10 in groceries for every $50 in gift cards spent.  Every little bit of savings counts!  Although, I will say the disclaimer here that if you are a Financial Peace University Grad, you know to stay away from credit cards!  Perhaps just keep your eyes out for those grocery store deals.  You can also use the gift cards as a way to budget out your trip, only allowing yourself a certain amount to be spent in the park. 

We are lucky that we have family and friends in Orange County to stay with for a night. If you need to stay in a hotel, you can find many options near the park that are much cheaper than the Disney branded hotels.  Trip Advisor is a wonderful resource for finding such hotels.   

I hope this post has helped you get some ideas for saving for Disney.  I will update this post as we get closer to our goal and also post after our trip. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Join The Farm Large Share Meal Plan - Week of 6/22

Hello Everyone!  So, this post is a little later than usual, but chances are you have not eaten through your entire box just yet and still have plenty of planning to do. Here are some ideas of what to do with your produce in the coming week.

*Please Note, I am changing our subscription to a Large Share Bi-Weekly, so my next post of this nature will not be until the box pickup on July 10th.  I truly believe that the large share is about the amount of produce a family of 4 should be eating.  Reality is, we are almost there, but not quite. I've found myself with lots of leftovers and freezing a lot.  Be honest with yourself if you are not utilizing everything.  Play around with the size and frequency of your share to get it to be just the right amount for your family.

Large Share Contents - I got some different items than projected & adjusted accordingly. 

Magda Summer Squash
Hass Avocado
Squash Blossoms
Heirloom Bloomsdale Spinach
Scarlet Nantes Carrots
Romaine Lettuce
Ruby Lettuce
Crookneck Yellow Summer Squash
Italian Basil
Rainbow Swiss Chard
Meyers Lemons
Golden Nugget Mandarin Oranges
Green Onions

Carrots & Cucumbers I cut up for snacking. My husband makes this amazing hummus from Barefoot Contessa - we ate the whole batch this afternoon!

Don't forget to make a batch of lemon water - have some every day!  Read about the health benefits of lemon water here.  

Again, we are throwing a bunch of greens into smoothies.

Salad made with lettuce, carrots, green onion, some spinach, oranges, avocado. 

Squash and Chick Pea Mash - use as a sandwich spread.  I'm making it with the Magda Squash.

Herbed Summer Squash and Potato Torte - Green Onions & Crookneck Squash

We have a lot of squash right now!  I like to puree & freeze squash to sneak into pasta sauce & baked goods throughout the year.  Follow these steps HERE and be sure to blanch the squash!

Also try this Yellow Squash and Carrot Puree - yes, it's definitely great as a baby food, but the author of Weelicious (A fabulous website for kid friendly recipes!) points out she enjoyed it growing up & still enjoys it today.  Try it as a side for dinner!  

Lentil Lettuce Tacos - Use the Romaine, Cilantro, Avocado.  With these you do not need to follow the recipe item for item.  I do have lentils in my pantry, but a lot of the other ingredients I'm subbing with what I have on hand. 

Basil Pesto - Sub with a vegan parmesan if going dairy free.

Also check out 10 Delicious Ways to Use A Bunch of Basil!

Lemon-Garlic Rainbow Chard

The Best Healthy Zucchini Bread

Jamberry Nails - Why have I not heard of this fabulousness sooner?!

I am really hard on my nails.  I love having manicures and pedicures.  I pretty much gave up on manicures because I end up chipping them so much.  I tried gels for a while, but can we say toxic?!  Not to mention that my nails got extremely weak - each time I changed them I felt like a whole layer of nail was coming off.  I recently found an article here that also points out the dangers of the UV light involved in gels.  So, for a while now I've just been getting pedicures.  I didn't mind indulging a bit, but even at some cheaper salons the price really adds up after a while.  Plus, I'm a sucker for the extras:  Callous remover?  Sure!  Design?  Absolutely!  If you are a graduate of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, or have read his books, you know that if you dive in and get "gazelle intense" about your budget, salon expenses are definitely something to widdle down.  So, I nixed the manicures all together, and have been doing my own pedicures for a few months now.  I bought a pumice stone to remove my heel calluses (works amazing!  Do a little bit every time you shower), and dive in with the pedicures.  I discovered I am not a good nail polisher!  Instead of getting nice sleek pretty nails, it ends up looking like my 3 year old did my nails!  (I love her artistry, but not quite the look I am going for.)  I did find 1 polish that worked ok, OPI's Liquid Sand, but what a pain to take off!  Even after soaking my nails in a non-acetone nail polish remover, I found myself chipping a lot of stuck polish off. 

Enter my friend Claire!  I heard the news that she was starting her own Jamberry Nails business, which gave her some awesome flexibility in her schedule to be able to stay home more to raise her 2 adorable little ones.  (She's also an amazing photographer in the San Diego area - check out her work here.)  What an amazing concept, nail wraps that are easy to apply, last long, look amazing, are non-toxic, & cruelty free!  Plus, they cost a fraction of going to even more reasonably priced salons.  You get a lot of use out of each sheet!

Come join us at Karen's Neat Nails Online Jamberry Party on Facebook.  There are so many styles to choose from and we'll be having some fun games & giveaways too!  Or, click on the link below to check out all that Jamberry offers.  Be sure to select "Karen's Neat Nails Online Jamberry Party" at checkout.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Join The Farm Large Share Meal Plan - Week of 6/16/14

Large Shares

Green Onion
Crookneck Summer Squash
Magda Summer Squash
Golden Nugget Mandarin Oranges
Heirloom Bloomsdale Spinach
Ruby Lettuce
Romaine Lettuce
Patty Pan Summer Squash
Scarlet Nantes Carrot
Ruby Beets

Strawberries as snack on first day!

Salad made with Lettuce, Carrots, Green Onion and anything else on hand from last week or this week.  Remember to prepackage the salads in individual servings for some great lunches.  

Greens - Spinach & Lettuce, are added to morning smoothies. They are a staple in our house!

Orange Tomatillo Salsa 

Speedy Spinach Pesto

Carrot & Zucchini Ribbons with Pesto

Crispy Oven Baked Beet Chips

Tortilla Soup - Squash, Cilantro, Avocado

Crookneck Squash Frittata - Squash, Rosemary 

Baked Patty Pan Squash Parmesan - This was so good a few weeks ago, we're having it again!

Orecchiette with Roasted Fennel and Sausage - I'm using a vegan sausage. 


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Buy School Supplies Now!

If you're lucky enough to be at a school who has already issued the needed supply list for the upcoming fall, do your supply shopping now, especially if you are an Amazon Prime member!  I thought about keeping my eyes out for coupons and shopping for deals at stores throughout the summer, but after seeing the great deals on Amazon right now, I am so relieved to be done with this task!  Many schools are just ending this week and everyone is looking forward to the summer, so school supplies are on sale, keeping more money in your pocket!

I found these Crayola items on my list ALL ON SALE!

Elmer's Glue is also HALF OFF right now!

Headphones were on my list - if you need them too, or maybe just would like some for at home use, check these out!  This is an 85% Savings!

Once again, Off Season Shopping Saves!