Monday, October 20, 2014

Tipping the scales

About a month ago, I learned that I had gained several pounds over the summer. The amount itself shocked me, though I wasn't really surprised about having gained because I could tell it in how my clothes fit (or, ahem, didn't fit). I exercised pretty consistently this summer, so it wasn't that I was being inactive. The fact is that I'd gotten very lazy about my eating habits. I love snacks, I love sweets, and I was undisciplined about portions.

A week or so after learning about my weight gain, a friend was talking about how she's lost quite a bit of weight in the last year. Though she has been very faithful in exercising, she said the key for her was keeping a log of everything she eats. She has an app on her phone and she scans or enters each food. Well, that didn't sound like much fun to me! Plus, we don't have a phone with those capabilities. It stayed in my mind, though, but I didn't want to do anything about it. I wanted to lose a few pounds without having to change my eating, even though I knew in truth that's what I needed to do! 

So it was very interesting when another week passed, and Monica and I were talking on the phone about this subject. She told me about a website she's been using to track her food and exercise. I decided to sign up, and I'm now three weeks in. I thought it would feel really rigid, but it's not a diet, and there are no set guidelines. It's effective because of the very act of entering what you eat and seeing the numbers tally up at the bottom. 

I have been surprised that this project has felt very empowering to me. It reminds me of when Eric and I were newlyweds, and he suggested setting up a financial budget and using cash. I thought it would feel restrictive and was not looking forward to the change. But knowing how much money I had to spend each month in certain categories was helpful. And this food logging endeavor has been the same way for me. I like seeing the numbers, and knowing which categories I need to improve on.

For example, the first two days I logged my food, I was completely blown away by the amount of carbs and sugar I was consuming. I was shocked how many of those elements are in tons of foods, including healthy things like fruit. (Of course there are multiple types of sugar, but this site doesn't differentiate.) It was very eye-opening for me, and I have made genuine strides in this area. I also used to reach for seconds at many meals without really evaluating if I was still hungry.

I like that I'm not writing things down with pen and paper, which would be extremely tedious. With this site, you search for or enter the foods you've consumed at each meal (plus snacks), and you also input the amount you ate. I've been using measuring cups of all sizes, and I also bought a kitchen scale for $1 at the thrift store to help as well. I also like that you can enter the type and duration of any exercise you do each day, and it will increase your numbers for that day of calories, fat, etc. It's very motivating!

In the past three weeks, I have overall been eating less (but not much less--this girl loves to eat!), eating more healthfully, and exercising more (4-5 times/week instead of 2-3). That's not to say I've had a perfect string of great eating days, though. Eric's birthday in particular was a *yikes!* kind of day. But it's also a holiday. And if I'm eating better on other days, indulging on special occasions will hopefully feel more enjoyable.

Though I am excited to have lost two pounds in the last couple weeks, it's less about numbers and more about how I feel. I could never do anything extreme like eating no sugar or the paleo diet (I don't eat any red meat!), but this has been a good compromise for me. I'm eating better without it being too painful, and I'm pleased to be seeing positive results.

Have you ever tried something keeping track of what you eat? What did you think?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lilla Rose review and giveaway

I was so pleased to be contacted last month by Lizzie, a Lilla Rose consultant. She asked if I would like to try a hair clip for myself and then offer one for giveaway on my blog. Yes, please! I'd read about these a few years ago on another blog, and was interested in trying them.

When I went to the website, I was very impressed with the variety of products offered. With their flexi clips alone, there are 6 sizes and nearly 100 designs! They are designed to complement several different hairstyles. That is good news for a basic ponytail person like me.

Lizzie let me pick the size and design of my clip. I chose the extra small in simple band black nickel. It's pretty and basic, which I thought would be suited to a myriad of occasions. They do have plenty that are fancy, as well as an assortment of whimsical styles.

I tried my clip on right away when I got it in the mail. It's really neat how it works, though it does take some getting used to after using elastic ponytail holders for so many years. Though I'd watched the sizing video to help me determine which size to order, the extra small felt a little loose. It was not slipping out, but it also didn't feel firm. After having the same assessment multiple times, I emailed Lizzie to ask if I could exchange for the next size down--the mini. (Yes, I have fine and thin hair!) She was very gracious and allowed me to not only keep the first clip (which does work for me with some of the other styles like the "Tails Up"), she also sent me a mini clip in the same design. It doesn't quite hold all my hair for a ponytail (I must be in between clip sizes for that), but it does work for a "Half Up," which is cute.

My apologies that these are not great photos!
 Extra small clip--ponytail
 Mini clip--half up
Naomi wanted a pic of the back of her head!

I am glad to try these clips, and happy to offer one of you the chance to do the same!

If you would like to be entered in the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post, saying which size flexi clip you would like (Make sure you watch the video!) and your first and second choice of design in that size. (Special monthly design not eligible.) U.S. addresses only, please. Giveaway extended until Tuesday night. A winner will be announced on Wednesday.

In the meantime, Lilla Rose is having a 72-hour sale on all their products! Click here to browse the many beautiful options!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Frugal accomplishments

Here is my list of frugal accomplishments from the past two weeks:

*Received a free 8x10 photo of our family for being pictured in the church directory
*I bought a pair of little girl church shoes from a friend for a couple dollars, and she threw in a pair of leggings for free
*I pureed 3 butternut squash, which I use in place of pumpkin in baked goods. I only spent $1.50, and have over 10 cans' worth in the freezer (2-cup portions)
*Grocery deals: stocked up on milk when it was on sale for $1.28/half gallon, scored tons of granola bars for $1/box (reg. $2.99 each) and cereal for less than $2/ box by stacking coupons (store and manufacturer), lots of on-sale produce (I've mentioned before--I pretty much only buy grapes and bananas at non-sale prices)
*Made granola bites, hummus, pumpkin bread, banana muffins, berry muffins, granola, oatmeal chocolate chip bars
*Put orange peels in vinegar to make a nice cleaning solution for floors
*Attended a free fitness class
*Eric and the kids cleaned out the garden, and harvested a couple buckets of carrots (we're storing them in sand after losing a ton last year to frost INSIDE our basement), some green tomatoes (which I wrapped in newspaper and will use when ripe), and a little spinach. We have enough carrots and potatoes to last for months. (That makes me feel like Ma Ingalls!)
*Went to a garage sale and purchased a booster seat for $5 to have in our other car. They're easy to switch out, but this will be nice to have. Also bought an educational DVD for a dollar for Naomi.
*We put together two Christmas gift bags for children in Haiti, as well as three shoeboxes for OCC for very little out-of-pocket cost, other than the shipping fees. I collect stuff all year long (freebies, clearance items, etc.), and this year for the first time I had accumulated enough to fill all 5 gift bags/boxes. I laid everything out in our guest room, and let the kids "shop," which was really fun. Much easier and cheaper than taking them to an actual store. It was fun, frugal, and will hopefully be a big blessing to the kids receiving the gifts!
*Was thrilled to find a brand new paint with water book at the thrift store for a quarter. Naomi loves these books, and they are both pricey and hard to find.
*Scored a bucket-full of pears on the night before the first freeze by calling someone we know who has a pear tree. She was thrilled to not waste them, and we were thrilled to get so many for free. Eric went over and picked dozens of them from the ground. As we did last year, the pears are wrapped in newspaper until they ripen.
*Used a discount card to eat out after our big bike ride last weekend.
*Cooked two pounds of pinto beans
*Redeemed a coupon for a free small container of yogurt
*Purchased a huge bag of day-old bread at the bakery for just $1.75. There are over 6 dozen rolls/buns!
*Snagged a pair of pants for Nathan that a friend offered for free because there is a small hole in the knee
*Ground wheat flour
*A friend unexpectedly dropped off a bag of girl clothes. So thoughtful! I've been passing things on to a family with twin girls who are a year younger than Naomi.
*Earned a free book with KFR codes. These make nice additions to birthday gifts.
*A friend gave me some apples from her trees.
*Made a small batch of raspberry jam with the last of this year's berries
*Had a successful trip to another area thrift store. I only had a few specific things I was looking for, and I found two of them. A pair of play tennis shoes for Nathan for $2, and a kitchen scale for $1 (more to come on that soon!)
*Received a free sample of body wash in the mail
*Gave haircuts to Eric and Nathan
*Used a discount certificate to eat out for Eric's birthday. We also went out another night as a family and ate at a pricey pizza buffet for just 63 cents total! (Value of over $30!) We had 2 free adult buffet coupons and combined those with reward points to do this--a very special treat.
*We switched to a different cell phone and Eric call the company and asked if they would waive a $35 fee--and they said yes!

And now for some blurbs about excellent customer service I recently received:
*I'd seen a rebate for free meat products, but was having trouble finding the correct sizes/kinds of meat. I looked at 3 stores with no success and decided to email the company. I was matched with a regional rep, and she was SO helpful. I was very impressed, especially since I made it clear this was for the rebate aka free products! She ordered some for a nearby store, and I was able to score $9 worth of hot dogs and lunch meat for free.
*I also signed up for the Book-it alumni program, and similarly was having trouble redeeming the offer for a free personal pan pizza. After a couple order attempts and three phone calls, I was quite frustrated and ready to give up. But I was going to be in a different town with a Pizz@ Hut, and decided to give it a try. I brought my offer code along and explained the situation. They were awesome. Not only did they give me the personal pan I'd "earned," but they also offered a second free one for Naomi. At first I declined, but then I thought I might as well accept, as it had been a fair amount of trouble. I was definitely feeling better about the situation already, and was then quite surprised and delighted when they offered an additional coupon for a free small pizza the next time I come back. They just asked that I leave on-line feedback about my positive experience, which I would have done anyway. I am glad I persisted, as three pizzas are definitely better than one!

Hooray for excellent customer service--and bargains! I'd love to hear your stories!

Friday, October 10, 2014

B-day celebrations

Yesterday was Eric's birthday, and as with all celebration days, it revolved around food. =)

We started the day with our tradition of breakfast in bed. For the last several years on Eric's birthday, I've made apple pancakes,a puffy, egg-y pancake dotted with brown sugar, butter and cinnamon.

Then he got to have lunch at school with Natalie, so that was special for both of them.

Eric and I went out for supper, and had a delicious meal and a nice time together.

The highlight was being part of Eric's birthday gift last Sunday. As you may remember, we give each other experiential gifts, and this year, I signed Eric up to participate in a biking event in southern Minnesota. I assumed I would stay home with the kids, but one of Eric's coworkers VERY graciously offered to watch our kids so that I could go along. Another friend took the second shift, and I am very grateful to these two ladies for making it possible for me to be a part of the day.

We went with Ryan and Alyssum (my brother and sister-in-law) and a couple other local friends, and a close friend of ours from northern MN was able to meet up with us as well. I wasn't sure I'd be able to hack the 26-mile ride, but I am proud to say I made it! I borrowed a bike and some gear, which definitely gave me a more pleasant experience. It was very chilly, but we were thankful it didn't rain.

Here is a pic of Eric and me at one of the official rest stops on the ride, where they were serving delicious pie! It was a unique experience, and I'm glad we got to do it together.
Happy Birthday, Eric!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Frugal accomplishments

Here is my list from the past two weeks:
*We went to a free petting zoo--love this pic of brave Naomi sharing a hat with a curious goat!
*Eric salvaged a gutter (with permission) from a nearby house that is being destroyed--we need to replace one on our house, and he's going to make it work.
*I noticed last time I bought a Groupon that there was an option to share the link and if more than 2 friends purchased the deal through my link, we would all get $3 credited back. I don't often purchase them, and won't always share the link, but this was for something that I correctly suspected would be a popular deal to take advantage of.
*Scored some great deals at a few garage sales. Favorites: nice pair of boots for $2, new with tags pair of little girls leggings for 25 cents (they are a high-end brand and probably cost around $20!), and a dozen farm eggs for just $1.
*Transportation edition: 1) I don't know if I've mentioned that Eric walks to work every day all year round, so that is a nice gas savings, 2) We carpool with a neighbor for school, requiring us both to do only half the drop-offs and pick-ups, 3) Many years ago, we purchased a toll pass for a state we travel through a couple times a year. This saves half off each toll, not to mention we don't have to stop to pay cash.
*On a similar subject, I printed off an on-line coupon to save a little off the daily rate when I needed to park at the airport recently.
*Grocery deals: Chex Mix for just 39 cents/bag (reg. $2.99 each!) combining super-sale and cpn, same with portable yogurts (69 cents), which are awesome for lunches; a loaf of French bread for 70 cents off the day-old rack
*We continue to harvest goodies from our garden: tomatoes, green beans, some zinnias and a ton of carrots. We just ended with peppers, but had a very successful year for those. I froze a couple bags of diced peppers to use on pizza, etc.
*With our mild weather, the raspberry bushes yielded another round of bounty, and I had enough to make a very small batch of jam. Yum!
*Made pasta salad, s'more cupcakes, and apple pie filling.
*Some friends blessed us with random leftover items they wouldn't use: bread, chicken strips, and popsicles.
*I've been entering diaper codes for years, and noticed recently that a point value I received was way lower than it should have been for that size package. I emailed the company and they credited my account for the difference.
*Freebies: toilet paper (B1G1 with cpn), cornbread mix (Saving*) and face wash (w/ rebate)
*Finally surpassed $20 from C51 and requested a check!
*Nathan won a prize from a fall reading contest at the library--he received some football tickets and a couple codes to download movies.
*Attended a free parent/toddler music class with Naomi
*Made kale chips with some kale we were given.
*Cooked a few pounds of chicken breasts in the crockpot--diced up the meat and froze in 1-cup portions; saved cooking water aka broth for soup.
*Used a $2 store coupon to score a discounted gallon of milk
*Ordered a free personalized notepad as a teacher gift--free shipping, too!
*Received 50 cents off per gallon of gas using points I'd earned from the grocery store.
*Snagged a free flea market magazine I think Monica will enjoy.

I'd love to hear about your recent frugal activities!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Visits

We've had a full couple of weeks at our house. Eric's dad stayed with us for two weeks, and very graciously and capably worked on several house projects for us. And I just returned from a long weekend in Colorado to see my parents and help celebrate my dad's birthday. Here are some photos from the past two weeks:
Eric's brother, Ryan, and his wife, Alyssum, attended the county fair with us.
 Alyssum and me
Eric's dad is a retired elementary physical education teacher, and had a unique opportunity to teach Nathan's gym class one day. So special!
Nathan with his gym teacher!
 Saying goodbye to Grandpa
Enjoying beautiful weather at Garden of the Gods
 Thankful to be celebrating my dad's birthday with him
 
A fun mini golf outing (I ended up in third place!)
I was also blessed to attend the wedding of a dear high school friend while I was in town. So fun to celebrate with her and connect with friends I don't get to see often.
As you can see, my dad is sporting a new look. He began losing his hair after the first chemo treatment. He's now completed three rounds, and will likely continue on the same schedule until Christmas.Thankfully, he's tolerating it pretty well, and his pain has decreased since I was there this summer. There are definitely still ups and downs, but I am grateful he felt up to some activities while I was visiting. Glad I could be there!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Frugal accomplishments

Here is my list of frugal activities from the past two weeks:

*Bought a pair of colorful curtains for $3. Sometime in the next year, we plan to move Naomi in with Natalie (Nathan and Natalie currently share), and I'd like to adapt the decor to be a little more girly. I am thrilled to have found these curtains to help that endeavor.
*Received free samples: tea, gummy vitamins
*Printed a free 5x7 from the wedding and put it in a $1 thrifted frame.
*Found several pairs of pajamas for Nathan for $2-3 each. My experience is that it is very difficult to find pajamas in his size, especially ones that aren't covered with characters.
*Scored a great deal again with a local grocery store gives you 50 cents off per gallon of gas when you buy 8 specific products. Those items were on sale, and I had coupons, so if I estimate a $10 gas credit, I essentially got 8 boxes of cereal for free!
*Other grocery deals: soup and pasta sauce for 74 cents each combining sales and coupons, refried beans for 50 cents/can, juice for 49 cents combining cpn and C51, 3 boxes of Kashi for just over a dollar a box, granola bars for $1 combining sale and cpn, free mac and cheese cup with Saving*
*My best deals came from hitting a store that was having a 50% discount on their clearance section. I was also able to use a couple coupons to sweeten the deal. I got everything you see here (22 items)--some groceries, a birthday gift for a party Natalie's attending (2 craft kits and some ponytail holders for $2.40 total!), and some OCC shoebox items--for just $12.89. I was pumped!
*Dropped off a bill near the post office to save $1 on postage fees.
*Searched our library catalog for books the kids were interested in from the book flyers they bring home from school.
*Opened/closed windows based on temperature (ours have been rapidly declining--fall is here!)
*Gave haircuts to Eric and Nathan
*Placed my first on-line order since acquiring a REDcard, and was pleased to get free shipping and 5% off my order. Also, I went through Ebates so received about 20 cents in my account.
*Received a book through PBS
*Made a huge batch of cinnamon rolls; well, that was the goal, actually. I've used the same recipe for years, and make them every fall because it produces 7 pans. I think it must have been the humidity because the dough was extremely sticky even after adding TWO CUPS of flour. I ended up lobbing handfuls of dough into pans and calling it good, because I couldn't get the dough to roll out. Oh, well! It was a huge mess, but at least the end result tastes good (albeit not as yummy as the real deal).

*Scored some great deals at a local consignment store. Since it's 30 miles away, I only go a few times a year. I made a very specific list of what we needed, and loaded up 2 boxes of clothing we no longer need to store up some credit for next time. I was pleased to find almost everything on my list.
*Stopped by a dollar store and got a couple spices (that price is hard to beat!) and a couple lunch containers.
*Baked an apple cake and a double batch of pumpkin apple muffins.
*My father-in-law is here helping us with some home projects. He had been pricing various types of siding as some of our original wood siding is rotting. (Our house is 105 years old!) He was at a home improvement store lamenting to a fellow customer that he couldn't find what he was looking for, and the guy said he had just taken some wood siding off of a house. My father-in-law ended up going to the guy's house and getting a load of wooden siding for just $20! This was a huge savings, not to mention re-purposing the wood that could otherwise have been burned or trashed. He is serving us in many ways during his visit, and we are grateful.
*A friend let me stop by for an early peek at her garage sale. I found a couple clothing items for the girls, and a pair of white church shoes for Naomi for $1--I'd been looking for these, specifically, and was thrilled to find them at such a low price. As I was leaving her garage, I noticed some ice cube trays--another item on my list, as one of ours broke last week. I went to grab a couple and she said I could just have them. Hooray! I'd seen some at the dollar store, and opted not to buy them because they were such low quality. These are really nice--and were free!
*Redeemed a coupon for a free gourmet cupcake at a grocery store bakery
*Made a batch of syrup
*Dried the rest of our basil leaves
*Diced and froze 14 2-cup portions of apples to use in muffins throughout the winter
*Attended a nearby county fair on half-price admission day
I'd love to hear about your recent frugal activities!