Cookies and Cream Pudding Poke Cake

If you’ve been reading my blog the last few months, you know that in late 2019 I decided to ditch diet culture and dieting all together. It’s been difficult in a lot of ways, but freeing in so many others. 

One of my favorite changes has been embracing my love for baking (and eating dessert!). I’ve always loved to bake, but I’d basically given it up while obsessed with losing weight. My mom makes this delicious lemon poke cake that I wanted to imitate in premise, but I really wanted it to include cookies. Well let me tell you, that was a fan-freaking-tastic idea!

Disclaimer: this post contains Affiliate links and I may make a small amount of money if you decide to purchase from my links. Read my full disclosure and privacy policy here.

This quick and delicious cookies & cream poke is velvety rich and topped with chopped cookies for a great crunch.

Cookies & Cream Pudding Poke Cake
Ingredients: 

  • 1 box cake mix, baked according to instructions on box, cooled (as always, I prefer our Fiestaware bakers for just about everything)
  • 1 can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 box of cookies & cream pudding mix 
  • ½ c. milk (preferably 1% or 2%, but skim works if it’s what you’ve got!)
  • 1 tub thawed whipped topping
  • Optional: chopped sandwich cookies for topping

Directions:

  1. Bake the box cake according the instructions on the box and let it completely cool.
  2. Using the end of a wooden spoon, poke holes all over the cake (I like to make rows to get the best coverage).
  3. Pour the condensed milk over the cake (you can avoid the temptations to evenly fill the holes… it’s not going to work out how you want it to, lol).
  4. In a mixing bowl, mix the pudding mix and ½ c. of milk until combined (while annoying to clean, a whisk is best). Gently mix in the thawed whipped topping. Spread the mixture over the cake. 
  5. If you had sandwich cookies to chop up, top the cake with them.

You can eat this right away, but it gets even better while sitting in the fridge! Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week (it won’t last that long, though!). 

Velvety rich and delicious cookies and cream pudding poke cake is a delicious treat for the whole family.

This version with red velvet cake and topped with vanilla sandwich cookies, but the options are pretty endless: 

  • Classic: Vanilla/white cake mix with chocolate sandwich cookies
  • Spice: Using vanilla pudding, spice cake mix, and vanilla sandwich cookies
  • Chocolate overload: Using half cookies & cream pudding and half chocolate pudding, chocolate cake mix, and chocolate sandwich cookies
  • Chocolate chip: Using vanilla or chocolate pudding, yellow cake mix, and chocolate chip cookies

… like I said, endless! 

I haven’t tried all of these, but I am definitely putting all of the variations on my ‘weekend baking adventures’ list. Have a favorite poke cake recipe? Please let me know so I can add it to the list of ‘to be made’, too!

Budget Friendly Quick Cooker Ham + Cheese Pasta

I’m always on the lookout for a good meal that works well for monthly meal planning and lunches. When I scored a Pampered Chef Quick Cooker on FB Marketplace for $45 (yeah, you read that right!) I had never used any type of pressure cooker before (aside from canning as a kid). Luckily Pampered Chef comes with great manuals and videos, but of course I took to Pinterest to immediately begin researching recipes. I made a few ‘mac and cheese’ type recipes but they weren’t great. Not great flavor, not great blending for ingredients. I kept searching and stumbled upon this recipe from The Salty Marshmallow for Ham & Cheese Instant Pot Pasta.

Ummm, #nailedit.

I of course made some edits because I just can’t leave well-enough alone, but they were good edits, so below you’ll find my modified version of the linked recipe above. Also let me just tell you now, the price/serving on this is less than $0.70 per meal (cost breakdown is below)! 

Disclaimer: this post contains Affiliate links and I may make a small amount of money if you decide to purchase from my links. Read my full disclosure and privacy policy here.

Budget friendly ham and cheese pasta made in the pampered chef quick cooker

Quick Cooker Ham + Cheese Pasta
Ingredients: 

  • 1 16-ounce box pasta (we like to use whatever; we’ve used both wagon wheels and rotini and both were great)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (bouillon cubes are way cheaper than boxed broth; I just use a 2-cup Pyrex cup and my hot water kettle to make it)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons Franks or another hot sauce (if you don’t really like the flavor of hot sauce you could reduce this to a few shakes or cut it, and if you REALLY like hot sauce I would add up to 2 tbsp!)
  • Garlic powder, mustard powder (you can skip this or substitute another seasoning like onion powder if you don’t have it), salt, and pepper to taste (I go pretty heavy on the garlic powder and black pepper and just a few shakes of the salt and mustard powder)
  • 12-16 oz diced ham (I bought a ham steak at Aldi and chopped it into cubes)
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened (15 seconds in the microwave if you don’t take it out ahead of time)
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 8 ounces shredded colby-jack cheese
  • ½ cup milk + more if needed 

Directions:

  1. Add the uncooked pasta, chicken broth, water, hot sauce, and seasonings to the Quick Cooker.
  2. Stir it. Try to get as much of the pasta covered by broth/water as you can.
  3. Put the lid on your Quick Cooker and ensure that the manual release button is level with the handle (otherwise you won’t get pressure). 
  4. Select ‘custom’, then select ‘time’ and use the down arrow to set the Quick Cooker to 5 minutes and press ‘start’.
  5. When the timer goes off (it takes longer than 5 minutes, in case you haven’t used a quick cooker before), hit ‘cancel’ and manually release the steam (push the button on the handle). 
  6. Carefully open the Quick Cooker. PROTIP: keep the lid over the cooker and tip it toward the cooker to catch the juice from the lid in the pot instead of on your counter.
  7. Stir in the cream cheese and sour cream until combined.
  8. Add the milk and the cheese. I stir quickly but if you don’t, you might want to add the cheese in two batches. 
  9. Add in the ham and evaluate your consistency. Sometimes it’s spot on and sometimes it needs more milk.  
Budget friendly ham and cheese pasta made in the pampered chef quick cooker makes 10 lunches for less than seventy cents per serving

I immediately spoon this into 10 glass Pyrex storage containers (we use both round and rectangle) for a week of lunches for two. The cost breakdown for this week of lunch prep is freaking great (and this list assumes you have salt, pepper, garlic powder, mustard powder, and Frank’s or another hot sauce):

Cost/Meal Breakdown: 
Everything was bought at Aldi: 
$0.79 – 16 oz box of pasta
$0.15 – 2 chicken bouillon cubes ($1.89 for 25)
$3.50 – ham steak 
$0.40 – half a block of cream cheese
$0.15 – 4 tbsp (¼ cup) sour cream
$1.69 – 8 ounce block colby-jack cheese
$0.11 – ½ cup milk
Total: $6.79 
Total cost/meal for 10 meals: $0.68 (rounded up!)

Delicious, budget friendly ham and cheese pasta made in the quick cooker makes great lunches

You certainly aren’t going to grab lunch anywhere for less than $1, let alone lunch this delicious and filling 🙂 I have a feeling this will be in our monthly set of lunch meals for a looooong time. If you decide to give a go, let me know how you like it and if you make any changes of your own!

Easy Thousand Island Chicken Bake For Two

My husband REALLY likes Thousand Island Dressing. Really really. When I told him I went looking for a Thousand Island Recipe because he likes it so much, he started listing all of the things you should dip in it… Doritos. Taquitos. French fries. The list goes on. Anyways, I know we hate when the recipe is a mile away from the title, so here it is: 

Disclaimer: this post contains Affiliate links and I may make a small amount of money if you decide to purchase from my links. Read my full disclosure and privacy policy here.

Adapted from this Fed & Fit  recipe  (though as you can see, not Paleo, and not six servings)

Thousand Island Chicken Bake (For Two)

This easy thousand island chicken bake is a delicious, quick meal for two.

Ingredients: 

  • 12 oz cubed chicken breast (I cube all of our chicken before I freeze it because of bulk buying for monthly meal prepping. You can use full breasts, tenderloins, thighs, whatevs)
  • ⅓  cup of Thousand Island Dressing (I used Ken’s lite because that’s all our grocery store had #pandemicshopping)
  • Salt (a few shakes, because I don’t measure salt unless I’m baking, lol)
  • Pepper (a few shakes, because pepper lives next to salt, so)

Directions: 

  1. Put the chicken in a mixing bowl. 
  2. Add the Thousand Island Dressing, salt, and pepper. 
  3. Use a spatula to mix it all together until all of the chicken is coated.
  4. Pour it into a 9×9 baking dish (our Fiestaware baker is my go-to)
  5. Bake at 350 for 20-ish minutes, or until chicken reaches internal temperature of 160° (I could just tell when it was done… it smelled SO fragrant and the top was starting to brown a little

Please note: you do NOT need to preheat your oven. It’s chicken, it’ll cook. Preheating ovens for recipes that don’t require scientific reactions is a waste of electricity, so save yourself a wee bit ‘o money by skipping it. 

That’s it! You’re done! I served this over instant brown rice. I meant to make some steamed broccoli to go with it but I forgot, and I was hungry, so we skipped it, lol. You can easily serve this over egg-noodles, a salad, mashed potatoes… it’s super-versatile! 

The Budget-Friendly Details

This meal is waaaay budget friendly:

  • 12 oz of chicken (from a bulk pack at Aldi) – $1.59
  • Ken’s Thousand Island Dressing (⅓ cup = 5.33 tbsp) – $0.42
  • Instant brown rice (2 cups, from Aldi 28 oz box) – $0.72 

Total: $2.73

IF we would have the aforementioned steamed broccoli ($0.89 steam bag from Aldi), our total would have been: $3.62 for dinner for two people.

I haven’t set a threshold yet for what I feel like a “good” amount of money is for a meal for two, but less than $4 is certainly great (just think, if all of our meals were $5 we’d only spend $120/month on dinner… I always want it to be cheaper, but I think that’s not bad?). One of my May budget goals (following Dave Ramsey’s baby steps, using this budget planner) was to cut our grocery budget by 20%, which we nailed (and still had money leftover). I’m tempted to cut it again, but we’ll see how June goes first!

Do you already inventory your food and meal plan? Have you ever done a full month? I’d love to know your process!

3 Reasons to Inventory the Food in Your Home (Plus Monthly Meal Planning Made Easy)

I know, I know, it sounds crazy – an inventory of our food?! 

But trust me, it’s not crazy. Taking an inventory of your food ensures you know what food you have in your house, saves money through meal planning, and decreases waste (both wasted money and food) – all of which are big wins! 

Disclaimer: this post contains Affiliate links and I may make a small amount of money if you decide to purchase from my links. Read my full disclosure and privacy policy here.

So how complicated is this “inventory”? 

Taking an inventory of your food does not need to be complicated. Sure, you could set up a Google sheet or Excel system, update it after every meal, and truly have a living food inventory you can share with your significant other, roommates, or the teenager eating you out of house and home. 

Or, you can just use a notebook and pencil (no really, use a pencil, I erase a LOT while inventorying food!) for a once-a-month inventory like I do. 

I use a Happy Planner that I customized to be our food management system. I already had a cover and a set of rings from a previous year’s planner, so I bought:

And from my HP stash, I also use:

Which means our monthly food inventory looks like this: 

Make a food inventory to help reduce waste and save money.
Yes, that’s a little drawing of our chest freezer so I could organize what went where when we put everything back in the freezer lol

While this page is only our chest and refrigerator freezers inventory, we also inventory our refrigerator and pantry. Our “pantry” is actually several regular-sized kitchen cabinets, though we’re hoping to move it to our laundry room someday! 

Note: if you don’t have a chest freezer, you can still make this work! Just figure out how much space you have to work with for freezing meat/veggies in your refrigerator freezer. I only do one major shopping trip per month (complete with breaking down and freezing meat for later use) and then small trips for milk/half-and-half, but you could easily split the big trip into two so you have room in your freezer to make it work.

Other than food location, I don’t break down our food into any further categories. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that for me to do our monthly meal planning, which is where the big money-saving factor comes in. 

Now you know what food you have on hand, so you can start your Upcoming Month Meal Ideas List:

Generate meal ideas using the food you have on hand, then you can easily figure out your grocery list for the rest.
My favorite part of this? Burgers, burgers, burgers, burgers 😃

This list will consist of ideas from what you already have in your inventory, and will serve as the catalyst for your grocery list. It can also include things you don’t have the ingredients for, too – especially if you’d like to try some (or all) of the new recipes you’ve been pinning in your free time 😛 Your goal is to have around 35-40 meals, which will make up your dinners and lunches for the month (plus a few extra). 

Next up? Grocery list!

You know what you have, and now you know what additional groceries you need to make your next month of meals. Things are a little complex these days with grocery shopping, so the extra few meals will come in handy in case there is something you can’t find at the grocery store (or perhaps you are like me and aren’t going to spend $7 on a pound of ground beef) so you have a little wiggle room to replace a ground beef-based meal with a chicken-based meal. 

I’m a grocery list-junkie, so my hand-written list is organized by the aisles in our Aldi: 

An aisle-by-aisle grocery list makes it easy to navigate Aldi and not forget anything on your big grocery shopping trip.
Okay, okay – this makes it looks a little crazy. It ends up getting shoved in my hoodie pocket a lot so it’s a little wrinkled!

This once-a-month shopping list means that we buy bulk ground beef and chicken, and break it down into 12 oz portions for freezing. We do have small supplemental store trips for dairy: milk and half-and-half (and sometimes ice cream, let’s be serious). But! 98% of the month’s food needs are purchased during one grocery trip (to Aldi, for the most part!). Alright, now onto the really fun part:

Monthly Meal Planning

Almost every time I say “monthly meal planning” people look something like this: 

But I promise, it is not as complicated as it seems, because you have your trusty food inventory to work from! For lunches, I pick one meal that can make 10 lunches (one for each of us, five work days) and prep it on Sunday for the work week (as we speak, that will be chicken pot pie). Do that one time for each week of the month, and you’re done planning lunches for the month!

Grab a blank calendar for the upcoming month (I like print-a-calendar.com because they waste the least amount of space) and input anything you already have planned: date night take-out? Husband’s birthday dinner? Cookout at your sisters? Cool – now you have three meals planned! Take your meals idea list and input a meal on the remaining day of the month, and that’s it – you’re done! Our April looked like this:

Plan your monthly meals into a blank calendar to hang on the fridge!
Protip: hang this baby on the fridge and cross off meals after you eat them so you remember to take ingredients out of the freezer for the next day’s meal

There are some things I take into consideration when making this plan: 

  1. Will any of these meals have leftovers? I try to make our meals not have leftovers, but sometimes they do. If so, I try to make it on Friday and use the leftovers as lunches for the weekend. Or if something I want to make for lunch only makes enough for 4 days, I’ll plan a leftover-having-meal on Thursday so we have lunches on Friday. 
  2. What is the weekend like? Usually we have a late breakfast and skip lunch on the weekends, but will we have a busy day? If so, I don’t want to plan a laborious dinner or something that won’t be ready within a short window of me realizing I’m ravenously hungry after working outside all day! 
  3. Meatless Mondays – We started Meatless Mondays in April 2020 and I’ve really been digging it. A) it’s good for the planet to use less meat, though I love the ag industry AND bacon so I’m not going to give it up entirely and b) it challenges me to come up with something meatless for dinner. Some of our meatless Monday meals have been: grilled cheese and tomato soup, pancakes and eggs, french toast, Mexican skillet (with rice, black, beans, and Ro-tel), and homemade pizza.

And that’s it! Inventory your food, make a meal ideas and grocery list, and put your meals on the calendar. Your process may vary, of course, but I am still confident you can inventory your food to help you meal plan, save money, and reduce waste. 

Make Your Own Custom T-Shirt with Cricut (Even If It Gives You Anxiety!)

My journey to making my first custom t-shirt started with a pretty classic case of “OMG I WANT TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT” while scrolling Instagram and seeing people customizing their own t-shirts, mugs, tumblers… making their own stickers, cards, decor… 

Disclaimer: this post contains Affiliate links and I may make a small amount of money if you decide to purchase from my links. Read my full disclosure and privacy policy here

…but then I looked up the price of the Cricut Maker and thought “SHEW I need to SAVE for that!” So that’s what I did – I budgeted money out of every paycheck and and eventually bought a whole bunch of things to start my Cricut journey (including specifically the mint-colored Maker, of course):

What I bought when I dove into Cricut-land:

  • Cricut Maker – this guy is the current “bee’s knees” as he does more than the other Cricut models in terms of materials he can cut, including fabric and balsa wood
  • Extra mats – I read a LOT of information about Cricut mats, and determined that even though you can clean them yourself, I wanted to have extra ones on-hand for when one inevitably kicks the can
  • Cricut basic tools – cut, lift, snip, burnish, and weed ALL the things!
  • Cricut Sport-Flex Iron On Vinyl (aka Heat Transfer Vinyl, aka HTV) – this is what I used to make my first t-shirt, even though it isn’t “recommended” for 50/50 cotton-poly tees, a number of bloggers who have been doing this way longer than me said it was fine, and it was indeed fine
  • Cricut Vinyl (non-htv) – I got the black and white pack, which also included transfer tape

Because I had done a lot of research in advance and set a savings goal, I also opted to get the EasyPress and the mat that goes with it:

  • Cricut EasyPress 2 (9×9) – I read a lot about household irons being dismal for HTV, but I’ve also read a lot about people who have no issues – do whatever is best for you and your budget!
  • Cricut EasyPress Mat (12×12) – Same story – you may have the proper space to use your ironing board or a different material to protect your surface from heat, so you may or may not want this mat

As you might be able to tell, I spent quite a bit investing in Cricut (I did get 5% cash back though with my Amazon Chase Rewards Visa ((not a referral, just an awesome card)), so that helped!). I was so excited when my Cricut finally arrived, and my husband and I unboxed everything and set it up, and I was terrified to use it.

TERRIFIED.

How does this machine ignite sooo much of my anxiety? What if I break it? What if I can’t do this? What if I mess everything up and this was a giant waste of money?

It took me over a month to complete the starter project. And then another month to do another project that I designed myself, that really didn’t turn out. But now, amidst being in COVID-19 lockdown, my husband somehow convinced me that I am fully capable of figuring it out. So I sat down, and sketched out what I wanted my Gildan t-shirt (that I bought in the beginning of February) to say.

Custom t-shirt sketch for cricut maker

Yes, that’s a reference to one of the best country songs ever, Daddy’s Money, by Ricochet (where are my 90’s country music fans at?!). And it suits me to a T (see what I did there?). Okay, okay, on to the how-to.

A note about anxiety: sometimes it hangs out forever, sometimes it clears up, and sometimes you’re right in the middle, where a brief period opens and if you can get through it, you can come out on top. Thank goodness for sneaking out through the brief period on this one.

How to Make a Custom T-Shirt with your Cricut Maker:

1. Whether you know what you want to do or not, open Design Space (I use this on my husband’s laptop, but people use it on all sorts of devices)

2. Select ‘t-shirt’ from the templates and input the type and size of your t-shirt (I left my design in this tutorial, but you’ll start with a blank canvas)

T-shirt template for cricut maker in design space

Since I knew I wanted a turnip green on my t-shirt, I searched Design Space for an image of a turnip green, and there were surprisingly quite a few, but all required Access. Okay, time to bite the bullet and sign up for that free month of Access for Design Space (just remember, it’ll bill monthly after that and it’s cheaper to sign up for a year if you’re going to commit!). 

Search design space for access images

From there, it’s pretty easy-peasy:

  1. Add a text box (from the left pane navigation) to your t-shirt
Add text to you custom t-shirt design in design space cricut maker

4. Type what you want your t-shirt to say

5. Find a font that you like (you can select only fonts included in access so you don’t get your heart set on something that has an additional cost)

6. If you want to, add an image (from the left pane navigation) and find what matches your design 

Add images to your custom designed t-shirt in cricut design space

7. Design! Get creative – be simple, be complex, take it easy, go crazy! I already knew what I wanted thanks to my sketch, so I just worked with the words until the design matched my sketch (hint: if you have multiple lines of text, use multiple text boxes. This will give you a lot more flexibility with line spacing)

8. Sizing is important – you’ll want to figure out how big you want the design to be on the shirt, and that will vary depending on the size/cut of the shirt you chose. I found that based on my measurements, anything from 10 – 11.5 inches across the chest and 3 inches below the neckline of a large men’s t-shirt would look good to me.

9. When you feel like you’ve got it where you want it, click “make it” in the top right-hand corner! 

10. SUPER IMPORTANT: If you’re using HTV of any kind, you HAVE TO MIRROR YOUR IMAGE. Just think – in order to iron/heat press the image on and not burn the vinyl, the vinyl needs to be reversed (mirrored). You can mirror your image from the “make the project” screen or the following screen. If you don’t, your image will be backward when you iron/heat press it on. 

Mirror image in cricut design space for custom t-shirt with htv

11. Cut just enough vinyl for your project so that you waste as little vinyl as possible. 

12. Stick it to your mat, vinyl side up (also super important! Not sure which side is the vinyl? It’s the duller of the two – the shiny side is the carrier that allows you to transfer the vinyl to your t-shirt). A few things I saw recommended the blue light grip mat, but trust me, use the green one! 

13. Follow the on-screen instructions and voila, your Maker will make!

Circut maker cutting out htv for custom designed t-shirt

14. Next up: weeding. I’d seen a lot of complaints about weeding, and perhaps after doing it for a long time or on something extremely intricate I could see how you’d be annoyed, but I actually enjoyed weeding (meaning removing the vinyl you DON’T want on your final project) this vinyl.

Weed the vinyl cut by your circut maker to make a custom t-shirt

Now it’s time to actually put the vinyl on your shirt. The steps below are for using an EasyPress. 

15. Depending on what your shirt is made out of, set the EasyPress to recommended temp from Cricut’s Heat Guide. Note: When I selected my vinyl and my t-shirt, it said that the two weren’t compatible. But a quick Google search showed me that many people were using this vinyl and this t-shirt at the normal cotton settings, so that’s what I went with. Please do this at your own risk!

16. After my EasyPress heated up to 315 degrees, I followed the Heat Guide Instructions to preheat the shirt for 5 seconds, lightly press the graphic on for 30 seconds, then press the back of the shirt for 15 seconds, and wait until the plastic was cool to peel it away. 

Use an easypress 2 to put htv on your t-shirt cricut maker

Ta-da!

Look mom, I made a t-shirt!

my first custom-made t-shirt using my circut maker

I’m super-happy with how it came out, and I’m even more excited to keep making now that I’ve conquered some of the brutal anxiety that had my poor Maker sitting unused for several months. 

Do you have a Cricut? What are you favorite things to make? Tell me in the comments!

30 Minutes on Mondays: Getting Serious Self-Care With My Happy Planner During COVID-19 Lockdown

30 minutes on Mondays is when I get some serious self-care with my Happy Planner (HP). If you’re not familiar with HP, here’s the gist: a beautiful, customizable planner in which you use stickers (or not, but probably) to decorate your months and weeks and outline whatever you feel like outlining – work, home, projects, blogging, self-care, etc. 

Weekly Happy Planner spread, before the pen
“Before the pen” and also before the lockdown

Disclaimer: this post contains Affiliate links and I may make a small amount of money if you decide to purchase from my links. Read my full disclosure and privacy policy here.

I have several happy planners: one straight from the company (Me and My Big Ideas, aka MAMBI) that I use for weekly planning, and then a few that I’ve created myself: recipes, groceries and meal planning, and a journal. Since I started, happy planning has been something that has brought me joy (and friendship! I’ve met some wonderful folks through sharing HP on Instagram!) but moving into week 2 of COVID-19 lockdown, this is what my planner spread looked like:

Weekly Happy Planner spread everything rescheduled
“After the pen” and also after the lockdown… all those stickers of positivity weren’t helping!

I showed my husband (I do this every week… like a kid bringing home art from school, lol) and immediately teared up. Of all the times to go into lockdown, March/April were when I/we had the most travel plans we’ve had in a long time: a girls trip to Mexico for me, a weekend up home where I’d get to see both of my parents (and go to the Troy Maple Festival), seeing Kinky Boots with my husband, a trip to WV to visit the Fiestaware Factory, and the annual gala for a domestic violence shelter that I love giving back to. 

PLEASE NOTE: I realize that these things are not the things many people were subjected to grieving. I realize my good fortune in that myself and my family haven’t gotten sick, and my privilege that I’m able to do any of these things to begin with, but that doesn’t change my emotional response to them, and that response is totally valid. 

I was also grieving that I’d taken something I usually enjoy and smattered my sad feelings all over it. I always leave my HP open to the current week but I wanted to close it because I was mad at myself for being “whiny” in my weekly planner. Silly in hindsight, but again, my emotional responses are valid. 

After a good smush-into-husbands-shoulder-and-sob-on-him sesh, he said, 

Tyler: Why don’t we come up with some things to put into your planner that are good?
Me: Like what? Everything really is cancelled… 
Tyler: Like things that might otherwise feel regular or mundane… you want to bake more, maybe put that in your planner? And we’re going to watch all of the Marvel movies in chronological order… maybe put those in your planner? Date nights and baking?
Me: *more crying*

Gosh he’s great. 

The following Monday I got out my planning supplies, jotted down a few things that I could turn into “happy events” and got to work. Thirty minutes later… 

30 minutes on Mondays and so glad I'm still using my happy planner during the COVID-19 lockdown
“After the pen” with a much happier vibe… so glad I am still using my Happy Planner during the COVID-19 lockdown

I felt so good.

Again, though – there is nothing wrong with feeling sad, grieving people and things you’re missing, being angry, frustrated, scared, worried… things that are traditionally “bad”, “not good”, or “negative”. These feelings are no less important and valid than “happy” emotions and deserve to be recognized.

Anywhooooo… I had come up with all sorts of ideas for things I wouldn’t normally add to my weekly plans but now could focus on… I could include our weekly meals, because why not? Oh and maybe every weekend I’ll have a new baking adventure – perfect use for the stand mixer stickers I got for my dear friend Maryann:

How freaking adorable are these?!

What had started down a path of “something else to give up during lockdown” quickly became “something to happily do during lockdown”. I’ve always loved my HP, but in the last six weeks (gah, how has it been six weeks already) I’ve really come to love my 30 (okay, sometimes 45….) minutes on Mondays in which I spend some time with myself, being creative, and making my week just a bit more joyful using my HP. 

Are you a planner? Do you Happy Plan, BuJo, Erin Condren, or CleverFox? Have you stuck with it or temporarily sat it aside during the COVID-19 lockdown? I’d love to know your thoughts on planning/planners, so leave ‘em in the comments so we can discuss!

This post contains Affiliate links and I may make a small amount of money if you decide to purchase from my links. Read my full disclosure and privacy policy here. -Deb 

3 Reasons Why I Ditched Diet Culture

The three reasons why I ditched diet culture… getting to a point where I can write this post has been quite the journey. I’m still in the thick of it – learning, changing, growing, forgiving, accepting, loving. But what even got me to this point?

3 reasons why I ditched diet culture

“Well, all of your bloodwork is totally normal… you’re a little low in Vitamin D, but that’s easy to supplement with over-the-counter. You’re a very healthy young lady.”

Me, all 230 lbs of me, who has always been told I need to lose weight, sitting on the exam table:

I managed to stutter out “Oh, okay, awesome” as he continued explaining my blood-work to me: what these numbers mean and what those numbers mean, and why eating fewer eggs might lower your cholesterol but also might not… I was trying desperately to listen thoroughly but also trying not to cry at having heard the word “healthy” used in reference to me. 

Disclaimer: this post contains Affiliate links and I may make a small amount of money if you decide to purchase from my links. Read my full disclosure and privacy policy here.

I’d already had a minimal “fuck it” attitude by the time I went to this doctor’s appointment… I was very tired of (read: exhausted by) Fit Girl-ing and Keto-ing and weighing my food and the costs (both time and money, and usually ignoring the mental cost associated with it) of all of it. I told my husband, “I don’t want to be one of those girls who gets married and then ‘let’s herself go’” (at the time not realizing that this was just another form of fat shaming, but I’ve been on a weight loss journey for forever, so this is an uphill climb with a LOT of learning) but also that I didn’t feel like I could keep living like I was: always hyper-focused on losing weight. We want to have a kid, we’re starting our farming life… we’ve got a lot of things we want to do and 90% of my brain capacity is OWNED by weight loss and weight loss-related things. I just didn’t feel like it was a sustainable (again, still not really taking the mental cost into consideration) way to live. 

So I started feverishly googling “intuitive eating” because I’d heard that basically was letting go of a diet (merrrrrr, not necessarily.. Make sure you’re really checking what you’re reading if you take this path!). I learned a lot in those first few days… one of the primary things that I knew I needed to do was to dig into WHY I had been dieting my whole life and WHY I wanted to stop it now. “Why” is always an important question to ask in any situation, and in this situation, it was what freed me from my own self.

Here’s what I came up with:

I’ve been dieting for probably the same reasons a lot of us have:

  1. I was influenced and often actually TOLD by people close to me and by society that the person I was wasn’t good enough, especially in regard to my weight (and in various other ways too, of course)
  2. I had this idea that I needed to look a certain way to a) achieve that^ “good enough” status so that I could ever b) be accepted as a “successful” person (because aren’t all successful people completely healthy?!)
  3. I thought that achieving those 2^ would allow me to experience “happiness”, the elusive “happiness” that certainly only comes when you aren’t fat, right?

I felt a little bit cuckoo (granted, I AM a little bit cuckoo) reading these back to myself. I logically understand that my weight has absolutely nothing to do with my value as a human, with my ability to have a successful career, to be happy, to have a good life.

So then why am I letting it do all of those things to me emotionally?

More tears. So the reasons I ever became obsessed with weight loss in the first place are now the reasons I’m giving it up. I deserve more from myself than to only care about how I look. I have great bloodwork, I move my body and am capable of using it to accomplish both things like yardwork and also hiking 28 miles through the Fort Indiantown Gap, PA mountains, I enjoy cooking and baking and EATING food…. My life is about so much more than what size my jeans are, what society says about whether or not I ‘should’ wear a bikini (spoiler alert: I wear and ROCK a motherfucking bikini). “Diet culture” (a relatively new term) is about a lot more than just stopping dieting, though. Diet culture assigns a morality to thinness – it encourages the belief that if you are fat, you simply aren’t good enough. You aren’t a hard worker or you’d lose weight. You don’t “eat healthy” or you’d lose weight. You’re not exercising correctly/enough/at the gym/at home/with weights/without weights/with running/without running (this list could go on forever) or you’d lose weight. You don’t spend enough time or money doing x, or you’d lose weight. 

Diet culture makes EVERYTHING about your weight. It teaches us (all of us, men, women, and children) that unless you’re “thin” (because what does that even mean), you cannot be good enough. 

Did you know that as of February 25, 2019, the weight loss industry in the United States alone was worth $72 BILLION dollars. I had no idea.

Seventy. Two. Billion. Dollars. 

That’s a whole hell of a lot of money being made from “fat people” (again, because what does that even mean) being taught they aren’t good enough.

According to a study by Dove which interviewed over 10,000 women and girls, 

“nearly all women (85%) and girls (79%) [saying they] opt out of important life activities – such as trying out for a team or club, and engaging with family or loved ones – when they don’t feel good about the way they look”

Dove Self Esteem Project, 2016

I want to say “WTF!”, but…

I know I’ve done this – straight up not gone to/done something because I don’t feel good about how I look. Or changed my clothes 15 times trying to feel better about how I look before I go to karaoke, go to dinner with friends, go to mow the fucking grass, even. 

We aren’t born with that behavior or these ideas – it is learned. 

And here we have reached my personal goal – to unlearn it. To change the statistics, to improve my well-being, to wake up each day and choose to love myself, be good to myself, and forgive myself for doing quite the opposite for most of my life. 

Some things I’m doing to help myself through this journey:

  1. Being open and honest about it with myself and others, to the best of my ability. I have SO MUCH to unlearn and with that means that I have to keep learning and adjusting my idea of what is “right” and what was just convincingly taught to me by advertisers (I’m an advertiser, so this is both a slight and just reality, LOL)
  2. Eating FOOD. Whatever food I want to eat, whenever I want to eat it.
  3. Forgiving myself for my past. For giving up my love of cooking and baking because it wasn’t “healthy” or “good for me”. For skipping events, for turning down opportunities, for forcing myself to work out, to eat a certain way… for so, so many things.
  4. Taking in information. I’m currently reading The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner which is filled with information, studies, ideas… some things are enlightening, some things are “meh”, and some thing I think are a stretch (at least for me). But I’m being open to understand that I’ve been fooled, and trying to learn as much as I can so I can help stop the bullshit moving forward.
  5. Telling you (see #1). Because like anything in life, we don’t need to go through our hard lessons alone.

This blog doesn’t have a good “ending point” because I’ve only just begun, so expect to see/hear more about this subject. I made a few posts about ditching diet culture on Instagram, too, so feel free to follow along if you aren’t already.

The BEST Lemon Bars – Sally’s Baking Addiction Lemon Bars Recipe Review

I’ve been rediscovering my passion for baking since deciding to “end diet culture” for myself, and let me tell you, it has been LOVELY. I discovered Sally’s Baking Addiction when looking for a cream cheese frosting recipe, so when my husband idly mentioned not having had lemon bars in a long time, I immediately searched her site to see if she had a recipe, which of course she did. 

Disclaimer: this post contains Affiliate links and I may make a small amount of money if you decide to purchase from my links. Read my full disclosure and privacy policy here.

The things I wanted in a lemon bar recipe were:

  • Not terribly difficult to make
  • Uses fresh lemons
  • Didn’t require any special equipment (I generally live by Alton Brown’s ideology that most unitaskers aren’t necessary, with the exception of a great citrus press and a few other things)

Sally’s Baking Addiction came through with this recipe (originally found on her website):

The best lemon bars recipe! Amazing taste and only 7 ingredients!
The best lemon bars recipe with an amazing taste and only 7 ingredients!

Shortbread Crust

  • 1 cup (230g; 2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups + 2 Tablespoons (265g) all-purpose flour

Lemon Filling

  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons (48g) all-purpose flour
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup (240ml) lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
  • optional: confectioners’ sugar for dusting (Deb note: I did this, it’s pretty, do it!)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C). Line the bottom and sides of a 9×13 baking pan* with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the sides to lift the finished bars out (makes cutting easier!). Set aside.
  2. Make the crust: Mix the melted butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the flour and stir to completely combine. The dough will be thick. Press firmly into prepared pan, making sure the layer of crust is nice and even. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the edges are very lightly browned. Remove from the oven and set aside until step 4.
  3. Make the filling: Sift the sugar and flour together in a large bowl. Add the eggs and lemon juice and whisk until completely combined.
  4. Pour filling over warm crust. Bake the bars for 22-26 minutes or until the center is relatively set and no longer jiggles. (Give the pan a light tap with an oven mitt to test.) Remove bars from the oven and cool completely at room temperature. I usually cool them for about 2 hours at room temperature, then stick in the refrigerator for 1-2 more hours until pretty chilled. I recommend serving chilled.
  5. Once cool, lift the parchment paper out of the pan using the overhang on the sides. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and cut into squares before serving. For neat squares, wipe the knife clean between each cut. Cover and store leftover lemon bars in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Some advice from my experience making this:

  1. READ AHEAD. This recipe isn’t super-complicated, but it’s best to prepared, and you can only do that by reading ahead. 
  2. GET EVERYTHING OUT YOU NEED FOR THE WHOLE RECIPE. This isn’t just for this recipe, this is for anything you’re cooking/baking. Just get everything out so that once you’re hands are covered in butter and flour, you’re not opening a cupboard and making more of a mess than you’ll already have on your hands (haha, on your hands… *long sigh*). 
  3. TRUST THE PROCESS. There were a few times while making these that I thought (or said aloud) “is this what I’m supposed to be doing?” “this parchment paper is going to give the edges weird creases” “warm crust? So should I let the hot crust cool to warm?” but I just followed the instructions (and Sally’s tips, found throughout and after the recipe in her blog post) and trust me, these bars were utter perfection. 

Bonus tip: I love my Pampered Chef tablet stand my mom got me for my birthday (or this similar one on Amazon). It’s so helpful to just keep in one spot when reading one of the 8 million recipes I have pinned!

I’ve made a lot of other desserts in the past few months, too, and I’ll be sharing recipes and reviews for them, too. What is your favorite dessert? Do you have a recipe you’re willing to share? I’d love to try it! 

I Bought Clothes from Amazon and I Actually Like Them

True fact: I am basically horrified of shopping online at a place I can’t also shop in-store to determine what I like/what size fits me/etc. 

It legitimately gives me anxiety

What if I hate it?
What if it looks horrible?
When will I be able to get it to the UPS store to return it?
Is it even worth reading 500 reviews to get the right size?
What if those horror stories about online clothes having parasites are true?

*GASP*

Okay, breathe Deb, just breathe. 

Disclaimer: this post contains Affiliate links and I may make a small amount of money if you decide to purchase from my links. Read my full disclosure and privacy policy here.

Taking the Plunge
I did an inordinate amount of research before I bought my first piece of clothing on Amazon. I read a Buzzfeed article about what clothes were actually worth purchasing from Amazon, and I found this dress:

Super cute lemon a-line dress I bought from Amazon.

As you can see, it ended up being super-adorable. I mean, it has LEMONS on it….#swoon. And no, I can’t link you to the hat, because I bought the hat from Marshall’s and added the accoutrements myself. 

I got pretty lucky with this dress. I obsessed over the reviews but it seemed pretty 50/50 – this dress fits true to size vs. this dress runs a little small. I tried sifting through the reviews to find the reviewers who were kind enough to include their height/weight to see if anyone with a similar build as me had bought the dress, but to no avail. I finally bit the bullet and bought two (see my floral one below) when they were a lightning deal, and really only because my husband offered to drop them off at the UPS store on his way home from base if I didn’t want to keep them (he’s the sweetest). 

A super-cute floral a-line dress I got home Amazon.

So I had luck with a dress… maybe Amazon could help me solve my sports bra problem? 

Running with Boobs, an Activity Not for the Faint of Heart
If you’re a woman and you’ve ever gone for a run, you know that running can hurt. Hurt your knees, hurt your feet, and reallllly hurt your boobs. There is just so much bouncing and slamming and nipple-rubbing when you don’t have a good sports bra. I felt like I’d tried them all – cheap-o sports bras from Target, Xersion sports bras from JCPenney, higher-ticket sports bras from Nike and Under Armour… but it just didn’t matter. None of them stopped the OUCH. When I set out on a quest to find a good sports bra, I quickly realized I wasn’t alone. The internet is filled with blogs about ‘finding a good sports bra’. I wish I could remember how, but something in that research (I feel like it might’ve been a pin, actually) led me to this sports bra on Amazon that rings in at the low low cost of $24.99 (a bit more than the sale price of $15 I was paying at Target and JCP but way less than Nike and UA). I fully reviewed this bra on my old KetoDeb blog, but here’s the gist of it: this bra is AMAZING. No pain, only gain. I now own three of them. The only downside? Hand-wash only. For some people (me) this isn’t a big deal, but I know for some it’s a 100% dealbreaker. 

Well, I Guess I Could Give a Shirt a Try… 
My foray into buying shirts from Amazon was born of necessity. I was embarking on a 28-mile ruck supporting the soldiers of the 28th Division out of Fort Indiantown Gap (March for the Fallen… What an amazing experience) and really needed a moisture-wicking shirt. Except I had a HORRIBLE case of poison ivy and my arms were super-swollen and super-itchy. I couldn’t find anything that didn’t further irritate my skin, until I got this gem of a shirt from Amazon: 

The best part? It’s a less-than-$10-shirt from good ‘ol Hanes. After obsessively reading reviews (sensing a theme yet?) I choose a Large (in Fresh Berry) and it was the perfect fit for me. I hiked 28 miles in the mountains of Fort Indiantown Gap in just over 9 hours and survived both the journey itself AND having horrible poison ivy. #winning 

(I also got that super-cute bandana/neckerchief from Amazon, although apparently it’s meant to be worn at a rave, not on a rigorous hike through the mountains….) 

Then when I saw my super-cute friend Jess wearing a waffle-knit slub cardigan in her OOTD on Instagram and she told me it was from Amazon, I thought, well hell, maybe I can get a dressier shirt from Amazon, too! Enter this cute orange guy, which looks great with dress pants or jeans, and made a wonderful Thanksgiving shirt:

It’s cute, comfy, and warm. What more could you want from a $17.58 sweater? I will say, the images on Amazon aren’t great. It’s definitely not as thick/chunky as the photo quality makes it seem to be. But still cute, so I’m okay with it. 

Now, all of these wins being stated, I have bought some clothes from Amazon that went straight to the UPS store to be returned. But guess what? I survived. Tried them on, didn’t like them, did the 1-step return through the Amazon app, and simply dropped them off. Easy-peasy-Amazon-squeezy. 

Do you have any good Amazon fashion finds? I’m always up for something new and fun, so drop me a line below and let me know! 

And yes, I know, shopping on Amazon has a lot of drawbacks and trust me, I shop local whenever possible, but for me/where we live, it’s not realistic/possible to do that for clothing, so please leave your negativity elsewhere, k? Thanks. 

Greening Your Cleaning with Grove Collaborative

Maybe it’s the mass amount of information I’ve learned from living on The Mighty Susquehanna, or maybe it’s that one Environmental Bio class I had in college that I LOVED, or maybe it’s that the smell of bleach makes me feel like I’m going to have a panic attack, but either way – I know that traditional cleaners (bleach, ammonia, etc.) are bad for the environment. But just how bad are they? 

Disclaimer: this post contains Affiliate links and I may make a small amount of money if you decide to purchase from my links. Read my full disclosure and privacy policy here.

According to the EPA in this article, traditional cleaners can present substantial personal and environmental health concerns:

  • Cleaning products are released to the environment during normal use through evaporation of volatile components and rinsing down the drain of residual product from cleaned surfaces, sponges, etc. Janitorial staff and others who perform cleaning can be exposed to concentrated cleaning products. However, proper training and use of a Chemical Management System (a set of formal procedures to ensure proper storage, handling, and use) can greatly minimize or prevent exposure to concentrated cleaning product during handling and use.
  • Certain ingredients in cleaning products can present hazard concerns to exposed populations (e.g., skin and eye irritation in workers) or toxicity to aquatic species in waters receiving inadequately treated wastes (note that standard sewage treatment effectively reduces or removes most cleaning product constituents). For example, alkylphenol ethoxylates, a common surfactant ingredient in cleaners, have been shown in laboratory studies to function as an “endocrine disrupter,” causing adverse reproductive effects of the types seen in wildlife exposed to polluted waters.
  • Ingredients containing phosphorus or nitrogen can contribute to nutrient-loading in water bodies, leading to adverse effects on water quality. These contributions, however, are typically small compared to other point and non-point sources.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOC) in cleaning products can affect indoor air quality and also contribute to smog formation in outdoor air.

Personal health, water and air quality, wildlife… the list of environmental and health concerns stemming from the slew of bottles underneath our kitchen and bathroom sinks is incredible. I think I knew this already… I must have, right? But I felt so overwhelmed by it all. Is “environmentally-friendly” good enough? What does that even mean? Some of the “natural” cleaners are close-ish in price to their bleach-filled brethren, but some of them are substantially more expensive. Why is that? Why are some brands exclusive to one store or another, and some can be purchased on Amazon? I felt like I couldn’t really make sense of it all, and there was so much information to take in. I started small and made small replacements, but my real commitment to “greening my cleaning” was when I was introduced to Grove Collaborative (this is my referral link – you get a free Mrs. Meyers cleaning set and I earn $10 of product credit if you decide to purchase from them). 

Grove Collaborative is a flexible recurring shipment service (though you can absolutely opt out of regular monthly shipments) that exclusively sells products that meet their high standards for being “non-toxic, effective, sustainable, and cruelty-free”. They “value safety, transparency, social welfare and exclusively work with partners who do, too..and also carbon offset every shipment that goes out the door”. Basically, they took all of the hard work out of figuring out what to buy and from whom. 

Grove sells products from brands like Mrs. Meyers, method, Seventh Generation, and of course has their own line of sustainable, eco-conscious cleaners, household products, and more. The beset part? It’s all at a discount that makes them cheaper than picking them up at the grocery store. Some of my favorite products I’ve gotten with my Grove VIP membership ($19.99/year and gets you free shipping on every order (flat-rate $2.99 otherwise), free gifts throughout the year, access to sales/new products, etc.) are:

  • Grove’s cleaning concentrates and glass spray bottles
  • Coconut scrubber sponges
  • 100% recycled plastic trash bags
  • Mrs. Meyers Room Refresher
  • and LOTS of others, but these are my super-go-tos

As an added bonus to the savings and the referral program (and in true taste to their mission), Grove has a “carbon offsetting” program to help offset the emissions created by their business. According to their website, they purchase credits to fund projects that help reduce pollution, like wind farms and energy efficiency retrofits. It makes it feel so GOOD to put in the time and money to make green cleaning switches when they company you’re supporting is continuing to support their Earth-focused cause in additional ways (with said money). 

Have you wanted to “green” your cleaning? Or have you already made some switches (or maybe Grove isn’t at all new to your and you’ve been Grove-ing for months!)? Feel free to use my referral link (the one where you’ll get a free Mrs. Meyers cleaning set and I’ll get $10 toward my next purchase – win-win!) if you want to get started: https://www.grove.co/referrer/75471345/