Friday, April 21, 2017

Dark Matter - April Book Club

I got one of my book choices picked for April book club. I read about Dark Matter by Blake Crouch in a magazine shortly after the book came out last year and immediately put it on my to-read list. It sounded interesting, and I think they are making it into a movie.

It's a science-fiction novel about a man named Jason who lives in Chicago with his wife and son. But one night, he's abducted and injected with something. He loses consciousness and when he wakes up, he's in a laboratory surrounded by people he doesn't know. Not only that, but he's in a world where his wife is not his wife and his son has never been born.

What did I think? This book definitely kept me guessing. It's kind of hard to talk about it without giving too much away, so I'll try not to give as many spoilers as I can.

When Jason woke up in this new world, I immediately thought of a TV show from several years ago where a guy goes to sleep in one world and wakes up in another. He lives out his day in the new world, and then goes to sleep and wakes up again in the first world. Part of me wondered if that was what was going on here, but then I kept reading.

What's actually happening is very science-y, and I did feel like some of the explanation went over my head. But I managed to understand the gist of what was happening. It really is kind of mind-blowing.

There is a bit of violence in the book, so if that sort of thing bothers you, I don't think you should read this book.

What did my book club think? All of us enjoyed the book and our discussion often went so far beyond what our minds could comprehend that we had to take a step back and shake our heads. The other three book club members said that this was a book that was outside their wheelhouse, but they were all glad that they read it. They liked that it wasn't too difficult to follow, despite their being some scientific explanations in the middle of it, and that it was a quick read.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

You Make My Heart Sing Scrapbook Page

This was a really fast layout to put together. I used up some old American Crafts papers, some Me & My Big Ideas flower stickers that my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas, and some old washi tape. The title card came from an American Crafts paper pack.

Ooo, and you can see that raided my ribbon stash for this layout, too. How do you guys adhere your ribbon? I run it through my Xyron sticker maker to get adhesive on the back of it. Sometimes I use staples, but only if I feel like the staples could be a good addition to the feel of the layout.

Anyway, I was really glad with the way the layout turned out. It's always nice when things just come together and you end up not having to spend a lot of time agonizing over how to arrange all the elements on the page.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Meal Plan Monday - April 17

Sorry for the lack of Meal Plan Monday last week. I wasn't feeling very inspired in my cooking and so by the time I got a meal plan made, it was too late to post.

Not much inspiration this week either, mainly because we have so much in the way of Easter leftovers, so there really isn't much that we need to plan. But I'll post the menu anyway.

Sunday: Easter dinner

Monday: Coconut Chicken Salad with Warm Honey Vinaigrette

Tuesday: Easter leftovers

Wednesday: on our own

Thursday: Easter leftovers

Friday: turkey burgers and fries

Saturday: out

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Cooksimple Chipotle Sorghum Pilaf Side Dish to Main Dish

At the NJ GFAF Expo last year, I received a sample of Cooksimple's Chipotle Sorghum Pilaf. It sat in my pantry for months before I finally decided to do something with it.

I turned it from a side dish into a main dish!

If you happened to see my Instagram Story about it several weeks ago, then you'll know what I did. Basically, I cooked up the pilaf according to the package directions. (The front of the box said it took five minutes, but the back of the box said it took 45 minutes! It was more like 40.)

Then, I sauted up some pre-cooked, sliced chorizo in a skillet. Once that was done, I added the chorizo to the pilaf. And that was it!

The spiciness of the chorizo was a nice combination with the pilaf's apples and sweet potatoes. I really like the blend of hot and sweet. But if chorizo is too spicy for you, I think you could easily use smoked sausage as a substitute. That would be really good!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Our Adventures Scrapbook Page

Last summer/fall, I had a whole list of things that the baby and I were going to do together on days when I was home with her. Instead, I feel like we spent a lot of time at the doctor's office due to a never-ending cold and cough. Or the weather was bad so we couldn't go outside and do what I wanted.

Still, we managed to have some good times, and I tried to take pictures of as many of them as I could.

This cute two-pager was given to me by my mom. I had to put everything together, but she got it as part of a kit and gave it to me. The kit's instructions wanted me to use wire and stitch the buttons, and I just didn't have time for that. So I just used Zots to adhere the buttons and the white twine.

I dashed and dotted the yellow cardstock to make it look like the dashed and dotted edges of the stroller pieces.

For the title, I used American Crafts Thickers and October Afternoon mini stickers.

Thanks for looking!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Love Books Scrapbook Page

My little book lover! She may just grow up to be a librarian some day. If she would ever stop removing the books off the shelf and not putting them back!

For this layout, I used my stencil! I kept it simple, though, because I did have a lot of pictures to fit. Basic squares seemed the easiest way to do it. I really like how it turned out!

And then I just added some old American Crafts embellishments, and my on-sale American Crafts Thickers.

All of the papers on this one came from the "kit" I made myself out of the sale papers at Michael's. The background is actually made up of a pink cardstock with a vellum overlay. The overlay has the gold lettering all over it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sucktown, Alaska - Book Review

In Craig Dirkes' debut novel Sucktown, Alaska, the author uses personal experience to craft a fictional YA story about Eddie, an 18-year-old college flunk-out who moves to a small town in Alaska to gain experience that will prove he is serious about being a student. He gets a job writing for the local newspaper. He makes a new friend. He develops a crush on a girl. He starts selling weed.

Wait, what?

Yup. Selling weed is a huge part of this story and, eventually, it is supposed to serve as Eddie's wake-up call and point of redemption, but for me it didn't really work.

Part of that is because I didn't find Eddie to be a likable guy. He's pretty full of himself, as I suppose most 18-year-olds are, and the way he talks is rather coarse. When he meets Taylor, the girl he has a crush on, he's taken by her boobs. And then we continue to hear him mention her boobs and her butt and all of that throughout the rest of the book. I get it. She's hot. (Except she has a wonky eye or something. I wasn't really sure what was supposed to be wrong with her eye. I kept thinking that it would be addressed at some point, but it never was.)

But aside from being hot, Taylor is also her high school class' valedictorian. So she's also pretty smart, something that I'm not sure Eddie fully appreciates, and if she's so smart, then why is she falling for Eddie? I guess this place is so tiny that the girls are hard-up for guys.

Aside from finding each other physically attractive, I wasn't picking up on any real chemistry between these characters. And that was also another thing that didn't work for me. Many of the B characters were drawn thin. I wished there had been a little more development.

Eddie does change toward the end, but by the time he reaches that point, I was already done with him and I didn't really care that he was finally trying to make things right.

This book is age-rated 14+, and I find it really hard to think that a 14-year-old might be reading this book. There was a lot of specific marijuana lingo happening in the book, and I didn't understand any of it, so I really hope that 14-year-olds don't understand it either.

I almost think that if the story had gone darker and deeper, it could have been an interesting general fiction book for adults.

I think if anyone is going to read this book, it should be kids who are at least 18. It could make a nice high school graduation present and serve as a cautionary tale to those kids to not drink their way through their first semesters of college or sell weed because bad things will happen.

Sucktown, Alaska is published by Switch Press and will be on bookstore shelves on May 1, 2017. I received a free ARC for my honest review.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Meal Plan Monday - April 3

Happy April! Did anybody get pranked on April 1?

Here's what we're eating this week. Don't freak out if you see "waffles and eggs" and "tuna sandwiches and fries" on here yet again. Both were on last week's menu, but we didn't have them. We ended up with so many leftovers that we didn't need to use those dinners. So because they are easy and fast, we're going to try and have them this week. We'll see! But that's the beauty of the meal plan. You plan it out, and then you can rearrange as things come up, and if you do rearrange, then you have stuff ready to go for the following week. (*denotes new recipe)

Sunday: turkey burgers, roasted smashed potatoes, and corn

Monday: one-pot cheesy risotto with chicken sausage*

Tuesday: waffles and eggs

Wednesday: pepper jack cheesy mac

Thursday: tuna sandwiches and fries

Friday: leftovers

Saturday: on our own

Friday, March 31, 2017

What's New from FoodSaver

Last week I was invited to attend a media event in New York City for the FoodSaver brand. If you don't know, FoodSaver is the number one vacuum-sealing system designed to keep your food fresher longer, saving you money! On average, you can save up to $2700 per year, compared to ordinary food storage methods.

The event was exciting for two reasons. First, I got to see what was new from FoodSaver and how easy the new machines were to use! Second, I got to meet Food Network star Damaris Phillips! She gave us a cooking demo and should us how she uses the FoodSaver products!

But let's get to the real star of the event: the new FoodSaver Fresh Appliance. This thing is pretty cool because it will vacuum seal FoodSaver bags AND new FoodSaver Fresh Containers. You can use this system for anything you want to keep fresh in your fridge and pantry, and it will keep the food fresh up to two times longer than traditional storage containers.

This thing is so easy to use! If you watched my Instagram story from that day, then you'll have seen me use it! The Fresh Appliance adjusts up and down so that it fits over whatever size Fresh Container you're using (they come in three sizes) or bag. Then, you just press a button and it sucks out the air, leaving you free to do other things in the meantime. And it works quickly, stopping automatically when it's done.

This is something that is small enough to keep out on your countertop so that you can easily access it and use it whenever you need it. And I really think you'll be using it every day! It's just so easy! And when you've seen avocado slices kept fresh and not brown inside one of the vacuum-sealed bags, you will understand what a lifesaver this is! It might be an investment at about $99.99 (that includes the Fresh Appliance, Fresh Containers, and Zipper Bags), but you'll end up saving money in all that food that you're not wasting.

Another new product is an updated version of the original FoodSaver system: the FoodSaver FM5000, which is better suited for freezer storage. This retails for about $199.99, and it has a lot of new features that make it easier to use. It's got a vacuum view window so you can see where and how far to insert the end of the bag to make a seal. And you'll spend half as much time making bags thanks to the Express Bag Maker that pre-seals your next bag before you even need it! What you're seeing in this picture is a cool marinade feature that lets you marinade meat in minutes instead of hours!

Plus, there is open roll storage to help you know when you're running low on bags, and a lower roll position so you can use your counter as your work space.

I've never used a system like FoodSaver before, and I always thought, "Why do I need something like that?" But you know, after seeing it in action, I definitely understand why people use them. To know that my food is being kept fresh because air is being removed from the storage container or storage bag is just amazing! I don't have to worry about stuff going bad before I'm able to use it! I could prep foods on Sunday and have them just as fresh when we make and eat them later in the week! What a novel idea!

And like I said before, these items may seem expensive. $199 is NOT in our budget right now. But if you look at it as an investment that is actually going to save you money in the long run, then I think you could justify the expense. (Or if you are getting married soon and looking for things to add to the registry, might I suggest adding these? Then you can make someone else buy them for you!)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What a Doll Scrapbook Page

Last month, Michael's had a huge sale on Valentine's Day-themed paper. So, of course, when I was in the store shopping for something else, I just HAD to take advantage of the cheap paper prices. I put together a nice little "kit" for myself, and this is one of the pages that I made with it.

Yes, even that textured wood-like paper was on sale! The tag with the heart came from a piece of patterned paper. Even the American Crafts Thickers were on sale! (I love when that happens!) The only thing not purchased from Michael's during this trip was the ribbon. I've had that in my stash for awhile and I finally got to use it up on this layout. I just love the brown and pink together, don't you?

These pictures were taken when we got the baby dressed up to go to a baby shower last year. She's got a floral headband on, but that only lasted long enough for these pictures.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Meal Plan Monday - March 27

It's hard to believe that this is the last week of March. This year is already flying by!

Here's what we're eating this week. (* denotes new recipe)

Sunday: macaroni and cheese with ground beef and green beans

Monday: Cornbread Pot Pie*

Tuesday: tuna sandwiches and fries

Wednesday: Tex Mex Beef and Rice Skillet*

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: on our own

Saturday: eggs and waffles

Friday, March 24, 2017

ClariSpray Nasal Allergy Spray Review + GIVEAWAY

I have allergies. I'm allergic to mold, dust, pollen, trees, grass, dogs and cats (pet dander), etc. Right now, Allegra is my go-to over-the-counter allergy medicine, supplemented with Opcan-A eye drops when I start to experience itchy "allergy" eyes.

But when I was invited to try ClariSpray for free through BzzAgent, I jumped at the chance because I know that eventually Allegra is not going to work for me anymore (in the same way that Zyrtec and Claritin before it stopped working after I took them for a certain time period).

ClariSpray is a nasal allergy spray from the makers of Claritin (Bayer), and it contains Fluticasone Propionate, which, according to Bayer, is the number one prescribed ingredient for nasal allergy relief. That's actually an ingredient that is different from what is found in Claritin.

So what does that mean? Well, ClariSpray is designed to relieve nasal congestion, sneezing, and itchy, runny nose due to allergies. And it provides 24-hour non-drowsy relief from those allergy symptoms.

You can purchase it in a 60-spray or 120-spray bottle without a prescription at grocery, drug, and mass retailers.

While I'm sure the product works for some people, it didn't really work that well for me. I used the product as directed for about a week and a half: two sprays in each nostril for one week and then one spray in each nostril for week two through six months. The instructions say that most people start experiencing relief after the first day, but I still suffered from some allergy problems. Mainly, "allergy" eyes. I didn't have any sniffly or runny nose while using the ClariSpray, but right before I started using it, my eyes were giving me problems. I had really hoped that the ClariSpray would help out with the itchy eyes, but it didn't. And I was a little unclear about whether or not I could use my allergy eye drops while also taking ClariSpray. The instructions say not to take steroid eye drops for allergies while taking ClariSpray.

Before starting ClariSpray, I also had been suffering from what allergy sufferers can only understand: an itchy feeling in the back of my throat. That DID go away after starting ClariSpray, but toward the end of my test drive with the nasal spray, I had a few sneezes. And ClariSpray did nothing to prevent me from having an allergic reaction to dust while vacuuming my house, even though ClariSpray is supposed to work on nasal allergy symptoms caused by exposure to dust and dust mites, among other allergens.

I think the main thing with me is that I need to be under the care of an allergist. (Ever since moving to New Jersey, my allergies have just been crazy.) So a product like ClariSpray just isn't going to cut it.

But if you are simply looking for relief from nasal allergy symptoms during allergy season, then ClariSpray might be a good option for you.

And if you'd like to try it out for yourself, I have THREE $3 coupons to give away! Just enter using the Rafflecopter below. Three winners will randomly be picked, and then I'll mail out the coupons to those winners. For full giveaway rules, please read the Rafflecopter details below. Good luck!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Kitchen House - March Book Club

The March book club pick was The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. I had never heard of the book before, but after I told people that I was reading it, I heard a lot of, "I read that book!"

A few years ago, the book had been placed on my book club's to-read list, so when trying to figure out what book to read for March, I made up a list of three books for people to vote on, and The Kitchen House was one of them.

It got the most votes!

The story is told from two perspectives. There's Lavinia, a white girl from Ireland who becomes an indentured servant to a white family in Virgnia, and Belle, a black slave working in the white family's kitchen house. Even though they are both in service to the family, because of the difference in their skin colors, you can imagine that they have very different experiences in dealing with the white family.

What did I think? This sort of felt like a Jane Austen novel set in the south and with less humor. The farther you get into the story, the more misunderstandings, miscommunications, and poor timings there are. You just know that somehow things are going to work out in the end, but you have no idea how a happy ending is ever going to happen. Still, you just keep reading to find out what will happen next.

While I liked the book and that the story was told through the eyes of two characters, there were A LOT of characters to keep track of. At times, I guess I thought the action of the story was a little fast and because there were so many characters a part of the action, I had trouble following what was happening.

What did my book club think? Well, all three of them liked it! We had a really good discussion and didn't even need to rely on the reading guide questions in the back of the book to get us going. (But there are reading guide questions if you need them.)

I also followed the author's recipe for molasses cake, something that the characters ate in the book, and brought some molasses cake to book club, and that was good, too!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Meal Plan Monday - March 20

We're in March, but I think someone forgot to tell the weather that. Hopefully we don't get any more snow this week. We got enough last week out here in the Northeast!

But snow or no snow, we're still going to eat well this week. Here's what's on the menu (* denotes new recipe):

Sunday: roast chicken, mashed potatoes, corn

Monday: One Pot Zucchini Mushroom Pasta *

Tuesday: waffles and scrambled eggs

Wednesday: Praline Chicken

Thursday: chicken tenders and fries

Friday: chicken fettuccine alfredo

Saturday: macaroni and cheese with ground beef, green beans

Friday, March 17, 2017

Scallop Pasta

If you've been following me on Instagram (and you really should!), then you'll know that I experimented cooking scallops last week. I posted a teaser picture of the recipe I was using, and then I even did an Insta Story about cooking the scallops.

So, how did it go?

Well, the original recipe from Parents magazine called for a pound of fresh sea scallops. (I would share the link with you but it no longer works!) I had to use bay scallops instead of sea scallops because they were cheaper. They were also frozen, not fresh. I'm not even sure if the seafood department at my grocery store carries fresh scallops.

So yeah, the scallops were not what I expected. They were very small, but I figured that would just make it easier to eat them. No cutting involved!

I didn't make this gluten-free because there was no way my husband was going to eat scallops. (I made this on a night when he wasn't going to be home for dinner, and the first thing we said when he walked in the house was, "Did you cook fish?") So that meant that I got to use REAL angel hair pasta.

I also didn't make my own pesto as the original recipe states. I just bought Barilla pre-made pesto because I didn't have time to make my own. (And don't tell me that making pesto is so easy. I'm sure it is if you don't have a 1-year-old crawling behind you who doesn't like the sound of the food processor.)

The above picture kind of looks like a bird's nest, doesn't it?

So, if you've been following along, you basically cook one pound of scallops seasoned with salt and pepper, cook eight ounces of angel hair pasta, and then combine scallops, pasta, and 1/4 cup of pesto (or more if you want more). It was a quick weeknight meal to make.

I really liked the pesto with the angel hair pasta. But with the scallops? Not so much. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as good as I had expected.

But I'm glad I tried it!

What do you think? Got any other scallop recipes that might change my mind about scallops?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Kids' Birthday: Panda Party

So we're (I am) kind of obsessed with pandas. Pandas are the baby's nursery theme, and so I figured we might as well extend it as the theme for her first birthday. (Yes, it has already been a year!)

I decided to make a panda cake that I had seen in Family Fun magazine. It's basically two eight-inch cakes stacked on top of each other, and then two six-inch cakes stacked on top of each other, and then the six-inch cake stack gets stacked on top of the eight-inch cake stack. And everything is frosted!

You use chocolate sprinkles to cover the top of the eight-inch cake stack, and the ears, eyes, and nose of the panda's head are chocolate wafer cookies. Surprisingly easy to find but a little hard to cut into the right shapes. I did the best I could. Both eyes also have a brown M&M adhered with icing, and the panda's mouth is a red gumdrop.

I gave the "head" of the cake to the baby for the smash cake, and that didn't go over so well, so I was glad that I didn't make the cake gluten-free because that would have been kind of a waste of expensive ingredients.

So for my husband, I followed (as best I could) a Bakerella recipe for panda cupcakes and made them gluten-free. The original recipe had mini cupcakes, but I didn't have a mini cupcake tin, so I just used my regular cupcake tins.

The only thing hard about these was finding white sugar sprinkles. Thank goodness that Target had them and I bought the last bottle!

Everything else is just the gluten-free cake mix, vanilla frosting, chocolate chips, and chocolate sprinkles.

I managed to find black-and-white party hats at Party City (although, the baby didn't really want to wear hers), and I ordered a black tablecloth, black balloons, white balloons, pink balloons, and black curling ribbon from Oriental Trading.

And I made a large number one using posterboard and all of the baby's monthly pictures, which were taken next to a giant stuffed panda bear that sits in her room.

I was pleased with how the cake and cupcakes turned out, especially for it being my first time making them. And the baby didn't care if there were imperfections. (She didn't care about the cake at all...) Not everything looks Pinterest perfect!

If you need more kids' birthday party ideas, check out my Kids' Parties board on Pinterest! There are a lot of ideas for party favors, food, and themes. My favorite is the LEGO theme. I'm hoping that the baby will let me do a LEGO party for her when she's older!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Meal Plan Monday - March 13

We had a big birthday celebration over the weekend! The baby turned one! I can't believe it's been a whole year already. I'll have more on that on the blog this week, but for now, here is what we are eating:

Sunday: leftover Slow Cooker Crack Chicken with baked potato and salad

Monday: lasagna, bread, salad

Tuesday: Three Cheese Italian Style Chicken Sausage and Broccoli Rigatoni

Wednesday: leftover lasagna, bread, salad

Thursday: tuna sandwiches and fries

Friday: waffles and eggs

Saturday: grilled cheese and soup

Friday, March 10, 2017

Daphne at Daycare Scrapbook Page

The baby goes to daycare part-time, and one of the things I like about her daycare is that they take pictures of the kids and send the pictures to you during the day! You then have the ability to download the pictures, and of course, I downloaded them and printed them to scrapbook!

For this layout, I used the stencil that my mom got me. I really like how the stencils allow you to get so many pictures on one page!

I saw this circle sticker in my stash and liked how the colors on the sticker fit with the colors of the papers. It's not a specific baby girl sticker, but it just worked.

I've been going crazy using these pink American Crafts Thickers! I've almost used up the whole sheet! (That was a great sale find at Michael's.) I also used some October Afternoon mini letters, which I've had in my stash for a long time. I'm also done with that sticker sheet, too!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Learn 2 Sippy Scrapbook Page

Here's a layout about the sippy cup! At 6 months, we got the go-ahead to introduce the sippy cup. At first, I tried putting formula in it, but the baby was NOT having it. So I switched to water and she seemed to like that much better. You should see her today! She loves drinking her water!

I got to use up some fun embellishments from my stash on this layout. The journaling spot was in a plastic bag of random journaling spots, and those stars were stuck to it. I thought they fit in well, so I didn't worry about them ruining a perfectly good journaling spot. (I feel like good journaling spots are so few and far between in my stash, so I've got to make them work when I find them!)

You can also see that I broke out the ribbon on this one! And the flower sticker was from a sticker sheet that my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas.

Thanks for looking!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Meal Plan Monday - March 6

It's baaaaack!

Yes, the meal plans sort of went on hiatus. We had a week where I was gone for work, and then my husband had a lot of stuff going on in the evenings, so it just didn't seem to make sense to actually plan anything. We kind of winged it and ate on our own on the nights when one of us was gone.

But it's back! And I'm happy to say that we're breaking out some favorites this week, and I'm trying something new for myself!

Sunday: Mini Turkey Meatloaves with Maple Green Beans and mashed potatoes

Monday: Penne with Ricotta Cheese and Greens

Tuesday: Ricotta Breakfast Pizza

Wednesday: Scallop Pasta

Thursday: Slow Cooker Crack Chicken, applesauce, and mini corn on the cob

Friday: turkey burgers, fries, applesauce, and sweet corn

Saturday: the baby's 1st birthday!!!!!!! cake and ice cream!!!!!!!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Last Look Before the First Look Scrapbook Page

I apologize for the blurriness of this photo. It didn't look this way when I glanced at it on my phone after taking it. But I think you get the idea.

I titled this layout "Last look before the first look" because these 3-D ultrasound picture were the last ones we got before the baby arrived. One year ago, I brought these home and then exactly one week later the baby was here!

It's probably better that the main picture is blurry because those 3-D ultrasound pictures are kind of scary. I guess they are cool if you like to see your baby looking like a gummy bear or Gollum from The Lord of the Rings.

I used some Echo Park baby girl embellishment stickers on this layout, as well as Recollections patterned paper and Bazzil Basics cardstock.

And look - ribbon!!!

I really liked the "Oh hello" sticker. I think that was from a Me & My Big Ideas sticker sheet. Seemed pretty fitting for these pictures.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What We Heart Right Now Scrapbook Page

Here is the second layout I made using the stencil that my mom gave me for Christmas. See how this one is different from the one last week?

I used the same American Crafts Thickers as on the last one, plus some random patterned paper and cardstock from my stash.

I actually made this layout before last week's layout, so I was still trying to figure things out. I think it turned out pretty well for my first time using the stencil unsupervised!

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Best Seat in the House Scrapbook Layout

For Christmas, my mom gave me this cool scrapbooking tool that makes it easy to create neat scrapbook layouts. It's a stencil that you can use in a variety of different ways.

Here is the stencil next to my finished layout. I just followed a sample picture to create this specific layout, traced and cut out the pictures and patterned paper where it needed to go, and adhered everything to my background paper.

I did a practice page first with my mom, and then I tried it out on my own using pictures of the baby. This ended up being a good way to get multiple pictures on one page!

I used Recollection patterned paper (both the tassles and the butterflies), blue cardstock from my stash, Basic Grey small letter stickers, and American Crafts foam Thickers. (The Thickers were on sale at Michael's last month!)

Scrapbooking with the stencil definitely takes a little bit longer, but I think the effort is worth it. And really once you get the hang of it, it's not hard to do. And I like that I can configure different looks. Come back next week to see another way I used the stencil!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

SK-II Signs Eye Mask Review

It's been awhile since I've participated in a BZZAgent campaign. I think the last one I did was for SK-II products back in 2015! So I was really excited to receive an email inviting me to participate in a brand new campaign for SK-II. (And, of course, I said yes!)

If you don't know, SK-II is a beauty brand (a pretty expensive beauty brand) that is used by actress Cate Blanchett. She's actually been a user of the brand for 13 years, so I'm going to assume that it works for her and she's not just in it for the money.

So, can you hope to look just like Cate after using these products?

Well, probably not, but your skin might look better! I received a two-week supply of the SK-II Signs Eye Masks. These easy-to-wear masks are "essence-drenched cloths" that are designed to reduce the signs of aging and dryness around the eyes. I was intrigued by the claim that it makes the skin under your eyes lighter and not so dull, while also making your eyes look brighter.

The masks are pretty easy to wear. They come two per package in little plastic trays, and you just remove one, stick it under an eye, and remove the top layer of film. (I actually removed the top layer of film before putting the eye mask under my eye because I found it difficult to remove the film when the eye mask was already on my face. I actually ended up dropping one of the masks in the sink trying to get the film layer off.)

Once the eye masks are on your face, leave them on for 10 minutes, and then remove. The instructions on the package don't say this, but you're also supposed to massage in any leftover residue.

After two weeks of doing that every night, I compared what my eyes looked like before and what they looked like after, and here's what I thought.

The effect wasn't so noticeable that I could tell a difference just by looking in the mirror, but I think that looking at these close-up pictures you can tell that the skin under my eyes looks smoother and perhaps a little brighter. Maybe I am also just lucky to have pretty good skin. I've had dermatologists tell me, "You don't go outside much, do you?" NOPE.

You can buy your own two-week set for $115. That's right. Kind of pricey, right? For me personally, these are not worth $115. But if you are concerned about the appearance of your eyes and have tried everything else with no luck, then the SK-II Signs Eye Masks might be the next best option for you.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Gluten-Free Slow Cooker Zuppa Toscana

I have never had Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscana soup, so I can't compare this recipe to the restaurant's. But I did think the soup looked delicious when I saw the recipe on Pinterest, so that's why I decided to make it the other week.

This was very good - even as leftovers!
Slow cooker dinners are so easy to do, especially when you're home with a baby all day. I work from home twice a week, and I like to try and use the slow cooker on those days because you just throw everything into the slow cooker, set it, and forget it! (And it makes the house smell delicious all day long.)

This recipe comes from The Chunky Chef, and you can find the original recipe here.

But I'm sharing with you a few tips and tweaks that might be helpful.

First, you're supposed to use all Italian sausage. But I had about half a pound of ground turkey and two sweet Italian sausage links in my freezer, so I just cooked both of those up and put them in the soup together. As far as I know, it didn't affect the flavor of the soup at all, and it was a nice way for me to use up stuff we already had instead of going out and buying more meat.

Second, the original recipe suggests using a 7-quart slow cooker, but my 6-quart slow cooker worked just fine.

Third, make sure your chicken stock is gluten-free. I like the Kitchen Basics brand.

Fourth, you'll need to substitute all-purpose gluten-free flour. I like Bob's Red Mill brand.

And yes, the Simply Potatoes diced potatoes and onions are gluten-free! It says it right on the bag! Very convenient.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Hey There Scrapbook Page

Here is the other set of photos from the baby's 6-month photo shoot. I love these pictures of her in the tub! She's so mesmerized by the rubber duck.

The patterned papers are Recollections. They were in the kit that I made my mom for Christmas, but I had to go back to Michael's and get some for myself. The yellow cardstock is Bazzill Basics. And, as you can see, I broke out the sheer pink ribbon AND yellow ribbon on this layout!

The panda sticker came from Walmart! I was browsing the scrapbook aisle there because sometimes you can find Project Life albums for cheap, and I saw this pack of stickers. The baby's nursery theme is pandas, and because she was wearing her panda hooded towel in one of the pictures, I thought the sticker would be a good fit.

The 100% adorable embellishment came from some scrapbook supplies that my mother-in-law gave me last year.

And I think the "Hey There" sticker is from Me & My Big Ideas. It seemed like the perfect sentiment to go along with the look on the baby's face when she saw the rubber duck on the tub.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Meal Plan Monday - February 13

Happy Valentine's Day a day early! We don't really do much to celebrate, especially because it's on a Tuesday this year and we both work. We'll probably have soda with dinner or something. Woo! Special!

And here is what we'll be eating this week:

Sunday: Italian Sausage and Potato Roast

Monday: scrambled eggs and ham steaks

Tuesday: pasta with ground beef and salad

Wednesday: Loaded Baked Potato Skins

Thursday: French Bread Pizza

Friday: on our own

Saturday: grandma's birthday dinner

Friday, February 10, 2017

Guilt-Free Ways to Eat Chocolate

Valentine's Day is synonymous with love, red roses, and CHOCOLATE. But seriously, how many of us need any of the chocolates in the Whitman's sampler? So in honor of this month of chocolate, here are a few of my favorite chocolate hacks that allow you to still eat chocolate but with less guilt.

You've got dried apricots (which I love) and melted dark chocolate. These make a wonderful grab-and-go snack once they're made. And you're feeling good because you're getting potassium from the apricots and anti-oxidants from the dark chocolate! If you need to make these gluten-free, just make sure to read the packaging on both the fruit and the chocolate.

And speaking of apricots - use up any leftovers that you have from making the chocolate-covered apricots and put them in these chocolate chip cookies! Fruit and nuts in a cookie? That's got to be healthy right? This recipe isn't gluten-free (I made them for other people, not my husband), but you could use gluten-free all-purpose flour and just check the packaging on all of the other ingredients.

3. Chocolate Chip Cookies
If you're longing for some regular chocolate chip cookies, try this recipe from Fitness magazine! It substitutes canola oil for the butter! Again, to make these gluten-free, just sub in gluten-free all-purpose flour, like from Bob's Red Mill. (I can't believe I first made these cookies all the way back in 2009 before the Celiac diagnosis!)

4. Gluten-Free Fudgy Chocolate Pumpkin Brownies
These are based on a Hungry Girl recipe, but I used Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Devil's Food Cake Mix to make them gluten-free. So easy and only two ingredients!

Enjoy your chocolaty indulgences this Valentine's Day!