Monday, December 28, 2015

CSA Box: What I Got, What I Made

CSA box

This past week I picked up my first CSA (community supported agriculture) box, which I'm sharing with my friend, Kim, who's received it for months already. I like vegetables, but have been pretty limited in using them and usually go for the trusty, steamed broccoli as a side to mostly anything I make that consists of meat and potatoes, which is about 80 percent of the food I cook for my husband and I. We're Midwesterners, what can I say?

Enter the CSA box from Be Wise Ranch and its bounty of fresh produce. What will I do with: 
  • Baby Bok Choy
  • Chard
  • Satsumas (had to look this one up)
  • Avocado
  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Green Beans
  • Beets
  • Butternut Squash
  • Dates
  • Lemons
  • Spring Mix
  • Zucchini
  • Radishes
So far, I've used a less than half the items. The zucchini I used to make zucchini bread, kind of a cheat, since I'm baking it into something and not eating it in its natural form, but rather, shredded and mixed with wonderful things like sugar, butter and nuts. The bread turned out well, but the consistency lumpier than I anticipated and different than zucchinis breads of my past. 

This isn't too much of a surprise since my baking skills aren't that great. I messed up sugar cookies a few weeks ago. The kind where you just add egg and oil to the mix. They all melted into one, large sugary cookie, which I covered with frosting and tasted incredible. 

I think this is due to my problem with patience and exact measurements. I am an oven peeker to see if things are done cooking and I eye measurements and toss them in as I go. No nos in the world of baking, I guess.

I topped the spring mix with a dressing I made of balsamic vinegar, onion, pepper, lemon (also from the box!) and oil drizzled in. I added in random stuff like artichoke hearts and satsumas (oranges from the box), all which turned out pretty tasty. 

Finally, I made bacon-wrapped dates because how else are you supposed to eat them? 

Let me know if you have recipe ideas for what I can do with the rest of the ingredients!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

New Entry // 12.27.15

What can I say? It's only been five months since my last blog post. Don't think I got married and now have nothing left to say! I did get married, but still have tons to say and have been saying it...just not on this blog. 

But hey, what good's a blog unless you can care for it and pay attention to it the way YOU want, right? If it was a chore to do it, I wouldn't partake, but now I feel is a fine time to make a return. Just in time for the new year!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wedding Countdown: 33 Days to Go!

Photo by Katherine Beth Photography
Hello, friends.

Today, I was a bit of a brat. I had my heart set on going to the beach, but the sun never came out. Were we or weren't we going to the beach? Mikey waited patiently while I pouted through my indecisiveness. 

We did end up going to the beach. We did not find a place to park. We came back home and Mikey put on sounds of the ocean he found on YouTube. He said he would shine a light on me since there was no sun. I can't even make this stuff up. The guy is that sweet.

I tell you this peek into the life because this is reality. It is the countdown to our wedding. 33 days to be exact (per that trusty resource and this is the day-to-day. Him making my life better.

I used to kind of question when people would call their significant others their "best friend" because it's like, what do you mean? I already have best friends. The person I'm dating is just that - the person I'm dating. But now, being in it, from boyfriend to fiance to husband-to-be -- thank GOD he is my best friend. 

Mikey has seen me in brat form before. He's been there during my snappiest, hangriest, most stubborn of times. During the times when I've been wrong, and I KNOW it, but still won't give in. And, bless his soul, he just waits for the storm to pass. 

The person you marry should be your best friend. Lesson learned. 

I will also tell you that I never imagined I'd get married. It wasn't on my list of "things to do." It's always been write a novel, move to New York. Or, write a novel, move to the beach. Or, write a novel, travel the world. I'm not anti-marriage or feel like I don't need a man. It just didn't cross my mind that often. 

Well, ok, during Christmastime watching "Love Actually" and when people would say things like, "But you're so smart/funny/single" but other than that, it wasn't something that I had to come to grips with, the fact I might not get married. I was OK.

Me and my books would be just fine.

Because how would I get married and be independent? I am an active participant in my life. And when you create your own voice, a certain direction for your life, it's hard not to want to protect it or worry about losing it. It's not romantic. It reeks of narcissism. But, that's the truth of this single gal who eased herself into a relationship.

But here's the beauty of it: I didn't have to change for him. I was able to remain completely myself, but better!

I am calmer. Not because he tells me to relax (the worst!), but over time, you just chill out in the natural way that you do when you live with another human you have respect for. 

I am smarter. Mikey knows a lot. I know more, of course. But he's pretty smart and I've learned new things. Mostly baseball things. Walk-off homer. I get it now.

I am prettier. I didn't do a damn thing different. Mikey just tells me that every day and he's not a liar. So, there you have it. 

These next 30+ days will be the most I will talk about marriage for probably my whole life, but I'm here to tell you that love will surprise you in the best possible ways. How accepting it is. How nonjudgemental. How easy it can be. Taking chances become easier. Changing direction is like sweet serendipity. 

Because when your best friend, whom you love, asks you to marry him, actually gets down on a knee and politely poses the question -- you say YES.

That's a no-brainer. You add "get married" to your list, honey. Pass me a pen. Where do I sign? 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Where's Courtney: Welcome to Denver, CO (April 2015)

What better excuse to travel than tag-a-long with your significant other on a business trip, which is exactly what I did when Mikey said he was scheduled to speak at a conference in Denver. I'd never been to Denver except for multiple layovers on my way to other destinations. Let's make a weekend of it, shall we? 

Denver is a pretty big beer city. They have one of the biggest (or maybe the biggest) beer conventions in the nation. San Diego is known for its craft beer, but Denver is no slouch either. We visited a few of the breweries on an informal beer crawl of our own led by yours truly, including Falling Rock Tap House, which is located on Blake St., one of the more popular walking blocks of the city.

We also had to take in a Rockies game, but of course. A baseball game is pretty much a given whenever we travel together. Since Mikey used to work for the Rockies, he scored us some pretty sweet tickets and we enjoyed a fun time at Coors Field where I wanted to trick him into getting Rocky Mountain Oysters. Sadly, he already knew what they were, so my plans were spoiled.

The morning of Mikey's conference, I went to hear him speak and then we met for lunch at Sam's No. 3, a place that's appeared on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and I had the pork chili verde which was uh-mazing!

We also hit up a few bookstores, coffee shops, and I ventured onto Banjo Billy's Tour Bus. Yes, it's a thing. It's nice if you want someone to point out all the main spots of Denver and give you a little bit of history, but I was slightly disappointed since I thought I had signed up for the ghost tour excursion. Apparently, I had not. 

After learning this, I kind of fell asleep for a little bit. One thing I did learn is that there is a park in Denver where there used to be a cemetery. The tombstones have been moved to another location, but the bodies haven't! Also, across from the Holiday Inn Express we were staying is an old hotel that used to have an underground tunnel for gentleman to uh, escort ladies back and forth late at night.

Denver is a pretty short getaway from San Diego. If you wanted to make the trip, you could even leave early on Saturday or after work on a Friday and still plan a fun time. 

Next time I go back, I'd like to explore Rocky Mountain National Park, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and the Stanley Hotel nearby in Estes Park. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

50/50 Challenge: Halfway Mark

June marks the halfway point for the 50/50 Challenge. While I've been behind on regularly updating my progress, maybe it's better that I just do it now and then near the end of the year, I can see if 2015 is the year I accomplish my goal. 

I'm not doing awful, but I'm not doing great either. Since my last update, I've seen the following movies:

#23 - True Story
#24 - Adult Beginners
#25 - Welcome to Me
#26 - Insurgent
#27 - Pitch Perfect 2
#28 - Entourage

A little bit behind on the reading end, per the usual.

#11 - Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives - Gretchen Rubin
#12 - The Violets of March - Sarah Jio
#13 - Into into Wild - Jon Krakauer
#14 - The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League - Jeff Hobbs
#15 - The Artist's Way - Julia Cameron
#16 - The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho

I wouldn't even be this far on my book reading if it wasn't for my book clubs and being on pace to read something in order to discuss it later. However, of the ones I've read recently, only one was for book club.

I don't know why I never was pulled into reading Into the Wild before now, but I'm so glad I did. Jon Krakauer did an excellent job of mixing journalism with storytelling. I'm eager to read more of his work. The story of Into the Wild reflects many of my own feelings towards "how to live life." I followed up that book by reading a few articles regarding criticism surrounding both Krakauer and Christopher McCandless (whose story the book captures). When someone takes a road that goes so strongly against the norm, it's a given there will be judgment that is mostly based on misunderstanding or non-understanding. These stories are important to tell whether they go against the grain of society or not. Honestly, they're important because they go against the grain of society.

But, I digress. Movies-wise, I'm good. I'll make it to 50 and beyond. I'm confident. Books-wise, it's going to be a struggle. I'm open to suggestions for any must see/must read movies and books.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Treat Yo' Self: Dead Sea Mud Facial Mask Product Review

Every once in awhile a gal just needs some time for pampering. It doesn't have to mean spending a lot of money or time, but setting aside even an hour dedicated solely to you and you alone can leave you feeling rejuvenated. 

On Sunday nights, I usually like to take this time to prep for the week ahead and then relax with either a stack of magazines, reality tv, beauty pampering or all of the above. 

goPURE Naturals has a fantastic face mask for those of you want to do your pampering while in the comfort of your home. The Adovia Mineral Skincare Dead Sea Mud Facial Mask makes your skin feel loved. It infuses the skin with minerals from Dead Sea mud, in addition to vitamin C, aloe vera gel, and jojoba oil to help nourish the skin and leave it looking healthier. 

Wash your face per your normal skincare routine and then apply a layer of the mask all over the face and let dry for up to 30 minutes. This formula is different than others in that as it was drying, it didn't crack as much or make my skin feel tight. It was super simple to rinse off, no scrubbing necessary and my face indeed felt smoother and softer. I plan on using this mud mask on a weekly basis, if not more.

Don't hold back on allowing yourself little luxuries? How do you like to wind down the weekend?

This is a sponsored post by BrandBacker. All opinions remain my own.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Celebrate Earth Day with Neutrogena Naturals #WipeForWater Campaign

Just in time for Earth Day, Neutrogena and Influenster has hooked up a few of us lucky ones with their Purifying Makeup Remover Cleansing Wipes while they encourage everyone to #WipeForWater. 

When water conservation is necessary (as it often is here in Southern California), these wipes come in handy to leave your face looking fresh and clean. This beauty product has a subtle, pleasing smell and removes dirt, oil, and makeup. 

They're perfect to take to the gym and definitely a must have while traveling. I'm mostly impressed with how hydrating and nourishing they are for the skin. The wipes contain vitamins B and C and Peruvian Tara Seed, which aids in preventing dehydration in the skin. 

They are easy to toss in your tote or travel bag and can be used day or night to leave your skin looking and feeling refreshed. They are definitely one of my new favorite products for makeup removal. They are 97% made from natural fibers and have not been tested on animals. 

Eco-friendly and effective, what more could you want? 

I received these products complimentary from Influenster for test purposes. All opinions remain my own.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

50/50 Challenge Update

image from Pinterest
Well, well, well, it's been awhile. Is it good to not have time to blog or am I not devoting myself to it like I should? I haven't had time, busy little bee I am, but I also haven't made the time either. Shame. 

I'll be traveling this week, which means I'll need to pass the time and what better way to do it than update my blog. In the meantime, I have been making slow progress on the 50/50 Challenge. I think this may be one of my slowest starts to date. 

I've seen three new movies: 

#20 - The Wrecking Crew
#21 - Get Hard
#22 - Furious 7

"The Wrecking Crew" is a cool film I saw at Ken Cinema (my first time there!) about this group of musicians who pretty much played for every big band of the 50s and 60s, including The Beach Boys, which was one of the main reasons we went to go see the movie.

Love the roll that Kevin Hart is on and while the previews didn't look that hilarious, "Get Hard" made me laugh harder than I intended. Maybe I was just in need of a good laugh that night, but I giggled pretty much throughout.

You can read my full review of "Furious 7" on, but as a huge fan of Paul Walker I have to say it was sad to see this one, especially at the end. The movies are just a lot of fun and you can tell they make them for the fans alone and that's what's important. They're so ridiculously awesome. I just hope they don't make any more because how could they go on without Paul?

Book-wise I only read a dismal two. Or, maybe I read more and forgot to list them, which would be worst! The two I read were pretty great though and I recommend both of them.

#9 - The Autumn Balloon - Kenny Porpora
#10 - The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins

Kenny Porpora's book is a memoir about him growing up in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic mother and a bordering-on-homeless father, but it's written in a way that doesn't evoke pity. There are definitely sad parts to it, but you can tell the writer took to heart that he was writing about his family and did not pass judgment on them or their struggles. I like reading about people who surpass adversity to succeed.

In the debut novel by Paula Hawkins, I couldn't really put it down. It's a mystery, which I love and I honestly didn't figure it out until about three-fourths the way through. The character detail is amazing and the style keeps the pace moving because it's told from various perspectives.

There you have it. Chugging steadily along. More soon. I hope.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

New Recipes Resolution: Chicken Stir Fry with Veri Veri Teriyaki from Soy Vay

It's been awhile since I've posted a new recipe. Not that I haven't been cooking; I have! I just haven't been documenting as well as I should be or as eagerly as I was at the beginning of the year. 

Isn't that how it goes? The new year burst of energy runs its course around springtime? 

Nevertheless, I still am partially sticking to my resolution of trying new recipes, just not as often as I aimed for. Progress, not perfection, my friend says. 

Klout has gifted me with quite a few goodies in recent months and the latest Klout Perk I received from them was the Veri Veri Teriyaki from Soy Vay. The perk came with a full bottle of sauce to try and recipe cards. However, I knew immediately that I wanted to make a stir fry. 

Why? Because it's really tough to screw up stir fry. 

I guess you can't really count this as a new recipe since I've made stir fry before, more like a new product. It's really quite simple, all you need to do is: 
  1. Buy cut up chicken (or cut it up yourself) and cook in a skillet with a little bit of olive oil; pepper your chicken, but do not salt if you're using this sauce!
  2. After the chicken is cooked, add in your stir fry veggies: snow peas, broccoli, carrots, bamboo shoots. You can buy a mixture at the store. Fresh or frozen, it's your choice, make sure you cook them long enough so they're not raw, but also so they don't become limp either. 
  3. Add the Soy Vay sauce to the pan. I would use a little more than half of the bottle. 
  4. Served with steamed rice. 
The Soy Vay sauce was tasty, but a bit on the salty side, so do not add any extra salt to your dish. I added a few shakes of chili flakes and then Sriracha sauce to my individual portion. I like things spicy!

Next time I am going to marinate the meat in the sauce first and the cook it. I'm a fan of their product, especially after reading their adorable About Us story from their site. Too cute.

Anyway, here is my humble offering from one of the many resolutions I have set for 2015. Any recipe ideas, feel free to send my way! Comment below or send me a tweet to @mscourtneybeth. 

Klout sent this product for free as part of their influencer program. All opinions remain my own.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Product Review: Peppermint & Lemon Essential Oils from InstaNatural

I've never used essential oils before, but I do know it's all the rage, especially for people devoted to Pinterest. There are a limitless amount of ideas and recipes for creating your own bath products, including lotions, bath salts, and scrubs. Honestly, I wasn't sure how I wanted to use my samples at first, but found two fantastic uses for each of the oils I received. 

Note: Due to unavailability, I did not receive the Lavender Essential Oil, which would've been great to rub into my temples before bed or take with me to yoga. 

The InstaNatural Lemon Essential Oil is highly fragrant and I could smell it before even unpacking the shipping box. Its strong scent was citrusy and fresh-smelling and turned out to be perfect for cleaning my stove. 

Cooking can get messy and leave behind food and grease stains that can be hard to get off. I use cleaning supplies from the store, but they always leave behind that unappealing chemical smell. This time to clean up, I decided to apply the Lemon Essential Oil directly to the stove and wiped down with a cloth. While it didn't get every single spot, it still did a better job of cleaning my stove than the products I had, while also leaving behind a nice smell. 

I took the InstaNatural Peppermint Essential Oil to the bathroom. Until recently, we've been having a bit cooler weather and at night, nothing is better than taking a hot shower to relax before bed. I added two droppers of the Peppermint Essential Oil directly to my shower to create an invigorating scent that helped clear up my sinuses and make my shower feel more luxurious. Though lavender is a more calming scent, the peppermint actually helped both me and my guy feel more relaxed before bed. He commented that it reminded him of when he gets a shave at the barbershop and how good it makes him feel.

There are so many ways you can use essential oils and these are just two of the ways I've tried so far. InstaNatural products use all organic ingredients and come in easy-to-use bottles perfect for mixing up your own concoctions.

How have you used essential oils before? Have any "recipe" recommendations for me?

This is a sponsored post by BrandBacker. All opinions remain my own.

Monday, March 2, 2015

50/50 Challenge: Books and Movies Update

image from Pinterest

Currently, I'm reading another John Green book. He's the author that wrote The Fault in Our Stars. I'm a fan of his writing style and how he seems to capture the voice of young adults. 

The book was turned into a movie and I just read that screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber are adapting another one of his books to hit the screen this summer and more recently acquired Looking for Alaska. The writers are also working on screenplays for two other book club reads: Where'd You Go, Bernadette? and one my favorites Me Before You

On the list of movies I've seen since my last update was another book-to-screen adaptation. "Still Alice" was an emotional book and the movie (which Julianne Moore won Best Actress for) made me teary-eyed as well. 

"Whiplash" was one of my favorite movies that I've seen recently. I was very happy to see J.K. Simmons win the Oscar for his performance and "Birdman" was not nearly as weird as I had heard it would be. I rather enjoyed it.

"Shall We Dance?" is a movie I've been meaning to see for awhile because, I mean, Richard Gere. It's a fun, rainy day, flipping through cable kind of movie, and I love how in this movie they didn't follow a bad cliche of a man struggling in his marriage having an affair. Yay for Richard Gere's character putting the romance (and dance) back into his marriage!

#15 - Shall We Dance?
#16 - Kingsman: The Secret Service
#17 - Whiplash
#18 - Birdman
#19 - Still Alice
I've only read two more books:

#7 - It Was Me All Along - Andie Mitchell
#8 - Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness - Susannah Cahalan
Both of these books were interesting because they were based on real events of the authors. The one by Andie Mitchell follows her weight-loss journey in a sincere and inspiring way. Her honesty was refreshing. I received that book complimentary of Blogging for Books.
The book by Susannah Cahalan is fascinating. At times it can be too clinical because it discusses a lot of her medical records, but an interesting read nonetheless. I like the parts discussing her work life at The New York Post.
At the beginning of the year, I had thought I would update my review and book lists on Goodreads. If you couldn't tell, I have failed at this resolution. However, I am still dutifully keeping track and at this rate I predict having my movies covered by June and my books covered late December, per the usual.
Share any books or movies that you think I should put on my list!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Beauty Review: Pura d'or Hair & Body Care

It's always great when I have the opportunity to try new products. Recently, I had the chance to try three separate beauty products (all full-size) from the Pura d'or Hair & Body Care line. I received the: 

  • Premium Organic Argan Oil Based Hair Loss Prevention Shampoo
  • Premium Organic Argan Oil Based Conditioner, Lavender Vanilla
  • Pure and Organic Argan Oil

My hair is thick and long, which made the first product inapplicable to me. This product has a stronger scent, more clinical than soothing, and it seemed drying to my hair. But again, I am not the ideal candidate for this type of product. It just came as part of the complete package. I may send it to my mom who may benefit from it better than I will since she has always had thin hair. 

The second product, the conditioner, had a calming smell of lavender. Since I shower before bed, the aromatherapy kind of helps set my mind to relaxation mode. I worked this product mostly into the ends of my hair. I did feel like I had to use more than I typically do for conditioner, but the smell and product itself worked nicely on my hair. 

I use the Argan Oil following my shower, also on the ends of my hair, to further aid in conditioning, especially since my hair becomes drier during the colder month. Sometimes I will rub some of the oil between my palms and apply to my hair in the morning to tame flyaways. 

Many beauty lovers like using products that are all organic. One fantastic perk of using these products is that you can do so knowing that you are using 100% natural ingredients with no harsh chemicals. Everything is organic and the company is animal cruelty free. 

Have you tried Pura d'or products before? 

This is a sponsored post by BrandBacker. All opinions remain my own.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

February Birchbox Review: Rent the Runway Collaboration

This was the first month for me to get one of the specially-curated boxes that Birchbox offers. If you're new to Birchbox, every month subscribers have the option of receiving the regular subscription with products chosen based on your profile or the curated box which includes items from the brand they've teamed up with for the month. 

For February, Birchbox joined with Rent the Runway to give an "all about the details" box and it was filled with some fantastic products. 

derma e Anti-Wrinkle Vitamin A Glycolic Scrub | Full-size, $12.95 

I'm a fan of derma e products, especially their night cream. This product works fantastically, makes my skin feel baby soft. The only slight drawback is the clinical smell, which is to be expected due to its ingredients. Fortunately, the scent isn't lingering and the results are worth it. I got the formula for normal to oily skin and I have dry to normal skin. Thought it'd affect my skin and have it flake, but it worked well. 

Fekkai Blowout Hair Refresher Dry Shampoo | Full-size, $10-$20

Gives you salon-fresh hair. I've been using dry shampoo more when my hair needs a pick-me-up. I haven't yet to use it post-workout when my hair is exceptionally sweaty, but the product works well on my roots. 

Net Soap, Radio Body Wash - The Stuff that Cupid dips his arrows in | Full-size, $16

Love, love, love the packaging. The smell, not so much. The product lathers well, but the blackberry/vanilla scent is too overwhelming for me (guess I don't enjoy those pheromone inducers!). However, I am one of the few who do not like the smell of Victoria's Secret bath products and this scent is similar to those. 

Sumita Color Contract Eyeliner| Full-size, $11-$21

The blue/teal color is remarkable. Not a color I'd use everyday, but it's a little bit rock 'n roll for a fun makeup look. It has great pigment and glides on easily. I'm happy that Birchbox sent me something I normally wouldn't pick for myself, but will definitely use. 

theBalm Read My Lips | Full-size, $15

The product was a mismatch for me. Anything bubblegum pink does not work well for my skin tone. It makes it look like I have frosted makeup. The texture was stickier rather than shiny. Not a fan. 

Overall, another beauty-ful box. There will always be a few misses among all the hits, and I love my first curated box experience. 

If you have yet to sign up for Birchbox and want to get beauty products delivered to your mailbox every month, then you can use my referral link by clicking HERE

Monday, February 2, 2015

Monday Musings: Settling into 2015

Let's get real for a minute. You know how at the first of the year, your mind is brimming with all these great intentions for the new year and you get off to a running start and think, this year is going to be the BEST year? Well, I still think that, but already, I have slipped behind on some of my goals. 

Case in point, this blog. I was proud of keeping up my blogging on a daily basis, planning out a content calendar a week in advance, but then life stepped in and I was sidetracked by other things, i.e. writing for other people. So goes the work/life balance when your life is writing...but, so is your work. 

No complaints, of course. I just think January threw everything up in the air and I had to wait to see how it was going to land. A lot of things started falling into place rather quickly (after what seemed like a long time of waiting!), which left with me little time to blog for pleasure. I feel now for the start of February, the dust has settled a little and I can start a new routine. A new routine that is more balanced and more to my liking! 

One of the big things with starting a new year is getting rid of things that no longer serve you and for better or worse, that's exactly what I got to do last month. Most of the time we hang onto things because we feel like we have something left to prove either to ourselves or others, but once we just let go, it's freeing. It opens up the door for more opportunities, better opportunities.

I also STILL have not finished my book that I made such good progress on during November and December, but though stalled, I still plan to finish. Why is it so tough to just get to the end?!

January is that time to take all the excitement and zero in on what you want to achieve, but February is realizing that those goals may change or may be less important than what you initially had wanted. 

I continue to write creatively as much as I possibly can. I am still focused on doing one thing each month outside my comfort zone. In January, I learned how to samba. While most of the time, I felt like a newborn horse stumbling around, I had fun and stopped taking myself so seriously, which was the point. And, I added more walking into my life, which is so good for the soul. 

How have your goals shaped up for the first month of 2015? Have they taken a new direction? Mine have, but I'm embracing just going with the flow.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

50/50 Challenge: Books and Movies Update
Well...I've already fallen off the movie documenting wagon. This year, I was going to review every movie I saw, whether new or not, but this quickly has come to a halt. Maybe I was overreaching for this goal? 

Since my last challenge update, I've seen nine new movies, four of which I reviewed on They are as follows:

#6 - American Sniper
#7 - Blackhat
#8 - The Wedding Ringer
#9 - The Equalizer
#10 - Gliz Zii (The Uncles)

#11 - Trespass
#12 - The Boy Next Door
#13 - The Negotiator
#14 - The Life of David Gale

"The Life of David Gale" is a movie I've been wanting to see for a long time, but never took the time to just watch it. After finally checking this out from the library, I got to enjoy another deadpan Kevin Spacey performance. I was able to figure out the twist beforehand, which I credit to my TV watching of shows like Scandal, Stalker, and Scorpion. Oh hey, alliteration.

If you haven't seen "American Sniper," I highly recommend it due to Bradley Cooper's phenomenal performance. I read his Vanity Fair interview, which said that he stayed in character throughout the duration of filming and packed on something like 20 or 30 pounds of muscle. Can't say that I wouldn't be happy if he took home the Oscar.

If you're wanting a laugh, see anything with Kevin Hart. "The Wedding Ringer" isn't highly original, but it's a fun, feel-good time. If you want to cry from wasting your money, see "Blackhat" because that was one of the worst movies I've seen in some time. I think the one before that was "Godzilla."

On to books! The last two I've read are:

#5 - Lean In - Sheryl Sandberg
#6 - Eating Wildly: Foraging for Love, Life and the Perfect Meal - Ava Chin

The first one was the focal point of a good discussion at book club. I, not a true fan of the book, was fascinated by others' point of view. My big hangup with books like this is that it seems to have an "all or nothing" attitude surrounding it, which makes it a little tough to want to "lean in" all the way. Listening to others who truly enjoyed the book, it helped me not look at it with such a critical eye. Regardless of viewpoint, I think it's an important topic of discussion.

Ava Chin's book is different from anything I've read before. She discusses her life foraging for roots and vegetables in New York City. I love any stories that talk about Manhattan, as I consider that city my first true love, and her unique adventures there are an interesting perspective to a different type of cooking. The book interweaves stories of her family, whom she is close with, and also her romantic relationships, too.

I'm currently reading It Was Me All Along, a memoir by Andie Mitchell, which I'm enjoying so far. I got this one for free from Blogging for Books. If you like free books, sign up with the site. They send you one free book for each review you leave. It's pretty easy and the books are sent out quickly. This is the fourth book I've received from them since signing up. They have new selections all the time.

So, I'm off to a good start for the first month of the 2015 challenge. Let's see if I can keep that momentum. Any book or movie suggestions, send my way!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January Birchbox Review: 2015. Let's Do This.

I love being part of the Birchbloggers group on Facebook where we all talk about makeup, beauty products, and of course, Birchbox! This is my inaugural Birchbox review and I got an extra bonus this month with the Love, Lashes and Lipstick book, which I haven't had time to read since this month's been a bit hectic. Is there any other way to enter a new year? 

So, without further ado -- here we go:

Essential Elements Wake Up Rosemary Body Lotion | Full-size, $19

I am a fan of this product line. When the product description says invigorating, they mean it. It's a little strong at first, makes me flashback to me as a young child having Mentholatum smeared on to help me with congestion (or whatever it was meant to help). But, the smell quickly turns subtle and more spa-like. I have the body wash sample in the shower and the body lotion by my bedside to rub into my arms, hands, and elbows before bed.

Katherine Cosmetics Everyday Eyeliner | Full-size $26

This eyeliner glides on well and doesn't smudge. I liked trying the dark brown color since I usually use black. The color is a better choice for a daytime, more natural look. It's a pretty high price point for me for an eyeliner, so let me know if you have any drugstore recommendations. 

Key West Aloe Gentle Aloe Facial Cleanser | Full-size $16.50

I was excited for this product after several people posted that they liked the line. I've tried this product and the lotion and...I wasn't crazy about either. I don't think the facial cleanser lathers that well and with the wide variety of beauty products available, I'm going to skip this line in the future.

Ren Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask | Full-size $55

Not my favorite mask. The smell was a bit off-putting and I was underwhelmed. I like the thicker cream or charcoal masks. It's not a bad product, just not for me. 

Sweet Science Invisible Daily Tint SPF 35 | Full-size $45

Three cheers for face products with a higher SPF! I love the lightweight feel of this product and how easily it glides on. I would use this as a stand alone in the summer when I ease up on my makeup routine, but in the winter, I still pair it with more coverage from a BB cream or foundation.

Extra January Favorite: Herbal Essences Naked Collection Shampoo, Dry Shampoo and Conditioner 

This did NOT come in my Birchbox, but I was sent samples from Klout for Herbal Essences newest line, which I love, and I'm adding it to my January list of favorites. The dry shampoo is fantastic and I used the BOGO coupon Klout sent to get the full-size shampoo and conditioner. It leaves my hair smelling fresh and it makes my hair feel super clean and hydrated. 

I look forward to getting my Birchbox in the mail every month and it's fun learning from other bloggers and YouTubers about new products to try. Let me know if you have any recommendations of recent must-haves you've used!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Recipe Resolution: Homemade Mac and Cheese

I've had a long relationship with macaroni and cheese. Earliest memories come from the good ol' Kraft blue box variety, either with or without cut up hot dogs mixed in. It was a treat when I was upgraded to the Velveeta shells and cheese (which I no longer have the taste for, sadly). Then, of course, there was the progression into college and the many packs of Easy Mac I went through to save money and stay fed. And, now in my adult years, whenever I see this comfort food on a menu, I order it.

Homemade mac and cheese is easy to make, as you can imagine. I mean there are only a few other things to throw in besides the title ingredients, but I feel there is an art in making it that I have yet to perfect. 

I make a good one, but definitely not the best I've ever had. It's getting the right mix of cheeses, a well-seasoned sauce, and the delicious crumb topping just right. The latest version I made included cheddar, white cheddar, and a mixture of Parmesan and Romano cheeses. 

Note: The Pioneer Woman says to grate your own cheese for better melting. She is right, of course. I love her.

First, you have to create a thickening agent by combining melted butter, flour, and milk and whisking away over a medium heat. Add salt, pepper, and paprika to taste and then slowly add handfuls of whatever cheeses you'd like to melt into the mixture slowly. 

I've put together this recipe based on a combination of recipes I've seen online and by watching Food Network.

Boil and drain your macaroni noodles and don't overcook them. You want them to be able to hold up to the cheese. Add the cheese sauce, mixing it all together so every noodle gets some of the action. Transfer to a greased baking pan and add the crumb topping, which is melted butter mixed with bread crumbs and a little more cheese. 

Pop in the over at 425 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. I usually just put it in with whatever else I have cooking. The top will get nice and golden. 

With baked mac and cheese, you're most likely going to have a few clumps of cheese, which I like! Grating the cheese by hand helped, but I cheated with the Parmesan and Romano cheeses and used the shredded kind in the bag.

Homemade Mac and Cheese:

- a few tablespoons of butter, melt slowly in a saucepan over medium heat
- a tablespoon or two of flour
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups of milk
- salt, pepper, paprika to taste
- 1/2 c. to a 1 cup each of cheddar, white cheddar, Parmesan, and Romano (again, use whatever cheeses you think would be good - like Gruyere!) 
- 1 package of macaroni or whatever shape of pasta you'd like


- 2 tablespoons of melted butter
- 3/4 c. of bread crumbs
- more cheese!

This makes a whole pan full of mac and cheese, which is good because I think it's even better the next day as leftovers. 

Enjoy the eats!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday Musings: Turning the Corner

Taking a break from my writing schedule to well, write this blog post and keep up with my 2015 goal of contributing more to my own creative endeavors. This week has already begun with good news and I had an impromptu lunch with Mikey, so I'd say I'm off to a wonderful start. 

Do you ever feel like you are five steps ahead of people and just waiting for others to catch up? In some cases, I am guilty of instant gratification. If I need to know the answer to something, I want to know right now. But, usually that's not how the universe works. It's not just going to lay out your life before you, so you can cherry pick the good parts. 

I've felt for some time that I have been waiting and waiting (and waiting!) to see what's around the corner, and I feel now like I'm finally rounding the curve, which makes me think of this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr:

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." 

This is so, so true and can apply to almost any situation. Speaking of MLK, for those of you who haven't seen "Selma," I recommend doing so. Despite certain critics who want to focus on the inaccuracies of what is a fictionalized version of this significant time in history, it is still an important film to watch, if for nothing else then to get the conversation going. Inequality and issues surrounding civil rights are still very much a point of contention in 2015. They deserve to be discussed.

Recently, I was waiting for a screening of a different movie to start when I heard a man behind me say he did not want to see "Selma" because he was tired of white people telling the story of black history. He went on to say that no black person was associated with that film and he had no interest in seeing it. 

I wanted to whip around and ask if he caught the most recent Golden Globes when they discussed the fact that the movie's director, Ava DuVernay, was the first black female to be nominated in the category of Best Director. Never mind the support and affiliations with several other celebrities and musical artists who took part in the creation of the film. I also wanted to tell him to shush. But I kept the comments to myself. It was a discussion I chose to skip.

Close-minded attitudes are not my thing. 

Maybe too many times we avoid discussions because it's the fight we don't want to have or the point we don't feel we need to prove. Sometimes we just don't want to fight period, but instead appreciate the opportunity to learn from others, understand how we do and do not want to live our lives, and create the kind of life that makes us happy. 

We just have to instill the kind of confidence and passion within ourselves, so that when we find those things worth fighting for, we won't back down. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

New Recipe Resolution: Apricot Chicken

If you have these five ingredients, then you have a meal: 

- chicken breasts or thighs
- apricot preserves
- soy sauce
- Brussels sprouts
- butternut squash

My friend has been emailing recipes to me to help with my new year's recipe resolution and she sent this five-ingredient meal that was, as you can imagine, super easy to make. 

I bought a package of chicken thighs, since they were less expensive, and took off the skin. In a bowl I combined one jar of the preserves with a few (6-8), strong shakes of soy sauce. Soy sauce is ultra-salty, so be careful with how much you add and taste along the way. Some people may want their glaze sweeter and some may want it to be on the saltier side.

Place chicken pieces in a baking pan and salt and pepper each side, then cover with the glaze. Put the pan in an oven pre-heated to 450 degrees and cook for 25-30 minutes. 

The Brussels sprouts and butternut squash make for the perfect sides, but you can choose whichever veggies you like. Fresh & Easy has packages of butternut squash already cubed, so I bought a bag of that and a bag of Brussels sprouts and laid them out on a sheet pan. I drizzled on olive oil and sprinkled the veggies with salt, pepper, and thyme. I add the tray to the oven and cooked for about 25 minutes. You can serve with rice or pasta if you want to add a starch.

I love when people send me recipes, so if you have any that I should try, send my way! As you can probably tell, I like to take the easy, low-budget route. 

Enjoy the eats!

Image from Pinterest