Saturday, April 30, 2016

Life without cheese

Dairy-free. No cheese. No milk. No butter. No ice cream. No chocolate.


HOW can people live this way?!?

When I first decided to write about my dairy-free attempt I was about ten days into the lifestyle change. Now here I sit, two months after I gave that up! Needless to say, I gave it a month and a half and decided it just wasn't for me.

First, I started out going dairy-free in EVERY facet of life. If there were ingredients within a recipe, I didn't eat it. If there was cross-contamination possibilities (discovered that almost ALL fried foods, at least from fast-food restaurants, contain milk in some form because of the re-used oil), it didn't go down the hatch. After two weeks without french fries on top of  missing out on all of my beloved dairy foods, I decided to not go quite so intense with it... after all, I don't have an allergy to dairy and the amount of diary actually present in the above-mentioned instances wasn't enough to justify not eating it, at least to me. I figured after my initial diary-free attempts, it wouldn't kill me to reintroduce small amounts of dairy back into my diet overtime.  After another four weeks of that, I thought I would die if I couldn't have a chocolate shake or some macaroni and cheese, two of my four basic food groups, let's be honest. It was at that point I decided to nix the whole thing and go back to ole faithful, all in moderation. Plus, when I read that avoiding dairy, even for a small time, can cause a lactose intolerance, I feared I'd create a lifestyle I didn't really want to implement for all of my life.

My overwhelming reason for attempting this was weight loss. I know that the majority of what I consume is dairy, wheat, sugar, and pasta related things. So by cutting out diary, I'd reduce a little bit of each of those additional groups, because oftentimes diary is a part of or on top of those things. Less of that stuff equals less "bad" stuff I'd be eating, perhaps replacing it with more "good" things and lending towards cut calories. Another reason why I thought I'd give this is a go jumps off a previous post I did where I revealed my absolute HATRED of my skin. I'd read and heard and been told that dairy can be a major factor in acne issues, so why not, right?

Now, most of you will probably say, ummm you gave it like 7 weeks, so of course you didn't see results. Here's my thing... I'm really really impatient. And my love for dairy, dairy-related, and dairy-partnered foods overrides the hell I found myself living in. Okay, maybe hell is a bit harsh, but no freaking ice cream. But seriously... in 7 weeks I should've seen something, and I didn't. No weight loss, no change in acne, no improvement in overall "feeling" better.

My overall assessment: while dairy-free may work for some, it certainly didn't work for me. I think I actually dreamed of cheese at some point :(

What about you... given it a try? Hated it, loved it, still doing it?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

You want me to do what with that?

Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely detest my facial skin - I have had acne for almost 20 years (and I'm only 28). I hate how my skin feels, looks, and the impression it gives to others. I've become pretty good at learning how to cover it up, but sometimes the best makeup techniques can't even help me out with it. It makes me slightly self-conscious, a little embarrassed, and uberly disgusted.

** So looking back at my pictures (please disregard my HORRID eyebrows), it's the ole hind sight is 20/20 thing. I wish my skin looked as "bad" as I thought it did during this time in my life. While I still remember how I felt, and there is certainly evidence of acne, apparently as I've gotten older it's become way worse... THIS is what I'm experiencing now:
I've tried every OTC cleanser, toner, wipe, scrub, mask, WHATEVER you can think of (however my utter FEAR of horrible reviews for ProActiv and things like it have caused me to avoid those at all costs). I've also been prescribed "medical-grade" cleansers/scrubs from my general doctor (I've never seen a dermatologist because I've always felt I could handle this on my own). I added a daytime and nighttime moisturizing routine into my regular, twice daily cleanings. Add that to all those home remedies: baking soda, toothpaste, straight alcohol, aspirin, honey, cinnamon, green tea, tea tree oil, lemon juice, cider vinegar... this list could fill a book, seriously. (** Obviously I didn't try these all together or all at once; this is just my list from over the past 20 years**). Some people were convinced it was the foods I ate (see my Life Without Cheese post), how much food I was eating (I've lost 50+ pounds since 2014), the water, the weather, the location (humidity/altitude), whatever. 

At my ultimate wits' end, I discovered COCONUT OIL. I'm assuming that I never even thought of or researched this is the past because I absolutely, positively detest coconut in any form. It stinks, it tastes weird, it has a funky texture, it looks gross. Now I don't remember exactly when or how I came across this, BUT in my many internet browsings I found a bunch of articles on the topic of using coconut oil, not only as a moisturizer, but as a sole cleanser. Here's only a few... 

DON'T get me wrong. Coconut oil is NOT a miracle cure. It's a long process and it doesn't necessarily prevent new stuff from forming. But cleaner skin is less of an ideal environment for the shit skin to happen! Keep in mind I only use it topically, not internally (and I realize I'll probably never be acne ridden because I WILL NOT become a vegetarian, organic, hippie freak, which is pretty much the only way to be acne-free apparently).

My current regimen:
- Shower (I've decreased the heat in which I shower now, as too hot isn't good for you!), only "cleansing" my skin with water... no products.
- Get out 1-1½ teaspoons (not an exact science, here) from the jar and work it between fingertips until liquidy. Rub into entire face (I put it on my neck too) - LIGHT layer, don't glob it on - for 30 seconds to one minute. Get a clean cloth and get it as hot as you can. Put on your face and allow to "steam" for 30 seconds to one minute to open your pores more. Use the cloth to wipe away the greasiness, but don't entirely dry your face. You want to leave some as a moisturizer; it'll eventually soak in.
- Before bedtime, I rinse my skin with warm water and do the same thing.
- That's it.

DO NOT rinse your hands or drop any oil into your drain. It WILL congeal and clog your pipes and that's a horrible problem to fix.

I personally use Dr. Bronner's Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, which I found in the "organic" section at Kroger (City Markets/Dillons/FoodsCo/Fred Meyer/Fry's/King Soopers/Ralphs/Smiths). (Update: I still have the same jar I started with 4 months later and I use it twice daily). There's a lot of sciencey-stuff involved in choosing the best oil, but the articles linked above deal with that, so give it all a look. Keep in mind this might not work for everyone. But coming from someone who's been suffering with acne as long as I have, and exceptionally horrifically over the past four-ish years, I have to say that I am sold. 

I think I will never buy any other product ever again. I'm still going to see a dermatologist and see if there's some sort of internal prescription that will work in tandem with the oil, but I think this is what will be my saving grace (at least bring me to a normal level, not what you see above).

1st row: Day 1
2nd row: After 30 days
3rd row: After 60 days
Clearly, I still have some issues, but the improvement is kinda obvious.

** Update after using for 4 months - at the 4 month mark, I decided to add in a normal benzoyl peroxide cleanser (Neutrogena's recent commercials for THIS product just sung to my heart, fucking advertising). NOPE. Horrible, bad, stupid idea. So I'm trying to detox my skin again and get back to where I was before :(

I hope I helped you out if you've been struggling and unable to find some relief. I will keep you updated on any future developments in the acne department!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

New Gigs

Let's hope I don't jinx anything by writing about this so soon after it starts rolling for me... But I've gotten myself a new writing job. I'm freelancing with a few sites - landed a few small jobs (ghostwriting, article writing, etc), but I'm also managing the writing aspect of the blog for Partytopia Events based out of Denver Colorado - a full service wedding and event planning company.

Check out my first piece, published on their site today - Unique Wedding Proposal Ideas: How They Do It. There's some pretty cool stuff in there if you're in the proposing market, or you just want to read about em. It'll be a three part series, the other two to come out soon :) And this isn't the only topic I'll cover. Everything from tips, information, insider view, vendor recommendations, to real-life wedding recaps! Loads of stuff, so keep looking in to see the topic of the week!

But check it out, leave feedback (content and style), and join me in a little celebratory air five. There's more to come from me... I'm just getting started!

Until next time...

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year, not so new feelings

It's 8:44 am on a Thursday, one that happens to be New Years Eve and I'm eagerly awaiting it to strike 8:59, when my husband is going to call because it'll be one minute til midnight where he is. And it's dawning on me that this is the first time since we've known, been together, and loved each other that we aren't spending it AT LEAST in the same time zone, let alone with one another. Christmas was the same this year... first time apart in eleven years.

To say that these past six months have been trying is a bit of an understatement. YES, it could've been worse. YES, at least I'm with family. YES, at least some friends are close by. YES, I'm surviving perfectly fine (physically at least). And I'm trying my darndest not to complain here, honest to goodness.  But while most of you may be saying, "2016 is my year" and "Let's make this a fantastic year," (don't get me wrong, I want that for you, too), I'M just over here saying, "I just hope these next six months go quicker than the last six..." This will be the first year in ELEVEN YEARS that the first person I look to, give a big ole hug, and share a smooch with at the stroke of midnight is not my husband.  And it fucking sucks.

BUT I am taking stock.  I have made some great friends here over the past 1/2 year.  I have a pretty awesome job.  I've spent quality time with my family.  I've acquired TONS of new (mostly free!) books.  I've read TONS of books and knitted a bunch of stuff and played some kickass video games and rewatched Gilmore Girls episodes with my brother and started new shows with my mom and got my hair cut... YEAH there's tons of shitty shit in there too, but why dwell, right?  I will say one last time that I'm not looking forward to this evening - the beer maybe.  Hell, I didn't just run 3 miles and burn 700ish calories for nothing, mmmmkay?

And I have hopes for the coming year.  I'm excited for what's in store for my little family.  I'm excited to start a new adventure in a new continent/country.  I'm excited to pick out the place we'll live for the next 3 years.  I'm excited to see new places and eat new foods.  I hope to FINALLY achieve my weight goal (which I've been working at for like 2 years... I know.  I know.). I hope for lots of different things and I am trying to overcome my sadness and negativity and dig deep by reminding myself of it all.

And if you're wondering where I've been... I've been wondering the same thing.  I'm pretty sure it's cause my heart and soul isn't in my body.  I'll get it back eventually and then this will have been simply a year that sucked among many that were fantastic because we shared them with one another.

Don't drink and drive.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mini Pumpkin Pies (in a jar)

As you may or may not remember from my last post, I said I was going to undertake the world of canning!!!!  Let me tell you... there's a lot to learn!  First off, let me say I have canned baked stuff before (cakes and pies for deployed friends) and I got rave reviews.  So while I'm waiting for my delivery of freeze-dried and dehydrated foods, mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers (all of which I'll share with you when I get it!), I decided to try my hand once again at packaging up my honey's favorite dessert... pumpkin pie :)

Aside from Thanksgiving, fall, holiday, etc.... I'm sure this image is what you immediately think of when you hear "Pumpkin Pie." And while it tastes the same, what we're doing today sure doesn't look the same.

First, gather your ingredients.  Now, while I do make a mean pumpkin pie, it certainly isn't from scratch.  This girl doesn't cut open a pumpkin, de-seed it, chop it, mush it up, and create a glorious homemade crust to hold it all in.  I take the easy route:

1 can Libby Easy Pumpkin Pie MIX (the DARK orange can)
3/4 of a can Eagle Brand sweet condensed milk (the maroon can)
2 eggs pre-beaten, then added
a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice (roughly 1/2 - 1 tablespoon, depending on how much spice you like)

1 package of 2 refrigerated pie crusts (yes, you will use both)
1 case (12 jars total) of "jelly" mason jars (I used the Kerr 4 oz, regular mouth jars with lids and rings)

Then, preheat your oven to 425.

While it warms up, prep your jars.
Wash and dry them really well and set the tops/rings aside.

Get your pie crusts out, roll out on a floured surface, and cut out little crusts to put inside the jars.  I picked a cup about one inch wider in diameter than the jars, this way you can spread the crust as close to the top as possible and get more filling inside. Using the edges of your fingers/knuckles (avoid nails tearing the crusts because the filling will then leak out between the jar and the crust and it looks yucky) mold the crusts to the shape of the jar.  Don't make it too thin or it's more likely to stick to the jar when trying to eat it later on.  When you have all 12 crusted, put them on a cookie sheet.

Mine probably could've used about 5 more minutes
on the front end to get a "crispier" top!

Now you'll mix the filling, using all the ingredients above, making sure to blend everything well.  Using a scoop with a funneled edge (this makes it easier) pour the filling into the crusted jar about 5/6 of the way, leaving a small amount of room for the pie filling to expand.  Put the pies in the pre-heated oven for about 8 minutes.  When that 8 minutes is up, lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for about 30 minutes.  **This is based on my really old electric oven.  Times may vary for you, just keep an eye and a nose on it**  With about 5-10 minutes left, put your tops and rings in HOT water and boil, to help the rubber seal expand/soften a bit.  This way, when you put it back on the jar and tighten, you get a much better seal!  We don't want any oxygen getting to these bad boys, as they will spoil much more quickly.  When you're all done you should have some fantastic looking mini pies :)

Immediately top them with the lids and rings.  This will prevent you from having to do the "hot bath" or "oven" method to seal.  Using some oven mitts or tongs or however you want to do it, get the lids and rings on all the pies, tighten as much as you can, and let them cool after they've been completely sealed.  After a few minutes you'll hear some squeaks and pops from the sealed jars... this means you've done it correctly!  When pressed, the tops should feel firm, with very little to no give.  Let them cool completely, label them with the date you made them, and ship them off to your loved ones, making sure to package them with A LOT of love and stuffing to prevent breaking in shipment.  Although I wouldn't test it out myself, people say these bad boys will last up to a year like this.  Realistically, I wouldn't give them more than 3 or 4 months (and honestly, my hubby will probably have them all eaten within 2!)

You can apply this same logic to other types of pies and even to cake in any size from these minis to quart-sized.  For the tiny ones, you basically half the amount of time the "box" says to bake for.  Adjust accordingly for the larger sizes; typically you bake the quart size for the same time as listed for "cupcakes" - but you can always check for consistency with a toothpick.

It's fun and tasty and so far all the guys I've sent them to have LOVED them.  It's a fantastic little taste of home and a great way to cheer them up :)

Now get to baking!!

Until next time (where you'll probably get more canning ventures from me)...

Monday, July 6, 2015

What's up, Doc?

I haven't forgotten you all, I swear.  This time, I don't come to you with complaints and excuses, well I do, but trust that I haven't rolled up and died, become a non-mobile bump on the log these day -  I'm, once again, a working woman... a paid writer :D  Sure, I'm not doing what I thought I would be, but I'm NOT complaining!  I'm writing OFTEN and I'm getting experience and distribution.  I've been accepted as a writer for an online media company and I'm actually receiving compensation for my contributions!  In addition to that, I'm the newest clerk at my local library.  And on top of that, I'm toying with the idea of opening my own Etsy shop.  Nothing major, just some small hand-knitted items that I hope would yield additional income and cheer spread all around.

My weight loss is still... going.  From the time I was out of my home in Italy (that started April 29) up until about two and a half weeks ago (June 15ish) I gained back about 15 pounds :( It was a combination of stress, too many things on my plate/not enough time to meal prepare and fit in a workout, being back in the states and surrounded by FOODOOOOD, too many things I wanted to do with the hubs before he left for the year, the list goes on and on... I just put ME on the back burner.  And that's okay.  Since yesterday (July 5th) I'm only 6 pounds heavier than I was when I was working out/calorie counting regularly.  I'm trying to fall back into a regular workout pattern and I've been diligent in counting calories.  I've been drinking more water than I EVER have in my life (thanks TN humidity!!!) - I try to ride bikes with my cousin in the mornings - I run/jog a few days a week with a friend - I've been moving and packing/unpacking boxes (my alternative to lifting weights at the gym!) - I've been walking the dog.  Basically, anywhere I can burn calories, I try to take advantage of it until I settle into a groove and get back to the gym on the regular.  I may have hit a little involuntary bump, but that does not mean I've given up on achieving my goal weight of 150 pounds!  It may take me another year, but damn it I'm gonna do it!  I've got 15ish pounds to go!

My husband is away and it's sad... every. single. day.  He's struggling with it as much as I am, which makes it even harder.  He's not sleeping well, he's not eating well, he's just a rush and a jumble and he's trying to adjust to life without me, which I HATE.  The only solace I have from this time apart is that it forces our communication to grow stronger and it makes us value each other more; it helps highlight those things we take for granted.  I miss (and adore) him more and more with each passing day, but I'm not sitting and pitying myself.  I'm trying to make the most of my time here and I really, really want this to fly by.  I also want this year to end with me having gotten something out of it.

I must thank God every. single. day.  I'm certainly NOT the most religious or spiritual person on the planet, but I do believe that His presence, even if for just a moment in every day, makes EVERY DAY that much easier to get through.  When I have a moment, I thank Him for what I have.  Both good and bad, because it all really is relative.  And when I have more than a moment, I have a chat.  I let Him take my burdens and accomplishments and it's cleansing and healing and wonderful.

So... I'm not neglecting this blog... I'm just adjusting.  Trying to spread my time between everything and that's gonna take a little wiggling.  Please bear with me ;)

The reason I even thought, hey let's write a little blurb, is mainly wrapped up in the thought that my husband isn't eating well!  He doesn't have time and energy and want-to to eat more than a lunchable or a some fruit or some delivery from the pizza place or whatever... I'm getting frustrated because that's MY job and I can't be there to take care of him like we both like me to.  So... off to Pinterest I went in search of "meals-in-a-jar."  Stuff that I can put in a mason jar, that can get to him unspoiled, can sit on a shelf for a little while unspoiled, just add water, heat, and eat.  And man was I happy with the results.  So far I haven't sifted through them all, but they sure look promising.  So I'm sharing my wisdom with those of you who need or care to know... hopefully it'll ease not only your mind, but the rumbling tummy of your loved one :D

Your Own Home Store's Freezer Meals Without the Freezer is a great way to share the meals "only you can make babe" to your loved one - it seems you have to purchase some "oxygen absorbers" and "freeze dried" foods, but I'm not opposed to that! If I can adapt the recipes and utilize them for my everyday recipies, that'd make it even more awesome!
The Survival Mom's Meals in a Jar has a breakdown of her experience with the whole "dehydrated" food thing and I'm thinking it'll help me get started on my own path!

These are just a few, but it will take some reading and figuring out to determine if this is for me to do.  It seems the "startup" will be a bit expensive (we're looking at $150 for freeze-dried food items, probably another $100 for spices and canning supplies, and around $10-15 for the absorbers... not to mention the shipping of it) but honestly, if I can feed my hubby from afar, it'll put my mind at ease and provide me with a little helping hand from far away that I desperately crave!

Anywho... gotta run so I can do some work, but I hope I'll be seeing you all soon :D

Until next time...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

If you've got it... use it!

I had a general idea of what I wanted to do with my "space" when I moved into my dad's house for the year.  I mean, I was basically trying to consolidate an entire house-worth of things into a singular room, minus my kitchen/dining room.  Since the hubby is overseas for the year without the pooch and me, I figured it a step backwards to get an apartment.  I can save us some money by NOT spending it all in rent, and I could be super close to my loved ones.  Plus, since it was just us two ladies, why have all that empty, lonely space?  (Sadface)  So when I took over the master bedroom (with a walk-in closet and bathroom) I figured I really had to be smart with the footage.  Let me know what you think...

The biggest feat in the main part of the room was hanging my monstrous TV.  I had to acquire a heavy duty mount that would allow me to put the TV as far away from my viewing area, AKA my bed, as possible, and allow it to come across pleasurable to the eye.  I got a great deal from Amazon on the mount, found myself two glorious studs in a perfect spot, and with the assistance of both my mother and brother, got that bad boy hung up!  Then I installed a small shelf underneath to house the DVR and Xbox, and the side HDMI and USB ports on the TV are easily accessible to hook up my laptop and external harddrives!!!  I also had to squeeze in ALL of my books (minus the kid's books, which ended up in storage) so that they looked more like art than just shoved in there.  There's potential in that little corner for a bean bag chair or something later on.  On the floor under the TV, which isn't really in view, I have a two-drawer unit with all my games/accessories and all my "tools" and cords and such; on top of that is the printer because it hooks wirelessly to our network and wouldn't get a signal in my office...

 ... which is my converted walk-in closet.  I had enough drawer space in the two borrowed dressers, that were already in the room when I got there, that I only needed one side of the closet for my clothes (the side not pictured).  With the other side, I wanted to be able to do all the things I love... scrapbook, craft, write, draw, package up all the boxes I'll be sending to the hubs, etc.  I hung some shelves in the middle to house things I need to easily reach and re-purposed a shelf and brackets that I already had from our previous home into a makeshift desk!

Using my filing cabinet as a sturdy base, I centered the two brackets between the rest of the wood, in studs :), so that I could lean and press and pound on top of it without fear of it collapsing underneath me.  There's plenty of space for my large, comfy desk chair to slide underneath, and although I do have to stack stuff on top of the shelf above (most of that is singular use/special items like excess supply or empty frames/photo albums), it seems to fit my needs quite nicely.  I can easily get in and out to get to my clothes and shoes on the left, and can easily move around once seated.  It does get a little warm in there with no ventilation, so I took the door off and hung a curtain instead, for easier air flow from the main part of the room.  Also, there are no plugs, so I ran a small extension cord around the bottom of the base board, so if I need to plug-in, I'm good to go.

The space could look prettier, but I haven't gotten around to that yet.  It'll come, overtime, I'm sure.  I was more concerned with completing it and making it functional!

I also put my bed on risers to give myself even more storage space!  It's pretty high off the ground (which I like) but I have so many things underneath that I may not need everyday, but would be inconvenient if stored 20 minutes from my house!  I also did away with a traditional night-stand and use the pooch's crate instead.  I got a piece of plexi-glass cut to the dimensions of the top and it's my catch all for everything, even my bedside lamp! If I need a way to save or use space, I will find a way to do it :D

What are some awesome things you've done with your space?  I'm always looking for more ideas!!!

Until next time...