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Dec 19, 2014

Learning to Let Go of Stubbornness at Christmas

My mom is disabled.  She has had three strokes to date, she has extremely high blood pressure, diabetes and degenerative disc disease in her back.  It's genetic, my grandfather had it, and he eventually ended up in a wheelchair; unfortunately my mom will probably end up in one too eventually.  She can't stand or walk for long periods of time and she can't even sleep in a regular bed, she has to sleep on a recliner since she can't lay down straight, she can't sit for long periods of time because the disease she has in her back causes extreme pain down her leg and in her back when she does.  My mother definitely can't work and has been trying to get Social Security Disability for two years now.  They keep denying her.  They keep denying her because her disease isn't causing damage to her internal organs yet.  Does she have to be dying in order to get SSD?  We've had plenty of arguments with them and obtained the help of a lawyer who decided to work with us on a contingency basis because he believed in my mom's case.  However, we still haven't heard back from them.  It's been a year,

I love my mom to death and would do anything for her, since she helped me all my life, but paying for her expenses as well as mine and my childrens' is getting extremely difficult.  Actually, it's always been difficult but it's been getting even more difficult since her therapy rate went up.  No, it's not covered by her Medicaid.  

In August one of my mom's friends asked her if she had been getting Widows Benefits, which was my dad's Social Security.  My mom called to inquire and she found out that she was eligible for my dad's Social Security, which was a great thing to happen to us.  She also found out that if she was approved for SSD, she wouldn't get the monthly payments but she would get the lump sum they owe her for the two years prior; we are still waiting for that.  Though she currently does get (since September) my dad's Social Security.

The other day she asked me, "What do you want for Christmas?"

I had no answer for her.

She explained to me that since I've allowed her to live with me and because I've been paying for her expenses for the past two years, she wanted to get me a Christmas gift since she hasn't been able to in years.

I know she needs the money and I really didn't want her to get me anything, but she's insisting.  So I told her some small things that I could use such as a new sweater or some of the drug store makeup that I use, but she didn't like that answer.  "I could always get you something inexpensive like that.  I want to get you something special." She said.

Sigh.  She wasn't going to give up, was she?  Honestly, I want a lot of things but I don't need them and when I became a mother I learned the importance of want versus need. Of course there are times when I splurge on myself and do get something that I want, but most of the time I don't buy myself anything that would take a big chunk out of my budget. 

She didn't give up.  I kept telling her that I didn't want her to get me anything too expensive but she kept insisting and asking me what I want.  I finally broke down and gave her a small list of things that I've wanted (that weren't too expensive) but that I wouldn't splurge on myself.  Such as a waterproof case for my iPhone 6, one of those hair curling wands, a glass screen protector for my phone and a list of some mid-range makeup that I've always wanted.  She was happy with that list.

Finally.  She told me to shut up, stop complaining and to let her do something nice for me.  

Nice for me? She watches my kids every day while I'm at work, she allows me to go out on occasion with my friends for some sanity, she helps my kids with homework when I get so overwhelmed that I want to rip up the worksheets,..  She does something nice for me every single day.  

But I understand what she means.

I get her a present every Christmas, even if funds are scarce.  I find something nice to get her because I know that I want to get her something to express my gratitude for all she's done for me.  She probably feels the same and wants to do that for me.  It's just hard for me to let her get me a present.  

I'm stubborn, but maybe I shouldn't be.

Dec 18, 2014


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How Blogging is a Good Thing for Me

You have no idea how many times I've gotten crap from family or friends about having a blog.  They ask me, "Why do you want strangers to know about your life?" And while I completely understand where they're coming from, I don't feel like the community of moms who I connect with are strangers.  

I've been blogging since I was in High School and while I wasn't a mom back then and didn't blog about parenting, I realized that I could connect with some amazing people who understood me and liked what I wrote. That is still the way I feel and I do hope that by writing about my experiences as a mom or writing about products I believe in, that I can help someone someday with my writings.  That's my ultimate goal.  

The internet really is an amazing tool to get heard.  It gives people the chance to have their space of the web and put their voice and opinions out there when they otherwise probably wouldn't have been heard.  It really gives you a sense of pride to see your writings and to see others enjoy your writings.  

So how is blogging a good thing for me?

I've been able to connect with some amazing people.  I'm a very shy person and don't necessarily enjoy talking to strangers that I meet in person.  I can express myself much better through text than I ever could face to face, so I think this is a great method to connect with other moms.  I've met some great friends through writing, blogging and commenting and I wouldn't have been able to meet those people if I wasn't blogging.  I also would have never gotten to connect with amazing brands such as Libman, Disney's Imagination Movers, independent companies that I've worked with and I would have never been able to meet Paula Deen and her sons either.  I've had some amazing opportunities through this blog and hope to keep experiencing amazing things.

Writing is an outlet for me and something that I really love to do.  I always have these creative ideas in my head about things to write and I'm just so happy that I can express them.  I used to write them in my journal and I realized that no one would ever see them.  I've always wanted to be a writer so if I can get my work out there in some way, shape or form, I'm very happy.  As I've said before, I want to be able to impact someone's life or help them through my writings and I believe that I will someday.  

I think that with all of the stress moms have on a daily basis, every mother should have a creative and emotional outlet for themselves! Whether it's writing a blog, a journal, a novel, art, photography, crafts or scrapbooking; it's important to have a way to express yourself and relieve the stress.

I learn more about myself as a mom.  Which is funny to say but as I write about experiences and look back at the things I write, I realize how much I've grown.  I enjoy reading old blog posts to see what was important to me back then, what was annoying me, my views and issues I had.  It helps me to see my progress over the years and shows me that you do get wiser as you get older. (Sometimes!)  I think it's important for every blogger to take a look at their old posts, sometimes it's great to reflect. 

Blogging strengthens my writing skills.  I used to take creative writing classes but they got too expensive for me and I kept learning the same things over and over again anyway!  I'm a strong believer in practice makes perfect and I think by blogging and writing every day, it helps me to practice my writing skills.  I do see a huge improvement from 4 years ago to today with my writing.  I've gotten better at the humorous tone of writing, I am able to come up with titles easier for posts and I feel like my posts are much stronger than they were back then!  

I feel like strenghtening my blogging skills helps me with my business and my career.  My business is content marketing, writing for other websites on top of being a Virtual Assistant and Social Media  and SEO Consultant.  So the more strengths that I have in writing, the more advantages I will have in business. 

Blogging gives me another income stream.  While it isn't much (for now! I'm determined!) blogging does give me another way of earning income.  That income, in turn, helps my family have a little extra for special days with my kids, little surprises for them, a dinner out every once in a while and so on...  I don't make millions or even thousands with my blog, but whatever I do make is something more than I had before!

I learn new things. Occasionally I get an amazing post idea in my head and then I realize that it would include researching the topic at hand.  At first I get a little discouraged, realizing that I have to have that extra step to create the content, but then I get excited at the thought of learning something new!  I enjoy challenging myself and feel that writing on a topic that I have to research is definitely challenging.

Blogging has made me more accountable.  That probably sounds weird but I've always been a procrastinator.  In High School, I was the queen of waiting until last minute to do things and then rushing the last minute.  With blogging you can do that as well, but if you want good, strong content for others to read and to be found in search engines; you can't just wait until last minute to crank out a post.  You have to carefully plan your posts and start writing and (if you have to) researching before having the post done.  It's also a matter of reading over your post a few times to make sure that everything flows nicely, makes sense and is spell checked.

It's also helped me to be more accountable in my personal/family life as well, since I have stopped procrastinating and tackle things head first and before I have to actually complete them.  It's really enabled me to have less stress in my life, which I am very thankful for.  

I've learned to handle both criticism and constructive criticism.  Being a blogger and expressing your opinion about various topics, some controversial, have it's positives and negatives.  You can state your opinion and have your voice heard, but you also sometimes get a lot of crap for doing so.  I've gotten a lot of crap for certain posts I've written, from people who think my parenting style is crap and some people who just don't like me!  At first it really hurt me to see these comments, but I realized that I couldn't let it bother and discourage me.  I learned to brush it off and take it in stride and not to let it bother me because I love what I do and I'm not going to stop.  

It's also helped me to handle constructive criticism.  Now, some of you are probably saying, "But you were an art major and had pieces ripped up and destroyed right in front of your face.  How were you unable to handle constructive criticism?"  Well, I look at art and writing as two completely separate things.  Art is my creative outlet and passion and writing is more of an emotional outlet and passion.  Yes, it took me a long while to get used to the constructive criticism that I got while an art major in college.  It hurt for quite a while!  However constructive criticism of my writing and blog hurt even more.  I worked long and hard on my blog and my posts and honestly, it's more emotional for me.  I can crank out a painting pretty quickly but blog posts, planning and design take me a lot longer; but I've learned to deal with it.  I've learned to take the constructive criticism and use it to better my writing, my blog and my content.  And I appreciate that.

Dec 17, 2014

How to Be Productive and Successful While Working from Home

Even though I currently have two full time jobs and my own home business, I worked exclusively at home for four years and loved it.  During that time, I made many mistakes and definitely learned from them enough to know what works and what doesn't work.  When you start working from home, it's a lot of trial and error, seeing what works for you and what you feel the most comfortable with.  I will tell you one thing, I needed a lot of advice and tips when I first started on my WAHM journey!  This is why I am compiling all of what I learned and sharing them with all of you! If you have any further tips for Working from Home, please post them in the comments below!

Get dressed every morning.

I know, I know.  The temptation to work from home in your pajamas and bunny slippers with your bed head/messy bun is so overwhelming.  I've been there, done that.  Doing this will only make you more tired, want to go back to bed and definitely won't help you get into the working mode.  You don't have to get dressed in full-on work gear, unless you have a Skype meeting, but just throw on a pair of jeans, yoga pants and maybe a t shirt or sweater.  Make yourself feel like you are going to work because this will increase your productivity on a daily basis.  If it makes you feel better, you can still wear your bunny slippers. 

Minimize Distractions

Turn off the TV, stop playing Candy Crush and work.  I've been there before -- you're bored, there's downtime and you grab the remote to put the TV or a movie on.  Downtime always sucks but once you turn on the TV or grab your phone to play a game, say goodbye to your motivation and productivity.  Once you're distracted, you're distracted.  Instead of doing something completely unrelated to work during your downtime, do some research on new things that are going on in your industry, browse some new potential clients that you can reach out to, or maybe get some organization done.  Either of your work space, files, e-mail, etc...  If you really think about it, there is probably plenty that you can do during your downtime!  

Wake Up Early

Sleeping late is heaven, I know the feeling.  I would love nothing more than to get up, have some coffee, get my kids to school and then go back to sleep for an hour, or two (or 5), but you can't.  I mean, you technically could but it wouldn't help your productivity! (Or your internal clock!)  When you're working from home this temptation is strong but fight it!  I know you can fight it!  Your body will normally wake up when it feels like it's well rested, so go with it.  Listen to it!  I know you might still feel tired, but you just have to get used to being awake.  Have some breakfast, grab your coffee, take a shower, read the paper and then get to work.  I can't stress enough how much going back to sleep will mess up your body and your productivity.  

If you're not used to waking up early, you will have to transition into it.  Keep setting your alarm for a half hour earlier each day until you wake up at the time you want to wake up at.  It's hard to get your body used to it, I know, but do it for a month and it will become a habit!  (I find that rings true!)  

When I solely worked from home I would follow a normal schedule as I would have if I worked outside the home.  I would wake up early, I would still shower and I would get to work.  You have to get in the mindset of thinking of working from home just like working at a job.  :)

Prioritize & Set Timers

Take a few minutes every morning to sit down and create your To-Do list for the day.  This method may not work for everyone, but I am a very visual person so seeing what I have to do and crossing out things that I've already done is very motivating and helpful to me.   

I place my To-Do list in a place that I can see it every time I look at it.  Put it on a main section of your desk, tape it on your wall in front of you, put it on your bulletin board, use a sticky note and stick it on your monitor.  Justdo not put it in a drawer, in your purse or somewhere that's hidden.  You know the old saying, Out of sight, out of mind. 

Now, once you've written that list, go back through it and prioritize it.  Put a 1 in front of the most important task that you need to get done, a 2 next to the second most important thing and so on.  (You get my drift!)  Also note next to the task how long you are going to give yourself to get that particular task done.  I use an app called 30/30 that times your To-Do list.  All you have to do is enter the name of the task, how long you want to spend on it, and the app will let you know when that time is up.  Setting timers helps you from spending to much time on one project.  If you're anything like me, without a timer you will end up getting carried away and lose track of time on just one task.  

Clutter versus a Clean Workspace

I'm definitely not a compulsive neat freak but I'm also not a messy pig either!  Most of the time I'm somewhere in between both (just don't ask my mother because she would tell you that I'm the latter!).  When it comes to my workspace, however, I can most definitely be a compulsive neat freak.  This is mainly because I feel more productive when my home office is actually clean and organized.  When it's a mess of papers, toys, clothes, etc...  I just feel overwhelmed and find myself concentrating on the mess more than on my work.  Invest in a receipt scanner and don't let them pile up on your desk!  Scan what you feel you need to scan and if you need physical copies, store them in a photo box or envelope somewhere on a shelf.  Scan as many physical papers as you can and store them in the cloud (drop box, google docs, google drive, box, etc...) so you can access them at any time, they will be searchable and accessible from anywhere.  

Make sure that your desk only has things pertaining to your business on it.  Sure you can have some pictures of your kids or some personal objects, but don't clutter it too much or place distracting objects on your desk.  You need to stay focus to be successful in working from home.  

Think of Working from Home Like a Regular Job

Designate certain work hours for yourself whether or not you're working full or part time from home.  Write down a schedule for yourself and stick to it.  (Of course, if an emergency comes up you can stray away from those hours.)  The important thing is to not schedule appointments during work hours (if you can help it) and don't make spontaneous plans for lunch, the mall or grocery shopping while you're in the middle of your designated work hours.  Would you do that at an actual brick and mortar job?  Probably not!  Try to plan any appointments or activities for outside of your hours, if at all possible!

The reason I say this isn't just for yourself and your motivation but also for your clients.  I let my clients know, up front, what my availability is before I start working with them.  I let them know my office hours and what times they can reach me by phone, e-mail or instant messenger and I'm there for them during those hours.  If you make plans and decide to disconnect and your client can't get in touch with you when they need you, that's a problem.  You could possibly lose that client and get a bad referral.  Now, I know things come up that you have to attend to, so if this happens it's important to record a message on your voicemail, e-mail your clients or turn on an auto e-mail message so your clients know that you had an emergency and aren't ignoring them.  You want your clients to feel like they are the most important client that you have.

Designate yourself a certain lunch hour as well.  Give yourself an hour and stick to that lunch hour!  This will help you from forgetting to eat and getting too hungry and binging and this will also keep you from eating too much throughout the day.  

Take Breaks

Do I sound contradictory?  Maybe I do, but even at a regular full time job you're entitled to breaks!  If you work a normal 8 or 9 hour work day (at a regular job) you're usually entitled to two fifteen minute breaks and an hour lunch.  Get up and take a short walk, go stretch your legs, go grab a quick coffee at Starbucks or a snack, just take a short break.  Yes, you do need to stay in the work mode but you also don't want to overwhelm yourself and your brain either. 

Set Realistic Goals

I'm a dreamer and I do admit that openly.  I am one of those people who set unrealistic goals for myself just so I work harder to achieve them and that's good on one hand.  On the other hand, if your'e one of those people who will stress yourself out if you don't reach those unrealistic goals, that's bad.  You need to set goals for yourself that are attainable in the amount of time that you have or want to have.  Tackle one to two big projects per day and supplement your day with some smaller projects that aren't so stressful.  If you try to take on too much at once, you will overwhelm yourself.

Don't be afraid to say no.  If you already have 2-4 large clients and you're already getting overwhelmed, it's okay to say no to a new large client.  Don't feel like you'll lose business if you don't take the client on because you won't!  Your current clients will still spread the word about your business, you will still get plenty of referrals, and the client that you said "no" to will respect your honesty.  That's why it's important to network and have other colleagues who you could refer the client to.  If you refer your client to another professional in your field, that professional will be forever grateful to you!  They will probably even pay it forward one day when they have a client that they can't handle.  

Change the Scenery

If you have a day with no large projects, try to work from a different location.  If the weather is nice I would suggest to bring your laptop outside and work from your patio.  You could also work from Starbucks or another coffee shop to get out and be around other people.  Maybe bring your laptop into the living room where your young children are playing instead of locking yourself in your office.  Again don't do this too frequently because you don't want to let distractions keep you from working, but every once in a while changing the scenery is very healthy for you.  (As long as you're still working hard and not slacking off!)  

Invest in your Office

I don't mean invest in terms of spending a boatload of money but more as in investing in your business and future.  You don't have to spend a lot of money to re-do a room.  You can get cheap book cases and filing cabinets from Walmart or Target, you can get a nice desk from Ikea or Target, etc...  It's important for you to enjoy your home office or you won't want to work.  Make it professional  but homey and comfortable, make it calming but make sure there is enough storage for your profession.  Do you need filing cabinets for important files?  Do you need a lot of book shelves for books, manuals, folders, etc..?  Do you want a couch in order to be able to move around while you work?  Think about what you want and need for your office and start planning out what would make you the most comfortable and happy.  After all, this is your workspace! I wrote an article back in 2012 about Creating an Office Space for WAHMs and this article has been viewed over 6,500 times.  

Dec 16, 2014

What is Life Like as a Single Working Mom?

Yep.  I'm a single mom with two jobs and I'm damn proud of it.  I work hard to support my family and make up for only one income coming into the house; so I decided to work two jobs.  It's hard as hell and I never feel like I'm getting enough sleep, but that's what being a mom is all about.  Sacrificing for your children.  So this is just some facts about just what being a single working mother is like. :) 

» Getting to bed at or after midnight just because you have to make the living room look presentable once the kids finally get to bed.  You don't want to walk down the stairs at night only to step on a lego or trip over the Doc McStuffins house in the middle of your floor.

» Hitting the snooze button too many times and then realizing it's almost 8 am...The exact time the kids need to be out the door and you need to leave for work.

» Going two or three days between showers is the norm for you.  After all, as long as you slap on some deodorant, body spray and your hair isn't greasy; who will know!  Isn't that what dry shampoo is for?

» You know, the messy bun and ponytail are staple hairstyles for you.

» Makeup? Is it a special occasion?  You have absolutely no time to throw on any makeup before work in the morning.  Unless, of course, it's one of those rare days when you wake up early. (HA! HA! Wait, those days exist?)

» Practically throwing pushing your kids out of the car in front of school in order to get to work on time. KthanksLoveuBye

» Finding random crayons, legos, or Sofia the First toys in your purse...and not understanding how they got there,

» Seeing your school's phone number on the caller ID and praying that one of the kids doesn't have to come home.  Only because the nurse gets pissed off when you tell her that it takes you an hour to get back home.  And no, your 91 year old grandmother can't walk over to the school to pick her up...not unless it was a dire emergency!

» Giving up food at lunch time so you are able to fit in some errands in order to get some shopping done alone.  It's so much more peaceful, even if you are strapped for time.

» Having to take off a whole day for school activities, dance competitions or doctors appointments.

» Hoping that your mom remembers to pick the kids up from school.  

» Trying to explain that you can't attend a parent-teacher conference mid day.  I work during the day to support my family, sorry that you don't want to stay after school.  

» What's for dinner on a busy night when you've worked late?  McDonalds of course!  You don't want McDonalds?  Okay then -- Pizza!  No, I don't feel guilty.

» Not being able to enjoy a weekend when the kids are at their father's because I'm too exhausted from the whole week before to do anything fun.

» Feeling guilty that you have to miss so much of their lives in order to work.  Though you know they're in good hands with Grandma and can't wait to see you when you get home from work.

Dec 15, 2014

When Mom's Text...

I got my mom a smart phone last year because I was tired of her calling me 40 times a day to ask random, stupid, little questions.  I taught her to text those random, stupid, little questions to me so my phone wouldn't be ringing off the hook for a simple, "Where is the milk?" 

Now she texts me a trillion and one times a day, but that's okay because at least I can silence and ignore those.  Sometimes her texts really amuse me and I get a great laugh out of them.  My mom, self admittedly, has fat fingers and blames this (and Siri/Voice Text) on every stupid message she sends me.  I thought I would share some of the funniest and craziest with you!

Exhibit 1. 

Of course mom.  Whatever you just said to me, I completely agree. 

Exhibit 2. 

Oh yeah, you know it mom.  I wish I was there with your crazy brain dumps via text that make absolutely no sense.  Maybe it's a rousing game of Pick the one that doesn't belong.  LIQUID PLUMBER!

Exhibit 3. 

Nothing beats a blurry picture of your child! I'm going to print that and frame right now!

Exhibit 4. 

The nonsense texts must be contagious because my children now aren't making sense! And you know you can't live without the every-emoji-in-the-book text.

Exhibit 5. 

Sure your pocket typed that while you were walking up the stairs.  So this is what happens when I'm at work? #horrified

Exhibit 6. 

I really have no idea what she's talking about here.  Firstly, I don't know anyone named Michael but I was shopping at Michaels (the store) when she texted me this... Secondly, "rose my breakfast"... I can't even half interpret that.  Good job, mom!

Exhibit 7. 

Last but not least, you can't forget about the every-emoji-in-the-book text, once again.  This one seems to be popular.

Dec 14, 2014

My Journey to Losing 80 Pounds -- Weight Loss Tips that Work!

I've lost 80lbs since January 4. 2014.  For the past two months I have been partially off the wagon because of the Holidays, but I am still eating sensibly to maintain my weight.  I know, I know, I could have been closer to my 100lb goal by now if I didn't take a break, but the Holidays are big for me and my family.  My family cooks and they cook good food.  

Over the past few months I've gotten many e-mails and direct messages asking me how I lost my 80lbs and how I stayed motivated.  I'm going to be completely honest with you, it wasn't easy.  I struggled everyday with temptation and battling cravings and sometimes I would break down completely and cry over the fact that I couldn't eat what I wanted.  It was a very tough, but rewarding, 11 months.  Sometimes I still can't believe that I lost 80lbs and can't believe that I can fit into clothes 5 sizes smaller than what I was at this time last year.  I still feel like the girl that's over 200 pounds even though I know I'm no longer that person; it's all mental.  I think it takes a good while for your brain to adjust to your new body.  

I have been trying to lose weight ever since I had my daughter in 2005.  I would go on various fad diets and fall off the wagon...hard.  I would go back to overeating and not knowing when to shut off.  I usually lost a total of 20-25 lbs before I would gain it all back eating fast food, junk food and pure crap.  There was a time where I thought that maybe I was just meant to be fat and would never lose the weight, but I learned that when that is your mindset, you won't let yourself lose the weight.  I don't know what switched on inside my head, but on New Years last year I decided to make a resolution that I was determined to keep, to start to lose weight and stick to it.  Of course, this was my resolution for the previous 8 years as well, what would make this year any different?  I didn't know just what it was, but it was different.  

Fast forward almost an entire year later and I did stick to my resolution and am now only 20lbs away from my goal weight.  I do feel amazing and I'm very happy with myself at this current time.  I know that I will lose the last 20lbs, even though I know full well that the last twenty pounds are usually the hardest to lose.  Maybe that's why I'm taking a short Holiday break, because I know I need to be set for a longer-than-wanted road ahead of me for these final few pounds.  

Since enough people have been asking me what my secrets are to losing 80 pounds, I feel like I should write a post with what I've learned.  I will let you know now that there are no secrets to losing weight, it's all trial and error.  What worked for me to lose weight may not particularly work for you.  When I got tips from other people, I had to try various things and tweak them to what worked for my body to lose weight as well.  

Get in the right mindset.

This is first and foremost the most important thing.  You have to be in the right mindset.  Most people wake up and just decide that they want to go on a diet, I've been there before!  Though, that doesn't make for a successful diet.  You have to really want this and you have to feel that this is the right time in your life to embark on this journey.  I know that sounds so cliche and corny as all hell, but it's true.  

Get rid of the junk food in your house.

You don't want chips or chocolate  bars or ice cream to cloud your vision of what you want to be.  If you don't have the heart to throw all of the junk food out, see if someone else in your house wants it.  Come on, you want to be the sexiest person in your house, right?  You can also donate it (if unopened) to people who may need it more than you.  

If you have kids, now is also a great time to try to get them to eat healthier as well.  I'm not saying to put your kids on a diet, I'm actually against that! However you can get them to eat healthier along with you.  Try to wean them off of the junk food snacks and onto healthier alternatives.  That way you won't have the temptation of the high calorie snacks because you won't be around them!

Go grocery shopping.

I know, no one likes to grocery shop, but I enjoy shopping for healthy foods.  Make a list of healthy staples that you should always have in your house (almond or coconut milk, fruit, veggies, low fat cheeses, plenty of water, diet soda (if you must), whole wheat pasta, rice, etc...  You can easily look up a list of healthy staple food items on Google and I'm sure you will find what you're looking for!  That's what I did. :)  

Search the internet for coupons on items that you want to purchase.  Target sometimes has coupons for fresh meats & produce, so make sure you look at those.  You may also be able to find coupons on fresh meat & produce on your grocery store's website.  Eating healthy doesn't have to be expensive.  

Before you go grocery shopping, make sure you eat.  Do not go to the grocery store hungry, it will cause more impulse buys and unhealthy purchases than if you went shopping while you weren't hungry.  Trust me, I know this from experience. :)  

Some people may debate this, but it's important to look at the nutrition labels.  Eye the calories, eye the calories from fat, eye the carbs.  Make sure the calories from fat are less than 50% of the total calories.  If you need help figuring out what foods are healthy, I suggest to download Fooducate from the app store.  This app still helps me to figure out what foods are healthy and what aren't.  When you scan a certain bar code, Fooducate will grade your food from an A (being the healthiest) to an F (don't buy!).

Drink plenty of water or water substitute.

You need to keep hydrated and need to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day to flush the toxins and extra water out of your body.  I always thought it sounded funny that you need to drink water to get rid of water, but it's true.  The more you pee, the better it is! lol

There are ways to make water better.  Use fruits or veggies (cucumbers) to infuse your water, this will give it a much better taste.  However if you absolutely can't stand or stomach the taste of water, even infused, go for a seltzer water, flavored water, flavored seltzer or even tea.  Whatever you do keep yourself hydrated

Make your own food.

Buying TV dinners such as Lean Cuisine, Smart Ones, Healthy Choice, etc... is okay in moderation but if you really look at the nutrition facts the sodium is through the roof.  What does sodium contribute to? Water weight and possibly stalling your weight loss. Sometimes you have no choice but to eat these meals and that's fine every once in a while, I do too, but it's important to make your own fresh meals.  That way, you know exactly what you're putting into your food, you can more accurately get a better calorie count and you know that your food is fresh.  

If you are a working mom or woman and don't have time to make fresh meals from scratch every single night, do some cooking on the weekends and freeze the meals in individual portions for weekdays when you are too strapped for time.  That way, you can let the meal defrost while at work and by the time you're ready to eat dinner you can just pop it in the microwave or oven.

Eating SMALLER meals spaced out.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day but it's more important to eat foods that are filling than to eat too much at breakfast.  Honestly, I've tried a lot of things over the past year, and what helped me the most was eating more small evenly spaced out meals.  Eating smaller more substantial meals throughout the day really helps with cravings, hunger and your metabolism. (IMO)

Portion out your snacks in advance.

I have a rolling cart under my cabinet with all of my snacks and also a bin in the refrigerator.  When I get home from the grocery store I get out individual sized ziploc bags and portion the box of snacks so I have an easy "grab and go" snack when I need them.  It's easier than being in a rush and grabbing the wrong thing or too much of the healthy snack you want.  It's also important to always have a snack with you. Even if you go shopping.  This will cut down on impulse snacking while you're out.  PUT DOWN THAT AUNTIE ANNIE'S PRETZEL! ;)

Utilize Fitness Diary Apps/Communities

MyFitnessPal is what I use faithfully in order to track what I eat and the weight I'm losing.  This definitely helps keep me on track.  What's great about MyFitnessPal is that they also have a community that you can rely on.  You can ask for advice, get motivation, share recipes, tips & tricks...  This app and website is a great tool in your weight loss and I considered it a very essential tool in my weight loss since I had a whole community rooting me on.  I gave them encouragement in return. 

Weigh Ins

In the beginning of my weight loss journey I was a weigh-in freak.  I would weigh myself every day, even though I knew that wasn't good for you.  I was well aware but I did it anyway.  I would also beat myself up if I gained an ounce, a pound, or didn't lose anything and was expecting to.  Do not do what I did and do not weigh yourself every day. Limit weigh-ins to once a week or twice if you must do it more than once a week.  Do not stress yourself out and beat yourself up over normal every day fluctuations in weight.  

Beating Cravings

This is probably the absolute worst worst worst thing, the cravings.  There are a lot of ways to beat cravings and that could be an entirely different post but I'll give you a very short version here.  If you feel hungry in between meals drink a large glass of water and wait at least 15-30 minutes.  If that made you feel better, you probably weren't really hungry.  If you are still hungry after that, have a small healthy snack.  That's the fool proof way to really tell if you're hungry or just want to eat out of emotion or boredom.

Now, for cravings.

- Ice cream? Freeze yogurt in the freezer for true frozen yogurt.  You can also freeze bananas.

- Chips? Have some carrots, carrot chips or homemade cheese crisps instead.  You could also microwave pepperoni for delicious pepperoni chips, but they make your kitchen smelly for a few minutes. I make those sparingly or in large batches. :) (I will post that recipe soon!)

- Something sweet? Chew sugar free gum!  I like the dessert flavored gum, it gives you the taste of sweet without actually eating it.  You can also grab a handful of berries, my favorites are blackberries, raspberries, strawberries or blueberries.  Tea sweetened with honey or Splenda/Truvia/etc... can also help with this craving.  Especially a very sweet herbal tea!

- Salty? You can have one serving size of pretzels or even freshly popped popcorn with some sea salt and butter spray.

I have a bunch of alternatives for cravings and will definitely make a new post on all of them.  I know they will be helpful for anyone in their diet journey.  

Working Out

I feel like a hypocrite talking about this because I didn't work out religiously during my journey or even that much.  Honestly, I probably could have lost even more weight if I worked out more.  Working out is important, however.  It helps your metabolism and helps you burn more calories so you can indulge a little more. (Not go overboard!)  If you can't afford a gym membership there are many ways that you can work out from home.  Walmart has weights/dumbbells for very cheap and you can download different apps such as Pump Up, 7 Minute Workout, Zumba, Blogilates, etc... These will all help you to work out at home and lose some of the pounds/inches too.

I really hope that these tips helped you out a little because they really helped me.  Towards the first of the year (2015) I'm going to be doing a series on eating healthy and losing weight -- for all of you who made that difficult resolution to lose weight in the New Year.  So keep a look out for that!   If you have any questions, feel free to post them below.  I would be more than happy to answer any questions you might have about diet, exercise or weight loss.  I'm not a professional, but if I could lose 80lbs and counting, anyone can.  

Dec 13, 2014

Finding Peace and Having a Stress Free Holiday Season

The Holiday Season is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year filled with peace, love, joy and all of that other sentimental bullshit.  So why are we so stressed around this time of the year? If you host Christmas, it's probably all the stress of trying to make things perfect to have your family over but if you don't host Christmas, it's probably the stress of finding the money for the right presents and getting the right presents.  There are many, many reasons that people stress and don't actually sit down and enjoy the Holidays and I have some tips to try to avoid most of the stress.  

>> Helpful Holiday Timeline

Take your time Decorating

After Thankgiving is over don't try to rush Christmas, retail and the media do that enough for us with their Christmas trees out in stores before Halloween is even over.  Take the time to enjoy Thanksgiving with your family and then worry about getting your Christmas decorations out.  After all, you have to finish those leftovers and recover from your turkey coma, right?

A lot of people try to get the Christmas decorations up right after the Thanksgiving guests leave, but I say to wait a few days.  Give it three or four days to plan what you want the tree to look like, how you want to arrange your outdoor decorations and to take inventory of what Christmas lights work and don't work.  You don't want to be standing outside in below zero temperatures only to find out that half your string of lights are out, do you?  Frankly, that would suck and would piss me off beyond belief.  

Shop Throughout the Year

Don't wait until November to start Christmas shopping, it will only stress you out rushing around to find the right presents.  After all, they don't call it the Christmas rush for nothing, right? There are plenty of great sales and deals throughout the entire year.  Pick things up as you see them and put them away in a place that you will be able to find it come December.  There are times that I have taken advantage of the after Christmas sales on Dec 26th in order to shop for the following year.  As long as you know where you put the presents you bought in July, you're golden!

Plan Ahead

It's very important to plan ahead so you're not stuck at the last minute trying to think of ideas.  I am a big list person and I utilize my Bullet Journal, which you can read about here, in order to plan and organize different things that are going on in my life.  You can also find numerous printables on pinterest for this exact purpose that will also help you organize and plan the Holidays,  

It's important to plan ahead for
  • Gifts for family members and friends.  Just jot down ideas off the top of your head that you might want to get people.  You can always finalize this later.
  • Christmas dinner or Holiday get togethers.  Once again, just jot down ideas that you might want to cook.  Search Pinterest for Holiday appetizers/main dishes/desserts, that's my favorite place to get cuisine inspiration.
  • Plan decorations for both outside and inside.  Test your lights to make sure they work because you will also write a shopping list of things you need before you decorate.  It's important to take inventory so you're not stressed or blindsided by missing items when you begin to decorate.
  • YOUR BUDGET - This might be the most important so as always, save the best for last.  Sit down with all of your bills.  Write down what you make in a month, all of your bills for that month and with the figure that is left prioritize.  What is the most important thing you will have to spend money on?  That should be the most amount of money that you allocate.  Then you can go down the list of expenses/gifts and allocate the appropriate amount of money for each.  Don't leave yourself short either, then you will just get even more stressed.  

If you plan ahead and make lists, you will know exactly what you still need, what you have completed, and if you have time to add in any more tasks at that particular time.  If you don't want to write a list, download an app that can assist you.  My favorites are Any,do, Tasks and Easily,do.

Shop Deals & Save Money

If you are the most stressed about finances and presents there are ways to be smart about this.  Keep a look out for sales.  Leading up to Black Friday and even Christmas stores start to have some amazing sales, so don't just throw out those store circulars when you receive them on your doorstep.  Make sure you have your list of presents that you want for your children, friends or family and keep a look out for that item on sale.  It's also important to not purchase the item the first time it goes on sale, especially if the item is just slightly discounted.  The closer it gets to Christmas, the more sales there will be. (Just don't procrastinate!)

Black Friday is a great day to get some amazing prices on items you want, need or want to get as gifts.  You don't have to be a crazy person and go out right after Thanksgiving dinner because deals are staggered at different times throughout the night and early morning.  Just make a list of the deals you want, bundle up just in case there's a line, grab some hot chocolate to bring with you and head out to save money!  At least that's what I do...

Cyber Monday is also a great day to save money! Although, I haven't seen deals as good as Black Friday on Cyber Monday... But I digress...  Get on your bunny slippers and cozy robe, grab your morning cup of coffee and log on to shop the Cyber Monday deals.  You don't even have to get out of bed if you don't want to!

There are many other ways to find good presents.  You can shop flea markets, garage sales, Goodwill, Craigslist, online Faceboook yard sale communities, Thrift stores, etc...  You might think that these places wouldn't be good for Christmas shopping, but you can find some very unique gifts there.  You can also sometimes find brand named products still in their original packaging, it's all a game of luck, but it doesn't hurt to look!

Easy Gift Giving

Don't stress about finding the perfect gift because it probably don't exist.  I think the perfect gift could be a gift card, the recipient could then take that gift card and get exactly what they want with it and you don't have to worry about hoping they like the gift.  Another great gift could be something that you can make by yourself.  (Keep a look out for my DIY gift posts coming up in the next week!)  A gift that is handmade comes directly from the heart and is appreciated.  Trust me, I would rather handmade bath salts, lotions, candles, art; it shows that the person cared enough to take the time to create something for you.  Truly a one of a kind gift.

You could also get a unique gift basket.  These are found at Big Lots, Sams Club, Walmart, BJ's Wholesale, Costco and even some specialty stores and mall kiosks.  These gifts are basically already arranged and wrapped for you, just add a gift bag!

Santa Pictures with the Kids

Take this advice from personal experience; Don't wait too long to get your kids' pictures taken with Santa.  You will regret it when you see the lines!  Santa usually starts to come to the mall the weekend before or after Thanksgiving. (Depending on where you live.)  If you are going to go to a mall Santa, go early.  You will avoid the lines.  If you are on a budget and go see a mall Santa, ask about separate photos.  They will try to get you to purchase the package and may sometimes make it seem like the package is the only option, but it's not.  You can buy a single 5x7 and that's usually a good $10-15 less than the package.  You can always make copies for family members.  

If that's still too expensive for your budget, keep a look out for free events for kids.  Toys R Us/Babies R Us usually has pictures with Santa for free or for a small donation.  Many other community places such as town centers, churches, community centers, etc... probably have free pictures with Santa during their events as well.  Just look in your local paper, Facebook or just do an online search.  

Tips for Long-Distance Relatives

If you're sending Christmas presents to relatives that live in another city or state, the typical mail by date would be anywhere between December 10th and December 15th.  This will give a pretty decent margin for any error by the shipping company; who knows what could happen!?  You want your packages to get there on time, so send with plenty of time.

As for Christmas cards, I would say that the typical date to mail your Christmas cards would be December 15th.  Once again, you want to give a decent margin for postal service error or any delay in your Christmas cards getting to their recipients on time.

Use Shortcuts

If you don't have to bake a pie from scratch, don't bake a pie from scratch!  Is your party or dinner casual? Get Holiday paper plates to minimize your clean up! If you can buy store bought appetizers, go for it.  No one is going to punish you for using shortcuts to help keep your stress at bay!  

Have Enough Batteries

Nothing is worse than your kids opening that battery operated toy that doesn't have any batteries included.  Nothing ruins a perfectly happy Christmas morning like not having batteries for that long-awaited toy and having to deal with all of the stores being closed and an angry, crying, tantrum-throwing child on your hands.  Lesson learned? Make sure you have enough batteries on hand!

Dec 12, 2014

Stop Bullying the Elf; an Elf on the Shelf Defense Post

Last year I started the Elf on the Shelf Holiday tradition with my girls because I thought it was the cutest idea.  I love anything creative and set off with many different ideas for these two little mischief-makers.  This tradition ended up being a great one with our family and began being a whole family tradition every December morning.  Before we did anything else, we would go find out what kind of trouble the elves were getting into and see if they left any little goodies or notes while they came to visit.  This is a tradition that we are continuing this year and plan on continuing every year to follow until the girls are too old for Elfie and Sofia. 

Now I know there are many people who dislike the Elf on the Shelf tradition and I completely understand the reasons they note.  Some think they're creepy, some don't like the idea of a magical elf that comes straight from the North Pole to observe children and report back to Santa, some don't want their children to have the emotional trauma of the elf leaving on Christmas Eve and some just think the elf is a stupid idea all together.  So in this post, I will address some of these things and voice my opinion about the now notorious elf that makes his appearance the day after Thanksgiving. 

The Elves are creepy...

I understand that many people think that the elves are creepy, but I think they're cute in a vintage and whimsical sort of way.  My mom and grandma had small elves from the 70's, when I was growing up, that resembled an older version of these elves, so maybe they're somehow nostalgic for me.

But if you think about it, how much more creepy can these Elves be than the big fat man who comes down your chimney on Christmas Eve, eats your cookies, drinks your milk and leaves you presents?  I think the thought of Santa being a peeping tom and seeing every move you make leading up to Christmas is a lot creepier than a magical elf... That's like a glorified home invasion, for God's sakes! Sure Santa gives you presents...but we terrify our kids for a hot second with the story of how Santa leaves them presents.  At least I was a little terrified at first when I was a child...

So in my mind, Elf on the Shelf is equivalently creepy to Santa.

I don't like lying to my child...

Wait...did you say that you don't like lying to your child?  What about that time you let them dress themselves and they ended up looking like a hot mess?  I'm sure you said they looked wonderful.  What about the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa?  You may say that you're keeping the magic alive, but the Elf on the Shelf is magic too.  

I'm sure you tell your child(ren) little white lies as we all do!  This is basically the same thing.  You're just fibbing to your child to keep the magic of the Holiday season and Elf on the Shelf alive.  If you say that you don't lie to your child, you're lying to yourself right there.  Lying through your teeth!  Give up the perfect parent act -- no parent is perfect!

I don't want an elf to keep my kid's behavior in check...

This one I do completely understand.  Part of the idea is that the elf is Santa's Eyes while he is busy preparing for Christmas and some parents do use the elf as a bribe (or a threat) to keep their kid's behavior in check.  I'm not going to lie, I do.  I use that elf to my advantage when I need to.

Fighting with your sister?  The elves are watching!

Not cleaning your room when I ask for the 10th time?  The elves are watching!

Arguing with me because you don't want to do your math homework? The damn elves are watching!

Those little plastic black/blue eyes stare right into their souls and make them question their behavior every single time!  Okay, maybe not quite...Sometimes it works and sometimes my nine year old laughs in my face, but your bet your ass I use those elves to my advantage; or at least try to.  Is it the proper thing to do? Probably not, but whatever maximizes the peace in my home, I'm open to.

But this isn't what everyone does.  You don't have to say that the elf reports back to Santa, you don't have to threaten or bribe your kids; every parent is different.  You can simply use the Elf on the Shelf as a fun way to have a scavenger hunt every morning.  You can say the elf came to visit for the Holiday season to play hide and seek, I don't know! The point I'm trying to make is, you don't have to use the elf as a behavior tool.

I don't have the time.

Look, I have two jobs plus my own business, I am a single mother of two kids, I help with homework, I cook and I also help out my mother who is disabled and I still have time for the elves.  Maybe I don't get as creative as some other people and maybe I don't go all out, but we still have the tradition.  

There are many nights I wake up in a cold sweat and panic, grabbing my phone to make sure it isn't time for the kids to wake up because I forgot to move the elves.  I'm usually quietly running down the stairs in the dark, trying not to stumble and break my ass, to move the elves and think of semi-creative ways to place them while I'm still half asleep.  The sad part is, I do have an alarm on my phone at 11pm every night to move the elves.  Sometimes I ignore the alarm telling myself that I will move them later on before I go to bed, sometimes I actually go to sleep early (what?!) and sleep through the alarm.  

If you have the time to sit down and write a whole post about how you don't have time for the Elf on the Shelf, you have time to move the elf.

It's too commercialized...

Welcome to Christmas, have you been here before?  Come on, the whole idea of Christmas is commercialized.  It's all about the sales, the shopping, the decorations, who can get the better presents, the new trends every year... The whole basic idea of what Christmas used to be is different now.  

Do you have one of the older more vintage elves at home? Use that.  Go to the Goodwill store, I'm sure you can find one very cheap. Go to the dollar store and pick up a small plush elf doll -- that works too!  I've seen people using non official Elf on the Shelf elves as Santa's helpers as well.  You don't need to get the actual elf.  

Truth be told, I had two of our old, floppy and vintage elves from when I was a kid that I almost used as the Elves.  The only reason we have authentic Elves is because my mom and grandma decided to put their money (and coupons) together and get us the two elves.  Otherwise, I wouldn't have purchased them by myself!  

It's too much work.

Yes, yes it is.

Especially when you buy a small batch of flour and spread it all over your kitchen table to make elf snow angels.  Or when you stick a bunch of Christmas bows all over your house and blame it on the elves.  Or...when you take the time to set up elaborate scenes of elves playing Scrabble with the barbies, or elves roasting marshmallows over a candle...

It's a hell of a lot of work.

But it doesn't have to be.  You don't have time to make a mess or clean it up? Then don't.  You can simply have the elf bring a little surprise (lollipop, candy bar, sheet of stickers) or write a Christmas countdown on a whiteboard or even just surprise the kids in a new place every single day.  There's no rule that states that you must take the time to set up elaborate scenes and schemes for the elves.  To each parent their own...

But I just don't want to!

There we go!  Now we're talking!

Admitting it is the first step to recovery and I'll have a crap load of respect for you if you're just honest about not wanting to do this.  

This might go under the category of Not judging a book by it's cover because I've met many moms who couldn't stand this tradition until they tried it for themselves.

But at least you're being honest and not trashing an intimate object disguised as a magical elf.

Dec 11, 2014

The Grandma Gift Struggle -- What do you get an old-fashioned grandma?

I absolutely love my grandmother to death.  At 90 years of age she is still getting on the ladder to change her curtains bi-weekly, she's still walking the town to get her errands done, she really is sharp as a knife and she does whatever she can to help out me and my girls.  She is just a horrible person to shop for during the Holidays and for her birthday as well.  

Walking into her house is like walking into the 1960's.  She still has the same furniture that she had back then complete with the plastic covers that your legs stick to in the summer. (Ouch!)  She has a rotary phone, she doesn't have cable but still has the old television that has the dials to change channels/volume/power in the cabinet with the old speakers with only the channels that the antenna picks up.  Her and my (late) grandfather also slept in separate rooms -- sometimes my mom and I joke that my father had to have been adopted because there was no way they would have conceived him on their own.  I have to give her credit though, she cleans that house religiously and has made those appliances and furniture last so many years.  Her home is spotless and the cleanliness of that place and the fact that you can eat off her floors makes me very jealous.  

My mom and I have tried to get her to come into the 21st century.  Years ago we purchased a cordless phone, VHS player, an air conditioner and more current appliances; but most of them she turned away at delivery.  What she didn't turn away she stored away in her attic -- which honestly looks like a department store with the brand new boxes that she has up there.  We found this out last summer when we had a few yard sales.  Grandma called us and said she had some things that she wanted us to pick up for our yard sale, so we went over there to get them.  To our surprise, most of the presents that we had gotten her in the past 10-15 years, she had given back to us to sell at our yard sale.  Her motto is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  She is so very set in her ways and figures that if her appliances still work, why update them?

Personally, I think a small cell phone would be ideal for her since she does venture off by herself to walk into town to do errands or go to church, but she refuses.  She doesn't understand cell phones and figures that she went 90 years without the need for one, why get one now?  We explain to her that we worry about her walking by herself, anything could happen, but she just tells us not to worry. She won't let us get her a computer, she won't let us get her cable, she won't let us give her anything that's modern; so what do we get her?

She always says that she doesn't want us to get her anything because she knows that we live from paycheck to paycheck, but I can't let a Holiday go by without getting her a gift.  My grandma has done so much for us and has gotten us out of many tight situations, I owe her my life.  There are only so many purses and pairs of pajamas you can buy someone who doesn't use anything you give to them! Before you guys say anything, I have tried giving her more personal gifts.  The last two years we've given her photo albums of the kids or beautiful frames with the kids photos in them.  What did she do with them? She gave them away to other family members. So now you can see my struggle with all of this!

I did get her one present that I think and hope she will use.  Every season I get a new Old Navy zipper up fleece.  I find them so comfortable and better to drive in than a regular ski jacket.  This year I got a black and gray leopard print one and I've used it almost every single day since I bought it.  Well, I drove my grandmother to the grocery store a few weeks back and she complimented me on it.  She said the pattern wasn't her style but she loved the jacket and said it looked so soft, comfortable and warm.  On Black Friday when Old Navy had their 50% off sale, I got her a medium pink zipper up fleece, since she liked mine.  Let's hope this present doesn't get returned back to us in a few years for another one of our yard sales!