A family's journey of learning how to make a home, save money and be healthy… while having fun doing it!

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Giving Experiences or Consumables for Christmas


For some reason, this year we’ve been thinking a lot about Christmas and birthday gifts. We’ve also been following a lot of minimalism and “simplifying” blogs so I’m guessing it’s somehow related.

The main minimalism blog we follow is Becoming Minimalist because I like that his view on minimalism is functional minimalism and also concentrates on minimalism of the mind and finances as well.

The last two years we tried to ask for “experiences” or college money (for Auden) for our Birthdays and Christmas, instead of toys or nick-nacks.ย  And we tried to give consumables, gift cards, or experiences for Christmas.

We definitely got some mixed reactions.

Some people responded amazingly well, and loved the idea.

Greg’s aunt purchased a Zoo pass for our whole family two Christmases ago; Greg’s grandparent’s purchased a Milwaukee museum pass for us this Christmas, my sister gave Auden college money for his birthday (with a few packs of stickers, which was amazing to him) and my in-laws/Greg’s aunt got him gymnastics classes for his birthday this year. My mother in law got me tickets to a Cubs vs. Brewers game for my birthday.

As for others, I felt like I was offending them. People like buying Christmas presents– physical things, not experiences or gift cards and the challenge of wrapping them. Heck, I love wrapping different shapes of presents and figuring out how I’m going to do it. But I hate Christmas shopping, because of the crowds, grumpy people, and probably because I worked retail for a long time.

I also hate waiting until the last minute, and usually have most of my Christmas shopping done before December even starts.

As I spend this week rushing to clean out what I can before the semester starts, I’m reminded that the reason we began trying to downsize and de-clutter our lives was that we had to much stuff, and we still do. I would venture to guess that our families and friends also have the same problem, or have everything that they need.

So I’ve come up with a compromise, which is that I’ll be buying subscription boxes, consumables (for example, fancy truffles, the kind that you wouldn’t scarf down while scrolling through Facebook, but actually enjoy), and experiences for as many people on our list as I can this year. And I’ll be asking for things I plan to buy myself anyway, and just put off buying them for awhile (specialty food, makeup, ebooks, Nespresso refills, etc).

This year Greg and I decided that since we have everything we need, and usually end up over-spending anyway, what we’d love is time to spend together. After our crazy semesters are over, we usually feel like we haven’t seen each other, so what we’ve decided to do this year is spend a couple days down in the city (for a good price of course, we got a hotel for $63 a night in Chicago on Groupon (if it’s not still available, don’t worry, just keep checking back, because they always have Chicago hotel deals)

We’re going to spend the time enjoying the city’s decorations, and enjoy watching all of the crazy last minute shoppers together, knowing that we were done with our shopping months ago. I can’t wait!


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Plated.com August 2013 Review Plated

From Plated.com: “We are on a mission to strengthen people’s relationship with their food. We make it fun and easy to cook delicious gourmet meals at home. Our customers select from weekly menus created by top chefs, and we deliver all ingredients needed to make fresh, delicious meals in just 30 minutes.”
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Plated is a service that sends you everything you need to create a healthy meal at home, including recipes and ingredients. The items are shipped in a special package with insulation and cold packs so your ingredients stay fresh. I decided to try Plated because I was sick of wasting time selecting recipes, then shopping- which always takes me forever, and I always forget something crucial to the recipe, then end up over buying and throwing away all the different, extra wasted ingredients.

Plated lets you select how many plates you want delivered, with the minimum being 4 plates (two meals) One plate is equivalent to one serving.

The plates we chose were:
Chicken and vegetable fried rice
Whole wheat herb pizza with grilled chicken
I ordered 4 plates (two meals) for half off ($30) You can get the same deal if you click here: Plated

I seems like a lot, but when I broke it down per serving, $7.50 a person wasn’t bad at all- we’d spend way more eating than $30 eating out for one meal, and this was a much healthier option. Membership to Plated is $10/month and each serving is $12/plate for 4+ plates or $10/plate for 6+ plates. That breaks down to 3 meals for 2 people (i.e. 6 plates) for $70. Shipping is included and you can select whatever plates interest you that week or skip if you arenโ€™t into them (I skipped next week because I wanted to give it a try to see how we felt about it first, and if it was worth it cost wise).

When I opened the cooler, I was amazed. Everything was packed so neatly and labeled perfectly.
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Here’s all of the nicely organized, fresh ingredients:
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I love that the soy-sauce is gluten-free!

I really liked that the two meals were separated in two different individual packages.
plated.com ingredients plated 10

The chicken had freezer packs surrounding it and was very cold still, which is great, considering it’s 100 degrees here today.

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Each meal comes with a full-size recipe card with tips, an explanation of the meal and the recipe, including pictures. You can see the recipe card in this picture:
plated.com ingredients plated

The boys were nice enough to volunteer to try cooking this meal (I was cleaning, and to be honest, my hubby is a much better cook!)

This was before he figured out I was sneakily taking pictures of the process:
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And here’s what happened when he figured it out:

plated.com ingredients 3

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Geez. Oh well, aren’t guys that can cook the hottest? But I’d say I’m biased ๐Ÿ™‚

And here’s his cute little helper, putting the pepper on the the chicken:
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We had one small problem, and that was that we didn’t check to make sure all of the ingredients were there (we just assumed they were all there) but we were missing the red pepper for the fried rice. I would have liked to try it with the red pepper in it, but we just didn’t feel like running out to the store by the time we got everything going. So in this case, I guess Plated didn’t solve the problem of missing an ingredient. Oh well.

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Here’s the finished recipe! Do you like how we borrowed some of the Parsley from the other dish to make it look like it’s a fancy cooking show dish? But the rice was awesome. We all loved it, especially Auds. He couldn’t stop eating the chicken. I can’t help but wonder what the red pepper would have added though!

The verdict after one dish: We liked it a lot! The food tasted great and was nicely organized. Greg said that it didn’t save much time with cooking (it still took about 45 minutes) which is what we wanted. But the meal was good and much healthier than eating out. I’m making our second meal tomorrow, so that will help us decide if we’ll keep it.

Here’s the link again to get 1/2 off your first box: Click Here

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The BEST Monsters Inc Birthday Party AND Golf Birthday Party ever! (Because we’re pretty sure it’s the only one!)

Aud’s 4th Birthday bash was so much fun. He wanted Monster’s Inc AND golf, so that’s what we tried to give him. I was happy and terrified that I had such a creative theme to work with this year.


I think my hubby did a beautiful job on the invites, and really kicked off the combined theme with them!


Gosh I just really can’t believe he’s going to be 4. He’s such a little man now. Do you like his goofy face? This is his new smile. (This week anyway!)


As for the cake, I was crazy and decided to just go ahead and make his cake this year. I was sick of spending so much and I knew thought I could do it a lot cheaper (I even made the butter cream frosting and cake myself!) and I knew I’d have to make it myself to get the theme we wanted. With that said, I have a couple words of advice:

1. It is NOT cheaper, thanks to the initial investment of supplies.

2. Don’t ever decide to make a 3-tier birthday cake yourself the night before the party, you’ll be up til 3AM.

3. Experiment BEFORE hand.

4. Have a back up plan. I had a very few, sad, Monsters Inc/golf themed cupcakes I made from the left-over batter.


All of this seems like common sense. But I guess I was pretty confident it would hopefully turn out okay.

Luckily I have some fondant experience and I’ve always been into art. In fact, when I was little, my best friend Laura and I went to a summer art camp to create miniature things (like for dollhouses, I guess). Also I played with a ton of play-doh growing up. So I guess I was somewhat prepared ๐Ÿ˜‰

But for my first 3-tier cake, I was really happy with it. What do you guys think? Do you think I could sell cakes from my house? I think that’s probably my dream job someday.


We kept the decorations pretty simple. We were lucky to be in such a beautiful space that it didn’t need too much. We mostly used what we already had- some borrowed birthday banners, Aud’s Sulley Doll, and his golf cart toy.
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Look at this happy, goofy kid. And isn’t his outfit cute? It’s from Gymboree.


We managed to get a family pic in!


“Club” sandwiches from Sam’s Club


Auden’s Aunt got him a butterfly habitat, where he can watch his own caterpillars turn into butterflies. This is him checking out his caterpillars.


So there you have it. My handsome little man’s 4th birthday party, complete with golf, Monster’s Inc, a 6-hour cake, but most importantly, family, friends, food, fun, and a boy hugging his first set of golf clubs.

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It’s begining to look a lot like… OMG PUMPKIN EVERYTHING!

There’s no fall songs. And that makes me sad. Because I live for fall. Well, fall and my family ๐Ÿ˜‰ But seriously, there is nothing that makes me more excited than starting to see:

1. Cashmere

2. Even better:

Bath and Body Works PUMPKIN!


Because it means Fall is on its way! I just bought 2 (more) pumpkin caramel mason jar candles which were 2 for $15.ย  Be sure to use ebates to get 2% cash back right now at Bath and Body Works.ย  Thanks, Ramblings of a Suburban Mom for letting me know about this deal!

I can’t get enough of pumpkin scented and flavored things. Now I’m just waiting for the pumpkin bread at Starbucks, and best of all, the caramel brulee and pumpkin lattes, and of course, the pumpkin farm!


What are your favorite pumpkin scented/flavored things? Do you love pumpkin or are you over it?


Citrus Lane and Fab Kids August 2013 4 year old boy box review

YAY! My Citrus Lane box arrived this weekend! I’ve been so excited about this one, that I feel like I’ve checked the tracking a few 100 times! In case you’re new to the site, I signed up for a couple different subscription boxes. I wanted to see if any of these would work for our family, and I was also considering doing subscription boxes for potential Christmas/baby shower gift ideas. I think that instead of one gift, receiving a box every month for 3-6 months would be an awesome gift!

Citrus lane cost: $21-25/month, depending on which subscription you choose, including shipping
To save on your first box: Click here to bring the total down to $15.00.
I signed up when they had the buy one box, get one half off deal, bringing my total to $37.50

Whatโ€™s in it: Full size care items for babies, toddlers, kids and moms.

cirtus lane welcome

First: I am already so incredibly impressed. We’re giving these to Auds on his birthday to open along with a couple other small things, but I am almost positive the Citrus lane boxes will be his favorite. Warning: This is a LONG post! Here’s box number 1:

citrus lane annies cheddar bunnies creativity for kids construction set ouchies jr truck town bandages barefoot books tractor puzzle

We received:
Ouchies Jr. Trucktown bandages We can always use more bandages!($6.49)

Annies Cheddar Bunnies
We love these and already buy them. ($3?)
Barefoot books puzzle ($14.99)
Creativity for kids construction set -Auds loves anything he can get his hands on that is coloring, so this is perfect for his interests. ($7.95)
clean well citrus lane wipes
Not pictured with the rest:
Clean well all natural hand-sanitizing wipes ($4.99)
I loved these so much, I brought them out to the car the night we received our box for our “mini” roadtrip!
Now the best part:
fab kids citrus lane (2)
An insert from Fabkids to receive your first outfit for free! ($39.95) I couldn’t believe this offer! This more than paid for the box this month. I entered the “promo” code at checkout, and paid the $4.95 for shipping.
fab kids promo code citrus lane
I love this website and will definitely be ordering more outfits from here! Here’s the outfit we decided on:
fab kids citrus lane
I waited to do this review until we received our outfit from Fabkids, so you guys could check it out. Don’t worry if you aren’t subscribed to Citrus Orange, there’s still an awesome deal where you can get your first outfit for half off. To get 50% off your first outfit, click here

Here’s a cute kid that I know modeling his new outfit!
fab kids citrus lane outfit review
So far, I’m loving Fabkids. The outfit is adorable, high-quality, and shipped in 3 days!
Paid: $25 for box 1, total value: $72.42! (including subtracting the $4.95 we paid for shipping!

Box number 2- the bonus box (paid $12.50):
box 2
Goodbyn Bynto box for lunches ($9.50)
I love this, and can’t wait until he can use it for school! But for right now, it will be great for car rides!
Me4kids Cool it Buddy ($2.99) we can always use instant ice packs!
Just stawberries dried strawberries ($1) We love these! They taste great and are a good way to bring along healthy snacks that don’t have to be refrigerated. I already ordered more!
Goodbyn dishwasher-safe stickers ($3.50)
I can’t wait to let Auds decorate his Bynto box with these, he’s going to go crazy!
Melissa and Doug create a race car kit ($4.99)
Again, so perfect for Auden, he loves crafts and painting right now, so I know he’s going to love this one.

Paid $12.50 for box #2, total value: $21.98

So far, I’m loving citrus lane. I’ve been very impressed by everything in the boxes- everything is useful and fun for Auds to play with. If you’re interested in signing up, or giving Citrus lane as a gift, click here to get your first month $10 off!

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Kitchen Aid mixer deal $134!

Hey guys! I found a great deal in my email from Brads deals today- a Kitchen Aid blender for $134 from Kohls. Im going to start making more gluten-free baked items, and this would be great for baking in large quantities for the holidays. Here’s the link:
Dont forget to sign up for Ebates to save make an additional 6% back in cash, or around $10. AND if you’re a new customer, they also usually give you a $10 target gift card after you make your first purchase!
Here’s the link:

Silver KitchenAid Classic Plus 4.5-qt. Stand Mixer listed at $299.99 = $183.99 (use code RECESS)
+ $30 in Kohl’s Cash to use toward a future purchase
+ $20 Mail-In Rebate, which get you down to just $133.99
+$10 back from ebates
+$10 gift card from Ebates = $113.99 after additional discounts, not too shabby!


Conscious box review: Gluten free August 2013

So I signed up for a couple different subscription boxes. I wanted to see if any of these would work for our family, and I was also considering doing subscription boxes for potential Christmas/baby shower gift ideas. I think that instead of one gift, receiving a box every month for 3-6 months would be an awesome gift!

Conscious Box cost:
$19.99/month, including shipping
I used code “FIRSTBOXFREE” to bring the total down to $7.95 (for shipping)

What’s in it: All natural, Eco-friendly, full-size and sample-size products that are good for you and the earth. The website states that you can expect anywhere between 10 and 20 products in each box. This box had 15 samples. They have three box options: Regular, Gluten-free and Vegan. I subscribed to the Gluten-free box this month, but I might change my settings to the normal box to see what’s in it.
I love how beautifully presented the boxes are, and I’ll definitely be re-using the box. As an Eco-company, I’m not sure why they would use two boxes (there’s a box within the shipping box) but maybe it keeps stuff from spilling? Don’t know.


Happy tot Super toddler bars (2)
Barney Butter Almond butter
Kelapo coconut oil
MRM veggie protein

The Happy tot bars are great! Auden loved them and thought they tasted like Honey-nut cheerios! I can see the Hubs enjoying these too. I’m always looking for on-the-go healthy snacks for Auden.

The Barney butter was FANTASTIC. I’ve wanted to find a good almond butter for awhile and this one was great. I would definitely pick this up. I wish the sample was a little larger so I could have used more of it ๐Ÿ™‚

I haven’t tried the Kelapo coconut oil but I’ve wanted to cook with coconut oil for awhile as well. I hope I love this one!

Veggie protein… going to try this when Greg gets home… I’m just not sure. It’s a nice idea in theory, but I’m not a fan of powdered, drinkable anything. We’ll see.


Doctor’s best L-Theanine
MRM Relax-all with Phenibut
Fontus green apple throat lozenges
Herbal Zap immune support

I haven’t tried the L-theanine, which is supposed to help you relax (without drowsiness) and “reduces stress and tension.” L-Theanine is found in green tea. I have tried over and over again without success to enjoy green tea, so I’m hopeful I can get the benefits of green tea from these. I’ll update this post after I try them!

I probably will take the Relax-all tonight. I could always use some relaxation! The main ingredients are Phenibut (which is similar to the naturally occurring inhibitory neurotransmitter ฮณ-aminobutyric acid in your body) and L-Tryptophan (an essential amino acid- the stuff they say makes you tired after your thanksgiving dinner)

The Fontus green apple throat lozenges were good! I don’t have a sore throat currently, but I hate the taste of menthol so these are a good alternative!

Herbal zap Immune support- I’m not sick, but I’ll wait about a week into the fall semester and then I’ll give this product a try!
Suki body Butter Cream Salve
Runa Mint Guayusa Tea
Eco Dent: Toothpaste, Between! Gum, and Daily Rinse

The Suki body butter had a weird consistency at first, but you just have to warm it up. It smells incredible, like a spa, so far, so good!
I love black tea, but not mint. I will be passing the Runa mint Guayusa Tea on to a friend to review!
The toothpaste taste like baking soda, pure baking soda.
The Between! gum isn’t bad and I appreciate that they dont bleach it white with titanium dioxide, which is in most gum (and most bright white things) or use added sugar (real or fake). The color is a bit off-putting at first, but it tastes good, and it’s vegan. I’m not a vegan, but I don’t need animal products in my gum!
The mouthwash is minty and my mouth feels clean ๐Ÿ™‚


Here’s where I got confused. This was the only sample in the Conscious box other than the Happy Tot bars which was full-sized. As a 25 year-old, I can’t imagine this product will stay good another 20-25 years. I could pass it on, but I feel like I may offend someone by giving them this. If anyone is interested, let me know!

There was also a cute post-card of a dandelion. (Not pictured). I wanted to play Play-doh with my son instead. I barely use snail-mail except for invitations, so I think I’ll hang this one by my desk.

Thoughts: When I first saw my Conscious box waiting for me at the door, I was really excited. When I opened it up, I was a little disappointed. The packaging is beautiful, but the sample sizes are tiny and I would prefer less samples, that are larger-sized. I think I’ll give it one more month to decide if it’s a keeper or not!