Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Crazy Idea for a Christmas Tree "Planter"

During our first year of "shacking," Justin and I decided we wanted a Christmas tree.  Even though we were living in sin, we were super excited about decorating our duplex in celebration of baby Jesus.   In all honesty, it probably had more to do with the fact that I love to decorate and I finally had some one to split the cost with ;-)

Fortunately, our local Tru Value was running an incredible deal on an artificial, pre-lit tree that year. We went to the store and left with "our" very first Christmas tree!  It wasn't the most realistic tree that a person could buy, but it fit our budget.  Next on our list was a quick-trip to Walmart for some decorations and Hobby Lobby for the tree skirt.

Several years later and I would love to have a new--more realistic looking--Christmas tree.  Only problem?  I don't have new Christmas tree money!  I have completely stopped walking past the display of Christmas trees at all the stores because if I see something, I'm reallllllllllllllllly bad about justifying why I need it.

However, I can thank Ballard Designs for coming to the rescue and inspiring me to "renew" the look of our tree.  Last year, they featured all these amazing tree planters/urns in their catalogs.  I had never seen such a thing before and was in awe--I loved how they were a bit unexpected but also didn't take up as much floor space as a traditional tree skirt.

The catch? They start at $100 (without shipping) and never go on sale.

Knowing there was no way I could buy one, I decided I would figure out how to make one on my own.  Starting this Fall, I stalked Home Depot until their planters went on clearance.

For $30, I picked up a green urn almost identical to the image shown just above ^.   Now I just had to patiently wait until Christmas was close enough to start experimenting with my crazy idea.

After 40 pounds of quick-setting concrete (which came at no cost due to our Ace Preferred Customer reward points), Vasoline, saran wrap, a blow dryer, 3 patio chairs and an evening of 35 degree weather, I now have my Ballard Design-inspired urn at a third of the cost :-)

Thus far, the planter is working out GREAT!  And no, I'm not quite ready for the big reveal ;-)  Unforunately, our Christmas decorating is taking much longer this year.  If I ever finish decorating the tree, I'll be sure to post a picture of the final product!

In case you're interested, here's a somewhat basic guide to making your own planter:
--Track down a fiberglass pot.  Don't use a ceramic or terra cot pot as it will become too heavy!  Ballard's now carries a wooden, square pot that is really neat--if you like this look, just make sure the planter has some type of liner.
--Find yourself somebody strong to help carry the heavy stuff and do all the stirring.
--I took the bottom part of our Christmas tree and decided how far down in the pot it needed to go.  Luckily, a 40-lb bag of cement made enough to reach the level I wanted.
--Wrap the base of your tree in Vasoline and wrap with Saran Wrap.  If the tubing is hollow, make sure you also cover the opening.  The saran wrap and vasoline will guarantee that you will be able to remove the tree from the dried cement.
--Mix the concrete in the planter per the directions on the bag.  Make sure your planter does not have an open hole in the bottom when you do this!  Once the concrete is mixed, insert your tree into the gooey stuff and find a way to hold the tree in place.  I used our 3 old patio chairs.  Quick-crete takes a while to set and you don't want to be there overnight.  Apparently, using a blow-drier does NOT speed up the process.  Also, make sure the air temperature is not too cold.
--After 24 hours, the cement should be cured and you're good to go!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Some of My Newest Favorite Things

It's been a while since I last featured one of my most favorite things.  In fact, it's been so long that I have found bunches of new "favorite things."  But to spare you from boredom, I will only highlight a select few of my newest favorite things!

Redken Wax Blast...when I cut-off my hair, my stylist used this spray at the very end.  I was amazed at what it did!  It added tons of texture and body to my hair, which is quite hard to do considering how fine it is.  I HAD to buy it.  Per Redken's website, it "adds body and dimension and creates a choppy, satin-matte nish. Innovative aerosol wax provides the finish of a wax with the convenience and lightness of a spray."  I'm in love.  I would use it every single day...However, I'm cheap so I only use it a couple times a week.  But it rocks!!!

Oreo's Uh-Oh Golden Chocolate Creme Cookies...I've never been a huge fan of traditional Oreo cookies--I liked the creme filling but I always found the chocolate wafers to be too rich.  Several weeks ago, I stopped by the store to pick up some food to take to a friend's house...I stumbled upon the Oreo's Uh-Oh Golden Chocolate Creme cookies.  Oh. My. Lawd.  They remind me of Keebler's EL Fudge cookies but even better.  I could get fat off of just these cookies alone :-)

Cover Girl LashBlast Mascara...I have spent years trying to find a good mascara.  Especially one that did not clump; did not smear/run but was able to easily wash off and; gave my scrawny lashes some ooomph.  Well, this LashBlast stuff does the trick.  I thought my Mary Kay was the best mascara on the market but one day I ran out so I picked-up a tube of this stuff at the grocery store.  Now I'm hooked!  I have had several people ask if I'm wearing false eyelashes (I'm going to take that as a compliment...) and Justin is convinced I am using that Latisse eyelash growth serum advertised by Claire Danes.  Nope, it's just my $7 tube of Cover Girl!

Grandessa Extra Garlic Hummus...Our household is a huge fan of Aldi's.  It's great for staple pantry items and the random seasonal stuff that they carry.  Turns out, they have a GREAT hummus in their refrigerated section.  It's the Extra Garlic hummus and you will not be disappointed by it.  It's my go-to snack anytime I have to take something to church, a meeting, whatever.  And everyone LOVES it.  At $1.69 per tub, it can't be beat--especially considering other brands of hummus can cost nearly $5 a tub. 

And there ya have it, folks--some of my newest favorite things!  I hope each and every one have you have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Not-So-Ugly UGGS

Several years ago, I was in need of some WARM "snow" boots.  I had a nice pair of black dress boots but they were so very inappropriate for snow and ice.

By this point in time, UGG boots were here and they appeared as if they were here to stay.  I hated them.  They were UGG-ly and I could not stand it when girls wore them with short skirts.  To this day, I'm still convinced you had to be a single gal to understand that fashion statement.  It's safe to assume that I  definitely was not single...or inspired by the look.

A few weeks later, I wound up in the boots section of Dillard's and saw a fun, structured, lamb-fur lined, black suede boot complete with a stainless steel zipper that ran up the backside and had metal accents.  It wasn't your typical "snow boot" and it was calling my name.

Turns out, it was an UGG boot! Wth?! I was tempted to protest the boot but I decided to try it on for the helluvit. Oh-my-gawd it was soft...and warm...and super comfortable! Within minutes, it was boxed up and Santa was footing the bill ;-)

The boot proved to be worth the money--and then some.  The winter that year was terrible and this past winter was absolutely terrible.  I am pretty sure my UGGs were my most worn shoe during the nasty months of cold winds, rain, sleet, ice and snow.  I became a firm believer of the UGG brand!

But I have to admit--I was shocked by their newest "introduction" to the line-up this Fall.  Check out these super adorable loafers!  And the best part is, they don't even resemble the stereotypical space-boot!
Santa, this time played by Justin, bought them for me when he returned from storm work in Connecticut.  He likes to say it was my "present" for helping out with all his stuff when he was gone.  However, I think it's because I no longer could find my Sketchers--thus, leaving me without any kind of casual shoe.  I had them for years and they suddenly disappeared.  I'm convinced the ghost that stole my Gap sweater, grey corduroys and green tank top last winter also stole my Sketchers while they were at it.  Except for I still had my Sketchers this Spring...Anywho, I obviously have a hard time keeping track of my clothes.  Did that just come out wrong?!

To sum it up, these babies are uh-mazing.  They have the lamb-fur lining, the foot bed is incredibly soft and they are just plain cute.  I realize they're a bit "predictable" for my style but I have been in dire need of something to wear to the grocery store, football/basketball games, Casual Fridays in the classroom and anywhere I wouldn't wear my dress shoes.  But the best part?  They're not UGG-ly!

Friday, November 11, 2011

School Lunch--The Past Few Weeks

It's been several months now since I started eating lunch with some of my kiddos.  It's only once a week, but that's often enough for me!

4 weeks ago, they had Chicken & Noodles over mashed potatoes.  I was already sitting at the table with the other "sack lunches" when the hot lunch kids came over to join us.  On their trays was the Chicken and Noodles, mashed potatoes and milk.  Nothing else.  I asked how they were able to get away with not taking any of the other food (fruit, veggies, roll) because when I was in school, we had to take a certain amount of the food.
Google Images

Turns out, they had run out of the fruit, veggies and rolls by the time our grade level came to the cafeteria.  The students claimed "it happens all the time" and I was worried they were exaggerating. Nope.  They were left with only noodles and potatoes for lunch that day.  After talking with several parents, they also attested to the cafeterias running out of food before all the kids went through the line.  It's been known to happen on any given day--just not when that particular day's lunch is "popular."

WTH?   I especially feel for the students who depend on the school for their meals.  Some kids can go home and have a hearty after-school snack to hold them over until supper, but that's not true for a large number of our students.  Regardless of one's socioeconomic status, it's ludacris that they're running out of food.

Enough of my rant...

The next week was Quesadillas.  I have to admit, at first I had no idea what it was.  I thought maybe it was a sliced calzone--there was a crust on both the top and bottom with a cheesy filling in the middle, served in slices.  Nope, it was a quesadilla!  Once I found that out, I could somewhat see a resemblance...but it still didn't quite look like a quesadilla.
Google Images

After some brief questioning, I learned that some students love the quesadilla while some students can't stand them.  Pretty typical of school food!

Then this week...I was actually excited for this week!  I had seen in our daily announcements that Thursday was Papa John's pizza with various side dishes.  Heck yes, sign me up!

It's fair to say that I had psyched myself up to actually EAT the school's lunch.  I went to the ATM so I could pay for my lunch and I was mentally prepared for the hives and headache that would come with eating the pizza.  I was ready to spend some time interacting with the kids while standing in line!

Come to find out, I was duped.  It was Papa John's Day at the school where my office is...NOT the school I eat at!  I was not even smart enough to develop a Plan B so I was stuck eating the school's lunch--tomato soup, cold ham & cheese sandwich (no mayo), fresh broccoli, carrots, mixed fruit and Cheez-Its.

Google Images

I have never liked tomato soup--let alone, school tomato soup.  It was this weird, frothy consistency.  However, I was starving so I ate my sandwich, broccoli and carrots and returned the uneaten bag of Cheez-Its.  Needless to say, I was happy when work was over so that I could grab a snack and take my Benadryl!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Growing" to Great Lengths--The "I Chopped it Off!" Edition

I have had short hair most of my life.  When my husband and I got engaged, I decided to grow it out just for the helluvit.  I was more than content being a short-haired bride but I wanted to challenge myself and see how long I could handle growing my hair.

In case you haven't been privvy to my progress, you can check out the most recent update HERE.

Almost 6 weeks ago, it was this long...

And for the first time since I could remember, I could throw it in a ponytail and go...

I loved wearing a ponytail.  In fact, I found that I wore my hair pulled back more than I wore it down. 

And then one day, I woke up and couldn't stand having hair on my neck, shoulders or hanging in my face...

Off to the salon I went and next thing ya know, I had chopped off the back but left some length in the front.  Afterwards, my hair looked like this:

It felt 10x better...but then a few weeks later, I realized I hated my bangs...I hated the akward length and the style was just plain...I wanted my short hair back!!!

I should have known better than to ever let a pair of scissors get near my head.  But being the stubborn Scorpio that I am, I was DONE with the "long" hair and there was no convincing me otherwise.  I was on a slippery slope.

I refrained for as long as I could...but then I picked up the phone and made an appointment for the next day.  The next afternoon rolled around and after sitting in a chair for 2.5 hours with a scissor-weilding stylist, I left with with short hair!

I love having my short hair back.  It literally takes no time at all to blow-dry my hair and run the flat iron through it. The time saved in the mornings is enough to convince me to forget about ever having "long" hair again!  But hey, it was fun while it lasted and I can always say "I tried" growing it out :-)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ways to Save--Cleaning Products

I would be lying if I said I have spent my whole weekend, thus far, cleaning.  In my mind, I've been busy dusting/vacuuming/scrubbing/etc but really, I've been having more fun thinking about decorating the house for Christmas!

In case some of you may BE busy cleaning--or thinking about cleaning--I thought I'd pass along some cheap tips I learned this summer.

Have you ever received one of those emails with the Top 100 Uses for Baking Soda...Top 100 Uses for Vinegar, etc???

I have--and I immediately delete it because I will never remember each and every use for the ingredients!

I'm more the Google-and-Find-Out type of person...especially on those days where I realize I'm out of a cleaning product, my hair and make-up are a wreck so there's no way I'm going to the store.  Here are some quick-fixes for store bought cleaners...most of the ingredients should already be in your pantry!

Stove Top Cleaner:
For those of us who own a smooth-top range, you probably already know that the bottles of stovetop cleaner are NOT cheap!

The alternative:

I had a hard time believing baking soda only would clean up the nasty burnt-on messes, but it did!  In fact, we rediscovered some of the "burner circles" that had disappeared long ago and the stovetop looked cleaner than ever before.  But the best part--my hands felt like they'd just had a manicure :-)  For the super easy instructions, check out:

Furniture Polish:
Our house is always dusty and I'm constantly out of furniture polish.  Not that I'm a big fan of furniture polish, anyhow--it always seems to leave a greasy, dull appearance on wooden surfaces.

The alternative...

Mix 1 cup olive oil with 1/4 cup vinegar; pour into spray bottle for use.  The best part--it doesn't leave behind any greasy residue!

Pet Stains:
I discovered this recipe when one of our pets decided it would be great fun to potty on our area rug...It's almost like they sensed I was out of store bought carpet cleaner! 

This particular recipe seems to combine several different cleaning methods into one...It can take some time to clean up the mess, but it works really well!  Basically, mix equal parts water and white vinegar; treat the affected area and blot dry.  Apply a handful of baking soda over the affected area and drizzle it with 1/4 C. hydrogen peroxide mixed with 1t. liquid dish soap.  Work it in with a brush or your fingers to dissolve the baking soda. Blot again and allow it to dry. Once dry, vacuum up the dried baking soda--both the stain AND smell will be gone!  Sure as heck beats paying $5/bottle of "Pet" carpet cleaner and running out after just a few spritzes.

Hopefully, some of these tips will be helpful.  It's always nice having a chemical-free cleaning option or just knowing how to clean something without having to make an impromptu grocery store run!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We Are What We Eat--Wendy's Chili

The weather took a turn for the worse today.  Just yesterday, we enjoyed temperatures in the mid-70s and sun...by this afternoon, the temperature had dropped to 39 degrees with overcast skies, rain and snow on the way.

When the weather takes a turn for the worse, I always crave CHILI!!!

And to be honest, sometimes I just don't have the time/energy/forsight to get a big pot of chili going.  Therefore, I rely on my old standby to satisfy my craving...

Wendy's Chili!

Last time I wrote about a fast food joint, I picked on Dairy Queen's Chicken Strip Basket and how awful it is for your waistline.  However, this time I'm changing things up and hopefully spreading some joyous news!

For most Americans, they equate Wendy's to the square-shaped hamburger patties that ole' Dave Thomas made famous.  To be quite honest, I've never been much of a hamburger person.  I probably eat 2, maybe 3 hamburgers each year.  So for me, I equate Wendy's with their chili.

When I was in college, you could still get the small chili for 99-cents.  All of a sudden, they put their Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe on the value menu for 99-cents, pushing the cost of their chili to $1.19!  I felt bad for the girl working the window that day because she got an earful from me about how it was quite crappy to raise the price of a healthy option JUST to lower the price of some junk food.  She looked at me like I was half-crazy, gave me my $1.19 chili and I drove off flaming hot.  And if you haven't noticed, it still irritates me!

Believe it our not, but Wendy's chili is pretty darn healthy and is a great option for those weekday lunches.  The meat is actually ground turkey and you can see the beans and veggies--quite surprising for a fast food chain!  Oh, and it's hella good--especially if you ask for several packets of their chili sauce!  If I were still single, I would be tempted to buy up a week's worth of chilis and keep them in my fridge for an evening meal.  That's not weird, is it?

Here are some quick nutrition facts:
Small Chili
210 calories
6 grams fat
21 grams carbohydrates
17 grams protein

Large Chili
310 calories
9 grams fat
31 grams carbohydrates
26 grams protein

If you wanted to be really "bad," you could add a Junior Frosty (no, I did not say a medium or large!) to your meal for only 170 calories and 4.5 grams of fat.  If you ordered the small chili to go with your mini Frosty, you could have your meal for less than 400 calories, about 10 grams of fat and spend only $2.50!  Did you know that just the baked potato alone has 320 calories and 63 grams of carbohydrates???  Who wants to eat a bland potato when you could slurp down some chocolatey goodness instead?!

Truth be told, not all fast-food options are going to cause your waistline to expand and your arteries to become clogged...and sometimes they can warm your soul on a cold "winter" night.  But as always, it's about portion control and remembering we are what we eat!