Mother’s Day gifts from UncommonGoods

3 May

Disclosure: I was asked to collaborate on a sponsored post and/or review some home decor products from UncommonGoods. I selected a couple of products for my home, and I am not otherwise being compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

Mother’s Day has become a really special day for me, a day to celebrate the amazing and incredible job of being Mama to my sweet Anna and Elise.

The last two years, we have gone out for brunch as a family, and Christopher and the girls have spoiled me with cards and gifts. And this year, we will do much of the same.

But why not surprise the special mother or mother figure in your life with a unique gift from UncommonGoods?

UncommonGoods features unique jewelry, designer decor and tabletop items and handcrafted gifts. The company’s mission is to support and provide a platform for artists and designers; in fact, half of what the company sells is made by hand. Most of the jewelry, home decor and tabletop items are made in the United States, and about a third of its collection incorporates recycled and/or upcycled materials.

So awesome!

One of our big projects of late has been to finally get art on the walls of our living room. We recently got a new sectional and ottoman, and we recently bought an oversized framed print to hang on the largest expanse of wall–and both of those moves sparked my creative side. We settled on a color palate and a theme.

I selected two items from UncommonGoods to help achieve a unique modern, but cozy (not farmhouse or rustic, but not sleek or refined) look:

  • This really cool suspension bridge shelf here
  • This adorable heart marks the spot pillow here which comes with two buttons to sew onto the map

The bridge shelf has been hung as part of our travel-themed gallery wall, and currently, it holds some framed city coasters. The shelf is made of sturdy iron and is solid enough to hold several frames, candles, or even small houseplants. It will brilliantly complement our travel photos, many of which feature unique architectural wonders, such as the Eiffel Tower, Gateway Arch and Stonehenge (whenever we get them printed).

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The heart pillow sits atop the love seat–with the heart button sewn over Wisconsin–and will look great near the travel photos and with other uniquely patterned pillows (whenever we get around to that project). The pillow cover is made of a durable canvas-like material, and the map looks almost like counted cross-stitch, which lends a very homey feel to the item.

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UncommonGoods has great gifts for mothers. I found dozens of things that would have warmed my heart to receive, from hand-stitched tea towels to handmade jewelry to kitschy knick-knacks.

See their home decor collection here or find a one-of-a-kind personalized gift here.

UncommonGoods has such a wonderful and wide variety of fun and unique items; I know where to return for gifts–whether for myself or for the special people in my life.

Review: truBrain energy drinks

21 Apr

Disclosure: I was sent a box of truBrain energy drinks to review. I am not otherwise being compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

I’m an ambitious person. I set goals, I write out to-do lists, and I crush them.

How do I do it?

While some people might swear by a certain number of hours of sleep per night, or those two cups of coffee in the morning, or a sweaty workout over the lunch hour, others turn to energy drinks. I tend to fall into the former camp — the au natural ways of staying alert and focused. But I can’t deny the allure of the latter camp.

Ambitious people want to “be somebody”–they want to do more, do things smarter and better, and exceed goals.  We believe the only weapon for ambitious people to get more important things in their day now is being efficient.  Just putting in more hours is not a unique advantage anymore.

The neuroscientists at truBrain want to help people be present and productive, and their line of energy drinks combine active nootropics to improve focus and alertness with nutrients to help reduce stress, retrieve memories and improve certain cognitive functions.

You can drink the liquid straight, sort of like an energy shot, or you can combine it in a smoothie, juice, or other beverage.

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I tried one straight, but after that, I combined it with hot herbal tea or with hot lemon water. I didn’t care for the taste, which I found artificial, bitter, and almost chemical.

The drinks contain active nootropics Oxiracetam + Piracetam for focus and concentration; Caffeine + L-Theanine for alertness and synergy; and Uridine + Centrophenoxine for cognition and memory. The drinks also contain Magnesium + Tyrosine for stress reduction and vigilance and Carnitine + Citicoline for energy and mood. The drinks are flavored with some familiar ingredients: monk fruit, mangosteen, cactus, natural cane sugar, and blue agave.

The shots tasted awful plain, but somewhat better when combined with tea or lemon water.

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The question is did my “performance” improve? I didn’t notice much difference.

The scientists at truBrain recommend regularly use (about a week) to achieve desired results.

I used the drinks for about 10 days. I still didn’t notice an improvement in my energy or productivity.

A box of 30 drinks is $65 a month or $70 for a one-time order. Boxes of 20 or 60 also are available.

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But, if you’re curious about truBrain energy drinks or any of the other truBrain products and want to try them, use the code TB751PLU1 for 15% off your order.

Pear-Ginger Granola with Dried Cranberries

8 Apr

Granola is one of those things that often masquerades as a health food, but really is just a sugar bomb.

I love it, but I try to steer clear of those that are high in calories and, especially, sugar, and I try to aim for those that are naturally sweetened.

Homemade granola most often satisfies those requirements.

My dad and I made some hard pear cider, and we had some pear and apple juice leftover. I didn’t know how I would use pear juice, but I saved it. I had bought some snack packages of freeze-dried fruit in an attempt to get the girls to eat better, but they rejected them and so I had some freeze-dried pears leftover, too. I knew they would come in handy, so I saved them for the right occasion.

I stumbled across an apple-cinnamon granola recipe that called for apple cider and thought I easily could adapt that to a pear-ginger granola recipe using the pear juice. I tweaked a few other things and ended up with a delightfully crunchy and chewy granola that is entirely naturally sweetened and clocks in at a paltry 87 calories for a 1/4 cup serving.

It’s wonderful with vanilla yogurt, but also would be delicious with a bit of milk.

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Pear-Ginger Granola with Dried Cranberries

(adapted from Eat Good 4 Life)

Ingredients

3/4 cup pear juice

1/4 cup apple juice

3/4 cup old-fashioned oats

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1/3 cup chopped almonds

8 tsp (2 2/3 tbsp) honey

2 tsp olive oil

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 cup freeze-dried pear slices, chopped

1/3 cup dried cranberries

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Directions

In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the pear and apple juices and cook until it has reduced to 1/3 cup.

In the meantime, in a large bowl, combine the oats, walnuts, and almonds.

 

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. When the juice has reduced to 1/3 cup, turn off the heat and add the honey, oil, and spices; whisk to combine. Pour the honey mixture over the oat mixture and toss until the oats and nuts are evenly coated.

Spread the granola onto a large baking sheet and bake for 40-50 minutes, tossing halfway, until the granola has browned a bit.

Cool the granola to room temperature, then add the freeze-dried pears and cranberries, and toss to combine.

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Review: brüd Performance Coffee by truBrain

8 Mar

Disclosure: I was sent a box of brüd Performance Coffee to review. I am not otherwise being compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

Some people complain that coffee–even one or two cups–makes them jittery and overly wired. I am not one of those people. I can have at least two cups of coffee and not feel shaky–a little digestively challenged (ifyouknowwhatimean), yes, but jittery, no.

The neuroscientists (yep, not foodies, not coffeephiles–nerds!) at truBrain set out to create a coffee without the crash, without the bitterness, but with potency.

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Enter: brüd Performance Coffee.

brüd Performance Coffee is comprised of two elements–the beans and truBrain’s specially formulated focus sticks.

From the truBrain website:

brüd beans undergo a special cold marinade preroast process with trained plant stems, which removes all bitterness, leaving behind nothing but goodness. All brüd beans are roasted within 48 hours of being shipped to customers.

The focus sticks harness the altertness of caffeine with nutrients (L-Theanine and Alpha GPC) proven for improved steady focus.

We used our brüd coffee just as we would any other coffee–ground fresh in the morning and drip brewed in our Hamilton Beach BrewStation 12-cup coffeemaker.

Both Christopher and I agreed the coffee tasted good–not bitter, but not bland, similar to a light or maybe even medium roast national-brand coffee.

Christopher likes his coffee doctored up with flavored creamer, while I prefer mine, usually, black, but sometimes with half and half (or, if we have some leftover, and I’m feeling particularly sinful, heavy cream!). For purposes of this experiment, he used creamer and I did not, and I alternated using and not using the focus sticks.

I thought the focus sticks, on their own, tasted sweet, but not syrupy, saccharine sweet, just very delicate, but added to the coffee, sometimes tasted a bit medicinal. Was it because of the ingredients in the sticks themselves or because of some “reaction” between the coffee and the sticks or simply because I don’t care for coffee sweetened simply with a sugar or similar sweetener?

Of course, the big question is did our “performance” improve? That’s a tough one to answer. In all honesty, I didn’t noticed a marked or measurable difference from drinking our regular coffee. Coffee is so much a part of our morning routine that the true and better test might have been to compare a few days without coffee to a few days with brüd + focus sticks.

(The folks at truBrain also note that because the nootropics, the smart drugs or cognitive enhancers, are in the focus sticks, one would have to regularly use the sticks for about a week before noticing any results. I probably should have been more diligent about using them, but I just do not often add much to my coffee, so that was a change from my routine.)

So, while the jury agrees the taste is good, the jury is still out on its purported “performance-enhancing” effects.

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And in case anyone is curious, the price point alone is a tick in the negative column. A 12-ounce bag of whole beans and 20 focus sticks is $35 a month. In our house, 12 ounces of beans would never last a month; we go through about two bags of beans a month–and we only spend $3.99 (Aldi’s Barissimo morning roast) a bag, sometimes $5 or $8 (Eight o’ Clock brand or Starbucks brand, only with a coupon).

Say the coffee is comparable to Starbucks coffee. Starbucks retails for about $8 a bag. So if you take the coffee out of the price, the focus sticks alone cost $27 (or $1.35 per stick).

For questionable effects on alertness, focus, and productivity, I’d rather rely on my regular coffee and exercise for my energy boost.

But, if you’re curious about brüd Performance Coffee or any of the other truBrain products and want to try them, use the code TB751PLU1 for 15% off your order.

Back on Track – Week 2

1 Feb

Another decent week on the books!

  • Exercise:
    • Run three times a week, in “training” for the Yeti Trail Series. I ran 4.5 miles Tuesday, 6 on Thursday, and 6 again (outside this time) on Saturday. My cold/sinus infection reared its ugly head late this past week, so I felt pretty miserable Thursday and Saturday.
    • Strength train via BodyPump two times a week. Pumped twice this week!
    • Practice yoga once a week. I squeezed it in while the girls napped Friday.
  • Nutrition:
    • Drink a concoction of apple cider vinegar and lemon water every morning. Check! I don’t think I’m going to continue this, as I don’t really see or feel any marked benefits from it.
    • Eat a vegetable at breakfast every day. Check! Again, still not as easy as I thought. I rotated between green smoothies and a “hidden greens” chocolate oatmeal, and I made high-protein zucchini waffles for a special breakfast Friday.
    • Have higher-protein snacks in between meals; try to have a fruit or vegetable with at least one snack every day. I had a lot of fruit this week, in addition to nuts and cheese. I had a bowl of cereal a few times, too, as well as crackers, both usually as my before-bed snacks.
    • Stick to higher-protein, lower-carb lunches and dinners. Check!
    • Have dessert only once a week. I slipped a little this week: I wasn’t feeling well later in the week, so I treated myself to an oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie Friday night and again Saturday night. Dessert this weekend was creme brulee, which was fantastic and totally worth the wait. My sweet tooth, though, seemed to act up on account of being under the weather.

Overall, I’d say I did pretty well again–another solid B+ with about a B+ effort.

A few highlights from last week:

  • Pearl couscous soup: This soup was great to have on hand for lunches this past week. Tasty and filling, thanks to plenty of veggies, fiber-full red beans, and whole wheat pearl couscous. It clocked in at only 174 calories per 1 1/2 cups, with just 10g protein.
  • Asian chopped salad with sesame vinaigrette: This salad was a beast! It was ginormous and required lots of chewing because of the hearty red cabbage, crisp snap peas, and sweet peppers and carrots. We added chicken on top for an extra protein boost, and mandarin oranges for sweetness, so it came in at 357 calories, with 23g protein.
  • Hidden greens chocolate oatmeal: Real talk: Zucchini and oatmeal go together very, very well. Think bread, muffins, even baked oatmeal. But zucchini did not jibe as well with regular stovetop-cooked oats. The texture, while tolerable, was not appealing. I was glad to get my greens in a pretty significant amount first thing in the morning, so I might make these again, but next time, I’ll “shred” the zucchini more finely in the food processor.
  • High-protein zucchini waffles: These were wonderful–especially warm with a good 2 Tbsp of real maple syrup. They reminded me of zucchini bread in flavor, but had more density. They clocked in at 421 calories, with 21g protein. Maple syrup adds another 100 calories. It’s a hefty breakfast, but it’s got plenty of staying power.
  • Beef taco bowls: A low-carb twist on the typical burrito or taco bowl, these were pretty good, more so, once you get past the strange texture of sauteed cabbage and carrots in your taco meat. We served these with a sprinkling of cheese and 1 ounce of blue corn tortilla chips; I had mine with a blob of guacamole, too. Stats: 446 calories, 31g protein.
  • Chicken fajitas: These were fan-freakin’-tastic! I served them for dinner with Christopher’s parents, and they went over very, very well. The recipe is so simple: Saute a boatload of seasoned peppers, onions, and mushrooms, then sear some seasoned chicken, and combine. We served them with small soft corn tortillas and guacamole. I didn’t even miss the rice or beans!

Some other observations:

  • I still can’t kick my TV-watching snack habit. At least most days, I made decent choices, or stuck to one serving of my snack.
  • If it’s in the house, it’s in my mouth. The mini Reese’s peanut butter cups and Hersey’s Kisses are gone. We munched on those Saturday night and Sunday.
  • I weighed in at 138.6 last Monday and at 138 this morning.

 

Here’s the plan for this week:

  • Roman-style chicken
  • Lasagna
  • Stuffed pepper soup

Here’s to Week 3!

Back on track – Week 1

25 Jan

About 10 days ago, I laid out my plan to get back on track: curb my sweet tooth, eat more protein and vegetables, and just feel better about myself.

So, how did I do with my goals?

  • Exercise:
    • Run three times a week, in “training” for the Yeti Trail Series. I missed a run because the girls and Christopher had the stomach flu much of the week, and we weren’t leaving the house.
    • Strength train via BodyPump two times a week. I missed a class for the same reason.
    • Practice yoga once a week. I skipped yoga in favor of a run Friday.
  • Nutrition:
    • Drink a concoction of apple cider vinegar and lemon water every morning. Check! I don’t know that it’s “helping” per se. I’ll continue it for another week, and I’ll re-evaluate then.IMG_20160117_122905Eat a vegetable at breakfast every day. Check! Not as easy as I thought. I rotated between a frittata with broccoli in it, green smoothies, and green overnight oats
    • Have higher-protein snacks in between meals; try to have a fruit or vegetable with at least one snack every day. I chose hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, peanut butter, almonds, and cheese. I also a few times chose cereal, popcorn, or pretzels/crackers. I find it’s hard to resist grazing when the girls are munching, because sometimes, my eating prompts them to eat — and when you’re dealing with sick toddlers, well, you throw the rules out the window. I also find it’s hard to resist the traditional after-dinner snacks of cheese and crackers. I will give myself credit, though, for sticking to one serving of those snacks.
    • Stick to higher-protein, lower-carb lunches and dinners. Check, with the exception of Saturday, when I ate over a pound of fresh pineapple for lunch. I ate buffalo chicken soup and celery for lunch most days, and a chicken dish with a vegetable on the side for dinner every day but Saturday, when we went out for pizza.
    • Have dessert only once a week. On Monday, I was given some homemade chocolate-raspberry cheesecake and immediately covered it in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer to save for later in the week. On Saturday night, Christopher and I split the cheesecake, and it was divine! I only slipped twice: on Friday, mid-morning, I had three Dove chocolates (and while they were good, they weren’t as good as I remember) and then, around lunch, I had 1.5 servings of Annie’s bunny cookies. I blame my run-ger, as well as a long, arduous week, for those slips.

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Overall, I’d say I did pretty well. Maybe a B+, but a definite A for effort, especially given the circumstances.

Since I forgot to post my meal plan for the week, here are the highlights:

  • Cheesy ham and broccoli frittata: Super tasty, super satisfying for 415 calories and with 35g protein!
  • Blueberry, avocado, and spinach power smoothie: Very tasty and very filling, but surprising in nutritional stats–529 calories, 21g fat and 31g protein. Later in the week, I left out the scoop of protein powder, which brought the calories and protein down a bit.
  • Stoplight mango green smoothie: Another tasty and satisfying smoothie, but much lower on the nutritional stats. It’s weird to eat smoothies in the winter. But it’s wonderful to get a sweet breakfast without any refined sugar and a boost of (green) veggies.
  • Green Monster overnight oats: A way I can eat my greens and my oats in the morning? I thought this was a nice compromise. And while it tasted fine–like a banana, mostly–it needed more oats. And while it clocked in at about 400 calories, it could have used some toppings to make it more satisfying in terms of the eating experience.
  • Buffalo chicken soup: Topped only with green onions and served with celery on the side. Pretty light, but really yummy. Nice shot of protein at 23g.
  • Tandoori grilled chicken with Indian-spiced cauliflower rice: This meal was big on volume and low in calories! The chicken was incredible–juicy and flavorful. And the cauliflower rice was subtly spiced and a nice change from white rice.
  • Hot and sweet ginger-garlic chicken with stir-fried sugar snap peas: This meal was all about flavor! The pairing of sweet and spicy chicken and salty and spicy peas is on point. (I used chicken breasts, cut in half width-wise, instead of thighs, by the way.)

Some other observations:

  • I crave sugar and carbs most when I am tired.
  • I can’t kick my TV-watching snack habit. At least most days, I made decent choices.
  • I weighed in at 140 on Tuesday and at 138.6 this morning.

One more thing:

I used the Mayo Clinic caloric needs calculator, which takes into account age, height, weight, and activity level. I am 30, 5’4″ and about 138 pounds, and I selected:

Active: Include at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week, or 20 minutes of vigorous activity at least three days a week.

The result was a whopping 2050 calories. I was literally shocked! I guess it’s no surprise that MyFitnessPal’s suggestion for about 1400 seems low, even on days I don’t exercise. My body needs about 2000 calories just to function most days…

I used another calculator, and selected that I do intense (45 min. with elevated heart rate) activity 5 days a week, and the result was 2174 calories, or 1739 to lose weight.

Another said 2081.

The takeaway is that I probably realistically need about 1900-2100 calories most days. That’s quite a change from aiming for 1300-1600! And maybe that explains why I’m still hungry, even after dinner a lot of nights.

So, here’s the meal plan for this week:

  • More of the hot and sweet ginger-garlic chicken with stir-fried sugar snap peas
  • Asian chopped salads, topped with leftover ginger-garlic chicken
  • Beef taco bowls

Plus, a pearl couscous, vegetable, and bean soup for lunches.

Here’s to Week 2!

Getting back on track

15 Jan

I know, I know. I’m two weeks late for the New Year’s resolution train. And I’m full of excuses reasons as to why that train came and left the station without me aboard.

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Until today. Well, until Sunday, when all of this “getting back on track” truly starts for this girl.

Here’s my plan to kick curb my sweet tooth, eat more protein and vegetables, and hopefully, feel my best from the inside out:

  • Exercise:
    • Run three times a week, in “training” for the Yeti Trail Series, which has two remaining runs — a 15K on Feb. 6 and a 20K (almost a half marathon) on March 5.
    • Strength train via BodyPump two times a week.
    • Practice yoga once a week.
  • Nutrition:
    • Drink a concoction of apple cider vinegar and lemon water every morning.
    • Eat a vegetable at breakfast every day.
    • Have higher-protein snacks, not sugary granola bars, in between meals; try to have a fruit or vegetable with at least one snack every day.
    • Stick to higher-protein, lower-carb lunches and dinners.
    • Have dessert only once a week — and truly look forward to it and enjoy it!
      • Say no to treats leftover from events at work. Say no to packaged/processed goodies.
      • Say yes only if the treat is homemade and try to save it for my once-a-week dessert.
  • Accountability:
    • Sign up for the Pact app.
      • Commit to working out five days a week with a $5 charge per missed workout.
      • Commit to logging my food via MyFitnessPal seven days a week with a $5 charge per missed day.
      • Commit to eating 20 fruits or vegetables a week with a $5 charge per missed serving.
    • Create and share weekly meal plans on the blog; share weekly recaps on the blog.

I don’t really have a goal to lose weight, although I’d like to shed those few holiday pounds that crept back on. I really just want to feel better — feel healthy, feel strong, feel capable, feel proud of my choices, feel like a role model to my family and friends (especially my girls, who even though they are only 2 years old, do notice and follow in my footsteps), feel downright good.

If you’re interested in joining me, leave a comment here on the blog, or find me on Instagram (@kaylabee0418). I’d love the support, and I’d love to support you.

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