Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dumbed Down And Numbed By Time And Age

Image via Google
Wow. Another year has come and gone. I am actually glad. 2013 was not the best to say the least. It was a tough year around for most people with regards to health, happiness, economics, politics and so much more.

Maybe you weren't hit too hard with 2013's problems or came out unscathed. It had to still affect you in someway.

That gallon of gas you used to get to the shopping mall went up .42. Your favorite cup of coffee went up by .05. That dress you've been eying never really went on sale. These all seem so trivial but there was an enormous amount of people who perhaps lost their jobs, their homes, their livelihood, their loved ones and their way. Somehow, you had to have had struggles and challenges no matter big or small.

With every new year, we set out with a lofty set of goals; get fit, eat healthy, quit a bad habit, save more, love more, whatever. It's nice to start fresh in a new year. It's a clean slate, a new beginning. It reminds us that it's okay to start over and to reset ourselves and our lives. This year maybe set out for smaller goals in smaller lapses of time. Let's really savor this year, 2014, and enjoy each day that is presented to us. We're not getting any younger. Each minute that goes by should be celebrated in the present, not in a dreamy manner for the future. And each minute that has passed us, should be remembered and learned from. 2013 was definitely a year of struggle. 2014 should be a year of strength, creative thinking and progress.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Four Things Your Pets Want This Holiday Season & Beyond!

Image via Google
We are in the holiday home stretch and almost to the beginning of a New Year. But have we forgotten about our furry friends? Maybe you received a new pet for the holidays. Here are 4 things your pets want this holiday season:

Unconditional Love
Sure, it's easy to say or do, even as a human. But sometimes you just can't help but be angry when your entire loaf of bread has been devoured by counter surfers or there's an unwelcome present in the corner of the living room. Our pets don't know any other way except to love us humans unconditionally, and we should show them the same (even show it human to human!) A few rubs abd cuddles couldn't hurt, either.

A Safe Home
Chaos, loudness, and disorder are unappealing to any species especially our pets. Let's provide our furry (or non furry friends) a safe, quiet and comfortable home whether it's on the couch, the bed, the backyard or another form of housing. Be careful of holiday decorations, plants and wrappings.

A Satisfying Meal
And by satisfying, I don't mean a rib roast dinner with all the trimmings. Even though it sounds delicious for us humans, it can be overly rich for our pet family and can cause illness and perhaps even death. With all the scurrying around and hustle and bustle, don't forget to provide your pet a well balanced meal and fresh water. You might think your 10 year old fed your pets at 5:30 pm, but if they are pacing around the floor, chirping from their cage, or scratching at the pantry door, you better double check to see if they've received their nutrition. No one wants a repeat of the scene from A Christmas Story where the turkey is swiped from the kitchen, taken outside and devoured by a pack of hungry dogs!

When was the last time you had your tongue hanging out of your mouth in pure joy? Your pet just wants to cut loose sometime. I know other duties around work and family can sometimes take precedent but even a 20 minute interaction with your pet can bring an enormous amount of foolish silliness. You'll both feel better in the long run as well. Play with a toy, go for a walk or run free!
Image via Google
Pets are an extension of ourselves and our families. They bring us an undeniable delight, peace and comfort. They also bring great pleasure and happiness. Let's give them the same. Happy Howlidays!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The LBD! The Little Blue Dress

You've probably chosen your holiday attire for both Christmas and NYE. But if you are on the fence, do something a little different this year. Choose a jeweled tone dress and set yourself apart from all the other LBDs (little black dresses). The deep blues shown this year a elegant yet classy without being too bright.

Here are three very affordable choices that will make a big impact for the holiday season:

Image via Target
 This flowy number from Target with sheer shoulders and belted waist really gets the party started.
 A slightly more fitted option also from Target is fun and won't make you take yourself too seriously. You'll stand out in the crowd of black and red dresses!
Or opt for something a little longer like this fabulous dress from H&M. You'll be bright as the stars in this dress.

Each of these pair with some great shoes and accessories and you will forget about wearing a little black dress again. They also can be worn year round. Plus, with the affordable prices you will be able to get yourself a little gift for under the tree!

Have fun!

I am not a paid blogger for any of these products. These opinions are of my own.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Traditions....What Are Yours?

Image via thegreenhead.com
Each family has its own traditions for the holidays such as making the same recipes handed down from generation to generation. Or the location where the holidays are spent, what is worn, the gift giving process and what time dinner is served. Once you're married, the Challenges of blending those traditions can be tricky as well as creating new ones.

There is not a holiday that goes by that I do not make spinach casserole. It's the spinach version of the green bean casserole made so popular in years past. I am not a big fan of the mushy green bean version and prefer the spinach one that tastes like creamed spinach. No one eats it except me. Another meal-time tradition is canned cranberry sauce. Grimace your face all you want. This is a classic. Early on in my relationship with my now Mr. Challenge, I would have the canned version as well as the more classier fresh cranberry version which no one ate. Now that Little and Big Challenge can remember the holidays, this is the one thing they do like and eat, except they call it "cranberry jello". Nothing says tradition more than those can marks on the outer edges of the Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. Not generic, not store brand but Ocean Spray, and it has to be the jellied version, not whole berries!

Growing up in the winters of Chicago, my family as a child would drive around this wooded area that had beautiful old mansions, but the holiday lights were amazing. I remember taking my kids a few times the very rare chances we've been back during the winter. Brrrrrr. Here we have a tradition of getting in the car in our jammies sometimes with hot chocolate and drive through our neighborhoods looking at the lights. Mr. Challenge finds this none too exciting and I think Little and Big Challenge are almost over it. It's the memories that I hope they keep with them forever!

Image via Google and DIYEnthusiast.com
Decorations! How can you forget decorations? We have a small tree perched on our fireplace landing. There's really no other space for it. It's about 3 feet high and contains every home-made ornament the kids ever made. Some have their adorable face on them with the year written in crayon. Some are crudely painted but made with love. Others are just falling apart but I am too proud of them to toss them out. They go on the tree every year. Big Challenge has pretty much stopped making any type of ornament in school. I think I have one more year with Little Challenge.

What are some of your traditions? New or old?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Frugal Festive Snow Covered Decorative Pine Cones

I am certainly no crafty person. I do not have a craft room, craft desk or craft box for that matter. But I started thinking what do to with all the pine cones from the backyard. A few months ago, I read about "baking" pine cones to remove the sap and critters safely before using the pine cones for decor.

Here's my take on snow covered pine cones...the frugal method! First, gather your pine cones. Most of the bold large ones were still attached to our trees. I'll wait until they fall. Place them on a foiled covered sheet tray. Place pine cones on the tray and place in pre-heated 200 degree oven.

Bake in the oven for first 20 minutes. Check to see if sap and other debris is melting/removed. I did not have any critters or sap. I went another 10 minutes after that. Keep eye on them.

                                                                  Remove to cool.
When pine cones have cooled, use your spray snow and gentle flock the pine cones. My nozzle shot fast leaving some spots heavier than others. I suggest standing the pine cones up and spraying from above.

I used this spray from the dollar store. Yep, $1.00. I just may have to go back and get more! So, that's free pine cones, a sheet of foil, some electric energy and time. I say we've done pretty well here!

The finished product. Fill up some glass bowls you may already own or check again at the dollar store for storable glass vessels...Be original! Try a pitcher, vase, cylinder vases, plates, etc. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Hostess With The Mostest Gifts

We've all done it....ran to the market or local drug store to pick up some random bottle of wine or dusty, stale box of chocolates. This year, why not bring something really special. Here is my list of great hostess gifts (things that I wouldn't mind getting):

Image via Jo Malone Website

How about a fabulous Jo Malone Candle. Sure, it's $65 but the long candle burn time plus juicy scents are a great way to show your appreciation. Yea, it cost about as much as going out to dinner, but remember, your hostess just served you something great. Maybe you even spent the night. This candle outshines them all.

Image via Crumpler.com
For the gal on the go, this Crumpler bag (or any Crumpler) is sure to show your appreciation. These bags are made for the traveler, the explorer or the go-to person. Their camera bags are also fabulous!
Image via PotteryBarn.com
Tick Tock. How about a clock? Not just any clock but a gorgeous silver plated bamboo clock from Pottery Barn. Stunning for any decor or room. I actually own this clock and keep it on my vanity. It's the perfect size and shape with a touch of elegance. Show your hostess your appreciated her time and effort for that long weekend you stayed.
Image via Sephora
Color your hostess's world with a fresh fun lipstick or two. Maybe it's something she wouldn't buy herself but it's a great pick me up. It might be too personal picking a color so anything neutral would work or even a bold red! I also have given mani/pedi gift certificates because I know how my hands and feet look and feel after entertaining!

Have fun shopping and gifting!

These are my opinions only. I do not make revenue on these items or am a paid blogger.

Monday, December 16, 2013

In The Blink Of An Eye

Image via Google
They say time flies. If you want proof and have kids, then you know. Today is my Big Challenge's 14th birthday. First, I can't believe this year is almost over. I say this every year around this time when I acknowledge another year older for my first born.

Where did the time go? He is growing into a fine, mature decent kid. Of course there are always challenges. If there wasn't, this blog would probably not exist. There's the laughter, the tears, the anger, the testing, and of course the love. Through it all I know that my Big Challenge's heart is a pile of mush even though he won't admit it.
He still loves his mom even though he wouldn't be caught dead getting a kiss at morning school drop off. As he continues to grow and mature, I can still see just a hint of that small child still left in his face, his profile and his mannerisms.

But slowly, that child is fading and growing into a fine, young man. I have no doubt that will do great things and save the world. But for now, I just want each day to slow down a little and keep him young a little longer.

Happy Birthday, my amazing Big Challenge. You are an incredible kid. I wish you better than the best.

-Be courageous and be brave. And in my heart you'll always stay. Forever Young.
     -Rod Stewart

Monday, November 25, 2013

International Travel on Two Pairs of Underwear!

At the silk factory
After months of preparation to a foreign country (China), the trip finally arrived and we departed. The flight was smooth. Everyone settled in after about 2 hours of excitement, a light meal and some in-flight entertainment. Once we arrived at our location, it was day-time, and our escort picked us up from the airport for a quick day trip to get somethings off the itinerary. We were exhausted by 4pm when we returned to the hotel to check-in.

Once we settled in for the three night stay in this city, Beijing, I glanced through my items debating if I should completely unpack for this short duration. As I am browsing my amazing Samsonite spinner, I notice something is missing. Yes, I see leggings, tunics, a blouse, flat iron (phew!), make-up, scarves and additional shoes but I do not see any undies! WHAAAAT!!! I had the pair I was obviously wearing plus the additional pair in my carry-on should my main luggage get lost. What happened to the stack of underwear I had so meticulously packed? I dug and dug and found no sign of them. I retraced my steps back home and can faintly recall that I may have taken them out to use and wash again. How could I be so dumb!?

Well, thank goodness I had some small packets of Tide with me. You know, the ones smaller than a one load, these are the sink load size. I was able to wash both pairs plus some leggings and a top while traveling and air dry them overnight. It worked perfectly!

"Why didn't you just buy some underwear when you arrived in China?," you ask. Well, for starters I am a curvy-ish girl and they just don't sell the style and size I was looking for. I went to a silk factory which had a department store attached and purchased 2 pairs of XL silk bikinis. Honestly, I doubt they will fit. They look more like a size small. Plus, the only other kinds I kept seeing were the granny-panties. Plus, I wasn't sure I could make it all day in sexy silk versus my comfy cotton. Let's face it. There are no fluffy people in China.

I made it through China, 10 days, with just two pairs of black bikini panties. Just imagine if I could have paired down the rest of the packed clothing.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Packing for International Flight....To China!

The day is final upon The Challenges. Today we leave for China. Yea, that China. Super random I know. When I tell someone I am "leaving the country" for vacation, they ask where. Everyone I tell the location to goes, "China?" like they are in total disbelief. I am kind of in disbelief myself, I mean it never was really on a list of mine to go there with or with the Challenges. We had places like Italy, Maldives, Brazil, Vermont, France, etc, but never China. So after months of thinking and planning about it, the day has finally arrived.

Now, since you don't know me, I will start by saying that I never check baggage. I have been to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, even parts of Europe without checking a bag. I thought China might be different with me packing a little more stuff than usual including liquids and medication.

The carry-on bag itself was quite perplexing to me. In a past post, I had purchased a few bags including Lo&Sons OG bag, LL Bean's Expedition bag and the one I kept and love is the Mosey Life Getalong bag. I would honestly say it's more like a "poor man's Lo&Sons with similar features including a side pocket for a pair of shoes. Plus, it was at least half of what a Lo&Sons bag originally cost.

In my new platinum exterior bag with light purple interior, I have packed another zipper bag which I found on eBay for a less price than originally featured on another site to store electronics, cords, charger bricks, earphones, styluses, etc. I paid like .99 plus shipping from China. It's called the Slim Bag. A bargain! I also have packed a clear zippered bag with my toiletries so I am prepared for the long haul. This includes Oil of Olay cleansing wipes (the dry ones you wet and clean), deodorant, hand lotion, toothpaste, Colgate wisps, lip balm, travel brush, Glide floss sticks, a pair of undies, black slip on pants, magazines, books, puzzle book, neck pillow, eye mask, compression socks, cashmere blanket, tiny toss away wash cloth from Walmart, extra pair of shoes in zipper compartment, pen, anti-bac wipes, gum and snacks. Yea, it seems like a lot and I really should be sleeping but I like to be prepared and feeling fresh especially for a long haul. If I get a chance to post a picture of all of it I will. I also read something interesting...it was suggested in a post I found about sleeping in a wired bra. The writer suggested not to and opted for a soft sports or stretchy bra instead. I had never thought of this since usually my bras set off security and my Challenges mock me every time. I picked up 2 Champion sport bras which are really soft but quite supportive in black and white. I am also carrying on an Old Navy black short pea coat from last year.

Of course, I have the usual electronics such as iPhone and iPad and a lipstick charger in case one of them dies. (It's a tube shape charger that gives you a boost if your stuff dies). Hopefully the plane has a set of outlets somewhere. If not, that is why I have actual printed materials to read.

As for my luggage, I picked up a Samsonite spinner from Tuesday Morning. Inside, I packed 4 pairs of Old Navy leggings, a black and grey striped tunic, a black tunic, a navy tunic, a black tunic sweater, 2 bras, plenty of undies, 7 socks, black denim jeggings and blue denim jeggings, pajamas, 3 coordinating scarves (black, faint zebra print in grey and black, and light grey), navy Coach ballet flats, foldable Payless grey tweed flats, white buttoned down shirt, red cashmere gloves, and one black bubble necklace. That's in one half of the suitcase. The other half is filled with snacks toilet paper. I kid you not. Things like granola bars, tiny peanut butters, pretzels, cereal, etc. And yes, toilet paper. Tiny rolls with anti bac wipes and moist wipes. Have you read about some of the toilet conditions in China?

I have read that China is fashionable but rather conservative in most cities so I kept the palette muted in navy, black and greys and taken off most of my expensive jewelry. I have also double printed all of our info, one for me and one for Mr. Challenge. Something else I learned was to not only make copies of the passports, etc, but to take a digital picture with your phone.

Well, that's it. Yīlù shùnfēng! Which in Chinese, means Bon Voyage. I hope to have some great pictures uploaded as well.

Writer's note: Due to internet restrictions, this entry could not be posted on time. I will be updating more about traveling internationally shortly!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Relaxing San Diego Style

Pretty much each and every weekend we head down to San Diego with the dogs to their favorite beach. It's funny because the second I wake up, they are raring to go and they know the jig is up. What's even funnier is as soon as we turn the corner near the beach they lose their minds in the car.

For a perfect day, I started at a quick yoga class then jetted down the 5 towards Del Mar. We make our usual stop at Leucadia donuts. There is some secret ingredient they put in their donuts, that they won't tell me. Maybe extra vanilla? I am not too sure. They also make THE best iced coffee too.

The pups had a playful time in and out of the surf. I gathered quite a few shells to add to my already compulsive collection. We arrived later than usual and decided to have lunch at Lobster West in Encinitas. Yelp reviews were mixed but we were willing to try. The lobster roll and crab rolls were divine. Very east coast for the west coast, and they were surprisingly busy. The roll was perfect cradling the sweet and lightly dressed lobster and crab. We will definitely come back. It's more of a splurge, though.

We were full. The dogs were wiped out and entirely crusty and sandy. We headed home and refreshed with warm showers and a nap. A perfect day.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Go Lightly

Every year it's the battle of the costumes. It's fine when they are babies and toddlers but as the Challenges grow up and make their own decisions, we sometimes become embroiled in a battle. They want to use their imagination, they want to grow and test the boundaries but yet they are still Little and Big Challenges and sometimes I need to step in. Little Challenge really wanted a costume with wings as her friend was going as a bat. THE most amazing bat costume you have seen. We tried looking for a homemade elegant owl costume but they were either to cartoonish or waaaay to expensive. I then suggested going as Holly Golightly aka Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany's.

"Huh?" she said. I tried to explain to her what the movie was (my all time favorite) as well as who the movie star was, Audrey Hepburn (my all time favorite). Still, her response was, "Huh?". So we began to Google images of what I was trying to explain to her. She finally agreed but lamented that NO ONE is gonna know what it is.

For a few weeks I looked for the components for the costume. The dress from eBay, a wedding supply company, dollar store glasses and necklace, gloves and hat also from eBay. I might have spent $20 if that.

The night of Halloween, I dropped her off at a friend's house to trick or treat. As soon as the mom opened the door, she knew exactly what Little Challenge was dressed as. I could see a smile creeping out from behind the over-sized glasses. "See," I said. ALL the moms are gonna know who you are!" I think that made her feel a little better, a little more elegant, a little more confident.

Oh, and Big Challenge decided that he would go as Nerdy Skater Dude. Yea. Don't ask me. I have no idea either.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Falling for Fall

How gorgeous are these photos? It literally made me stop and take a few shots. It almost looked like a backdrop for a photo studio. Imagine a family or couple perched out in front of the hay bales and assorted pumpkins. I had to stop and grab my iPhone to take a few shots and really savor the colors and smells of this display.

Let me let you in on a little secret....these pictures were not taken at some far off country patch hours from the house. They were actually taken at our local Trader Joe's. For real! Customers must have thought I was crazy squatting and kneeling down to get the shots. The colors were amazing and who doesn't love a pumpkin display. I had already done some decorating with some .99 store pumpkins (yea, no joke, they were .99). I thought last year was a good deal when I got them for like three bucks at Walmart. I also picked up some cheapy hay bales at Michael's to set the fall harvest tone. Today, I was getting a few TJ items that normally do not come out until the fall including their amazing pumpkin bread mix. I hadn't been in in a long time and what I was really looking for were Trader Joe's  "Joe Joe's" chocolate Halloween sandwich cookies. I could not find them which either means they sold out or didn't produce them this year.

I was also picking up a Cinnamon Broom. In the past, I have tried the cinnamon pine cones. I just put the whole bag in a glass bowl or metal container on the coffee table or mantle. They give off a very strong smell. This time, I wanted to try the broom. It's a little shaggy thing made out of who knows what and scented with cinnamon oil. However, they don't exactly go with my decor so what I do is leave it in the bag, then across the bag lengthwise and remove the plastic while keeping plastic on the bottom. This way, you won't stain any carpets or furniture. I then put it under one of our couches. The subtle scent permeates the air but you can't quite figure out where it's coming from. PLUS, it's super cheap, $3.99 to fragrance and freshen your house for fall. I think they actually call it a whisk or whatnot. It stands about 3' tall.

I'll be updating with another economical fall decorating tip soon. In the meantime, bundle up, snuggle up and cuddle up!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Target Treasures - No Digging Required

It's nice to see Target bringing in some classic designs and lines. There's was quite the hullabaloo with the Philip Lim line which I didn't find to be quite my style. Plus, at some point, don't you become just a "poser" wearing the Target version as opposed to the real thing, the real thing that even I wouldn't spend my money on. Honestly, some of the designer launches really have been less than stellar.
So while on my recent visit, I came across some real gems. I've mentioned it before so I'll mention it again. I am usually someone that buys classic pieces as opposed to more trendier options, things that will continue to be in style even years from now. I came across these three pieces that I think are just fabulous.
Image via Target
The first is a women's sequin top in black and white. First, you cannot go wrong in any season with black or white. Second, it's only $24.99 whereas you probably would expect to pay at least double at stores like Black/White Market, Talbots, Ann Taylor and more. I was pleasantly surprised by the fabric of this top and detailing, most notably this tiny gold button on the upper neckline in back. Plus, the sequins looked well sewn on and almost had an ombre or gradient look to the design. This can definitely be worn with a lovely pencil skirt, black pants or even some dark skinny jeans. It definitely can become an actively worn staple.

Image via Target
The second item is a black and white hounds-tooth ponte dress. I am generally not a big fan of ponte. Sometimes I find it almost too heavy in both weight and temperature. This dress is rather soft and smooth, and the hounds-tooth print is classic as ever. Worn either with boots or some dressy heels or maybe a jacket, you can go from day to night effortlessly. I feel hounds-tooth never really goes out of style.

Image via Target
Finally, I found this faux leather long sleeved tee which at first, I wasn't sure I could rock but after trying it and buying it, I paired it with some Old Navy skinny jeggings and booties and it looks amazing. Plus, this bangle bracelet really adds some sparkle.

What treasures have you found lately?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Forgotten Fall Drink

Sweet deliciousness in a cup
Every coffee house and commercial I know and seen is heavily touting pumpkin lattes. From Starbucks to Peet's to Coffee Bean and International Delight, everyone has something to say about Pumpkin Lattes. Don't get me wrong. Seeing a pumpkin latte arrive at Starbucks does signal the beginning of fall. There's that sweet and spicy aroma in the air, and it warms you from the inside out. It's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since this drink was first introduced. But there is one drink that is quite overlooked this time of year. It's Starbucks Caramel Apple Cider!

I discovered this drink last year when I was trying to give up coffee, especially that 2pm coffee, when my co-worker decided to get a few Caramel Apple Ciders for the office. At the time, we all got tall drinks but quickly realized that tall was too small. We had to go big or go home. We tried a bigger size, the grande, and it was just right.

This little sweet fall concoction is made with fresh apple cider, cinnamon syrup, topped with whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce. And apparently, this little drink is actually on the kid's menu, not the regular Starbucks menu. I have actually been to stores and have asked to have it made since sometimes I don't see it on the menu. You should definitely try this little heavenly treat. It's best served very warm but not scalding hot so if you do order it extra hot, wait until you get to your destination to indulge. For 360 calories per grande, it's quite a splurge but well worth it.

Oh, and a side note. While my delicious drink was sitting perfectly in my car, nestled in my cup holder, I had to run into a store and left it there. My two dog challenges thought it would be quite hilarious to pick the cup up and proceed to dump in on the passenger sit. We are talking 60 and 80 pound pups. You would have thought they used "thumbs" to dump the drink since the lid was still intact. The seats were so sticky they were almost unbearable to sit on. But the smell was terrific.

How are you celebrating the change and challenge of a new season?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Women Of A Certain Age...I Am Half Way There

Image via turbosquid Google Images
Whoever said life wouldn't be a challenge wasn't kidding. Today is a special day for it is my birthday. It's hard to believe that I am half way there...in life that is, and based on the history of my relatives on how long they lived to be. Do I feel older? Better? I am actually not sure how I feel. I certainly don't feel my age or necessarily look, it but I do think I could do better. I would definitely say that I don't have the concerns or insecurities that I had about myself or my body in my 20s and 30s.

The 20s seemed to be the decade of finding yourself, putting yourself out there, figuring out who you wanted to be. After all, you probably finished college at some point and were off to get your first and probably second job. After you figured out you didn't want to be what you majored in college, you tried other things. Perhaps you created alot of relationships, perhaps you lost a few.

Your 30s were probably your decade of acquiring things. By now, you probably were making decent money, you were in steady relationships and you hopefully made a mark for yourself. You were getting the latest and greatest in gadgets, technology, clothing, real estate and more. Life is just one big registry.

Now, you are in your 40s and you're life is possibly half way over. Maybe you are in a more permanent relationship, maybe you got married and started a family or have a partner. Perhaps you have been at your job for many years and even own your home. It could be your second, third or even fourth home. Maybe what you set out isn't what you really wanted to be when you grew up, and now you are ready for a change. I have done all of this and more. But do I feel like I am where I should be?

I have the house, the car and the Challenges. I am also at a point in my life where less is more. For years now, I have no longer felt the need to acquire things. There's no need to keep buying the same things year after year whether it is clothes, decor, electronics, etc. I have tried to instill this in Little and Big Challenge that it's not important what you have but who is around you such as your family and friends. I mean, really, how many pairs of denim skinny jeans can you have or leather designer handbags. If I am gonna buy it, it's usually because I have had one similar for years. (Mr. Challenge actually is the worst offender with this as he actually has items from the 80s though he is not allowed to wear them around me!).

So, today is just unlike any other. The sun will rise and set. People will need me for a variety of reasons. I will continue to live and breathe like I usually do except knowing now, knowing that today is just a number. A number that is worth doing and living more, to get out there, to enjoy life even more now than ever, making every minute count. Your daily life doesn't have to be full of grand gestures, even the simplest of gestures are more than enough. Take the time, today, and everyday to really enjoy your life. Take a minute to look around, to breathe in, to breathe out. SO, whether today is your birthday or just another Tuesday, get out there. Seize your day. Live your moment. Take even just a minute for yourself. And hustle to get it done.

Reading this is the best gift you can give me. Pass it on. Happy birthday to me.

Monday, October 14, 2013

I'm About To Gross You Out - Frito Pie, Yo!

I have this weird rule that I try to eat cold foods in the summer and warm/hot foods in the fall/winter. In other words, you probably won't find me eating soup in July. This is in part of the few years I spent in college in Arizona and returned decades later to AZ with my family. So, now that the weather has had significant shifts in all parts of the country, nothing says fall to me better than chili (well, actually nothing says fall like apple or pumpkin pie, fried chicken and hearty, home-cooked meals).

Recently Mr. Challenge and I caught Anthony Bourdain's new show, Parts Unknown, now on CNN. This time he is off to New Mexico. If you didn't catch it or heard about the bru-haha on the news, then here's the deal. Apparently, Mr. Bourdain upset the New Mexican's by claiming that Frito Pie was indeed a Texas thing. He had recently eaten at the Five & Dime General Store in New Mexico's historic tourist district, and criticized the recipe and ingredients. Mr. Challenge and I have actually been there several years back while crossing this great country of ours on our way back to Chicago. Anyway, he apparently insulted the recipe and the state who created it. Five and Dime shot back and the production team and Mr. Bourdain acknowledged the mistake and apologized. He also actually enjoyed this delightful delicacy.

But then, Mr. Challenge and I were obsessing (there's that word again) about Frito Pie. One time when we had lived in Chicago, there was a restaurant call Chili 5 Ways. Basically it was a chili storefront where you could walk in, pick you chili base and add a variety of topping including cheese, sour cream, corn chips, onion and elbow macaroni. No one, however, makes chili like I DO and then we add the similar toppings. Frito Pie is different. I remember it being concocted with canned chili, orange cheddar cheese, sour cream and of course, Fritos. So, we took it upon ourselves to create this regional delicacy.

I started with the classic Hormel No Beans Chili. Call me a cry baby but I do not like beans in my chili at all and personally don't make it that way either. Place a scoop of Fritos on the bottom of an over-sized soup or salad bowl. After heating chili, scoop a portion onto the Fritos. Top with a heaping handful of shredded cheddar and a scoop of sour cream. That's it. Normally this masterpiece is actually served in a bag of Fritos but for a more civilized manner, use the bowl. Something, too, that was really interesting was it was hard to find a complete set of snack sized Fritos in the grocery store. Most of the time, they came with other flavors like Doritos and Cheetos. Mr. Challenge had to venture out and get the "gas station" variety. It's larger than a snack back but smaller than a family sized bag, but it's ALOT of Fritos. And that's it. Frito Pie. Maybe try it one day. You'll thank me, yo!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Perfect Layering Layers - The Tunic Sweater

While I am trying to curb my spending, after-all, how many black tops, leggings, blouses, sweaters, tunics, etc., can one person have? While recently in Target today, I was looking for a lightweight sweater to pair with some leggings that I have also recently purchased. Seldom does it get super cold on the west coast where I have to break out turtlenecks, wool sweaters and down coats unlike the weather of the Midwest I grew up with. I was admiring Target's new fall looks and colors when I came across this tunic sweater.

Target, to me, goes through some growing spurts every now and then, bringing in boutique-style brands, biggger luxe brands like Neiman's, and hot, fresh designers like Philip Lim and Prabal Gurung. The latter I can't fit into so it's not that appealing to me. I find that Target usually hits the mark with one release of clothing each season, filled in by ridiculous pieces. For example, spring/summer will start to roll in and you will find some very cute skirts and dresses. But as the season drags on, Target seems to add some miscellaneous and downright ugly pieces. It happens at the start of every season from what I have observed. Target now is slowly releasing the fall/winter pieces. The looks are fresh as are the colors. I am surprised to see quite a few navy and maroon pieces along with hounds-tooth and graphic prints.

So while browsing, I came across this tunic sweater. I was actually looking for a grey sweater for this season to pair with some maroon and navy leggings (and also take on my trip). I found just the opposite. I found yet another black tunic sweater and a navy one, both the same style (hey remember in an earlier post about if I find something that I truly love, I actually buy more than one)? Well, I couldn't make up my mind and wanted to test drive them at home and pair them with the leggings I had in mind.

Image via Target.com

The tunics are awesome. They are lightweight which for me is great because I can't stand anything to hot and heavy. Plus, the extra bulk in a suitcase just wears me down. The tunic sweater is unique as it has a drop shoulder which gives it more of a relaxed and less structured look. It's a more finer gauge sweater perhaps similar to Nordstrom's Caslon brand and feels more expensive than its $22.99 price tag.

Image via Target.com
Image via H&M
For a 5'7" girl, it hits me just past the tush, perfect with leggings without putting all of my "goodies" out there. Plus, it kind of gives me another "uniform" for the week that's pulled together without looking like a slob. As posted in another blog entry, I will probably wear it with the Old Navy leggings and add a longer necklace or scarf. Ideally, I would pair the navy one with the darker grey leggings and this lighter grey leopard print scarf and navy flats. I'll try to piece it together and show you an actual picture of myself. The image here is pretty but it doesn't look as puffy in person. I can see putting a crisp, white collared shirt underneath with peek-a-boo cuffs or a stretch cami. Together I think this outfit would be around $35!

How would you style this?

*I do not receive compensation or items. The opinions are strictly mine.

Traveling Without Liquids or Gels

I remember shortly after 9/11 how liquids and gels were banned from carry-on luggage. Seemingly harmless Chanel lip gloss and Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer were tossed by the wayside. I was thinking of a way without having to lift a finger nor my Ziploc bag as I passed through security. I seldom ever checked luggage and didn't want to buy all new toiletries or cosmetics at a new location. So, I began researching for substitutes out there. I also wanted to keep costs down.

Images via Lush, Amazon, L'Occitane, Trish McEvoy, Desert Essence Sunscreen, Walgreen's Oil of Olay
One of my favorite products was Lush's Solid Shampoo and Conditioning bar. It was solid, it was shampoo and it was going to do the trick. Plus, it smelled delicious and had a variety of colors and formulas. Also from Lush, was their Lotion Bar. Basically you put on damp skin, towel dry and you're done!

Another fantastic product was black cake mascara, the old fashioned kind. It works rather well and there is no messy tube to pack. Of course water is readily available where you are traveling. I also used Oil of Olay Daily Facial Cleansing. These also required water and were great as you got off a flight and could quickly wash your face without any messy liquids leaking into your bag. You can also use a solid perfume like this one from L'Occitane. Better yet, you know those tester strips you get in magazines? I think I read somewhere that Tyra Banks used them when traveling and the idea sorta stuck with me. Just rip them out of your favorite fashion mags. You and your luggage will smell good.

I also used a Trish McEvoy mini make-up planner. Inside, you could pick a solid foundation cover, concealer, eye shadows, lip color and blush. It was all compact and came with tools of the trade as well. They little pieces hung in there with magnets and you can change out your colors as often as you'd like. It also keeps things very organized. Even solid foundation sticks and blush would do the trick.

Other suggestions could include Ted Gibson Hair Sheets, nail polish remover pads, sunblock stick, bug repellant sheets, Eco-Dent tooth powder in mint, Oral B Brush Ups, Colgate Wisps, and shampoo powder. Even today, I travel with most of these and do try and eliminate the liquids and gels. I love when they are reminding travelers to remove said liquids and gels, and when they get to me and I say, "I have none," they get this puzzled look on their faces.
Image via Eco Dent

Got any other suggestions? I Challenge you to try these or at least a few and see how fast you sail through security.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Obsessing About Sweater Weather and Jackets

You know they say it never rains in California obviously wasn't outside yesterday during the rare rainstorm we had. It was a welcome change from the excessively hotter days these past few weeks. The leaves are actually starting to change here a bit. I am sure they are brighter and more colorful in other parts of Cali, but here on the coast, they definitely have that bit of maroon and gold. We literally had at least a 20 degree drop within 36 hours. As we scrambled to shut every last window in our home, the chilled air began to roll in along with some fog. It was actually very cold, chilling to the bone kind of cold and damp. We still had a few summer blankets on the bed so the Challenges all "froze to death" as they say. Seldom do we really get to bust out the winter clothes and jackets. But, there's that word again, obsessing. Seems every blogger out there is using it to describe their total need to pre-occupy themselves with a single emotion or topic.

Image via Old Navy
I was obsessing because I got to use my new jacket! Almost never do I wear a jacket. Usually it's a cardigan or some hoodie-type thing so, yes, I am obsessing. I am kind of over shorts and dresses for a while. Anyway, I had bought a new jacket for our trip to China. I needed something light but that would keep us warm in the early winter weeks in Asia. This was exactly what I was looking for. Unfortunately, it was only sold online. The first size I bought was too big and exchanged it for one size down. As a bit curvy, I had to make sure I could zip it and wear a light sweater or tunic underneath. It has a removable interior liner. The hood also removes easily. The drawstring cinch waist is helpful so that you don't look like a potato sack. The coat is not frumpy but rather trendy and stylish. It only comes in black so hopefully they will offer up some other colors. Red would look amazing! Plus, I think I had some ON promo code on top of my ON bucks which brought the coat down to like $29!

How are you gearing up for the fall and winter seasons?
Rain blobs thru the sunroof

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dinner-nomics! Dinner On The Cheap

Dinner on the Cheap
I would have to say that both Little and Big Challenge think they have a certain sense of entitlement which is no fault of my own. Their expectations can run from the newest iPhone apps, skate shoes, rubber band loom bracelets and whatnot. They also expect, or should I say "like", to have a home-cooked meal. I don't blame them. We have names for certain meals I make which they request over and over; mom burgers, Pasta Stephanie, Fettuccine Al-friendo, Leftover Mayhem, and dreaded Taco Night. But tonight, tonight was going to be different. I was going to introduce them to Top Ramen. You know what I am talking about. That packaged noodle soup mix that you probably thrived off of in college (or even while you are in college now). Ramen and macaroni and cheese. No higher education would be perfect without those staples. Usually because it was so cheap and because you needed to save your "beer money" or "going out money" for, well, going out.

When I know that dinner isn't going to be well received, I usually pump them by sending them texts throughout the day reminding them of what is to come. In their minds, they think that could somehow convince me to take them out or make something else. That would be, "Um, no." Tonight it was Ramen Night. Plus, the weather was less than stellar here so a warm, comforting meal like soup would hit the spot.

Here's how I did it:
I took two packages of chicken flavored Top Ramen and boiled 4 1/3 cups of water. I like to go over a little bit on the water so it isn't too salty. After the water boils, I add the noodles, but I do not break them up. The long, stringiness should be fun and appealing to the Challenges. After about a minute in the water, I add about a half pound of thawed shrimp (21-14 from Trader Joe's) and a half of a bag of frozen Asian vegetables. Keep in mind I purchased the Ramen and frozen vegetables from the Dollar Store. So right there it was $1.37 (.19 for each Ramen package and .99 for the frozen vegetables). The shrimp I am estimating at $4.00, maybe. You could probably use chicken as well. After it all cooks for a few minutes, I served it up.

Little Challenge took to it right away. Big Challenge had to have a substitute dinner standing by but he managed to have a few tastes. He said it was good but not really a "dinner". Little Challenge said, "Mom, you need to make this more often." I explained it would be good practice for our upcoming trip to China and showed her how to eat it with a fork(to be replaced by chopsticks) and a spoon.

See, that's using your noodle!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Best Brush Ever!

Image via Sephora.com

I am not big fan of going to the mall or any shopping center for that matter. My dream Saturday doesn't consist of waking up early, putting on my dressy best and heading out the door to conquer the sales. I was never really a big shopper. I just end of returning most of what I bought in the first place. I have to really, really like something to buy, and I usually buy at least two of that item (different colors, of course). So, recently I remembered that I had bought a Groupon for Sephora. This was like back in mid-summer. I was trying to curb my deal buying especially on places I don't really go to in the first place. I generally don't go to Sephora. While they do have quite a few big brands, I always feel they are brand-centric and partial to pushing certain ones when you walk in.

I decided to actually head to the local mall one mid-day to use up my $10 deal. Keep in mind that it probably cost me $2.00 in gas just to get there. Always one for a good deal, I went to Sephora to see what I could buy for my upcoming trip. I really didn't need any applicators, sponges, tweezers or the like. Sephora usually has a great rounder of travel sizes of products like Smashbox, Laura Mercier, Rosebud Salve, etc. You know, right near the register. They usually are a little bigger than travel sizes but not bigger than the required TSA size. The display looked really picked over. Dirty actually. Plus, I had tried most of the products and the new ones didn't appeal to me. I ventured over to the hair brush and accessories display along the wall. This where I found the best brush ever.

I am not kidding. This brush rocks. I couldn't actually try it in the store because it came with a little packaging/case around it so I was hoping it would work. It is a travel sized brush which will be perfect in my carry-on and cross body bag once we arrive. It has a sleek, gun metal finish and handle. The boar bristles are combined with plastic ones. It fits perfectly into your hand. Little Challenge is NOT a hair brusher and I gave her this to try. She loves it. It did an excellent job of pulling the small, uneven hairs back into a pony or to just smooth out and style your hair. LOVE IT.

Listen, I can't believe it either that I just spent a whole entry on a brush. Trust me. If you need a travel brush, purse brush, gym bag brush, etc., you should get this one. Plus, the price is only $15 and with the Groupon I had, there was little out of pocket cost. (Hahaha. I kid myself. I actually purchased a few more things at Sephora including some Caudalie facial spray and a face brush). I am going to go back and get another one. You should definitely try one for yourself.

*The opinions here are represented by myself. I do not receive compensation or product for anything.