Thursday, September 27, 2012

Product Reviews

One of the coolest thing about couponing, in my opinion, is having the chance to try out different products that I would never otherwise buy becuase they are too impracticle for my stingy budget. It has been great to venture out from my few too-often-repeated cheap meals to newer and more exciting dishes, as well as indulge in some nice treats. Here are a few things I have tried over the past few months:

Kellogg's Cereals-
Krave: Oh my childhood dream of cereals come true. Graham cracker coating over ooey gooey chocolate filling? Yes, please! The only thing that could make this yummier would be a marshmellow drizzle :)
Bite Sized Shredded Wheat Cinnimon Roll Flavored: Definitely good. Expected a bit stronger cinnimon roll flavor, but it's definitely there. I'm a fan of regular shredded wheat cereal; I thought this was an improvement on the original flavor.
Crunchy Nut Caramel Flavor: This one didn't quite sit right with me. I thought it sounded great- sweet caramel, salty nut. But I thought it was a little too sweet. I liked the first few bites but eating a whole bowl was a bit much. Before the end I was wishing I hadn't poured so much-whereas I am usually pondering whether I can eat another bowl as I finish my cereal.

Kellogg's Fiber Plus Antioxidant Bars: DELICIOUS! Pretty much a candy bar with all kinds of goodness in it. It has plenty of fiber, a good bit of protein, but has a light crunchy texture. Sweet but not too rich. I especially recommend the Dark Chocolate Almond flavor.

Yoplait Simplait Yogurt: LOVED. These yogurts only have 6 ingredients, so you know what you're eating. They have a great, smooth flavor. Very creamy, almost like Greek yogurt. They are great for giving to Natalie- good source of milk fat and I can feel good knowing that she's not getting a lot of wierd preservatives and colors.

Progresso Recipe Starters: I was a little disappointed with these at first but now really like them as I am learning to appreciate them for what they are- starters. You definitely want to add some seasonings, maybe a little cheese, sour cream or whatnot depending on what dish you are making. But these little sauces are awesomely convenient and can taste great when incorporated into the rest of the dish. You can throw together any meat or vegetable with some pasta or rice and make a great dinner without too much effort. I think that they make a great base that gives enough direction and inspiration to get you started while leaving room for some creativity. The versatility of a can of cream of mushroom soup with classier flavors.

Post Mini-Churros Cereal: The box claimed that these could be compared to cinnimon toast crunch. I guess the flavor is all there, but unfortunately the texture leaves much to be desired. I know what a churro is. So, yes, I understand why the cereal bits are thick, light pieces, but the dense crunchy squares of cinnimon toast crunch add more than I realized. They're worth a try. I don't mind them certainly. But they are NOT a substitute for cinnimon toast crunch.

General Mills Milk and Cereal Bars: Tried Cinnimon Toast Crunch and Cheerios. Was not that impressed. They were okay, but the creamy milky layer was way too this and barely stood out from the texture of the cereal. The cinn toast crunch and cheerios are not even the forst ingredient. That would be crisp rice, the filler constituting most of the volume of the bar.They were a one-note, too-chewy, way-too-sweet bar. I would prefer a bowl of cereal. Or a rice crispy treat. These aren't quite as good as either.

General Mills Golden Grahams Treats: Finally admitting that these are treats, not implying they could qualify as breakfast, these actually were quite good. Smaller than the cereal bars, these candy-bar-like treats have all of the texture and flavor of a s'more. Well, Minus the tongue-scortching heat on the indise of the marshmellow and the crunch of dirt from dropping it on the ground.

Honey Bunches of Oats Fruit Blends: The peaches and strawberry had an odd tang, but the banana and blueberry flavor were alright. My biggest complaint is that they weren't that special. I mean, the original and almond flavors are great. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Smart Balance Buttery Spread with Canola Oil: I thought this was great. All the flavor of butter, but the oil mixed in keeps it healthier and, more importantly, easier to spread. I like it because it gets melty on toast and pancakes more easily than traditional margarine or butter sticks. I also baked with this several times and it worked just fine.

Wholly Salsa: By the makers of Wholly Guacamoley, these all natural salsas are delicious! They have a decent shelf-life for fresh salsa- about a month in the refridgerator (I'm going to try freezing some and we'll see how it does). being all-natual is a plus; the ingredients are pretty much all fresh vegetables and some citric acid. But they taste great. My favorite is the mango and roasted red pepper. They have one that comes with salsa on top and their guacamole on bottom and I really like the guacamole, but the pico de gallo salsa that comes on it is a little spicy for me. Actually, a lot of them are a little spicy, so if you like spice, these are totally for you! Hahaha. The inside of the label has a bunch of suggestions of different ways to try the salsa, which has been helpful since I went crazy and bought 14 of them. They have been on sale regularly at Kroger for 2/$3

Ronzoni Smart Taste Pasta: These are a great compromise. I like to choose whole wheat pasta for the fiber but hate the gummy texture. This pasta tastes just like regular old white pasta but has more fiber. They come in a variety of noodle types- penne, spirals. And at the same cost as the regular white noodles and only slightly smaller size, these make it easy to choose a healthier pasta.

Biore Pore-unclogging Cleanser: Ooooooh! This stuff leaves me feeling so fresh! Definitely has kept my skin clearer than Olay Sensitive Foaming Facewash (Which is worthless. I do not recommend. Not only does it not foam, it doesn't seem to do anything....)

Biore Pore Strips: Though a bit overpriced to use on a regular basis at retail price ($6+ for a pack of 6), I was surprized to see that these work. They certainly don't remove ALL of your blackheads, but they do remove some. You can see the evidence on the strip!  Much faster and easier than trying to take on every pore on its own!

Crest 3D Whitening Mouthwash: The product touts visible results after one week. I used this as directed and saw no noticeable result after several weeks. It has a money-back guarantee, and so if I had kept my receipt, I could send it in for a refund. Not worrying about that since I paid so little, but at least you can get your money back if it doesn't work for you! The one thing I did like is that it is alcohol-free, i.e. does not make your mouth feel like this: "AAAAIIIIIIIIGGGHHHHHHHHAAAA!!!!!!!!!" I would definitely consider this and other alcohol-free mouthwashes for the purpose of oral hygeine. Just not whitening.

Organix Hydrating Tea Tree Mint Shampoo- Loved the smell, but this shampoo did not hydrate that well. I lean towards having dry hair and don't think that this helped at all. Aussie works better for me. I would go for the body wash, though. Organix body wash is luscious and yummy and I wish I had gotten it in the Tea Tree Mint Scent!

As I wrote this, I sat, sipping a bowl of Campbell's Gourmet Bisques Thai Tomato Coconut Soup and I have DEFINITELY got to stock up on more of these while the coupons are out. It was delicious. Delicate flavor, sweet and salty with a tiny hint of spice. Smooth, not too thick or thin. Small chunks of real tomato. It is not a condensed soup, but I would mix the soup with water 2:1. Helps it stretch and it tastes just as good. Add some rice and maybe a little chicken or sauteed onions and this could be a delicious dinner.

I am excited to try the stuff I bought and haven't used yet: Swanson Flavor Boosts, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, Egg Beaters Egg Whites, Pilsbury Grands Wheat Biscuits and Buitoni Fresh Pasta.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Teeth Suck

Why yes, Natalie does like to bite while nursing. But that's not what I was referring to.

It has been a rough week. The main source of difficulty? Natalie's top teeth. They are coming in and it is the worst thing that has ever happened to her. Or at least, that is the only conclusion that I can reach, based on how she carries on. Trying not to give her too much ibuprofen, she spends plenty of the morning and afternoon writhing and whining while I make futile efforts to distract and entertain her. Even our walks, which used to be nice- she would quietly look out or just fall asleep- have become miserable, as she pretty much cries and chews on her hand the whole time. She keeps waking up from naps from the pain, so she is tired and grumpy to top it off. Hopefully this will be over soon- her top middle and 2nd from the middle on the opposite side have broken through. The other middle tooth is very close and the other side one is not too far behind. Maybe we'll get a break before more teeth decide to start surfacing :/

Last weekend I went to this children's consignment sale over in Smyrna. I actually went both Friday and Saturday because on Saturday everything was marked down 50%. Altogether, I got a new carrier (she is too heavy for her Infantino, so now I have a "hip hammock" sling), a gate (which frustratingly does not seem to fit well on our stair case, where we need one...), a bunch of books and tons of wintery clothes and a few pairs of shoes. I only got her 12months-18 months clothes. Even though she still fits all of her 6 month clothes and even some of her 3 month clothes and we have just barely started putting her in her 9 month clothes (like the way cute outfit below that LeAnn's parents got her in February), I am sure she will grow into them quickly. We had a. 11 month old over on Friday and she seemed to much taller than Natalie, so maybe Natalie will get longer in the coming weeks.



 
Natalie's eating journey has continued with great messiness. Fortunately we have a dog. She regularly reaches down to let him lick her fingers. She wants to feed herself and eat whatever we are eating. It has made for some pretty interesting diapers. Let's just say that many things come out the other end looking pretty similair to how they entered, but with a much worse smell.
 
Her recent favorites: banana slices, orange, graham crackers, black beans, canned peaches, cheese, and yogurt. I read an article about the benefits of introducing certain dairy before 12 months. It can decrease likelihood of eczema, which is a concern with her, and provides good fats! So, we don't give her milk yet, but she scored a taste of Daddy's stake n shake milkshake the other night. Lucky girl!
 
I have been overfeeding her; she usually throws up once or twice after a meal. I am a little bit obsessed with making sure that she eats as much as she can during the day because then I can feel a bit less guilty letting her cry at night because I am sure she's not hungry.

 
The sleeping thing is improving but still a little blaurgh. The teething has made it difficult. She did sleep 7 consecutive hours lastnight and 5 the night before, but the pretty much wouldn't stay asleep without nursing from 4:30 on. So, we're on the right track, but not quite perfect and still not quite recovered from the past several months of utter exaustion.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chocolate Chip Banana Almond Cookies

With Micah gone today, I got to eat whatever I wanted for dinner. So, logically, I chose chocolate chip cookies. But, as I'm counting calories, I needed to make them a little less.... bad for you. I have heard many times of using applesauce instead of oil in recipes, but I thought I'd try with a banana that I had on hand. So, here you have it: the slightly less guilty but equally if not more delicious chocolate chip cookie:

One giant rotting banana (seriously, mine was nearing oozey state and attracting fruit flies)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup oat flour (old fashion oats pulsed in a blender until a fine powder. This keeps the banana from manking the cookies too soggy)
1 teaspoon baking powder
a dash of salt, cinnamon and cream of tartar
1/2 cup chocolate chuncks/chips
1/2 cup almonds

Blend banana, blend in sugars, then add eggs one at a time and blend, blend blend. Mix together dry ingredients then add the blended mixture. Finally, fold in chocolate and almonds. Plop by massive dollop on greased pan (because, lets be honest, some cookies are so good, it is an absolute insult to even make them in small portions). Bake at 350 for around 15 minutes. Makes 24 big, thick 3'' cookies.

These were awesome. Like, incredible. Nice and crispy around the edges, yet soft and cakey in the middle. They were perfect for dunking in milk. I might add a tablespoon or two of milk so that the inside doesn't get as dry. But with only a little over 100 calories for each massive cookie and almost half the fat of the traditional chocolate chip cookie, I think that these will definitely make it into my recipe book.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Puppy Love

Sammy and Natalie are at a good place right now.
He has finally come to terms with the fact that she is a mobile creature and I am letting them have more contact as I grow more confidant in Sammy to give warning signs if he feels threatened.
 
She hasn't figured out how to climb onto the couch, so the dog can still go perch up there if he wants some peace. But I think that they entertain eachother.  Natalie goes after dog toys, Sammy goes after baby toys, and I just sit back and make sure things don't get too heated.
 

 
 
video
 
Natalie can climb up the stairs now, but I have to spot her because it hasn't yet sunk in that if she plops down, she will fall.
 
In other news, Micah did go with a small group from schurch to clean up some damage from Isaac. He left this afternoon and will be gone through Sunday. I mis him already! But I'm glad he went and hopes that he can have a good experience and help out.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Motherhood Doesn't Have Sick Days? Boooooo.

So.... I feel like a crappy lump of gross. I've had a cold that has escalated over the past 2 days until this morning I woke up sore all over with a terrible headache and sinus pressure. I feel like doing absolutely nothing but laying here watching daytime television and sipping vegetable broth. Natalie is being very understanding. She is crawling around, spreading every one of her (and Sammy's) toys across the living room and dining room. Once in a while, she crawls over, climbs over me, and then moves on.

Our stake was asked to produce volunteers to help with the cleanup effort in the New Orleans/Mississippi area. Micah may go, I'm not quite sure.

Here's some pictures of Natalie. She grows cuter by the day.

 

Has anyone figured out the secret to getting a baby to stay on her back for the duration a a diaper change? She is pretty much impossible. Here, Micah desperately tries to keep her poop off the carpet as she cyclones around on her head and shoulders.


Natalie trades in her hammer for a fork

Undoing my work as I try to organize the pantry
`

Friday, September 7, 2012

Rough Week

Micah has been really frustrated with school, I have been really frustrated with Natalie. 

The last few days, she has continued to wake up several times a night. We go in and comfort her, offer her water, then leave her, and she falls back to sleep eventually. But we still have to listen to a god bit of crying each time. Maybe not 3 hours, but definitely 15 minutes. And when going down for the first time at night or for naps, it will be 30 minutes to an hour. I'm surprised that she hasn't learned by now. The doctor said that it should only take 3 days or so for her to learn to fall asleep. She's been really grumpy... like... most of the time. Probably from lack of sleep. Harumph. 

On the positive side, I found Nabisco makes some plain graham crackers without honey and Natalie loves them. Scored them, along with a few boxes of regular ones for myself, for $1.20 each after coupons. I recently started using a calorie counter and exercise tracking app and it has really opened my eyes to the nutritional content of some of the things I eat, so I have been trying to think of less damaging ways to get my sweet fix. Also, trying to get more protein, after learning on Saturday that lactating women should get 70g protein a day. It's really cool to be able to set a specific, numerical goal with the app and see each day if I am on track to achieving it, as well as looking through the breakdown of how much fat, sugar etc I eat in a day. My current favorite things to eat: lowfat cottage cheese with no sugar added canned peaches or pears and a shake made of banana, milk and whey protein powder. Was SHOCKED by how many calories were in the delicious ranch pork chops last night. Probably won't make those again unless I get much smaller pork chops! And I also looked up my favorites at Steak n Shake. All I can say is: WOW! Might not be eating there as regularly ;)

Micah will be at a conference in New York for a week in October. I am trying to decide what to do so that I  don't get bored and lonely here by myself with Natalie. Maybe I can score a cheap flight to go visit someone? We'll see. 

Paco will be home from his mission around 2 months from now. Exciting!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hallelujiah

Friday, at the pediatrician's recommendation, we started the cry-it-out sleep training method again with Natalie. She really needs to learn to stop waking up at night because a lot of development happens at night and she needs to stop nursing so much at night because it's bad for the GI track not to have a break. So, Friday night was a little rough. But Saturday was even worse. I fed her at 11, but she woke up crying at 1 and cried for 3 hours straight in her crib until we finally caved in and got her. Then she continued to wake up and cry in our bed every 20-30 mins until 5am, when I finally gave in and nursed her.

She must have been pretty tired after that night of hardly any sleep (I know that we were). Last night, she slept in her own crib for 8 hours! Glory be! Was asleep around 930. Cried a little at 1:30 but then went back to sleep quickly on her own,  and stayed asleep until 5:30. It was amazing. I didn't sleep the whole time- I went in once to check and make sure that she was still alive, since it was so uncharacteristic for her to stay sleeping in her crib for so long.

Hopefully we can continue to go forward in her sleeping progress!


On Saturday, we put shoes on Natalie for the first time. She was going to the park, where Daddy pushed her on the swings until she was very tired.


Micah began playing with Natalie. Then, Natalie crawled away and Micah still sat there playing with her toys....

 
Practicing her "mama".
 
video
 
 Micah took apart a singing card we got from our anniversary and used the electronic piece to turn a cardboard box into a speaker that would play from the iPod. So cool.

video
 
 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Car Salesman Tricks

Top ten annoying car dealer tricks. We saw all of these, some of them several times, in the process of shopping around.

10.) Pushing leasing as a way of "getting a car for cheaper" because the monthly payment would be lower in the first years, even though you pay more in the long run.

9.) Slamming other car brands when you say that you are shopping around. It says something when you have to put down other products to lift yours up.

8.) Wanting you to drive the car and inspect every inch of it BEFORE discussing the price.


7.) Telling you one sales price in person... and having another, cheaper price for that vehicle online.


6.) Listening to exactly what you are looking for, showing you a bunch of cars that are NOT what you are looking for and then concluding, after wasting an hour and a half, that they do not have what you are looking for.

5.) Saying that a car gets X miles to the gallon... when the EPA estimates are right there on the window and they are lower than that.

4.) Refusing to discuss money in terms of price of the car, but rather focusing on monthly payments.

3.) Commending the car's resale value, insisting that a few years down the road, we will want to trade it in for a minivan. Even though we kept telling them that we want to keep the vehicle for its lifetime.

2. )Making you wait. Forever. While they "talk to their manager" or "check inventory". Seriously, you work here- shouldn't you already be familiar with the inventory? And surely it doesn't take your manager 30 minutes to tell you whether you can sell a car at the price I am asking. They want to wear down your patience so you just give in and agree to whatever deal so that it can be done. It made us furious and actually resulted in us walking away in the middle of filling out paperwork to buy a car at one dealership. If we had gotten down to it an hour earlier, we probably would have left with the car. But I was so annoyed, we just left.

1.) In negotiating the price, making you sign a note that says "I will buy this car today for X". This practice a) makes you decide if you actually want to drive away with the car so that if they can't get that price you feel too attached to the car to just say no and leave or b) allows the dealer to have you agree to a minimum price when in reality they could have gone much lower.

Best thing about car dealerships?

The bathrooms. I used at least 3 different dealerships' bathrooms and they were way posh. Made me feel like I was at a fancy hotel.

So far, we still feel good with the Elantra, which is a very good thing. Micah continues to drive manual better and better and I continue to be rough but functional.