Saturday, October 8, 2011

Green Superfood

I like smoothies.

You might already know that. I shared some of my favorite smoothie recipes here. Looking back, these were fairly sugary smoothies. Lately, I've been enjoying almond milk (instead of fruit juice) and frozen bananas instead of berries.

Tangent: Speaking of frozen bananas, if you want to try it yourself, but peel a banana and throw it into a freezer bag. It's ready to pull out and throw into a smoothie at any time. You can slice it first, but I just freeze them in halves. If you leave them in the peel, the peel will turn black but the banana inside should still be good.

Anyway I still throw a cup of spinach in every smoothie I make, and I probably always will. It's a great way to get a dose of the nutrient-heavy green, and you really can't taste it. Plus I find I always have lots of energy after I eat a spinach smoothie.

So I started thinking about other greens that I can throw into my smoothies. I tried broccoli, but the taste didn't disappear completely like it does when I use spinach. I tried kale, which clogged my blender (it's pretty dense stuff). It had a bit more flavor than the spinach, and it's more expensive at my grocery store.

Finally I tried an odd green powder called Amazing Grass Green Superfood, and it quickly won me over. I don't think this should be a replacement for real greens, but it is definitely a great way to sneak in some more nutrients.

It’s a powder with 30 calories per serving. But check out what’s inside:

the green stuff:

  • wheat grass
  • barley grass
  • alfalfa
  • spirulina
  • spinach
  • chlorella
  • broccoli
  • acai
  • maca
  • carrot
  • beet
  • raspberry
  • rose hips
  • pineapple
  • green tea
  • acerola cherry
  • flax seed powder
  • apple pectin fiber
digestive enzyme and active culture/probiotics:
F.O.S. (from chicory root)
L. Acidophilus, Alpha and Beta Amylase,
Protease, Lipase, Lactase, Cellulose

That’s pretty impressive. It even has probiotics. We ordered from Amazon, so it was around $20 for 30 servings, but I’ve also seen it at our local GNC for similar price. They make a few different flavors (chocolate, berry), but we buy the original.

I first tried it in smoothies and liked it, but then I decided I could use it by itself in a quick shake before work. Weekday mornings, I am often running around trying to catch my bus on time, which means I don’t have a lot of time to prepare a balanced breakfast. Or any breakfast. Before discovering the Green Superfood, I often skipped breakfast all-together and just ate a mid-morning snack at work. Not good. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? Fortunately it's easy to throw some Green Superfood in a shaker bottle (see photo below) with some almond or coconut milk, and out the door I go.

Anyway I should probably explain why I like this stuff so much (besides the convenience). After just a few days of drinking a Green Superfood shake each morning, I started to notice how energized and focused I felt. I was more productive at work and had more energy throughout the day. I don’t think it’s a coincidence - I think I’m starting my day off right with some great nutrients.

I also had an unexpected side effect. This stuff has, in a way, changed my tastes. I used to crave things like soda and sugary foods. But now I don’t find those things appealing at all. Instead, I actually find myself *craving* vegetables, which is kind of crazy for me. After doing some googling, I found that several other people posted similar reviews. It’s magical! And at roughly 67 cents a day, I’m going to keep buying it and continue drinking it each morning.

I'm glad I tried it, but I have to admit I was hesitant to order without trying it since some reviews mention it doesn’t have a pleasant taste. I actually find it’s not too bad. It has an earthy flavor, sort of reminds me of the taste of green tea extract. And it definitely grows on you. You can mix it with water, throw it into smoothies, or mix it with milk. As mentioned, I like to mix it with coconut milk because I like the flavor combination. Sometimes I use almond milk and throw in some raw cocoa powder to make it more chocolately. I just use the Hershey's stuff:

I should mention, you can also easily mix the green powder in with your regular protein powder, if you're looking to beef it up. It's pretty versatile, and I find it fun to experiment with.

Of course now I'm curious about other green/vegetable powders. So comment below if you have tried any.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lightening our load

This is what our dining room book shelf looked like last week:

Pretty crowded. Way more clutter than I like.

It actually doesn't look as badly in the pics as it did in real life. Some of the shelves had 2-3 rows of books squished into a single cubby. Not good.

After spending some time de-cluttering last week, the bookshelf now looks like this:

Ahhhh, much better.

Pay no attention to the boxes on the left hand side. That's a project for another day.

Back to the book shelf. I went through the overflowing collection and decided which books would stay. I really only kept our favorites, ones we hadn't read yet, reference style books, and board games. Look at this impressive pile of books that didn't make the cut. I'd estimate there's at least 75 books in this pile, which will be donated to Good Will.

Goodbye, books. You served us well.

I also cleared out a lot of the non-book items that were on the shelves. I moved some photo frames, wooden bowls, and other decor items into storage. Much cleaner. But this wasn't just a total purge section. I also made room for a few new things. Like this wooden cow sculpture that used to belong to Rob's late grandfather:

We also inherited a cute little wooden hippo, also from Rob's grandpa:

I also went through the keeper book pile and tossed out all the plastic dust covers that came with the books. I personally think the books look better without the covers.

Also note the vintage camera, which I wrote about here.

We've definitely lightened our load, but we've got more work to do (the d-ecluttering/organizing project in the attic bedroom is already underway). I really think de-cluttering is good for your soul.

Related reading:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review: Easy Canvas Prints

You may have noticed that we added a new advertisement on the sidebar to the left. Easy Canvas Prints contacted us a few months ago, asking if we wanted to do a review of their services in exchange for a link-back. Sounds like a win-win situation to me, so we gladly accepted the offer.

I knew right away I wanted to do a piece with horses. I had been interested in horse art since seeing this blog photo a few months ago:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I like things. Vol. 1: Cheap vanilla candles

Love it or hate it, Walmart has some good deals.

First, a quick disclaimer. I'm not going to comment on Walmart's behavior as a corporate giant because I think a lot of their competitors are guilty of the same things. And I'm not going to comment on the people who shop at Walmart because I think that's too mean and pretty judgmental.

But I will say that Rob and I like shopping at Target more these days. We've discovered they have better prices in most of the things we buy regularly (kinda surprising) and better grocery selection. I also like Target's clothes and shoes a lot more.

But there are still a few specific items that we travel to Walmart to buy. Here's one of them.

Mainstays Vanilla candle, $5 for 20 oz jar

I'm always burning candles, and so I've tried quite a few over the years. I love these Mainstay vanilla candles, and here's why:

  • Perfect vanilla scent. You know how some vanilla scented products are too sweet and cloying? Or others are too warm and smell kind of nutty or like syrup? This is just a perfect vanilla cake scent. In fact, I've actually tricked my friends into thinking I'm baking a cake or vanilla cookies! I like to give my loved ones false hope, followed by disappointment. Hehe. Anyway, it's sort of similar to Yankee Candle's Buttercream scent, only better.

  • The price. $5 for a 20 oz candle! The 20 oz jar candle from Yankee Candle is $26. They also have a smaller 3 oz size for $1, if you'd like to try it first.

  • It's strong, but not headache inducing. Some candles don't throw their fragrance very far. Others are too strong and give me a headache. This is perfect. It's a strong fragrance. I've also tried the Better Homes & Garden vanilla candle from Walmart. It has a similar scent, but it barely throws any fragrance.

  • They burn a LONG time. I've had some Slatkins brand candles from Bath & Body Works, and while they are nice, they just seem to burn up too quickly. Especially for the price. These Mainstay candles burn forever. Forever! You definitely get your money's worth.

  • The jar packaging is nice. I like candles with lids because it's easy to put out the flame without smoking up your house. Also the label peels off easily on these ones, so you are left with a clean, clear jar.

If that's not enough reason to go buy a $5 candle, then I don't know what is.

And while we're on the topic, I just wrote a list of reasons why I love a candle. And took photos. I have truly earned my 'Blog Nerd' badge.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Easy art idea

I made some quick and easy art work this weekend. I plan to include it on our photo wall. Here it is:

It's just a graphic print with outlines of North Dakota and Minnesota, with hearts on the areas where Rob and I grew up.

It was super easy to make. I saw a similar concept on Etsy. The artist had taken a print of the United States and added hearts over the cities where she'd lived. I wanted to do something similar, but less broad. So I just did a google image search for a high resolution outline map of the United States. Then I crudely cut our our states in Photoshop (I'm from ND, Rob is from MN). I liked that the border for the country was slightly different than the state borders, so I left it. Then I added a few hearts, some text, and voila! Easy art that is cute but meaningful.

I also want to have a section of our photo/art wall that pays homage to our childhood homes, as well as our first home together. So to start, I took a photo of the house I grew up in and then converted it to a line drawing (I also tweaked the contrast and black levels). See below. I plan to do the same with Rob's childhood home and our Chateau.

I've got a few other ideas up my sleeve for the photo/art wall. Stay tuned for more, as those marketing geniuses always say.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pinterest inspiration

I'm finally addressing the big wall in the dining room that so badly needs art work. We're planning on doing a photo wall like this:

From Martha Stewart

I found the image on Pinterest (see my boards here). I like photo walls in general, but I like that this one is less chaotic since the photos are aligned along an imaginary middle line. I dig.

It's going to take us a while though. For one, we don't want to buy any new frames since we have so many. But unfortunately they are not the right color. We will be doing a lot of spray painting. Then we'll have to decide which photos and/or artwork to print for the wall.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some other beautiful spaces that I discovered via Pinterest. Please view my 'Home Inspiration' board for the original sources.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Favorite iPhone apps (part 1) and a few tips I've learned

Last month, I told you how I finally joined the modern world and purchased my first smart phone. So far, I really like having the functionality at my fingertips, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping a balance between work and personal life. Today I wanted to share some of my favorite (and most used/most useful) iPhone apps, as well as some tips and tricks I’ve learned. Read on.

*Note: Since I have so many photography-related apps, I think it would be more useful to do a review of everything I’ve tried. That way, I can tell you about my favorites but also compare them to other apps that are available. I’ll try to post the photography iPhone apps soon. I’ve tried a lot of ‘em!

Photography app reviews and examples coming soon

First things first, my iPhone 4 came with a few things pre-installed (if that’s the correct word), and so I didn’t need apps for the following:

  • Alarm clock
  • Weather
  • Maps/routing/directions

Aside from those features, here are my most-used apps:

  • Kindle (free) - Did you know that you can download the free Kindle app for non-Kindle devices? I didn’t, but it’s now my most-used iPhone app. I take the bus to work, and so I really like the convenience of having reading material on my phone. It’s so easy to buy Kindle e-books and send them to your phone. Kindle books are pretty affordable too. The ones I purchased have been between $4 and $10, but I did see that they have a decent collection of $1.99 options. I know a lot of people have gripes about digital form of books, but I personally have no problem with it. It’s convenient, and I like that it minimizes collecting more material items (aka more hard copy books on my already overflowing bookshelf).

    Incidentally, the first 3 books I’ve read on the Kindle app were the Hunger Games trilogy. I typically like books with these kinds of themes (dystopian society, rebellion and uprising, etc in the line of 1984, Brave New World, and so on). I was surprised at first to find that these books are such an easy read. I think they are written for young adult readers, and so they are actually sort of light reading despite the dark subject matter. The story is simple to follow, and the language is clean and perhaps even elementary. Surprisingly I found that I liked this, even though it’s not my standard fare. Since I read on the bus for 20-25 minutes at a time, I need books that are easy to get into and can be picked up quickly where I last left off. Do you have any recommendations that fit this criteria? Please comment below.

  • Google (free) - This app just makes it easier to do a Google search. Normally you’d need to launch the Safari browser, type in the Google URL, and then type in your search key words. This saves time by spitting you out at the key word step.

  • Wikipedia (free) - Similar to the Google app, this is just a time-saver. When I’m out and about, I usually only do surf the Internet if I need to find an answer or look something up. For example, Rob thought Steve Van Zandt was a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd. He’s not. Rob was thinking of the Van Zant brothers. But Rob was right that Steve Van Zandt was a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Instant answers to unimportant trivia questions? This iPhone is worth its weight in gold!

  • YouTube (free) - Same as above. Just makes it easier to quickly find a YouTube video. The last time I used this, it was to show Rob the music video for Guns’N’Roses’ “November Rain.” Wow, I had forgotten how great that video is! I’m half joking, but you have to watch it. Slash exits a church in the country and rips into a flaming guitar solo out in a field. And his guitar isn’t even plugged in! (Check it out here.)

  • Pinterest (free) - Are you a Pinterest addict yet? I heard about the site a seemingly long time ago, but I didn’t get into it until recently. Now I’m hooked. Some people don’t understand the appeal, and I can see how it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But I’m a visual person, and I get inspired by seeing collections/groups of things (photos, colors, etc) together. Ummm, I make design boards for fun. See what I mean? Total nerd. So I love how Pinterest makes it super easy to keep and organize visual bookmarks of things you find online. The mobile app is a great time killer. It’s pretty much the same concept as the normal website, but reformatted for mobile device viewing.

    Nerd trivia: Did you know that you it’s really easy to format your own website for mobile viewing? You simply make a new CSS stylesheet with a few basic changes. Most designers convert the site content to a single-column format with a very simple bulleted list navigation at the top. Also images that are solely for design purposes (ex: background images) are usually disabled, so you only see images that are intended to be part of the web content. You can also add some tags to make things easier for the user (ex: if your site includes a phone number, you can add a tag so that the phone number becomes a link that can be clicked and called instantly).

  • Light (free): This is a pretty cool idea. It turns your phone into a flash light. It has a pretty impressive output too.
As you can see, most of those apps are pretty basic. Maybe a little boring, even. But they do add a lot of functionality for my particular phone uses.

Anyway, those are MY favorite iPhone apps, but of course I did some googling in search of other “best of” app lists. I found quite a few suggestions, and I downloaded most of the free ones. I haven’t had a chance to give these an in-depth try-out, but I plan on doing a "part 2" to this article once I try out a few more.

Download apps here

More tips and tricks:
  • Improve battery life. Turn off GPS/location settings. You will save a lot of battery life this way, and you can still easily turn on GPS settings if you want to use them (like to route directions, for example). Also turn off automatic mail updating. I have my email pushed to my phone, but it only refreshed when I open my email. This really makes a big difference.
  • Buy additional charging cables off Amazon at discounted rate. I ordered a few of these ones for only $1.07 each, and they work great. The Apple version is $19!
  • Use wi-fi whenever possible (conserves your monthly data allowance for times when you really need it).
  • Use a password. I know it’s annoying, but the security is worth the effort. When I decided to send my work email to my phone, I knew I’d need a password, just in case the phone is ever stolen.
Whew. This was a pretty long post, but I hope it was informative and helpful. Remember to comment below and tell me your favorite apps and your favorite books.

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