Thursday, April 30, 2015

Awesome Life Friday #17 (Link-Up)

Welcome to Awesome Life Friday and Happy May Day!  We can't wait to see what you've brought to share with us this week!

Before we start the party, check out what we've been up to:

Crystal introduced us to these tasty trail mix treats in a variety of blends just right for snacking on the go.

Vanessa shares a few breathing exercises that are easily melded into your day, to increase calm and reduce stress.

Bree has created a delicious and nutritious alternative to bottled Ranch, using Kefir Cheese and yogurt.

Lauren shares the Plum Deluxe Tea of the Month Club - and you can enter the giveaway for an ounce of artisan, fair trade in the blend of your choice!

Seeing what you've been up to also makes our week awesome!  Here are a few that really inspired us - if you've been featured, you're welcome to grab a button! 

Here we go!

Healthy, Homemade Ranch Dressing (Kids Love it Too!)


To be totally honest, I'm not the biggest fan of Ranch dressing... unless it's on a tasty buffalo wing! But since our family revamped our eating habits four years ago, there haven't been too many of those around the dinner table.

However, when I was pregnant, Ranch was one of my strange cravings. Ranch with baby carrots and cucumber slices. I wanted it so badly that each time we made a trip to the grocery store, I would buy another bottle "just in case". By the time Ivette was born, I had about six bottles of ranch in my fridge. I just couldn't get enough!

However, I also hated eating it because of all the additives found in store bought ranch. Most brands are full of artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, phosphoric acid and MSG. And store bought Ranch Seasoning packets aren't much better. Not good pregnancy eats at all. I would feel so guilty after I indulged my craving.

Now Ivette is a full on toddler who loves her "dippy dip" aka Any Substance She Can Dunk Her Food Into. When we go out to parties or restaurants, Ranch is often served among the "healthy" options, although it is far from it. Once she had a taste, she wanted more... I suspect it was her all along driving my cravings!

On the upside, she loved eating vegetables with it, so there was that, but I just couldn't get over how awful that stuff was for her. Even the organic varieties weren't hitting the mark. Sure they were organic, but had zero nutrition. We try to focus on nutrient density, and it seemed silly to let her scoop up tablespoon after tablespoon of the stuff if it wasn't helping her body grow.

There HAD to be something better... Buuuut there wasn't! So I was going to have to come up with something.

The seasoning mix was easy, then that's when it got tricky. I tried tons of different dressing bases, from sour cream to greek yogurt, but I couldn't find the perfect balance between health, nutrition and flavor... until I stumbled across Kefir cheese.

Sure you can make this recipe with any base, but I recommend a mixture of Kefir cheese and Greek yogurt. Both these items help give the final product a ranchy "tang" without the need for buttermilk. They are also full of health benefits and nutrition. You'll get a dose of live probiotics from the kefir and a healthy serving of protein from the Greek yogurt + calcium and vitamin D. Feel free to change it up depending on how you like your ranch to taste, but try the original! You won't regret it! And now I present...

The Healthiest (and tastiest) Ranch Dressing You'll Ever Eat
Nutrition, flavor and 100% guilt free
You'll Need 

2 tbsp Parsley
2 tsp Dill
2 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 1/4 tsp Sea Salt
4 tsp Onion Powder
1 tsp Unbleached Cane Sugar
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Paprika
1/4 tsp Cayenne
1/2 c Kefir Cheese
1/4 c Plain Greek Yogurt
Whole Milk or Buttermilk


1. Combine all herbs and spices. I like to bring these together with a good ole' fashioned mortar and pestle, but you can use a spice grinder or small blender too. It is better if you can crush the herbs together in some way so that whatever you use as your dip/dressing base will be flavored evenly.

1A. Take a sniff.... really! This stuff really smells like ranch! It's amazing. I love the scent of it all mixed up. I never skip this step, and neither should you!

***Reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons of the ranch seasoning mix, and store the rest in an airtight container. Use the remainder just as you would a ranch packet. Make ranch burgers, homemade ranch wings or more dip. Tons of possibilities!

2. Take your dressing base(s) and add to a bowl. For this recipe I use kefir cheese and plain Greek yogurt. Stir to combine.

3. From here you can just add the reserved ranch seasoning, whisk everything together and have an amazingly thick, delicious Ranch Veggie Dip. But if you are going for something more towards dressing, you'll need to thin this out.

4. Here comes the part of personal preference... whisk in however much milk is needed to make the dressing the consistency you like. You can use buttermilk, although it's not at all needed. I know, I know! That's what makes ranch dressing... but just trust me. This is totally worthy without it!

Some people prefer really thin ranch, which is perfect for dressing a salad. I like my dressing to run, but retain enough thickness to cling to Ivette's veggies when she dips. Let's just say a loose dressing makes for one messy toddler!

5. Serve with a side of healthy veggies like rainbow carrots, cucumber slices, or strips of bell peppers in every color. Store leftovers in an airtight container or mason jar in the fridge. For best flavor, eat within the week. However, it's doubtful it will last that long!

Now that I think of it, this would even be delicious served with oven baked chicken tenders or fish strips. Your little one won't be able to get enough. I promise! Ivette approves!

Toddlers that clear their plate, eat their veggies and ranch that's healthy and healthful? I call that a win, win, win!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How to Feel More Calm With Breathing Exercises


Chances are we’ve probably heard it before “calm down, take a deep breath”. Right? Now how often do we practice breathing deeply regularly. Go ahead, take a deep breath right now. How did it feel? We should probably do it more often right? Well here’s how you can.

First, let’s look at why taking a deep breath is so important. When we are in high stress situations whether it be a very upset child or an angry boss our breath becomes very shallow. As our breath becomes shallow, our body tenses, we often can not think clearly and what’s our reaction? Next time you’re in a situation like this, try an experiment and take a few deep breathes before you react.

When we practice breathing exercises regularly it becomes more natural to use a few deep breaths here and there throughout the day.

I suggested trying out each of the breathing exercises below. Choose which one feels most comfortable and practice it first thing in the morning. Set a timer for a few minutes and dedicate that time to breathing. Your entire day could change by beginning it with breathing.

1) Begin inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Start to count how long you inhale and how long you exhale. Try to match them now. Example: inhale for 3 seconds, exhale for 3 seconds. Make the inhale and exhale both feel even and comfortable.

2) As you inhale through the nose feel the belly rise, ribs expand and chest rise. Pause and hold that breath in. Exhale and sigh it all out as you feel the chest fall, ribs retract, and stomach sink back in. Inhale feel how amazing a deep inhale is, pause and notice whats bothering you, exhale that thing that is bothering you as you sigh.

3) As you inhale bring your mind to a thought that makes you happy. As you exhale smile. Go ahead really smile, it works. Keep repeating the same thought or go through every thought that makes you happy.

Unfortunately we do not have a pause button that can teleport us to our favorite getaway when things get tough. But you do have deep breathing available to you whenever you need it for as long as you would like it.

Take a deep breath, repeat again, again, and again because it really works.

In good health,
Vanessa Hartmann

Monday, April 27, 2015

Review and Giveaway: Plum Deluxe Tea of the Month Club


I think its high time for another tea review! High Tea Time!! I crack myself up.

Seriously though, if you learn one thing about me from reading my contributions to the blog, it should be that I LOVE tea time! Apparently word of my tea passion has reached far and wide and straight to the desk of the wonderful folks of Plum Deluxe in  Portland, Oregon. Plum Deluxe founder, Andy Hayes contacted us and asked for me personally to conduct a review of their monthly tea sampler box. Of course I was honored and thrilled at the request!

I hadn’t heard of Plum Deluxe so I jumped on the old interwebs and did some searching. I learned that Andy started Plum Deluxe with inspiration from his mother, who, when diagnosed with cancer, decided that she would live every one of her last moments to the fullest.

To Andy, Plum Deluxe was a way for him to honor her passion for life, by helping people create moments that matter every day.

I was in tears after reading the about section on their award winning blog. There couldn’t have been a more perfect way to tug on my heart strings.

I had a similar inspiration from my own grandmother before she passed away. My Grandma would always eat birthday cake with her Constant Comment tea for breakfast.

When I asked her why she ate cake for breakfast her reply was, “When you get to be my age, you can eat whatever the heck you want!” Her chutzpah inspired me to start my own tea and cake breakfast ritual on the 13th of every month, in honor of her birthday.

So what does all this have to do with tea you ask? Well Plum Deluxe offers USDA Organic, Fair Trade Certified, Artisan tea blends to the world one ounce at a time. Proceeds from the sales of their teas go to supporting the Plum Deluxe Blog and newsletter.

You can purchase any of their seasonal tea blends for $7.00 an ounce or you can join their Tea of the Month club. There are two options for the Tea of the Month (Taken directly from website):

Option 1: $10 per month, billed quarterly
One oz of tea each month
(1 blend, approx 15-20 cups)
Monthly sample of a 2nd extraordinary tea
Tea club member benefits (free shipping on teas & tea bags, 15% savings on tea accessories, monthly special partner discounts, and more)
Access to private tea lover’s community
Monthly tea pairings, recipes, & tip guides

Option 2: $16 per month, billed quarterly
Two oz of tea each month
(2 blends, approx 30-40 cups total)
Monthly sample of a 3rd extraordinary tea
Tea club member benefits (free shipping on teas & tea bags, 15% savings on tea accessories, monthly special partner discounts, and more)
Access to private tea lover’s community
Monthly tea pairings, recipes, & tip guides

Here is what I received in my Tea of the Month box: One ounce of Oregon Breakfast Blend, One ounce of Mindful Morning Earl Grey Blend, each with detailed brewing instructions, a canvas pouch for storage, a letter from the owner and it was all packed up in a pretty plum colored envelope.

Before it arrived, Andy took the time to email me and ask me what my tea preferences were. I am a black tea gal and I don’t particularly care for fruity or herbal teas. I am so pleased that I was able to get two blends that I adore and not have to suffer through something I wouldn’t enjoy.

The Oregon Breakfast tea, with its rich, hazelnut flavor was robust and satisfying. I take my breakfast tea with a hearty splash of milk and a dash of sugar which worked wonderfully here.

The Mindful Mornings Earl Grey blend though, was the best Earl Grey I’ve ever enjoyed and I’ve tried dozens. The vanilla and orange peel added a depth of flavor that I had been missing in other Earl Greys and I will come back for this one again and again.

Plum Deluxe is the third tea subscription I have had the pleasure of reviewing and has by far been my favorite experience.

I have enjoyed perusing their blog and have signed up for their weekly newsletter, The Blend, which is delivered every Sunday to my email. Their website is pleasant to navigate. They provide vivid pictures and descriptions of their teas. The blog offers free printables, e-books, articles, planners, and much more. My correspondence with them has been promptly and pleasantly replied to.

I highly recommend getting to know Plum Deluxe, so please visit their website.
You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Plum Deluxe is also offering an amazing giveaway to two lucky winners! If you win, you can choose one ounce of any of their current tea blends ($7 value). This giveaway is open to US residents only.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment in this entry as instructed by the Rafflecopter, then leave the name you commented under and your email in the box in the Rafflecopter entry. (This allows us to contact you if you win!)  This will open up additional optional entries to increase your odds of winning.

This giveaway is open to US RESIDENTS ONLY
and will end just before midnight ET on 5-11-15. 

The winner will be notified by email within 24 hours after the end of the giveaway.  In order to claim the giveaway prize, the winner will need to respond within 24 hours of notification, or an alternate winner will be selected.

Good luck everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, April 24, 2015

Review: Second Nature Snacks


When you are on the go a lot like I am, whether it is for business or pleasure, nothing sucks more than being on the road with a big dose of “hangry”.  For those not familiar with foodie terms, hangry is the mood you are in when you are so hungry you get angry, hence “hangry”.

One of my favorite to-go snacks for between meetings or while out camping in the woods, is a good nutty trail-mix.  Unfortunately eating the same trail-mix every day can get boring and some of them are full of trans-fats or sodium, which doesn’t help my blood pressure during business meetings.

When I received my box of Second Nature Snacks, I was pleased to see they have a simple spin on my trail-mix dilemma.  They carry a variety of mixes AND sizes, and their snacks have no trans-fat and very little sodium.  Plus, their wholesome medley had chocolate chunks and cashews, two of my favorite things.

My medleys arrived in a plain brown box rather quickly (within a week), and the two types of medley’s each had their own individual boxes with the individually packaged snack bags inside.  The two medley’s I received were:

  • Wholesome Medley - almonds, cashews, peanuts, cherries, cranberries, and dark chocolate
  • Simplicity Medley - almonds, cranberries, cashews, sunflower kernels, dried blueberries

Second Nature Snacks uses all natural ingredients, and mix their assortment with things that compliment each other well so they don’t need extra sweetness or salt in order to taste good.  Each ingredient looks hand-selected to provide a powerful punch of nutrition while out and about, such as dried blueberries which are rich in Vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene, fiber, and antioxidants.  They are gluten-free as well, which is excellent for my paleo-minded friends.

You can purchase in 14oz resealable pouches (great for family camping), or 2.25oz single serves (great for the purse or hiking).  They are easy to tear open, and I prefer the single serve packages because I have no manners and just pour them down my gullet.

My favorite was definitely the wholesome medley, mainly because of the chocolate, but they have several to choose from on their website.  They have a cranberry medley that looks divine with a mix of chocolates and some tart cranberries (I’m a big tart fan).

These will definitely be a requirement for my many camping trips I have planned for this year.  I love the idea of natural and wholesome ingredients in my mixes that will provide me with the nourishment I need and not all the unhealthy stuff from conventional mixes (trans-fat, extra sodium and sugar). 

You can find a store near you to purchase your own flavor package to take on the road or just enjoy in your back yard.  They are also available online from Amazon. Give them a try!

Second Nature Snacks on Facebook

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Awesome Life Friday #16


Welcome to Awesome Life Friday! We can't wait to hear what's made your life awesome this week!  But first, here's a peek at what we've been up to the last few days:

We are so excited by this giveaway!  Button Up a Month, a men's button-up shirt subscription, is offering 3 month subscriptions (of one shirt a month) to FIVE winners! Read Daniel's review, and then enter to win!

Vanessa, one of our newest contributors, spent 100 days living on the road - and she's sharing her tips for how to keep healthy in spite of the challenges that presented.

Another brand new contributor, Adrenne, shows us how she sews these adorable reusable cloth towels just right for tucking into a lunchbox or picnic basket.

Aurora reviews this wonderful artisan chutney company and shares her recipe for Mango Chutney Shrimp Stir-Fry.  To try some yourself, enter the Giveaway - two jars of Mango Chutney and a 'mystery' flavor is up for grabs!

Seeing what you've been up to also makes our week awesome!  Here are a few that really inspired us - if you've been featured, you're welcome to grab a button!

Gluten-Free, Vegetarian and chock full of veggies!

Why yes, yes we do!  And this list of adult coloring books is a great resource.

This homemade spray will give your sustainable laundry regimen some added oomph without resorting to harsh chemicals.

A simple prop that can be decorated throughout the seasons adds a unique and whimsically decorative focal point!

Review/Giveaway: Button Up A Month Subscription


I am admittedly a very relaxed type of guy. My wife would argue that I am bum. My everyday attire when I am not in uniform usually consists of a pair of basketball shorts, a t-shirt, a pair of flip flops, and hoodie on the occasional windy day. On multiple occasions my wife has expressed to me that she wished I would dress better, or that I would at least put a little more thought into it.

When she and I first got together I wore button-ups quite often. I was still very relaxed in my style, but I put a little more effort into it. I have certainly let myself go a little. So, when the opportunity came up to introduce our readers to Button up aMonth, I jumped at it. 

I thought this would be a great way to give a little more of what she was asking for. And I was not at all disappointed.

Button up a Month offers a service similar to that of renting DVDs from Netflix (except you're not renting the shirts, you're buying them). 

When you create your account on their website you go through their inventory and add shirts to your queue. Then they send you one shirt a month. Each month that they send you a shirt, you are billed $16.99 (with free shipping) and they send you the next shirt in your queue.  If there's no shirt in your queue, you're not billed. I thought the idea was genius. It’s a great way to build your wardrobe little by little, and the price is unbeatable.

I have to admit I was a little worried at first. I have always been very picky with my clothing. I have a very specific style and a very specific way I like my clothes to fit (just because I'm a bum doesn't mean I don't have strong preferences!). If it’s not perfect, I won’t spend a dime on it. 

It’s hard enough for me to find clothing that fits me in the store where I can try it on. Now I am expected to just order a shirt and hope it works out? After reading over their FAQ, I was a little more at ease about order clothing online. They allow you to return your shirts within 30 days of the ship date for sizing changes or a full refund. 
I spent hours debating over what shirts to try out. After I narrowed my list down I showed my wife which ones I was interested in and got some input from her. I ended up choosing the JP Pattern and the Radrick. I added the shirts to my que and waited. Within a few days the first shirt had shipped. 

I was quite impressed with both of them and especially liked the JP Pattern. The material is very lightweight and breathable. I even spent an evening drinking with some friends and never once felt like I needed to down grade to just my undershirt because I was too hot. 

I was very pleased with the fit as well. All of their smaller sizes (medium and large) come in an athletic fit meaning they are a semi-slim fitting shirt. Exactly the way I like my clothing to fit. The fabric fits well over my chest and falls nicely off over my stomach. 

Make sure you look over their Size Chart and don't just go by the size letters (Med-Athletic, Lg-Athletic, Lg-Reg, XL-Reg).  At a glance, you might think they can't accomodate larger men, but their XL measures out to what most brands would call XXL.

Button Up A Month is still a fairly new company and hasn't yet established a social media presence to help get the word out - hopefully, that will change, but meanwhile, go check out their website and give them a try - for $16.99 and a 30 day return policy, you really can't go wrong! 

Button Up a Month is letting us host a really generous Giveaway! 5 winners in the US will each receive a 3 month subscription (1 shirt a month for 3 months)!

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment in this entry as instructed by the Rafflecopter, then leave the name you commented under and your email in the box in the Rafflecopter entry. (This allows us to contact you if you win!)  This will open up additional optional entries to increase your odds of winning.

This giveaway is open to US RESIDENTS ONLY
and will end just before midnight ET on 5/7-15. 

The winner will be notified by email within 24 hours after the end of the giveaway.  In order to claim the giveaway prize, the winner will need to respond within 24 hours of notification, or an alternate winner will be selected.

Good luck everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway