An Uncomplicated Life Blog: November 2017

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Tips For A Stress Free Holiday Guest Stay

Hosting guests in your home this holiday season? Use these tips and COUPONS for a stress-free stay!



My husband and I decided to host both Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Because we're transplants, we have no in-state family. In fact, both of our families are TWO flights away because neither live in large cities. (Shout out to my sister and youngest brother-in-law who are sensible enough to live in cities large enough with direct flight options!) Flying is stressful enough during the holidays, but is pure torture with two toddlers, potential bad weather, and the "rush hour" of airport holiday traffic. And thus, we arrive at our decision to host both the major holidays! Plus, cough cough, we live the furthest south and our weather is the best this time of year, cough cough. While not as stressful as traveling, hosting can indeed be overwhelming and stressful! Follow these tips for a stress free holiday guest stay if you too are hosting this year.


1) Plan ahead
I like to do as much ahead as possible before my guests arrive, so that I'm able to be more present when they're here. That means I plan meals and snacks ahead and do the subsequent shopping. I do any cooking or baking that can be done ahead of time, like this recipe I recently shared (perfect for breakfast or a sweet afternoon snack!) We haven't eaten off of my German fine bone china since my kids were born (because, DUH) but once they're old enough, I'll make sure that's washed and ready to be used. Make sure your guest room sheets are washed and ready, too.


2) Don't forget the details
I find it easy to remember the big things - the turkey, ordering the Christmas ham, scheduling my housekeeper to arrive the day before quests, etc. But what about those little details, like do I have Kleenex in common spaces and in the guest room? Do we have enough toilet paper? Are there enough paper towels to clean up the kitchen after spills? Make sure you stock up on paper products! Walmart has aisles full of them to choose from and a variety to fit your needs, or you can order online at Walmart online and have it delivered to your door two days later. Their prices are already amazing, but check out these further discounts on these name brand paper products:


3) Let things go
Casserole didn't turn out quite like you wanted? Baby screaming during family holiday photos? Uncle Jim drink too much again this year? Roll with it! While it might not have turned out like you envisioned it, sometimes the "bloopers" are what make for the best memories. I remember one time, years before I was married, I brought a boyfriend home. A family friend was staying with us, and she and I decided to make a breakfast casserole at midnight (after many glasses of wine, mind you) for the next morning. As we sat down to eat the next day, my then-boyfriend pulled something inedible out of his mouth... It was the rubber band that had been around the cellophane of the mushrooms we chopped up for the egg bake! Oops. Fortunately he was good-natured about it, no rubber was consumed, and that story is still told in my family today.


The holidays are such a special time of year to gather with friends and family. Don't let the stress of hosting overnight guests ruin the fun! Use these tips for a stress free holiday guest stay, and get busy making memories and stories that will be told for years to come. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

How To Snack Healthily

Why healthy snacking is the key to weight maintenance and an overall healthy lifestyle


This post is sponsored by Planetarians on behalf of Mavrck Influencers. All opinions are my own.

Regardless of whether we're in the thick of the middle of the holidays or not, there is no shortage of junk food to consume. The office kitchen is full of donuts leftover from a morning meeting, there's cookies at an afternoon play date, and there's the chips you opened "just for a few" while you cook dinner. Unhealthy choices abound! They also lead to weight gain and contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle. But there are great ways to snack healthily, as long as you're armed with the right information on what makes a healthy snack choice.


It's obvious that a pile of cookies in the middle of the afternoon doesn't make the "healthy snack" cut. But what about popcorn? Whole wheat crackers and cheese? Fresh fruit? What are the best choices to make when you need a snack to get you to the next meal?

There are two components to a good snack choice: It's got protein and fiber, preferably a lot of both. Protein rich foods move through your digestive system more slowly than simple carbohydrates. This helps prevent blood sugar drops - the biological function that makes you feel physical hunger. Your body actually has to use more calories to digest protein (yes, you burn calories simply digesting food!) because of the long length it takes to move it through your system.

Fiber is key because it's what keeps you feeling fuller for longer. It's naturally low calorie, so it fills your digestive system with low calories. Fiber also feeds the good bacteria in your body's micobiome, which is your body's "second immune" system against suffering from food-borne illnesses. That's a win-win for fiber and for you!


So now that you know you need food with both protein and fiber, what are some good, healthy snack choices? When you hear protein, you probably think meat. But did you know meat production is one of the largest environmental hazards on the planet? From growing feed, to water usage, to the waste the animals produce, heavy meat eaters contribute disproportionately to greenhouse gases, global warming and the destruction of natural environments. While meat is indeed high in protein, there are vegetarian sources of protein that have MORE grams of protein per serving than environmentally destructive meat.

Let's switch gears back to fiber real quick. Did you know that the FDA recommends you get 28 grams per day? Sound manageable? Well, that's 10 apples. Or two POUNDS of broccoli. Still sound manageable?! I don't eat that much and I eat mostly veggies!


Planetarians comes in with more protein than meat, and more fiber than produce. In one 1.5oz container, you're packing in 12g of protein and 11g of fiber. That's almost your whole day's worth of fiber in one snack! And 3% more protein per gram than meat. There's five ingredients in this snack, all of which you can pronounce. And they come in awesome flavors, like Ranch or Chili Lime (that one was my personal fave) that you and your kids will love.


These snacks are easy to throw in your bag to bring anywhere. The cup has a resealable lid, and comes in a easy to hold container. Ever had your kids spill a whole bag of snacks? Me too. Or they rip it down the side and snack fly everywhere (please tell me I'm not alone here...) Not with these cups! I love anything that I can reseal if not all of it gets eaten, and comes in smart packaging that the little fingers of my kids can handle.


Snacking is important to keep your blood sugar levels up, and healthy snacking is essential for weight maintenance. Protein and fiber are key components for a healthy snack. Snack healthy with Planetarians - they're loaded with fiber, protein and fun flavor options that create the perfect snack option for you and your family.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I'm hosting at my house, so I'm taking the day to cook, bake, drink and be merry with my family. No post today but you can catch me on Instagram Stories! Get off the internet and go spend some QT with your main squeezes.

 
via GIPHY

Monday, November 20, 2017

Do You Really Act Like That?

In a world full of paid influencers, how can you really tell if your favorite online personalities are truly who they say they are?


Over the last two to three weeks, the universe has been aligning in the CRAZIEST of ways over here. Does anyone else ever notice how that happens? Kinda like the proverbial "when one door closes, another one opens"? Most of this "stars aligning" nonsense is blog related for me, from both a paid perspective in talking directly to brands, through PR companies, and in conversations with my followers. None of these people know each other, but it's so crazy how they're all talking about the same thing to me. It can be boiled down to a snarky comment (that I snort-laughed at) from a follower of mine who asked me after watching a series of my Instagram Stories, "Do you really act like that in real life?"


While this person was coming from an obnoxious place, it got me thinking. And it got me thinking about several conversations I've had with brands and PR companies alike in the past month or so. I had the pleasure of having a brutally honest conversation with a brand manager at one of my favorite PR firms to work with. He was letting me know that I likely didn't get a paid gig with a particular brand because I was too edgy in my content. To which I replied, "hey I totally get it - I'm not everyone's cup of tea!"

He then replied in the most unexpected way. I'm going to paraphrase here, but basically he said, "Look Paige, don't ever underestimate a brand to get in their own way and ruin their own marketing campaign with boring influencer content that interests no one and gets zero clicks. That's on them. There are SO many influencers that are ho-hum. The fact of the matter is, the market is too saturated for bull$hit content (he didn't edit out the s like I did and I love him for it). Keep doing you, because you're doing it right!"

In fact, four of my biggest contracts in 2017 have been by brands pitching ME, and citing some of my raciest online content as pieces that drew them to me. Pieces that I was a tad nervous to publish because I was afraid of any partnership/monetary repercussions. Low and behold, they had the opposite effect of what I had feared!


Here's the thing: The brand manager at the PR firm was spot on. There's WAY TOO MUCH CONTENT from influencers to be mediocre and be successful.

I've been blogging for about three and a half years. I've been making money blogging for two and a half of those years. This profession has exploded, and and expanded to include social media only influencers, too. This summer I hit a wall. I got sick of the whole thing: Sick of how fake-nice other bloggers are in online support groups, sick of how once they hit certain numbers, they no longer talk to bloggers "beneath them", sick of watching BAD Instagram Stories of nonstop sponsored content that quite frankly, watching paint dry would be more interesting.

So I decided, you know what? I'm going to stop editing myself so much online. I'm going to blog about things I love and am passionate about (but keep it safe to read at work!), I'm going to show more of my personality on my social channels, and I'm particularly going to try to make my IG Stories something worth watching. When I'm feeling feisty or animated about something, I'm going to pull out my phone and be entertaining about it!

So what happened as a result of this "bigger" online personality? Of more opinionated blog posts? Of being more of who I am around my friends and less of who I felt I should be online as a blogger?


August saw a big uptick in income. September even better. And by October, I was making the same money I did in my last 9-5 as a director of fundraising for a $22MM nonprofit. November is pacing to be even better than October! That's not to brag on my business skills (although you certainly need them to be a paid blogger). It's to say that when you are authentically you and you cut the bull$hit of online influencer marketing, brands notice. And they want to work with you.

So to the commenter who asked me if I "really act like that in real life", the answer is, yeah I do sometimes. Sometimes not. Sometimes I'm really that riled up about something. Whatever it is that I write about here, I'm absolutely passionate about. My photos on Instagram are all live-shot candids that really happened - nothing is staged. (Although I do sometimes change my boys' shirts so that my color scheme is consistent.) My goal is to be as authentic as I can be while being as entertaining as can be. And I hope that that continues to resonate with all of you!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Holiday Haystacks Party Appetizer

This easy to make appetizer is affordable for large parties, and festive for the holiday season


This post is sponsored by Barilla and Galbani, but all opinions are my own.


One of the best parts of the holidays are all the holiday parties to go to. "Friendsgiving", Secret Santa brunches, or the good old fashioned cocktail party, this time of year is so fun to get together and celebrate the season. However, I've been a host of such fun parties, and man, is it a ton of work! From cleaning the house to getting the decorations, preparing the menu and doing all the shopping - hosting a party is no small commitment! In the spirit of keeping things easy and simple this holiday party season, I've partnered with Barilla pasta and Galbani cheese to bring you a SIMPLE, easy and tasty party appetizer - what I'm calling Holiday Haystacks.


There's a few things that are so great about this recipe. First, there's a whopping 10 ingredients in it. Only 10! So it's super simple to throw together. Second, from start to finish you're looking at a half hour of time. So it's simple and quick to boot! Third, I've used mini-muffin tin cups to bake the pasta, so not only are we talking about a handheld app (no need for the extra dishes or utensils!) but it's also portion controlled, making it easier to keep consumption levels in check.


Shopping was also insanely easy forthis recipe. All the ingredients are available at Walmart, from the Galbani ricotta to the Barilla pasta and traditional sauce. Plus when you buy all three products, you can get $2 off from Ibotta!  A quick visit to the spice aisle (if you don't keep a well stocked one already) and you've got this appetizer made for under $10. The holidays are always so focused on large roasts of meat, we often forget that pasta is a great way to get together and enjoy the season too! 


Holiday Haystacks Party Appetizer
- 1 box Barilla Mostacciolli pasta
- 3/4 cup Barilla traditional pasta sauce
- 1 15oz container Galbani ricotta cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic poweder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried onion flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper to taste
- halved grape tomatoes and julienned fresh basil to garnish


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil water for pasta and cook the pasta to al dente instructions. Do not overcook the pasta because it will continue to bake in the oven - make sure to drain it while it still have a bite to it!


While the pasta cooks, mix together the ricotta, eggs, and seasonings. Salt and pepper the mixture. Add the mixture to the drained pasta and stir together. Spray a mini-muffin tin pan with a nonstick spray, or brush with olive oil. Fill the tin with pasta, arranging the pasta within the tins somewhat vertically (to look like little haystacks - and also, to ensure each pasta is touching some of the sauce, which will congeal in the oven and make it a hand-held appetizer).


Bake the pasta for about seven minutes. Cut the grape tomatoes in half, and julienne the fresh basil (cut it into long strips). Add one half tomato to each muffin cup and sprinkle with fresh basil. Bake for another three minutes or so, until the pasta is starting to get golden brown, but isn't crispy or crunchy.

This easy to make holiday appetizer is affordable and easy to serve to large or small parties

Let the pasta rest in the muffin tin pan until mostly cooled. Transfer to a party platter and enjoy! This holiday haystacks party appetizer is packed with flavor, easy to make, affordable, and festive for the holiday party season.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Tart Cherry Pistachio & Dark Chocolate Biscotti

No matter what time of year, this biscotti goes perfectly with a cup of coffee or tea, and is pretty enough to impress house guests


Every now and again, when I'm whipping up recipes in my kitchen like a mad hatter, I really impress myself. Something turns out better than I had anticipated. This, my friends, is one of those times! And I say that with the caveat of me not being a sweets person. Gimme all the chips and salsa and queso but put cookies, cake or ice cream in front of me and I won't even touch it. So for me to actually like a sweets recipe? Oh you know this tart cherry, pistachio and dark chocolate biscotti has to be good!


I think I only bake about two to three times a year, and that includes birthday cakes. I don't enjoy it. It's a science, so there's very little you can do to "play" with the recipe, as all the ingredients have to play together so that scientific responses happen, things rise, bind together, etc etc and you have a delicious final product. Bah humbug, playing by the rules of a recipe is bunk! I like to play and change things I don't like and add things I think will work better. Which is kinda funny, because I *accidentally* did that with this recipe. I kinda messed up how much baking powder went in, but I really like how it turned out!


I'm not big into making Christmas cookies (everyone gifts sweets and if you bake them too, your house is just FULL of sugar and that grosses me out over the holidays). But my husband and kids enjoy a good cookie, so I try to make one batch a year (last year was these super easy Spritz cookies, and the year before was my MIL's monster cookie recipe that I turned into a Christmas cookie). This year I'm hosting both Thanksgiving and Christmas with different sets of families, and I wanted the ability to put something out in the morning that was easy. I'm NOT a morning person, so I'm not getting up early to cook anyone breakfast! But lay out some biscotti and coffee? Ok, that I can manage.


Tart Cherry Pistachio & Dark Chocolate Biscotti
- 1 and 1/2 cups dried tart cherries
- 3/4 cup chopped pistachios
- 2 medium or 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup melted butter (from one stick of butter)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 and 1/2 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3oz dark chocolate bar (NOT chocolate chips - they don't melt well and contain wax)
- 1/2 cup cranberry cocktail juice



Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, pour the cranberry juice over the dried cherries to reconstitute them. Set aside, and let soak for about 20 minutes. If you're an idiot like me, or can't find de-shelled pistachios, spend the next thirty minutes of your life getting each nut out of the shell. You'll never get those thirty minutes back. Be prepared for anger. Lightly chop the pistachios so that the nuts aren't too big to bit into.



Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Melt the butter and let cool slightly, then add to the dry ingredients. Add the egg(s). Drain the cherries, but reserve about 4-5 tablespoons of the juice and add to the mixture. Fold in the cherries and the pistachios. 

The mixture will be on the dry side, but if you grab some, it will stick together. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and form the mixture into two loaves. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until they're just starting to turn a golden brown. Let cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooing rack to let cool completely. Once cooled, cut into one to one and a half inch thick slices. Return to the baking sheet and bake for another 25 minutes, or until each piece is golden brown.



Once the biscotti pieces have cooled completely, melt dark chocolate in the microwave, stirring ever 15 seconds so that it doesn't burn. In my convection microwave, it took less than a minute to melt the whole bar, so be mindful! Use a fork to drizzle the chocolate over the cooled biscotti. I placed a piece of parchment paper under the cooling rack holding the biscotti for easy clean up! Wax paper would work, too.

This is a great holiday treat to have on hand, or any time of the year when you have house guests and want a homemade treat around

Like it? Pin it!

Allow the chocolate to harden completely. Store in an air-tight container; freeze in a ziplock container; or place in a gift tin to give away. Best enjoyed dipped in a cup of hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Giving Back This Holiday Season

With so many families in need, support other parents by purchasing Huggies diapers at Kroger stores and they'll donate to the National Diaper Bank Network



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There is absolutely no doubt about it: Babies are expensive. From all the baby gear to the daycare, then all the way through sports fees, outgrown-too-quickly-clothes and even on to college tuition, kids are no small expense! It's completely overwhelming at times. Especially during the holidays when you want to create something special for your children, but the reality is you're struggling to make ends meet every week. But there's a super easy way for you to help families in need: From November 8 through December 5, when you buy one big pack or two jumbo packs of Huggies diapers at Kroger, you'll get a FREE pack of wipes. Better yet, they'll donate a whole day's worth of diapers to the National Diaper Bank Network, a valuable resource for parents struggling to meet their baby's diaper needs. Give backthis holiday season!


After Henry was born, I didn't notice the cost of diapers because I was too busy gawking at the expense of formula. I think my poor new mom brain was so maxed out, it could only focus on one shocking expense at a time! I'm sure my husband would answer differently, as the finance manager of the house. After Otto was born, and I had two kids under two and two in diapers, I remember being FLOORED whenever I went on a diaper run. Diapers and wipes for two babiesis no joke! There was more than a few times I wondered how single parents do it.



Huge selection of Huggies at Kroger!

And it's not just me. Here's the reality: In a recent study completed by Huggies and the National Diaper Bank Network, more than one in three - 36 PERCENT - of US families struggle with diaper need, which is the ability to provide enough diapers to keep their babies and toddlers clean and healthy. Thirty-Six. Percent. To meet this drastic need, Huggies has partnered with Kroger to donate up to a million diapers to the National Diaper Bank Network, a national nonprofit dedicated to meeting the basic needs of babies and their families.

By purchasing Huggies diapers at Kroger stores, you can help families in need. Just pick up a big pack or two jumbo packs of Huggies® diapers, score your free wipes, and know that you've gifted a family an entire day of diapers for theirbaby or toddler.

Now that I only have one kid in full time diapers, the struggle has become easier. Otto even helps me carry them in from the car while Henry gets my Kroger shopping bags (I'm not kidding. These kids LOVE to help!) They also love to play... After a diaper change, Otto doesn't sit still enough to put his pants back on! Then Henry gets jealous and wants to go pantsless. Ahhhhhhh, toddlers.



Join me in giving back this holiday season. If you're one of the lucky ones who doesn't struggle to meet your baby's diaper needs, head over to Kroger and pick up some Huggies®. You'll be helping ONE THIRD of US families who can't meet their child's needs. The world is a better place when we can all pitch in and help each other.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Best Way To Store Essential Oils

Essential oils come in breakable glass bottles and need to be kept in dark, cool spaces. Aroma Outfitters has amazing products to store your essential oils!


This post is sponsored by Aroma Outfitters. All opinions are my own.

It was the first year I was really getting into essential oils that it happened. I had my oil starter kit that I initially stored my oil bottles in, but had just started to purchase other oils and they no longer fit into the box. I grabbed a plastic container and put them all in there, and put them on top of the bookshelf in my office/the playroom so that they were out of kids' reach. Then the bookshelf got bumped into. And they fell off. Which probably would have been fine, because the playroom is carpeted, but a bottle of orange and a bottle of German chamomile hit a wooden toddler chair. And instantly broke. Now, orange essential oil is just that in color - orange. But German chamomile? Think almost squid ink like, a dark dark blue. And the carpet is beige. Not to mention the broken glass everywhere. I took me a week of daily Rug Doctor cleanings to get those stains out! After that, the oils got moved and I vowed I'd find the best way to store my essential oils.


But I didn't. I moved them to the top of the fridge - again, in attempts at keeping them away from both little hands and light. But what I didn't realize is that the top of the fridge is quite warm, and it gets all the heat coming from the back part that faces the wall while the fridge runs. So then I found spare space in my china cabinet, which worked for a while. But as my oil collection grew, I needed an even bigger container for all the oils, and the china cabinet quickly became too small, too.

My former method of storing essential oils. Eye roll.
Aroma Outfitters reached out and said, hey, we like your style and see that you're oily! Have you ever heard of us before? I hadn't, because they're a newly launched small business, specializing in essential oil storage. I'm pretty sure my face turned into the heart eyes emoji as I checked out their site, and instantly began begging for a partnership with them.


Aroma Outfitters makes wooden boxes that are the best way to store your essential oils. They're the perfect height of most essential oil bottles, regardless of your preferred brand. I got the 87 bottle box, which has slanted slots for my roller bottles. They also have an inert you can switch out so that this box holds 100 bottles of oil! Just getting new to essential oils? They've got you covered with smaller boxes and different carrying cases.




For all my oily newbies, here are their best tips on proper essential oil storage so you don't make the same mistakes I did:

1. You want them accessible and not hidden so they are readily available for your family to use. If the oils are out of sight, they are out of mind. We wrote an article on why we keep our oils in the Kitchen
2. Keep them out of damaging sunlight (and clear plastic tubs if possible….Just sayin’ :). Exposure to sunlight and extreme heat over time can change the evaporation rate, chemical composition, and efficacy of essential oils. You will want to avoid keeping your oils in the car, near windows, or next to any heat source for extended periods of time. When hitting the pool during the summer months with my oils, I put them in the cooler with our snacks. 
3. Keep your oils labeled (and we even alphabetize them in our box) so at a glance you can find the oil you are looking for. 
4. Travel with your essential oils. This is why we designed the roller bottle cases, canvas cases and even carry bag for the essential oil boxes so you could easily take them with you so they are readily available when you need them.  
5. Keep your oils organized and in 1 place as much as possible. 


Interested in getting yours or gifting a box? Find them here! And for more great storage tips, oil usage and other ideas, check out their social channels: 

The holidays are upon us, and if you have a friend or family member who is either an essential oil guru or a newbie, this is the perfect gift for them! Not only do the boxes come in various sixes to fit your collection, but they come with stickers for the tops of your oils so that you can easily spot them. I cannot tell you how much easier it is to pull out this box and already know where the oil I'm looking for is over a massive, cluttered, de-organized container.