Monday, April 6, 2015

30 Books to Add To Your TBR Pile in 2015 | My Reading Goal for the Year

*This post contains affiliate links

Last week I went to book club for the first time in months and realized how much I miss talking about books. It's not uncommon for most of us to have a notebook or the Notes app open on our phones all evening long, writing down titles other members recommend. I love finding new authors and my club members rarely disappoint.

I drove home thinking, "there's so many good books out there just waiting for me to find them!" Please tell me you feel the same so I don't feel like a complete fool.

Between book club, book podcasts, magazines, Facebook pages, Goodreads, Oyster, and my mom; my TBR list is so long it's bordering on ridiculous. But, since I don't think I'll be giving up reading anytime soon, I remain optimistic that I'll make my way through it eventually.

30 Book Suggestions to Add to Your TBR Pile

In 2013 I set a goal to read 40 books to take some of the sting out of turning 40. When I started this post it dawned on me I never published the update as to if I reached the goal or not (I did, barely). I'm cutting myself some slack and limiting this year's goal to 30. Before, I didn't allow any padding for books over 400 pages. Plus, because of the new Outlander series on Starz (which I LOVE!), I think I may be jumping back into those books.

Since putting it out in public will keep me accountable, here, in no particular order, are 30 books I'm hoping to get through this year.

1. The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh
2. Mermaids in Paradise, Lydia Millet
3. Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
4. The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton
5. We Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas
6. Station 11, Emily St. John Mandel
7. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
8. Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit
9. The 5th Wave, Rick Yancey
10. The Life We Bury, Allen Eskins
11. A Land More Kind Than Home, Wiley Cash
12. This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper
13. Friendswood, Rene Steinke
14. I'll Have What She's Having, Rebecca Harrington
15. Look At Me, Jennifer Eagan
16. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
17. Landline, Rainbow Rowell
18. The Martian, Andy Weir
19. Yes, Please, Amy Poehler
20. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, Cary Elwes
21. I Regret Nothing, Jen Lancaster
22. Zero to One, Notes on Startups, Peter Theil
23. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, Jeff Hobbs
24. The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters
25. Long Man, Amy Greene
26. Best to Laugh, Lorna Landvik,
27. Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
28.  The Hypnotists Love Story, Liane Moriarty
29. A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler
30. The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud


Bonus book: I confess, while I was putting this post together, I read both The 5th Wave and the second book in the trilogy, The Infinite Sea. They were both really quick reads. If you enjoy YA dystopian/sci fi you'll enjoy these. But, be forewarned: the third in the series will not be out until spring of 2016. 

Should I decide to up my goal to 40, which of your recent 
reads should I add to the list?


Friday, November 7, 2014

Veterans Day 2014 Free Offers and Discounts {Starbucks, Applebee's, Knott's Berry Farm and more}

Next week we celebrate Veterans Day. If you see a soldier, please thank them for their service. If you see a soldiers' family, please thank them, too. If you're looking for a way to give back beyond this one day per year, consider searching for volunteer opportunities on sites like VolunteerMatch, The Wounded Warrior Project, your local USO, or Feeding America (which often host a military food pantry).


Veterans Day Freebies, Offers and Deals for 2014

"True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost." ~ Arthur Ashe


Free Veterans Day meal or discount available from these restaurants and businesses:

Meals
Applebee's (specific menu items)
California Pizza Kitchen (specific menu items)
Build your own Grand Slam from 5am - Noon at Denny's 
Olive Garden (specific menu items, link goes to their Facebook page) 
Create your own combo at On the Border (link goes to their Facebook page)
Free doughnut and coffee from Krispy Kreme (link goes to their Facebook page)
Free select appetizer from Red Lobster (through 11/13/14)  
Red Robin is offering a Tavern burger and fries 
Famous Dave's is offering a One Meat Salute from 11am - 4:30
Free meal with beverage purchase from Hooters
Free appetizer from Ruby Tuesday
Starbucks is offering a "free tall (12 fl. oz.) brewed coffee to veterans, active duty service members AND military spouses"
Claimjumper is offering their free meal on Monday, 11/10
Free entree or pizza from Uno's Chicago Grill 
Military Appreciation Monday at Golden Corral is Monday, 11/17

Discounts
Military Tribute Days at Knott's Berry Farm from 11/2 - 11/21/14 
Free haircut at Great Clips
Free admission to all US National Parks 
Extra 20% off at JC Penney
"Receive 15 percent off eligible store items and 20 percent off Walgreens, Nice! and W brand products at any Walgreens or Duane Reade drugstore nationwide"


**Always check with each location to ensure they are participating and to get any conditions of the offer (specific hours, need to be in uniform, need to show ID, dine-in only, beverage not included, etc). For more offers (especially for restaurants not in California ), visit Kiplinger's Veterans Day 2014, Military.com, MilitaryBenefits.info, The Military Wallet and the Veterans Day offers page at Freebies.About.com.

Photo credit: Kathy Zinn on Flickr using Creative Commons (text and overlay by me)

Friday, October 31, 2014

10 Easy Ways to Live a More Sustainable Lifestyle and Not Break the Bank {Sponsored}

This is a sponsored post on behalf of the Nestle company's Coca Plan initiative. 

When I was a kid, we lived in a suburb about an hour south of Chicago. In the summers before we moved to California, my parents used to drag me to a “you pick it” farm all the way in Indiana. After hours in the car, we’d spent the rest of the day filling trash bags with different vegetables. My mom would wash and freeze them so that we’d have fresh vegetables all through the winter (it wasn’t uncommon for us to get completely snowed in for days at a time). My parents, along with three of their best friends, would also buy a side of beef, have it butchered and divided among the four families. It seems my parents were locavores well before the term existed. 

I will raise my hand right now and admit I am not the most conscientious consumer. When I’m shopping, be it for clothes, shoes or groceries, my focus is on finding the best value for my dollar. If I have to drive around town or spend time doing research to get the best deal, so be it. I happily donate items to Goodwill and sell Tyler’s gently used clothes on Craigslist. I’ve purchased from a thrift store only twice in my life because the deals were too amazeballs to pass up. I am a creature of shopping habit. 

But, for the past few months I’ve been re-evaluating my habits. I’ve been paying more attention to the articles appearing in my Facebook feed with subjects about sustainability, ethics, and responsibility. I’ve read up on slow food, fair trade, farm to table, CSA’s and even composting for city dwellers. It’s a lot of information, and frankly a little overwhelming. So much of the information I’m finding seems to be about living a certain lifestyle and making very deliberate choices. 

I’ll be honest; a lifestyle overhaul is not going to happen. I won’t say I’m too lazy to make big changes, but I have to acknowledge that some of the stores we shop in, like the Commissary and Exchange, aren’t going to have a large selection of socially conscious items. At the end of the day, my bottom line is still a top priority. I do know it’s time to start reducing our footprint and paying more attention to what we buy and who we buy it from. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Small shifts can add up. 

I’ve made a list of 10 easy, manageable steps we can start taking toward a more sustainable household. Some cost a bit more, some require a bit of effort and some are only a matter of creating
new habits. 


10 ideas for sustainable living

1. Join a CSA. This one won’t be easy for my family to implement. We’re not very adventurous when it comes to our vegetables. We tend to eat the same things over and over again. I’ve seen a few of my friends’ boxes and have had to do an Internet search to find out what some of the items are. If I could find a fruit only CSA, that would be a big hit at home. 

2. Follow the Rule of Three when clothes shopping. Last year I went to an event for My Sister’s Closet (an upscale retail shop, where I found one of the amazeballs deals), and a personal shopper/stylist spoke to us about creating a user-friendly closet and how to put outfits together. One thing she said stuck with me: when you're out shopping, if you want to buy an item, you have to be able to picture it working with at least three other items you own. I’ve taken that to heart and become less of an impulse shopper. 

3. Make friends with your grocery store staff. We’re really lucky we live in an area with easy access to stores like Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, Fresh & Easy and Whole Foods. It’s usually really easy to spot locally made products and most of the staff are more than happy to make a recommendation. 

4. Consider buying into a local, grass-fed farm program. This is the one that can get pricey depending on what farm you choose. We’re not going to go vegetarian, but I feel it’s irresponsible for me to not at least look into buying meats that have been raised locally and ethically. If we decide to try this, we’re going to split the order with another family to keep the monthly payments reasonable. 

5. Switch a few of your pantry staples to Fair Trade and/or Certified Organic. I’m embarrassed I never though of this before: I typed “fair trade certified pantry” into my search engine and wouldn’t you know? Amazon has an entire section for this! Seasonings, coffee, coconut oil, baking spices, sugar; the list was pretty impressive. My husband’s favorite salsa, from Costco, is Certified Organic under the Kirkland brand. I have a feeling if I paid more attention to labels I would find that many of my pantry items can be easily swapped. 

6. Do the same for your beauty cabinet. This is another that won’t be easy for us. My skin is pretty sensitive and my husband has eczema so we have to be really careful about bar soap, face wash and laundry soap. Once, I switched his deodorant because there was a great sale to match my coupons (same brand, but a gel not solid). It was a disaster. Fortunately, our son has been able to use them with no problems, but it was a lesson learned the hard way. Still, I’ve added coconut oil as a moisturizer, Vitamin E oil as a leave in conditioner and I’m experimenting with brands of cruelty free deodorant (so far the crystal is pulling ahead). I read a statistic that the average woman puts 500 different chemicals on her body each day. That was sobering. All those chemicals are being absorbed through our skin and washed down our drains. Limiting them is good for our health and the planet. 

7. Give gifts that give back. A few weeks ago, a friend was wearing a really pretty necklace. I asked where she bought it and she told me about a store that sells goods handmade by the Maasai. She’d just come from a warehouse sale. I hightailed it over there and bought two packs of greeting cards, five necklaces, two bracelets a cutting board and salad tongs for $52 total. Wedding gift and stocking stuffers? Check. 

8. Make the Farmer’s Market a habit. Here’s another one I waffle over. I live in between several weekly markets, but not close enough to walk. It seems counter intuitive to drive 5-8 miles for breads, fruit, flowers and tamales (so good!), but at the same time, we’re supporting local businesses and eating fresh, preservative-free foods that are roughly the same cost as what I’d buy at the store. Every time we do make it to the market, we enjoy the foods we buy and new vendors keep the market interesting. Plus, it's good family time and a chance to be outdoors near the beach (don't hate). 

9. Be selective with your charitable giving. Our contributions are almost always to organizations that support military families. I’m sure I could also find an organization that supports sustainability where our dollars are much needed, will go far and will really have an impact. 

10. Give in to the power of suggestion. Seriously. I’ve added so many new Facebook pages, followed new people on Twitter, liked Pins and added magazines on Flipboard that are related to sustainability that it’s changed my feeds. I’m consuming more information on these subjects and the companies, brands and products are slowly starting to seep into my consciousness. Repeated exposure has made me so much more aware of issues that used to get very little of my attention. I’m even considering downloading two ethical shopping apps. Will any of this influence my purchasing? Who knows. But now when I shop I ‘spot’ things I might not have paid attention to before. Baby steps.

As the saying goes change doesn't always happen overnight. I believe everyone needs to start somewhere and it's usually the smaller, simpler changes that lead us to make even larger ones. 



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October is Fair Trade Month and Halloween is one of the largest candy consumption days of the year. Consider buying sustainably sourced treats for Halloween and holiday parties, and sustainably sourced cocoa, sugar and spices for baking. Some facts and statistics about chocolate and Halloween: 

75 percent of households plan to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters this year. Candy sales are expected to reach $2.5 billion this Halloween. 

About 4% of all candy consumption in the USA occurs on Halloween 

Nearly 3/4 of Americans (72 percent) say that chocolate is their favorite Halloween treat. Chocolate scored top points among all age groups, but was most popular among those ages 45 to 60 who preferred it over other candies by 78 percent.


Theobroma Cacao is the tree that produces cocoa beans, and it means “food of the gods.” The most common tree is Forastero, which accounts for nearly 90% of the world's production of cacao beans.

It takes 400 cocoa beans to make one pound of chocolate. Each cacao tree produces approximately 2,500 beans.

There are an estimated 1.5 million cocoa farms in West Africa. The average size of a cocoa farm in West Africa is 7 to 10 acres.

This post was sponsored by Nestle on behalf of their Cocoa Plan. Nestle uses 100 percent UTZ Certified cocoa in its Nestle Crunch bar as part of its $120 million sustainable Cocoa Plan launched in 2009. Read more about fair trade and sustainable cocoa initiatives on sites like FairTradeUSA, the Fair Trade Federation and BeFair.org.

Statistics from The Chocolate Council, USA Today, Exploratorium, The National Confectioners Association. Image courtesy of Sujin Jetkasettakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Educating Ourselves About Drugs and Drug Use: Parenting Through the Tween and Teen Years

This is a sponsored post on behalf of the Touch & Know home drug testing kit. 

I have a confession to make. Well, not really a confession since it’s not anything I’m ashamed of. Maybe more of an admittance with questions
attached. I have virtually no experience with illegal drugs. Or, for that matter, legal ones used in an abusive way.

I didn’t have an experimental phase in high school. I wasn’t a huge partyer in college. I didn’t really hang around with people who were into recreational or hard drugs. I heard a great phrase lately that is very apropos to this situation: I didn’t need drugs or alcohol because the circus of humanity was entertaining enough that I’ve never felt the need to be altered to enjoy myself. My dad's career in law enforcement had a little bit to do with it, but mostly I just never got the urge.


home drug testing kit equipment

As an adult, I’m glad my curiosity never got the better of me. There is addiction in our family tree. Who knows how I would have fared had I decided to do something ‘just this one time.’ On the flip side, as a parent, I kind of feel like my non-drug use has me at a bit of a disadvantage. Unless I saw them take it, I’d be hard pressed to tell if someone was ‘on’ something. I couldn’t identify a coke high versus an acid trip versus… whatever it is mushrooms do. See what I mean? I can’t even use the proper jargon! 

I don’t know what the current trends are with over the counter and prescription drugs. Is the drug du jour still Oxycontin? Are adults still taking their kids’ ADHD pills? I remember that was a story line from Desperate Housewives, but are people still doing it? I have no idea what the street names for drugs are nowadays. There’s virtually no way I’d recognize a drug by sight and don’t even get me started on social media. Did you know teens and tweens are buying and selling drugs using apps and social media? That they’re using certain hashtags on Instagram to let others know what kind of drugs will be at the party that night? Go to your Instagram and search s-i-z-z-u-r-p (without the hyphens). My search turned up a little over 33,000 results. The only reason I know about this party drug is because I was researching something else about teens and social media. 


drug testing kit for home use

Part of growing up can mean learning certain things the hard way. Right now Tyler is pretty adamant that drugs are "stupid." Will he always feel that way? Only time will tell. We're not naive. We haven't fooled ourselves into thinking Tyler will be the exception or that he won't experiment simply because we've told him not to. We know the time is coming where he'll find himself in a situation where he'll have to make a decision. We hope, when the time comes, he makes the right one. 

What has been gnawing at me lately is, what if he doesn't know he's in that type of situation? Last week I read a Time magazine article about synthetic marijuana that has me completely freaked out. These cannabinoids are  becoming increasingly available at convenience stores and gas stations. They are packaged like baseball cards and sold under the name potpourri, glass cleaner or incense. Hopefully, Tyler will never have the type of friend who would trick him into taking drugs, or tell him that something isn't harmful when it is. 

Phil and I haven't talked about setting up parameters for Tyler. So far it's been: don't do drugs. But we need to be realistic and we need to create an atmosphere where, if he does get into some sort of trouble, he feels comfortable talking to us. I'd like for him to call us from a party and ask for a ride home because he feels uncomfortable or has had too much to drink, and believe us when we say we won't get mad


home drug testing kit

On the flip side, we've already told Tyler that while he lives in our house, privacy is a privilege and not a right. The cell phone, computer and iPod he uses are monitored. When it comes to his room, so far we haven't had a reason to go through it. We trust him until he gives us a reason not to. If we were suspicious, I'd like to think we'd have no problem turning his room upside down. How do we balance allowing him a little bit privacy, keeping the lines of communication open and trying to stay on top of what may be happening under our roof? 

I'm feeling as though there's an enemy out there I can't fight because I don't know what it looks like. I can talk with Tyler about bullying, racism, peer pressure, trying to fit in and lots of other subjects because I've been there, done that. But drugs are uncharted territory. It's all so confusing, overwhelming and a little bit scary. So, finally, here are my questions: how are you parents and caregivers keeping up with the news? Where do you go to educate yourself about what tweens and teens are into? 

Last month I went to an event with fellow moms where we talked about our kids and our fears surrounding drugs and alcohol. I know that junior high has become the starting point for when kids are hearing about their friends using or their friends' older siblings. It was helpful to hear how the moms with kids Tyler's age started having these important conversations and how the moms with older kids survived! 

We also learned about a new home drug testing kit. It's specifically designed to test unknown substances. If I were to find something in Tyler's room, the Touch&Know® kit would be able to identify it as harmful or not with only five steps. I know myself and the few extra moments to reign in my emotions and wrap my head around the results, benign or not, would be much needed. 

As I said, there is addiction in our family. I know now that is the reason my parents and grandparents were so vigilant with me and my brother. They saw addiction first hand and lived with it for years. From their stories, it's not anything I want our family to go through. I have two of the kits in our medicine cabinets. I'm fully prepared to use them, but pray I never have to. 


********


Touch&Know® Facts and Resources:

The Touch&Know® test will enable you to positively identify the presence of Crack/Cocaine and the general presence of Brown Heroin and/or 18 other illegal or controlled drugs, including: White Heroin, Methamphetamine, Amphetamine (powder), Ecstacy/MDMA, Methadone, Ketamine, PCP, PMA, DMT, MDPV, Mephedrone, PMMA, mCCP, MPA, Buphedron, MDPBP, Cathinone, MethCathinone, Methylone, and Marijuana/Hashish. It can also test for designer drugs like bath salts.




Only a VERY small amount of substance is needed to perform the test. The results are immediate. You do not need urine or hair samples with the Touch&Know®. Sold exclusively at Walgreens.

Connect with Touch&Know® on social media:

Touch&Know® blog
twitter.com/touchnknow 
Facebook.com/TouchandKnow
YouTube.com/touchandknow
Google+/touchknowhomedrugtestkit
Pinterest.com/touchandknow/

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Touch&Know®. Opinions and experiences are my own. Photos and video courtesy of Black Falcon.

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