My Top 10 Favorite Cooking Tools: Making meal prep easier

When I first started to dive into meal planning and cooking more elaborate dinners (i.e. meals that weren't just soup can casserole recipes), I found that investing in a new kitchen tool that made a task easier or more fun inspired a slew of creativity and fun in the kitchen. A new knife meant pouring over recipes that used lots of fresh vegetables I could chop up. A hand mixer tempted me to try to make perfectly whipped mashed potatoes. My love for a great tool has remained, and I've determined the ten tools that made cooking simpler, easier and more enjoyable in my kitchen. This is not a definitive list - there are certainly many other useful items in my kitchen (pots, pans, bowls, plates!) but these are things that are a little less common, but that I think others would enjoy as much as I do.


1. Kuhn Rikon Flexible Spatula Knife
I use this little thing all the time. Not for what you might think though, not chopping veggies - but for cutting flat things with ease. Quesadillas, waffles, pancakes, pizza, paninis - anything you want to cut easily, even with a crusty bottom is a breeze with this because of the curved edge and wide blade. I would say I use this at least every other day if not daily. Love it!

2. A Cookie Scoop w/ Dough Release
Before I got this, I would always roll cookie dough in my hands and that was time consuming, messy and didn't feel so sanitary to me. A cookie scoop cuts down on cooking making time (and face it, anything that gets cookies into your mouth faster is a win) and eliminates inconsistently sized cookies. I like making cookies so much more now that I have one (I also highly recommend those silicone baking mats - life changing if you're guilty of burnt bottom cookies typically).

3. A Measuring Glass
This glass measures tablespoons and ounces and comes in really handy when I'm doing anything with multiple liquid ingredients. I also use it frequently to melt butter when recipes call for a few tablespoons of melted butter, as its microwavable. Easy peasy!

4. Pampered Chef Mini Whipper
If you make any type of drink that involves mixing powder into liquid (protein powder, hot cocoa or cider packets, instant coffee, etc.) or like the froth milk for your coffee beverages - you'll love this little looped whisk! No clumps of powder remain, just a perfect drink.

5. Citrus Ream w/ Measuring Cup
So many recipes call for a few tablespoons of lemon or lime juice and this little two piece contraption is incredibly useful and quick to bust out of the drawer and put to work without getting lemon juice all over your hands (if you have dry skin like I do, that BURNS!) It catches all the pips perfectly too and you can just toss it in the dishwasher to clean.

6. Mesh Strainer with Handle
This comes in really handy if you frequently boil things (ravioli, larger pieces of pasta, vegetables) and want to be able to quickly transfer the boiled items to another pan on the stove (this happens frequently when you're making sauces and Italian dishes). This is also helpful for the obvious (frying) uses, but I call it my ravioli scoop because that's what I end up using it most often for.

7. Silicone Garlic Peeler
Yes, I can smash garlic cloves with a knife to peel them, but this is a lot easier! Just stick the clove in the little sleeve and roll the sleeve on a flat service and your garlic is peeled. Presto!

8. Stainless Steel Garlic Rocker
Place your freshly peeled garlic clove under the cutting area and simply rock back and forth to instantly mince garlic. Even better, the stainless steel keeps your hands from smelling like garlic for the rest of the day, as it absorbs garlic smells. Awesome, right?

9. Wusthof Santoku Knife
When it comes to knives, if you want one really good one, this is the Holy Grail, in my personal opinion. Since receiving it for Christmas more than 5 years ago, I've received several other high-end knives as Christmas or birthday gifts, (I always feel funny asking my mom or hubby for sharp knives as gifts, lol!) but this one is the one I end up reaching for constantly. It's SO reliable. So sharp. So easy to work with and works for almost every cutting need I have. Fileting chicken breasts, chopping carrots and potatoes, slicing onions - it simply is an all star. Unlike the other items in my list here, this one isn't cheap (you can sometimes find it on sale for $89 around the holidays) but it is SO worth the money and you really could get away with just this one, good knife if you invested in it.

10. Microplane Fine Grater
This grater is so very useful and makes such quick work of zesting citrus or grating hard cheeses - sometimes I even use it on garlic if my rocker is in the dishwasher. Be careful, it's super sharp - but you'll love how easy it makes fine grating tasks!

Ok, now it's your turn! School me on what lives in your kitchen that I simply must try! I can't wait to hear!

Stitch Fix Reveal: October 2014

Oh how I love "Fix Day." Clicking that link that shows USPS has dropped my box off at home makes me so excited for the end of the day to arrive so I can see what's in that box! This month's fix overall was really fantastic. I had requested navy and purple tones, and I've previously stated mint is my favorite color and I feel like my stylist did a really great job selecting pieces based upon my preferences this time.

This is my first time attempting a detailed Fix reveal and I'm no super model, so bear with me. :-)

My October 2014 Fix

Item #1: Uma Mixed Bead Long Necklace ($42)

This necklace is so neat! It's made by 3 Bits Jewelry, "a socially conscious jewelry company that gives displaced women in Northern Uganda an opportunity to combat poverty through fashion" and the beads are made entirely of recycled paper, making it lightweight and comfortable to wear, even though the size is more statement/chunky. I feel like the necklace hits at just the right length too - not too short (can tend to make short, curvy girls like myself look shorty and curvier) and not too long (swinging in the way).


Verdict: I love the look of this necklace and I can wear it with so many things I own. The versatility and fact that my purchase will help impoverished women justified the slightly steep price tag and made this necklace a keeper for me.

Item #2: Laguna Abstract Floral Flutter Sleeve Blouse by Creative Commune ($54)

I love the colors in this top! LOVE LOVE LOVE! The blues and purples are exactly what I asked for in this fix. The fabric is nice and work appropriate and the look is definitely feminine (another preference I have strongly stated in my style profile). Unfortunately however, the hem of the blouse sits right on my hips, which are fairly wide, making the blouse tight at the bottom and bunchy when I move. I'm also not sure I love the flutter sleeves - they're a bit big and make me feel borderline clownish. Layered under a cute cardigan, had the waist fit well, I definitely would have overlooked the flutter sleeves and kept this top for its gorgeous print and colors.


Verdict: In many ways, SO close, but not quite a fit for me. I really debated this one, but ultimately decided if I tried it on in a store, I would have determined the fit needed to be more on point to justify the high price. Not a keeper.

Item #3: Jace Textured Mixed Chevron Print Fit & Flare Dress by 41Hawthorn ($68)

This blue and black knit dress fits snugly on top and flares out at the skirt with 4 front pleats. The fabric is stretchy and comfortable and thick enough to be appropriate for fall and winter. I can see it being cute for work with a jacket or cardigan or great for a dinner date on it's own with a great pair of earrings and heels. Though the dress technically fit me to a t, I ran into one nagging problem with it - it's a boob-smusher. Do you know what I'm talking about? The bodice is just snug enough at the higher part of the chest to push the "girls" down to the roomier, lower bodice - making them look saggier/lower than they actually are. At 33, I'm just not ready for that look yet.


Verdict: Sadly, despite the dress's overall promise, the boob-smush was a deal breaker. Not a keeper.

Item #4: Milan Lace Print Back Pleat Top by 41Hawthorn ($58)

This flowy, lightweight top is just a total win. Easy to throw on for a weekend outing like lunch or shopping with friends and airy enough to wear even when its still INSANELY HOT IN OCTOBER (it was 100 degrees here in Fresno, CA yesterday, October 3rd).


At first, I was worried this top would make me look heavier (not something I need!) because it is so flowy, but the strategic back pleat helps keep the top for looking too wide when worn by itself, and an open, navy cardigan (like the 41Hawthorn one Stitch Fix sent me in February that I love) makes it a great laying piece for colder weather.



Verdict: The versatility, classy lace pattern and back pleat sold me. Kept it.

Item #5: Duffy Open Crochet Dolman Sleeve Knit Top by Kut from the Kloth ($28)


This was my least favorite item in my October Fix box. I just couldn't quite figure it out. The weave is SO open, the top would offer no warmth at all, so it wouldn't work for fall or winter weather - but I mean, it's a sweater... so you wouldn't wear it when it's really warm either, because that would be strange. I was sent a size large, which I was swimming in (not typical) and the v-neck was falling off of my shoulders (intentional? 80s style?).


Verdict: The redeeming factor was the color - purple is what I asked for. Nothing else about it worked for me though. Not a keeper.


Well, that was my October 2014 Fix reveal! What do you think? Did I make the right calls about what to keep? I really struggled with sending back that flutter sleeve top - I just loved the colors!

If you'd like to have your own Fix, hand selected by a personal stylist and based on your preferences, body type and budget simply click the link below to get started! Each fix is just $20, and that money goes towards any items you choose to purchase when you receive your fix. Anything you decide not to keep goes into a prepaid envelope which is included with every fix and you just pop it back in the mail. Easy peasy!

*Disclosure: After being a major fan of Stitch Fix and using the service for a full year, the company was kind enough to make me an affiliate advertiser. By clicking my link to subscribe to their service I receive a referral commission. If you found Stitch Fix through me, I would be so incredibly grateful if you signed up through my link. Thank you and have a wonderful and fashionable day! :-)

My interview with a doctor about Prop 46 (part 2)

{you may read part 1 of my interview here}

No on Prop 46: An Interview with Dr. Mario Martinez, Family Physician at UCSF Fresno, Part 2


Q: Are there already systems in place at most employers or hospitals that provide for drug or alcohol testing for physicians?

A: Physicians today have an ethical obligation to report impaired colleagues. Anyone can report an impaired physician to the California Medical Board. And hospitals have quality review committees that review physician care and any reported concerns.

Certainly, we all want to do more to ensure patient safety, but the drug- and alcohol-testing program required under Proposition 46 is simply a cynical attempt to gain voter support for Prop 46. In short, the drug testing provision was included for political, not policy reasons.

The lawyers who wrote and funded getting Prop 46 on the ballot have never gone to the state legislature to propose drug testing of doctors. In fact, the consultant for Prop 46, Jamie Court, cynically told the LA Times on December 10, 2013, that drug testing of doctors was “the ultimate sweetener,” designed to deceive voters from the real reason behind the initiative, to make lawsuits easier and more lucrative for the lawyers who wrote and funded Prop 46.

Q: Do you already have to work within the CURES database on some level? What is your experience like if so? And if so, how does this affect your day-to-day operations/patient care?

A: This database sounds simple, but it’s not. While the CURES database is already in existence, Prop 46 would mandate that both prescribers (doctors) and dispensers (pharmacists) check the CURES database prior to prescribing or dispensing certain medications. This mandate takes effect the day after the election. This will force the CURES database to respond to tens of millions of inquiries each year – something the database simply cannot do in its current form or functionality. It already goes down frequently or is frozen and locks people out when they try to gain access to the database.

This poses two problems:

·         Jeopardizes patient access to their prescriptions. A non-functioning CURES database system will put physicians and pharmacists in the untenable position of having to break the law to treat their patients, or break their oath by refusing needed medications to patients.

·         Prop 46 contains no provisions and no funding to upgrade the database with increased security standards to protect personal prescription information from government misuse, hacking, theft or improper access by non-medical professionals.

Q: What problems do you see coming from mandated use of the CURES database?

A: The single biggest issue with Prop 46’s mandate to use the CURES database is that the technology itself isn’t ready to handle the increased demand. Even the state staffer charged with overseeing CURES has said that the current system is “is not robust enough, not sufficient to carry out the mission that we need.”

So, if one of my patients were to break a bone and need pain medication, I would be required to check the CURES database to ensure the patient wasn’t “doctor shopping” for narcotics – even if that patient were a child. If the database was down, I would be left with a choice: abide by my Hippocratic Oath or abide by the law.  

Q: What are the overarching, 3 biggest problems Central Valley physicians face?

A: As a recent report from the California HealthCare Foundation underscored, the San Joaquin Valley already faces a troubling shortage of both primary care doctors and specialists. It concluded that “in California, those most in need of health care services have the least access.”

Compared to the Bay Area, for example, we have: far fewer primary care physicians and specialists; more residents living in poverty; fewer patients who receive regular medical care; and more people in fair to poor health.

My concern is that, if Proposition 46 were to pass, Central Valley residents could have a harder time accessing specialist care; their waits for appointments would be longer; and they would be sicker when they are finally treated. Worse, some Valley residents could lose their trusted doctors altogether if this measure were to become law.



Q: What keeps you going despite the obstacles you face to practice in the Central Valley?



A: Like many kids in the Central Valley, I grew up with asthma. I was in and out of the hospital frequently, and the pediatrician who took care of me was, in my eyes, a superhero. I wanted to help others like he helped me.



Growing up, I had my heart set on becoming a doctor, to help sick people and to save lives, particularly in the underserved areas of the Central Valley. My experience and desire to help people are what inspire me in my practice every day.

This post is completely my own interview and Dr. Martinez's responses. I have not been paid by the campaign in any way to blog about this issue - it is just something I care about. Also, I will not be posting comments on either post, parties on either side of Prop 46 are passionate about their beliefs, and in some cases offensive and hurtful, and I do not publish rude or attacking comments on my blog. I encourage everyone to always do their research and become as informed as possible on any issue, then get out and vote on election day. At the end of the day, there are parts of this Prop I can understand, but it's an all or nothing pass or not - which means enacting three major changes, as they are. Food for thought...

My interview with a doctor about Prop 46 (part 1)

Politics are something I rarely chat about with others, as it can be such a volatile thing. I've seen it cause fights in my extended family, Facebook wars and instantly add tension to an otherwise happy group. Though I've never used my blog to share my views about politics, I've decided to break that self-imposed rule just this once.

Health care is something that's very important to me. Even with private insurance through my husband's employer, I feel like medical bills become a battle ground. Rarely is there any service beyond an office visit which I don't end up having to make calls to the insurance company, pharmacy, lab, billing office, etc. etc. to get the information delivered correctly and covered as it should be. So, I pay pretty close attention to changes in health care policy - especially those that will affect the standard and/or cost of care.

I was recently given the opportunity to interview a local doctor about his from-the-trenches thoughts on Prop 46, and what its passing would do to health care. He basically gave me a pass to ask what I wanted to relative to the topic, and he was wonderfully thorough in his responses. I tried my best to ask the types of questions I believe the average person would want answered, so hopefully you will find this interview helpful and informative. I've decided to break this post into two parts, the second of which I will post tomorrow. (I'm going to highlight a few key points where I felt I learned things specific to the Prop.)


No on Prop 46: An Interview with Dr. Mario Martinez, Family Physician at UCSF Fresno, Part 1




Q: Prop 46 sounds very convoluted - like it’s three separate ideas shoved into one proposition. I understand the goals of the proposition to be as follows:

1. Increase medical malpractice lawsuit limits, up to 4 times as high as they currently are in California
2. Mandate drug & alcohol testing for physicians
3. Mandate the use of government run CURES database for all patients
A: You’re not the only person who has noticed that Proposition 46 looks a lot like three unrelated propositions in one. The main goal of Prop 46, which is funded by trial lawyers, is to make it easier to file medical malpractice lawsuits against health care providers.
In fact, the proponents of Prop 46 have acknowledged that they tacked on two additional provisions, one related to a prescription drug database and the other to require drug- and alcohol-testing of physicians, to hide the lawsuit provisions.
Under current law, called MICRA (Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act), an injured patient can receive unlimited economic damages for past and future medical expenses, unlimited economic damages for lost income and future earning potential and unlimited punitive damages. Subjective non-economic damages are capped at $250,000 which provides a disincentive for trial lawyers to file meritless lawsuits. The trial lawyers who are funding the Prop 46 campaign want to quadruple the non-economic damages cap. That would increase medical lawsuit payouts and increase the amount of money they can earn by representing injured patients.
Q: My first question is related to understanding the expenses associated with medical malpractice insurance. Can you give the average person like myself without medical background an idea of the existing costs for medical malpractice insurance in California, perhaps related to your total office overhead or just in numbers like typical premiums, so we have an idea of what the expense is like currently?
A: Like any kind of insurance, the cost of medical malpractice insurance varies based on a number of factors. Key to keeping medical malpractice rates low in California is MICRA. High-risk specialists like obstetricians, emergency room physicians and surgeons tend to pay significantly more for medical malpractice insurance than internists. Yet because of MICRA, California’s rates are reasonable compared to some other states. For instance, in Los Angeles, an obstetrician can expect to pay about $71,250 per year in medical malpractice insurance premiums. In New York’s Nassau County, a state without any limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, medical malpractice insurance for OBGYNs is $176,000 per year. Because of these astronomical medical malpractice insurance rates, 19 counties in New York are without obstetricians and several hospitals in NYC are partially or completely without liability insurance due to the high cost of liability premiums.
But providers aren’t the only ones hit with higher costs from Prop 46. The California Legislative Analyst, whose office reviews every single ballot measure for impacts to the public sector, state and local government budgets, found that the lawsuit changes in Prop 46 will cost state and local governments “several hundred million dollars annually.”  If you look expand that analysis to include the public and private sector, the costs balloon to $9.9 billion, or about $1,000 for a family of four.
Q: How would an increase in these premiums affect you in your practice personally?
A: I am currently completing my third and final year of my Family and Community Medicine Residency Program at UCSF Fresno. I work at the Selma Community Clinic and Selma Community Hospital, about 20 minutes south of Fresno.
More lawsuits and higher payouts would lead to higher medical malpractice premiums. That would make it more expensive to provide care to our patients. Those costs would have to be absorbed somehow, either by raising the cost of services or cutting back on services for patients. For many clinics, especially those that treat low-income Californians, patients will lose access to care.
Q: How do you see this affecting the overall local medical landscape in the San Joaquin Valley?
A: There’s no question that Prop 46 will increase health care costs significantly. That will translate to every single patient in California.
I’m sure that for some people paying an extra $1,000 a year in higher health care costs will be a problem, but not an insurmountable one.
But none of my patients fit that category and higher heath care costs will impact them dramatically. Nearly all my patients are from Spanish-speaking, low-income families that have difficulty getting the care they need. Though I’m a family-medicine physician, I also provide OB-GYN services because there are so few OB-GYNs in the community. I treat all ages, from babies to seniors.
The patients I serve struggle paying even $5 or $10 a month on medications. The community clinics where these patients get their care often struggle financially.
Prop 46 would increase lawsuits against doctors and hospitals and increase health care costs. That would threaten community clinics and make things even harder for low-income patients.
This is the absolute worst time to limit access to care and to increase health care costs. I got into the practice of medicine to help people, especially underserved populations. Proposition 46 would take California in the wrong direction.
Read Part II

Note: This post is completely my own interview and Dr. Martinez's responses. I have not been paid by the campaign in any way to blog about this issue - it is just something I care about. Also, I will not be posting comments on either post, parties on either side of Prop 46 are passionate about their beliefs, and in some cases offensive and hurtful, and I do not publish rude or attacking comments on my blog. I encourage everyone to always do their research and become as informed as possible on any issue, then get out and vote on election day. At the end of the day, there are parts of this Prop I can understand, but it's an all or nothing pass or not - which means enacting three major changes, as they are. Food for thought...


Beauty Best Bets for Fall 2014

I know it doesn't feel like fall in Fresno yet, but that doesn't mean a girl can't use, "getting ready for fall!" as an excuse to add a few new, fun friends to her beauty toolbox, right? Right! (I knew you'd be with me!)

I gathered a few of my favorite items that I think will carry very well into fall, that you may also enjoy. Here they are (in no particular order):


1. Mac Tinted Lipglass in Pure Fiction
It looks like the Radiant Orchid trend is going to continue to influence things throughout fall, as there are many purple-hued lip products coming out right now. Pure Fiction has enough pink to it, that it doesn't look odd on the lips, but enough purple that it doesn't look light a mega-bright summer shade. It's classy, shiny and long-wearing. Pure Fiction is from Mac's limited edition "A Novel Romance" collection, so if you want this shade, snatch it up quick!

2. Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in Berry Haute
If you're open to a bit bolder purple, check out this affordable berry lipstick from Revlon that looks great on almost all skin tones. It goes on creamy, is long-wearing and doesn't bleed. I purchased this color last winter, and plan to wear it again this fall.

3. Lorac Pro 2 and Too Faced Chocolate Bar Palettes
I couldn't choose just one of these palettes - I'm sorry, but you can't make me! Both are simply stunning and lend to the creation of SO many looks from day and work appropriate to super smoky for a night out. The Lorac Pro overall is a bit cooler in tone, and the shadows are extremely silky and soft. The metallic shades in the palette feature shimmer that is so fine, it can be used even on mature skin. The shade "beige" in that palette is one I've been turning to as a lid shade almost every day. The Chocolate Bar palette offers some of the most gorgeous warm browns and golds I've ever seen, as well as a few pops of color (purple!) and um IT SMELLS LIKE CHOCOLATE. Yup. Either palette is a total win and would get you through fall even with no other shadows to supplement.

4. Cover Girl Outlast Stay Fabulous 3 in 1 Foundation
I've recently discovered this foundation to be all that and a bag of chips! In all seriousness, this foundation claims to be primer, concealer and foundation in one - and what I see is just fantastic, long-wearing coverage.  I would even go so far as to say this gives my LONG time favorite Estee Lauder Double Wear a run for its money (and at almost 1/3 the cost!). If you like a non-cakey, full coverage, long-wearing foundation - run, don't walk to your nearest Target and pick this stuff up.

5. Benefit's Rockateur Blush
Can I just say, right off the bat - I LOVE the way Benefit's boxed blushes and bronzers smell? Such a pretty, light fragrance... Beyond that though, Rockateur is SUCH a gorgeous color for fall! A plummy rose gold with just a HINT of sheen that keeps your face looking glowing (not shiny - I didn't say shiny, calm down) this color is just perfect with any fall eye or lip look. Benefit's blushes aren't cheap, but they'll last you YEARS. Worth the money, I promise!

6. Mac Mineralize Eye Shadow Duo in Ever Amethyst
This purple shadow duo is just a tad on the maroon side, so it will help light eyes pop when applied with the dark color closer to the lashes and the light in the crease. The mineralize shadows are easy to blend and almost foolproof and will last a long, long time. You can also apply this duo with a wet brush for a more intense look.

7. St. Ives Timeless Skin Moisturizer
This $5 jar of face moisturizer is so amazing, absorbs so well and moisturizes so thoroughly that sometimes I cheat and slather it on my legs too. You may have to hunt for it - it's usually on the very bottom shelf at Target, but it's worth the trouble. This is a cult favorite and really seems to firm and plump the skin. As the summer starts to wane, skin will need more moisture to avoid looking flaky by winter, so don't neglect your skincare routine!

8. Laura Mercier Foundation Primer in Radiance Bronze
Ok, so this isn't the cheapest product at $33, but, as far as primers go, you get SO much more in quantity than other brands that you'd pay the same price for - so I'm still saying there's somewhat of a value happening here. Beyond that though, this primer makes your skin look fresh and though it's glowing from the inside out. You're going to need something to ease you from your summer tan to your paler, cooler weather self and using this primer either before or mixed with your foundation will keep you looking healthy and lightly sun-kissed.

9. Urban Decay's Perversion Mascara
Holy moly I have saved the best for last. (Let's just get past the oddity of feeling like we're calling our eyelashes perverts, ok?) This mascara has become my HOLY GRAIL mascara over the last month. DARK, dark black lashes that instantly build up on the very first coat both in length and volume. It doesn't flake, it doesn't smudge and it holds a curl. The wand is large, but easy to maneuver and packs a lot of product to make your work quick. If you buy this at Sephora you'll also receive a free deluxe trial of the Subversion primer. I don't feel the primer is necessary myself, but hey - if you can try it free, why not, right? Seriously, if you love giant lashes but hate applying falsies, you'll LOVE this mascara.

I hope you enjoyed my list of favorites for fall - I'd love to hear yours! Give me something to go and try - feed the makeup beast! lol! <3>

Heatproof cosmetics to love!

Get ready with a few easy to apply, tough to sweat off products that will give you a great summer glow!

Check out my full post on FresYes.com!

http://www.fresyes.com/family/fresyes-families-mom-look-fresh-even-valley-heat/

Or, watch my segment featuring these products on Central Valley Today on KSEE 8/1 at 3pm!
(I'll post the link here once it's up)

Enjoy a beautiful summer weekend friends! :)

Monthly Subscription Boxes: Insight from an addict

Remember back when you were a kid, and someone would deliver a package to your house? Remember the anticipation and the "what's in the box!?" moment? Now, with the popularity of online shopping, the receiving of packages is a little more common place, but if you're like me, even if you know darn well what's in the box, because you ordered it yourself online, it's still a little exciting to see the UPS truck driving up your street.

I think monthly subscription boxes were invented for and made wildly popular by the masses of people who are like me - people who love getting a box in the mail, and even better, a box that may have an element of surprise of mystery about it.

I have tried four different box subscriptions so far, and have close friends who've tried a few others I have not. I wanted to share with you my thoughts on those I've tried, in case you too may enjoy them (or wish to stay clear of them) and I also thought I'd point you in the direction of a few others* you may enjoy that I haven't yet tried. (*Which will be coming in a second post shortly, as this one is already a bit lengthy!)

Ipsy (aka Ipsy Glam Bag)
What it is: Each month subscribers receive a themed cosmetic bag filled with 4-6 deluxe sample or full-sized cosmetic, skin or hair products. Brands range from drugstore (NYX, Jessie's Girl) to mid-range (Pixi, Laneige) and high-end (Benefit). The bag itself is a cute, reusable zippered pouch with a new design each month. The subscription is an ongoing one, so if you subscribe, you'll receive a bag each month until you cancel.

Pros: The cost of this subscription is just $10 (free shipping, local tax if applicable) and of the subscriptions I've tried offers the most bang for your buck. The products included are frequently full-sized and the total value always exceeds the cost, usually 3-5 times over. When you subscribe, you take a survey about your likes, coloring, favorite products and dislikes, and Ipsy tries to customize the items you receive to your tastes. There are a finite number of items selected to include in each month's themed bag, so if you and a few friends subscribe, there's likely to be a few items you receive in common.

Cons: This subscription is very popular so there is a waitlist for new subscribers. I believe I initially waited about a month, though I believe now there are some things you can do (share about Ipsy on social media is one I think) to help shorten your wait and get a little advantage. Another downside to Ipsy's popularity is that so far, Ipsy subscriptions are not available for purchase as gifts for others.

Final verdict: I love my Ipsy subscription and am unlikely to cancel anytime in the near future. I love some items I receive, am so-so on others, but for the most part, there are at least a few great items in each bag. For $10, you really can't go to wrong with Ipsy, unless of course you don't like beauty products. ;-)

A few of my past Ipsy bags...





Stitch Fix
What it is: A relatively affordable personal styling service that sends you five customized clothing or accessory pieces selected just for your body type, personal style and likes once a month (or whenever you schedule a "fix", no monthly subscription is required). The styling fee is $20 (doesn't charge you until your first fix ships), and that amount is deducted from your purchase price on the items you choose to keep. You get three days to try on the five items and decide what you want to  keep and what's going back, then you simply place anything you don't want in a prepaid envelope and send it back to Stitch Fix. If you keep all five items, Stitch Fix gives you 25% off the purchase price too.



Pros: This service is so great for a number of reasons. Personally, I get frustrated shopping locally at times, and have some issues with my weight/body type, so it can be hard to find a style that I not only like, but that also fits and flatters me. Stitch Fix's stylists don't seem to struggle with that much when choosing items for me - they really seem to know how to choose pieces that will flatter. The style profile questionnaire is very specific and you can add specific notes just before a fix if you need something specific for that month (e.g. "Looking for a cocktail dress for a wedding." "No pants this month, just skirts and tops please." "Going on a vacation to the beach - need some beach wear.") You also can control the price range of items sent by type of item. (e.g. for Accessories, send me items as cheap as possible, but for outerwear, $50-100 is ok). I think the thing I love most about Stitch Fix is that it opens my mind to new possibilities. So many times they've sent me something I thought I would never have tried on if I saw it at a store - but then when I try it on, I fall in love with it! Did I mention the stylists will send you styling tips for what to pair each item with and keep track of what they've sent in the past, so they can reference it if it goes well with another item? ("Wear this with the blue cardigan we sent last month for a great weekend outfit.")

Oh -- yet another great thing: For each person who signs up for the service by going to the site through your link, you receive $25 in credit towards your next purchase! (If you're learning about Stitch Fix through me, and decide to try it, I'd be so grateful if you used my link, seriously, huge thanks! :-))

Cons: Stitch Fix is also pretty popular, so occasionally you may have to wait a few weeks for your first fix. I find it's easier to stay on a monthly subscription and just skip a box than to try to wait through a waiting list again and not do monthly fixes. If you're used to very inexpensive clothing (everything under $20), this may be a bit pricier, but I find most of the pieces to be of great quality, so I look to keep those that have classic/timeless designs that I can wear for a long time and consider them an investment. Sometimes, you'll get a fix that you're just not in love with - and it helps to re-do your profile and be more specific. I've tweaked my profile a couple of times and have been really happy with what I've received overall, but there have been 1-2 boxes I was "meh" on. Stitch Fix is definitely my most anticipated subscription and I really love it.

Final Verdict: Stitch Fix is hands down the most exciting box to receive for me personally, and it really is convenient, whether you're typically a shopper or you hate shopping. I'm hoping they'll make a men's version soon, because my husband really hates shopping! ;-)

 A few of my "fixes"
(can you tell I told them mint is my favorite color? hehe)



Birchbox
What it is: Birchbox is a monthly beauty subscription also, however the products tend towards high-end more often than Ipsy and also include lesser-known, up and coming luxury brands. Products range from deluxe sample to full-sized, but typically lean toward deluxe sample. Subscribers receive 4-5 items in each box.

Pros: Birchbox tends to allow a bit more customization of items, as it allows you to lean certain ways in your product preferences, such as enjoying trendsetting options vs. classic choices or preferring organic/natural beauty products. Matching Ipsy in price at just $10 a month, Birchbox is still a good value overall and can also be gifted. Of note, Birchbox also offers a Men's Birchbox subscription.

Cons: My personal experience with Birchbox was a little lackluster. In more than one box, I received a protein bar (organic Lara Bar) and while that's nice and all, I wanted you know, um, beauty products. (Also, I am allergic to several nuts, and the bars were fruit and nut bars) Many of the items I received were from natural lines, which is nice... so long as the quality is there too. Pigmentation in color products from most of these lines was lacking. I did receive a few high-quality skincare items, but, the price of a full-sized replacement of these items was so high, I wouldn't consider purchasing once my sample ran out. ($85 for stretch mark cream? Pass.) The final straw with Birchbox for me, was when I gifted a subscription to my child-less sister, and they sent her nipple cream for mothers in her first box. Mind you, I know that makes great lip balm too, but she didn't know that and they certainly didn't explain it. I'm not sure how that jived with her personal profile other than I don't think it did at all.

Final verdict: Birchbox is affordable, at least the subscription is, and if you like discovering products and brands you maybe didn't know about or lean towards natural products, you may enjoy this subscription. Would I resubscribe? Probably not.
via women2

Julep Maven
What it is: Julep is a nail polish company that has branched out into other cosmetics items. It's most popular monthly subscription box is $24.99 a month and includes two of their luxury nail colors and a third item of your choosing.

Pros: You can usually find a code to try Julep for free online for the first month (you still pay shipping) and your initial box often contains five items. You have control over what comes in your box. You can view the options at a set time during the month and make swaps as you like, or you can take the luck of the draw based on your style type (something you select at sign up). The colors are unique, many have beautiful finishes with metallics so fine they're similar to high-end car paints.

Cons: That first trial box you get, the one that comes with five items? Well, it sets your excitement pretty high. But, they when you get charged the $24.99 + tax (over $27 in the end) for your second box, and you only receive three items, and two of which are polishes that comes in quantities smaller than most polishes you can buy at the drugstore, it's a little bit of a letdown.

Final Verdict: This box is fun, but at more than $25 a box, it's just not something I wanted to continue. I've tried a few items other than nail polish from Julep and so far they've been so-so, but not stellar. I typically only buy $8+ nail polish every once in a blue moon, so spending that much on multiple polishes every month just feels a little wasteful to me.

My Julep intro box

Free and Low-Cost Family Fun for Summer!

Welcome to the summer friends! (Ok, so I know I'm like a tiny bit early... but hey, kids are out of school and it's warm so... close enough!)

With all of the lazy days of summer still ahead of us, I thought it'd be a great time to put together a little list of free and low-cost activities for families to enjoy. So give it a look-see, check out the links for additional details and have a blast while saving a buck or twenty!

1. Enjoy a meal, and your kids get one FREE at the following places:
IHOP (Mon-Wed, 4-8pm)
Chevy's (Tuesdays, all day)
Denny's (4-10pm, Tuesdays)
Marie Callendars (Tuesdays)
Famous Dave's (Tuesdays)
(All require a paid adult entree be purchased for each free child's meal, participating locations, you may wish to call to verify your location is participating prior to going._

2. Go bowling!
AMF (Locally, Sierra Lanes on Blackstone and Sierra) offers kids up to three free games each weekday during the summer! Register here to take advantage of this awesome opportunity.
(Shoe rental cost not included)

3. Go see a movie!

Regal Cinemas offers kids' movies that begin at 10am for just $1 all summer long! For a list of movies playing and locations near you, visit their site here. Be sure to arrive early - these showings tend to fill up quick!
-Or-
If you're local, enjoy a movie outdoors in Eaton Plaza in the heart of Downtown Fresno. Bring a blanket or lawn chairs to sit on and the movie is completely free every Friday night, all summer long. Food and other items available for purchase, but not required. For additional info including the movie list, visit the City of Fresno's web page here.

4. Take your wild animals to see the real wild animals!
Image via The Examiner
Visit the Fresno Chaffee Zoo on the first Wednesday of the month, absolutely free! (This is a year-round offer, and is sponsored by Wells Fargo bank). For more info on the zoo, visit their website here.

5. Participate in the library's summer reading program
Image via Valcom News
Kids who complete the library's summer reading log by reading ten books between June 14th and August 3rd can show their log to their librarian to earn special prizes as well as an entry to win a Kindle Fire. Stop by any Fresno County Library to pick up a reading log, as well as a schedule of the fun and educational activities scheduled at your favorite library branch including visits from Clifford, the Big Red Dog, reptile presentations, magicians, crafts and more! For a full list of Fresno County Library locations and hours, click here.

If you know of additional free or very low-cost fun, family-friendly activities for summer, please share them in the comments section! I will happily edit and expand upon this list! Have fun and stay cool!


Father's Day Gifts: What should we really get for dads?

My Dad is the world's best sport. When I was 5, I put a handful of my hair clips in his hair, and he went to work wearing them. He didn't know it... but, hey... details, schmetails. When my sister and I were little, we always wanted to play Barbies, and we always wanted my Dad to play the role of Ken. He obliged. Most of the time, Ken showed off his Kung Fu moves to Barbie, Skipper and her friends, but he was always animated. When we played whiffle ball in the backyard against him, Dad only got one out and us girls still got all three. (He won most the time anyway.)

My Dad has always been a good sport about the gifts we gave him too. Like the ties we picked for him for work, when he no longer had a tie-wearing type of job. I feel like we once made him a horribly gaudy tie-tac too, but part of me is wondering if that was actually something I'm remembering from a Full House episode, and not our actual childhood...(Full House and our childhood kind of blur together, we were kids of the 80's after all). One gift I'm sure he was a very good sport about however, was this sweatshirt:


This photo was taken tonight, when I asked my mom to please go to Dad's closet, take a picture of the handprint sweatshirt and text it to me.

Let's let that sink in for a minute shall we?

I'm pretty sure the orange hands on the bottom are my sister's at two, which would make me 6 when we made this "gift". I'm 32 now... my Dad not only wore this sweatshirt (with the heart 'o' and the puffy once-neon yellow and orange paint) but he STILL has it - 26 years later.

So, in honor of my Dad, the greatest sport (possibly of all time) I thought I'd dedicate a post to compiling a little list of gift ideas the Dads in your life might actually really enjoy (fake-smile free).

1. A home beer brewing kit ($40)
If your Dad (or your kids' Dad, if that's who you're shopping for) likes to do hands-on project and enjoys a good microbrew (or in this case, nanobrew) a home brew kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop might be just the ticket. These awesome kits come with everything Dad needs to brew his own batch of beer at home, and you can choose from a variety of kits. I've purchased this for my own husband, and it received rave reviews. The grapefruit honey-ale was particularly tasty! 

2.  Dollar Shave Club subscription (varying price levels)

My husband has been a DSC subscriber since we first saw their brilliant marketing video. The concept is simple: choose a razor and blade type, and get fresh blade refills delivered monthly so you never have to shave with a dull blade again. Plus, it's really affordable -- as little as $1 a month for a dual bladed razor to $9 for the luxury 6-blade version. DSC also offers shave butter and post shave products. Prior to DSC, the hubs used pricey razors like Mach 3 and others of the like. He has sensitive skin and was skeptical he'd do well with a cheaper blade. He just gets the $1 blade, and he actually says it does a great job. In fact, I may have used it on my legs tonight (don't judge me, he's got a whole pack of fresh blades ready to go) and I have to admit, my legs feel awesome!

3. Tickets to a sporting event he enjoys
In my days of helping to run another website, we did a poll amongst men on what gifts are pretty much always a hit - and this one came up more than anything else! The respondents said they often enjoy fun experiences even more than tangible gifts, and tickets to a game with you are pretty much always a hit. It shows you cared to think about their interests and if you go to the game and maybe even make a snack run or two, that you care to make it a fun day for him - so this might be a great way to go for either your own father or the hubs.

4. His all-time favorite show, on DVD
DVD box sets have become quite affordable, and most people have at least one show they just love. acquiring a season or series of Dad's favorite show, and tossing it in a little cooler filled with his favorite snack foods (spring for the good snacks you know he loves, but probably rarely has around) and his favorite beverage and he'll have a great, relaxing Father's Day activity ahead. (If you're doing this for your husband, be sure to plan some kid-free time so he can enjoy this gift).

5. A Man Crate (varying prices)


Man Crate is a company dedicated to sending fill-free kick-booty crates filled with gifts for all kinds of men. You can search by category of man to determine the best crates (snack lovers, survivalists, gamers, beer lovers, etc.).  The description from their site sums it up better than I probably can, so I'm just going to go ahead and quote them:

We say 'no' to ugly neckties, cologne samplers and executive trinkets. We don't save wrapping paper, we don't do ribbons. We ship bragworthy gifts for guys. Gifts that you can't wait to arrive because you know the recipient will love opening them. Gifts that people gather round at the office, people following the sounds of wood being torn from wood by the included, laser-engraved crowbar.
We are Man Crates, and we deliver awesome gifts for men.
6.  Corkcicle Chillsners ($26.99)
 
Back to the whole "if Dad likes a cold brew" thing - this icicle shaped chillers fit right into a bottle of brewski and chill it perfectly in a matter of minutes. Pretty cool! (This is one of those brilliant inventions that makes you wonder, "Why the heck didn't I think of this?")

Dad - I promise, no puffy paint sweatshirts this year. Cross my heart. Kids and wives out there - I hope my list gave you a few creative or new ideas to choose from. Regardless, just don't buy Dad a tie, ok? If they smile, I promise you it's forced! ;-)

Happy Early Father's Day to all the great sport dads out there! You rock.

*Note: This is not a sponsored post. These are gift ideas I just really think are great.
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