When Life No Longer Revolves Around Food

Thoughts From a Recovering Food Addict

I can recall, in the not-too-distant past, when I would encourage monthly potlucks at work. There was always something to celebrate. Birthdays, holidays, weddings, babies, retirements … a random Thursday! I could truly turn any day into a reason to host a potluck. Why? Because I loved food. And ultimately, that’s really what I celebrated with every passing potluck.

Food also comforted me when I was worried, became my confidant when I was angry, and helped me pass the time when I was bored. Food had control of my life. I lived for food. And it was killing me.

Last year, I learned about my food allergies after suffering from many health problems including: belly issues, muscle pain, migraines, and chronic fatigue. I had no idea that these symptoms were subtle signs of my body’s rejection of dairy proteins. The moment I was diagnosed, my life changed. Suddenly, I had to analyze every morsel that went into my mouth. I had to read every single ingredient on the packaging. I had to search the websites of restaurants in advance to learn if they would have allergen-free menus when I arrived. It was a painstaking processes. It didn’t take long before I realized that buying pre-made cookie dough in the grocery store, or grabbing a quick meal from a drive-thru just wasn’t worth the effort that I had to put into it. I started reaching for simpler foods with less ingredients to decipher. When I wanted something sweet, I grabbed whole foods… dates, apples, strawberries, or grapes instead of contemplating whether that dark chocolate candy bar was really made of dark chocolate or some kind of blend containing milk fat. My perspective changed, and slowly… I stopped celebrating food.

Despite now knowing many dairy- and gluten-free products at a glance, I’m still in awe of the transition that I have made. Not physically, but mentally. I have entered a phase in which I could easily begin celebrating food again. I know where to find allergen free cheesecakes and pizza, and which fast food restaurants are safe. But I don’t live for food anymore, because I’ve learned the joy in celebrating the moment instead.

A great example of this is how I chose to celebrate my birthday. In the past, I celebrated with about four slices of a large, stuffed crust pizza and an oversized slice (or so) of a 9″ layered cake from my favorite bakery. That was typically preceded by a sweet, carb-heavy breakfast and followed by dinner out on the town. This year, however, food played a very small part in my day. Instead, I started my morning with an hour-long massage, followed by time with family, and ending with a concert and dancing with friends. I barely remember what I ate that day. Throughout the day I had a bottle of my favorite juice, likely a protein bar or some other healthy snack(s), and I did stop by Zoe’s Kitchen for a delicious Mediterranean Quinoa Salad and Gigi’s for a gluten free, vegan cupcake! (I still eat sweets… I just eat a cupcake instead of 1/2 the layer cake now.) My point is, I enjoyed life. I relaxed, I laughed, and I celebrated the moment. Memories far exceeded the calories this year.

I no longer plan office potlucks. We rarely have them now, and no one seems to mind. I have had the opportunity over the last few months, however, to help plan celebrations with others; things like baby showers and baptisms where food generally seems to take precedence over the actual event. It’s eye opening to me to see the amount of, and variety of, food that folks feel should be available at these special occasions. I didn’t realize the effort that I used to put into planning and preparing an event around food until I removed myself from that. I can now see how much effort others put into it. Food first, then all of the other details later. Those kind of events generally end in tummy aches and leftover casseroles for days.

I still enjoy food. I love trying new recipes and occasionally meeting friends at restaurants. I think it’s great to serve food at events. I don’t want this post to come across as my being anti-food. But I do ask you to stop and consider the intent of food at your next event. Make sure you’re not like the old me… celebrating mac & cheese and red velvet cake, making memories with pasta salad and chocolate chip cookies, and overlooking the real reason you’ve gathered together. I promise that you will be more likely to remember little things like the way the bride smiled at her new husband when they thought no one noticed, than the way the chicken salad sandwiches tasted. At the end of the day, your hearts will be more full than your bellies.

Beat the Heat: 5 Tips for Runners

A Guide to Running During the Summer Months

Here in North Carolina, it’s quite common for our summers to be very hot and humid. This summer in particular, we have had a record number of days over 90-degrees. It’s no secret that I love warm weather (And by warm weather, I mean that triple-digit temperatures makes me happy!) but even I struggle with enjoying outdoor workouts during this time of year. If you’re new to running, it’s usually the first week of consistently warm days that is the hardest, and makes you question if you want to continue running at all. PLEASE DON’T GIVE UP! Ask around and you will quickly learn that the most seasoned runners struggle in this kind of heat too. It’s harder on our bodies to adjust to warm weather, but with the right approach, you can beat the summer heat. Here are five quick tips that are sure to help.

1. Hydrate — Make sure that you’re drinking plenty of fluids. The recommended 64 oz of water per day won’t cut it. You’re going to need more. You’ll want more than just water. And you’ll need to drink more often than the day of a run. For me, I have found that during the summer months, I drink around 100 oz of water per day. Additionally, I drink a minimum of 16-20 oz of Nuun the night before a run, as well as immediately after a run. It is important to drink an electrolyte – Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium – replacement to replenish what is naturally lost when we sweat. I recommend Nuun because it has no sugar and no carbs. {Compared to Gatorade, which has over 20g(+) of sugar per serving!} Nuun is a gluten free, soy free, vegan, nonGMO, made in the USA tablet that you simply drop down into a bottle of water. The tablet immediately starts to dissolve, creating a fizzy, flavorful beverage. I love that Nuun is completely portable and can be adjusted to your liking. (I often break tablets in half and mix two flavors to customize my drink to the perfect taste.) If you’d like to learn more about Nuun, click here.

nuun1  nuun2

2. Clothing — I have known so many new runners who have rushed out to their local department store to buy running outfits. They’re excited to finally start running and want to look the part. I was guilty of it when I first started. How can you blame anyone? Have you seen some of the running clothes available? They’re so cute! But there’s a big mistake that many of us make: I didn’t like the way my legs looked in shorts, and I certainly wasn’t going to show off my jiggly arms! So, I bought clothes based on how much they covered and how well the outfit matched. What I ended up with was a dresser full of clothing that made me feel miserable during workouts. The material wasn’t moisture-wicking or cooling, and the capri pants were causing me to overheat. Did you know that when you run, you should dress for a 20-degree increase? That means, if it is 70 degrees outside… you should dress like it is 90! Although it was a struggle, I finally learned to put my self-consciousness aside and buy/wear clothing that is appropriate for summer workouts. Here’s a photo of a typical summer run outfit. It’s still cute, right?

clothes

I love the pop of color in my Nike shorts. Running shorts can be tricky. I highly suggest trying on several different styles to find the right fit for you. There are many different lengths and fits to choose from. In my three years of running with strangers, I can honestly tell you that I have never paid attention to anyone’s legs. Stop thinking that everyone will be paying attention to yours. They won’t. Do yourself a favor and buy shorts! They even make shorts with a skirt over them. I own two pair of those. Adorable, functional, and NOT form fitting. You have options!

The same goes for arms. I have never paid attention to, or even compared, others’ arms to mine. All it takes is wearing a tank top to one 90-degree run and you’ll fall in love. My favorite tank is this Brooks black and white geo print tank. The busy pattern camouflages and distracts, and is so much fun! This tank top is also quite long in length, which I love.

And friends, let’s not forget our feet! It is so very, very important to wear good socks to prevent blisters and provide support. I recommend Feetures! They’re a North Carolina-based, family-owned company that offers a lifetime warranty on their products. (Seriously… a lifetime warranty!) They’re the only sock that I wear in the summertime. I even recently wore them on vacation. I was the only person out of our group of six who did not get a single blister. Coincidence? Nope! That’s just how great Feetures! are. Click here to learn more about these great socks.

3. Sunscreen — It’s an easy oversight. When I first started running, I wanted to make sure that I had my earbuds, my cell phone, and my Garmin. Anything else was an afterthought. All it took was one 5K in early June to help me realize that there is more to summertime running than good music. I was sunburned! So now, before I even dress in my cute (yet weather-appropriate) outfit, I apply sunscreen. I personally use Banana Boat Sport 30SPF because it is water resistant… and I don’t sweat it off! I like to take the UltraMist in my bag for touch ups, especially since it also cools and refreshes.

sunscreen

4. Accessories — Sometimes, it’s the small things that can make all of the difference. Some of my favorite small items that help make summer running more bearable are:
A hat or visor
Sunglasses
Chapstick

accessories

And my all-time favorite accessory…. the Nathan Insulated Handheld water bottle. It slides right on my hand without the worry of having to grip it the entire run, and with one quick squeeze, I can have cold water at my fingertips. Literally. Nathan also makes waist paks, vests, and hydration belts, too. Check them out by clicking here.

nathan

5. Early Morning Workouts — Early birds will rejoice and night owls will cry, but the number one way to beat the summer heat is to get your run in as soon as the sun comes up. (Maybe even before, if you have a safe, well lit place to run.) Even on the hottest days, most morning temps are considerably cooler. For example, the highs for this week have been in the mid-90s but the morning lows have been around 68-degrees. Much better, right? You’ll have an easier run, and you’ll have your workout in before your day even gets started. Think of the extra time you’ll have in the afternoons, too!

If the thought of waking up early to get your run in is absolutely against everything you believe in… there’s always an indoor run on a treadmill. But where’s the fun in that? ;)

Are you new to running? Comment below if you’ve found these tips to be helpful. Are you a seasoned runner? We’d love for you to comment below with any additional tips that you may have to share. Happy Running!

 

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I did not received compensation from, nor am I affiliated with any company listed. All products were purchased by me, including giveaways. Opinions expressed here are my own and were not influenced in any manner.

Third Time’s A Charm {Stitch Fix Review}

As a baseball fan, I usually give things three chances before I strike them and move on. After last month’s Stitch Fix that left me feeling less-than-hopeful about the service, I was already anticipating a “You’re out!” when I scheduled my July Fix. There were a couple of reasons why:

1. I was very specific when I requested my Fix. I wanted a complete outfit. I wanted a jacket, a blouse, a necklace, a pair of colorful capri pants, and a pair of black flats. I wanted to be able to open up the box, put everything on, and head out the door. I had read on a Facebook group page that if your requests are too specific, you won’t get what you’re looking for. But I had also seen YouTube unboxings where subscribers had requested all dresses and they received exactly what they wanted. I admit… I was skeptical.

2. A friend of mine [Kristen at Four Hens and a Rooster] blogged last month about her experience at a local consignment store called Style Encore. She explained that they have a FREE styling service where, after reviewing the style profile/questionnaire that you submit to them, they pull outfits for you to try on in their store. It seemed too good to be true, so of course I had to try it. I did. I loved it. And I bought a LOT of things. (More details will be listed below.) Aside from the items I had specifically requested, I didn’t think Stitch Fix could provide me with pieces I hadn’t already purchased.

On July 1, four days before I expected it to arrive, my wonderful mail carrier delivered my third Fix. I had already peeked at the app and knew that my request for an entire outfit had not been granted. I opened the box, and went straight to the note. I wanted to know who my stylist was, and just what she had to say about being unable to fulfill my request. Sam’s note was very personal, she had read my request and taken it all into consideration, and she had tried to pull something together. I was very appreciative of the effort that she put into selecting pieces for me AND the time she took to explain why she was unable to send the capri pants and black flats.

As I dug into my Fix, I realized just how awesome each piece was and how carefully it was selected. Sam had singlehandedly fulfilled my ongoing request of versatile pieces that work for both the office and in a more casual setting. I was looking at five items that I could willingly keep and wear. And she also kept my box total under $200… another request that I wasn’t sure would be met. There was no striking out on this third box; it was all charm!

In my third Stitch Fix box, I found:
Margaret M Deandra Textured A-Line Skirt $78 {size XL}
Pixley Nelda Halter Blouse $44 {size XL}
Market & Spruce Kristah Ruffle Knit Blazer $78 {size XL}
Papermoon Heather Lace Detail Tab-Sleeve Blouse $48 {size XL}
Bay to Baubles Gene Coin Layering Necklace $34

The total price of all items minus the discount ($70.50) and the monthly fee ($20) was $191.50.

I am so excited to share these outfits with you! (You can click on the photo to enlarge them.)

blueskirt
JCP Blazer $10
Tommy Hilfiger blouse $8
Textured A-Line skirt (from July Fix)

gaucho
Blouse & Necklace (from July Fix)
Sunny Leigh Gaucho pants $14

haltertank
Halter blouse (from July Fix)
Maurices Hydraulic jean capri (purchased years ago)

jacketdressjacketback
Blazer (from July Fix)
Apt 9 dress $13

jackettarget
Blazer (same as above, from July Fix)
Merona blouse ($22.99) and ankle pants ($27.99) from Target

My decision:
Textured A-Line Skirt – returned
Halter Blouse - returned
Knit Blazer - returned
Tab-Sleeve Blouse – kept
Necklace - returned

So, I’m sure you’re confused. After all, I just said that I loved this month’s Fix and could see myself keeping all of the pieces. I did love everything! However, I have a confession to make. Remember my consignment store shopping experience? Let me tell you a little more about it…

Do you see all of this?


These are just a few of the outfits that my Style Encore stylist pulled for me. Crazy, right? Who knew that a consignment store would have this many options in my size. If you’re luck enough to have a Style Encore nearby, email them about their Personal Shopping Experience. Again, this is a FREE styling service… and it was so much fun!! I completed the questionnaire and submitted it via email. I was given an appointment and when I arrived, the dressing room was packed full. I had a dedicated employee devoted just to helping me mix and match pieces, search for items to replace ones that I liked but didn’t quite fit like I had hoped, and who would tell me honestly if the outfit worked for me or not. It took me an hour to try everything on, but it went by so quickly. When it was all said and done, I walked out of the store with 21 items, and had spent $213. Many of the things I purchased still had the original tags on them! Do you want to know the best part? The day after my styling, I took a bag of clothes and shoes to the consignment store to sell. {Note: They purchase your items on the spot, any season, and give you cash before you leave the store.} They bought $40 worth of clothing from me that no longer fit me or that I just never wore. That made the previous day’s $213 more like $173!

Here are two of my favorite outfits from my consignment shopping:


Blazer, blouse, skirt, and shoes: $31


Dress: $14

I could not be more pleased with my Stitch Fix for July, and I will be using their services again… some day. However, I admit that Style Encore has spoiled me too. For practically the same amount of money as the five pieces I received in my July Fix, I was able to purchase FOUR TIMES as many name-brand items. My closet has been refreshed for the season and I feel like I have plenty to work with this summer and fall. I am going to take a few months off from Stitch Fix, and clothes shopping in general, but am now looking forward to shopping for winter clothes this fall… now that shopping is fun again!

If you’re interested in trying Stitch Fix for yourself, please click here and use my referral code: 7952845

Kayaking Adventure

North Carolina is a wonderful place to live. (If you don’t live here, you should really consider a visit!) We’re blessed with so much in this state; from the highest peaks to the islands on our coast, there are a lot of places to see and things to do. So much so that I have barely scratched the surface myself, and I am a native Carolinian. I’ve decided, in my quest to visit all 50 states, that I would also make an effort to explore more of my own home state.

One adventure that I recently took was a river tour via kayak with Yadkin Riverkeeper. They’re a fantastic group of avid paddlers and environmentalists who have committed to promoting clean, healthy rivers… particularly the Yadkin River. The Yadkin is one of the longest rivers in NC, and is the northernmost part of the Pee Dee Drainage Basin. Most of their events take place in the summer, and are often relaxing, family-friendly journeys. If you don’t own a kayak/canoe, you can rent them from the organization for a minimal fee. (Roughly $30-40) The registration fee is $20.

[Side note: A coworker recently took up paddling. It sounded like something I would be interested in, since I always enjoyed white water rafting in my younger days. The idea of taking up paddling as a hobby piqued my interest, so I quickly considered purchasing my own kayak. In less than one week from making that decision, my neighbor (whom I didn't even realize had a kayak) was selling his Pelican Vortex 80x for a very reasonable price. It was affordable. It was convenient. And it was blue... my favorite color. So I bought it!]

My coworker and I registered for the next available river tour and started planning our adventure. Two days before we were scheduled to leave, I realized that my kayak had a weight limit, and I was dangerously close to it. I started asking friends who paddle if I should be concerned but everyone seemed to think I would be fine. I even asked one of the outfitters on the day of the river tour, and he seemed to think I would be fine too. He did tell me that he would make sure that I looked safe before I launched though. He was kind enough to offer a rental kayak or even shuttle me back to my car if he felt I couldn’t make it down river in my own kayak.

All seemed a go when I climbed inside my boat, and we decided that he’d give me a push. I headed out into the river… and within three paddles, I immediately felt uneasy. I didn’t feel like I was going to sink, which was my initial fear. The Pelican Vortex was too fast, turned very quickly, and was unsteady for me. My experience on rivers had been in larger boats, longer and wider. I had never maneuvered something this small, and I was all over the river! And that’s when I realized, out of the 60+ paddlers in our group on the Yadkin at that moment, I had the smallest kayak. Even the professionals were in longer kayaks.

I basically had to let the water carry me (the river was low and the current wasn’t very fast for the most part) and I only paddled when I needed to over correct or stay upright. Despite traveling about 1/3 of the way trying to relax, I was overexerting myself. My muscles were tense and I was beyond thirsty… all because I was in a poorly sized kayak.  About that time, a guide – one of several scattered throughout the course to ensure all paddlers are comfortable and safe, came up from behind me. He apparently could tell I was struggling. After a short chat, he asked if I wanted out. I wasn’t sure if he meant ‘out of the river’ (which I didn’t want because the adventure was really cool) I replied, “I would like to be out of this kayak. I’m too big for this boat. I need a bigger one!”

Without hesitation, he made a quick call and within 60 seconds (or less), I was being circled by paddlers and a raft was on the way. As a runner, I have always bragged about how incredibly helpful and motivating that community is, but I have to admit that this community of paddlers were equally, if not MORE, supportive. I was so impressed with their care and concern, as well as their encouragement.

When the raft arrived, several paddlers cornered my kayak against it with theirs. It steadied my boat enough for me to be able to climb into the raft. Since there were no access points on the river for me to unload my kayak or get a bigger one, we ended up having to tie mine to the raft. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed to not get to experience the entire adventure in a kayak… but I still was able to see over 10 miles of the Yadkin from the river itself. (And Justin, who was rowing the giant 150lb raft – with two heavy objects in it, a full Yeti cooler and me! – couldn’t have been more awesome. We chatted, we told jokes, and we may or may not have sang a little too.

Despite the river tour not going completely as planned for me, I still strongly recommend it. You will be safe because you are surrounded by some of the best people I have ever met, and you will have a great time. Just make sure you have the properly sized boat. If you’re unsure of what style/model/size boat that you need, please go see the folks at Great Outdoor Provision Co. They have locations throughout NC. They’re located in Thruway Shopping Center in Winston-Salem, and in Friendly Shopping Center in Greensboro. Each location will hold a Demo Day where you can get expert advice on the right boat(s) for you, and then try them out before you buy them. (You can bet that I will be at the next one. Let this be a lesson learned… do not buy your kayak from a yard sale if you have never owned a kayak before, even if it is your neighbor selling it!)

If you would like to take up paddling but need to learn the basics, you can also find classes and meetups through your local Great Outdoor Provision Co. or contact the awesome folks at Yadkin Riverkeeper.

Paddling the rivers of NC is a unique way to experience this state. It’s a great alternative to a more expensive (and often less adventurous) vacation too. If you have any questions, please comment below or reach out to me on Facebook or Twitter. I hope I see y’all out on the water soon!

[Click here to see a video, courtesy of and copyrighted by Justin.]

Chicago: My Recap of Chitown

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago with five of my friends. I had never been before, and was unsure of what to expect. A large city in the midwest isn’t exactly my idea of a dreamy vacation. I’m more of a slow, southern riverfront or tropical beach kind-of-girl. But I have realized that the older I get, the more I want to see and do. And I think that includes travel to all fifty states. So when my friends suggested the trip, I was all in. I justified the expense as my 40th birthday present to myself.

To my surprise, I fell in love with Chicago. It is such a beautiful city, richly filled with history and culture. I won’t bore you with every detail of the vacation, but I do want to highlight some things. I should probably remind you that we traveled on Friday and Tuesday, so we only had three full days to explore. We barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do, but here is a list of my favorites from my first trip to Chitown.

Landmarks:
Buckingham Fountain – Located in the center of Grant Park, just off of the Magnificent Mile and adjacent to Lake Michigan, this towering fountain operates from April to October. It is accompanied by lights and music, and is quite the show! (Note: if there are any Married… with Children fans reading, this is the fountain shown in the opening title sequence of the show.)

Chicago Theater - This theater was the first large and lavish movie palace in the US. It is located in the Loop, on N. State Street. We didn’t have the opportunity to take a tour inside, but we certainly stopped for a selfie with the iconic sign.

The Bean - Apparently, its official title is Cloud Gate, but it has been nicknamed ‘The Bean’ because of its shape. It weighs roughly 100 tons, and is made of polished stainless steel. The sculpture can be found in Millennium Park within the Loop, just off of Michigan Avenue. My favorite part of visiting? The underneath of the sculpture. Do yourself a favor and don’t just observe the sculpture from the perimeter. Head under the “omphalos” … it’s the concave chamber also known as “the navel”. It produces the most beautiful distortions.


{Look up!! Seriously. The inside is crazy awesome!!}

Navy Pier – There is so much to take in at Navy Pier. There are too many restaurants and gift shops to name. However, one highlight from the pier is the newly renovated Centennial Wheel. It’s the first and only one of its kind in the US. The Ferris wheel stands nearly 200 ft tall and overlooks Lake Michigan.

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge - It is said that this jazz club, located in Uptown, was a local hangout during the prohibition era for various gangsters. The most well known, Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone, was said to have a secret hatch in the club that led to underground tunnels. You can request to sit in his favorite booth, but don’t ask to tour the tunnels… you will be denied.

Willis Tower – Formerly, and most well-known as, Sears Tower, Willis Tower is the home of the SkyDeck Ledge. The building itself, located on S. Wacker Drive in the Loop, is 108 stories. The Ledge is located on the 103rd floor. Access to the Ledge is via an elevator that travels the distance in a short 60 seconds. Between 1973 and 1998, Willis Tower was the tallest building in the world.

Wrigley Field - With its ivy-covered brick outfield and its hand-turned scoreboard, this Major League baseball field (and home of the Chicago Cubs) is beyond charming. It’s the oldest National League ballpark. I love that it’s tucked away between brownstones and local bars, right near the Clark/Addison “L” stops, in the quaint community of Lakeview in North Side. See below (Cubs Game) for additional information!

Restaurants:
Fiesta Mexicana – We rented a brownstone in Uptown just around the corner from this incredibly delicious restaurant. The food was authentic, flavorful, and reasonably priced.

The Parthenon – Oh my goodness! We stumbled upon this little piece of heaven on S. Halsted in Greektown. The restaurant and its staff gave us incredible, authentic food as well as a history lesson, too. As wonderful as the food and atmosphere were, I enjoyed meeting Yanna the most. She owns the restaurant, which her father started in 1968. The coolest part of it all? Her father created Flaming Saganaki. CREATED. IT.

Things to Do:
Memorial Day Parade – Little did we know that Chicago hosts the largest Memorial Day parade in the country. It travels down State Street. We found that the best place to watch was at the intersection of State and Madison, just outside of Target. Center Stage was located here so we could hear all of the announcements that went along with the parade.

Architectural Boat Tour – If you have an hour or so to spare, consider boarding the sightseeing barge at Navy Pier and heading up the Chicago River. The tour itself not only highlights the gorgeous architecture of the city’s many skyscrapers but you’ll also learn historical facts about Chicago, as well as some interesting folklore. [Side note: Check Groupon for deals!]

Chicago Cubs Game – Even if you’re not a huge baseball fan, the experience of catching a game in Wrigley Field is history in the making. Not only is Wrigley Field the second oldest ballpark in the US, but the Cubs fans are some of the best around. Even if they’re playing your favorite team (like they played my LA Dodgers while I was in town), hope for a Cubs win. There is something extra special about that team winning at home. You’ll see what I mean if you’re lucky enough to witness it first hand.

I cannot wait to head back to Chicago. There are so many places that I wanted to see but didn’t have time. There are a lot of places that I want to revisit. I want to catch some shows, and head to the beach on Lake Michigan. And truthfully, I just want to soak in this city. The history of our country fascinates me, and Chicago holds so much. I strongly recommend a Chicago vacation… even for my fellow beach bums.

 

(All photos in this post and on this site are copyrighted and should not be used without permission.)

Stitch Fix #2

I know I promised a video but once you read this post, you will know why I didn’t record one.

I was so excited about my second Fix because I had such a great experience last month when Cindy selected five great items with zero guidance. I just knew that, since I provided feedback with my returns and created a StitchFix pinterest board in an effort to assist my stylist, my June selections would be dreamy. I even left a note for my stylist requesting a particular shirt [Fun 2 Fun Renauld (?) front pocket blouse $44 -- sleeveless, white with navy anchor pattern] and something youthful and fun, yet still somewhat age-appropriate for my birthday. I anxiously awaited the email letting me know that my Fix had shipped. That’s my cue to head over to the app to peek at the selections heading my way. In case you missed it in the last post, I’m not a fan of surprises.

I received the email on June 8 and when I opened the Stitch Fix app, I was thrilled at what I saw. There was one shirt and one dress that I immediately knew that I would keep.

My box arrived on Friday, which happened to be my birthday! Could life get any better? I was planning to celebrate that night at a local winery and began pondering which outfit I would wear; the new shirt with white capri pants or the new dress. While I was ripping into my Fix, I kept thinking, “I can do a video next month. I don’t have time to prep for a reveal today. I have to see these items in person and decide what I’m going to wear tonight!”

And then…

I tried everything on. Just like that, my heart sank and my bubble burst. Details below.

In my second Stitch Fix box, I found:
Brixon Ivy Zedd Lace Overlay Blouse $58 {size S}
Level 99 Sandy Bootcut Jean $98 {size 14}
Market & Spruce Accio Cold Shoulder Top $58 {size XL}
Market & Spruce Aerin Dress $64 {size XL}
Pixley Verleen Knit Burnout Maxi Dress $68 {size XL}

The total price of all items minus the discount ($86.50) and the monthly fee ($20) was $239.50.

My decision:
Lace Overlay Blouse – Y’all, I loved this top when I saw it on the app, and wanted it desperately. However… do you see the problem here?

It’s tagged as XL but clearly is a Small. I was so disappointed. After speaking with some folks in the SF B/T/S Facebook group, I understand that I could choose to keep the top and just request a new size but it sounds like a hassle. I’m too bummed to even deal with the exchange at this point. I will return the top.

Sandy Bootcut Jean – I can say that I love these jeans! Remember in my last Stitch Fix post, I mentioned that one of the key things I wanted to “test” with this service is just how well their products cater to us larger gals. I was convinced that their jeans wouldn’t fit me since my body shape sometimes bounces between a size 14 and size 16 pant. This particular pair of jeans fit beautifully, felt amazing, and were my favorite piece from this month’s box. However, the frugal girl in me absolutely could not justify paying $98 for them as we get ready to head into a very humid NC summer. Maybe they will resend them to me in the fall, when I’m freezing and more likely to blow my budget on some cute and comfy jeans. That said, I will return the jeans.

Accio Cold Shoulder Top – As you can see from the photo, this shirt paired with the jean really makes for a great outfit. I was pleasantly surprised by this shirt, given that it was my least favorite item on the app. (I’m not a fan of the open shoulder tops.) I am glad that it was sent to me. I want pieces that I wouldn’t select in the stores for myself. That’s a major reason why I chose to use this styling service. Ultimately, I will return the top simply because I couldn’t see myself wearing it to work. I like to have blouses that are a bit more versatile.

Aerin Dress – I fell in love with this dress the second that I saw it on the app. The color, the pattern, and the style all appealed to me. I was convinced that I would wear it to the winery for my birthday celebration. However, when I tried it on, the belt tied right at my problem area (belly) and the length made me a little nervous. I’m 5’10″ and generally go for dresses that fall at least at the knee, not above it. I couldn’t believe that both pieces – that I had already decided in my head that I would keep – let me down. On Sunday, as I was packaging up my items to send back, I tried this dress on again. I stood in front of the mirror, trying to make it work. I glanced in my closet and realized that I had a blue jacket that was close in color to the blue accent in the dress’s pattern. I threw it on, along with some nude wedges, and finally saw the potential of the dress. The jacket helped to mask my belly. I still struggled with the length. So I did what anybody would do… I took this photo and tossed it up on Instagram for opinions. :) Most folks liked it. Some even loved it. One practical friend reminded me that if I wasn’t completely comfortable in the dress, there was a chance that I would never wear it. Part of me knows that I should send it back. The other part of me thinks I should step outside of the box and go for it. After all, this is my birthday Fix! I requested something youthful, yet age-appropriate. I feel like this is it. Yes, I just turned 40. But that doesn’t mean that I should dress like Dorothy from The Golden Girls, right? After much deliberation, I’m trusting the Instagram masses. I plan to keep this dress.

 

Verleen Knit Burnout Maxi Dress – This is a beautiful dress. I loved the color, I was okay with the fit, and the fabric was soft and comfortable. But what I am learning quickly is that I’m not much into maxi dresses. I am not completely against them, but I am extremely picky when it comes to them. This particular one just didn’t blow me away. I will return it.

So there you have it; my second Stitch Fix review. I should note that, this month, my stylist was Jessica. I feel like I should give this service another month, so I will request a July box when I checkout. If you’re interested in trying Stitch Fix for yourself, please click here and use my referral code: 7952845

 

Here’s a quick rundown of how Stitch Fix works:
Create an account and fill out a questionnaire.

The subscription is $20/month and that fee is deducted from your total, should you decide to keep any or all items delivered in your monthly fix.
You receive a box with five custom-selected pieces.
Try them on at your leisure (you have three days to make your decision) and send back the ones you don’t want to keep in a postage-paid envelope.

Lucky Casserole

I sometimes struggle with cooking because, well, it’s just me… and most recipes yield so much food that it takes me all week to consume it. Because of that, I’ve fallen into a funk and cook very little these days. However, when the mood strikes me, I don’t always have time to research recipes and swing by the store for ingredients. I’m known for opening up the fridge and using whatever is in there to create a meal. Most often, it’s a miss. Occasionally I get lucky and create a hit. I definitely got lucky with this casserole concoction and wanted to share this quick, easy recipe with you. I’m showing you a gluten-free, dairy-free option but the ingredient list is generic so that you can adjust the recipe to your liking. (Note: This is not a sponsored blog.)

Ingredients:
Chicken breasts
Italian dressing
3 medium-sized squash (any variety)
1 small onion
Breadcrumbs
Cheese
Butter
Nutritional yeast (optional)

Preparation:
Place two small chicken breasts into a crockpot.
Cover with Italian dressing. (I used the entire bottle.)
Cook on LOW for approximately 6 hours or HIGH for approx. 3 hours.
30 minutes before the chicken has finished cooking, remove and shred, then return to dressing in crockpot to finish cooking.

Dice squash and onion.
Place in refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble the casserole.

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease an 8×8 casserole with butter.
Begin with a layer of diced squash & onions, add layer of chicken, and sprinkle with yeast.
Repeat another layer of each; veggies (add a couple pats of butter to the second layer of veggies), chicken, and yeast.
Top with breadcrumbs and a few pats of butter.
Bake for 25-30 minutes.
Add layer of shredded cheese and place back in for 10 more minutes, or until cheese is melted.
Serve hot.

This makes approximately three servings.


This is just before I placed the casserole in the oven.


And this is the delicious outcome!

Again, this is not a sponsored post… but I did want to mention a few of my favorite gluten-free, dairy-free ingredients if you’re looking for those alternatives.

Daiya cheese, in my opinion, is the best cheese alternative. It melts well, and is very creamy and flavorful. I also love that it is soy-free too!
Glutino makes wonderful gluten-free products. Their breadcrumbs are a terrific alternative to wheat-based breading.
Earth’s Balance buttery spread is a plant-based product that tastes just like the real thing! Organic, non-GMO, and Vegan… it is the perfect substitution to butter.

Go ahead and give this recipe a try, then let me know if you get lucky! ;) Happy eating.

My First Stitch Fix

I have friends who have used Stitch Fix for years; some who have been subscribers since the launch of the service in 2011. I have enjoyed hearing about their experiences, reading their blogs on their latest fix, and watching their unboxing videos. I never had the desire to participate, though… until recently.

There are a couple of reasons why I decided to finally give it a try. Since my reasons are probably pretty far-fetched in comparison to the majority of Stitch Fix subscribers, I thought I would give you a quick insight before I reveal today’s package.

I like to think that I am fashionable, but the truth is — I struggle with fashion. I blame it partially on this “turning 40″ thing that is happening soon. (I’m starting to blame a lot of things on it, actually. haha) I love fashion, but fashion doesn’t always love me. I see a cute outfit on Pinterest and I attempt to replicate it, only to find that my body type  just isn’t compatible with the clothing style. It reminds me of all the years I took hair photos to my stylist and – every time – she would tell me that the cut was for someone with straight, thick hair… and that the same cut on my thin, curly hair would not produce the same look. Most cute, fashionable outfits simply do not produce the same look on me.

I’m tall (5’10″) and long-waisted. My legs are actually an average length. I am also about 20lbs overweight. I am most annoyed by my belly. It seems to be where most of the extra weight is stored. Sometimes it’s a struggle to find the right sizes and cuts. I feel like I often settle for clothes, particularly dress clothes for work, and I get stuck in a certain look that isn’t necessarily the best for me.

I’m not a fan of shopping. I loathe having to try on clothes in a dressing room. When I do shop, I typically have an agenda… I’m looking for one particular piece to pair with something I already own. The thought of shopping just to browse is a bit daunting to me.

And y’all know that I’m a self-proclaimed Budget Queen. I am so frugal. If I buy one article of clothing, I pull a similar piece from my closet to sale or donate. I only allow an extremely small amount into my budget for clothing. I don’t shop often, and when I do… I shop thrift stores and consignment shops first. It has to be on sale, and it has to be a needed item.

All of that said, the four reasons I finally subscribed to Stitch Fix are:

  1. I am hoping their stylists can recommend the appropriate cut/style/look for me.
  2. I want to see if Stitch Fix caters to someone with my body shape/size.
  3. The clothes come straight to my door and I have a few days to try them on at my leisure.
  4. I want to see if the clothing offered is affordable and well-made.

A quick rundown of how Stitch Fix works:
Create an account and fill out a questionnaire.
The subscription is $20/month and that fee is deducted from your total, should you decide to keep any or all items delivered in your monthly fix.
You receive a box with five custom-selected pieces.
Try them on at your leisure (you have three days to make your decision) and send back the ones you don’t want to keep in a postage-paid envelope.

Simple enough, right?

So… on to my first fix! I’m sorry this isn’t as entertaining as other Stitch Fix reveals. I wanted to get this blog posted quickly, so I didn’t have time to edit a video or even slap on some makeup to be presentable in photos. I’ll do better next time.

I purposefully did not give my stylist any suggestions aside from the basic questionnaire at registration. I wanted to see just how in-tuned the stylists are before I even created my Pinterest board with suggestions. I was vague… and Cindy nailed it!

A few days before the fix shipped, I learned that I could download the Stitch Fix app and preview what was on its way to me. A lot of folks wait until their package arrives to see what was selected for them. I, however, don’t like surprises. When I saw the items that were selected for me, I was impressed. Cindy did a great job… and I got even more excited about getting my fix and seeing the clothes in person.

What I was a bit disappointed in was the price. At registration, I selected “The cheaper the better” option, hoping I would get some discounted items. However, the average Stitch Fix items seem to be in the $50 range. That is very high for my general budget. I was leery as to if I would even purchase anything, or even use the service again, but I decided to wait until the package came to make my decision. Especially since I also wasn’t convinced that I would fit into the clothes. [Stitch Fix sizes range from 0-14 and XS –XL. I am on the upper end of that scale, and sometimes 14s aren’t the best fit depending on the cut of the clothing. I’m a generally apprehensive person anyway.]

In my first Stitch Fix box, I found:
Daniel Rainn Ginnie Lace Trim Knit Top $58 XL
Loveappella Liette Embroidery Detail Knit Top $48 XL
Gilli Kimberly Maxi Dress $64 XL
Margaret M Christiana Textured Pencil Skirt $78 XL
Romolo Lea Leaf Collar Necklace $28
The total price of all items minus the discount ($69) and the monthly fee ($20) is $187

My decision:
Lace Trim Top – I love it. The fit. The feel. The pattern. The versatility. LOVE. I’m not a fan of the price, but when I deduct the $20 I’ve already spent (and won’t be refunded) then the top will be $38. That is still way more than I would typically spend on tank top but I really do love it. I can wear it with shorts for a casual look in the summer, or pair it with black dress pants, heels, and a blazer for work. I’m going to keep it.

img_8497.jpg

Embroidery Knit Top – It is a pretty top, but the fit was a bit snug for me… and the design was a bit plain. I couldn’t see wearing this to work so I’m going to return it.

Maxi Dress – I love the fit of this dress! It was comfortable and slimming. I considered keeping it, but there was something about the hemline that bothered me. If it didn’t have the asymmetrical bottom, I probably would have kept it. At $64, I decided to return it.

  
Pencil Skirt – I was surprised at how comfortable this skirt was. I liked the color/texture and length… but it was a bit too snug for me. It really accentuated my curves, particularly those in the rear, and I didn’t feel like that would be appropriate for work. I also couldn’t fathom paying $78 for a skirt. I’m going to return it.

Necklace – I thought the necklace was adorable, but between the length (too short) and color (I have a couple gold ones already) I decided to return it.

Since Cindy did such a fantastic job selecting items for me with little direction, I have decided to give Stitch Fix another try. (That’s huge folks… I really thought I would be cancelling my subscription right now!) This time, I have created a Pinterest board at their suggestion, and plan to send back a note with my returns to let my stylist know what I loved about each piece and what I didn’t. Although I’m still not a fan of the pricing, I do love the anticipation and convenience that comes along with this service. So be on the lookout for my next Stitch Fix post. Maybe *just maybe* there will be a video too.

Living Right

Yesterday, I attended a funeral for the father of a friend. He was 95 years old, and lived a wonderfully full life until his health rapidly declined. The memories that were shared about this precious man were incredible to hear. He truly was someone who “lived life right.” That isn’t to say that he didn’t make mistakes. We all do, including him. But he was described as someone who “believed everyone was as honest as he was.” He worked hard, he loved hard, he put others first, and he never harbored bitterness or negativity. I think a lot of that had to do with his faith, but a lot of it had to do with his character too. He never worried what others thought of him because he was always considerate and confident in his intent. His funeral was short and sweet, because his long life had already told the story of what a kind soul he was.

Shortly before arriving to the funeral, I received a Facebook message from someone with whom I once volunteered. I would consider this person an acquaintance; not really a friend since we had never done anything outside of events together. However, if I ran into this person around town, I would speak. I would ask how he’s doing and genuinely care about his response. His message was questioning why I had unfriended him on Facebook. He was immediately defensive and questioned what he had done wrong to cause my actions. He wanted to know what he could do to “fix our friendship.” After the funeral, I learned that a short 30 minutes after he contacted me, this individual had also posted a rant on his Facebook timeline. It stated something along the lines of “if you’re going to unfriend me… please be an adult and send me a message as to what the problem is.” He continued by stating that if “you’re not adult enough, you did not need to be on my friends list anyway.” It was full of bitterness and negativity, and self-consciousness.

Of course when I confronted my acquaintance, he explained that the rant was about someone else. I started to question if that was an honest statement… but I didn’t. All I could think about was the beautiful celebration of life that I had just witnessed, and how much society today puts more weight in social media friendships than they do about living life right. I can’t begin to imagine what someone sees and experiences in 95 years on earth, but I often wonder what previous generations must think about my generation and those that follow. When did unfriending someone on Facebook become the judgement of our character? When did bullying someone behind a computer screen become so acceptable? When did honesty and putting others before yourself become a thing of the past? Why are people so bitter and negative these days? When did we lose our dedication to do the right thing and be our best?

I haven’t been able to get my friend’s father off of my mind. What an incredible example this man was to his family and friends, and to his community. It really makes me think about my life as I enter into my 40s. If my health rapidly declined, would my funeral be short because my life was full? Or would I be remembered for my Facebook rants and my constant unhappiness? It is really something to consider, isn’t it?

When you work hard, love hard, and put others first… you don’t have to worry what people say about you. You can be confident that your life speaks volumes for your character. In my next 40 years, I want to live a life so full of love, kindness, honesty, and selflessness that the only words that need to be spoken at my funeral are “…until we see you again!”