Always Aubrey: June 2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Holy HVAC, Batman!

Old thermostat?  Bye-bye.
Well, the AC died again.  Only this time, it seems that the system (circa 1996) is on its last legs and needs a complete replacement.  I felt like one of those cartoon characters with flashing $ signs jumping out of their eyes; this would not come cheap.  Not to mention I've been super sweaty, considering the 100-degree temperatures we've been having in Georgia for weeks!

Sigh...  since I'm going through this mini-crisis in homeowner land, I wanted to share my tips with you, in case you ever have this happen!

BEFORE IT NEEDS REPLACING...
1) Maintain your homeowner's insurance for repairs on the house.  It's a monthly fee, and don't let it lapse!  It really can be worth it.  Buy it at the same time you buy your house.  It could pay for itself in one incident... such as replacing your HVAC unit!  I wish I had done this.

2) Perform maintenance on your AC!  If you're new to the house, go ahead and pay to have it cleaned and service.  You never know what the previous owner has been doing for maintenance, if anything.  Ask the HVAC serviceman what you need to do to maintain your AC.  Whether that means dusting out the outside unit, changing/washing the filter inside monthly (remember my last AC catastrophe?), keeping the tubes from clogging using bleach/water, etc., a good HVAC serviceman will show you what you need to do.  Then, DO IT!  Set a monthly alarm on your phone or choose an easy-to-remember date for your filter cleaning, like the 1st of the month.

3)  Use, don't abuse, your system.  Don't start using the AC until you need to, and don't keep your temperatures so high or low indoors that your unit is working overtime.  It could make your system last fewer years than it should.

IF YOUR UNIT NEEDS TO BE REPLACED...
1)  Get multiple estimates.  Shop around!  Even if you are dedicated to the HVAC service you use, when it comes to replacing the system, get multiple estimates.  Ask your local friends who they recommend, if they've had good experiences with a specific company.  That's just the smart thing to do.  You could use one company to install the unit, then ask your regular HVAC folks to perform maintenance.  So get multiple opinions.

2)  Research the brands.  Google it!  I found that one company was quoting me WAY high on a brand that wasn't better than some of the lower quotes were offering.  Also, you will find that some well-known brands like Carrier have other brands that fall under them, like Bryant.  Not being an HVAC person, I kind of compare it to Lexus and Toyota.  Both brands have similarities, because they fall under the same parent company.  So hit the message boards and get to know the systems!  Of the four quotes I received, each one was for a different brand; it all depends on the contracts the companies have.

3)  Know the current technology.  Some folks are trying to empty out their stock of less up-to-date models.  A family friend who works in HVAC told me that I want a system with a SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) rating of 13 or higher, that uses the new R410A freon, with a scroll (not reciprocated!) compressor.  Armed with this information, I knew exactly what to ask the folks giving me estimates, to ensure I was getting a good product for my money.

In the end, I received quotes ranging anywhere from $3200-$6000!  Just think, if I'd gone with a single quote of $6000, I might have overpaid significantly for a replacement.  Fortunately, I had the guidance of that family friend to tell me what a fair price would be.  He also recommended that if I got a good quote from the company that has been helping me out through the years, he does feel it would be fair to continue to be loyal to them.

Anyways, these are the lessons I have learned throughout this debacle.  And while it does sting a bit to have to replace the system, it's just another part of being a homeowner.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cake Pop Tutorial

After trying a red velvet cake ball in Arizona in January, I started making them on my own!  I saw that Starbucks has started selling cake pops, but I refuse to pay that much money when I know you can make dozens on your own at home for pennies on the dollar.

I took these photos a while back, and didn't decorate like the red velvet ones, but you'll get the idea!  I had a few people ask me my method for making cake balls, which I learned from Bakerella's website.  I've learned to make it easier by trial and error!

Make a cake!  You can do this from scratch, or use boxed mix.  I would choose a flavor that complements the icing you'll be using later!  I like red velvet cake/cream cheese frosting, vanilla cake/strawberry frosting, etc.)

Once the cake has cooled, you need to crumble it up!  I like to use my mixer.

Then, once it's crumbled, I add frosting!  I use a can of store-bought frosting, or the equivalent amount of icing from scratch.  Try not to eat it all!  :)  Mix well. 
Roll the mixture into balls!  You can also stick skewers in if you're doing cake pops.  I put them on wax paper, then  stick them in the fridge or freezer for a while to harden up.

I like to use almond bark for my cake pops.  With a double boiler, I feel it stays melted easier than chocolate chips.  but it's up to you!  Just keep it warm so it doesn't harden.

Dip the cake balls into the chocolate!  I use two spoons, passing it back and forth.   I've tried a number of methods, but the spoons work for me!

Set them out on wax/parchment paper to harden.

Voila!  They look like truffles and taste delicious too.  The icing in the mixture makes it super moist.  You can drizzle a contrasting almond bark onto these to give a professional-looking stripe effect.
You can buy little appliances that actually bake little cake pops, as in little balls of cake... but this is how I learned it, and I think it makes for a more moist, rich pop.  I can eat two of these and feel full, and one box of cake mix can yield a few dozen cake balls!  Way cheaper than Starbucks.

Monday, June 27, 2011

RHONJ... more silly housewife antics.

Catskills Teresa... SCARY!
After this week's RHONJ episode, I watched "Watch What Happens: Live" hosted by my beloved Andy Cohen.  Dina Manzo, formerly of RHONJ, made a great point... the reason Melissa and Teresa don't get along is because they are too similar!  Joey chose a wife who was like his adored sister, and wanted her to do things (like have a big christening, etc.) like Teresa did for her girls.  Well, you do that to a woman and it leads to competition!  I do believe that Teresa wants to have a relationship with Joey, but I feel her talk with Melissa was insincere.  They may have hugged it out, but I don't think Teresa will ever like Melissa, even though I do think Melissa could be good to Teresa.

As for the Catskills adventure... what ridiculousness!  Guns and four-wheelers and way too much innuendo!  Even in the interviews, Teresa was just gross.  I don't want to know about her and Joe.  And Teresa's clothes were heinous, and probably cost a small fortune.  Blah.  I'm not into the Giudices.  Enough said; I felt like Caroline in this episode.

Also, Melissa should put her daughter in a dance class where she is with girls her own age; that was a weird exhibition from the ballroom dance studio.  OF COURSE they put Antonia in the show... it's free celebrity/publicity.  It was kind of terrible.  Though it was good that Joey/Melissa got to spend time with Joey's mom.

Anyways, I don't have much else to say about RHONJ.  I actually prefer the live show following, because Andy Cohen is the best.  Also, I miss RHOOC.  Especially my Vicki Gunvalson!!!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sweltering Savannah!

Grainy photo from Rocks on the Roof!  :)
My AC is broken again.  This is the third time, and it happens every four weeks.  And it always happens on a Friday, so I can't get it serviced until Monday.  Did I mention it has been almost 100 degrees every day lately?  But I digress.

In spite of my house becoming my own personal sauna, I had a GREAT time this weekend!  Saturday, I met up with LC and JC for a girls' night out.  We started out with a pitcher of refreshing sangria at Tapas by Anna in City Market.

Then we had reservations to eat at Rocks on the River, the restaurant at The Bohemian.  We started with the bruschetta, and I ate the Chicken Saltimbocca sandwich with their house pomme frites.  The pepper jam on the sandwich's foccaccia bread was great.  I also had the Glow Pop and Pomegranate Sunset martinis, both of which were delicious.  The Glow Pop was my favorite, with Hypnotiq, vodka, and pineapple juice, topped with a little glowstick in the glass.  We had the Praline Ice Box Cake for dessert, and it was so rich and good.  The pralines were from the local candy kitchens, and that made it so much more "Savannah"!  We got drinks at Rocks on the Roof afterwards, and then JC and I hopped around to some different locales...  The Crypt Pub, Pour Larry's, and Savannah Smiles.

I bought a whisk keychain!
This morning, JC and went walking through the shops downtown.  We scored some great little finds at Kitchens on the Square (I bought a cute whisk keychain to show my love of cooking!), and enjoyed seeing what was in City Market.  Then we headed over to The Westin to meet up with LC for the BEST BRUNCH in Savannah, the Sunday brunch at Aqua Star.  I can't even get into how many delicious things I ate... but I'll try!  Belgian waffle with whipped cream, sausages and bacon, cheese blintz, grilled chicken topped with crab cake, flank steak, roasted potatoes, pasta (from the custom pasta station!), baguette, petit four, macarons, and a mimosa!!!   I never eat anything before brunch at Aqua Star... and I'm not even hungry for dinner.  :)  It's one of those meals I think about for days beforehand...

If you're visiting Savannah and hope to visit some of these places, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you make reservations!   It's so easy to use OpenTable.  Even as a local, I make reservations so that I can enjoy the awesome cuisine Savannah has to offer.  I can't tell you the number of times I've seen some angry tourist storm out of an awesome restaurant because they thought they could just walk in.  Some of these places book up so fast, you're lucky to get a dinner table before 9 p.m.  So do your homework and plan ahead!

It was good to get "away" to Savannah, and enjoy a bit of the local flavor.  It was also nice to find some air conditioning!  Love spending time with my girlfriends.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Crazy cat lady.

Cally
My coworkers think I'm a crazy cat lady.  I mean, who else has to leave work because her cat has a Senior Wellness exam appointment at the vet?

On Christmas morning of 1996 (or 1997?  I was like 10 or 11), I woke up around 3 a.m. needing to go to the bathroom.  It was too early to wake my parents for presents, but I was so excited that I just couldn't sleep anymore.  Since the bathroom I shared with my sister was close to my parents' room, I didn't want to wake anyone up by flushing... so after sneaking a peek at the gifts under the tree (and doing a victory dance!) I tiptoed downstairs to use the basement bathroom.  (I was such a considerate child...)

I love when she naps and rolls around into cute poses.
When I opened the bathroom door, I was immediately surprised to see a little cat, very timid and adorable, sitting by the toilet.  I quickly shut the door, screamed internally (you know, when you're so excited and you're screaming on the inside and your mouth is open and your eyes are closed because it's just so much emotion?) and ran back upstairs.  I totally forgot that I had to pee and climbed back into bed, waiting with my eyes wide open for four more hours to wake up my parents.

Sure enough, that little kitty cat was one of our Christmas presents that year!  We named her Cally (for California, I might add) and the little tortie (tortoiseshell cat) became a fixture in my life.  She chose me as her person, and even though I worried she'd forget me when I went to college, every time I came home she slept at the foot of my bed.  When I got my own place, she made the 15-hour drive to live with me and kept me company.  She's the one animal I think my anti-pet Mom secretly cares about, and I'm convinced Cally thinks she's a dog; she greets me at the door every day, knows when I'm sad and need a buddy, and spends every night at the foot of my bed.

She likes to sit in my bags to prevent me from going on trips.
Today, when I took Cally to the vet for her checkup, I was worried.  She's 15+ years old, and I've spent over half of my life with her.  As I watched her have blood drawn, I felt like a nervous parent at the doctor's office.  She was so scared to be out of the house, it made me an emotional mess!   But, in spite of some weight loss (she's so skinny now!) and being a senior citizen in the feline world, Cally's tests all came back normal.  The vet just came in and said, "This cat is great!"  I smiled and thought, "That's an understatement."

She's the subject of 99% of my iPhone photos.  :)  What a great buddy I have.  So call me a Crazy Cat Lady...  because I'm definitely crazy over this one.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Burton Luggage

Burton Wheelie Flight Deck
Ever since LC's bridal shower, when she used her fiance's Burton luggage to pack, I've been kind of obsessed with it.  I was so obsessed, that I decided I had to replace my current (falling apart-can only zip in one direction-has tears in the fabric) luggage with Burton's line, because it gets rave reviews not only from snow boarders (their target demographic) but Good Housekeeping.

It's the magic 'carpet bag' of luggage; it holds a ton, has the best compartments for organizing, and includes a dirty clothes bag so you can separate everything.  There is a hard back, sturdy skateboard wheels, and these stretchy "CRAM" seams along the zippers that allow stretch without tearing your bag.  It's perfect, and it looks awesome too!

The print I really liked was their Solar Kennedy Plaid.  I saw on Zappos.com that their Flight Deck (carry-on size) was on clearance, because the print was being discontinued.  I scored the Flight Deck (retail $220) for $176, a savings of $44.

Burton Wheelie Double Deck
I figured, I saved $44, I need to move quickly to score the Double Deck (the larger bag) in Solar Kennedy Plaid!  So I ordered it from one website for full retail price ($290) even though it made me cringe.  A few days later, the website e-mailed me to tell me that it was out of stock in that color.  OH NO!  But I'd already ordered the Flight Deck in that color!

I looked quickly online for the Double Deck, and saw that REI not only had it, but had marked it down on clearance to $200.  That's a $90 savings from what I was going to pay!  I was on pins and needles hoping I wouldn't get another e-mail telling me they were out of stock too... I didn't feel better until the shipping confirmation today.  WOOHOO!

All in all, for what would have originally been a $510 investment, I spent $376.  That's a $134 savings, about 25% off!

I'm very happy with this purchase.  I plan to have this luggage last me as many years as my previous American Tourister bags, a great buy at your local Wal-Mart.  But these Burtons have a lifetime guarantee, so if something major happens I'll be calling the company!  :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What I Wore Giveaway!


What I Wore, one of my favorite blogs and a daily must-read, is doing a giveaway to celebrate Jessica's new book coming out.  Not only could you win an autographed copy, but one winner is going to have their own custom character drawn inside the cover!

I think I'm partial to this blog because she writes from my hometown, and I recognize some of he backgrounds in her photos.  Also, I love that she is sewing more and more, which really inspires me to work on my own clothes!

CLICK HERE to enter the giveaway!!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I made a dress!

Okay, first off, I have to give props to the awesome Ashleigh and Emily at Fabrika Fine Fabrics in Savannah.  I could talk to them for hours, they're super-cool chicks, and I secretly want to be bestest buds with them in real life.  (Creepy?  No, I just think they are awesome and their store rocks!)

Emily has taught me everything I know about sewing, from threading a machine on down.  I went back on Monday for a dress-making class, because I was having some trouble with my apparel sewing, and this class was an awesome opportunity to learn some more.

We started by sketching dresses on a croquis figure, then transferred that design onto a dress form.  Using muslin, then pattern paper, we made a bodice and skirt pattern for the dress.  I really liked learning how designers go from a sketch to a pattern to a garment.  I felt very 'Project Runway' and appreciated everything Emily had to show me.

Sidebar...  the fabric selection at Fabrika is to die for!  I want a little of everything, so I chose not to bring my own fabric to the class.  I wasn't disappointed; I adore the print that I chose!  I was also glad to review how to do a zipper (invisible ones are the best!), how to sew darts, and how to properly hem the skirt.

We did a tie-halter dress with a sweetheart neckline and A-line skirt.  I love it!  I am now super-excited to sew my next project.


I'm not a huge fan of this photo... I think it makes me look wider for some reason.  But it shows off the dress nicely!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Learn something every day...

This weekend, I was actually really productive!  I feel like I did things that are making me better.

(1)  I cleaned/de-cluttered the whole house.  It just looked so clean, and I'm really making an effort to keep it that way!  I can see my coffee table, I made my bed, my dining tables are cleared...  beautiful.  I even put all of my clothes away.  Everything has its place, and it actually makes me feel more calm.  (I just need to get motivated enough to clean the bathrooms again!)

(2)  I did a DIY decorating project!  I love walking into my room and seeing my Pride & Prejudice quotes. It just makes the room look more put together, and I'm proud that I actually hammered the nails into the wall myself!

(3)  I tried a couple of new recipes.  I bought a new slow cooker that is programmable, so I can set it and not worry about watching the timer.  It automatically goes to "warm" once it's done!  I made a slow cooker beef with red wine sauce.  I also made my friend JH's beer bread recipe.

(4)  I learned about DSLR cameras.  My friend VV took a class and is building her photography portfolio.  She taught me a lot of things I didn't know about, and I think I've got enough info now to make an educated decision on which camera to purchase.  I just have to save the money now.

(5)  I babysat for free!  In exchange for the DSLR lesson (and to give two deserving parents a break!) I babysat VV's 5-month-old baby boy!  I think I just have the best luck when I babysit, because I seem to get the best kids.  They are good at communicating, even when they don't talk much... and I'm not afraid of diapers anymore.  Babies aren't as fragile and scary as I used to believe, and I know more about how to take care of them.  My friends' kids make me feel like I could actually do alright at motherhood someday.  So it's good to give back and give them a little helping hand.  (And I checked off another "Before I'm 30" task!)

(6)  I took a dress-making class at Fabrika.  I'm glad my day off worked out so I had a chance to go back to Fabrika to learn more about sewing apparel; they taught me how to sew, so I'm eager to learn more!  (I will be blogging about my dress later... but I've included a fabric swatch as a teaser!)

I also got to grab lunch with my friend LC!  All in all, I got a lot accomplished and found some inspiration to do even more...  including studying for the GMAT again.

Fabric swatch for my summer dress! (Photo is not exactly true to color...)

Beer Bread

Beer Bread is quite possibly the easiest bread you will ever make!

My friend JH is one of the most amazing domestic divas you will ever meet... not only is she an amazing cook and seamstress, but she can hunt, kill, butcher, and cook her own game.  Deer, fish, you name it!  She's a Jackie of all trades.

After college, JH wrote out by hand a bunch of her best recipes for me, and I still keep that little binder with me when I want to try something that is guaranteed to be delicious.  When I saw her recipe for beer bread, I couldn't believe how simple it was.  If you want to treat yourself to something delicious, or make something special for the beer-lover in your life, this is a great baked good to try.

JH's Beer Bread (one of her husband's favorites!)

Ingredients:
-3 c. flour
-3 T. baking powder
-1 t. salt
-12 oz. Guinness beer (I used Young's Double Chocolate Stout to add chocolatey flavor!)
-1/2 c. melted butter
-1/3 c. sugar

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Pour in beer.  Stir until mixed, it's okay if it's lumpy!  Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and pour melted butter over top.  Place in a cold oven, set temperature to 375 degrees F and bake for 1 hour.

Tastes best when warm and buttered with a mixture of honey and butter.  (I drizzled honey over melted butter on mine!  Yum!)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day!

My father is the best man I know.  He is my hero in every sense of the word.  He has taught me that you can be a down-to-earth, honest, humorous, loving person in this crazy world.  He has supported me through thick and thin.  He loves me unconditionally, and I have always felt so lucky to have the best Daddy in the whole world.
He taught me my silly facial expressions.
I have his smile, with big gums and teeth.  We still have a secret handshake.  I love cheesy jokes like he does.  We can both eat the heck out of some meat and potatoes.  We used to be competitive runners.  We went to the same college.  We both served as Army officers.  I am, through and through, my father's daughter.
We had silly fun.
Every day that I am away from him, I miss him.  When we say goodbye, I cry.  As a 26-year-old woman, I know that not every girl has that same relationship with their father... and I know that I am all the better for what he has given me.



My first college campus tour... in 18 years, I was a freshman there!

I still love Eskimo kisses.

He took me to cool places... this is Holland!

Happy Father's Day, Daddy!  I'll always be your #1 Daughter.  (Haha, lil sis!)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

DIY Project: Photo Frame Collage

Okay, so I've seen the photo frame collage on walls as a decorating project, and I've always wanted to try something like that.  But until today, I was not known for being the girl to pick up a hammer!

After visiting JS's house in Connecticut, I was inspired to try to add to the "bare" spots in my house, spaces I've been staring at for ages but never changed.  The large wall space above my bed had been bugging me for years, but I couldn't figure out what to do.

Finally, I decided to give it a shot.  But I'm always one for design on a dime, so I hit up my local Big Lots and Walmart to score cheap frames.  I paid anywhere from $3 to $6 for each frame, making it a pretty cheap project for my house!  I thought about painting the frames to match, but instead just chose frames that all had metallic elements to tie them together.  (The cell phone photo doesn't do them justice.)

But instead of photos, which are scattered throughout my house in abundance, I wanted something that was more personal and would inspire me every day.  My favorite book is Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, so I decided that there was no better theme for my bedroom than quotes from P&P.

I took eight quotes from the book, including some of the most famous and some of my personal favorites, and simply printed them out on normal white paper.  I used a Courier font and changed up the sizes/italicized some words, just to give each page a full feeling.

I don't know if my little 'art installation' will be permanent for me, but I know I love all the frames and could repurpose them when I move, should I choose to.  I love looking at the quotes, which make me want to watch my BBC miniseries again!  I'm very happy with this little project, and it definitely makes the big empty wall in my room look more put together.

Pinterest

A few friends kept telling me that I would love Pinterest... but I ignored them.  But then I got curious, because they were so convinced that this is something I would be into.  So I tried it.  And I'm hooked.


Pinterest is a virtual pinboard.  Huh?  Well, basically you find something you like on the internet, and it lets you organize and share them.  So instead of the dozens of random bookmarked recipes I had in my Safari browser, I was able to create a "Food & Drink" Board that has beautiful color photos and lets me browse them for whenever I need inspiration.
A peek at my Pinterests

I also started marking things I'd like to buy, things that inspire my style, things that I like for home decor...  and it just keeps going.  Pinterest is so easy to use, and it's just enjoyable to look around.  Who'd have thought that such a simple concept could be something so great!

My Pinterest boards include Things I Want, Food & Drink, Wanderlust, My Style Pinboard, For the Home, and Products I Use.  It's so fun to browse what others are sharing as well.   You can even share the things you like to Facebook and Twitter.

Check it out, and Follow me on Pinterest!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Want want want.

This is a wishlist.  This is a wishlist.  This is a wishlist.  Things I wantwantwant and am working to getgetget.  :)  Yes, I am repeating myself.  But I am willing myself to save for things, instead of just buying impulsively.  It's a wonder I haven't bought them already.

What do you want these days?  Anything catch your eye?

Nikon D3100 14.2MP Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens
Want. Camera.

Nikon D3100.  I was looking at higher-end Nikons, but then realized that for what I want a DSLR for, this will do the trick.  It's their entry-level model, but I'm an entry-level user.  I just want those beautiful photos that I can't get out of my point-and-shoot cameras.  This would make me happy.  I'm scouring Craigslist to try to find a good deal; I wouldn't mind buying it slightly used to save money.  But I havetohavethiscamera by December for my Maui trip!

Want. Bag.
Burton Wheelie Double Deck bag.  My friend LC used this as a suitcase over the weekend.  It belongs to her fiance, and is technically snowboarder gear, but I refer to it as the Mary Poppins carpetbag of luggage!  You can just put more and more and more into this thing.  I don't check luggage often, but this thing isn't rigid, fits a WHOLE lot of stuff, and would be great for travel in general.  I fell in love when we were able to just continually stuff "one more thing" into the bag.  I think I could live out of this thing for a month, which I can't say about my current luggage.

Want. Shoe.
Nine West Smooch Wedge.  I don't need more shoes, but I do love this one.  It reminds me of the wedges Kate Middleton (excuse me, Duchess Catherine!) has been wearing lately.  My favorite and most comfortable wedge sandals are from Nine West, and I would love these in either black or taupe.  I am a perfect 6.5M in Nine West shoes, so I have many pairs from their stores!

(UPDATE:  I bought the shoes!  They went on sale for 40% off, and I found a 20% off coupon code... so they were only $38!  Original price? $79... so that's $41 in savings, over 50% off!)

Risotto... rice pudding!

Last night for dinner I made a simple, but delicious honey garlic balsamic chicken that I found online.  It was nice and savory... but then I started craving something a little on the sweet side.

I was looking through my bookmarked recipes on Pinterest, and remember a risotto rice pudding I'd seen.  A risotto rice pudding with brown sugar and vanilla, to be exact!  (Recipe from Joy the Baker)


I've attempted risotto before, and I find the stirring to be daunting... but rewarding in the end.  This rice pudding made with arborio rice was warm, delicious, and filling.  I added oat bran (to make it a tad healthier) as well as a pinch of pumpkin pie spice to the original recipe.  I also sprinkled a little cinnamon sugar on top.  Yum!

Pretty good for a weeknight at home.

(Oh, and I reheated some for breakfast today... and it was even more delicious than I remembered!)  :-)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bluff Creek Stables

Bluff Creek Stables
My friend MTM and I went horseback riding today at Bluff Creek Stables.  Her husband is allergic to horses, and she had never been on a horse before... so of course we had to go do it!  We found this amazing Groupon for a discounted lesson, so we decided to go together, helping check something off her bucket list.  (And since I helped, I completed one of my own Before I'm 30 tasks!)
Me and MTM


Penny and me

Bluff Creek is a piece of heaven on earth.  It is just gorgeous!  I had never ridden in an English saddle before, and I felt very proper.  It was definitely more difficult than Western to me, because your posture and balance make such a difference.  I really enjoyed the lesson, and kind of wish I could continue, so I could learn to go faster and have more control.

Oh, and on a side note, they teach you how to groom your horse!  No spoiled brats here!  You curry comb and brush your own horse before you go out...  they teach you everything at Bluff Creek.  I couldn't say enough good things about this beautiful facility, friendly staff, and enjoyable afternoon!

Riding like a proper English lady
Meeting Madison's pony, Moo

What's your skin care routine?

If you're like me, you've had some problems with oily skin and blemishes, some that might have left a few scars... physical and emotional!

When I got my first facial, I also got a lesson in skin care that I've really taken to heart.  While I do recommend a product like ProActiv for moderate acne (it worked wonders for me, and many others I know!), a good skin care routine can help you maintain healthy, bright skin.


And it doesn't have to cost you a ton of money.  I used to buy into the pricey products (I still have a weakness for Estee Lauder's Idealist), now I use a simple four-product combo that has really made me a happy camper!

My Routine...

(1) Daily Cleanser:  Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser ($14).  It comes in a HUGE pump bottle (you won't buy this often!), and it sits right on my sink. This is my morning and evening face wash, when I don't use my exfoliator.  Use cold water so that your pores don't open up!

(2) Astringent:  Witch Hazel (~$3).  Just buy it generic at your drugstore, put it on a cotton pad, and spread on your face.  I should do this daily, but I usually only get around to it every few days.

(3) Exfoliator:  St. Ive's Sensitive Skin Apricot Scrub ($4).  I leave this in the shower, and use it instead almost daily instead of my Cetaphil so I can slough off that dead skin!  It's their 'gentle' formula, so I don't have to worry about it being too harsh.  I love this, and it's so affordable!

(4) Daily Moisturizer:  Eucerin Everyday Protection w/SPF 30 ($9).   This sensitive-skin face lotion is my daily moisturizer and sunscreen in one!  If my face is raw and dry, it's the only thing that doesn't make it sting and burn.  I love it, and the scent is mild, like sunscreen.  I discovered it at a drugstore, and now I won't buy anything else.

The grand total for all of these products?  I spent $30.  That's it!  HALF the price of even a little bottle of an expensive department store bottle of anything.

I still have my occasional hormonal breakout, but I really think this has improved the way my face looks, and it gives me a great blank slate to work with when I'm applying makeup (always start with primer, like the Smashbox Photo Finish one I use!)

What's your skin care routine?
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