Sunday, October 16, 2016

How To Build A Comfortable, Stylish Winter Wardrobe For Under $500

You don't need tons of cash to be warm, comfortable and hott (with two t's) this winter. Just a few key pieces will complete your winter wardrobe needs for both workdays and weekends, because you probably already have some basics to fill in the gaps.

The secret to easy dressing without spending a ton of money is to choose a main color scheme and stick to it with everything you buy. You can do either black/grey or brown/tan tones. (This fall I got a raise so I'm branching out into brown/tan, but I normally stick to black and grey as my basic scheme.)

The 7 basic, key pieces

1) a pair of boots 
2) a pair of leggings
3) a pair of colored jeans
4) a sweatshirt hoodie
5) a few sweaters and tees
6) a scarf, and
7) a coat

Get it in your head that you don't need a closet stuffed full of clothes to dress well; in fact, the simpler the better. I promise it's way easier to get dressed when you aren't overwhelmed by too many choices, clothes that don't really fit, aren't in style anymore, are worn out or in disrepair, or that you just don't wear anymore because you don't feel great in them.

First off, treat yourself to a new pair of boots this winter. Depending upon the weather in your location, you can go with either ankle, calf, or knee high boots.
Here in the Rocky Mountains, we are boot-crazy. So yes, I own about 8 pairs total, but that is totally unnecessary.
If you are going with a black/grey color scheme, you want to choose black or grey boots. They will go with everything you wear.

Next, get your leggings and pants. For the black/grey scheme, a pair of black leggings are a must. You can also get a pair of black stretchy jeans or jeggings if your budget allows, and then I would add a pair of colored jeans in another color that pops with black, like the fuchsia jeans I show here.

Basic black/grey winter wardrobe. I show all three boot options here, but you really only need one pair.
For tops, I recommend three sweaters, with one of them being a long cardigan that you can layer over tees. Stick with greys and blacks. Then add a white tee and a black tee--these can be long or short sleeved. And finally, a fuzzy-warm-on-the-inside sweatshirt hoodie for weekends.

For accessories, I recommend getting a scarf that goes with everything, like the black-and-fuchsia leopard print one I show here. Or, a basic black/grey/white patterned scarf will work as well. You need a black belt and a black/grey bag, and you're all set.

Now Let's Make Some Black/Grey Outfits

Outfit #1 - Long sweater over leggings

Outfit #2 - Colored jeans and sweater

Outfit #3 - Black jeggings, tee, and long cardi

Outfit #4 - Colored jeans, black tee, scarf and coat

Outfit #5 - Leggings and sweatshirt

Now, I could keep going with these basic pieces, making different outfits--these are just a few of the options. You can also build on these basics with items you already have, or things you find on sale here and there and want to add in.

The Cost of the Black/Grey Wardrobe

Black calf-high Aerosoles boots: $75 on sale, bought about 3 years ago
Fuchsia scarf - Claire's boutique: under $10
Long black/grey marl sweater - Eddie Bauer outlet: $30
Grey sweater with white shirt tail - Calvin Klein outlet: $48
Long black cardigan - Target: $20 or less (don't remember)
Black leggings - JC Penney: $15 on sale
Black jeggings - Macy's I think: $20 on sale
Colorado Sweatshirt hoodie - $30
Pink Arizona skinny jeans - JC Penney: $20
White tee - JC Penney: $10
Black long sleeve tee - Target: $10
Nautica stretchy black belt - Steinmart: $10
Black Skechers tennis shoes - $40 at the outlet
Puffer coat with faux fur trim - Eddie Bauer outlet: $90
Backpack purse - Calvin Klein outlet: $66

Grand total: $494 (not bad, but you could reduce it even more by getting a less expensive bag and coat.)

And Because I Can't Stop, Here's the Whole Wardrobe Again in Brown/Tan

If you want to go with a brown/tan color scheme, obviously you want your boots to be in the brown/tan color family. I'm adding in a heather grey legging, an olive skinny jean, and a denim jacket. I couldn't get away with just one scarf with what I currently own, so I'm using a light grey as well as a warm brick red one. For tops, a leopard sleeveless sweater, a basic cream cable knit, a plum sweater dress, and a long oatmeal cardi, plus a greenish-grey tee.

Outfit #1 - Plum sweater dress over leggings

Outfit #2 - Olive skinny jeans, cream sweater, and grey scarf

 Outfit #3 - Long cardi over leggings with red scarf

Outfit #4 - Olive skinny jeans, leopard sweater, denim jacket

Outfit #5 - Sweatshirt hoodie and leggings

Outfit #6 - Leggings, tee, scarf, and coat (except I forgot the scarf, but either the red or the grey would look great here)

The Cost of the Brown/Tan Wardrobe

Denim jacket - JC Penney: $50
Leopard sweater - White House Black Market: $25 on clearance
Olive Arizona skinny jeans - JC Penney: $20
Grey infinity scarf - H&M: $20
Cream cable sweater - H&M: $20
Plum sweater dress - Athleta: $138 (yikes - this will put me over)
Grey heather leggings - Athleta: $80 (and this too)
Oatmeal long cardi - American Eagle: $24 at the outlet
Tan Baretraps calf boots - DSW: $80
Oklahoma sweatshirt hoodie - $45
Organic cotton greenish-grey tee - Whole Foods: $6 on clearance
Red infinity scarf - $15

Grand total: $523 (but you can get way less expensive leggings and sweater dresses at places like Target and JC Penney. Also, I'm not adding in the Dooney & Bourke tote, which I got at Dillards on sale for $150 I think, this past summer. You can get similar bags for way less.)

Feel free to invent your own color scheme and to shop at the stores you love, but if you get my 7 basic, key pieces (Recap:
1) a pair of boots 
2) a pair of leggings
3) a pair of colored jeans
4) a sweatshirt hoodie
5) a few sweaters and tees
6) a scarf, and
7) a coat should have an amazing core winter wardrobe for the cold months ahead. And if you're like me, nothing helps me say "Bring on winter!" like warm, comfortable, stylish new clothes. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Lentil and Harvest Vegetable Stew with Fresh Thyme

Nothing like a steaming bowl of fall veggies and lentils to warm your soul.
Do you love lentils? If so, you and I have a lot in common. This nourishing, comfort-food vegetable and lentil stew is one of my favorite meals when the leaves start changing colors and temperatures drop. The chunky vegetables and vibrant herbs will fill your house with the most wonderful aromas as you simmer it on the stove, and you'll feel you are taking extra-special good care of yourself by indulging in as many bowls of it as you like. I promise.

Lentil and Harvest Vegetable Stew with Fresh Thyme

(Vegan, Gluten Free)

1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBS olive oil
2-3 stalks of celery with tops, thickly sliced
1 tsp dried marjoram
3 small carrots or 2 medium, thickly sliced
4 small to medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed (peeled or unpeeled, your choice)
1 small to medium sweet potato or yam, peeled and cubed
5-6 cups vegetable broth or water + veggie bouillon (I use Better than Bouillon, love this stuff)
1/3 cup dry lentils, sorted and rinsed
Handful fresh thyme (you can de-stem it and chop it if you like, but I'm too lazy. I just dump it in and pick out the stems later, when I eat the stew.)
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 tsp coarse grey sea salt, or salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper

Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat for a couple of minutes, then add the celery and cook until onion is translucent. Toss in the marjoram and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to one minute. Add the carrots, potatoes, sweet potato or yam, and sauté a few more minutes to blend the flavors. Pour in the broth or water plus bouillon and add the lentils. Bring to a boil, toss in the thyme, and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils and vegetables are done. Add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper and simmer another 5 - 8 minutes. (Don't put the tomatoes in until the potatoes are soft, because the acidity can keep the potatoes from cooking thoroughly.) I like to simmer this down until everything is creamy, buttery-soft, about 35-40 minutes total.

Enjoy by itself or with a hunk of grainy wheat bread or gluten-free bread. Yum.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Vegan, Sugar-Free, Decaf Pumpkin Spice Latte

Okay, so you drive through Starbucks' drive-thru this time of year and get bombarded with pictures and words suggesting you order a Pumpkin Spice Latte. And you remember back when you didn't care how much caffeine, sugar, or dairy you consumed, and you ordered that steaming, delicious, aromatic latte to your heart's content. And how the pumpkin spice latte filled your senses with the wonderful feeling of fall.

And then, if you're like me, you start scheming about how you could re-create that drink in a cleaned-up form and enjoy it without selling your soul to the devil.

I no longer drink coffee due to the caffeine content, and I haven't bothered with searching out good decaf coffee because I wasn't trying to make a sanctified Pumpkin Spice Latte. Until now. Enter Sprouts' bulk decaf espresso beans, which I highly recommend.

I went full-on vegan last summer, which means no dairy, so no milk in my latte either. Can't order dairy-free at Starbucks, because I also no longer consume sugar, and to my knowledge all their alternative milks are sweetened with cane sugar.

And forget about the pumpkin spice part of it at Starbucks--that's a syrup, and its glycemic index is probably around 1.5 million. Especially since if you let them put as many pumps as they want, you're getting at least two or three pumps per drink. (Even back when I consumed sugar and ordered this latte at Starbucks, I used to ask for half a pump of syrup in a tall because it was just too much sugar for my taste.)

No worries. I figured all this out this past weekend and am here to share my so-delicious vegan, sugar-free, decaf Pumpkin Spice Latte with you.

Vegan, Sugar-free, Decaf Pumpkin Spice Latte

Ingredients (these are a little specialized, but hey, you want a sanctified latte or not???)

2 TBS (for a double shot) decaffeinated espresso beans (or ground decaf espresso if you don't have a grinder at home--Sprouts sells a good decaf espresso)
3/4 cup Califia brand Toasted Coconut Almond Milk, the one that is sweetened with Monk fruit (check the label. It has 0 grams of sugar.)
3 tsp Lakanto natural Monk Fruit Sweetener (adjust the amount up or down according to your taste, but 3 tsp is a good place to start)
1/4 tsp powdered Pumpkin Pie Spice (I'm loving Spice Hunter brand at the moment)
Cinnamon, to sprinkle on top


Grind your beans (on fine) if not already ground. Fill your portafilter with the ground beans and tamp it down evenly. Pull your shot and set the espresso cup on top of the machine to keep warm while you steam your milk. Add the 3 tsp Lakanto sweetener plus the 1/4 tsp pumpkin spice to the bottom of a stainless milk steaming carafe, then pour the coconut-almond milk on top. Steam until hot and frothy. Pour espresso into a warm mug (I warm it in the microwave for 20 seconds) and then pour steamed, sweetened, spiced milk over the top. Sprinkle on some cinnamon, sit back, and enjoy the autumn bliss.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Vegan Apple-Banana-Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Banana, Cinnamon, Apple-y Oatmeal Goodness.

I was craving oatmeal cookies that met my dietary rules over the summer, so I spent some time looking for a good vegan, gluten-free, sugar free oatmeal cookie recipe. I couldn't find exactly what I was looking for, but printed out five recipes that I thought I could work with and adapt. After some experimentation, I came up with the perfect (for me) fruity, nutty oatmeal cookie. It's soft, freezes and thaws well, has an addictive banana-apple sweetness plus just enough nutty crunch to satisfy my nut cravings (I've had to stop eating plain, raw nuts by the handful due to TMJ pain...sad day.)

My recipe is vegan, sugar free, and gluten free, and soft enough that I can normally enjoy them without irritating my TMJ muscle/tooth pain. The process is relatively easy and can be made all in own bowl if you want to just make your flax eggs in the large bowl before you get started.

Apple-Banana-Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

2 flax eggs (2 TBS ground flax seed + 6 TBS water)
1 ripe banana, mashed
1 apple (I like Fuji and Gala, but just about any type will do,) peeled and grated in food processor with S-blade
1/2 cup nut butter, such as almond and/or cashew butter (lately been using Nuttzo in this recipe. It's pretty addictive.)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBS melted coconut oil
3 TBS golden Lakanto (or if you aren't avoiding added sugar, coconut sugar or brown sugar would be yummy)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
Heaping 1/4 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups gluten-free oats
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup gluten-free oat flour
3 TBS chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Make your flax eggs in a small bowl and set aside for 5 minutes.

Mash banana in the bottom of large mixing bowl, then add apple and flax eggs and mix. Add nut butter, vanilla, coconut oil, Lakanto, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix thoroughly.

Add oats and other flours. Mix well, then add pecans. Set cookie dough in the fridge for 5 minutes to firm up a bit. Use a big spoon to dip the dough out onto a cookie sheet or baking stone, flattening each ball of dough a bit to make about a 3" diameter cookie.

Bake 18-20 minutes (at high altitude - you may need a little less time if you are at sea level) or until cookies show a little browning on the edges and bottoms.

Cool on a rack and enjoy! Makes 20-24 cookies.

Side note: These cookies freeze well. I freeze them the day I bake them, after scarfing down several of them with Teeccino. I put two cookies in individual sandwich baggies, then bag them all up in a gallon size baggie before placing in freezer. You can thaw one baggie on the counter or in your lunch bag in the morning if you want to have them for lunch. Or, my favorite way to have them is to wrap the two frozen cookies side-by-side loosely in tin foil and heat in my toaster oven for 18 minutes at 350 degrees. They'll come out soft yet crispy-ish on the edges like they were when you baked them. Soooo good with hot tea or Teeccino herbal coffee (or the real stuff if you're doing caffeine!)

Monday, August 29, 2016

How I Started Liking My Job Again

A funny thing happened this month. I started back to work at my day job (high school teacher) and found myself actually ready for it. Enthused about it. Feeling organized, and tackling my lesson planning, room set-up, and teacher meetings with energy and calm.

Hmm, I thought. What made this year different? Because whatever it was, I definitely want to keep it going as well as replicate it next year. So I sat down and figured out what I had done to make this job-happiness come about, and made a list. This is how I started liking my job:

1. I got my energy back.

I quit caffeine two years ago, and boy was that a lifestyle change. It took months and months before I felt like "myself" again, only "myself" was, at that time, defined as My Caffeinated Self. My real self is who I am now, without caffeine. A person who gets energy from things like rest, healthy food, and exercise. You can't feel your natural energy unless you get off caffeine.

"But if I quit caffeine, how will I get energy in the morning?" I know; I went through that thought process too. Believe it or not, you'll get energy in the morning (eventually) from a good night's sleep, a big glass of water, a good healthy breakfast, a couple of B-12 capsules, and some yoga. That's how I do it, anyway. I feel better than I have in years energy-wise, and I know that is having a huge impact on my capacity to enjoy my job.

2. I made connections with my colleagues.

In the past, I was cordial to my colleagues, helpful, and encouraging when I could be. But I didn't really connect with them much beyond work-related tasks and conversations. This year I'm practicing being more in the moment when we meet for lunch bunch between classes, and before and after school. I'm gossiping more, joking more, listening to them better, investing more emotionally. Not just focusing on "gotta get my work done and get out of here ASAP."

Whatever your job is, guaranteed you have a few annoying people, a few strange people, and a few "cool" people with whom you share at least some things in common. Connect with those cool people. They need you at work (and outside of work) as much as you need them--to commiserate, share stories, triumphs, and defeats. Get each other's back. It really does make the job more tolerable, no matter what your job is.

3. I made the choice to go all-in.

I'm a high school Spanish teacher. I'm nurturing my inner Spanish-o-phile this year, getting all geeky about the language, the culture, the people, the music, the TV shows and movies.

I'm also getting more into my school and its culture. I'm wearing the school t-shirts, showing more "spirit," feeling more proud to be a part of the club that is an American high school.

And lastly, I'm showing up more. My job requires several mandatory evening commitments throughout the year, as well as umpteen jillion optional ones (sporting events, plays, concerts, ceremonies, etc.) This year I'm going to attend more of the optional things (with colleagues--see #2 above) and I've decided I'm going to have a blast doing it.

4. I got smart about how to accomplish annoying/tedious tasks more easily.

Simplify, simplify, simplify. After so much time doing a particular job, you learn the shortcuts, what's really important, which things you can't cut corners on if you don't want to suffer later. I made the decision this year to let some things go that don't really matter as much, and to pay more attention to the things that do matter and make a difference in how well I teach and how smoothly my day goes.

Take some time to notice what the time-wasters are at your job. What things you spend way too much time obsessing about, and what things you tend to gloss over that really need to be attended to more carefully so that your overall job performance and satisfaction will improve.

5. I started taking a real day off.

I made a rule in July that one day a week (Sunday for me) there is no work of any kind. (See my blog post on How I Really Took A Day Off.) That is unbelievably difficult for me to stick to, because I have all kinds of side projects (blogging, novel writing, social media, etc.) that I normally spend almost every waking hour on weekends working on.

It also means that I have to get really organized on Saturday, get my chores and laundry done, errands run, and extra food prepared, but the payoff is a real day of rest, with nothing to do but relax, journal, pamper myself, and nap. Monday feels so different this school year now that I have a true day of rest on Sunday. It feels a lot less like a Monday. I highly recommend it.

So that's it. End result = actual job happiness. I won't say all-out bliss, but happiness, contentment, easing of stress and harsh feelings concerning the 40+ hours I dedicate to my day job every week.

It's rather nice.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Clean Eating Shopping List

Fresh produce is my go-to.
I cook almost every night, for two reasons. Maybe three, actually. One, I want to eat clean, healthy, fresh food. Two, I'm eating a vegan diet with a bunch of other restrictions like no sugar or white flour. Three, I love cooking. I LOVE it. To me it's creative, relaxing, and exciting, and I love my own food.

And since I cook almost every night, I have a well-stocked refrigerator and pantry, which means lots of grocery shopping and grocery-list-making. I keep a running grocery list in my kitchen junk drawer in a little notebook so I always know what I'm getting low on and need to buy soon.

I love lists, and I love making lists, so I'm sharing my basic grocery lists with you here. (I buy all organic produce, and buy everything else organic as much as humanly possible.)

Weekly Grocery List

Yellow squash and/or zucchini
Yellow onion
Red bell pepper
Potatoes - red and/or gold
Sweet potatoes
(And sometimes: mushrooms, eggplant, fennel, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, fresh peas, red onion, or whatever other organic produce is in season and looks good.)
Toasted coconut-almond milk (really kind of addicted to Califia brand right now. It's sweetened with monk fruit.)

Pantry and Fridge Staples I Keep On Hand

Vegetable broth and/or bouillon
Fine Himalayan sea salt
Coarse Celtic grey sea salt
Extra-Virgin olive oil
Coconut oil
Canned coconut milk
Coconut butter
Applesauce (in 1/2 cup packs)
Canned diced tomatoes
Tomato paste
Canned whole tomatoes
Canned strained tomatoes
Canned beans (cannellini, garbanzo, black beans)
Dry lentils
Black olives
Basmati rice
Short-grain brown rice
Wild rice
Arborio rice
Gluten Free pastas (Trader Joe's Brown Rice Penne is my fav right now, and Barilla's GF Spaghetti)
Breakfast cereals - Bob Mills' Brown Rice Farina and Creamy Wheat
Oat flour
Almond flour
Whole wheat flour (use occasionally)
Brazil nuts
Lakanto white and Lakanto golden (natural monk fruit sugar substitutes)

Of course I have other odds and ends in my pantry, but these are my basic things I keep stocked all the time so I can make all my favorite, healthy dishes.

Speaking of which, time to go make Sweet Potato Biscuits (from this amazing recipe at to go with my Lentil-Vegetable Stew with Fresh Thyme!

Friday, July 15, 2016

My Sweet, Sweet Barbarian

So this guy shows up in your back yard, only without the helmet, axe, or chest armor. What's a girl to do????
This summer I'm obsessively working on my third romance novel, working title "Sweet Barbarian." It's a time-travel romance in which a 5th-century Visigoth warrior (Valamir) is sent forward in time by a Druidic priestess in order to save his life, and he ends up in December 2015 in Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, in the middle of a snowstorm. He's wounded, so he stumbles down the side of Pike's Peak looking for any sign of life, and ends up passed out in the back yard of my heroine's mountain cabin.

Her chihuahua is outside going nuts, so Karly thinks there might be a bear out there, but she can't really tell what it is--it's just a big lump of something lying in the snow out by the spruce tree. She ends up going outside far enough to check, and finds this huge, muscular, mammoth of a man who's unconscious and going to freeze to death if she doesn't drag him inside and try to tend his wounds.

She saves his life, and when he wakes up, she starts using charades and gestures to teach him a few English words so he can communicate with her. She needs to figure out who he is, why he's dressed like a Skyrim cosplayer, what happened to him, and where he belongs so she can get him home.

That plan of course all goes awry when his story starts coming out in broken English, and he claims to be from "Gallia Aquitania" (modern-day southwestern France,) from the year 483. Other than that story, he doesn't seem crazy, so Karly's not sure whether to take him to the mental hospital or the homeless shelter. Or, just keep him around and drool over his hunky physique, his sweet smile, and lion's mane of hair. Plus, when her druggie ex-husband shows up high and hell-bent on manhandling Karly, it comes in handy to have a 6 foot 6 barbarian around to bounce him right on back to his Hummer with a bloody nose.

Anyway, I am having a BLAST writing this novel and can't wait to put it up for sale.

I'm projecting Fall 2016 for the release. In the meantime, you can see my Sweet Barbarian Pinterest board with all my model inspirations for the main characters, Karly's cabin, Karly's clothes, and her dog here.

Okay, back to play (ahem) I mean, work...

UPDATE 8/20/16: Sweet Barbarian is finished (yay!) and in the final editing stages. Will be up for preorders on Amazon soon!

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