Your Guide To A Carefree Holiday Season

I don’t know about all of y’all but I can’t believe that it is already November. Christmas is in full swing at stores, media and I suppose here on 30 Shades of Stephanie. The holidays can be the most stressful time of the year, but only if you let it. A few years ago, the holiday season became too much for me and it was miserable. I’ve never hated the holiday season as much as that year and I knew something had to give in order for me to enjoy my favorite time of the year, so the following year I made a few changes that immensely helped. So here are a few things I do in order to actually enjoy the holiday season and make the best of it.

Plan Holiday Travels, Outings and Make Reservations 

Now is the time to book your plane tickets and hotel rooms. It will be much cheaper now and you will actually be able to get a flight or room. Since it is November you can now start making reservations for any holiday dinners out especially on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day because those reservations tend to fill up fast. Living in a tourist town, trust me, book any December special event dinners now. Also go ahead and try to buy tickets now to any holiday events like the ballet, concerts or light festivals. You can generally get them cheaper now, get better times or seats and of course they aren’t sold out yet!

Make Your Christmas Cards

I don’t know how many times I have planned to take the perfect Christmas card photo and make those cute custom photo Christmas cards or buy the perfect witty and festive card to tuck the photos inside. I either never have enough time to take the photos, let alone make the cute photo cards or buy cards. Don’t even get me started on the actual mailing of the cards. Sometimes they get sent a few days before Christmas or they don’t get sent at all. Right now is the perfect time to get on the ball with this. Plenty of time to take the pictures and get the perfect picture picked out. Plenty of time to make those cheesy custom cards or buy cards and print out the photos. Plus if you by now you don’t have to be left with the unwanted card selections! Also now is the time to make sure you have everyone’s correct addresses and make a list of all the people you want to send cards to. You don’t want to leave anyone out. And last but not least, buy your stamps now. The lines aren’t as long and you can easily slip them in to your mailbox once you have everything filled out. Now who doesn’t love some snail mail, especially festive snail mail?!

Start Thinking About Meal Planning

So not only do you have to plan for Thanksgiving meals and Christmas meals but you are going to be busy, busy during the holiday season. I know I tend to work longer days and have more social events filling my free time that the last thing I want to think about is making dinner. I like to start looking for easy and quick recipes that are perfect for the long days I seem to have during the holiday season. I like to look for crock-pot recipes and one pan dishes on Pinterest and make note of those recipes for the season. But I have also recently discovered Seeds of Change thanks to Influenster, which makes dinners at home a breeze. Seeds of Change offers rices and sauce packs that are not only healthy but extremely easy. Win, win. I received a complimentary Sweet and Sour sauce pack and made an awesome stir fry packed with veggies and protein. The best part, it took hardly no time to make. I stir fried garlic, mushrooms, onions, green beans, asparagus, chicken and the sweet and sour sauce and served over rice. It was a hit in my house and I will be purchasing more of these sauce packets to make during the busy season. The full range of Seeds of Change products are available at Target!

****This product was sent to me to test and review. All thoughts and ideas are my own.****

Start Planning Now 

One of the things I learned from the year I knew I was starting to despise Christmas was because I wasn’t using a calendar or planner. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but to me it’s a huge deal and it is for a lot of people. For me, if it isn’t written down or planned in advance it generally isn’t happening. I remember that year I lost the holiday spirit, the biggest bummer was double planning two events in one night (twice). One was an early Christmas present (the ballet, which I hadn’t seen since I was a child) and then a social media event. I got a message on the way to the ballet asking where I was for something I was supposed to be co-hosting. I remember yelling, crying, making up an excuse and not paying attention during the ballet worried I had let a few people down. Ohhhh and something similar happened the following week. Now I write down everything. Work, social events, blog post and social media schedules, dinners, freelance meetings and even when I am wanting to go and do certain Christmas events. I also like to write down a list of things I want to do like going to the ballet, seeing Christmas lights, Christmas at Biltmore,  the gingerbread competition at the Grove Park Inn or art events so I can prioritize and plan out those “Christmas Bucket List” things so I can actually do them. I’m telling you it makes a world of difference. So use the calendar on your phone, a standard calendar or a full blown planner to get it together. Plus you won’t miss out on the things you really want to do if you plan accordingly.

I have recently found this little holiday planner from One Swell Studio which is adorable for the holidays and perfect for keeping it together. The design is so chic and I love the large daily layout. It doesn’t start until December but perfect for the craziest month. This one is super unique because it acts as a keepsake of the holiday as well. Not only does it have a to do list for every day, but also spots for special moments from the day and a spot to write what you are thankful for. It also includes portions for budgeting, spending and gift tracking. I will use this in conjunction with my regular planner, this one as my to-do list and holiday memory keeper. How cute would it be to add a Polaroid picture to each page for each day?! Seriously considering this.

Block Off Downtime and Be Okay With Doing Less

Though I like to plan hardcore for the holidays I have also started to make sure that I have time where I haven’t packed the entire day with festive activities. During the holiday season you really need to focus on self-care more to avoid getting depressed or despising the holiday. Also if you can’t do everything, that’s ok. It’s fine to not do every festive activity in your town or go to every social event. If it doesn’t all get done, everyone around you and yourself will be fine. I like to pick a few days where I just do things I like, generally by myself, like getting my nails done or getting a massage. You deserve it girlfriend! Plus I will be sharing tons of self-care ideas here on the blog and on Instagram throughout the holiday season.

 

 

The Importance of SPF

The sun is finally out shining, temps are warming up and we are heading outside more and more with less and less on. You’ve probably heard it a million times, possibly more from your mother than anyone else, but really don’t forget to put your sunscreen on. Whether a pale ginger like me, tan or darker skin tones, it’s important for everyone to lather up before going outside.

I have extremely fair skin, so much so, I get sunburned riding in the car for 30 minutes during the summer. So I have become very proactive in putting sunscreen on every day, even if I’m not basking in the sun by the pool. I have come across three products that fit the bill for my skin care routine for SPF needs.

Australian Gold Botanical Sunscreen Face is the perfect sunscreen for the face that doesn’t break me out and offers great protection. It looks like a tinted moisturizer so it works great on it’s on and it also goes on great under makeup allowing a smooth application. Since it’s tinted there is no white cast and it feels more like a primer than a traditional greasy sunscreen. Even though tinted, it blends in to your skin so nicely, the color matching isn’t an issue; because everything is generally too dark for this girl and it works perfectly. For $12.00 this is one of the best facial sunscreens I have tried. And let’s be honest, I have tried a lot.

Now the issue with putting on makeup and being outdoors becomes an issue. Did you know you are supposed to apply sunscreen every 60 to 120 minutes? Even sooner if you are sweaty or getting wet. So sadly that sunscreen you applied under makeup or your SPF foundation isn’t actually working for your skin after an hour or so. Enter Supergoop!’s Defense Refresh Setting Mist SPF 50. This is literally the best invention ever. You just spray this on after makeup is applied, through out the day, the same as a regular setting mist or refreshing spray and you get an extra layer of SPF. The smell is great and the spray also gives you a matte finish perfect for days in the sun when oil is literally piling up on your face like a fast food joint. I will just say, I probably would have taken better care of my skin as far as sun protection goes when I was younger had this product been around.

Now for my entire body when out in the sun, it takes something really powerful to help me prevent sunburns. I have probably just tried about everything on the market, but I always go back to my trust friend Bull Frog Sunscreen. I have been using this since I was a kid. And it really works. At the beach I apply about every thirty minutes. At home just out and about, I apply about every hour. Seems like overkill, but I promise you it’s easier and more fun than what could actually happen. I’ve had blisters, sun poisoning and severe burns. This works and is worth the time for me. I don’t know how many bottles I go through during a year but it’s enough for Bull Frog to actually sponsor me though.

I hope all of you are applying something on your skin, whether you look in to these products approved by ginger skin or not.

 

Breakfast Fuel

Breakfast Fuel

I love breakfast. And in the Summer time, it’s the only hot meal I really want to eat in the day. I like things that are easy to whip up and filling to last me through my work hunger cravings. So I’m sharing these open face breakfast tacos again because besides anything from Over Easy and 5 Points this is by far my favorite breakfast. It’s really easy to make and a hit. This works perfectly for my early work mornings, but would be great with some fruit and mimosas for weekend breakfast!

Breakfast Fuel

What you will need:

  • 1 small fresh corn tortilla, if cutting out grains you can omit this
  • olive oil
  • 1/2-inch-thick slice of avocado mashed lightly with a pinch of salt, or you could use guacamole
  • 1 oz pork breakfast sausage
  • 3 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 cup spinach leaves
  • chipotle chili powder
  • 1 large, organic egg
  • salt, freshly ground pepper and hot sauce to taste

Instructions:

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Rub a few drops of olive oil onto both sides of the tortilla. Toast the tortilla in the hot skillet until lightly browned and crispy on both sides. Set tortilla on a plate to the side.

Crumble pork sausage into hot skillet and stir around until nicely browned, about three minutes. Add spinach. Add chili powder. Can add tomatoes or can serve fresh on the tortilla. Continue to cook until the Spinach is wilted. Set aside.

Crack egg and fry egg to preference. I cooked mine over easy.

On the tortilla put your mashed avocado or your guacamole. Then your meat and spinach mixture. Add tomatoes if you haven’t cooked them. Place fried egg on top and garnish with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Serve hot and immediately.

How Nature, Hiking and Chasing Waterfalls Have Helped With My Depression

How Nature, Hiking and Chasing Waterfalls Have Helped With My DepressionHow Nature, Hiking and Chasing Waterfalls Have Helped With My DepressionHow Nature, Hiking and Chasing Waterfalls Have Helped With My DepressionHow Nature, Hiking and Chasing Waterfalls Have Helped With My DepressionHow Nature, Hiking and Chasing Waterfalls Have Helped With My DepressionHow Nature, Hiking and Chasing Waterfalls Have Helped With My Depression

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love getting outside and exploring nature. But not many people know the reason why I love it so much. May was mental health awareness month so I did a little research on nature and depression. Nature and mental illness in general.

I have battled with depression for as long as I can remember. For the longest time, it wasn’t brought to light because it wasn’t something you talked about. It was something you dealt with on your own. Family, friends or anyone I was around never knew what I really dealt with. But in college it got bad. Really bad. I needed help. Which I got. Then about 5 years ago I started dealing with anxiety really bad. Anxiety and depression mixed is the worst. When I went back to college recently, the anxiety got worse. The depression got worse. It seemed no matter how many hours I spent in a therapists office or how many different medicines I tried, nothing was working. I felt like I was dying inside and it actually began to show. One visit with my therapist changed everything.

She mentioned alternative healing. A way to absolutely disconnect from everything, even the people around me. She suggest spending more time in nature. Now at the time I was already exploring out in nature but generally just for photo opportunities. I wasn’t actually connecting.

So I started hiking, sitting, exploring and relaxing out in nature. Attempting to go once a week. Attempting to take the time to sit outside once a day with absolutely no distractions around me. It started to work. I feel better, I feel more at ease, I feel happier. I feel at peace. Nothing can make me more at peace than feeling the soil beneath your feet so far out in nature you can’t hear the sounds of town, having my hands void of technology (only to snap a few pics at the end of the journey), breathing fresh air and only having my mind focus on the task of making it to the destination whether it be a waterfall or the top of the mountain. Out in nature, the mind can’t focus on the every day thoughts. It has to focus on survival and feats. And that is much more refreshing than focusing on reports, time, likes and followers.

It is not a scientifically proven that nature is linked to the healing of mental illness, but is beginning to be looked at due to the way our mind and bodies work when in a natural habitat setting. It may not be a prescription, but for me it is working. And like a pill, each week I try to take my dosage.

The Perfect Spring Salad

The Perfect Spring SaladThe Perfect Spring SaladThe Perfect Spring SaladThe Perfect Spring Salad

I always signify Spring finally being here when Easter arrives (even though yesterday was cold,damp and dreary) and with Spring comes lighter dishes for dinner. I was raised a true Southerner so in the fall and winter you eat warm, hearty meals and in the Spring and Summer you eat light, chilled food unless it comes from a grill or smoker. And a southern staple is a salad of some sort. I love chicken Caesar salads and I love pasta salad; so it only seems natural to combine the two (but without the Duke’s mayo). I’ve had a chicken Caesar pasta salad before but decided to make my own little version of the Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad, with a slightly healthier  take.

Ingredients:

  • chicken breasts
  • romaine lettuce
  • vegetable pasta (I found mine at Ingles)
  • whole wheat croutons
  • Parmesan cheese
  • lite Italian dressing
  • lite Caesar dressing

Directions:

  • Cut chicken breasts so that they are thin,
  • Either soak the chicken in the Italian dressing and grill it or put the chicken in a pan with the Italian season and sautee until the chicken is done.
  • Once the chicken is fully cooked, place in the fridge to chill.
  • Cook pasta according to package. After the pasta is drained place in the fridge to chill.
  • Cut up the chicken in whatever way you would like,
  • Prep your lettuce and cheese.
  • Once pasta and chicken is chilled mix the chicken, pasta and lettuce in a bowl.
  • Add the Caesar dressing to the mixture. Add as little or as much as you would like.
  • Top with cheese and croutons.

Luxury Eye Pillows

Luxury Eye Pillows Luxury Eye PillowsLuxury Eye PillowsLuxury Eye PillowsLuxury Eye PillowsLuxury Eye Pillows

Who ever thought eye pillows could be so luxurious? Something you actually want to display in your home while you are not using it? With Rachel Weisberg’s Lavender Eye pillows you don’t have to sacrifice function over aesthetics. You will actually want to make this part of your bedside display!

All of Rachel Weisberg’s Lavender Eye Pillows are handmade here in Asheville. The inside packet is filled with French lavender, buckwheat hulls and flax seeds. By using these ingredients the pillow is guaranteed to last for several years and you can actually feel a difference on your face whether it is heated or cooled. Cooled works great for puffy eyes and any skin irritation. Heated works great for headaches, migraines and any facial tension due to stress or sickness. And since lavender is used it’s great for just a calming effect, possibly perfect for meditation. The fabric casing on the outside (which can be removed for hand washing) are organic, handmade and hand dyed fabrics.

Rachel Weisberg offers pre-made lavender eye pillows or she can create a custom one of a kind pillow just for you. You can purchase them here or shoot Rachel a message at rachel@rachel-weisberg.com for your own custom creations!

 

Don’t for get today is your last day to enter my Valentine’s Day Giveaway for a chance to win two tickets to Biltmore and a box of chocolates from French Broad Chocolates. You just need to “LIKE” 30 Shades of Stephanie on Facebook and comment your favorite Valentine’s Day memory on this blog post! 

Valentine’s Day Breakfast in Bed

Breakfast in bed can be one of the sweetest things that can be done. Who doesn’t love to have breakfast made for them?

Valentine's Day Breakfast in Bed

This breakfast is so good and I’m not sure why I haven’t been eating this more. It’s quick, yummy, healthy and essentially an open face breakfast taco! I could eat this every day, and now I probably will. This is the perfect breakfast for breakfast in bed because it takes only about 10 minutes to make. Serve with some fresh fruit and a mimosa and you have the perfect breakfast in bed for Valentine’s Day or even brunch!

Valentine's Day Breakfast in Bed

What you will need:

  • 1 small fresh corn tortilla, if cutting out grains you can omit this
  • olive oil
  • 1/2-inch-thick slice of avocado mashed lightly with a pinch of salt, or you could use guacamole
  • 1 oz pork breakfast sausage
  • 3 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 cup spinach leaves
  • chipotle chili powder
  • 1 large, organic egg
  • salt, freshly ground pepper and hot sauce to taste

Instructions:

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Rub a few drops of olive oil onto both sides of the tortilla. Toast the tortilla in the hot skillet until lightly browned and crispy on both sides. Set tortilla on a plate to the side.

Crumble pork sausage into hot skillet and stir around until nicely browned, about three minutes. Add spinach. Add chili powder. Can add tomatoes or can serve fresh on the tortilla. Continue to cook until the Spinach is wilted. Set aside.

Crack egg and fry egg to preference. I cooked mine over easy.

On the tortilla put your mashed avocado or your guacamole. Then your meat and spinach mixture. Add tomatoes if you haven’t cooked them. Place fried egg on top and garnish with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Serve hot and immediately.

Outdoor Gear With A Cause

Outdoor Gear With A Cause

The holidays have come and gone once again, but our want to give back does not have to stop. There are great ways you can still make an impact even though it is not the holiday season, one being buying from a company that gives back. Cotopaxi is one of them. Cotopaxi creates innovative outdoor gear and experiences that fund sustainable poverty alleviation, move people to do good, and inspire adventure. You can read more about their giving model and global impact here !

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Cotopaxi offers a few unique and stylish  travel backpacks perfect for upcoming mountain getaways, the upcoming hiking season, and just for wanderlust. These backpacks would make a great Valentine’s Day gift for any outdoorsy or active person and they would also make great graduation gifts! I would look in to the Luna Del Dia pack due to it’s quality and uniqueness. The pack is extremely durable, packable and versatile. This bag is made in the Philippines by an employee who has total control over the color scheme of the bag, meaning no two bags are alike. Each bag is a surprise upon delivery. You can watch a video that explores the development of the bag, the way scrap materials are used and why people choose the color schemes they do here!

Cotopaxi has also created a page with great non-profits you can give too and ways you can give to your own community here!

The change starts with us, no matter how small that change is.

The Year of You

The Year of You

Did you accomplish your New Year’s resolutions last year? Do you remember your resolutions from last year? Did you set resolutions for this year? If you didn’t or you feel like a failure from last year, here is some advice for you. This year you are going to be your best friend. This year you are going to accomplish things you want, or at least get on the path to accomplish these things you want. This year you are going to love yourself. This year you are going to learn to love all your flaws with yourself. This year you are going to learn to be by yourself. Alone time is needed for everyone no matter what anyone tells you. This year you are going to find something you truly love. This year you are going to push yourself whether it be mentally or physically. This year you are going to practice kindness. This year you are going to be thankful. This year you are going to be the best you that you can be. Why not make this the year of you?

Easy, Healthy Chili

Easy, Healthy Chili

The weather is getting cold out there so it’s time to eat something that warms you up! Chili is my favorite thing to eat when it gets really cold outside as I’m not big on a lot of soups. So here is a really simple and healthy chili that is also really delicious and perfect for these cold nights. Also it’s great that everything cooks in about an hour and in one pot!

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 pound extra lean ground turkey or chicken
  • 4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cans dark kidney beans
  • 1 can sweet corn
  • toppings

Instructions

  1. Place oil in large pot and place over medium high heat. Add in onion, garlic and red pepper and saute for about 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Then add in ground turkey and cook until no longer pink. Next add in chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper and salt; stir all of this mixture together.
  2. Next add in tomatoes, chicken broth, kidney beans and corn. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes or until chili thickens. Taste and adjust seasonings and salt as necessary.
  3. Garnish with anything you would like and serve!