Friday, September 30, 2016

Measuring Success - 9/30/16

It's the end of September! I don't know if it's just me or not, but this year feels like it has flown by! I started this series, keeping up with my successes, last month and plan to do a post at the end of every month going forward. I like to look at a whole month because it's easier to see success that way then looking at it day to day or even week to week.

I feel awesome about this month. My gym took on Clean 14 (read about it here and here).  We started the diet September 6 and finished on September 19.  Aaron lost 11 pounds and I lost 7.6 pounds.  We were extremely happy with the results, but didn't want to continue depriving ourselves of everything, so we stopped at two weeks (some people did the Whole 30). We did continue to incorporate much of what we learned, though.  It was a really good exercise for us and showed us just how much diet really does factor in to your weight loss! It's crazy how much it changed my eating habits!

Heart Rate
At the end of last month, my resting heart rate was at 62.  It's been down in the high 50s for the past few weeks.  This week, it's been around 57-58.  It's awesome to see it continue to drop.

I'm still working on endurance.  Aaron hurt his knee this month, so we haven't been running as much.  I'd love to know if I can get to a full two miles yet! I am up to two two-class days a week! I've been doing two classes on Saturdays (barre and spin) and added another two-class day to Tuesday/Thursday (whichever works with my schedule).  I'm now doing spin and TRX, which is a suspension system that uses your own body weight. It's a game changer for me because it works different muscles than usual. After the first class, I could barely raise my arms over my head! After the second, I could barely move, period. But I love it. I think I'm just a glutton for punishment now.  

Oh, you know. No big deal. I'm just down a size. A whole size. Back into a 12. I even wore a super form-fitting dress to our friends' wedding and didn't feel self-conscious. It's awesome. Yet, also not because half of my clothes don't fit. And we've had to increase the laundry loads because I'm pretty much washing and drying things right after I wear them to keep them from falling off. But it's a noticeable difference and I'm getting comments from people all the time, completely unsolicited. Poor Aaron, I'm probably a little hard to put up with right now. Ha. 

You might get tired of seeing photos, but this is my blog so I post what I want. Plus, I've worked like a mad woman for this. I feel like I've lost weight and I can see it in how my clothes fit (or don't fit), but you really don't grasp the change until you look at photos side by side. It's honestly still kind of crazy to me. Yet really, really awesome. I think the face change is still the craziest.

My usual progress pic - January and end of September. 

Face change like whoa. Left is from my friend Sarah's baby shower and right is from our friends' wedding this past weekend.

I really, really wish I had measured myself in the beginning. I think those numbers would have been even crazier than the photos, but oh well. I updated my measurements at the end of Clean 14. I measured again Thursday night. I've had a little more change, but not huge. In the past month, I have lost 0.5" on my arms, 2" on my waist, 1.25" on my hips and 1" on my thighs. I'm pretty darn excited about those numbers. That's in one month. Diet. It really is mostly diet. And a killer workout.

Doing Clean 14 really taught me just how much of a role diet plays in trying to lose weight. Before this month, I'd lost a total of 10.2 pounds over eight months. I lost 7.6 pounds doing Clean 14 and, miraculously, I haven't gained any back! I'm super proud of being able to maintain the weight loss so far. Overall, I've now lost a total of 17.8 pounds and I think the change is officially noticeably different. It's nice for it to finally start making a difference!

How I Feel
I feel awesome. I'm so proud of where I've come, what I can do and even when I have a really ugly workout (like m'bala on Wednesday night when I couldn't balance to save my life), I'm still proud of myself for going. I probably have about 10 times the confidence I had earlier in the year. I have a long way to go to hit my goals, but right now, I just feel good. I haven't felt this way in a really long time. And it's not even about my weight anymore. I mean, it's there because who wants their BMI to tell you that you're obese? But at the same time, it's about not being the last one in the door when we run laps, being able to do two more burpees than I did in the last class, holding half chatturanga and not have to go down to my knees. So while there is a numeric goal, those are the ones I focus on.     

September was a really awesome month for me. I picked up a new class, learned how to eat better and found sustainable substitutions. Who knew I would actually like almond milk? And that there is bottled pre-mixed lattes with almond milk? Jesus loves me for that to exist.  I feel like I've finally hit my stride with this journey. I know that I won't continue to have those awesome results every month because I'm not going to be as strict as I was on Clean 14, but man it's a good ego boost. For October, my goal is to do more Paleo/Primal lifestyle, keep up my exercise schedule and not eat all pumpkin, all day, every day.

What about you? How's your journey? How are you keeping up with your success?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Pushing Yourself

I called my mom on my way home from the gym last night. I had just done two classes and wanted to die (not really die, but close).  She asked "Do you ever feel like you're doing too much?" I said "Nah, I feel like I'm a badass."

I think I can officially claim gym rat status at this stage in my life. I'm there 4 to 5 times a week, sometimes for multiple hours at a time. And I'm sad when I'm going to miss my classes, like next week when I'm out of town for training. But I think what I like most about my gym is that there's no push for you to be anything but you. If you want to push, they'll push you, but it's always what you want out of the class. I think because of that, I push myself that much harder. If I don't come home soaking wet and want to pass out on the floor, I feel like I've done something wrong.

Yoga is an interesting practice for me. I tend to like the more athletic classes (spinning, circuit, etc), because at the end, I can feel all the hard work I've done. But I also know that I need yoga to slow me down some, make me breathe and actually think about what I'm doing. I like to feel strong and I haven't always equated yoga with strong. Silly me. I try to do a yoga class once a week. Not mbala where everything is so fast and athletic, but yoga. The kind of class where you spend the first and last five minutes stretching and breathing. My first inclination is to just go and do, but with yoga I've learned to find the calm and appreciate it. The stillness as they like to say.

Monday night was pretty big for me. I was able to lift my left leg while doing side plank. That might seem like nothing to you, but for me, it's huge. I have all my weight (and it's a lot) on my feet, arms and core. And now I'm lifting a leg?! What?! It happened because every week, I try to do a little more. Go a little further, lift a leg when I know I can't. Sometimes I fall and then other times, like Monday night, I lift my leg and stay there. And in that moment, you're half shocked that you haven't fallen over and half thinking "This is awesome!" There are few things as cool as knowing that you've gone one step further than where you were before.

Recreating my side plank with leg lift in our bedroom before class. They say relax your face. Ha.
Sadly, I can only do it on one leg and hold it for any length of time. So I'll keep trying the other leg until I can do that one, too. I'll keep pushing myself to the limit every class because I can. Because I'm only going to get stronger by doing more. I really can't explain how much more confidence you have in yourself when you feel strong. Screw skinny. Strong, that is where it is at.

What can you push yourself in? What can you do today to make yourself that much better?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Cake Decorating - How to Not Spend All Your Money at Michaels

You're probably thinking, "Why are you talking about cakes, Sarah? Aren't you being all healthy now?" Let's be real, I love cake. I have since I was a kid and grew up with Ollie's wedding cakes and icing for snacks. It's been a year since I took my last cake decorating class. Two years ago, I decided to start taking cake decorating classes at Michael's as a way to de-stress.  There were few things that I could control in my job and when baking and decorating, I controlled everything from choosing the cake to how it looked and tasted when I was done. I also did it as a way to remember my Grandma Ollie who was one heck of a caterer. Some of my favorite memories of her and my grandfather revolve around wedding cakes and favors.

1990's me with one of my many Ollie cakes! With a troll on top...and poofy sleeves. 
When you take cake decorating classes, you find out all the different cake decorating tools that are out there. There are tons of them! And with Michaels offering a 40% or 50% off coupon every week, you're tempted to buy all the tools.  But which ones do you really need? Which ones are you going to actually use?

I will admit that I have a ton of cake decorating tools. I have a huge tool kit, plus a stack of tools that don't fit in the kit, a cabinet full of baking pans and another air-tight plastic bin of cake pans. It's a problem.  The cake pans I use all the time. But the tools? I probably use about half of them.  I wish someone had told me when I was taking classes what things I would actually use and what I wouldn't. So this post is for you, the one that is interested in taking classes or just learning at home. Maybe you want to make cakes for your kids birthdays or you just want your coworkers to be amazed by your cupcake skills! Maybe you're just like me and love cake - any kind of cake.

First, I am giving this disclaimer. I hardly ever do anything with fondant anymore. I mostly use buttercream. But I do keep a lot of my fondant tools around because they are necessary if you do ever decide to work with fondant. I also haven't baked that many cakes lately, especially since we moved into the new house. I guess I should probably change that.

What's in My Kit
This is my tool kit.

It's pretty awesome and has a ton of stuff in it. The top row has decorating tips and bag ties. The second row has couplers for the icing bags, colors and some fondant cutters. The bottom row has the larger items. 

These are bag ties. They are the most useless item I have ever purchased. They just take up space in my kit. I think I paid $2 for them, but still. I've never used them. Just twist the top of the bag and move on.

Two full rows of icing tips. I went through this stage where I thought I needed to buy all the different types of tips. But honestly? I use about five of them on a regular basis, ten at the most. I use the three at the bottom of the picture for writing, I use a #10 for ropes and dots, the basketweave tip and 1M and 2D for cupcakes. I do use some of the other tips, just not as often. If I were doing lots of flowers, I would probably use a lot more, but I don't. A starter pack will probably get you what you need. Or even just the tips that come in the cake decorating kits. 

Cupcakes with 1M tip.

Cake using the basketweave tip and #21 for the shell border.
I don't use any of these three items below.  The left are tip covers and they're useless. One more thing to clean. Just put your icing bags into a bowl. The middle one is a coupler for larger tips like 1M and 2D. Honestly, I just put them straight into the icing bags without a coupler. The tip on the right is for doing a thin layer of icing on the side of cakes. For some reason, that never worked for me. It does for others, but not me. I just use my spatulas.

These are my favorite couplers. I also have the older versions and they work, but these allow you to change the tips out on the bags easier. The older ones are just a little more cumbersome. Also, after a few hours of decorating a cake, your hands will thank you for these as they are much easier to unscrew. The only downside is there are three parts to clean instead of two.

This guy is one of the best things I ever bought. It's a dishwasher rack for your icing tips. I hate washing them, especially a #1 tip, so this just makes life so much easier. Definitely worth the money.

This is not a cake decorating tool per se, but something I recommend: a set of measuring spoons. I have about 4 sets of measuring spoons in my kitchen and will still not have a clean tablespoon or teaspoon when I need it. Having a set in your kit just makes life easier.

Fondant! I'm not going to go through all the fondant tools I have. It's a lot, but I got most of them through my decorating kits. Even if you don't take the classes, the kits are a really good way to get most of the items you will need for cake decorating and a book that explains how to use them.  I still use all my books for icing recipes and remembering how to do designs, like basketweave.  You forget when you don't do it all the time. 

This was my first fondant cake. It was my final project for Course 3.
This guy, however, did not come out of a kit. I bought him. And he is worth the money.  It's a duster.  You put flour or cornstarch in the top and then use the bag to dust your parchment paper and rolling pin for rolling out fondant. Genius.

Everything Else
Everything else that I have and/or use doesn't fit in my tool kit.

Rolling pins. You can use a fondant roller, but my friend Sarah that's a baker recommended using a French rolling pin and it is so much better! It's long and tapered so there aren't any sharp edges or corners on it. This means you don't mess up the fondant when rolling it out. I store mine in the box that my fondant mat came in.

Fondant mat (helps with measuring while rolling out fondant) with my French rolling pin and the fondant roller from the kit.
Cake table. This. You need this. To be specific, this is the Tilt-N-Turn table from Wilton. I have my grandma's old one, but I also got the tilting one for my birthday one year. Just be careful when tilting, I have dumped a cake that way. Tears were involved. 

My sister-in-law's shower cake on my tilting cake table. This is also the cake that I dumped off the table. Sigh.
Cake leveler. This is one of the few tools that I thought I would use and I don't. The leveler that is big enough to use on 9" round cakes is flimsy and doesn't cut straight.  I use my long 8" bread knife to bisect cakes. 

Cake circles/rectangles, aluminum foil and shelf liner. These probably sound really random, but they go together! I keep cake circles/rectangles (what you decorate the cake on) to fit 6", 9" and 9x13" cakes. I buy the cheap ones, mostly, in bulk and then use aluminum foil to cover them if I'm trying to make it sturdier or prettier (see photo above). The shelf liner I use under the cake circles/rectangles on my cake carriers to keep the cake from moving around and smashing up against the side of the carrier. The shelf liner also helps keep you from dumping cakes off the cake table. 

Bake right strips. These babies go around the cake pan when you're baking. They help the cake bake evenly without the big dome on top. I'm a believer, but not all are. I have multiple of these and use them every single time I bake a cake. You can also link them together for your bigger cake pans. 

If you're going to use all your Michaels coupons on cake decorating stuff, use it on pans. You really can't have too many. I keep in my kitchen 2 6"and 8" rounds, five 9" rounds (I inherited three my from grandma), three 12 cup muffin pans (one decorative), two 6 cup muffin pans, one mini 12 cup muffin pan, three 9x13" pans, a 9x9" pan, an 8x8" pan, and three loaf pans (one decorative). And they all get used. That's just what's in my kitchen. There are more pans upstairs in a closet.

Finally, my last thing that I really can't recommend enough if you're going to make and decorate cakes - a stand mixer. I have the 5-qt Kitchenaid. The 6-qt is really nice, but doesn't fit under all cabinets. You can use a handheld mixer, but your arm is going to want to die. Especially if you make royal icing. For years, I used my Grandma Ollie's.  I'm pretty sure that thing is as old as I am and it still works! It doesn't do so well with cookie and bread dough, though (the motor starts burning). When we got married, I so lovingly informed my mom that I wanted a lime green Kitchenaid from her and my father. And like the spoiled brat I am, that's what I got for my birthday/Christmas after the wedding. I don't use my Grandma's Kitchenaid anymore (not trying to burn down the house), but I did keep all of her attachments and the extra bowl, which is a Godsend when making cake and buttercream in the same night. Cuts the washing in half. Definitely get an extra bowl if you can!

Talking about all my pans and beloved tools made me want to bake a cake and I owe my co-worker a Five Flavor Pound Cake, so I think I've inspired myself to use some of these tools! How about you? What tools do you use that I haven't listed? What don't you use that I do? More importantly, what cake are you gonna make?!? And when can I come over?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Dear Crockpot, I Love You

Once upon a time, Aaron and I had crazy commutes and long hours.  Now, we both have pretty sweet schedules for work and short commutes. It seems like dinner would be easier now, but not really. Now we're cooking healthier (so more prep) and we're working around my gym schedule. I'm at the gym three nights a week and one of those nights I recently made a twofer, meaning that I have a class at 6 pm and at 7 pm. On those nights, I don't actually get home to cook dinner until 8 pm.

Nope. Nope. Nope. Especially after two hours of working out.

So how do we survive this?

The crock-pot. It is your best friend. This whole post is my love letter to my crock-pot. Even when the meals are not the tastiest ever, I still love it. Just throw some Frank's Red Hot on whatever you're eating and you're good to go.

But it can't be just any crock-pot. The holy grail is one that has a digital timer. One that you can set before you leave at 7:30 am and not touch again until you come home because it has an automatic "keep warm" feature. That thing is my saving grace.

I've been a crock-pot lover for a while now. When we got married, I made sure to register for one of the digital ones for the very reason I listed above. I don't have time to come home at lunch, turn the thing on and go back.  No, I write blogs during my lunch hour. I need time to eat, think, possibly shop and blog. Those are my priorities.  Not driving 30 minutes round trip to put something in my crock-pot! That defeats the purpose.

The crock-pot is also much more vital now that we're trying to be healthier, eating more whole foods. Sometimes, you just don't want to cook. At all. It's glorious to just dump everything into the crock-pot, turn it on and walkaway. Which is what I did Thursday morning.

That afternoon, I came home home to this:

White Chicken Chili!
I was able to grab a small bowl of white chicken chili before heading out for my first class. This helped fuel my energy through my classes.  After class, I ate a bar and was good to go.

The best part of the crock-pot? The liner. It's a bag that you put in the crock-pot so that you don't have to deal with the baked on crust around the side once you're done.  I ran out last week and it was not pretty. You do still have to clean the crock when you're done, but it doesn't require soaking and ten minutes of elbow grease.

Also, not all crock-pot meals are made equal. This one is most definitely NOT primal or paleo (whoops). And sometimes the primal/paleo ones don't have as much taste, so make sure to add additional seasoning (or Frank's) as you need. This recipe has white beans (legumes) and corn (technically, a grain). The paleo gods shall smite me, I'm sure. But it's filling, it's easy and considering other crap you could be eating, fairly healthy. The recipe can be found here if you're interested.

Some other paleo/Whole 30 recipes we made in the crock-pot are:

Do yourself a favor. Get a crock-pot. If you have one, dust it off and use it. I've used mine three times in the past week or two. This is how you survive paleo/Clean 14 or eating clean with a crazy schedule.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

3 years, 3 Things

Three years ago today, I married Aaron Zinn.

We got married at Shady Wagon Farm in New Hill, NC.  I loved my wedding. It was an awesome day with all my favorite people and ended with me going home with Aaron. It was a good day.

Aaron and I are not what you would call a romantic couple. He's ridiculous, I'm sarcastic.  The two just don't combine very well into romance. I'm sure some people wonder if we actually like each other (we do).

In honor of three years of marriage, here are my three favorite things about Mr. Zinn:

1. He supports me.

Not like monetarily supports me (I'm a big girl, I don't need that), but he is game for anything. I want to change jobs? Okay.  Let's build a house? Okay. I want to start working out again? Okay, I'll go with you (except the gym, he won't go to the gym with me).

He's been this way since the beginning. When we first started dating, I was working crazy hours and going to grad school at night.  There were entire weeks I didn't see or speak to anyone outside of those two places and he stuck it out. Most recently, when my gym decided to do Clean 14, a baby version of Whole 30, he was up for it and ate what I ate. There are many men that wouldn't do that.  He ate it all and there was only one thing he told me not to make again. He's proud of me when I lose weight and proud of me when I don't. He's proud of me when I come home from m'bala soaking wet and barely make it up the stairs.  There are days with this whole fitness thing that I just really don't want to do it and he says "okay" but then pushes me the next day. Sometimes he even tells me I'm smart. Mostly he calls me his sugar mama. Trust me, people, there is nothing like knowing your spouse has your back, even when you're talking crazy.

Aaron and I on a glacier in Juneau, Alaska
2. He is the best friend you will ever have.

Most people know the joking, mostly inappropriate Aaron. But those that have been around know the real Aaron. The one that will make his schedule inconvenient to help you out. The guy that has probably helped move all of our friends at least once, but more like two or three times.  He'll call just to see what you're up to if he hasn't talked to you in a while. He is far, far more giving than I am. He'll never tell you about it and you probably won't see it until you need him.

3. He's my other half.

We used to make fun of people that said, "I married my best friend!" because Danny was his best friend and Katie was mine. And they still are our best friends, but it's different when you're married. He's my other half. He's the silly to my snarky (though, I'm improving that side of him as well), he usually has the same dirty and inappropriate joke running through his mind that I do, and he's the one I'm happy to just lay around on the couch with all day.  He might not know when to stop playing the annoy Sarah game and there might be days that I want to cause him bodily harm, but at the end of the day, there's no one else I would rather spend my life with.

Happy three years Aaron Zinn. You really are my favorite.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Clean 14/Whole 30 - Week 2 Wrap-up

As you may remember from last week's post, my gym took on a two-week version of the Whole 30 diet.  We called it Clean 14. Yesterday was the end of the two weeks.  For us at least.  There are a few still going strong.

I'm not going to lie, I was ready for it to end.  But I'm also glad I did it. 

Let's start with the good stuff! Anything that completely changes your eating habits for two weeks should have some benefits and this one had quite a few.

Weight.  This shouldn't be the first, I know, but holy cow! Up until now, I've struggled to lose weight.  Working out five to six days a week and counting my calories for eight months netted me a weight loss of 10 pounds. That's a bummer, let me tell you. On this diet, however, I've lost 7.6 pounds.  Five in the first week! When they (whoever they are) say that weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise are not lying. This diet has made me a believer. I've also lost half an inch off my arms, an inch off my thighs and hips, and an inch and a half off my waist since August 29.  My chest did not move. At all. 

I was all excited at first thinking this was a two week difference, and it's actually a month difference.  But still! Clean 14 had a big part in it!
Change in lifestyle.  This diet really showed us some things we can change in our daily habits to make ourselves healthier.  Aaron and I have some different changes as he's not trying to lose weight, but we both agree that there are some parts of this we can maintain.
  • Sodas - We haven't had soda in two weeks. I honestly don't miss it that much but I do miss drinking something other than just water and La Croix. I'm going to try and remain soda free and Aaron has said he's only going to have one a day and only after drinking a ton of water (his wording).
  • Paleo/Primal - I'm going to attempt to keep us on the Primal diet for the most part. Primal is Paleo, but adds a few things back in, like some dairy (hello cheese!). We don't need to be grain/gluten free, so I'm not going 100%, but I'm going to try and make at least 3 Paleo meals/dinners a week and try to stick to whole foods as much as possible. Dairy and grains are still going to play some role in our diets, but a very scaled back one.
  • Snacks - I'm pretty much down to no snacking and Aaron's been doing fruit and nuts for his snacking.  We're going to keep with the Larabars (key lime pie is my fave), fruits and nuts for snacks instead of the cookies and crackers I'd been buying him. I'm not going to lie, I'm kind of excited to try some of the other Larabars that haven't been compliant like chocolate chip cookie dough!
  • No added sugar - After reading all the labels, I am amazed at how much sugar is added to products! I'm going to still label read and try and reduce the amount of added sugar we buy.
Better cook. No lie, I think this experiment made me a better cook. You learn to appreciate foods as they are and not try and cover them up. I learned to work with the taste of vegetables when seasoning and not try and overpower them. Aaron, however, still covers them all in sauce. I don't expect that to ever change.

There really aren't that many cons, but here are mine:

Eggs. I never want to see them again. Truly. Not for breakfast at least. There are only so many eggs you can eat, people. For real. I've done a lot of research (aka Pinterest) looking for Paleo breakfast options that do not include eggs. For the unforeseen future, eggs will only be used in a recipe and not consumed on their own.

It's still expensive. I've gotten better at shopping for the items we need, but it's still a lot more expensive than our usual grocery budget. It's helped that we really haven't eaten out while doing this diet, but we're going to have to find a happy medium. 

My cart from the last shopping trip. Two days of Clean 14 and then Primal moving forward. Half my cart is the produce section. 
You're gonna be cranky. There were so many days that I would seem like a nice normal person and then turn and bite someone's head off.  Aaron and I were getting mad at each other for no other reason than we wanted our old food. I also cried about coffee. The struggle really was real! The Whole 30 site has a timeline of how you're going to feel as your body slowly starts weaning itself off the grain and sugars.  I didn't completely follow that timeline.  I kinda jumped around.  I wasn't always cranky, but man when I was, it was bad. 

The food prep never gets better, but does get easier. Oh the prep. So much prep. Prep for breakfast, prep for lunches, prep for dinner. It was kind of nuts. There really aren't any convenience items, so you get the joy of prepping every single thing you eat. Dinners after a hour-long 6 PM class were at 8 PM or later. If you know me and my low blood sugar, you know this makes for a cranky Sarah. But you do learn how to prep smarter. For example, we made sausage and hash for breakfast a few mornings. I would grate the potatoes and slice the sausage the night before. One less step in the morning. However, the mountain of dishes will remain insane no matter how good you get. Huge, huge thanks to Aaron for being my dish man. I did all the prep and cooking, but those dishes were just as much work, if not more.

Food realizations you can never undo. You're going to get adventurous. When the food you can eat is very limited, you try all of the food that isn't off-limits.  Things you were once able to convince yourself you liked because you smothered it with something else, you will never like again.  On the other hand, things you once hated, you will now like. For example:
  • Brussel sprouts - I pan roasted these in olive oil and house seasoning (salt, pepper, garlic powder). I took one bite and gagged. That texture is not for me! I've had them before in one of our Home Chef box meals, but those had a lot of stuff covering them. 
  • Avocado - I was never a fan of avocado or guacamole. It's totally a texture thing as are all of these.  My occupational therapist sister-in-law would say that I needed help as a kid. I actually like avocado now. I still don't like it by itself, but in a salad or mixed with other items, I'm good. 
  • Cauliflower - Oh cauli. This is one of those things that people love and I try to love. I try so hard, but it doesn't work. Yogurt is another one; I've tried and accepted that I just don't love it. But cauliflower is like the paleo answer to everything. To mashed potatoes. To rice. And IT'S JUST NOT RIGHT. On my first day of meal prep, I shredded down two heads of cauliflower. They were super helpful for meal time, but every time I ate the "rice," it was like forcing myself not to choke. This is one of those things that I've eaten and smothered it with all the sauce to make it okay. But it's not and it never will be. Next time, I'm just eating the dang rice!
  • Milk in my coffee - I am never giving it up. I don't care if dairy is bad for you. I don't. I've had coconut milk and almond milk (not the sweetened up good stuff, either) and neither one of them are good substitutes.  I did buy some  regular almond milk to try as a substitute, but I'm not banking on it working for me. So in this department, I will probably fail in the paleo diet because milk is going into my coffee. The end (of that story). 
So would I recommend this diet? Yes. I really don't know that I could do 30 days of this diet. It's rough. Two weeks is a good amount of time for you to try it, see how much better you feel (and you will) and for your body to work out the weird things. You'll form new habits and have the knowledge that you can eat better, because honestly, it can't be worse than this. And the results? You can't argue with them!

Friday, September 16, 2016

My Ode to Pumpkins

My name is Sarah and I am a basic white girl. Why? Because I love pumpkins. I've loved pumpkins since before it was cool to love pumpkins, but because I love pumpkins (especially pumpkin spice lattes), I am a basic white girl.

True story - I looked up the definition of basic white girl on (cause I'm old). Just in case you aren't familiar with what a basic white girl is, here's the definition and a lovely example:

A female who conforms to her surroundings and claims she is unique. She often drinks Starbucks, wears Ugg boots in August, and posts selfies on social networking sites every. single. day. Also uses hashtags that don't have anything to do with the picture itself.
Girl 1: Hey, let's go to Starbucks and wear leggings with Uggs! 
Girl 2: OMG YES. We are so basic! Girl 1: Take a picture! Hashtag yay us, basic white girls, Starbucks, bye, like, what
Most of that just made me cringe inside, not going to lie. I don't wear uggs, I don't say "bye," but the pumpkins and starbucks, they get me all the time. 
Normally, come September 1, I allow the pumpkin obsession to take over.  Pumpkin beer. Pumpkin bread. Pumpkin Spice Lattes. All the pumpkin decorations. There's even a pie plate that looks like a pumpkin. It's a problem, I know.  
Basically, all the pumpkin things happen September 1. And this year was no different, until September 6 when they came to a screeching halt with Clean 14. Never fear, I have made up for the lack of Dogfish Head Punkin Ale and Pumpkin Bread and PSLs in my life by bringing out all the pumpkins, even finding a Clean 14 pumpkin recipe!
My pumpkins are on my table.
This photo makes my kitchen look much more vintage than it really is!
My giant pumpkin is on the wall. 
My Happy Everything Plate has its pumpkin in place, too.

I even made a pumpkin breakfast custard that was Clean 14/Whole 30 compliant.  However, I have been instructed to not make it again for a very long time, ha. That's when you know it's bad, when Aaron, who eats anything, tells you not to make it again.

Breakfast pumpkin Custard. It's just not the answer to the pumpkin obsession...
I even have a pumpkin sign for the yard, but I'm holding off until the official first day of fall for that one.  You know, keep the crazy inside the house!

People, I even had a shirt from Modcloth that has a pumpkin and a latte on it. The obsession is real. But it's okay.  In four days, I get to have my true pumpkin love back, the PSL. 

Until then, I'll just look at all my cute pumpkins around the house. Happy Friday, people. And if you can, enjoy a PSL for me!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

When Whole Foods Becomes Whole Paycheck

My husband informed me last week that he thought I should write some real life stuff. That's what he likes to read, where people are real. So this post is for you Aaron Zinn. Especially since he lived through this with me.

Aaron and I are what you might call Whole Foods virgins. I've always been able to get what I needed at regular grocery stores and the more ethnic or fancy foods at Harris Teeter, World Market or an Asian market. That changed when we started Clean 14. All of the sudden I needed items that are mostly found at Whole Foods.

We go out to eat on Sundays after church. We go to the 11:30 AM service and get out around 12:45 to 1:00 PM. Sometimes I get a little hangry, especially if I've done yoga before.  I was hangry this past Sunday, but not because of yoga. Just regular hangry and I needed to stop by Whole Foods to pick up this one brand and one type of almond milk we are allowed to have on this diet. Because one more day of clumpy coconut milk in my iced coffee was not an option. I suggested that we get lunch there and do the salad bar.

Our lunch consisted of two salads, one thing of fruit for me and two drinks. And it totaled $45. FORTY-FIVE DOLLARS. I didn't even get a good meal out of it.

You're either laughing hysterically right now because you too have done this at Whole Foods or you are looking at your screen like I'm the biggest idiot you've ever seen. So let me breakdown how this happens.

You get salad. A decent salad because that is all you get, so you load it up. Mine had lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, egg and dressing, nothing super fancy. It doesn't take much to get a pound for food and at $8.99/lb for two people that's at least $18 by itself. Then I got fruit. It was pineapple and strawberries which are dense, so add another $8 or $9. So we go to find drinks. We find the cooler, or what we think is the cooler. We don't see water or La Croix, our usuals for this diet. But we do see juice, teas and other concoctions (cause I have no other word for them). After reading every.single.label (cause that's what you do on Whole 30/Clean 14) and Aaron wanting to feed a mouthy and hangry Sarah, we finally decided to get these juice/almond milk things that are another $8.99 each, but as compliant as we could find. We check out and the total comes to $45. We pull ourselves up off the ground. At least it will be a fabulous meal, right? It has to be for $45, right?

No. So, no.

When I was getting salad dressing, I got this gag nasty Tahini Greek stuff (I'm really sorry if you like it).  There are some foods I can smell and my stomach rolls and this was one of them. And no, I'm not pregnant. So Aaron gave me his salad which had the correct dressing on it (balsamic vinaigrette), but he made it for him. His salad consisted of a pool of balsamic vinaigrette with a little lettuce, eggs and jalapenos. I think I ate about half. Then those drinks we found? Gross. He drank his and half of mine (we weren't wasting any of that meal!).

But the fruit was good! And we got the only other good thing to come out of our trip - almond milk that doesn't clump in our coffee!

Never did I see such a pretty sight!
Also, when checking out with our beloved almond milk, we found the cooler with the water and La Croix. It was on the other side of the cooler we were looking at. Yeah.

Lesson learned. Weigh your food at Whole Foods. Or never eat there again. But we did get our almond milk and mango La Croix drinks. So, there's that. And now we truly understand why some people call Whole Foods, Whole Paycheck.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Clean 14 (aka Whole 30) Week 1

Last Tuesday, September 6, 2016, was the day that I gave up all the good things in life for two weeks.  It's been a week so far without sugar (real or fake, including Stevia), grains, dairy, legumes (including soybeans, so no soy milk), carrageenan, MSG, or alcohol.

Last week, my gym started a diet called Clean 14.  Basically, the baby, two week version of Whole 30.  It's fairly similar to the Paleo Diet, but different.  No alcohol, no butter, no dairy whatsoever. But you can have salt! They also don't want you to recreate junk food, drink smoothies, or do anything to pacify your old cravings.  It's basically a way to break your eating habits and change your relationships with food. 

In short, I hated it. At first. But sometimes the things we hate the most are what we need. 

Today makes a week. Aaron is doing this with me, awesome husband that he is. He doesn't really have a reason for doing it, other than to support me.  My reason (my why) is honestly about my weight. It's been pretty hard to get it to move, even with all the working out, so I assume it has to do with how I'm eating. I hoped that doing this would teach me some better ways to eat and help me get rid of some bad habits.  I will be honest and say that come September 20, I will be drinking a full-fat PSL and eating a bagel, so not all habits are broken. 

My thoughts
I had to rewrite this section.  When I first started drafting this blog post, I was on day 3. And man, oh man, I was a hangry Sarah! I had no good things to say about this diet. But now that it's been a full week, my thoughts have changed slightly.

My first thought was that this is a privileged diet.  It's still pretty much on point. I hate that word, privileged.  But in this case, it's true.  You have to be privileged to have the time, the money and the resources to make this work.  The food prep is incredible.  I spent most of Labor Day Monday prepping chicken, making homemade condiments, etc.  And I still wasn't prepared for the first day! By about day 3, I had figured out the food I was able to eat and was better able to come up with some recipes off hand. By day 4, I'd hit my stride. It's also expensive - my grocery budget doubled! If you want to make more than just meat and vegetables, you have to buy some specialty items that can only be found at Whole Foods or something of the like. While my first thought still stands, my second thought is that if you are able to do this diet, you should at least try it.

I also found that it's not as hard as I thought it would be.  Don't get me wrong, it's a pain. And I miss dairy more than any of the other things. The prep doesn't really get less, but it does get easier.  You learn what works, what doesn't work. I'm also not as tempted to eat the bad things as I thought I would be.  I successfully said no to Panera bagels (including a pumpkin one), Chick Fil A chicken minis, and juice all in one morning.  We've successfully gone out to lunch at a restaurant and found things we could eat. So far, this has been much better than I initially thought it would be. I've probably inadvertently made some mistakes, but I'm not killing myself over it.

I also feel pretty good. Not "holy cow this is the best I've ever felt!" but I can feel a difference. And it takes a while. The first two days were rough and I was ready to quit by morning two of nasty coffee. I wanted to kill people on day 3 and Saturday (day 5) I just wanted to sleep all day.  And I sleep less. It's weird. I'm waking up before my alarm now and I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm interested to see how I feel this time next week.

Let's talk the meat (ha) of this: food.   I decided to breakdown what we did for our meals by breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner.

Breakfast has been the roughest meal by far! I'm not coherent in the morning and my coffee is one of those sacred things in life that I don't allow anyone to mess with, until now.

I started off making breakfast egg muffins.  I sauteed Italian sausage and grape tomatoes and scooped some into the cups of a muffin pan, then poured the eggs over them.  Aaron and I each ate two per morning until they were gone. They were okay, but not great. Aaron smothered them with a homemade burger sauce I made (details below!). We ran out by Thursday and I made a potato hash with chicken apple sausage.  Now that was good! I made another variation on Saturday and used sweet potatoes instead with cinnamon and nutmeg.  They were a good variation, but Aaron preferred the regular potatoes. There is no picture because while the hash is amazing, it looks gross.

I'm really excited for this week because I found a breakfast pumpkin custard recipe! There are really only so many eggs you can eat.  I've also gotten pretty good at waking up at 6 instead of 6:20 to make the breakfast.

Coffee. Sigh. This is the one that will go back to normal, or close to it, after the two weeks are up. Our only options for coffee are coconut milk and one type of almond milk found at Whole Foods.  Coconut milk is a weird consistency and tends to clump. At first, I tried to put cacao powder into my coffee with the coconut milk, but that was disgusting.  The powder doesn't mix in at all! Then I switched to pumpkin pie spice and apple pie spice, which mixed well.  We finally got some of the almond milk from Whole Foods, so I'm excited to try it out this week! Palatable only coffee is not okay with me!

Lunch was the next roughest.  Aaron't can't leave the plant for lunch, so I always have to make sure he has lunches, more so than me. Normally, I have some Hungry Mans or Healthy Choice Steamers on hand, but they're out. Having enough food for 10 lunches wasn't easy, but I think I've gotten it down now.

We found lunch meat, which helped. We did a few "sandwiches" with turkey, uncured turkey bacon, sliced tomatoes, homemade mayo and lettuce for the bread. Aaron also grilled some chicken and we had that on top of salads with grape tomatoes, walnuts and homemade balsamic vinaigrette. That was my favorite!

Salad! Romaine, grape tomatoes, walnuts, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette!
This week, we have buffalo chicken with romaine boats...and more salad! I'm also thinking of trying out a Whole 30 chicken salad, but we've kind of run out of chicken, so we'll see! (Seriously, though. I went through an entire BJs package of boneless skinless chicken breasts in a WEEK.)

Dinner we actually really enjoyed! Pinterest is my best friend, for real!

Our favorite meals were Buffalo Chicken in Zucchini Boats and Zucchini Pasta with Spicy Shrimp and Marinara.  We will definitely be adding these to our dinner rotations!

The Buffalo Chicken was really good! I used my homemade mayo with Frank's Red Hot (we've gone through a lot of this!) and, secret ingredient, the flesh that you take out of the zucchini to make the boats! Almond meal is also used to thicken up the recipe.  It was so good, I made a double batch for lunches this week with romaine lettuce for the boats.  I've also already portioned out the meat so that Aaron doesn't eat it all in two days, which is a real possibility!

These babies were so good that I made the buffalo chicken for lunches this week per Aaron's request.  
The Zucchini Pasta with Spicy Shrimp and Marinara was one of the first recipes I found when researching the Whole 30 and is definitely one of our top favorites.  It was really easy to make and took about 45 minutes total, including spiralizing the zucchini.  I've noticed that a lot of these Whole 30/Paleo meals are pretty quick to cook, but the prep can also be a killer. For this next week, I've meal planned a bunch of meals that I was either able to do the prep beforehand or had less prep than those I chose for the first week.

Zucchini "pasta" with spicy shrimp in marinara! I used my cheap oxo spiralizer for this!
What I got better at but still don't love is cauliflower rice. I bought two heads of cauliflower the weekend before we started and I used the grater on my food processor to grate them into "rice." I bagged them up 2 cups at a time and froze them. They've been really helpful to have on hand, but I'm still not in love. They are better with a sauce on them, in my opinion. And adding coconut flakes helps too. But still, no love.

How We Survived
Basically, unless you are gluten free or paleo, everything you've been cooking with or using as a condiment goes out the door. The first thing I did, in order to save my marriage, was make some condiments.

Finally found a use for all my mason jars since I haven't canned at all this year!
 Aaron Zinn, God love him, simply uses food as a vehicle to get sauce into his mouth.  I knew there was no way we would survive two weeks without some sauces. I found this awesome blog page (seriously, Pinterest is your BFF) with recipes for making your own condiments. I made a mayonnaise, (which was really good!), balsalmic vinaigrette, and burger sauce (which he put on EVERYTHING).  I started with three because the shelf life isn't as long and I didn't want to waste my expensive ingredients.  We ran out of the burger sauce and balsamic vinaigrette by Friday (day 4).  I had some mayo left over, but I threw it out and made a new batch to make my buffalo chicken with. I've made the same three recipes again for week 2.

Frank's Red Hot, because we literally put that (stuff) on everything! (get it?!) It's one of the few store bought, compliant condiments that we have. We've already gone through one big bottle and are on track to finish the second by the end of week 2.  I used it in recipes and Aaron puts it on all the things. 

I also bought some Larabars.  They're pretty much the only kind of bar you can eat on this diet and one of the only convenience items. They don't encourage you to eat them all the time, as the bars are as close to candy as you can get  and they want you to appreciate food as it is and not put into a smoothie or a bar. Sometimes, though, convenience is necessary. When your hubby can't leave the office for lunch, ever, you have to find ways to make sure he's fed. I also used these for after class snacks. We really liked the Cherry Pie and Apple Pie.

Drinks. Oh the drinks. That's where they got me the worst. I'm used to my iced lattes in the am and I'm pretty lost without them (and cranky).  It took a few tries, but we learned to live with coconut milk (transfer to a mason jar, shake the crap out of it and keep it in the fridge) with pumpkin spice for our coffee.  I finally found an almond milk (one brand and one variety is compliant - New Barn Unsweetened Almond Milk). I also broke down and bought some La Croix because there is only so much water you can drink. I don't know what I was thinking I was going to get with La Croix, but it was not what I got. I think I expected some kind of flavor or sweet, and it wasn't there.  They are good cold and we found that we like the Mango over the Cran Raspberry flavor. Just don't expect the sweet. Surprisingly, I didn't have any major side effects from stopping soda.  I normally have a soda a day and was expecting a headache or two and they never materialized.

Pinterest. I have to laugh that I list this, but it is seriously how I survived.  It's how I learned how to make my coffee, find my recipes, find tips for snacks and shopping, etc. 

Almond Meal.  This joker was crazy expensive, like $10 for a tiny little bag. It broke my heart, but I've used it in at least 2 recipes and will use it more next week. I bought tapioca flour and kind of regret that as I know it will be hard to find more recipes for it.  The almond meal makes cooking a lot better though!

Immersion Blender. I really don't know that we would survive the Whole 30 without this baby. I bought one earlier in the year as it was the last kitchen appliance that I didn't have and wanted. I spent more money and got the one with a blender, a chopping cup, and another cup for blending drinks.  It has seriously been a lifesaver.  I've used the immersion blender to make my mayonnaise, to make a pumpkin custard for breakfast (up on the blog later this week!) and then to compliantly cheat (ha!) and make some hazelnut truffles. It's just made prep so much easier without having to use a lot of extra dishes because you can just stick the blender in whatever.  For the mayo, I use a wide mouth jar, stick the blender in the jar, blend the mayo and then put the lid and ring on it. Two dishes to make mayo. Two!

Week 2 starts today.  I'm pretty proud of us so far.  We've had talks about what we think we can keep going after the two weeks are up. Aaron has been really good, taking his food with him to work and not cheating out of the vending machines. I've done all of the meal planning and the cooking, but he's done most of the dish cleaning, which is HUGE! The ladies that I'm doing this with have a Facebook group where we post our meals and support, but I really can't express how much it helps to have your husband doing it with you so you can gripe and complain together.  He's also very honest about the meals I make, which I appreciate.

Here's to week 2! And only 7 days left until I can have a PSL again! 

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Capsule Wardrobe - Getting there!

So you've read the last two posts and, if you're like me, every other possible blog you can get yours hand on regarding a capsule wardrobe. You've read all the blogs. And you're ready.

But not. Not ready at all.

How do you give up the shopping? How do you only choose a certain number? What number? What ITEMS? What color?

First - Breathe. It's not that serious.  It's actually really fun, especially if you are at all OCD.

Second - Figure out your why.

Third - Purge. You're going to have to be really honest with yourself about your clothes and it's not all going to happen at one time.  I'm still working through my clothes. It's better, but not completely better.  Some people are all cold turkey. Me? I'm like leftovers at 8 pm on Thanksgiving Day. I like to graze.

Finally - Put it back together, be amazed and go forth and prosper.

My Why
I sold Jamberry for a while and I remember everyone always talking about their 'why.' A lot of direct sales training talks about knowing your 'why.' Every time I stand on my yoga mat, I think of my intention and my why. Knowing your why is really important to any new challenge in life. It's what keeps you going when you really want to go back to the way life was. It was easier then, but if you made a change, it was obviously for a reason.  That old way wasn't working and so you've changed it.

I went to a capsule closet because I bought a lot of crap and I never loved all that crap. I loved the thrill from buying it on sale at a super deep discount, but I didn't love it.  I didn't love how I looked or felt in my clothes. Every morning was a ridiculous routine of try on all the things, hate the things, freak out because you're running late and then just throw something on your body. Kudos if it actually goes together. My weight has always been a struggle and the clothes issue was not helping in the self-confidence department.  A shift in how I was buying things had already begun to take place as I started to spend more on clothes that fit better, were made of better fabrics and were actually flattering. My closet still hadn't caught up to this and it was hard to actually remember the things that fit and those that didn't.  A purge was needed.

Before we moved into our house, I did a major purge of things I hadn't worn in years. Some I gave away to friends, some I just gave to Goodwill. I threw away all the ratty t-shirts and only moved what I thought I couldn't live without, which was still about 75% of the crap I began with. After we moved into the house and we installed the closet, my husband challenged me to be able to put all of my clothes into our room. At that point, I had two fully loaded dressers and a fully loaded closet. I went through again.  I took out everything that didn't fit and then got rid of the things in that pile that I didn't love. That left me with roughly half. Because I was trying to lose weight, I kept a good amount of clothes one and two sizes down, put them in under-bed storage and created my capsule. I had one for January - April, and another one for summer June - August.

Last month, I finally decided to get rid of all of my size 10s. That's two sizes down. I'm not saying I'm never going to get there, but it's been about three years since I've seen a size 10.  By the time I see it again, the clothes will be at least five years old. And, let's be honest, if I find that size again, I will be buying all the new things because, SIZE TEN. As for my size 12s, I kept two pairs of jeans, a couple tops and two pairs of work pants. I'm pretty close to a size 12, so I wanted to have something to wear when that happened.

Going back to my why, I have a capsule of clothes that I know fit me, that I love (seriously, I contemplate when I wear some tops as to how close to laundry day it is so that I can be sure to have it again for the next week) and that make getting ready in the morning a cinch. Meltdowns are few and far in between now and usually only occur with pants - I'm between sizes, so they last about 3 hours after washing before they're too big. I still have a lot of clothes, more than most, but I'm almost completely out of that second dresser and I have yet to take over Aaron's side of the closet (he better watch out, though).

Maybe your why is different.  Maybe you want to be a minimalist.  Maybe you need to curb some spending habits (hi, that's me!). Maybe you haven't bought yourself new clothes in ten years and want to buy some new ones and this is a way for you to mix in what you have and create an amazing wardrobe. Maybe you're just tired of doing laundry.  Either way, figure it out before you start.  It'll help you keep your sanity.

The Purge
There are lots of different ways to go about purging your closet.  The most simple is to take all the clothes out of your closet, and divide items into three categories: keep, donate, store safely.  How you decide what to put in what pile, however, is another story.  Stitch Fix has a really good diagram (found here) to help you decide whether to keep an item, donate or store it.  

Another example of purging is the "KonMari" model, also referenced in Stitch Fix's article.  Marie Kondo wrote the book, "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" and talked about choosing and only keeping items that "spark joy."  

There are many ways to do the purge. Like I said, I like to graze with my purging.  I think I'll probably be slowly purging for the rest of my life.  And that's okay. How things fit will change,styles will change, YOU will change. Life changes all the time, so your clothes will too.  It's okay! I do encourage you, though, to do a good purge. It makes creating the capsule that much easier.  

Okay, let's do this!
You've figured out your why. You've purged all the things.  

Now you have to actually do the thing. Create the capsule. 
  1. Start with items that you've been wearing in the last season that you love, that you feel great in. What items carry over to the next season? For NC, I knew I needed a pair of shorts, denim capris and work capris to get me through September.  I also knew that I would need some dresses.  Some of my short-sleeve tops I also kept as I figured they would be good layering pieces. 
  2. Look at what you have kept that will help fill in for the season.  I added cardigans, 3/4 length sleeve tops, longer pants, a 3/4-length sleeve dress, a couple long-sleeve button downs and some light weight sweaters. Fall in NC really doesn't ramp up until October and is still pretty mild even then.  I don't need a lot of heavy items, so I made sure I had plenty that I could layer.
  3. What are you missing? For me this year, I needed another dress and a fun color cardigan. I picked up some skirts and a dress from LulaRoe.  I'm still on the hunt for a mustard yellow cardigan and I've left room to keep a few items from my birthday fix from Stitch Fix.  While they aren't included in my capsule, I also knew I needed to replace my brown flats, brown casual ankle booties and my magenta flats.  I tried the new lace-up trend when replacing my brown flats.  I'm still on the hunt for the booties and magenta flats though!
Two of my new purchases - LulaRoe Julie Dress and brown lace-up flats, found here.
You don't have to buy all new things with a capsule.  As you can see, I start with what I have and fill in with other items.  Most of my purchases for a capsule are funky, trendy pieces.  I try not to spend a ton because I know they probably won't last more than a year, style-wise.  I also replace whatever staples I need (and yes, magenta flats are a staple).

Hopefully, this series has helped you decide if you want to try a capsule wardrobe and how to go about creating your own. If you decide to do your own capsule, I'd love to know how it goes!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Capsule Wardrobe - Putting it in Action!

The whole point of the capsule wardrobe is to love what you own, to own good stuff and to not buy just to buy.  This doesn’t mean that everything has to be ridiculously expensive, but because you’re being more discerning about what you buy, you can spend a little more.

I have a total of 47 items in my fall capsule.  You might be thinking, "Fifty items is a lot, Sarah" or "How hard can 50 items be? Other people do 37 and include their SHOES."

This is what 47 items looks like.

The way my closet is set up, it's hard to see everything at once, so I hung everything up (including the folded stuff) and put it together.  When you look at it like this, it's really not that much. At least not for someone that loves clothes. And shopping.

Or, for effect, these are all the clothes that are NOT in my capsule:

Kinda crazy, huh?
That right there is why I have a capsule.  I've already cleaned out a ton of clothes and, as you can see, I still have a ways to go.  The capsule really helps me see what I do and don't wear, which helps me pare down even further.

Fifty is my magical number. I'm sitting at 47 right now. I like to leave a little room to pick up a few things during the season. If I split it by work and play, I have 27 work items and 19 play items.  We dress down on Fridays, so I usually wear some of my casual or play items on those days as well.  You could also split it by categories:  27 tops, 17 bottoms and 3 dresses.  To get really specific I have:
  • 3 dresses
  • 4 jeans (dark trouser, dark skinny, light skinny, light straight)
  • 1 shorts
  • 1 capris
  • 2 skirts
  • 2 leggings
  • 7 dress pants
  • 3 cardigans (purple, black and gray)
  • 1 moto jacket
  • 4 sweaters
  • 19 tops (mostly 3/4-length and short sleeves with some sleeveless and long thrown in)
North Carolina has some funky weather, so I try to account for all the things that could happen between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. My sweaters are either 3/4-length sleeve or light weight. Most of my tops are light weight and can be layered. But those 47? That's what I have to wear for the next 3 months.

Where Do I Buy My Pieces?
I'm going to be honest, I don't even know how to shop like a real person anymore.  Online shopping and delivery services have pretty much changed how I shop for clothes.  The majority of my clothes come from four places: Stitch Fix, LulaRoe, Loft, and Fabletics.  Fabletics really doesn't count for this, though. I still buy clothes from a few other places as well, but these are my heavy hitters. Each one serves a different function.

StitchFix: I get my fun stuff from Stitch Fix. Stitch Fix is a styling service.  You fill out a long questionnaire about your style preferences, colors you love and hate, clothing needs (casual vs professional), and sizing.  Stylists then use this data to pick out 5 items to send to you.  There is a $20 styling fee that is applied to anything you purchase.  If you keep all 5 items, you get a 25% discount (I've only done that twice, it's pretty rare).  I've been doing Stitch Fix for about two years now. I do it every other month because their price points are a bit higher than I prefer (average cost of a shirt is $50), but it is so. much. fun. getting that box! If you want to try out Stitch Fix, you can use my referral link! Most of my tops and dresses come from Stitch Fix.

13 of my 50 items are from Stitch Fix.  2 dresses, 1 jacket, 2 cardigans, 7 tops and 1 pair of shorts, which I forgot to add to this photo!
LulaRoe: This is a new one for me.  I haven't been a leggings person, so I was hesitant to try them.  I'll be very honest and say that I thought of it mostly as stay-at-home-mom garb. Nothing wrong with stay-at-home-moms, but I am not one. I didn't see it working so well in a professional setting, but then my cousin Brittany started selling it and I've become hooked! The leggings are fun, but I think I'll mostly continue to buy dresses, skirts and kimonos from here. It's mostly casual, with some professional items.

Whoa pattern! 1 dress, 3 tops, 1 skirt and 2 leggings.
Loft: Once upon a time, my wardrobe was all Express.  Then my butt got larger than Express could contain and I had to find new pants. I hate buying pants people. HATE. IT. Smaller waist, big butt and thighs = pain in the butt (and heart and ego and wallet) to find pants. But then I found Loft. They are cut well, aren't too low and aren't mom-jeans high, and they are decently priced.  All my pants are from Loft. Work pants, fun pants, jeans. All the pants come from Loft. And camis and t-shirts. Pretty much Loft is where my basics come from. Old Navy, Banana Republic and Ann Taylor also fit into this category.

I was not kidding when I said most of my pants come from Loft! 6 pants, two cardis and a tee.  Not pictured: 1 million camisoles (not really a million, but still) and my shorts cause they were on me when I took the photo!
If you're keeping count (which you're not, but I am!) that's 30 pieces out of my 50 item wardrobe.  A little over 55% of my wardrobe comes from only 3 different places!  Once you start only buying pieces that you love, the same will probably happen to you.

How Do You Make This Work?!?
The key to a capsule wardrobe is to really love every single thing you have. I also think it's important to have a good mix of staple pieces that you can wear over and over again mixed in with some funky pieces.  Here are some of the things that I focused on when putting my fall capsule together:

Layering Necklaces - I have about three that I wear in heavy rotation. They add interest and can easily change a look without taking too much time to think about it.  These aren't added into my 50 items, but I'd be pretty lost without them.

These are my three favorite layered-look necklaces.
Chambray button-down - This is my classic piece. I bought one from Banana Republic last year.  It's one of my favorite shirts. You can roll the sleeves up, leave them down, wear it open or buttoned, with jeans or dress pants, and the list goes on. It's also lightweight making it perfect for layering.  And, bonus, it looks really cute with my new leggings!

Funky color pants - My funky piece! My husband hates my pants. Poor guy. Every season I buy some crazy colored pants. They make me really happy.  They also keep my closet from being boring. For summer I had bright yellow pants (see picture above). In the winter I had purple corduroys, which I'm bringing back for the fall!  You need something ridiculous in your closet - always.

Layering pieces - Layering pieces can be staples and funky.  I have both because a few good layering pieces are key to surviving the capsule. If left to my own devices, I would own 100 cardigans, most of them probably gray.  Do you know how many variations of gray there are? Tons! I actually love color, but I like to spend my money where I will get the most bang out of it and gray is just where it is at people. I have a cardigan problem, but I was good and only have three in my capsule - black, gray and dark purple. Once upon a time, I thought I also loved jackets, but I was just confused.  They're too restricting. The exception to this is jackets that feel like cardigans! I have one that has stretchy, cardigan-like arms with some faux leather on it as part of my capsule - that's my funky to my classic black and gray sweaters.

Color Coordination - This is pretty important for making a capsule work as well.  Most people like neutrals with some pops of color. I like my color with some pops of neutral. I mostly stick to a jewel tone palette - blues, purples, greens, which you can tell from my photos.  For some reason, I also have some light coral/light pink items in there as well. Don't ask.  The key is that everything mix and match.  I think a color palette comes pretty naturally.  I really wasn't even trying to match my colors, but as I thought about how I could make outfits with each piece, it started to fall into place.

I borrowed this graphic from  It's a really good graphic to show you what a jewel tone color palette looks like.  This is pretty much my capsule. 
The most important part of your capsule wardrobe is willingness to put some random crap together. This isn't something you buy, but rather something you gain when you take on the capsule.  At some point, even with 50 items, you're going to get really, really tired of what you have. And you're going to hate it all. Not that you hate it, but hate wearing it.  Normally by the middle of the third month of a season, I am done with it.  I want to buy all the new things! That's when I start playing around with what I currently have in my capsule and what I want to put in my next one.  This is a good time to start trying on everything you think want to keep in the next capsule and start playing around! I've come up with some pretty fun outfits that I would have never dreamed up when getting ready in the morning pre-coffee.

Experiment time
Let's play! In my last Fix, I asked for some fall transitional items.  I kept all 5 items and they are all going into my Fall capsule.  Other than the necklace (which I've worn on repeat), I haven't worn any of the items yet.  I challenged myself to make as many outfits as possible with my Napean Sea Rd top and to try and include as many other items from my fix as possible.  Here are the results:

Going clockwise from top right, I paid it with my black skinny pants and black kitten heels for work. I swapped the black pants for a LulaRoe skirt and added my black Pixley cardigan, also from my fix! I removed the cardigan for a separate look.  Then I paired it with my skinny jeans and leopard print flats for a Friday or more casual look. I have at least four fairly different outfits, but really many more as the top will go with most of my work pants.  You can also dress it down with flats or up with some heels. You can leave the top untucked and blousy or you can tuck it in for a more professional look. So many options!

So have you started thinking about your own closet yet? How you can do a capsule wardrobe? My next (and last) post for this series will be about how to start working yourself towards a capsule wardrobe.  It's hard and something I recommend easing into.  You'll find it almost becomes second nature!