Giftable Hot Cocoa

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This was one of my favorite and most “loved” gifts that I gave this holiday season, and it’s surprise – not all that expensive! It has such a home-made and “loved” feeling to it while it doesn’t have to cost a ton of money, and it’s one of those gifts you could give to people you know, but people you may not know well enough to buy other gifts (teachers, mail persons, co-workers, distant relatives, etc.)

It’s hot cocoa in a beautiful jar! It’s not hard to do at all, and it’s simple to put together, and with some basic steps, it’s enjoyable for your recipient to use, too. If you’re feeling super lazy, you can buy a giant container of hot cocoa from the grocery store for about $4. However, I really recommend that you use your favorite home-made hot cocoa recipe to make the hot cocoa to put into these jars. Here are some of the recipes I found: homemade hot cocoa recipes.

You’ll need:

  • Hot cocoa (store-bought or home-made)
  • Airtight container
  • Mini marshmallows
  • Ziploc or other plastic, airtight bags
  • Twine or ribbon for tying
  • Small bottle of something delicious (alcohol, syrup flavoring, etc.)

Once you have your hot cocoa, they can go into your glass jars. You could add these into cute plastic tumblers or anything that has a lid to keep the cocoa from going everywhere. I ended up with a giant tray of Ball canning jars that I got at Wal-Mart, but you could easily find some cheap tumblers or other glasses to use with your present. If you know your recipient well, you could even customize the glass to suit their personality! (Personally, I wouldn’t be much of a fan of a Ball canning jar, but I’d love a cute tumbler with a design on it!) Just remember that your container should be airtight, and if it’s not, put the cocoa and other ingredients inside smaller bags to ensure that everything stays fresh.

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Mini marshmallows are the next key. You could totally just place them on top, but then how are people going to get at the hot cocoa without making a mess of the marshmallows? Instead, I placed all of the marshmallows into a Ziploc bag, put the Ziploc bag into the jar itself while it was STILL OPEN, and then squeezed the air out of the bag as I squished it into the jar. As you can see from the pictures, the bag wasn’t visible at all after the jar was shut. You can definitely try and seal up the marshmallow bag before putting it into the jar, but I found that it still left some remaining air that made it hard to stuff into the jar. I took this random picture to show how I had stuffed the Ziploc baggie into the top of the jar.

For your final touch, you can add a small bottle of alcohol tied onto the jar with some decorative twine or ribbon. I chose Bailey’s for this, but anything that would mix well (Marshmallow Vodka, etc.) would work fine. If you’re using a non-canning jar, you might have to get creative as to how you tie it onto the gift. Canning jars have the perfect shape that keeps the twine and small bottle in place once tied, though. For an under-21 version, try some coffee syrup or flavoring syrup. Torani makes adorable little bottles of their syrups about the same size as a tiny Bailey’s bottle, and during the holidays, they have ones that would be perfect for adding to cocoa like Peppermint.

If you feel up to it, you could also write out or print out a small, home-made tag to attach to the twine that gives directions on how to use your cocoa. How much water/milk should the person use with your cocoa?

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For those with food or ingredient concerns, you can totally make a different version. Organic/vegan mini marshmallows are totally a thing, and it’s possible to make hot cocoa mix in an organic variety. If you do a special one along with everyone else’s gifts, though, make sure to make a special mark so you don’t accidentally give the wrong type to the wrong person.

Happy gifting!

Delicious Fat-Free Iced Coffee Recipe!

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I absolutely love my morning coffee, and over the last couple years, my morning coffee has taken a few transformations as I try to make it fit better into my healthier lifestyle. After all, if you love coffee, you know exactly how many different types of iced coffee exist out there just for your drinking pleasure. Recently, though, after some experimentation, I think I’ve found the perfect, and healthy, iced coffee for me. It’s low-sugar iced coffee, fat-free iced coffee, and low-calorie iced coffee – and it’s delicious!

First, an introduction to the “transformations” of iced coffee that I’ve taken and their corresponding nutritional information.

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We started off with the delicious Java Chip Frappuccino Blended Coffee. For comparison purposes, we’ll use the Grande (16oz) size though I used to drink the Venti (24 ounce) size. It had 460 calories, 18 grams of fat, and 66 grams of sugar. 66 grams! That’s almost as much sugar as I’m supposed to intake in an entire day! As delicious as it was (and believe me, it’s delicious!), that was just way too much sugar.

Turns out that Starbucks make a “light” version. I switched over to the “Light” version which doesn’t include mocha drizzle, is made with non-fat milk, doesn’t have whipped cream, and a couple of other changes. (If you’re drinking the non-light version, give the light version a try! Seriously! It actually tastes super yummy, and now the regular version just tastes like syrup to me) This version was better, but it still had 200 calories a serving, 4 grams of fat, and 36 grams of sugar. That was still a lot of sugar – especially if I wanted to have anything sweet throughout the rest of the day.

I went looking for options, and I came across the McDonalds Mocha Iced Coffee. In a Medium (You can’t order it as a small as I’ve found out from multiple restaurants despite a “Small” being listed online), you’re looking at 190 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 30 grams of sugar. Ouch! I switched over to the sugar-free syrup, and it got a lot better (just ask when ordering). It has 120 calories, 2 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of fat. 7 grams of fat seemed particularly high for a plain cup of coffee; they must be using a creamer that has a ton of fat in it.

So, we went on a hunt to make our own version! And it ended up being a successful hunt! I now have perfected my recipe for perfect iced coffee – and right at home. When I want to go out with friends, I’ll still pick up a Java Chip Light from Starbucks, but I love knowing that I have a much better, and healthier, option at home.

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Fat-Free Iced Coffee That’s Super Delicious:
1 Cup Iced Coffee (I use Starbucks Brewed to Personalize coffee)
1/2 Cup Fat-Free Half & Half
1/4 Cup (or less, to taste) Torani Sugar-Free Vanilla Syrup

Nutrition:
40 Calories (Add remove the half & half to increase or decrease this)
4 grams of sugar
0 grams of fat

That’s all it takes! Now, I’ve been tempted to try this recipe for awhile, but I found that I was putting off making it because I wasn’t sure how to deal with making iced coffee. I was shopping at the local supermarket lately, and I ran across the latest Starbucks offering: Brewed to Personalized Coffee. It’s literally just coffee that’s been brewed to be chilled as iced coffee; you’ll find it near the coffee creamer in the refridgerated section. I bought the unsweetened, but they have a lightly sweetened version and a Caramel version.

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Ingredients:
Starbucks Brewed to Personalize: Water, Coffee, and a single preservative

Land’o’Lakes Fat-Free Half & Half: Skim Milk, Corn Syrup, Cream*, Contains less than 0.5% of the following: Carrageenan, Sodium Citrate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Mono and Diglycerides*, Vitamin A Palmitate, Color Added (*Ingredient not in regular half & half).

Torani Sugar-Free French Vanilla Syrup: Purified water, natural flavors, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (to preserve freshness), xanthan gum, sucralose (SPLENDA® Brand), citric acid, and acesulfame potassium.

Go out and enjoy your delicious (and healthier!) iced coffee! 🙂

Make Your Workouts Better with the Best Bluetooth Headphones from Plantronics Backbeat Fit Review

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What Is It
Multiple studies have shown that people tend to work out harder and put forth more effort if they’re listening to music. For a lot of people, though, that presents its own, unique problems. How do you keep the headphones on your head while working out? And if you’re clumsy, like me, how to do you keep the wires from accidentally yanking your MP3 player or headphones out of their spot?

The solution is a Bluetooth Headset – and honestly, the best version of that is the Plantronics Backbeat Fit. Using only Bluetooth, this headset is entirely wireless, so there aren’t any wires to get caught up in. Designed especially for working out, this headset is waterproof and sweatproof, so you can focus on your workout instead of focusing on keeping your headset in your ears. Have a phone call coming in? Don’t worry; the Backbeat Fit can answer and allow you to take your phone call as well.

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Using Bluetooth v 3.0, these headphones can work up to 33 feet away from their originating source. They can “remember” 8 different devices to easily work with multiple devices. When fully charged, it can play music for 8 hours or provide 6 hours of talk time. When you’re ready to charge it, it charges via Micro USB, so I don’t even have to plug in a new cable; it just charges with my cell phone charger!

The Backbeat Fit has its own control system on the headphones itself. This means you don’t have to pull out your cell phone, MP3 player, etc. in order to change music. Control buttons are located on each earbud. You can adjust the volume, play/pause music, answer phone calls, and go to the next/previous music track. This is pretty much everything you could want to do while listening to music, so I’ve never had any reason to pull out my MP3 player after turning on the headphones to work.

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These Bluetooth workout headphones come with their own carrying case. This carrying case is a small zipper pouch. However, the zipper pouch can be turned inside out, and it turns into an armband to hold your music device while running. The case isn’t huge; it’ll fit most iPhone or iPods without much of an issue (as long as they don’t have a huge case on them), but it definitely wouldn’t fit my Samsung Galaxy S2 or S4. So it depends on what you’re trying to keep in the armband as to whether it will work for you. Regardless, it still functions as a regular case to keep your headset safe when you aren’t using it.

Despite the appearance in official product pictures, these headphones are “wiggly” – and in a good way! They aren’t made from stiff plastic. They’re made from a flexible material that moves with your body in a way that’s really unnoticable during use. The earbuds go into your ears and the headphones go over the ears to keep the earbuds in place during hardcore exercise. The strap that wraps around the head is extremely flexible, so I never even notice it resting on the back of my neck. It’s perfect.

The Backbeat Fit is available in a bright green or a bright blue. The bright colors might provide a bit of night visibility, but I definitely wouldn’t count on it as you primary source of being seen at night.

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My Opinion
I love working out – which includes running, walking, swimming, and biking (well, it did include biking until my bike was stolen 🙁 ), but I find that everything is SO much better when I get to do it with music. However, wires never have worked too well for me. I end up getting tangled in them, or worse: I’ve dropped my iPod on regular occasions by accidentally getting something caught in the wire and tugging on it. It happens much, much more often than I’d like to admit.

That’s why I’m in the market for Bluetooth headphones that are designed to hold up to working out. I did have some requirements, though, about what would really work best for me. I wanted it to:

  • Be able to change volume and tracks from the headphones themselves so I can put my iPod away without worrying about it
  • Stay comfortably on my head without falling off during vigorous exercises
  • Hold up just fine under vigorous exercise and sweating
  • Be simple to charge
  • Wirefree

It sounds like a short list, but you’d be surprised that most workout headphones don’t meet that. Some headphones are great in some areas while they don’t hold up in other areas. It’s the reason that I’ve stuck with many workout headphones for very long – they end up causing an issue in one way or another.

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Lucky for me, I’ve been singing the praises of the Backbeat Fit headphones to anyone who will listen. Really, anyone. I participated in 2 5Ks this past month, and people kept asking about it, and I swear, I wouldn’t shut up about my headphones. These are really the first pair that seem to fit every aspect of my “needs” list – and I’m sure my needs are similar to those of other people who workout while listening to music. (Though some people like to answer calls while working out; the Backbeat Fit can do that as well, but as I don’t, I haven’t tested that ability.)

Purely by its design, the Backbeat Fit is entirely wire-free. Setting it up to work with my iPod Touch 5th Generation was absolutely no issue. Same with setting it up for my phone. It pretty much just requires holding down a button then pairing the two. It’s very easy. The range on the Bluetooth is pretty impressive. With previous headphones, I’ve had to keep the iPod on my upper arm or the Bluetooth would cut out. I can hold my iPod Touch or place it in my pocket, and the Backbeat Fit headphones still keep the music playing just fine. I love that I’m not limited to an armband if I don’t want to be.

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These bluetooth workout headphones are also simple to charge. They charge via Micro USB, and it charges via the same cable that both of my Samsung devices (tablet and phone) charge by. I don’t have to keep an extra cable on me at all times; I can use the cables I already have lying around. The charging port is the only “open” area of the headphones, and it’s securely covered by a silicone stopper to keep sweat and other things out of the port. It’s a bit tricky to remove the silicone stopper, but once you get the hang of it, it’s no big deal. I’d much rather it be secure than not be secure. It charges great, and for those who are always worried about battery power, the headphones announce to you how much power they have every time you turn them on. Yeah, I know. Features to die for.

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The Backbeat Fit headphones do a fantastic job of staying in my ears. I’ve had headphones that liked to slip out, but these haven’t caused any issue. They can get slightly awkward-feeling if you wear them for 3+ hours at once, but I’ve never once had one of them pop out of the ears. Even if I did, the over-the-ear design keeps the headphones on your head, so you don’t have to worry. I’ve done lots of running, walking, and cycling with these, and it’s never been an issue. They’re super comfortable, too. The first time I put them on, it required a bit of adjusting of the inner ear pieces to get them to be perfect “for me”, but once that’s been done, I haven’t had problems since. The sides are even labeled “Right” and “Left”, so you can put them on without any confusion. The cable that connects the two sides is really flexible, so it’s never a problem to have it lying against my neck. I honestly have never even noticed it there – even when jumping around. It’s never caught on my ponytail or anything.

And of course, it has to be able to change the volume and song from the headphones. The control structure for the headphones is placed on each ear, and it does a pretty good job. There’s a large button on one side that lets you play/pause the music in case I need to talk or something else. Holding down a small button will decrease the volume while a single press increases it. A double-press on the play-pause button will skip to the next track. Two long single presses will go to the previous track. The control structure seems a bit convoluted at first, but just read the instruction manual. I had it all mastered within 10 minutes of putting them on.

I’ve never accidentally pressed a button, and the buttons don’t take a lot of pressure to activate. Since the buttons are right on my ear, I appreciate this. I can use light touches and still get everything done.

Pretty much, the Backbeat Fit hits every point that I needed, and it does it amazingly. They are so comfortable to use. They work perfectly. The sound quality is good. They stay put, and they last a long, long time on a single charge. I’m pretty much in love.

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Pros
The Backbeat Fit headphones can do everything you’d need your athletic headphones to do. You can control your music tracks, music volume, and answer calls with buttons on the headphones. You’ll always know how much battery is left, and when you need to charge, it uses a standard Micro USB cable. It’s protected from sweat to hold up to to vigorous workouts, and the flexible and comfortable design means you’ll barely notice that you’re wearing it. I can’t think of a single improvement to these headphones. Not one.

Cons
You might want to plan a slight amount of extra time for the first use to get the inner earbuds situated correctly. After that, though, putting on the headphones will be an absolute breeze.

Recommended
I can’t recommend this enough, and I mean that. It has all of the features that a workout headset should have, and it’s so simple to control your music while you work out. If you’re someone that likes to take calls or listen to music while you work out, the Backbeat Fit is pretty much a must-have. Stop fussing with wires and start focusing on your workout.

Buy It
You can purchase the Backbeat Fit directly from the Plantronics website. It also can be purchased at most major retailers including Amazon.

Earth-Kind Natural Air Fresheners Review

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What Is It
Having an amazing-smelling home is a treat, but it’s not a treat that I’m willing to put toxins in the air for. I’ve recently been trying to cut back on all of the air fresheners that I use. I use them on occasion, but they’re not something I keep going in the house at all times. Up until now, though, I wasn’t aware that a natural, non-toxic air freshener alternative existed, but Earth-Kind offers Natural Air Fresheners that absorb odors and freshen the air without the toxins!

Completely biodegradable in their cardboard containers, these air fresheners are safe around children and pets. The Earth-Kind Natural Air Fresheners are available in 4 different scents including Fresh Adventure, Sweet Clover, Pomegranate and Tangerine, and Woodland Escape.

Extremely simple to use, each one of the boxes comes with its own hanging strap. Just hang the box anywhere you want the scent to diffuse, and the room will have the gentle scent.

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My Opinion
Like the instructions state, the Earth-Kind Natural Air Fresheners are extremely easy to use. You open the box they come in, open up the plastic bag inside, and then reseal the box and hang (or place) the box anywhere you want the scent. The scent was designed to last up to 3 months. I’ve noticed that it tends to be strongest the first week, and during the first month I could still smell it when walking into the house. The scent is getting less intense, but the scent is definitely still noticable when I come in the front door.

My favorite scent is the “Sweet Clover” scent. It feels very natural and “fresh”. It does a great job of diffusing around the living room, and it reminds me a lot of spring. (And with all of the snow on the ground, anything that reminds me of spring is a good thing!)

My only complaint is that the packaging is a bit boring. It does a great job of displaying and explaining the freshener, but at the same time, the box packaging is the same thing that displays the air freshener as well. This means that your air freshener is going to look exactly like the packaging for the 3 months that it’s providing an odor-free home for you. I’d love to see Earth-Kind come up with more stylish packaging (but still environmentally friendly!) for those that are really concerned about how their homes look.

Pros
The Earth-Kind Natural Air Freshener smells fantastic, and it’s available in a variety of scents. They are easy to use, and they do a good job of naturally adding scent into your home for a good amount of time. Plus, they are really simple to set-up!

Cons
The box style may not be the prettiest thing possible to have in your decor. You may want to hide it out of sight if you have a room theme going on.

Recommended
If you want an easy and natural way to fragrance your house from the daily smells it encounters, the Earth-Kind Natural Air Fresheners work really well. They are more expensive than standard air fresheners, but they do a fantastic job of making your area smell good, and they last a pretty decent amount of time!

Buy It
You can purchase the Natural Air Fresheners directly from the Earth-Kind website. You can purchase a 4 pack of any of the individual scents, or if you want to get a good idea of all of the scents, Earth-Kind offers a four pack that includes all 4 fragrant blends.