Jan 17

Laurana and her Cat Lady BoxMy daughter LOVES cats.  Her birthday present last year was Kitiara the cat, who will appear in this review.

After approximately a 10-year hiatus, I started doing sweepstakes again.  I knew that I would be winning some prizes, but I was so surprised when I got an email from Deals Among Us, less than 2 weeks after I had entered my first sweepstakes, notifying me that I had won a Cat Lady Box!  This was right before Christmas, and we hadn't purchased any gifts for the kids yet.  I knew that my daughter would love this as a gift.  Even though I knew it wouldn't arrive by Christmas, I wrote a note and put it inside a Band-Aid box (giving Band-Aids for Christmas is sort of a joke in our family) telling her that once the Cat Lady Box arrived, it would be hers.

I knew that the Cat Lady Box had some great items in it, but I was kind of hoping that they'd be sending the January box instead of the December box, because I had seen a post by CatLady Box that made it look like there would be a Cat hoodie in the January box (there were some great looking gloves and a ring in the December box though).  I told my daughter that if she got the January box, that it would probably include that awesome hoodie, and I was correct.

I was sent the Crazy Cat Lady box (which includes goodies for your cat as well) which normally sells for $39.99.  There is a $34.99 option that only has items for the Cat Lady in your life.  Other then the hoodie, the items in the box included cat socks, cat bookmarks, a cat picture and two cat toys.

The cat really enjoyed the first cat toy that we got out of the box:

We realized that there were a couple more items in the Cat Lady Box as well:

Overall, my daughter loves her CatLady Box. They have great items for cat lovers in the box every month. While my daughter certainly does not have enough money to subscribe to the box, and we're not generous enough to buy it for her, we have definitely found something that would make her smile if we're looking for Christmas and/or birthday ideas for her and can't think of anything else to get her (outside of art supplies, she can be difficult to shop for). If you have a hard-to-shop-for Cat Lady in your life, I highly recommend this box.

Disclaimer: I received this product free as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by Catlady Box and hosted by the Deals Among Us blog.  I was not asked to review the product as a condition of winning the sweepstakes.  The opinions given here are those of mine, my daughter's and Kitiara the cat.

Jan 17

US CurrencyWe're still less than a week into the New Year, and perhaps, if we made New Year's resolutions, we've already forgotten about them.  Or maybe we're keeping them.  At any rate, it's never the wrong time to think about improving our finances.  I'm sure that most of us can work in that area.

One of my favorite finance guys is Dave Ramsey.  He has a daily radio program, writes books, and has a Financial Peace University that goes through all the major aspects of household finance.  He focuses on getting out of debt, saving for emergencies and beyond, and then building up a nest egg.  He tells us to "live like no one else, so that later, you can live like no one else," that is, sacrifice today, so that later you will have a decent amount of money and you can give to others like no one else.

If 2017 is the year that you want to get your finances in order, you might want to consider reading Dave Ramsey's Complete Guide to Money.  It's the same book that they use in the Financial Peace University classes, and it covers almost everything that you need to know (although the hard part can sometimes be actually living the principals).

The book covers everything that you need to know about getting out of debt, building a savings, and even dealing with creditors, if you've gotten into trouble in the past.  It talks about getting a home, getting a bargain when you're shopping, and investing.  It also has all the forms that you'll need to use to get a budget started in the back of the book (although you'll probably end up using an Excel spreadsheet, since you'll want to do a budget every month).

If you're not familiar with Dave Ramsey, he suggests going though several different baby steps on your road to financial freedom:

  1. Put together a baby emergency fund of $1000 (in case something catastrophic comes up.
  2. Pay off all of your debts (with the exception of the house) from smallest to largest.
  3. Put 3 to 6 months of expenses into savings.  This is in case something catastrophic comes up, like a job loss.
  4. Invest 15% of your income into retirement.
  5. Save for your children's college.
  6. Pay off the house.
  7. Build wealth and give a lot of it away.

The farther along you go down these baby steps, the better it feels.  Sometimes, unfortunately, things happen and you can slide backwards (it's happened to me... we've had the baby emergency fund and then the emergency happens) but if you have don't have a plan, it's never going to get done by accident.

The Complete Guide to Money is well-written, easy to read, and if you live it, it really works.  The closer my husband and I live to this plan, the better we feel about what's going on financially.  It provides inspiration with little sidebars about people that have lived the plan and have succeeded.

If you're looking to win with money in 2017, and you haven't learned the basics of financial planning yet, I definitely recommend this book.

Jan 17
A box of 100 Finum tea bags

Finum Tea Bags

With the new year, a lot of us are trying to live a more healthier life.  Perhaps that involves drinking less bad things (like soda) and more good things (like tea).  I have to admit, I am a recovering Coca-cola addict.  I haven't had a soda since February 26, 2014 (that's over 1000 days)!  I drink mostly unsweetened iced tea and water now.  I started drinking loose-leaf iced tea in the fall of 2015 and have figured out how to make a gallon at a time to my liking.

So when my awesome parents bought me some tea in bags for Christmas, I had to figure out how to make it.  Loose-leaf tea is a little different than tea bags, in that the leaves in tea bags are generally smaller, and you can't exactly make it with my tea ball.  I know that I need to measure out 1/3 cup of tea in order to make a large pot of tea, but if I'm using tea bags, how do I know how many bags equal 1/3 cup?  Prior to finding loose-leaf tea, I could never figure out how to make it just right.

Enter large Finum Tea Bags.  I can't tell you whether they are better or worse than other tea bags, because I haven't tried any others, but I can tell you what my experience is.  These seemed to work out pretty well.

A Finum tea bag and normal sized one.

A Finum bag next to a regular tea bag.

These tea filters can hold a lot of tea.  As you can see, when compared to a normal size tea bag, these are ginormous.  When you're making a gallon of tea at a time (actually I measured the other day and it's closer to 5 liters) then you really need to have your tea filters hold a lot of tea.

So to try out these tea filters, I got out my tea, along with some of the tea that I got for Christmas.  I like to blend different flavors, and since I still have some Christmas tea and Candy Cane tea from Adagio.com, I decided to mix them with some Earl Gray tea.  The first step, of course, was to measure out the tea.

1/3 cup teaAfter I measured out the tea, I used a funnel to pour the tea into the tea filters.  I didn't want to spill any.  One of the chunks from the Candy Cane tea got stuck in the funnel, but I dislodged it and the rest poured into the bag quite nicely.

The entire 1/3 cup of tea fit into one tea bag; however, because I know that tea expands when you put it in water, and the bag was pretty full, I decided to use two tea bags, and there was plenty of room in both bags.

Because I had never used tea filters before, I didn't really know if they would stay closed.  For the purposes of this experiment, I decided to tie one bag shut (using the string from one of the tea bags that I was using, and fold the other bag over a couple of times.  Since I was going to put both bags into my tea ball anyway, it wouldn't really matter if the folded bag opened while the tea was brewing (other than the fact that some of the smaller tea leaves would escape through the mesh of my tea ball.

My tea ball in a pot of water.tea bags in a tea balltwo tea bags tied differentlyThen I put both bags into my tea ball, and I put the tea ball into my pot of (almost) boiling water.  This is how I will probably be making it at home most of the time.

After I finished making my tea, I checked the tea bags to see if either one of them had opened up.  Fortunately, both of them were closed.  I think when I make this tea in the future, I will probably just fold the bag over a couple of times.

There are a lot of good things about these tea filters.  You can fit a lot of tea in the bags.  Not only are these good for tea that you get from tea bags, but there are a lot of other fine teas (like Roobios) that would probably work better if you make it in these filters than in a mesh ball.  If you don't like the little bits of tea that end up in the bottom of your pot (or cup) when you make regular loose-leaf tea, then these would be helpful as well.

I can find one drawback for these tea filters.  There is no string at the top of the bag.  That isn't a problem for me, since I just put everything into my mesh filter anyway, but if you were making a big pot of tea, you might have to use a slotted spoon to fish the bag out.  Also, since I made my tea in my tea ball, I can't tell how the bags will react if you just put the bag in normally.

For the way I make tea, I would definitely get these again.  Since there are 100 filters in this package, and I won't need it for most of the tea that I make, even if I use two bags at a time, this package will last me a very long time.

Finum tea filters come in an extra large size (the size I bought was large) as well as some smaller sizes.

Jan 17

I couple of days ago I put out my list of my favorite books that I read for the first time in 2016.  I didn't have a list in front of me of all of the books that I had read for the year, and was just going off the top of my head with the things that stuck out to me (this year I need to keep a record of the books that I read).  There was on glaring omission to this book list: The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.

I apologize for the omission, but it truly belongs up in one of the top three books that I read this year.  I just read it earlier in the year last year and didn't remember it.  So I'll review it now.

"Thank God for the fleas."

Whenever something bad happens in life, and I still want to try to be thankful, this is now the phrase I use.  It has its origins in The Hiding Place; more on that later.  I posted that on Facebook earlier this year and my mom was wondering why I posted it.  No, we don't have fleas in our house... but it reminds me to try to be thankful in all things.

German concentration camp in World War II.

While obviously not the place where Corrie and her sister stayed, this is an example of how conditions must have been like while she was in the concentration camp.

Corrie Ten Boom grew up in a modest family in the Netherlands before World War II.  The early part of this book describes her childhood, all the family members that lived with her, the love that got away, and how she helped out at her father's watch shop, which was attached to their house.  It was a simple life where she was taught to honor and love God.

When World War II started, the Ten Boom family went through hardships like everybody else, but they were more fortunate than the Jewish people, who started to disappear.  Corrie and her family end up getting involved in an elaborate scheme where they hid Jews until they could be moved to a safer place.  A few of the Jews that she helped couldn't be moved for one reason or another, and they lived with the Ten Boom family.  An architect built a space in their house where the extra guests in their house could be hidden.

This was a dangerous business, because if they were caught, they could be killed.  They had to hold drills where they had to hide all of the evidence of what they were doing as quickly as possible.

One day, they were caught, and the Ten Boom family was rounded up and sent to jail.  Some of her family members were released; eventually, it was just her and her sister, Betsy, who ended up in a concentration camp together.

What the two sisters had to go through was horrendous, but one of the most inspiring things about the book is how they kept their faith through all of this.  The Ten Boom sisters managed to smuggle a Bible into their sleeping quarters at the concentration camp; Corrie was disgusted by the fleas in the room, but her sister Betsy reminded her to be thankful for all things; even the fleas.  The two sisters began to hold Bible studies in the concentration camp; I'm sure that there are several people today who are in Heaven today because of those Bible studies.  Later, Corrie learned that the only reason why the Nazi soldiers wouldn't enter their sleeping quarters, which allowed them to hold their Bible studies, was because of the flea infestation.  They didn't want to go near the place and the fleas.  So today, when I feel like something bad has happened and I want to be thankful, I try to "thank God for the fleas."

I find Corrie's forgiveness after the war to be amazing as well.  Instead of becoming bitter and wanting revenge, she showed forgiveness to her former Nazi captors.  It's easy, in times where everybody else is doing wrong, to go on the wrong track and partake in evil.  Yes, the Jews needed healing after the war, but so were the former Nazis that got involved in evil because they were just trying to survive.  Corrie showed forgiveness to them as well, which completely awed me.

The book was easy to read, and it was required reading for my kids last year, after I found the book on sale on Amazon.com.  It's not a happy book (I cried at times), but it is a beautiful, inspiring book.  If you haven't read it yet, please put it on your list of must-read books for the new year.

Jan 17

"It's all fun and games until your pants don't fit".

I've seen that meme floating around on Facebook a couple of times, and perhaps you have as well.  My only honest response that I can make to that sentence is "yeah, don't you hate it when you've been exercising so much that your pants are falling off of you?

Fitbit Zip (Magenta)

My Fitbit. Thanks to my kitty for allowing me to use her black fur as the background.

Right now, that's about where I am.  Half of my pants are falling off me, and whenever I go to the store to get new pants, it seems like one size is ready to fall off, and the next size down is too tight.  Maybe I'm just so used to my pants being loose that I don't want anything that is too tight fitting?  I don't know.  I even ended up putting a shirt that was too big into the Goodwill box for the first of the year :-).

At any rate, my pants aren't fitting very well, and I can partially thank my Fitbit for that.  My parents got me a Fitbit Zip for Christmas a year ago, and it's a nice little motivator (they got me the magenta one, but it comes in other colors as well).

Before I got my Fitbit, I was using a Wii Fit Pedometer.  The Wii Fit pedometer is fun to use, and I like the way that it syncs with Wii Fit and has your Mii walk around virtual tracks or climb virtual towers, but it does have some drawbacks.

One advantage of the Fitbit pedometer is that it stays attached to your clothes a lot easier than the Wii Fit pedometer.  The Wii Fit pedometer fell off of my clothes on multiple occasions (usually when I was getting in or out of the car).  The clip just doesn't grip tightly to your clothes.  This caused me on more than one occasion to walk around frantically trying to find it.  Although it did cause me to walk more steps, those steps weren't counted.

Pokémon Kitty in the snow

I rescued this poor kitty from the cold while having fun with my Fitbit.

Another advantage that the Fitbit has is that it can connect to a lot more applications that are fun to use.  For example, I participate in virtual walks at Walking 4 Fun.com.  I've been doing the Pacific Crest Trail for a while now, and I'm almost out of California.  My Fitbit syncs automatically, so even if I forget to log into Walking 4 Fun, it counts my steps anyway.  Fitbit also connects to Sparkpeople.

I almost always remember to put my Fitbit on (even when I'm trying to fall asleep and I have to use the bathroom... don't want to miss out on those extra 25 steps).  I've thought about getting one of the Fitbit watches before, but I hate the fact that they have "silent" alarms and I don't trust them to not wake me up in the morning (maybe somebody has experience using those; if you do, please leave a comment).  I don't really want to have to wear a watch and a Fitbit.  Maybe, since I'm good about taking off and putting on my Fitbit at night, I would remember to put on my watch before I went to bed.  Maybe I'll try that one of these days.  I do have a loud backup alarm clock just in case anyway.

My Fitbit takes one of those little flat batteries (CR2025).  They aren't rechargeable, but they do last for several months.  I've found that once the batteries start going, they will go fast, and you'll want to have an extra on hand to replace it as soon as possible.  I bought a 10-pack of these batteries for pretty cheap on Amazon.com; I think I've had to replace the battery four times in the last year of constant use.

The Fitbit App that works for your iOS device (and I'm assuming Android devices too, but I've never used it) allows you to easily track your steps for the day, see how far you've walked, and participate in challenges with your friends.  You can also earn badges for losing weight, and hitting different walking milestones.  You can also log into Fitbit on your PC.

If you're looking to move more in the New Year, and you're hoping that you're having so much fun and games that your pants don't fit any more (too big, of course, not too small), then maybe you want to try out a Fitbit.