Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: Smoothie King's New Vegan Dark Chocolate Banana Smoothie

Earlier this year, I was contacted by Smoothie King to take a survey as they were gearing up to make some vegan additions to their menu this fall. I was overjoyed to be contacted by them, and couldn't wait to voice my opinion and help contribute to their line of smoothies. I had seen Smoothie King for years but never had the opportunity to stop by, and I definitely couldn't after going plant-based in February 2012. The possibility of grabbing a healthy smoothie on the go was something I was excited about, especially since I had one located only a few miles away from my home.

It was several months before I heard back after completing the survey, but I had been anxiously awaiting any more news about these new smoothie options. Eager to try them, I ran out to the nearest Smoothie King the same day I received an email that they were officially adding a vegan Kale Mango and Dark Chocolate Banana smoothie to their menu using Sunwarrior plant-based protein. It just so happened to be the first day of our childbirthing class, so it was the perfect option for me to grab a quick dinner while I prepared myself for the three-hour course. 

I ordered the 32 oz. because I'm pregnant and super hungry. It lasted halfway through the class as I happily sipped it every so often, The taste is a perfect combination of chocolate, banana, and I was surprised to learn that it included an acai sorbet blend. It only took a few moments for them to whip up the creation, and the smoothie kept me full for the rest of the night. (As a pregnant woman, I can attest to how tough that is!)

The smoothie was so good that I bought five more before reaching out and requesting a gift card to review it. So even though I did receive a "free" smoothie, I drank five of these completely unprompted before receiving a freebie. And I've been racking up some Smoothie King rewards points in the meantime, which happens to be a nice bonus. For an added kick of protein (important for me as a vegan as I'm in the middle of my second trimester!), I could go on and on about the cocoa and the bananas, but you'll just have to trust me on this one! It's so good that you'll be going back for seconds and thirds in a month. 

The local Smoothie King guy smiled when he saw me buy my seventh smoothie today. He knows who I am and happily prepares my Dark Chocolate Banana smoothie (yep, make that a 32 oz.,,sir!) and I feel great knowing that it's a healthy, on-the-go option.

Have you tried it yet? Comment below to let me know what you think of these new smoothie options!

Smoothie King's Dark Chocolate Banana Smoothie

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Ultimate Productivity Tool: Get Stuff Done With Todoist—Tutorial

I had taken a course earlier in the year from Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I was completely sold on the idea of becoming more productive and doing what I loved: sharing information with readers like you about how to enhance your life whether it be through financial freedom, veganism, minimalism, or achieving the pregnancy and birth you want. My mission statement from this course was actually just that! After my exciting course to develop some great habits, a friend recommended the Get Stuff Done Like a Boss seminar by Tiago Forte on Skillshare, which is where I was first introduced to the Todoist app.

Before you read further, I want you to know that Todoist is FREE. They do have a premium option, and I did pay for it, but my boss was so impressed with my productivity because of this app, that he reimbursed the $29/year fee. I didn't expect that and would still recommend paying more if you decided to use the notes feature and labeling features. Nonetheless, you can still use this app for FREE and be just as productive.

So what is Todoist? I'm a visual learner, so I've added ALL of the videos below that will clearly describe how to use this powerful tool to get more stuff done. Check them below, and let me know what you think if you decide to try it out. For me, Todoist is about emptying my head of all the clutter. I'm a minimalist, right? So I don't like to keep too much up there that doesn't need ot be cluttering up my precious memory. I've got too much to do! (Like writing this blog post for example, which, surprise, was on my Todoist list!)



Wait, Kelsey, you're telling me this is a glorified to-do list? Nope. It's a way of living. It's a way to be more productive and FOLLOW THROUGH on your commitments, ideas, and goals. So before we delve in too deep and into the specifics, check out the video below that the Todoist team created the app and why they've worked for seven years on perfecting this software. As a minimalist, I lost the simplistic design and its incredibly easy-to-use interface.that they've created.



OK, so that's cool. They've worked hard for seven years to create a tool that will completely revolutionize your way of living. So how can you use this to be more productive in your own life? At work? At home? To make sure your husband grabs a half gallon of almond milk and two avocados when he goes to the grocery store? Check out the video below to see how you can actually collaborate and share tasks. (My husband and I are currently trying this out and it makes it incredibly easy rather than sending a text. Best of all—our lists are automatically synced and updated, so I won't miss an ingredient the next time I hit up the grocery store!)



You're on board. This is exciting. You want to collaborate with your colleagues or partner, improve your productivity, or get more stuff done. That's great. Guess what? Todoist makes it fun to track how many things you've done and reinforce the best productivity habits. They call it karma. And I can't get enough of it.



Todoist is offered on 13 different platforms. I'll quickly list them just in case you're curious.
  • Web
  • Android Phone
  • Android Tablet
  • iPhone
  • iPad
  • Windows
  • Mac OS
  • Chrome
  • Firefox
  • Outlook
  • Thunderbird
  • Gmail
  • Postbox
Oh, you see every device you own is compatible with this app? Yep, that's how easy it is to sync it across everything to keep your lists portable and handy when you need it. Whether it's jotting down a task, tackling a quick email when you have a free minute, or organizing your emails into tasks, there's absolutely NO excuse to be unproductive anymore. Below is the one I use most: Microsoft Outlook. It's what we use at work, and it's incredibly easy to tie an email to a task. So following up with someone on a project is amazingly easy.



I also use it for my personal emails and even The Little Red Journal. All of the recent blog posts you've read (since June of this year) have originated as ideas in the form of a Todoist task. I keep it simple:
Write blog post on Todoist.
Write blog post on saving up for a house.
Email so-and-so about an interview.

You get the idea. Keep it easy. Keep in uncomplicated. And you'll see that Todoist can be as granular as you want or as simple as you want. Here's how to make it work for you in Gmail.



Alright, so are you completely convinced that you want to start using Todoist? Awesome! Here's the site to get started on your FREE account. I say use the free one for a while, and if you want to amp it up for the premium version, which includes the ability to add notes to tasks, send reminders via test or push, creating tasks with emails, and more.

Monday, October 13, 2014

We Nearly Have Enough to Begin Our Househunting Adventure

After we paid off the student loan debt, we began to start saving up for a down payment on a house and the closing costs with it. I was stunned to learn that I would need to save at least $14,000 to purchase a home listed for $150,000, and only $7,500 of that would be going towards the list price. The other $6,500 would we used for "closing costs". So, as you can imagine, this is a huge amount of money to save up. especially if you have a short time frame.

We decided to "try" to begin our family during the summer and were very much shocked to find out we were extremely efficient in this venture. We went from "trying" to "expecting" in just three weeks time. If you know anything about me or my blog, you'll then know that I promptly began rearranging my budgets and punching numbers into a calculator to figure out how we would be able to make this all work. Due to a little snag with insurance, we paid for the birth of our child up front and needed to build our savings back up as we prepared to move out of the home we were renting and sharing with a family member.

I quickly began socking away more than 90% of my paycheck (while also being sure to invest in retirement, company stocks, and paying for insurance coverage), and we soon began to grow our savings slowly but surely. We're nearly ready to begin our house search with a fistful of cash, and will continue to save up after we've signed our 30-year mortgage to prepare for any little surprises that will inevitably come along with a newborn baby.

So, how did we do it? We budgeted so that we lived on an fine line of nearly being "broke" according to our savings while still maintaining a monthly savings of $2,600 each month, We lived ONLY on my husband's checks and still had to pay rent, bills, and two car payments each month with the occasional semi-annual bills like car insurance. And what tool did we use to accomplish this task, might you ask? My favorite budgeting tool that I've written about NUMEROUS times on this blog: MINT.COM.

Check out my older posts on how to use Mint.com to accomplish your savings goals or debt offs!

Why I Had to Trade in The Stratus for Kia Rio
Progress on Our Student Loans & How We'll be Debt-Free in 2014
Knocking Out Our Student Loans One at a Time
The Chair That Almost Blew Our Budget For The Month
Keeping Our Eyes on the [Financial] Prize
Finance 101: 7 Reasons Why I Love Mint.com
Sell your crap. Pay off your debt. Do what you love.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life—Part I: The Miracle of Birth

So for a bit of a laugh today, I wanted to share this older clip that still makes me smile. Before I was pregnant, I didn't even consider an alternative to a hospital birth, but this completely pokes fun at the experience. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why We Paid For The Birth of Our Child Up Front

Even before we planned on having children, I knew I wanted to have a more "natural" birth. Some may have been surprised just HOW natural (midwives, birth center, hypnobirthing, and a water birth!), but none the same, it's been something I've wanted for a very long time. When we moved to Houston, Texas in January from Austin, Texas, one of the FIRST things I researched were birth centers and midwives in Houston. We were financially unstable in those first few months, had little savings due to our intense student debt payoff, and we were still both contractors in our new careers. But even with all of that happening, it didn't deter me from wanting to start a family. SOON.

I found the West Houston Birth Center early on, even before I found my job, and it just so happens to be less than a mile away from my office. I received my first positive pregnancy test one week after my official hire date. Yeah, I planned that. We were lucky/fertile/whatever you want to call it, and we had NO trouble at all conceiving.

Once I received my first positive pregnancy test (at only a few weeks pregnant, no less!), I decided that I needed to call the insurance company to find out what was covered with my brand, spankin' new benefits. But first, I called the birth center first and asked them how much it would be with insurance. They told me $5,000 with insurance, or $4,000 without. No problemo. I had insurance–I was totally covered... right?! Welp, as you can imagine, insurance wasn't too pleased when I asked about midwives.

"This isn't the 1800s! Midwives don't deliver babies anymore," exclaimed the woman on the phone from the insurance company. "Excuse me?" I asked. WTF was she talking about?! I already had a midwife and birthing center picked out where they would physically be delivering my baby. The insurance company provided me with a list of 19 midwives who WERE actually covered, but upon calling every single one of them, I learned that yes, they would handle my prenatal care. When it came time for the big show, however, a doctor would then swoop in and deliver. What?!?!?

Why would I want to build a relationship with a midwife or group of midwives throughout my pregnancy only to have a doctor that I didn't know swoop in and take all of the glory at the end? That didn't make sense to me. They told me they would only cover a midwife under the direct supervision of a doctor. OK. So, I decided to say, thanks, but no thanks! And I signed a contract with the birth center instead. Without insurance. Now, luckily, we had saved up money that was designated for a down payment/closing costs on a house, but this was obviously an immediate necessity that I needed. So we paid the contract in full up front and received a gracious 10% discount for doing so.

And you know what? Insurance magically started sending my birth center a check for the claims they were dutifully submitting. Stunned, they contacted me, (and I almost fell out of a chair!), but I was appreciative. I have absolutely NO idea why, but they are covering my birth and delivery as "out of network" at 60% instead of the 80% they would pay if I was delivering in an "in-network" hospital. So that's awesome! Since insurance is paying, I am obligated to the $4,500 contract (since I saved the 10% by paying in full). I'm totally cool with that, because you know what? We saved up for this and paid it in full. And we'll probably get a reimbursement once all is said and done.

I write this post because I want you to know that you should NEVER give up on WHATEVER birth that you want. Be it at home in a birthing pool or in a hospital bed. Fight for what you feel is comfortable to you and the best birth you can imagine. Ask questions and challenge anyone who says you don't have the right to your own birth story.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Second Trimester Update: 19 Weeks and Counting! [Weeks 12-19]

So it's been several weeks since I've last updated my "bump" (nearly eight weeks!), so I thought I'd add in some new photos and new notes on what I've been experiencing. I last wrote about the pregnancy at 11 weeks, and I'm now at 19 weeks. Let's just jump straight into the photos because those are fun!

The first set are from my ultrasound that we had at 12 weeks and 2 days at Texas Children's Maternal Fetal Medicine in Sugar Land on August 18, 2014. We were beyond excited to see the baby moving around, doing somersaults, and giving us quite a show. It was incredible and Kendan and I watched in amazement while we soaked in our impending parenthood.

Arm resting on cheek.
Little baby foot.
Arm above head and foot above bottom.
Top view of head and arms to the side.
We had a great time and the ultrasound tech was extremely sweet and described everything we were seeing throughout the hour and a half that we were there. We're looking forward to our next ultrasound, which will be held on our fourth wedding anniversary, Thursday, October 16, 2014, where we'll be finding out the gender. So you're either looking at Eleanor Jane or Oliver James!

Here's the baby bump photos with guestimates on my dates. I'm hoping this serves as a documentation for many years to come.

12 weeks 4 days.
13 weeks 5 days.
13 weeks 2 days.
15 weeks.
16 weeks 3 days.
17 weeks 2 days.
18 weeks 5 days.
Some notes that I'd like to jot down so I don't forget:

  • The "bump" tends to vary day-to-day. Sometimes I look huge and then the next day, I look like I've regressed one week. It's really strange, but I think it depends on what I'm eating that day, how much water I'm holding, and the angle I shoot the photo at.
  • For the last several weeks, I wake up at least 1-4 times each night. I finally had to go buy a new nightlight for the bathroom so I can keep the bright light off during my zombie-like walk to the bathroom. Yay! I hear it only gets worse from here...
  • The said bathroom breaks can become an hour of no sleep if I'm not careful. During those times where I lie awake, I usually just try to relax and soak it all in. You're only pregnant with your first child once, so I'm trying not to complain about things like this.
  • We bought a body pillow earlier on, and Kendan said, "Let's put it in the middle of the bed!" I woke up the next morning with him hogging the pillow and snuggling with it. NOPE. Since then, he's not allowed to put his legs on it, unless it's below mine. Haha!
  • At around 16 weeks or so, my back started to ache. I made a heating pad and used this on and off for 20 minutes several times a day, which seemed to help. Otherwise, I am hobbling around at work and home. I went for a prenatal massage, which felt awesome at the time, but as I walked out of the office, I quickly realized she had somehow managed to SPREAD the pain from one isolated spot on my lower right back to the entire lower back. Yeah, I couldn't walk upright for a couple of days. 
  • I still have had no urges of morning sickness, so I sailed right through that! 
  • I don't have any weird cravings, but I have been eating lots of chimichangas and BBQ Pringles.
  • Kendan seems to be totally calm about the whole thing, and only sometimes does he look at me and say, "Wow, I never thought about what you'd like when you were pregnant."
  • We celebrated 10 years together as a couple on August 26, 2014, and I never thought I'd be pregnant with our first child when we met 10 years ago! It's been pretty cool. I'm also excited that we'll find out the gender on our 4-year anniversary.
  • I'm only weighing myself when I go to the midwife. For a while there, I was worried about the weight gain, but I'm eating pretty healthy during the pregnancy, and try to opt for more fruits and veggies even if I'm still eating some "vegan junk food". You only live once, amirite?
 Missed my first trimester update? See the bump from the beginning!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pregnant in America: Importance of Natural Hormone Production During Birth

I watched Pregnant in America a few years ago on Netflix and was entranced by the message. One couple travels to different countries in search of answers to how the world faces birth and maternal care. They have a midwife and deliver at home, but check out the clip below at 5:09.

Robbie Davis-Floyd, PhD, is a professor at the University of Texas in Austin, and I was stunned with what she said about the empowerment women feel at birth! Dr, Mardsen Warner with the World Health Organization is also a strong voice in the natural childbirth community. They both describe a women in "full power" and the uninterrupted flow of hormones to the body from mother to child. I still get goosebumps and become teary when Dr. Davis-Floyd describes what women are missing.

Note: The couple in this video do have a home birth that is beautiful, but they have a moment where they decide to be transferred after the birth to a hospital. You'll see that in this cllip, but don't be alarmed! Spoiler alert: everything is fine in the end, but they were able to experience both sides of the spectrum—a home birth and a hospital birth, in a sense.

If you'd like to watch all of the movie (available on YouTube), start here and follow the "parts". Below is the clip where Dr. Davis-Floyd and Dr. Warner discuss the aforementioned below.



I've included the trailer below if you're interested in watching the full movie. Again, start here and follow the parts on YouTube. Highly recommended!

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