5 Reasons Your Family Needs An Emergency Fund

Tuesday, February 28, 2017
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While you never know when unexpected expenses will arise, you can minimize the financial upheaval that's often caused by unexpected bills by setting up an emergency fund. If one of life's major issues occurs, you won't have sleepless nights wondering if you should cancel an upcoming vacation, put off the bathroom renovation, or getting exterminators in to deal with a nasty case of ants. It's best to open a separate account and determine a set amount to deposit each month to give yourself a decent financial cushion.

Here are a few key reasons why an emergency fund is a good idea, even for the best-prepared families.

Car Repairs
The car's been making a funny noise for weeks, the brakes seem slow, and your headlights have been flickering. Still, you've put it off because you know the repairs will be costly, and you can't afford it. You may need to dig deep to pay for the repairs, and it's not a good idea to take out a loan as payday loans are a costly choice and do come with risks of their own including high interest rates. But if you've set aside money or have a nest egg to turn to there, you'll have a better option.

Medical Bills
We've been down this path all too often. A few years ago, Harper broke her arm. Luckily, our medical insurance and the gymnastics facility's secondary insurance covered most of our expenses. However, we still had several hundred dollars to pay out of pocket. A few months later, she was in the hospital for several days when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It seemed our medical expenses would never end.

Even a routine check-up costs money let alone any long-term health condition that greatly impacts your life. The number one reason why many Americans avoid going to the dentist is the cost involved in fillings, root canals, and crowns which, if you need substantial work done, can spiral into thousands of dollars. Most medical treatment isn't free, and even walk-in appointments come with a small bill attached, but if your son or daughter falls ill suddenly, you don't want a shortfall of money to stop them getting the best treatment they can. Investing in a comprehensive medical insurance plan is one way to keep these expenses down, but having an emergency fund will ensure that you can cover out of pocket costs without worry.

Job Loss
Losing your job is one of our worst fears. If you're currently in this situation, it can feel depressing, almost hopeless at times but you have to try to remain positive. Think of it as a chance to make a career change or go after a dream job at a rival company. Don't make any rash decisions and speak to HR about negotiating a favorable redundancy or severance package. Unemployment is both a frightening and uncertain period; you don't know for sure how long you'll be out of work so you need to make sure that the household can manage on a reduced salary. The best way is to work out all your current outgoings and incomings, you may need to tighten your belts but if you've been sensible the financial fallout should be relatively minimal.

Pet Problems
We all love our fluffy, furry companions to bits but when they get sick it isn't as straight-forward as when a human being falls ill. Often pets won't show signs of being sick until the last minute; this often means an emergency vet call or a trip to the animal hospital to quickly diagnose the problem. Larger animals such as dogs and cats tend to live longer than say rabbits so you must think about their health and well-being at all times. Vet bills stack up quickly, especially if there are a myriad of health problems to treat and it isn't always in the best interest of your pet to keep sending them to the vet as it could cause unnecessary pain and stress. Always check what's included with your pet's insurance plan, some have a certain number of free or discounted visits as well as different levels of care. Responsible pet owners should always have some form of insurance, or enough cash put aside to deal with any pet emergency.

School Fees
Whether your children attend public or private school, there are always expenses attached to both. When it comes to tuition fees, it all depends on which type of school your children attend. For children attending a parochial or private school, tuition can quickly reach into the excesses of $15,000, even more. We all want our kids to have the best education possible, but fees suck up a large chunk of our income. Be aware that if money does get tight most public, or private schools are somewhat strict about fees. The best way to avoid demands is to pay over the invoiced amount each term, that way you're always in credit and will have a few weeks breathing space to come up with the necessary amount.

Crisp Apple Donuts for Fat Tuesday

Monday, February 27, 2017
Most of you know it as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, but if you grew up in central Pennsylvania (better known as Pennsylvania Dutch country), you know the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday as Fastnacht Day. It is customary in central Pennsylvania to celebrate Fat Tuesday by eating fastnachts.

Fastnachts (pronounced fost-nokts) are a type of German donuts. I was born and raised outside of Lancaster, and each and every Fastnacht Day my mom would come home with a big box of fresh, hot, sugary doughnuts. They were the ultimate indulgence before the austere diet of Lent begins.

Thanks to Sparkling ICE beverage, the traditional recipe for fastnachts has gotten a lighter makeover (that also happens to be type 1-friendly), so we don't need to feel guilty for over indulging before Lent begins. They are super easy to make, and are light, crispy, and delicious!


For The Donuts:
1 cup Crisp Apple Sparkling ICE
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
½ cup Splenda Sugar Blend
2 eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3-3/4 cup all purpose flour

For The Cinnamon Sugar:
1-1/2 cups Splenda Sugar Blend
1/2 cup ground cinnamon

Part 1:  Making the donut dough
  • In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together, on medium high speed for approximately 5 minutes.
  • Add eggs one at a time until combined. Slowly pour in the milk and half of the Crisp Apple Sparkling ICE to the mixing bowl. 
  • With the mixer on slow speed add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until just combined. The dough should look shaggy. 
  • Slowly pour in the remaining amount of Crisp Apple Sparkling ICE on medium speed for 2 minutes.
Part 2:  Dough storage
  1. Tear 2 pieces of parchment paper the size of a baking sheet. 
  2. Line the first piece of parchment on a clean baking sheet and heavily dust with flour. 
  3. Turn out the dough onto the floured parchment and press evenly till it's about 3/4 inch thick.  (If the dough seems too sticky flour your hands before pressing.) 
  4. Lightly flour the top of the dough and place the second piece of parchment over the dough.  Refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. 
Part 3:  Frying the donuts
  1. In a deep frying pan, heat enough oil to come up 2 inches from the bottom to 375 degrees using a candy thermometer. 
  2. Gently peel the top piece of parchment off the dough.
  3. Using a floured donut cutter, punch out dough and place in hot oil. 
  4. Fry on each side for 2-3 minutes or until light brown.  Adjust the heat if needed.  Scoop on paper towel lined baking tray. 
Part 4:  Finishing donuts
  1. Combine cinnamon and splenda in a large bowl.
  2. While the donuts are still warm, toss with cinnamon and Splenda mixture until evenly coated. 
  3. Serve warm and devour!
Recipe appears courtesy of Sparkling ICE.

Menu Plan Monday :: 2.27.2017

One way to make your week go smoothly is to put together a menu plan. They work for me, and they also keep me from ordering takeout, which can get expensive and unhealthy. The key for me is to stick to quick and easy meals that I can pull together any night of the week no matter how busy my day was.

Here's what's on our plates this week:

Monday - Lemon spaghetti with shrimp.  This is an indulgent dish that's so easy to make at home but taste's like restaurant-quality.
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Tuesday - Asian chopped salad with spicy peanut dressing. I don't know if I am more excited to have this for dinner or to have leftovers for lunch for a few days. It's one of my favorites, and I often double the dressing recipe and put it on noodles too.
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Wednesday - Slow cooker Mexican pot roast. This was on last week's menu plan, but we ended up having Sunday's dinner on Saturday because we always have cheese fondue for the Oscar's.
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Thursday - Easy Italian stuffed peppers. If you think this is just another boring recipe for stuffed peppers, you're wrong. This recipe includes a spicy, Balsamic sauce that's sure to be an amazing complement to the peppers.
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Friday - Dinner out

Saturday - Rigatoni with creamy tomato sauce. I'm always up for an easy pasta dish on a Saturday night, and this one doesn't get any easier!
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Sunday - We are going to visit the Hubs' nephew and his family. We'll have salad, pizza, and I'm going to offer to bring dessert (maybe this).

What's on your plate this week? For more meal time inspiration, visit I'm An Organizing Junkie's Meal Plan Monday linkup.

To view all of my menu planning posts, click here. Visit my What's For DinnerPasta, and Soups On! Pinterest boards for even more ideas.

Weekend Dispatch

Friday, February 24, 2017
This to-do list is taken directly from my own personal calendar (yes, I put my workouts and exercise classes on my calendar!). It includes what I plan to do, eat, read, and watch this weekend and some recommendation for things I've recently done.

One of my favorite things to do when the weather starts to get warmer is walk the Asbury Park boardwalk. In addition to the great shops and fantastic restaurants (along the way you can stop for a crepe, lemonade, boardwalk fries, a Korean fusion taco, and a cocktail), there is phenomenal art on the stroll. The majestic murals and wooden walls are truly a sight not to be missed. If the weather holds out on Saturday, I plan to head to Asbury for a long stroll.
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I'm consciously making an effort to do more reading. On Sunday mornings I pick up The New York Times and leisurely peruse it over an iced latte. Sometimes I need reading material that doesn't require hours and hours of commitment but is still engaging and entertaining. Tomorrow when I hit the gym, I'll be reading The Grownup by Gillian Flynn. Flynn wrote Gone Girl and Dark Places, both of which I was incapable of putting down once I started. The Grownup is a short story that's barely 50 pages long and can easily keep me entertained for an hour while I walk on the treadmill. ($2.99 on both Kindle and Nook).

On Saturday, Harper and I will be attending the grand opening party at Bee You Kids Yoga Studio in Manasquan. Maura Bradley, the owner, was previously a yoga instructor at Drishti Yoga in Sea Girt, where we have attended several mom and me classes (which we loved!). I am thrilled for Maura and her new adventure in children's yoga. Yoga has helped me in so many ways, and I hope that it can help my kids to be more mindful, more relaxed, and more peaceful in their approach to every life situations.

OMG! I can barely contain my excitement. Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce is back for its third season!! Abby McCarthy, I've missed you! Woo hoo! I've written before about my love for this show (and for the cool LA scenery that is everywhere in every episode). Now that season 3 is underway, I've got about 6 episodes to binge-watch this weekend. If you've never watched, you can catch the first and second seasons on Netflix, and the current season on Bravo!

And don't forget that Seussical is still playing at the Spring Lake Community House. We saw it last weekend, and of course, it was phenomenal. It so fun and entertaining, and it's not terribly long, which makes it a nice show for small children. Get tickets here.

So, tell me. What do you have planned this weekend?

Best Online Reads

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The ten stories from around the web that I am loving this week:

1. Who knew Ashton Kutcher was such a hero and a champion for children via Babble.

2. Fourteen signs it's time to leave your job via Forbes.

3. The reason behind why we get embarrassed via Bustle.

4. What to do to have a long-lasting impact on your kids via Parents.

5. The most famous person from each county in New Jersey via NJ.com.

6. Nine hotel safety tips from a former CIA agent via Condé Nast Traveler.

7. The best oven rack position for what you are baking via PureWow.

8. The ideal first-date outfit via Who What Wear.

9. Fourteen things you should never say to your server via Redbook.

10. The best way to pack your beauty products via Real Simple.

What We're Reading

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

One of the things I want to do more of in 2017 is read. So far, it's been happening, and I've been keeping a running list on my phone of books I want to read. This way if I find myself unexpectedly in a book store or at the library, I have my list at the ready and can browse books I am interested in. My list came in handy on a recent trip to the book store while I was browsing the clearance section.

Here are the books we are currently enjoying:

What I'm Reading: The Vacationers by Emma Straub
I had this on my summer reading list a couple of years ago but never got around to reading it. When I found the hardcover on sale for $6, I scooped it up and started reading it before I left the store. It's about a family who takes a summer vacation to Spain, and of course, revelations are made and discoveries shock everyone. I'm about half way into it, and it's hard to put down at times.

What Emma's Reading: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
This is the story of seventeen year old Charlotte who has lost so much in her lifetime including her father and her best friend. She's left with a mother who hardly cares, but somehow Charlotte finds the strength to start putting the pieces of her life back together. Although written in for the young adult genre, this book sounds like it appeals to all ages.

What Harper's Reading: Flush by Carl Hiassen
Carl Hiassen's books are a favorite in our house. In Flush, a father and son team up to expose a local casino boat owner who is suspected of dumping raw sewage into the local harbor, hindering the townspeople's ability to enjoy their beautiful waterfront.

What are you currently reading? Leave a comment to let me know if you have any recommendations.

Menu Plan Monday :: 2.20.2017

Monday, February 20, 2017

Happy President's Day! We are coming off a spectacular weekend weather wise. It was like spring here in the northeast on Saturday and Sunday. It made me crave a juicy burger on the grill topped with Jersey tomatoes. But today, it's chilly again, and I'm easily reminded that it's still winter and that my weekly menu plan needs to reflect that. :-(

Here's what's on our plates this week:

Monday - Cheesy beef quesadillas . Quesadillas are definitely one of the easiest and crowd pleasing meals that I make. I am always looking for new recipes. I was thrilled to come across this post on Delish.com.
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Tuesday - Italian orzo spinach soup. After sunny days and temps in the 60s over the weekend, the temps are going to drop a bit this week. Not a nosedive, per se, but they will dip down a bit enough that it becomes soup weather!
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Wednesday - Steak peppercorn salad. I love salads as a main meal, but I definitely don't include them in my meal plans often enough. For this recipe, I plan to grill the steak indoors using a grill pan unless it's warm enough to do it on the grill outside.

Thursday - Caprese pasta. The forecast is for spring-like weather, so of course, I'm making a warm weather favorite: Caprese pasta. Super, super easy and equally delicious!

Friday - Dinner out

Saturday - Slow cooker Mexican pot roast. Mexican spices on a pot roast? Well, of course and yes, please. Anything that requires throwing everything in a slow cooker and walking away for hours is just my style.
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Sunday - Baked ziti with spinach. Baked ziti is one of my all-time favorite comfort dishes. Pasta + ooey gooey cheese = pure heaven. Sneaking in some spinach is an easy way to get your leafy greens.

What's on your plate this week? For more meal time inspiration, visit I'm An Organizing Junkie's Meal Plan Monday linkup.

To view all of my menu planning posts, click here. Visit my What's For DinnerPasta, and Soups On! Pinterest boards for even more ideas.

Friday Fresh Picks: J. Crew New Arrivals

Friday, February 17, 2017
J. Crew is killing it with their new spring arrivals. Have you seen them? They are nothing short of gorgeous. I'm definitely one of those people who goes through brand phases when it comes to fashion.

For instance, one summer I was obsessed with everything from Banana Republic. The collection was amazing, and the only items I purchased that season were from Banana. However, when fall came around, Banana's collection was disappointing.

Right now I am most definitely in a J. Crew state of mind. In this installment of Friday Fresh Picks, I am sharing a few of my favorite new arrivals. Take a gander.

I love the chambray trend but the tops can often look a little too boyish, but the flare sleeves on this top give it a feminine look and feel. This top would look super cute paired with a long, pleated skirt.

A basic tee gets a makeover with the addition of an exaggerated bow. All other tees in your drawer will be jealous of this one.

This dress is so sweet yet sexy. I love the one shoulder look, but the ruffle gives it a kind of sweetness that creates a nice balance to the one-shoulder.

I just ordered this bathing suit in navy and white. As you can probably tell, I am loving the one shoulder trend, and it's perfect for a bathing suit.

I love that not only is this tote so cute, but it's for a good cause too. Fifty percent of the retail price will go to the Wildlife Conservation Society to help protect whales and other endangered species.

I love anything scalloped, and this skirt is no exception. How cute is this detail? This skirt works for the office or the weekend which is a plus.

OK. This dress is everything! It has all my favorites in one: stripes, off-the-shoulder, ties at the sleeves. Yes, please. The only downside is that it comes in only navy. I'd buy it in every color if it were available in more.

I love lightweight sweaters, and a bow? How adorable. Although I don't love the red, this sweater is also available in navy or a blush pink, either of which I would gladly buy.

Check out these other J. Crew new arrivals:

Thanks for checking out this week's Friday Fresh Picks. Swing by the rest of the FFP gals to see what they are loving this week.
Friday Fresh Picks are hand-picked favorite items, reviews and highlights from the amazing women you see above.

Visit their websites to learn about other amazing picks from this week!


Weekend Dispatch

This to-do list is taken directly from my own personal calendar (yes, I put my workouts and exercise classes on my calendar!). It includes what I plan to do, eat, read, and watch this weekend. This weekend is one of those up in the air weekends. The wife of my husband's cousin is coming to town to visit and bringing her 2 teen daughters. They won't be staying with us, but they will be staying near by in Bay Head. So, I have specifically tried not to make too many plans this weekend so our girls can spend time with their girls.

Tonight marks the opening of Seussical: The Musical at Spring Lake Theater Company. Over the years, we've seen more than a handful of productions at SLTC, and they never disappoint. Tomorrow night Harper and I will be at the performance to cheer on a few of her classmates, friends, and her music teacher who is the musical director of the performance.

A few weeks ago when I went to Blue Mercury to pick up a new supply of these, the esthetician asked me if I'd be interested in a complimentary facial/skincare treatment by a number of different brand reps that were visiting the store in the coming weeks. I scheduled one with Natura Bissé. I've received several samples of Natura Bissé products from Blue Mercury, and I've loved them. I'm excited to get a full skincare treatment on Saturday afternoon.

Since I'm not a big fan of traditional breakfast foods (I don't eat eggs, and I don't like pancakes), I tend to skip breakfast or opt for a BLT instead. This weekend, I'll be switching up my BLT with a new addition: avocado.

After reading rave reviews about the HBO series Divorce, I finally started watching it last night. I've missed Sarah Jessica Parker since Sex and the City ended, and I've heard she's wonderful in this series. And also, Thomas Hayden Church? Yeah, he's pretty great too.

You can't deny that Alec Baldwin is on fire right now. His SNL impersonations of Donald Trump have put him at the forefront of comedy, and for good reason. When I read about his podcast series, Here's The Thing, I was curious to give it a listen. It airs live every other Tuesday, but I'll be catching up on a few past episodes this weekend.

So, tell me. What do you have planned this weekend?

Best Online Reads

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The ten stories from around the web that I am loving this week:

1. Twenty things that only list lovers will understand via Buzzfeed.

2. The Netflix shows you're going to be obsessed with this year via Bustle.

3. Eight things kids need to be able to do by themselves by the time they are 13 via Red Tricycle.

4. Unprofessional habits that could cost you a job via Business Insider.

5. 10 hilarious jokes about the English language via Bored Panda.

6. A look at how LUSH Intergalactic bath bombs are made via Refinery29.

7. The ways doctors avoid getting colds via Oprah.

8. Six traits of healthy mother-daughter relationships via The Zoe Report.

9. The most popular second language of every country via Insider.

10. Are you too old to shop at IKEA via Earnest.

Home Chef ~ My Cooking Obsession

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I'm always looking for shortcuts when it comes to dinner. Whether it's a bag of pre-chopped frozen vegetables or a complete meal kit, I'm all about saving time (and saving a little money is a plus, too). But I never want to skimp on quality, healthful ingredients in the process.

When Home Chef reached out to ask me if I'd like to try their home delivery meal kit service, I jumped at the chance. I had never tried a meal delivery service but had heard plenty of feedback from friends and fellow bloggers who had used them. I love the concept of receiving pre-measured, pre-portioned, and fresh ingredients for a complete meal for two or four (you have the option of choosing).
Here's how Home Chef works:

1. Enter your email address to create an account.

2. Browse the meal choices and make a selection. Home Chef offers you suggestions based on a taste profile you create when you register, but you have the option of making alternate selections. You also control the frequency at which you received meals. You can order weekly, every other week, monthly, or whatever you deem necessary. Weekly menus close every Friday at noon (CST). All orders are processed at that time.

3. If it's your first order, you'll need to add payment information. Payment info is stored (you can change or update it whenever you wish) for future orders.

For my first Home Chef order, I chose a chicken meal and a pasta one. Both come complete with a recipe card that included the ingredients in your box, the ingredients you would need to supply from your own kitchen (salt, pepper, cooking vessels and utensils), nutrition information per serving, step-by-step instructions with corresponding pictures, and helpful hints.

The finished product: Rotisserie-style chicken with cheddar, broccoli, and rice casserole.

Both the chicken and casserole were delicious. I loved how simple the sauce was to prepare but how much flavor it added to the chicken overall. It really made the dish.

A few days later I made the second meal which was Caramelized shallot and sun-dried tomato spaghetti.

If caramelized onions aren't your thing, you can always keep them out since they were a topping and not mixed in with the pasta. I, however, loved them and thought the flavor of them was a perfect balance to the cheesy pasta.

My overall thoughts on Home Chef:

  • Since I enjoy cooking but don't love grocery shopping, Home Chef is right up my alley! Plus, I like to cook, but a chef I am not. So when given the ingredients and a recipe, all the stress has been taken out of meal planning and prepping, and that means I'm a happy camper.
  • I love that all the ingredients are fresh and Home Chef gives you a recommended by date to prepare the meal.
  • I like the variety of meal choices that are offered from protein-based meals to those that are vegetarian friendly. There is even an option to add on a quick breakfast item such as a smoothie or a fruit bowl.
  • You get to cook meals that you may not normally cook at home.
  • Home Chef occasionally partners with hunger relief agencies where a portion of the cost of the meal is donated directly to the relief effort.
  • I've just placed my second order if that's any indication of how much I enjoy the convenience of the service and the taste and quality of the food.
For more information about Home Chef or to get started, click here.

Menu Plan Monday :: 2.13.2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

Is it that time again? Geez! The weeks fly by, and before I know it, it's Sunday afternoon and time to plan the week's menu. Lots of good and easy stuff this week. So, let's just dive right in, shall we?

Here's what's on our plates this week:

Monday - It's Harper's 11th birthday today, so the birthday girl gets to choose where we go for dinner! On a side note, how the heck is my baby eleven years old already?

Weekend Dispatch

Friday, February 10, 2017
This to-do list is taken directly from my own personal calendar (yes, I put my workouts and exercise classes on my calendar!). It includes what I plan to do, eat, read, and watch this weekend.

When I was in college, I read Elie Wiesel's Night as part of a Jewish American literature class. I couldn't put the book down. I stayed up all night to read it. It is a haunting account of Wiesel's personal experience at a concentration camp in Poland. It was eye-opening, horrifying, and addicting. I have never stopped thinking about that book and Wiesel's incredible storytelling. My oldest daughter just finished reading the book for her 9th grade language arts class, and after discussing the book with her, I decided I had to read it again this weekend.

I stream Spotify practically all day. I love listening to old favorites and discovering new ones. I recently discovered an all-female group from Los Angeles, MUNA. I've heard a few songs that I love, but I plan to listen to the latest release, About U, in it's entirety this weekend.