Vacation Prep Tips

It’s spring break, baby! And that means VACATION TIME! As an educator, I’m fortunate enough to have a week off each year, AND even better than that, spring break falls on my birthday this year (26th)! I’m super excited to get outta here, and here some of my favorite vacation prep tips!

Vacation Prep Tips

Pamper Yourself

Vacations are a time to celebrate and relax, but it doesn’t hurt to start a few days early! One week before, get a facial or microdermabrasion treatment for gorgeous skin, two days before, get a spray tan so you’re nice an bronzed [but not smelly anymore from the tanner], and one day before, get yourself a fresh mani-pedi!

SISTER TIP: Always check Groupon and Living Social for beauty and health deals before you pay out of pocket. I found a mani-pedi for $20!

Grab Beauty Samples

Each time I go on vacation, I stop at various stores to get free samples of products for me to pack for my vacay so I don’t have to worry about that pesky 3-ounce rule at the airport! I snag an adorable teeny sample bottle of perfume from Sephora (I can get about 5+ uses out of one), body lotion from The Body Shop, and stock up on travel-sized toothpaste for free at the dentist’s office. Saving money makes me happy. :)

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Cut Down on Snacks

That’s right, I said it. Cut out sugar at least 1-2 weeks before your trip, and substitute snacks with healthy greens or low-sugar smoothies. Don’t change things too much, or your body may react negatively, but any healthy additions will help you feel travel-ready!

Pack Versatile Outfits & Shoes

Whenever I’m preparing to pack for time away, I shop for a top, bottom, jacket, and pair of shoes that I know I will get consistent use out of in various situations. My favorite purchase for this trip was a convertible black wrap maxi dress that I am able to dress-up or wear casually during the day. (Look forward to a future post about this amazing find!) Wedge sandals are often a favorite of mine for the same reason, and long shirts that can pass as a casual day dress, or be paired with pants or shorts are great finds, too.

Make Some Personalized Playlists

I just upgraded to get Spotify Premium, and I’m so excited! (I got it for a mere $4.99/month with a Masters student discount!) Now I have unlimited access to songs, even offline, without commercials or skips. I put some effort into making great vacation playlists, and it’ll pay off while I’m listening to my favorite tunes on the beach. :)

Prepare for Negative Effects of Air Travel

Besides jet lag, air travel has a lot of negative effects, especially on sensitive folks, like myself! Read this article “What Happens to Your Body When You Fly“, and make a set plan on how to counteract some of the dehydration, air flow, and fatigue. Your body will thank you in the end!

Call Ahead for Perks

Something I always do before I leave for vacation is call the hotel or resort we’re staying at directly and inquire about any last minute possible perks. Hey, it never hurts to ask! Here’s usually my script:

“Hello there, I’ll be visiting your beautiful resort tomorrow, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m hoping you can help me explore some options to make my vacation even more special! Do you have the capability to look for complimentary upgrades, early check-in, or spa credits you may be able to add to my account before I come?”

Of course sometimes it comes down to just a bit of luck, but I’ve had a lot of success by simply calling ahead!

What are some of your vacation prep tips? Where are you headed this spring break??

The Perfect Dinner for Leftover Night: Pita Pizzas

I always struggle with leftover meats and veggies. Sure, sometimes I toss them into a bomb casserole, but when I’m feeling a little less creative, I like to make homemade grilled pizzas! And trust me, after reading this, you will too. They’re healthy, tasty, personalizable, and less than $10 to make for a family of four!

Pizza Ingredients

The best part about this dinner idea is that you can individualize your pizza ANY WAY you want! That means an easy meal for picky eaters, and perfect for families who have a variety of likes. Plus, if you use whole wheat pitas, this dinner is healthy as can be! MAN I love pizza.

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. (350 if you don’t like your pizza as crispy)

2. Sauté a sliced onion, garlic and spinach with red pepper flakes, basil, and oregano seasoning.

3. Arrange pita breads on two baking sheets and brush with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Top pitas with desired toppings. Sprinkle with freshly grated mozzarella cheese.

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4. Bake for 10-15 minutes (after several trials, the perfect time for me was 13 minutes!), or until edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with fresh basil. Enjoy hot!

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Ideas for healthy pizza combinations:

Greek: Feta cheese, drained can of tomatoes, halved olives, a teaspoon of dried oregano.

Hawaiian: Spread tomato sauce then layer mozzarella, diced pineapple, sliced ham, and red pepper flakes.

Pear, Prosciutto, and Blue Cheese: Layer thinly sliced pears and bake. Sprinkle with crumble blue cheese and chopped prosciutto.

Barbecue Chicken: Combine shredded chicken with barbecue sauce and top the pizza with a cup of mozzarella cheese. Top with red onion.

Margarita: Plum tomatoes, handful of fresh basil, mozzarella cheese, 1/4 cup tomato sauce

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Grilled chicken, artichoke hearts, spinach, basil, and garlic! MMM.

Check out my friend’s Garlic Butter Sauce & White Pizza on her blog! :) 

Walkin’ on Air

Spring has arrived! As much as I love my winter boots, I literally shouted “GOOD RIDDANCE” as I unceremoniously threw them into the winter closet this past weekend, and gleefully swapped them out for flats and tennies!

And what a coincidence, the first warm day of the season, and I get a package on my doorstep! I buy a new pair of sneaks each year for my birthday (26th in case any of you want to send love!) and this year, I’m super excited to introduce this pair of wolf grey Nike Air Max shoes to my collection!

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The thing I love about Air Maxes is that they’re comfortable, with a little bit of an extra heel, yet can be literally worn with anything. I can wear these with yoga pants and a tank, or even a cute top and dress pants, there is no limit! Now how many sneakers can you do that with??

Nike Air Max

What sneakers do you plan to rock this spring??

Nike Air Max 2

My Top 5 Favorite TV Series

I love playing “top 5″ and “favorites” games with people. What’s your favorite food? Favorite song? Favorite restaurant? Favorite girl’s name? Favorite dinosaur? Anything’ll do.

But my FAVORITE question to ask to TRULY get to know someone is: what’s your top 5 favorite TV shows?

People’s favorite TV series are like a window to their soul, I swear. I can tell so much about someone based on their answer to this question and/or if were going to be BFFs (I’m not sure I can associate with anyone who lists “Cougar Town”, for example). JK, all you Cougar Town fan(s) out there!

I recently finished my online Sons of Anarchy binge on my laptop, and so I decided to sit down and truly ponder what my favorite television series are – remember, I don’t have kids, so I have time for this kind of wonderful nonsense. Read through my list, and leave your Top 5 in the Comments section! :D

Top TV Series

5. The Wire

Many claim that The Wire is the best show ever broadcast on television that no one ever actually watched. I was introduced to this show by my friend who was very passionate about it before it became a ‘cult classic’, and I spent this past summer hunched over my laptop engrossed in the crazy story lines following cops, drug dealers, and the like, set in Baltimore, MD. HBO is releasing a fully restored DVD set of the series this summer, so that may be the perfect time to check it out.

Why I luh it: Intense, deep characters and stories; “too-true” and scarily-accurate plot lines.

Most Memorable Moment: When Bunk and Jimmy are on a crime scene and communicate only using variations of the F-word.

4. Breaking Bad

Walter White and Jesse Pinkman are two of the most incredible fictional characters known to mankind. They thrilled me, excited me, scared me, and outraged me, but at the end of the series, I was craving more!

Why I luh it: There was something addicting (no pun intended) about watching the demise of a simple school teacher gone rogue, and by the end of the series, I had no idea who I was rooting for anymore or why. I love when shows make you question yourself like that.

Most Memorable Moment: I absolutely LOVED when Walt and Gabe cooked for the first time. The music, the laughing, the coffee making – perfection.

3. Sons of Anarchy

Good GOD, I loved this show. Love love love love love this show. Honestly, don’t let the motorcycle gang stuff put you off, I was nervous I’d think the guys were kinda d-bags, but they ended up being memorable and lovable characters that I was sad to see leave when I watched the season finale. Good thing there’s a prequel SOA movie comin’ up. :) :)

Why I luh it: How much time you got??? I loved so many things about this show, so I think I’ll just list my reasons.
– Jax Teller (goodness he is baddddd in the good way)
– Finding out that OTTO was actually the creator/director/writer for the show! AND he’s married to Gemma in real life! WHAT!
– Happy. And Juice. And Tig. And Chibbs. Oh, and Chuckie.
– The writing was phenomenal. The acting, honestly, is sub par, except for a few key episodes and moments, but it was written impeccably.

Most Memorable Moment: I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who haven’t watched it, but the Season 6 finale is one of the most shocking and crazy I’ve ever seen.

2. Game of Thrones

I cannot say enough amazing things about this show, and truly it may overtake the #1 spot once the series comes to an end. I’ve started reading the books and they are equally as incredible!

Why I luh it: The perfect combination of lust, magical creatures, fantasy, and violence. I dig it.

Most Memorable Moment: Uhhhh I think anyone would agree that The Red Wedding had me jumping on my couch screaming at the top of my lungs. Holy God.

1. The Sopranos

Yaaassssssssssss the Sopranos! I know this is my all-time favorite series because I had the theme song “Woke Up This Morning” as my ringtone for a good 3 years and I woke up more gangster and cool each morning I heard it.

Why I luh it: It’s hard to put into words what exactly I love about The Sopranos as a whole. The writing was beyond amazing, the actors became the characters, and the dream sequences/psychological aspect of the show was fascinating to me. I’ve watched the entire series 4 complete times now, and it seriously gets better each time. I even like the ending now!

Most Memorable Moment: Ohmygosh one word: Adriannnaaaaaaaa! (Don’t watch if you haven’t seen the series yet.)

What are your top 5 favorite shows???

Burpees: The Everything Move

Burpees! They’re fun to say AND the most effective “everything move” in my workout repertoire. I was first exposed to burpees in bootcamp classes at the CrossFit gym, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Benefits: Burpees burn calories, rev up your metabolism, boost endurance, and strengthen every major muscle group.

When you do a Burpee, you’re practically working out your entire body – butt, legs, back, chest, arms, abs, and shoulders. You’ll feel your muscles getting stronger every time you do them, and they’ll help perform everyday activities – like carrying the groceries or picking up your toddler! Plus, they’re simple to do pretty much anywhere, and require no equipment.

Burpee

How exactly do you do a Burpee? I always stick to the “push-up” style because it works every muslce even harder than a basic one.

From a standing position, drop down to a squat position with your hands on the floor.

Kick your feet back in one quick motion and drop your chest to the ground in a push-up position. (Variation: it’s easier on the knees and back to simply step back instead of flinging feet out)

Return to the squat position as quickly as possible.

Jump up into the air as high as you can and clap.

Burpee GIF

How should I add a Burpee into my workout? You can join the 100 Burpee Challenge to gauge your timed progress each week, or use my Tabata workout post to absolutely murder your legs and arms in the most effective (and painful) four minutes of your life! Do as many Burpees as you can for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds; repeat for 8 hellish rounds (4 minutes). Here are some other Burpee-inspired workouts to check out:
Burpees and Pull Ups
Sprint-Burpees-Kettlebell Press
Burpee Variations

3 All-Inclusive Resorts I’ve Visited that are Perfect for Spring Break

Looking for a spring break vacation full of hiking and mountain climbing and physical activity and cooking and hard work and no drinking? Well, I can’t help you there. But if you want to lay on a beach and eat & drink to your heart (and stomach’s) content, I’ve got 3 amazing all-inclusive resorts that I can personally recommend!

If you’ve never been to an all-inclusive resort, you’re definitely missing out. There’s something for everyone: sensational restaurants, unlimited cocktails, pampering & spas, beach, pool, and excursions. You pay for all food and beverage up front, so dinners and drinks are unlimited throughout your stay. It’s really nice not to have to worry about bringing a credit card out, and eating and drinking as much as possible is certainly quite a vacation, eh?

While I obviously can’t do all-inclusive vacations every time I travel, they’re an amazing option for couples, friends, or families who just want to relax and be a crazy lazy glutton for a week! I’ve gone to several all-inclusive resorts since my early twenties, and here are my 3 faves!

SISTER TIP: Resort excursions are fun and amazing experiences, but something I am VERY passionate about it spreading the word NOT to do “swim with the dolphin” programs! Click here to read more about why these excursions are so harmful, and do a booze cruise instead. :-)

3 All Inclusive Resorts

3 – Meliá Caribe in Punta Cana

Melia Caribe

Meliá Caribe was the first all-inclusive I went to, so it holds a special place in my heart and set the bar pretty high for future vacations! I remember being blown away by the service and sheer size of this resort, and I love the Dominican Republic; the people were amazing.

My Fave - “The Level” was an additional upgrade service that is completely worth the cost. We brought cash, after reading a Yelp review, and offered the front desk $300 for The Level adults only section. It worked! It has its own restaurant/lounge, concierge, and pool and beach area.

Eh - I remember the time share sales pushes were relentless. You can run into pushy time share staff at various all-inclusives, my best advice is to be assertive and just say no!

So... much... food.

So… much… food.

2 – Sandals Whitehouse in Jamaica

Sandals vacations are unparalleled – service, food, top shelf drinks, accommodations, and pretty much everything else. Tipping is not allowed, but the staff goes above and beyond to make sure your stay is incredible.

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My Fave – Jamaica is an absolutely phenomenal country to visit. The biggest perk to Whitehouse was the isolation of the resort; it’s not a crazy party destination by any means. My favorite part about this vacation, though, was an excursion called Island Routes Pelican Bar Highlight. This booze cruise was a party ship that took you to a bar literally in the middle of the ocean. There, locals fried up freshly caught fish and provided Red Stripes and great conversation. $109 per person and 100% worth it.

Eh – Travelers beware! This resort is about an hour away from the airport and the bus ride to get there is an absolutely horrifying experience. No joke. The Jamaican staff that drive you are certainly confident enough, but as a passenger, I actually became sick halfway through. There are no barriers on these cliffs, there’s goats in the middle of the road, and the twisting turning ride was awful. Just know that the end destination is worth it, but I recommend taking an Advil before you start!

Jamaica

1 – Valentine Imperial Maya in Riviera Maya

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Oh man was this adults-only 5-star resort fabulous for New Year’s Eve! The staff went all out and threw the most incredible celebration, and really, you can’t go wrong with any all-inclusive in Mexico!

My Fave – The nightlife of this resort was excellent. There was nightly entertainment, a piano bar, sports bar, beach parties, and a club. Like I said, the New Year’s party was phenomenal; the attention to detail blew me away!

Eh – Be prepared to pay for this puppy. This was the most expensive all-inclusive I’ve done, at about $600 a night. But you can get a direct flight from Chicago, and be on the beach by 10 am! Worth it.

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What all-inclusive vacations would YOU recommend?? Leave in the comments section!

Good-for-you Banana Bread

I LOVE making easy bread recipes. They’re perfect for breakfast, snack time, or even to give to friends for gifts! This is my favorite banana bread recipe, and any time I have a few leftover ripe bananas, I whip a loaf of this whole wheat banana bread together and voila! Breakfast for the week! (Who am I kidding, it’s gone in a day.)

Good for You Banana Bread

Whatcha Need:
6 Tablespoons unsweetened applesauce (I use a 4 oz cup)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup almond milk
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Various mix-ins: walnuts, chocolate chips, pecans etc

Whatcha Do:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with non-stick spray.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk applesauce, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and milk together. Add in eggs and banana and whisk until combined.
3. In a large bowl, whisk the rest of the dry ingredients together. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined.
4. Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake for 60 minutes; test with a toothpick to ensure that it comes out clean. Allow the bread to completely cool before cutting! This is important so it holds!

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SISTER TIP: I like to top mine with Greek yogurt and eat with a fork! This bread is fairly dense, so even one piece can fill you up. :)

The Best Spinach Salad I’ve Ever Eaten

Recently, I posted on how to add more green into your diet, and this spinach salad is the perfect (and best tasting) way to do that! Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of raw spinach. It’s bland and fibery, and I can rarely finish a whole plate of it. But my Valentine and I went to a lovely dinner this weekend, and tried out their specialty – a simple, Italian-style spinach salad. It was SO GOOD YOU GUYS! I asked for the ingredients, and I’ve recreated it, just for you! :)

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Combine: Baby Spinach, Thinly Sliced Pears, Pecorino Cheese, Dried Cranberries, and Sliced Almonds with Fresh Squeezed Lemon and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

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Will you try this fabulous spinach salad??

I Love You, I Loaf You

You’re probably wondering what the heck is up with my post title today, allow me to explain. When I was just a young little Jesi – or, during the 2-year stage in which I only responded to my middle name, Ashley (big-ups to my Grandpa who was the only person to abide by this demand) – my parents used to tuck us kids in every night. And when they would say goodnight, instead of just saying “I love you” like normal families do, they would come up with tons of other words that started with “L” and sub those in. My nightly routine became “good night, Jessica Ashley, we leaf you,” or “we live you,” or “we loft you,” or my personal favorite, “we loaf you!”

So, whenever I make one of my favorite (and easiest) homemade dishes, meatloaf, I think of this adorable memory, and put a little extra “loaf” into that loaf! Here’s my take on a healthy meatloaf for you to try out this week. :)

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SISTER TIP: The thing I love about meatloaf is that you can pretty much add any nutritious veggie to it and it will still taste amazing. Have some leftover carrots? Green peppers? Zucchini? Sweet potatoes? Beets? Blend ‘em in the food processor and in they go! I even added some chia seeds and wheat germ for extra goodness, and diced up these mushrooms I had in my pantry. ^^

Whatcha Need:
1 lb ground turkey
1 container mushrooms, chopped finely
1 small onion, diced
2 cups canned or fresh spinach, drained and chopped
1 egg white, beaten
1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
Salt & pepper to taste

Whatcha Do:
Basically, just mix that stuff up! Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands until well incorporated. Form into a loaf and put on baking sheet, or into a loaf pan. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 1 hour. Serve with barbecue sauce or ketchup.

Turkey MeatloafSISTER TIP: For side dishes, I made a basic romaine salad and these easy cauliflower mashed potatoes! You won’t even miss the carbs, I promise. MOM! THE MEATLOAF!

8 Ways to Get More Green in Your Diet

According to nutrition experts, “green are the number one food you can eat regularly to improve your health”. I believe it, too. I can physically tell the weeks that I consistently eat greens compared to the weeks I slack. They’re full of fiber, minerals, and vitamins that help you look younger, prevent disease, and cure pretty much any ailment you can think of. Green = power. So how exactly do you add more in your diet??

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1. Smoothies

My absolute favorite way to get my greens is to add it to a morning smoothie. I know I’m getting 4-5 servings right off the bat, and it’s an excellent routine to get into first thing in the morning. Spinach is my favorite green to incorporate into smoothies because it has virtually no texture or taste, but I also throw in kale, celery, and romaine lettuce 3-4 times a week.

A great beginner green smoothie:

2 cups of spinach
1/2 cucumber
1 small apple
1/2 lemon
1 cup of water

Green Smoothie

2. Use leafy greens in place of bread

I’m not exactly a ‘salad girl’, but one simple way to add green to my meals is to replace the carbs with a leaf! That’s right. Try these turkey lettuce wraps or these low carb burgers, these fish green “tacos” or instead of ordering a burrito, get the taco bowl! No carbs, but tons of flavor.

3. Add spinach to pasta sauce

One of the easiest way to to add greens to homestyle dishes is to sauté some spinach, blend it, and add it to sauces. I add spinach to almost every pasta dish, and it’s just as easy to add it to tuna casserole, breakfast omelettes, or slow cooker meals.

4. Don’t put your produce in the refrigerator door

This is just a personal tidbit, but I am 99% confident that when my recently purchased broccoli, kale, or spinach is put into a drawer in the refrigerator (or the bottom shelf), they ain’t gettin’ eaten. Instead, put your fresh greens right on the top two shelves so as soon as you open the fridge, you’re forced to see them and remind yourself to add them to your diet!

5. Stockpile frozen veggies

Every time I go to Aldi (read my Aldi love post here) I stock up on frozen vegetables like it’s nobody’s business. I buy a combination of at least five bags of frozen broccoli, edamame spinach asparagus, and green beans, for only $1 each you can’t beat it. Frozen vegetables are actually among the healthiest veggies you can eat, because they’re frozen at the peak of freshness, and much easier and more convenient to make.

6. Be “Deceptively Delicious”

One of my all-time favorite cookbooks is Jessica Seinfeld’s, in which every recipe sneakily incorporates fruits and veggies to boost the healthiness without sacrificing taste. I check out her site Do it Delicious every week or so to check out new recipes.

7. Sprinkle spices

I recently learned as an adult that there are tons of ‘miracle spices’, and adding them to dishes can add tons of health benefits! Parsley helps pass kidney stones, prevents UTIs, and prevents buildup in the arteries. Thyme can help respiratory problems, and settles stomachache or sore throat, and rosemary can help aid digestion, as well as prevent brain aging. So sprinkle on, friends!

8. Drink green tea

We all know about the incredible health benefits of green tea, so instead of ordering a coffee this morning, swap it out for this miracle drink, and you know you’ll be doing something good for your body!

How do you add greens to YOUR diet?? I’d love to hear! :)