The Japan Starbucks Sakura Season

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As you might know, I am a little bit of a HUGE coffee addict.  Lucky for me, we have a Starbucks right in the center of the area we are staying in Japan.  The other day it was so nice outside that I went for a walk and decided to give myself a special treat of an iced coffee, which I only get when I deem the weather warm enough.

When I walked into Starbucks that day (Feb 23, 2015) I was surprised to see signs indicating that a special time of year was upon us in Japan.  There was a special drink menu and everything, all of Sakura season, which is the blossoming of the cherry blossoms.

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A Christmas Note from Me

Merry Christmas Eve, my friends.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been a little MIA lately.  Let me give you a quick update.  Hubby and I managed to get our Chapel Hill apartment all packed up and now 95% of our belongings are sitting in a Pod somewhere where they won’t be seen again until mid-summer.  Crazy!  The next day we jam packed my little green car full (seriously, there wasn’t even leg room in the passenger’s side of the car) of what was left and drove 13.5 hours to my home town in Chicagoland.  We arrived around 11:30pm and have ben hanging out in my grandfather’s house since then.  That’s where we will stay (he has an upstairs apartment that we stay in and still can have our own space) until we leave for Tokyo on the 1st of the year.

I vlogged bits and pieces of my month and you can see it over on my YouTube channel if you want a bit more insight on what’s been going on.  I haven’t really filmed since I got home simply because there hasn’t been much to vlog about.  Hubby and I have been enjoying laying low, sleeping in, and hanging out with my family.  This is the first time either of us have had the chance to slow down in a long time and we are definitely embracing it.  Soon we will be back in high stress mode as we travel and adjust to living in Tokyo.  We have to enjoy the calm while we can.

Once we get settled in Japan I will be back and very active on here and on YouTube.  The content will be mixed: some of my regular stuff as well as writing and filming my experience in Japan.  Everything there will be new to us, so there will be a lot for us to see and experience.  Until then, it will be a bit quiet around this little place on the internet.  Everyone needs a break now and then, even bloggers.

For now, I just want to wish all of you a very merry Christmas and a spectacular end to 2014.  I appreciate each and every one of you for taking the time to read through and connect with my little pice of the internet.  I hope you enjoy family, friends, festivities, and fun as you feel the spirit of the holidays fill you.  While the presents and parties are fun, remember the reason for the season is so much more than unwrapping a pretty box.

Thank you for being you.

 

Warmly,

Brianna

Surviving Thanksgiving on a Diet

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I am a follower of the Popsugar fitness blog, Fitsugar, and when I stumbled across this post (or more specifically, the image above) I laughed and nodded, agreeing 100% with what that cute turkey poster says.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that strikes fear into the food journal of dieters (and people maintaining their goal) everywhere. With turkey, rich gravies, sweet potato casseroles and everything in between all looming above their heads, people really start stressing (myself included) about how they are going to diet this Thanksgiving.

Here’s my advice in one word:

DON’T!!

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Budget Friendly Halloween Decor

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Tomorrow is Halloween!  I can’t even believe it.  The time is flying by and before we know it Christmas will be here.  I have always been into holiday home decor, and I love having my own little apartment to decorate as the seasons change.  With some major life changes coming for Erik and I (more on that in a later post), I can’t bring myself to fully embrace an abundance of home decor while we are living in Chapel Hill, however, last year I obtained a few fun things to put a little bit of festive Halloween spirit into our home.

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Halloween Decor on a Budget

Because Erik has been in school and not working, our fun budget is generally quite tight, therefore buying home decor is much lower on the priority list (well, HIS list anyway).  How I manage to satisfy my home decorator itch is by being smart about it.  Here are a couple of ways I did it.

  • Help from home.  Over the years my parents have obtained tons of decorations, so for our first year in the apartment they sent us a box of a few pieces to help start our collection.  What’s cool about this is my grandma and great-grandmother did ceramics as a hobby, so a few pieces (like the white statue on the left) were hand made and are pieces of my grandparents I can hang on to even though they are gone.
  • Coupons!  If you’re patient, home decor purchasing opportunities come up that let you buy at reasonable prices before the holidays.  Both the pumpkin (pictured above) and the haunted house (below) were from Kohls.  They were on sale and I had a 30% off coupon.  I got to purchase guilt free 🙂

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  • Multi-purpose decor.  My little end table (below) is definitely more fall themed than Halloween themed, but with my glittery pumpkin that I use for both Halloween and the entire month of November (and the adorable pumpkin themed sign) I get my money’s worth out of this table not just for October, but November too.  My little ghost tea light holder (old decor from parents) has been paired with a pumpkin that actually has a turkey on the front of it.  All I did was turn it around and all of the sudden it fits with Halloween.  On the 1st I will flip it over and it will be Thanksgiving decor.  It’s all about multi tasking.

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  • Buy the day after- This is how I’ve gotten a lot of my home decor while living in Chapel Hill.  It takes a lot of patience to not want a piece of decor for the current season, but my top advice is to wait until the day after the holiday actually happens.  November 1st last year, I went over to Pier 1 and got the spider themed candle holder and the wreath for a ridiculous discount.  Sure, I had to come home and pack them away, but this year I got to proudly display these beautiful and festive pieces without my husband complaining about the money I spent on a few decorations.  I love shopping the bargains of the “day after” sales.

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Now, I want to hear from you, friends.  How do you decorate for Halloween?  Do you have any money saving tips or tricks?  Let me know in the comments below!

Have a Spooktacular day tomorrow!

Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal

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It’s time for another installation of Brianna’s Pumpkin Spice Recipe Adventures.  I am thoroughly convinced that pumpkin spice is acceptable at any time of the day, but one of my favorite times to enjoy this fall flavor is in the morning. With pumpkin spice coffee, creamers, english muffins, bagels and cream cheese, it is obvious that we love pumpkin spice mornings.  There is also pumpkin spice oatmeal that can be found by Quaker and Trader Joes, but I decided that they both lack something that I want to have in my pumpkin spice products when possible: REAL pumpkin. Therefore, I took to the kitchen and created my own pumpkin spice oatmeal.  Super easy, Weight Watchers friendly, and you can modify it to suit your needs as you see fit.

The recipe is really more of a guideline to help you create the pumpkin spice oatmeal of your dreams.  Many of the ingredients can be modified to fit the flavor you are looking for.  I am a big fan of bulking up my food and making it as flavorful as I can, so I use quite a bit of the non-oatmeal ingredients, but you can do with this what you will

 

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Ingredients:

  • 1 packet of Quaker Lower sugar Maple Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal
  • 4 Tbsp Canned Pure Pumpkin
  • 2 Tsp (modify as you see fit) Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • an extra dash of cinnamon
  • 1/2 packet of Stevia sweetener

 

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Preparation is super easy:

  1. Make oatmeal as directed.  I used the smallest water setting on my Keurig.  You can use the hot water or microwave preparation.
  2. Stir oatmeal until blended
  3. Add pumpkin.  Stir until well mixed.  Your whole bowl will be a beautiful autumn looking orange color.
  4. Pumpkin Spice OatmealAdd pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and Stevia (all to taste) and stir again.
  5. *optional* Microwave your creation for 30 seconds or so to reheat it and thicken it a bit.
  6. Enjoy your delicious and healthy breakfast!

 

That’s it!  See, it’s really easy, just like my Pumpkin Spice Muffins.   Now a few things to note:

  • Pumpkin is an amazing way to bulk up your food for no extra Points.  I’m eating a vegetable as part of my breakfast! If you plug it into Recipe Builder, technically it adds 1 ppv when you add 4 Tbsp, but to be honest, I don’t count it because on it’s own in the tracker, a cup and a half still equals 0.  I choose to do it that way.  To each their own.
  • The oatmeal is really what determines the PPV of this meal.  If you want to use full sugar, or cooked oats, or whatever, be my guest.  I like to use the Quaker lower sugar or the Weight Watchers oatmeal (found in WW stores) because they’re only 3 Points plus and taste good.  Again, this comes down to personal preference
  • Don’t forget that you can add/subtract the pumpkin or any of the spices until the combination is to your liking.  It’s all about your flavor preferences.  This recipe happens to reflect mine.

There you have it my friends.  Now you have something else to look forward to when you wakeup in addition to your morning cup of coffee. 🙂  Enjoy!

 

Weight Watchers Friendly Pumpkin Spice Muffins

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  No..not the Christmasy most wonderful time..the pumpkin-y most wonderful time.  Since I’m pretty much obsessed with pumpkin and all things pumpkin/pumpkin spice flavored and scented, I decided that I needed to get a few recipes involving this glorious ingredient out there.

 

Why pumpkin?

Pumpkin is an amazing ingredient in baking.  I have managed to chop the amount of calories in many desserts simply by using pumpkin as a replacement for most of the fatty ingredients, and the results have been amazing

 

First up for your enjoyment: Weight Watchers Friendly Pumpkin Spice Muffins

 

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Ingredients

  • One box of spice cake mix
  • One can of 100% Pure Pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice (to taste, but I used 1 Tbsp)

Seriously, that’s all it takes to make these awesome muffins.

 

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Directions:

  1. Preheat oven as directed on box (425? I can’t remember exactly, but the box will tell you)
  2. Spray you muffin tins with nonstick spray
  3. Put all 3 ingredients in a mixing bowl.
  4. Blend ingredients.  I used the Kitchen Aid mixer, but you can mix by hand too.  Batter will be thick.
  5. Divide batter evenly making 18 muffins (one whole 12 slot sheet and the middle two rows of another if you don’t have a little 6 muffin pan)
  6. Pans1Use back of spoon to even out the batter in the muffin slots.  You will notice it kind of just sits how it plops because it’s so thick.  It will need a little encouragement to lay down flat.  You don’t necessarily have to do this step, but know that how the batter looks going in the oven is pretty much how it looks coming out, except raised a bit.
  7. Cook for the amount of time recommended on box (I think I did 13 minutes)
  8. Remove from oven and allow to cool
  9. Enjoy these deliciously simple muffins 🙂

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That’s it.  They’re that simple.  Now for the Points Plus Value of these delicious muffins.

When you make 18 muffins= 3 PPV for 1 muffin; 5 PPV for 2 muffins!

I also did the math for making 24 muffins (2 PPV for 1; 4 PPV for 2) and for 12 muffins (4 PPV for 1; 8 PPV for 2) using the same amount of batter. I went with 18 muffins because it was a little more PPV friendly when I ate two, saving me a whole point.  That makes a world of difference in my book.

These muffins are amazing when you pop them in the microwave for a few seconds.  Have them for breakfast with a bowl of fruit or have them as dessert or a snack.  I love them with a cup of pumpkin spice coffee or tea.  There’s really not much to feel guilty about when you replace the oil and eggs with a vegetable.  🙂  This keeps my tummy happy, my sweet tooth happy and my waistline happy, all at the same time.

Enjoy!

April 2014 Favorites

Another month has come and gone!  Unbelievable!  Spring is in full fling and everyone is gearing up for finals, summer, and all that come with those major events.  Easter and what was left of the winter weather is now behind us.  Here are some of the things I found myself reaching for quite frequently in April.

Beauty

 

Benefit Gimme Brow

One of my major beauty sins is neglecting my eyebrows.  Thanks to this product I have discovered how wonderful (and easy) proper eyebrow care can be.  This is an innovative fiber gel product that makes perfect eyebrows a breeze.  Gimme Brow actually adheres to the skin and hair follicles to “magically” fill in and give brows to places where there weren’t any.  The tiny brush makes it incredibly easy to use and the beautiful bold brows that I create with this product just adds a sense of completion to my makeup look that hasn’t been there before.  Gimme Brow is long wearing and water resistant and is buildable so you can decide how bold or basic you want your brows to look.  The little tube costs $22, but trust me, if you need some help in the brow department like I do, it’s worth every penny!

 

 

 

MAC Naked Lunch

This is an oldie but goodie.  Naked lunch is the perfect nude shimmery eyeshadow that has been my go to lid color this month.  I rediscovered my love for it when I could the custom palette I put it in.  The shimmer is not overwhelming, so it looks natural with a little something extra.  I love using natural hues that have a brightening effect on my eyes so I look more awake and this one is a go to for me.  It’s simple, beautiful and a must have for my collection.

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theBalm “How ’bout them Apples?” Cheek and Lip Palette

I can’t believe this thing is in my favorites.  I was sent this product to try by Birchbox and I was really doubting I would like this because cream blushes and cheek/lip duo products tend to be in my “not for me” list so I figured this one would be the same.  It turns out that I absolutely LOVE it.  There are 6 shades in the palette and all of them work great with my skin (surprisingly).  Now that I have figured out how to blend the product into my cheeks properly, I regularly reach for these as my blush and lip color.  On the cheeks you need very little product to create a natural looking flush.  Just blend them into the apples (get it? Like the name of the palette?  So clever..) of your cheek.  You can always add more to intensify the color but I suggest starting small and building up.  On the lips these blend right in to give a great “your lips but better” type of look, with a matte to semi-gloss finish depending on how much product you use.  I have a detailed review of the “How ’bout them Apples” already posted, so head on over there to read more about this surprisingly awesome product.  I was very pleased to discover how much I loved this palette and will be more willing to try similar things in the future.

Home

Bath and Bodyworks Candle in Market Peach

If spring and summer could be defined in one scent, for me, this would be it.  This smells like you are standing in the middle of a peach orchard on a warm day.  The candles from Bath and Body Works are high quality, long lasting, and really easy to find on some sort of sale that make them a great budget buy to boot.

 

Food

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Chocolate covered Peeps

By far my favorite Easter candy discovery of the year, and I love me sone Easter candy.  I actually took the time to do a Points Plus breakdown of some of the well known faves.  I’m not usually a huge fan of plain old chocolate covered marshmallow Easter treats, but something about the Peeps one is different.  The marshmallow is actually a bit denser than the average marshmallow egg, and denser feels like I’m getting more bang for my Points Plus buck.  Secondly, the layer of chocolate on this awesome creation is quite generous, making it feel like a decadent chocolatey  treat.  The best part? One of these is only 3 Points Plus!  They are very reasonably sized and come individually wrapped so portion control is automatically in effect.  All around my favorite discovery this Easter season

 

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Vanilla Creme Peeps

Another Peeps product that pleased me this month is the limited edition Vanilla Creme Peeps.  They come in 3 to a package and the whole pack is only 3 Points, however if you can practice a little restraint, eating only 2 of the 3 will only cost you 1 precious Point.  Yes, 1.  (See my Easter Cheat Sheet for more information).  These vanilla creme flavored ones give off a slight birthday cake flavor which I find to be slightly more satisfying than a regular Peep.  I found these exclusively at Target and made sure I had them on hand all the time for a quick, delicious, low Point treat.  They also had strawberry and orange ones. I didn’t try the orange, but the strawberry were also delicious.  I certainly hope Peeps puts these out again next year.

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Books

 

 

The first book favorite of mine is one I mentioned in an earlier post.  It’s called “How to Have Your Cake and Wear Your Skinny Jeans Too” by Josie Spinardi.  I won’t go into too much detail about it because I plan on doing a full review of it, but generally speaking, this book is great.  It talks about why dieting doesn’t really work  and how putting this on restriction tends to lead to the horrifying binge that may of us can relate to.  It really justified the smarts behind the Weight Watchers plan for me.  It doesn’t mention WW at all, and this woman is very against the idea of dieting and such, which I understand, but the joy of WW for me is that if I want something I can have it, just in moderation.  Spinardi also talks about the way our body works to keep us naturally thin, but with poor eating habits, emotional eating, etc, we have taken our body’s THIN-telligence and stopped it from doing its job.  The book is quite fascinating and motivating.  Even if there are only certain points you want to take away from it and some you don’t care for, I think this is a great read for anyone working on their relationship with food.

 

 

The Fault in our Stars by John Green is just a wonderfully heartbreaking and uplifting story all at once.  I’m not going to tell you the plot, but I will tell you it involves cancer in teenagers (which is sad enough as it is), hope, love and living life to it’s fullest.  There was a plot twist that I didn’t see coming which made me even more unable to put the book down.  I polished off most of it on my plane ride to Illinois and was actually bummed that the plane landed because I had to stop reading.  A great read for all ages.  My 12 year old student gave me this to read.

 

TV

LOST–  Yeah…I’m late to the game on this one, but I’m hooked.  Erik started it but never finished it, so he decided to start the journey from the beginning and took me with him.  It took me a few episodes to get into it, but once I started learning about all of these people that end up stranded together it just became a fascinating story and I HAD to know how it ended…even though I know there was a lot of drama surrounding how the series ended..I don’t know how it ends, as we just started season 4, but I’m loving the routine of cuddling up with my husband and watching this show that continues to blow my mind and screw with my emotions.

Game of Thrones–  Speaking of screwing with my emotions, Game of Thrones is back and started off with a bang!  This is the show that taught me not to get too attached to any one character because you never know if that person will live or die.  This show makes me feel about 20 different emotions all in the run of an hour.  Its exhausting and emotionally draining and I can’t help but wonder why I put myself through it…but I have to know who wins the game!

This is legitimately how I feel after each week that this actually happens.  I’ve had my heart broken several times already, but my true favorite still lives.

And to finish it off I have a Youtuber/Blogger favorite: Jen Ross from www.organizedjen.com.   She lives out where I used to, which is fun for me because watching her vlogs and such I know the mall she shops at (as I worked there for a year or so) and probably passed her on the street.  She is a successful blogger, you tuber and stay at home housewife, which is exactly the goal I have for myself once Erik and I move to where his full time job takes us.  She’s a kind hearted, good natured woman who is very easy for me to look up to.  Thanks, Jen, for just being you! You can check her out both on Youtube and on her blog.  

That’s it for April!  Comment below and let me know what things you’ve been loving so far this spring!  Below is the corresponding Youtube video I did where you can hear me talk a bit more about all of these things.  Happy May!!

Thinking Out Loud: Easter Edition

This week has completely flown by!  I can’t believe that it’s already Thursday.  We went to Illinois for Easter weekend and have been moving full speed since we returned home.

 

We arrived at O’hare on Thursday afternoon where we went straight from the airport to the allergist since the North Carolina pollen seemed to be destroying me. Chceck out the picture of my car.  See the powder particles? That would be the pine pollen that is taking over our world.   She sent me on my merry way with 4 new prescriptions.  Score!

 

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Candy!  Oh the Easter candy!   My family was awesome and bought me an abundance of chocolate covered Peeps because I mentioned they were my favorite find of the season.  Needless to say, between the haul they gave me and my hitting up Target and Walgreens on the day after Easter (hello candy that’s 50% off!) I am set on those guys for quite awhile.

 

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Here’s one of my other Easter candy favorites.  The Cadbury creme eggs are disgustingly sweet, but there is something about the oozy gooey, not quite sure what it is, filling that is just oh so delightful to me.  It’s a good thing these bad boys only come out once a year.

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I got to see my dogs!  As always, I was much more excited to see them than they were to see me.  I was a very exciting thing for a whole 60 seconds when I first came in, but after that they really didn’t care.  It was nice to feel some puppy love again, as I am without a pet of my own in Chapel Hill (and for those thinking it, no, my husband does not count).  Pictured above is Killer, an obese Chihuahua with a tummy like no other.  Half blind, mentally not all there, but a huge source of joy in my parent’s house.  I could not resist taking a picture of the ridiculous fatness.

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Friday a group of us (my mom, aunt, youngest sister Deanna, Erik and me) went to Woodfield mall.  My aunt and I would frequently shop together and since my move we haven’t had the chance.  Awhile back I was in White House Black Market and saw this awesome green jacket.  Since prices in there are so high, I waited for something I really wanted to spend my gift card on.  Well, I couldn’t stop thinking about this freaking jacket, so I decided to see if it was in the store at Woodfield.  There was one left and it happened to fit me perfectly.  I decided I was meant to have this jacket and used my gift cards for my awesome new wardrobe addition.  How do you guys decide what clothing and accessories are worth the splurge and which ones aren’t?  I figured since a month went by and I STILL wanted the jacket, that was a sure sign it was worth it.

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On Saturday we watched the Blackhawks play and colored Easter eggs.  It seemed like a much bigger deal when we were kids, but it was still a fun thing to do.  We had to use birthday candles to draw on the eggs since the coloring kit failed to have a crayon in it.  How pretty!

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Erik and I went to breakfast with my grandfather and his girlfriend to a place called Eggsperiance.  I decided to enjoy my breakfast and not worry about the Points Plus and ended up getting strawberry crepes with Nutella.  O..M..G.. the deliciousness was overwhelming.  Worth it!  Erik decided he was going to be all healthy and got an egg white omlette loaded with veggies.  To our surprise, this is what showed up..

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Look at that madness!!!  That’s seriously 4 days worth of breakfast for me.  The waitress said she loves seeing people’s faces when they order that and don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.  It looked like a giant pancake or something.

 

The weekend went by fast.  Lots of family time, singing at 5 church services, and a trip to O’hare later we were back in Chapel Hill Easter night, exhausted and wishing we had an extra day off to recover from the long weekend.

 

 

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Of course I went out on Monday to see what sort of day-after-Easter sales I could find.  Picked up even more chocolate covered Peeps and went to see what was on sale at Pier 1.  That cute candy bowl now houses some of our candy haul form Illinois.  I’ve been loving picking up holiday specific wreathes too, and Pier 1 has some cute ones!

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I got sent this surprise from a secret sister from a very special group of ladies I’m in.  I love that instead of an abundance of candy, she sends my a ton of little fun flavored alcohols.  Party time!

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One of my students went to Paris over spring break, and knowing my obsession with French macaroons, she bought be a box of them from THE bakery to get them from, Ladurée.  They were ridiculously priced, so I am flattered that she felt I was worth spending that kind of money on and they were absolutely delicious.  What is your favorite food splurge?

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SO yummy!

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Spring is here, my friends!  I’ve busted out my lovely crocheted TOMs and am ready for sunny days and walks outside.  May is almost here and it’s time to start thinking about new goals, spring cleaning and summer!  What are you looking forward to ?

That’s all for my thinking out loud today.  Wishing you all a very happy almost Friday!

Easter Candy Weight Watchers Points Plus Cheat Sheet

 

Row of Easter Eggs with Daisy on Fresh Green Grass

We all know that while the real reason for Easter is celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, confectioners all over the place have made the Easter season an amazing time to find awesome candies and chocolates to celebrate the season as well.  I know there are candies and treats that each one of us get excited over, and it’s really easy to have an extra piece (or 5) and have those calories and Points Plus values add up before we know it.  That’s why I’ve compiled a list of some of the major Easter themed treats out there and put the Points Plus values of these springtime goodies right on the list.  With this Easter Candy Weight Watchers Points Plus Cheat Sheet, you can enjoy your treats while knowing exactly what they’ll cost you. Below are some of the more popular treats.  Sorry I couldn’t get every single one, but that would have taken me until Christmas to write up for you.   Please note that for many of these I divided the information up into what a single serving would cost as well as what 2 servings would cost , because we all know that sometimes a single serving just isn’t enough.  🙂

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