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0 In Health

Delicious Restaurant Meals under 550 Calories!

Counting calories can be tricky. I will make plans, prepare, and be diligent… until the weekend. Those few days of social gatherings, outings, etc. can ruin a good week. I do not want my hard work Monday-Friday to be destroyed by a few poor choices.
One of the main ways I have learned to combat this dilemma is by learning to eat smart at restaurants. I want to enjoy my meal, be full, and not break my calorie bank… and with a little testing, here are some truly delicious meals UNDER 550 calories!


6 oz. Classic Sirloin* with Grilled Avocado (420 cal)

The menu describes this entree as:
“Seasoned & topped with spicy citrus-chile sauce, grilled avocado slices, garlic roasted tomatoes, cilantro. Served with fresco salad.”
If you’re getting chips and salsa, skip the avocado, and definitely drink water to keep the calories low! Mmmm. I love steak.



This dish with salmon is only 540 calories! While salmon is my favorite fish, if you are looking to cut even more from this meal, try the “Simply Grilled Tilapia with Fresh Mixed Veggies,” which comes in at a low 380! I highly suggest adding a side of rice to keep you fuller, but it is 250 calories. Alternatively, grilled asparagus for  60 calories!

Olive Garden

Guys, you have to watch it here. THOSE BREADSTICKS. Holy my goodness.
If you want to order real food, you’re going to have to skip the salad and breadsticks. OR you can order soup! The excellent Chicken & Gnocchi is 230, Minestrone is a low 110. There are even more options! Regardless, eating a salad (150 calories if you just eat 1 serving!) and soup would put you at 480. This way you can eat about 1/2 of a breadstick to meet your 550 goal, or go with the Minestrone soup and:
140 calories/breadstick
150 salad
110 soup
400~! You can have another breadstick. 🙂

Buffalo Wild Wings

You are pretty safe with a snack size of the classic wings, but that may not fill you up as much as…

Grilled Chicken Buffalitos for 500 calories!

Adding a side to this dish will most likely put you over the 550 mark, but not if you get the celery and carrot sticks!

The Cheesecake Factory

To be totally honest, there are not a lot of low-calorie options on the regular menu. It’s not my top pick when I am trying to lose weight, but when others want to go- it can be done!
The Skinnilicious menu has some great options.
For example, the Skinnylicious Grilled Turkey Burger is 500 calories. Veggies on the side would bring you up to 550.

Skinnylicious Chicken Soft Tacos are 500 calories as well!

Cracker Barrel

This is A’s favorite restaurant. I get so weird about it.. like the food is great and they have a ton of options, but I always fight him about going here? I need to work on this. It’s weird.
The brilliant thing about cracker barrel is the fresh vegetables- you can order just about anything you want, and the calorie saving potential is real! Did you know you can get their chicken tenders grilled instead of fried as well?
This is one of my favorite go-to’s: grilled chicken tenders with mixed vegetables and greens. (Watch those biscuits though!)
Another option is the “Lighter Twist” menu. I highly recommend the Apple Cider BBQ Chicken Breast for 290. You get 2 sides with this dish: Fresh steamed broccoli for 40 & whole kernel corn for 180 brings your meal to: 510! Try not to blow it on a biscuit (160 calories).

1 In Photography

3 Prom Photos to Take Right Now

1. Close-Up Photos.

Spending big bucks on make up and hair is almost pointless without some true enjoyment and documentation! Close-Up Photos at prom seem to be rare because we focus so much on sparkly dresses and sharp tuxes. However, what does mamma really want? (Her baby’s face. I promise). Do not neglect a few close-ups!

2. Back of the Dress.

A lot of times the detail is in the back, but even when it’s not- this pose is surprisingly flattering on many! Give the model a chance to remember the entire dress, the hair, etc. Looking over the shoulder is a saucy touch, too.


3. Soft Smiles.

There is something so special about this delicate look. Soft smiles bring the viewer’s focus to the models’ eyes while communicating a sense of happiness and peace. Not every model has mastered the soft smile like the subjects here, but the practice is worth it. I have had clients be surprised with how much they like their photos with this look. It’s a winner.

0 In Health

5 Filling Snacks Under 150 Calories

If you’re at all concerned with calories, then you perhaps find yourself searching for low-calorie foods… and later, after you’ve spent about enough time hungry, you start to search for filling foods that meet your calorie goals.

This has been my reality- My 3 pm hunger strike is REAL, and I’ve learned to combat it without breaking my day’s calories or having to run 10 miles to counteract it.

Snack #1: Fruit + Yogurt

Greek yogurt, like Dannon Light & Fit or Fage, can be low-calorie and filling! The mixed pack pictured above is an easy 80 calories!
Protein-filled snacks like  yogurt will definitely help you stay fuller longer, avoiding that junk-food scrambling binge we hit when healthy alternatives are not available.
I like to add frozen fruit to my yogurt, so I buy the Dannon Light & Fit vanilla, then add some thawed strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. Total Calories for 3/4 Cup  (98 cal) + fruit (50 cal): 148 calories!


Snack #2: Tuna + Crackers

Tuna. Oh man… the filling power of this fish!! Seriously, a can of it is only 90 calories. THE ENTIRE CAN. Grab about 5-6 saltine crackers (typically ~10 calories each) and enjoy!

1 Can StarKist Tuna (90 cal) + 6 saltines (60 cal)= 150 calories!


Snack #3: Peanut Butter + Apple

Admittedly, I have a love-hate relationship with peanut butter. I love it, but I hate it’s calorie-packed-ness. Mainly because instead of eating the 1 tablespoon, I just use that spoon to eat out the jar… :/ Alternatively, grab a small apple (~50-60 calories) and eat 1 Tablespoon of peanut butter (105 cal for this brand) with it for a healthy, filling snack.

1 Small Apple (~50 calories) + 1 Tablespoon of PB (105)= 155 calories!


Snack #4: Almonds

Nutrient Packed Almonds can curb hunger pains and leave you satisfied. They are a tasty alternative to chips or other similarly crunchy snacks. These Blue Diamond Almonds are 170 calories for 28 nuts, so you can eat about 25 for 150 calories!


Snack #5: Fiber-filled Granola Bars

Fiber One bars are probably my favorite granola bars. With 140 calories and 9 grams of fiber- I can stay within my calorie goals AND get my chocolate fix. YUM.


Now, if you are reading this, you probably have some go-to low calorie snacks that keep you fueled through the day. Mind sharing? It is caring after all! I’d love to hear from you and add to my snacking repertoire!! Comment below!

0 In Rural Living

Clean Moldy Caulk and KEEP it clean!

I’m going to be really honest.

I think this post may be the reason I started Trails Lead Home. I accidentally found a solution to a problem, and it made me so happy that I started bringing people to our bathroom just to show them the shower caulking. Weird? Yep. Worth it? Absolutely.

So here is what happened: I read somewhere on the world wide web that soaking cotton in bleach would clean tile grout. I have this ridiculous white-on-white shower that I hate (I didn’t choose it, we bought the house… it was built in the early 1900’s and the bathroom was added on in the 50’s).

It’s been tough- the yellowing grout, the crappily-done caulking around the bottom that turned black with mold UNDERNEATH the caulk. Yuck. I was honestly embarrassed to have overnight guests. I did not want them to see that awful caulking.. and even though I scrubbed the grout with a toothbrush and scrubbed the caulk- it was STILL DISGUSTING.

So I bit the bullet and bought ’em:

These long cotton coils, Cotton Coil 100% Pure, 40 Feet Per Bag, (2 Pack), cut into strips and soaked in bleach did like a little for my grout. Maybe it was a LOT whiter, I’m not sure. I was just too astounded…

Because what they DID was a total surprise.

Sections of that moldy, nasty black caulk all around the bottom of my shower had turned a bright, shiny white. WHAT?! The mold is UNDER the caulk! HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!

I think it was magic…
but I wasted no time thinking about that before soaking those same cotton strips in more bleach and just laying it on the caulk all around the shower. I turned on the vents in the bathroom and cracked a window, and from that next morning on I have never been embarrassed of my shower again. It looks like a Mr. Clean commercial!

But how to keep the caulk so white? And how to get and keep that grout clean?
I bought this, and I’ve never looked back:

Wet & Forget 801064 1/2 Gal. Shower Cleaner

I just spray it all in the shower and leave it overnight and wipe it down while I’m showering the next day. The result is a CONSTANTLY clean shower. My heart is so happy.

Allow me to recap:

        1. Purchase Cotton Coil 100% Pure, 40 Feet Per Bag, (2 Pack)
          and Wet & Forget 801064 1/2 Gal. Shower Cleaner
        2.  Cut the cotton coils to fit your caulking/grout lines.
        3. Soak the coils in bleach and stick them to the grout lines(they will stick!), and lay them against the caulking. Leave overnight.
        4. Remove the next day and rinse wherever you put the bleach.
        5. Maintain by spraying the shower/tub/grout down weekly with the Wet & Forget! (If I am being totally honest for the first week I sprayed the Wet & Forget like every night just to make sure that grout was good to go.)
        6. Enjoy the SUPER CLEANNESS. So cleeaaaan.


If you have never used bleach on your tub/shower, etc. use with caution.
One of my best friends has this crazy tub that gets rusty every time bleach touches it. Redox reactions are no joke.

0 In Travel + Adventures

5 Tips to NOT break the bank in Hawaii!

A and I love to travel. LOVE.
I’ve been to a grand many countries, states and what have you… and believe it or not, one of my favorite trips of all time was 2 weeks spent in Hawaii last summer.

Pure. Paradise. The hype is real, it is worth it- go now.

On our trip, we spent the first week on O’ahu and the second on Maui, and it’s all I ever want to do now. Seriously, if I write that best-selling novel, I’m buying a house on Oahu with a bathtub that faces the ocean. Weird, I know. Those shaving commercials just get to me.

Anyway, A is a park ranger and I am a teacher, so we are clearly not rich- but Hawaii did not break the bank. Here’s how:

1. Food

Our lifestyle tends to the financially conservative because we live in a place where there is VERY little to spend money on. So, it would be easy for us to go buck-wild on vacation! We don’t, though. Instead, we plan smart when it comes to food.

For the 14 days we were in Hawaii, we bought dinner out 10 times. 2 nights on each island we cooked dinner in our apartment, and for breakfast and lunch we bought groceries and made oatmeal, cereal, sandwiches, etc.

A lot of people will tell you that groceries are super expensive in Hawaii, but I did not find that to be the case! I just a did a little research before we left. I found a grocery store that would be near us (safeway), signed up for coupons and ads, and voila. Eating out 10 times in 2 weeks is a crazy amount for us, but it was vacation- and if we had to conserve more we could have just cooked in a few more times. You might think it sounds lame to cook on vacation, but honestly after an entire day of playing in the ocean and sand, it was really nice to stay in. (And instead of buying a glass of wine at a restaurant, save some cash and buy a bottle or 2 to keep for the week, or however long your stay is before you fly again!)

2. Activities

Just like when we travel nearer to home than Hawaii is, the majority of our activities were free. There are plenty of state parks with beautiful hikes, public beaches, and more. You do not have to spend a ton once you’re there to enjoy the beauty.

This is from the top of Haleakala at 10,023 feet!

Naturally, there were a few things we did that cost something… and for that, we used Groupon! You can get great deals on kayak rentals, boat trips and more!

We also played it smart with activities because of the choices we made for lodging…

3. Place to stay

We stayed in 1 rental from Airbnb and 1 from VRBO. Both came with full kitchens (hence the cooking in), and extras like:

-beach chairs and towels
-snorkeling gear
-body boards

This saved us a ton on rentals! Also, the prices on our apartments were incredible- like $150/night and less. Locations were perfect- not too busy but close to necessities! Everything is within driving distance anyway, so pick the prettiest spot and enjoy.

4. Water

While you may think I mean ocean sports, I really mean the drinking kind. When I travel, staying hydrated is super important to me for a million reasons. When travelling somewhere hot where I spend the majority of  time outside, HELLO H2O! Bring your own water bottle. If you do not already do this wherever you go, I seriously fear for your hydration and environmental footprint. Stop buying those plastic bottles RIGHT NOW. Get yourself a reusable bottle- heck if you don’t have one, come to my park, also known as where-all-the-lost-water-bottles-come, and I’ll give you one from the Lost & Found.

You save money on buying your hydration, and it may just influence you to make some healthier beverage choices along the way.

5. Flights

I will be getting more into flight searches later, but for now- have you ever used ? It’s a website that searches lots of airlines (I will definitely not say all! It’s missing Southwest, among others) and shows you more possibilities than you may have previously imagined. Chances are if you just search for a few major airlines (Delta, American, United, etc.) you are missing out on some random gems. This could explain how once upon a time I got from Tennessee to London for less than $500… *evil grin*

Or how in June I’m going to New York for less than $100 *cackles*

Happy travels!

0 In Rural Living

4 Buy in Bulk “Deals” that AREN’T!

Living in a park means my life is VERY rural. I don’t have quick access to grocery stores, entertainment or shopping. For my pantry stock list, click here! So when A and I are in a city, which we call “civilization,” we LOAD up.
There is some serious stock-piling…. Grocery bills of $300, and if we didn’t have a deep-freezer.. HA. I can’t imagine life on this mountain without my deep-freezer!

Because of the nature of our grocery shopping, we also have a membership to a big box/warehouse store. You know the type- Costco, Sam’s Club, etc. I’ve known this from the beginning, but once you are in the store with its pallets, concrete walls and lack of amenities, it’s easy to fall into a false sense of security that you are getting great deals… and sometimes that just isn’t so.

Here are 4 Buy-In-Bulk “Deals” that AREN’T!

1. Special K Red Berries

Maybe you consider wal-mart a bulk or warehouse store as well, but considering that you do not have to purchase a membership, I consider it a grocery store. While unpleasant at best, it also boasts some cheap prices. One example is the Value Box of Special K Red Berries at  $3.88 or $.23/oz

At your local Costco, you can get a DOUBLE PACK! Must be a good deal, right? Not considering that sometimes there are literally 2 boxes inside of another bigger box…

Wrong.  It’s $10.49 for 43 oz. That’s $.24/ oz.

While 1 cent per ounce may not mean that much to you, it’s important to realize that this “bulk” deal is literally NOT a deal. There is more packaging, more waste, and it costs more.
Do not even get me started on Wal-mart’s Value boxes of Kashi cereal… the value boxes (IN THE SAME STORE) are more per ounce!

2. Kraft Mac and Cheese

Wal-mart boasts a $.10 win on Kraft macaroni & cheese over Costco, and shall we even discuss the possibilities of Amazon? Don’t be fooled. It’s more expensive on amazon!

3. Chicken of the Sea Tuna

Coscto @$.21/oz  vs. Wal-mart @$.20/oz

Yes, I know I am splitting hairs. HOWEVER, when you buy this huge pack of 12 cans, I just need you to be aware that you are actually NOT getting a “deal.” That is all. Do as you wish.

4. Tide

Last but not least, my favorite laundry detergent. Costco has this HUGE 200 Fl Oz bottle that runs (typically) for $28.99
Per fluid ounce, that’s $.14

Wal-mart doesn’t have the same 200 FL oz bottle, but it does have 150 Fl Oz, and it has it for $17.94, bringing it home at a price of $.12/ fl oz.

Okay, I know these price differences are minimal, and sometimes it is convenient just to have MORE of something in one go, but before you purchase in bulk based on a perceived “deal,” do your homework.


Here are few things I LOVE to buy at Sam’s or Costco because they are a great deal!

  1. Yogurt (Especially Greek God’s)
  2. Granola Bars (Huge savings on Cliff bars!)
  3. Brussel Sprouts (OMG. Love some Brussel sprouts. Check out my go-to recipe here!)


0 In Health/ Rural Living

3 Simple Steps to Optimize your Morning Routine

3 Simple Steps to Optimize Your Morning Routine

Mornings. Some people love them. Irrational, ridiculous people- and while we may not understand them, we must admit that they exist… and try not to punch them in the face.
I admit, I am most productive in the mornings. I just don’t “enjoy” them. Coffee helps quite a bit.

That said, morning people or not, we can all use a little help with our morning routines.
Thinking about habits and the order in which we do normal tasks can open up possibilities for less stress, more time, and maybe even more sleep!

Here are 3 simple steps to optimize your morning routine:

1. Start the night before

Whether your goal is to be able to sleep later, get to work earlier, have more time to cook a healthy breakfast, to be less rushed in the mornings, or if you are just reading this for the sake of efficiency in life, take a moment to consider the task that takes the most time to accomplish.

Hair?     Outfit?     Meal prep?

Maybe you have to bottle-feed a litter of kittens before work, I have no idea- regardless, there is absolutely something you can do the NIGHT BEFORE to make your morning simpler.

For me, it’s coffee.

The evenings I forget to set the coffee pot on auto-brew (I have Cuisinart 12-Cup Programmable Coffeemaker with Hot Water System!) make my mornings a little less pleasant. Like, I am truly disappointed when I walk into the kitchen and that little green light isn’t on.

When I am really on top of things, I lay out the clothes I plan to wear the night before as well as making coffee. I am very indecisive about outfits, and my husband sleeps later than I do, so instead of tiptoeing around the bedroom with my cell-phone flashlight trying to find some article of clothing, planning an outfit and setting it aside the night before makes my morning that much faster! (and much less irritating.)

2. Optimizing the order

Even when I forget to make coffee, or I haven’t even thought about clothing for the next day, the order in which I do things MATTERS! For example, when I do forget the coffee, making it will be the very first thing I do after waking up. This is the beginning of optimizing tasks. Every task you must do in the morning takes some amount of time. Coffee brewing- 10 minutes, showering- 10 minutes, hair styling- 20 minutes, makeup- 10 minutes, etc.

So, combine tasks. For example, I start the coffee and shower while it brews. I wrap my wet hair up in a microfiber towel like one of these (from this beautiful amazon link that also makes me money to keep writing to you!), 2 Pack Hair Towel Wrap Turban Microfiber Drying Bath Shower Head Towel with Buttons, Quick Magic Dryer, Dry Hair Hat, Wrapped Bath Cap By Duomishu

so it will start drying while I eat breakfast. While I eat, I go over the day’s lessons or read work emails.
These are such simple things, but the time-saving possibilities are huge.
What is there in your morning routine that can be combined? Could you plan for dinner as you pack a lunch? Could you start a load of laundry while breakfast is cooking?
Considering your habits is the first step to making better decisions with your time.
Everyone’s routine is different, but with some thought, you can identify areas in your routine that are taking too much time and pick out opportunities to create more time.

3. Make a Checklist

My husband is a piddler. That’s what I tell him, at least. What piddler means to me, is that before we leave to go anywhere he thinks of SOME 10-minute task he simply must do right then. Does he always really need to? No. Not at all. My favorite example is a time we were checking out of an Airbnb in Hawaii (Um, do you like to save time? How about MONEY? Read this post about Hawaii!), and the lock on the door was set to reset at 12:30… i.e. we had to be out by then. Well, it’s 12:29 and A decides that he simply MUST examine this desk in the living area to see how it works and where all of the drawers are and.. oh what’s this compartment for?
We had been there for a week.

To combat piddlings, or just to give yourself a more confident exit in the morning- make a “leave” list. My list is:

Feed Cats
School Bag
School keys
Exercise Clothes

These are the last things I need to think about, gather or do before I can leave the house. Simply running down my list will 1. Remind me if there is something I have forgotten or 2. Give me a confident jolt that I have done everything I need to do. I leave home without wondering if there is something I have forgotten. I just get in the car, turn on the radio and sip coffee.
Optimizing your morning routine is a simple way to get a better start in the day, and better starts make for better endings.


    1. Be aware of time.  Set a timer if you need to.
    2. If you are one of those people that can hit the snooze 25 times, get one of these alarm clocks.
    3. Go to bed at a decent hour!

3 In Education/ Language

3 Tricks to Using Google Translate BETTER

As a Spanish teacher, google translate is my sworn enemy. It can be so practical and useful for regular humans who are not language students, but when you are in a language class, I promise your teacher gives you assignments so that your brain has to think, NOT so that your fingers have to type. (This is me NOT getting on my soap box. I’m holding back… for now.)

Language teachers have a very special super power of picking out the use of a translator in ANY written work turned in by a student. It’s a gift. For that reason, I must encourage you to use your textbook and brain before using a translator. UNLESS you are not trying to learn for a class. In that case, use these tips to make your translating MUCH better!


1. Be specific-

When translating between languages, the simpler the speech, the better!
Avoid colloquialisms, improper spelling and grammar, and be sure your exact meaning is clear.

Searching for specific words with an article or subject helps to clarify between parts of speech and avoid embarrassing mistakes that makes native speakers roll their eyes in disgust (jk. We just giggle.)
For example:   the record    vs.    I record.
Write in complete sentences, make sure they are correct, and use punctuation!

My favorite example is can. Spanish students across the universe learn how to say “I” early on, and soon they want to write I can for an assignment.
So, they try to type “can” into a translator because they already know “I”. The result of putting these things together should get them “I can,” right?     RIGHT?!

It gives them lata.
Lata is A can. A tin can, to be specific.

2. Know what you are looking for:

part of speech, type of word, etc.

This will help you determine if the translation you are being given is correct. This is especially helpful for language students. If you have learned that Spanish verbs end in –ar, -er, -ir and you are given a word that doesn’t, it probably is not the verb in the infinitive form.
For people who are not studying a language- try cross referencing it. Take a translated sentence and search it on the internet with “meaning” and see if there are other variations that are more common.
Example- Use google to translate the sentence “I am hungry.” from English to Spanish.
Translate gives you: “Estoy hambriento.
A quick google search of “Estoy hambriento.” Leads you to a forum where this phrase versus “Tengo hambre.” is discussed, and while both are correct- you will find that “Tengo hambre.” is more common!

3. Try a dictionary.

My favorite language dictionary is
When you search for a word, you can look at the different uses and options that may exist- helping you get exactly what you want. Then, if you need to use it in a sentence you can see if google will output it for you, when you are more specific.

Example: My students always ask how to say “ride a fourwheeler.
Search “fourwheeler” in Spanish on

You should find “cuatriciclo“.

Now, try googling translating “I ride a fourwheeler.
It gives “Monto en un fourwheeler.” While this would probably work, you could also make the choice to substitute the word you have found for fourwheeler- cuatriciclo.

Let’s put these ideas into practice!

Example letter:

Good morning,
I received your letter yesterday, and I am happy with your proposal. Thank you for your time! We will be in touch shortly with a contract to get the ball rolling.

Best regards,
Mrs. Johnson

BE SPECIFIC: Avoid colloquialisms, improper spelling and grammar, and be sure your exact meaning is clear.
“be in touch shortly” could be clearer
“get the ball rolling” is a colloquialism

Let’s replace those with:          We will contact you in three days to start negotiations.

“I am happy with…” is somewhat ambiguous. Could we be more specific?
Perhaps! I will revise this to- “I am satisfied with…” because it is more specific.

Good morning,
I received your letter yesterday, and I am satisfied with your proposal. We will contact you in three days to start negotiations.

Best regards,
Mrs. Johnson

Google translate this sentence by sentence from English to Spanish.
Good morning is such a common phrase, the translator should get it right.

“I received your letter yesterday, and I am satisfied with your proposal.”
I am satisfied is a phrase that has many varieties, and a proposal could be many things. Let’s cross reference! gives “satisfecho” as a reasonable translation for “satisfied”- and that is what google gives you!

And proposal- A business proposal is given as “propuesta” but an “offer” is “oferta.” There is room for consideration there- which is closer to your meaning?

The rest of your letter “I will contact you in three days to start negotiations” merits some searching and cross-referencing as well.
While the result from google “me pondré en contacto con usted” is valid, a quick search may give you that feedback and confidence, and while this sentence is good- I promise that not every output you receive from a translator will be correct, authentic or common.
Complete the same process with “to start” and “negotiations” and you will have confidently translated your letter.
Lastly, you could benefit from a quick search of “common greetings and leave-takings in target language.”
This list would give you correct options to use without worrying with a translator.

Happy Communicating!