Sunday, September 30, 2012

Aldi special for Halloween - Everything pumpkin

I have not posted for a long time a preview of Aldi weekly specials, but felt I should let everyone know that Aldi next week will go all out for Halloween. Whatever comes to mind involving Pumpkin, I think Aldi will have it on sale. Looking over the advertisement for the weekly specials starting october 3rd, 2012, I experienced a feeling of Pumpkin overload - and I like Pumpkin bread and cookies.

So here goes:

Product review: Deli Premium Sliced Prosciutto - ALDI

Aldi had German week a couple of weeks ago and I was there to pick up a bunch of items that are either prohibitively expensive at other stores or simply not available someplace else in the Triangle.

One item that was high on my list was Prosciutto, an air dried form of ham that is not cooked and has a very unique flavor. I had previously sampled the Prosciutto at Aldi and really liked the flavor. Coming from Germany, I grew up with Prosciutto, mostly from the Black Forest region, and one of my favorite dishes is to combine Prosciutto with eggs.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - 3oz Prosciutto from Germany on sale at Aldi for $2.49
I picked up 4 packages, each 3oz and on sale for $2.50. Still not very cheap, but then one slice of the air-dried ham is enough to give you enough flavor for a sandwich. In other words, one package lasts a long time.
This morning, eggs were boiled and then rolls were covered with Prosciutto and hard-boiled eggs sliced thinly to cover the egg. A typical German breakfast since I was lucky to pick up Pepperidge Farm artisan rolls at Harris Teeter yesterday on sale for BOGO.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - typical German breakfast with rolls, Prosciutto and eggs

So the next time, Aldi has German week, go ahead and pick up some Prosciutto. Besides on sandwiches, you can also use the Prosciutto to add flavor to homemade Pizza (add it after the pizza comes out of the oven and is still warm), or mix it into sauce to add flavor to a pasta dish. I like to mix finely chopped Prosciutto to sauce with caramelized onions, parsley and milk to make a Carbonara-style pasta dish. Prosciutto, since you can use it sparingly, is a fairly healthy dish, relatively low in fat and watch for the salt content! For complete nutritional information on the Aldi product, go and check out the listing here.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book review: Vanishing Girls by Katia Lief

This book I was initially hesitant to read because the story seemed really dark, but the book was a real page turner that I truly enjoyed.

Who says women are the weak gender? Meet Karin Schaeffer and her creator Katia Lief. In this third installment of the Karin Schaeffer series of crime thrillers taking place in New York City, private investigator Karin Schaeffer deals with two mysteries at the same time, young women are found murdered in the streets of New York City, while young girls disappear from the same streets.
Karin is drawn into the investigation of these crimes when she meets Billy Staples, a close friend of hers and her husbands, one night near a crime scene. Billy sent a text to Karin’s husband Mac indicating that he needed help and with Mac suffering from the flu, Karin wanted only to fill in for Mac and be a good friend to Billy. But Karin gets drawn into the investigation in part because she is a private investigator, but also because she wants to keep an eye on Billy, who suffers from PTSD and refuses to seek help.
What started as an act of friendship for Billy, turns into an action-packed nail biter for Karin (and the reader), when the crimes hit closer to home than either Karin or Mac really want. Karin, still suffering from the trauma of miscarrying a baby girl, meets Billy on a double crime scene. A young girl was found on a street, victim of a hit and run, not far from the location at which a young woman is found murdered. The murder seems to fit the profile of the "Working Girl Killer." Billy has been working on the case for two years without a finding a break and now the killer seems to have arrived at Karin’s doorstep, her Brooklyn neighborhood.
Are the two crimes related? The young victim of the hit and run, Abby, is too traumatized to talk and when another brutal murder is discovered in the same Brooklyn neighborhood, finding the killer becomes more urgent than ever. As Karin tries gain information from the slowly recovering Abby, her personal life is entered by another young girl, Dathi, the daughter of her housekeeper, soon to arrive from India. Unbeknownst to Karin, Dathi will soon need Karin’s help and protection as much Abby, as both girls are integral parts of the mystery that is at the center of this book.
Well written, with an emphasis on the psychological development of the protagonists, Lief creates a fast-paced action thriller that makes it impossible for the reader to put the book down since each page adds a novel aspect to the mystery that from a friendly gesture to Bill turns into murder and mayhem threatening those closest to Karin.

available on

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by or any other third party.

Book review: Beautiful Sacrifice by Elizabeth Lowell

This was one book that left me disappointed despite having a real interesting premise and combining factors that I normally enjoy reading about, such as academia and archeology.

This book was written in a way that left me wondering whether the author could not quite make up her mind as to what she wanted to write. Was this book supposed to be a romance novel with historical references to the Mayan culture or a nonfiction book on Mayan culture and archeology? I am not clear and I suppose that the author kept shifting between these two styles as she was writing this book. When I read the description of the book, it really did sound interesting and I was looking forward to getting to know an author that combined romance novels with a historic twist. But I was very disappointed and had a hard time finishing the book. I kept finding myself trying to flip through pages to find a continuous thread in this book and get away from the self-reflective ruminations of the protagonists.
I should state that this was my first book by the author E. Lowell. So if you are fan of her books, you will likely feel more at home with her style and the way in which she incorporates facts and fiction. I was also surprised by the degree of violence in this book. For a non-thriller, the description of violent acts is fairly graphic. Again, for readers familiar with E. Lowell the degree of violence will likely be expected and may be the twist in the romance story that endears the author to them.
The story in brief deals with the romance and adventure of a university professor researching Mayan antiquities, Lina, and an adventurer and former customs enforcement agent, Hunter, who pair up to help out a friend of Hunter’s who needs to clear his name, when accused of stealing antiquities that were recovered in a drug bust. In the course of the story, the protagonists become closer to each other and their romance heats up as they uncover the brutal world of drug smugglers on the southern border. If you want to know the degree of brutality that is touched on in this book, the title gives some of it away. As predictable as the romantic entanglement is from the first chapter of the book, the historic angle is equally translucent and as a reader I quickly lost interest in the story. I managed to get through the whole book, but the book is written in a style of that is reminiscent of telenovelas and soaps with an overload of drama and the attempt to captivate the reader by drawing out the obvious outcome over several episodes / chapters.
While the premise of the book was interesting, the author does not live up to expectations. For a summer beach book when one is trying to kill time while being in the sun, this will do. But it is not the interesting and thrilling read that I expected when I heard of a book mixing Mayan history and archeology with a protagonist who is a university professor. 

available on

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by or any other third party.

Product review: Smartfood - bzzcampaign through

As part of my membership, I was able to get samples and a coupon for Smartfood, a new healthy brand of snacks such as puffed corn and hummus popped chips.

I received three different flavors through the campaign. A small bag of Hummus Popped Chips flavored with Feta and Herb, then another small bag of Hummus Popped Chips in the flavor garlic and tomato basil. Lastly, a got a large bag of puffed corn in sour cream and onion flavor.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - bzzagent package for Smartfood campaign!
I was in particular curious about the Hummus Popped Chips and so I tried the Feta and Herb flavor first. One small bag is one serving and contains about 110 calories with 40 calories from fat. The serving has no cholesterol and only 7% sodium a number that I also keep in mind when trying to eat healthy. Overall, the numbers sound good and the flavor of the chips is refreshingly different from the usual snack foods you find in grocery stores. I should mention that Smartfood makes no attempt to be gluten-free - so just a word of caution here! But I like the fact that Smartfood does not just imitate regular snack foods, but comes up with their own flavor combinations.

If you have a sweet tooth, they also make a flavor called "Cinnamon Brown SugarMultigrain Popped Chips", which should be fun to eat for the kids, who may not be used to feta flavored snacks. They also have popcorn on sale in bags. These have more traditional flavors such as white cheddar or butter. These are their so-called classic flavors. Smartfood expanded on these flavors by also selling popcorn in the flavor combinations of Buffalo Cheddar Popcorn, Cinnamon Brown Sugar Popcorn, and Parmesan Herb Popcorn. Again, the cinnamon brown sugar flavor would be good for the kids to try. 

The full line of products by Smartfood is available on their website here. Overall, I am impressed with the selection of flavors and different products that Smartfood sells. I like the one flavor I have tried so far, the Feta Herb Hummus Popped Chips. For me this was a totally novel product on the health-food market and one that I will with hesitation recommend to my friends.

Disclaimer: as part of I received coupons and samples in return for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by bzzagent or any other third party.

Restaurant Review: Macaroni Grill in Cary, NC

Using my free lunch coupon from Macaroni Grill's Facebook page, I went there for lunch on 9-28-12. The restaurant on the outside and the inside is your typical Macaroni Grill, same color scheme and furniture. When you enter, to the left is your kitchen with a waiting area and to the right is your bar, where you can also sit and wait, if there are no tables available or you are meeting someone for lunch or dinner.

We arrived around Noon and had to wait a little bit. One lesson I learned, complaining pays at this restaurant. A couple of ladies came after us and when they heard the wait would be about 20 minutes, they immediately started out that this was unacceptable for lunch time. So they got seated ahead of others that had waited longer and despite the fact that they were still waiting for two other ladies to come. So if you go to the Macaroni Grill in Cary, complain to your heart's content, it will be worth your while. I do not think that this is a good policy because other people noticed this preferential treatment and if they are like us, they will be vocal about it on local blogs and, more importantly, will neither recommend the place to others nor ever go back to the place.

We were seated at an okay table and could have complained, but we figured we will see what no complaining gets you and with coupons we were in for a free meal and decided what the hell, let's just sit and eat and complain in our blogs about the place.  They serve you warm ciabatta bread with rosemary, which is probably the best part of the meal. They prep at the table extra virgin olive oil with freshly ground black pepper, which you can use the dip the bread in. You also get water, with no ice, but reasonable cold in bottles to drink. I ordered a Sicilian Splash, which is supposed to be blood orange juice, san pellegrino aranciata rossa, ginger ale and fresh basil. I did not see any fresh basil and the blood orange flavor was not distinguishable because they added slices of orange. At a price of $3.50, this beverage was a total disappointment, especially since I noted that rinds of the oranges they put in had brown spots on them. Overall, again stick with the free water and forget ordering any special beverages that the staff messes with because I would have been embarrassed to include old orange slices into a drink. In addition, there was so much ice in the glass that you could only take a couple of sips from the glass and you were done.

As for the lunch, you can probably guess how that turned out. Not too impressive either. I ordered the fresh greens and Carmela's chicken. The salad was only okay, mostly because one crouton tasted as stale as any crouton I have ever tasted. The greens themselves were fresh, a little bit large pieces for my taste, and looked like someone had opened a salad bag, dumped a little into a dish and poured some vinaigrette on top. The vinaigrette itself was actually pretty good and the best part of the salad. The croutons the worst part of this salad and any salad I have eaten in a long time.

The chicken was supposed to be roasted chicken, rigatoni, caramelized onions, mushrooms, marsala cream. Overall this sounds a like a good combination and not a lot can go wrong with this. But again, Macaroni Grill staff showed it can really mess things up by even a regular family restaurant standard. While the pasta, onions, and sauce were fine. Even the two or three mushroom pieces included were not bad - yes, I am not kidding, the meal had two or three tiny, not even bite-sized pieces of mushrooms included. What was horrible and the absolute worst part of the whole Macaroni Grill experience was the chicken. Yes it was roasted, but it was probably roasted a couple of days before they actually used it in the meal because it tasted like chicken that had been roasted (and had been fresh at one point) and then left sitting in the fridge (or so I hope!) for a number of days before being chopped and used in cream style sauce, likely in hopes that the cream and other ingredients would cover up the ripe old age of the chicken.

Overall, the food was not even mediocre. The best part of the meal were the water and the warm bread with the olive oil dip. Would I go back for a free meal, absolutely not! After leaving most of the chicken next to the dish since I could not get myself to eat the chicken, I am not sure I am in the mood for any chicken for days to come. I was simply disgusted by this aspect of the food and its low quality. Granted, this was probably their busiest lunch in a long time because people came a lot with coupons, but the restaurant decided to give out coupons, neither I nor anyone else asked for the coupon. So I would think if a restaurant decides to hand out coupons for a free meal that they use the opportunity to showcase their dishes and not a way to get rid of old fridge staples that get mixed into sauces or salads.Kitchen staff, waitresses and waiters should take some pride in their work and not simply feel nauseated that they had a full restaurant. I certainly felt nauseated after taking a bite out of that chicken and will gladly pass on every free meal courtesy of Macarani Grill.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Friday 9-28 free lunch at Macaroni Grill - Facebook account required

This Friday, you can get a free lunch at Macaroni Grill. They have locations in Raleigh and Cary for Triangle residents.
Go to their Facebook page here and click on print coupon.

  • The coupon is valid for one free “Choose 2” Lunch Combination only. 
  • Dine-in only.
  •  Cannot be used with other coupons or discounts. 
  • One coupon per party, per table. 
  • Valid September 28, 2012 from 11am – 4pm &cannot be used any other day or time. 
  • Taxes & gratuity notincluded. 
  • At participating locations. Excludes Montana, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and International locations. 

Menu selection for the Choose 2 include:

Pomodorina Soup 190 cal
Blackboard Soup

Fresh Greens 110 cal
Caesar 160 cal
Market Chop 480 cal

Capellini Pomodoro 340 cal
Carmela’s Chicken 460 cal
Whole Wheat Fettuccine 530 cal

Roasted Turkey 300 cal
Caprese Panini 460 cal 


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book review: The River by Michael Neale

When I first started reading The River I was not quite sure what to expect, but after the first few pages I was hooked. This book reminded me very much of the movie "A River Runs Through It"; in part because a river plays a central role, but also because of the fascinating storytelling by the author. The book is written like a story because the premise is a chance encounter between two strangers that kill time telling stories.
I grew up listening to my grandparents telling stories of times long ago and maybe the book resonates strongly with me for that reason. But the author also has a true gift for telling stories and books like this are hard to find these days when too many books are action driven and the true art of telling a good story is often forgotten.

book available through her

I really enjoyed the various chapters dealing with important episodes in the life of the protagonist and teaching him lessons that allow him to grow up into a strong and independent man.The book is a wonderful read for everyone and for people of ages. It describes the life of a young boy that takes almost a whole life to overcome a traumatic experience witnessed as a young child. Along the path to adulthood, he is learning important lessons about growing up, overcoming your fears and becoming independent.
I really encourage you to give this book a read. It may not be by a well-known author, but I really enjoyed reading the book because it did read like a story being told to me by someone else. I will definitely look for other books by this author because I enjoyed the style of his writing in this book so much.

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book through booksneeze. The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and have not been influenced by booksneeze or any other third party.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Product Review: Cravebox - Back to School - Initial Impressions

Today I got the Back to School collection from Cravebox. When I opened up the box, I was greeted by the usual cheerful paper strips in red, white and blue. The box also contained a list of items included as well as a letter from Lunchables - Oscar Mayer. The box contained a coupon (up to $3.99) for a new product by lunchables that comes with a Strawberry / Banana smoothie. That is definitely something I will want to try out because each package is supposed to contain now 1/2 cup of fruit. There are three varieties available, which are all listed here. I will likely see whether I can find the Turkey and Cheddar Sub Sandwich at a local grocery store.
The box also contained Real Aloe Vera gel by Fruit of the Earth. The container is large and will last for quite some time. It does not contain alcohol and is therefore good for kids as well. From BIC, the Cravebox contained a set of pens and another set of mechanical pencils, which came with spare erasers and extra lead refills. I love the colors of the BIC products. Coming in an assortment of colors makes it easy to ensure that each person gets to use a specific color and we can even combine pens and pencils in the same color for each person.
Back to School also means fall and fall means flu season, for the healthy kids we got Kleenex wipes in a fun color package as well as from Halo a new product, an oral antiseptic spray that kills airborne germs. This will definitely come in handy whenever you are around a lot of kids. 
Also for the healthy child, we got Yummibears in fruit flavors. If they taste as good as they look, kids can now eat gummibears that are healthy for them. I will have to try them out as well to see how good they are ;) 
Lastly the box contained a language learning system for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers. I was happy that it contained a tape in Spanish. Foreign languages are so important for kids and this will be great, if, as promised on the wrapping, kids learn while playing. 
Overall, a fantastic selection by Cravebox. I am very happy with the selection and the amount of products included. An extremely good investment and certainly contains products that I may not have bought myself and so will introduce me to a number of new products, such as the Fruit of the Earth Aloe Vera gel. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Product Review: Naturals VoxBox - GEODEO Deodorant

In my Naturals VoxBox from Influenster I received a couple of products that were new to me and I mean new in terms of never even heard of the company. One of them was a full deodorant stick by Geodeo with the scent "Island". So of course I had to google the company and also found them on Facebook here.

When I googled their website I realized why I never heard of the company before, they must be fairly new because while not really under construction anymore, the website is still being built. You can enter your email here and get a freebie with your first purchase. They do not list an extensive list of stores where the products are available, but a couple of products are available at Walmart. One of the products is Naturally Fresh Deodorant Crystal - Roll-On, which you can see described here and a suggested retail price of around $4.00.

The deodorant that I got was scented Island as I stated above, but the deodorant also comes as unscented or Ocean. While I cannot speak to the other two deodorants, I really like the Island scent and the deodorant is easily applied and keeps you dry and feeling fresh all day. I applied it a couple of days in the morning and realized that I had no need to reapply during the day. It also goes on clear, which is nice because you can wear it with black sweaters or dresses. So overall, I liked the product and found it be very effective as a deodorant. I am waiting to see the website to really go live and hope that the products will be available at a larger number of stores.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - natural GEODEO Deodorant, lasts 24hours and is good for you and nature!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Product Review: Naturals VoxBox - EBOOST

copyright Durhamonthecheap - from my Naturals VoxBox - EBOOST in orange flavor!
In my Naturals VoxBox a sample of a daily health boost EBOOST was included. It is a little package that you simply dissolve in water and it gives you a fizzy beverage. I got the orange flavor, but a search on their website here reveals that they have a number of flavors to offer. Other flavors include Pink Lemonade and Acai Pomegranate. They also offer a berry Energy shot that I assume is a generic mixed berry type flavor and works similar to other energy drinks.
What I love about this flavor of EBOOST is that the energy comes in an all natural form, no harmful chemicals. The EBOOST incorporates green tea, a number of different vitamins such as Vitamin C, Vitamin D and B-12. In addition to the energy boost, there is no sugar. EBOOST is low calorie and made with Stevia. I mention the Stevia in case readers have reservations about some of the sugar substitutes. I personally have not problems with Stevia sweetened products and really felt refreshed after I used my sample of EBOOST. I gave me a nice little kick  in the middle of the afternoon that kept me going till evening.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - an orange flavored all natural EBOOST
So if you are looking for a natural energy boost, have a look at EBOOST and give it a try!

Disclaimer: As part of the Influenster VoxBox program I was provided with free samples in exchange for an honest review. The views expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Influenster or any third party. 

Product Review: Naturals VoxBox - CleanWell Individual Hand Sanitizer Wipes

Natural VoxBox and VoxBoxes in general are a great idea because you get to try out a lot of different and mostly really new to market products. But sometimes, you find a product and you really wish they had included a full size product rather than just a sample - and this is how I feel about the CleanWell wipe that was included. It says hand wipe on the wrapper, but I actually used it for my face because on the humid days in North Carolina, a little wipe is good to clean your face quickly when you are at work and want to feel refreshed.

The wipes are formulated to kill germs without harmful chemicals and can be used for cleaning hands or face. I had never heard of CleanWell before the Naturals VoxBox and so I googled the company and found out that they product a whole list of cleaning supplies. Their main website is here.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - CleanWell Individual Hand Sanitizer Wipes, great to clean the natural way!
What I really like about their products is that they come in a variety of scents. I also like that they make start packs available that consist for the Lavender scent of one 1 oz. hand sanitizer spray bottles (citrus herb scent), a pocket pack each with 10 wipes (citrus herb scent) and a bottle of lavender hand soap.Additional scents include: Ginger Bergamot, Orange Vanilla, and Spearmint Lime. They offer a variety of product combinations, such as a back to school set or a hand hygiene pack. So go check out this company and their products. I am right now debating whether I should go with the traditional lavender or be more adventurous and go for the Orange Vanilla Starter Pack!

 Disclaimer: As part of the Influenster VoxBox program I was provided with free samples in exchange for an honest review. The views expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Influenster or any third party. 

Product Review: Naturals VoxBox - NECTRESSE Sweetener

copyright Durhamonthecheap - NECTRESSE Sweetener, natural sweetness with 0 calories and no chemical aftertaste

Thanks to my recent Naturals VoxBox, I was able to sample Nectresse. I tend to use a mix of sugar and sweetener, depending on the purpose. So for baking I still use regular sugar, but for most beverages and so on a daily basis, I use sweeteners of all kids rather than sdugar.
I have used Splenda mostly since it does not have the artificial aftertaste that a lot of sweeteners have, but ever since I got to sample Nectresse I have a new favorite sweetener. Nectresse sweetens as much as sugar and does not have a chemical aftertaste. I really like Nectresse in my tea, it makes the black tea I drink every evening nice and sweet, but without any calories.
To show how much I like Nectresse, I actually went to and ordered additional Nectresse because had a sale with coupon on Nectresse. For more information on how to bake with Nectresse or how to use it in drinks, you can go to the website here and check out the suggested uses of Nectresse, but also more information on how Nectresse is generated from the Monkfruit. What always amazes me is that fruits are naturally sweet and how much natural sugar substitute can come from nature without the need for potentially dangerous chemicals.
I really encourage you to give Nectresse a try. At work, I have already convinced two colleagues of mine to switch to Nectresse and one of them has used it in baking and is very happy with the results. So if you are looking for a natural, 0 calorie sweetener, Nectresse may just be the right thing for you!

Product Review: Naturals VoxBox - The Original Dish Drying Mat

copyright Durhamonthecheap - my great The Original Dish Drying Matin my kitchen, out since the VoxBox arrived!
Through my Naturals VoxBox I was lucky enough to have The Original Dish Drying Mat included in my box. I was so happy with the mat, it was the first item that got unpacked and put to use. I did this even before I made the video showing how I opened the box and described the remaining contents of the VoxBox. As you can see from the image above, I use a simple metal dish rack to dry my dishes. I never use my dishwasher, believing that doing dishes by hand is much easier in the environment because I collect the soapy water to water my veggies (keeps the bugs away) and my flower garden (also works against the bugs on my roses). So the waste is much smaller than with the dishwasher.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - the various options to use The Original Dish Drying Mat, I prefer mine with a dish rack
The picture above shows the various uses of The Original Dish Drying Mat  and while I use it with a dishrack, I have to say that I would not hesitate to put my glasses or expensive stemware on the mat because it is so thick that nothing will get damaged. I can also attest to how quickly it dries the dishes. I used to have paper towel under my dishrack that I changed at least once a week because they got so dirty from being always wet. But since I am using the mat, the counter is always dry, the dishes dry without leaving ugly stains on the counter and the mat still looks brand new. Even if I eventually get some residue from juice (such as grape juice) on the mat, it can be wash in the laundry and air dried.

In conclusion, I am still as ecstatic about The Original Dish Drying Mat as on the day that I found it in my Naturals VoxBox. It does a fantastic job helping in drying the dishes and is great for the environment. I can highly recommend The Original Dish Drying Mat to use instead of relying on a dishwasher to wash and dry your dishes.To find out more about this great kitchen tool, visit their company website here.

Disclaimer: Through Voxbox, I received a free product in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not bee influenced by Voxbox or any third party.

Product Review - Naturals VoxBox - LypSyl™ Intense Protection LypMoisturizer

copyright Durhamonthecheap - LypSyl™ Intense Protection LypMoisturize, all natural and oh so good!
In my Naturals VoxBox I found much to my joy a lipbalm from LypSyl. I have been a fan of LypSyl for several years and was happy to get a free sample of my favorite lipbalm in my VoxBox.
I love, love LypSyl because it contains all natural ingredients, including Swedish beeswax and it can be applied very thinly, making each stick last a long time, while still moisturizing the lips very well. Based on their website here, LypSyl is supposed to penetrate deeply and that makes it so good at moisturizing your lips. Another plus in my book is the fact that no products are tested on animals, a must for me to consider buying any product. I usually get the Honeyberry formula because I like the unique formula so much and it is a nice change from the mint flavor that so many lipbalms have. But the the original flavor included in my Voxbox makes me still very happy.
Overall, I can highly recommend LypSyl, give it a try. If you are more traditional, the original flavor will be for you. For those more adventurous, try the Honeyberry flavor for a change in lipbalm. LypSyl also makes a formula specifically for Cold Sore Relief. I have never tried it because I do not suffer from cold sores. But having a name like LypSyl behind it, I have no problem recommending this formula to my friends.

Disclaimer: Through Voxbox, I received a free product in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not bee influenced by Voxbox or any third party.

Product Review: Naturals VoxBox - SheaMoisture Baby Bar Soap - Raw Shea, Chamomile & Argan Baby Bar Soap

In my Naturals VoxBox I found an interesting soap from a manufacturer that is new to me. The soap is made by Shea Moisture and contains organic raw shea butter, which sounds good. I love shea butter because it moisturizes so well, but I have never really paid much attention to the kind of shea butter used. So I was curious whether the soap would provide lather as well as my other shea butter containing soap and found that it does indeed generate a nice foam and cleans very well. But what I really love about this soap is the additional ingredients, I love the chamomile scent. I grew on chamomile tea to soothe nerves, so the scent has an inherent calming effect on me.

Finding this soap in my VoxBox made me curious about the company and what other kinds of soaps they are offering. Unfortunately their website (here) is undergoing a redesign, but they indicated that the following stores carry their products: all Walgreens stores and select Target, CVS, Bed Bath & Beyond, Buy Buy Baby, Christmas Tree Shops, Harmon Face Values, Duane Reade and Meijer.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - SheaMoisture Raw Shea, Chamomile & Argan Soap - Nature's gift in soap form!
If all fails, is always a good resource and so I found a bunch of different soaps offered on their website here. Check out the link for the variety of soaps that are offered. I also found the comprehensive listr of ingredients for the soap that was included in my VoxBox. The soap retails for around $4 and contains african shea butter, coconut oil, palm oil, water, vegetable glycerin, palmitic acid, vanilla extract, sodium chloride, argan oil, chamomile, mineral and vegetable pigment. I am very grateful to VoxBox for introducing me to this wonderful company and its excellent soaps.

Disclaimer: As part of the Influenster VoxBox program I was provided with free samples in exchange for an honest review. The views expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Influenster or any third party.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Business Travel - shameless plug for Orlando as a convention location

Occasionally even I get to travel to a conference. This time, for the first time in almost 5 years, it was my turn and the travels took me to Orlando. Getting a direct flight at an ungodly early hour brought me to Orlando around 9AM.
The drive from the airport to the hotel, which is located in the Disney Resort, was only 35 minutes, so not too bad. The weather in Orlando was not the best, the sky was gray and it looked like rain. But on my first day, I was lucky and no rain in sight. I also was able to get a room in the hotel in which all the meetings were held, so no venturing outside for me, which was good because with the gorgeous weather we had in North Carolina I had left my umbrella at home.

Anyway, here is a video of the room. The color scheme is not something I would pick for my house, too much orange and offbeat pastel colors. But the room is big and the view is pretty nice. Furniture and beds are comfortable. With a mini-fridge and Starbucks coffee, my basic needs are met.

I liked the view in particular. I have never lived near the water and looking out the window to see water and ducks is something I will enjoy! There are several restaurants on site, casual dining was definitely more my price range. Even if I had the daily expenses of a higher amount available I would not visit the fine dining place here because the food is just too expensive for what you end up getting. So if you ever plan to stay here, my advice, get a rental and drive to a more reasonably priced restaurant to eat or if you visit the Disney attractions just eat there. They will be overpriced as well, but at least you are in the park. The hotel food is good, but at those prices, I am glad I am not stuck with the bill.

Anyway, Orlando is a great place to visit and these hotels certainly serve the purpose to stay in the resort at fairly reasonable prices.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Product review: Clear Scalp and Hair Beauty Therapy

copyright Durhamonthecheap - great new shampoo and conditioner by Clear!
Through shespeaks I was able to sample a new product by Clear - their Scalp and Hair Beauty Therapy shampoo and conditioner.This combination is supposed to strengthen hair by feeding the scalp and produce results in about a week.
I tried the combination for about two weeks since I do not shampoo my hair on a daily basis. I stay away from daily shampoos since a lot of treatments contain chemicals that can damage your scalp and your hair. Because of that, I gave the Clear Scalp and Hair Beauty Therapy products an extra week to show their effect. I read during that timeframe up on the website for Clear Haircare here how this healthier hair was supposed to show itself. Based on the website, hair is stronger because there is less breakage during combing. You can even take a Scalp and Hair Beauty Therapy quiz here.This quiz is kind of fun, testing your beauty preferences, but also a couple of things about your hair.
Anyway, after about two weeks, my hair feels fine. I am not sure that I notice it being stronger, but I am happy with the way my hair feels and how I can blow dry it. It seems healthy and I do not have obvious split ends.

Overall, I am happy with the  Clear Scalp and Hair Beauty Therapy products and will look for a sale on the items to buy some more.

Disclaimer: I obtained full size samples of  Clear Scalp and Hair Beauty Therapy through shespeaks in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by or any third party.

Product Review: Oral-B Professional Precision 1000

Through Modern Mom, I received an Oral-B Professional Precision 1000 electric toothbrush to try out for 2 weeks. I had previously used an electric toothbrush by another company and was quite happy with it. Ever since I switched from manual to electric toothbrushes my dentist has noted that there is less build up and my gums seems healthier. So I was very, very excited to try out a new electric toothbrush by Oral-B.

The toothbrush, as you can see from the image below, is your standard electric toothbrush with a base for recharging and storing and then the toothbrush with an exchangeable head. They do provide a booklet with instructions and I highly recommend that you read through it. When I first used the toothbrush, I noticed that the brush would ever so often rumble or sputter, meaning it would run unevenly. I thought that it may not be properly charged and put it in the charger overnight again, but the same thing happened the next day. So then I used the booklet and it turned out that the Oral-B Professional Precision 1000 toothbrush can almost be considered a smart toothbrush, It counts the time that you spend in one location and the rumbling or sputtering is supposed to indicate that you need to switch to a different zone. So after 3 sputters, the next sputter is longer, indicating that you have brushed the recommended time and you can stop.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the contents of the package

I like this feature because it ensures that I cover all teeth evenly. In addition, it helps me track my time brushing. I will say that the default brush head being delivered with the Oral-B brush will make your gums bleed for the first few uses. I was actually surprised by how much they bled the first two times, but after about 5 uses there was no more bleeding. The brush will clean your teeth, I would even say that it polishes them. My teeth feel like I have been to the dentist for a professional cleaning, they felt THAT clean. My teeth feel smooth like they never felt without having been to the dentist for polishing. So I am very impressed with the Oral-B Professional Precision. 

copyright Durhamonthecheap - instruction manual, good to read this one - clearly indicating 4 zones to be cleaned!
So overall, even for someone like me who brushes regularly and has received compliments from their dentist for how little build up they see in my teeth and how healthy my gums are, the Oral-B Professional Precision can help improve their dental health. I feel that the teeth are much smoother and feel cleaner than prior to using the Oral-B brush. I really appreciate the timed cleaning aid, the sputtering at first was strange, but now I have gotten into the habit of waiting for it before I switch over to a different zone. Now I know that all teeth get their fair share!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the charging base and the lights indicating state of charge for the toothbrush

If you are interested in purchasing an Oral-B Professional Precision, right now there is a mail-in rebate available for $20 off. Please go to for more information. But hurry, the rebate is only valid until 9-30-2012. You can also find more information and read user feedback on their social networking sites at and

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the original packaging of the Oral-B Professional Precision

Disclaimer: I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Modern Mom on behalf of Oral-B and received a product sample to facilitate my review.

Voxbox: Voxbox Naturals - initial impressions

Today was such a good day - I got another Voxobx. This time the theme was Naturals - great content as if Influenster knew what I was looking forward to sampling.
The selection was excellent. I got another sample of Nectresse, which is by now my favorite no calorie sugar substitute - so I am very excited about getting some more of that. Included was also a $1 off coupon - always useful. BTW, sells Nectresse, if you are like me and love that stuff, go ahead and order some more from The prices at are very reasonable, especially if you can find it on sale or with a coupon!

The video above shows the contents of the Naturals Voxbox. As you can the Dish Drying Mat is already in use; it was the first item out of the box and in use. I was so hoping to get something included like the mat because my papertowels underneath the dish rack just do not look nice.
I am also happy about the LipSyl. I had previously used it and now regularly buy it. So getting a free sample in my VoxBox makes me really happy!
The other items will be interesting to use. You can always use a sanitizing wipe and the energy boost sample will be something I save for a hard day, so I can try out the energy boost it provides. I also like the soap. I will probably put it in the guest bath because the chamomile in it will be providing a nice scent in the bathroom. Plus it gives me an excuse to use it more sparingly make it last longer. It is not too often that I splurge on such a nice soap and getting that included in this box will be a special treat for me!
Overall, I am very happy with the selection as always and cannot thank Influenster enough for including me in their program!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - contents of the Naturals VoxBox!

Disclaimer: As part of the Influenster VoxBox program I was provided with free samples in exchange for an honest review. The views expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Influenster or any third party.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Create your own butterfly garden at your home - plant a Buddleja

I grew up in a family where money was limited and so a lot of the fun on weekends meant walks in the woods and looking at trees and animals. One thing I remember growing up was a butterfly bush in our garden. I grew up waiting each Spring for the first butterfly to come and then spend most of the Summer looking at the butterflies feeding off the Buddleja. So in 2010, the first shrub I purchased and planted in my yard  was a small Buddleja shrub. The seedling was less than $5 at Aldi and was about as tall as my hand, but it grew nicely and is now the perfect size to complement the Crape Myrtle in the garden.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - my frontyard with Buddleja and Crape Myrtle
So this whole year, the butterflies have been regularly visiting the frontyard. In addition to attracting butterflies, the Buddleja also gets visits from bumblebees, regular honeybees as well as hummingbirds. It has been so much fun watching all the animals feed of the shrub and to think that I spent so little money on the shrub. The Buddleja is very easy to maintain. It does not require a lot of water and can grow in almost any soil. I add mulch every spring and then cut the Buddleja every fall to about half its size. It will grow so much denser next year and will bloom from about May through September. I have a light purple one, but they are available in other colors, including white. Besides being pretty to look at, they have a very distinct and strong scent.
This year I have seen Swallowtails, Baltimore Checkerspots and Monarchs. If you want to start your own butterfly garden, you can buy a Buddleja or be fancy and get a lifecycle kit for Monarchs from All A Flutter, a monarch farm near High Point that actually breeds Monarch butterflies. Their lifecycle kits (see here for a description and image) are a combination of two plants with butterfly eggs present. You can see the larvae develop into butterflies and then continue to attract Monarch butterflies using the included milkweed shrub, which is a perennial. Or you can go simple and pick up a Buddleja shrub at your nearest garden center and wait a couple of years until it reaches a good size, then start to enjoy butterflies and all kinds of useful critters visit your garden all summer long. For more information on Buddleja, you can check out Wikipedia here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Product Review: thinkThin High Protein Bar - Brownie Crunch flavor

As part of my latest Cravebox I was given a thinkThin bar to sample. I have never heard of thinkThin, but the bar indicated that it was high protein, which makes it a good meal replacement when you are in a hurry to leave the house and do not have time to fix breakfast.
The website for the specific flavor Brownie Crunch is here, as you can see they offer a variety of bars, some high protein, others just healthy bars that can be used as snacks.
The nutritional information for my specific bar was:
copyright Durhamonthecheap - nutritional info for high protein Brownie Crunch bar.
Unfortunately, my bar was exposed to warm weather. Even though the expiration date had a while to go, the chocolate covering had turned from brown to gray, usually indicating improper storage or the bar was too old (the latter could not be the case since I checked the expiration date). I had previously heard that the discoloration does not affect taste, so I assume that the flavor remained true. I just want to mention the discoloration in case the flavor was affected.
The bar overall tasted pretty good. It tasted like true chocolate, not the healthy, gluten-free chocolate alternative that I have encountered in other products. So that was a good sign. In addition, the crunch was definitely noticeable and gave a bar a good texture.

from the ThinkThin webpage here

I liked the bar. Can is compare to Snickers or KitKat? No, it is not nearly so overly sweet and the chocolate is somehow lighter - possibly because there are not obvious nuts present in the bar. Importantly, the bar filled me up well. I had only a milk coffee that morning and had to rush to work. So I ate the bar around 8:30AM and it lasted me until noon without feeling hungry or crashing as if I had eaten a sugary cereal for breakfast. I usually have a few almonds at work for a midmorning snack, but with this bar I did not fell hungry at all.
Generally, I can recommend thinkThin as a meal replacement if you buy the high protein bar. The bar fills you up with good energy, there is no sugar-related crash afterwards and the calories and fat are at acceptable levels.

Disclaimer: I obtained a sample of Think Thin Brownie Crunch as a part of the Cravebox program in exchange for a nominal fee. The opinions expressed in the blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Cravebox or any third party.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Product Review: Glade Expression - Pineapple Mangosteen

Through, I am enrolled in the campaign for the new Glade Expressions. It was the campaign announcement that made me aware of the new product by Glade. I actually could not wait until the coupons arrived and went out to the grocery store to snap up a couple of items from the collection using local sales and coupons. The Glade Expressions comes as a spray, which I will review here, and then also diffuser, which I have not tried yet. will provide me hopefully with coupons to try out the diffuser. Glade has coupons available for these products as well. Check either their company homepage at or their Facebook page. Also, coupons can be found in newspapers. The coupons that I used covered a free starter kit if full price is paid for a refill. Considering the diffuser starter kit sells locally for about $9, these coupons are a really good deal.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - new Glade Expression in Pineapple Mangosteen
The first thing I had to buy was the scent with a combination of pineapple and mangosteen. After having secured during the post holiday sales and by now almost used up a stockpile of Christmas scents, such as apple cinnamon, I was happy to grab a fruity, summery smell. I was not disappointed. This scent is wonderful. I am so happy that I went out and bought the Glade Expression air freshener with coupons from the newspaper because with the coupons from bzzagent, I now have an opportunity to buy more items with the pineapple mangosteen scent!
copyright Durhamonthecheap - the description on how to exchange refills - very simple
The use is very easy. The instructions on how to exchange refills seems fairly straightforward as well and I like the fact that the outside of the container is white, so I can put it in the kitchen on the counter rather than hide it in the cupboard like some of the other sprays that have at times quite colorful looks. Based on my initial impressions with Glade Expressions I cannot wait to receive the coupons from, so I can sample some more products from the Glade Expression line. I am not sure if another scent will come close to pineapple mangosteen, but I will certainly sample at one least other scent from the line.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the air freshener without the Glade wrap. Simple white look that can fit in many rooms

Disclaimer: As part of, I may received non-monetary rewards and coupons for some products. Nevertheless, the opinions expressed in the blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by or any third party.