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Reviews You Can Use: Lunchblox

With back to school sales in full swing and some children having already started the new school year, lunch box options are everywhere. And even though I’m long out of school, I still pack my lunch (and sometimes dinner depending on my schedule) everyday so I’ve tried many of them. My favorite has to be the Rubbermaid LunchBlox. I have two sets of the entree ones that come with multiple containers and a few months ago I also picked up the salad one, which is the one seen in this post. The lunchblox brand is great because not only does everything fit together, but they also snap into their own ice trays to keep everything cold.
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The salad lunchblox kit consists of a large square container with a three-compartment tray that fits into the top and a seperate container for condiments. I put lettuce in the bottom of the large container and then sit the tray on top of that. In the tray, I put cheese, chicken and bacon bits. Then I fill the seperate container with salad dressing and secure its lid before placing it in the tray on top of my cheese. Then I put the large container’s lid on and snap the whole thing into an ice tray which keeps everything cold. Plus, the seperate compartments allow me to take everything I need for my salad to work, but to not assemble it until I get there. That way everything stays intact and doesn’t get mushy or mixed together. It also fits inside my Thirty-One lunchbox with room to spare.
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If you’re looking for a good salad option, you may want to check into the Rubbermaid LunchBlox salad kit. They also have other options including a sandwich kit and an entree kit.

I was not paid for this review nor did I receive this product free for review. This post represents my own experience with the product.

Making a House a Home: Flower garden

One of the things I wanted to accomplish after purchasing my first home with my husband last fall was renovating the flower beds. We have a long flower bed that goes down the side of the house, but it was looking fairly shabby. It had some fern-type bushes, which weren’t bad, but they were suffocating in about a foot of mulch. If you look in the first photo, you can see the mulch line on the foundation. It was like the previous owners just kept piling on mulch instead of doing actual work to the bed. This spring, I changed that.
Over several weekends thanks to weather and busy schedules, my husband dug out all of the mulch, taking the bed down to the dirt. Then, even though the bed had a liner down, we had to weed the whole thing and pick out plants.
I’ll be honest, I broke the bank on the plants. Using my trust Lowes’ card (5 percent off is 5 percent off) I spent probably a little over $100 picking out plants for both the flower bed/garden and some pots I’ll post about later. In the flower bed, I decided to keep the bushes and a gorgeous Crepe Myrtle at the end, which my mom trimmed, and added two types of perennials that should bush out fairly well over the new few years. Eventually, they should form an almost meadow-like feel. However, because they haven’t bushed out yet, I added a simple annual in the very front.
It all came together very well and everything seems to be growing nicely. Plus, the butterflies seem to really love it. I can’t wait to see what it looks like next spring. We just re-weeded everything and added additional mulch so it should be ready for fall.
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Baking With Buddy: Homemade Black Raspberry Ice Cream

Really this blog post should be titled “The Three-Day Homemade Black Raspberry Ice Cream,” because that is legitmately how long it took to make. Seriously, if you think you’ll make this to satisfy a craving, get in your car and go get some Breyer’s from the grocery store because this is not an immediate gratification thing. However, if you’re ready to muster up every ounce of patience you have and make some amazing ice cream (it really is amazing), then proceed.

I mentioned in my previous post that my husband and I recently went berry picking. In addition to picking blueberries (which I used to make Gluten Free Blueberry Muffins), we also picked black raspberries which I just knew had to be turned into some kind of frosty treat. Enter the homemade ice cream recipe.

I found the recipe via Pinterest and you can view it here. I will say, I found it to be a little light on instructions so I’ll fill in the blanks using what I learned.

To begin, before you even gather ingredients, figure out what ice cream maker you’re going to use. I used the KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment which fits on a KitchenAid mixer. I actually received it almost five years ago as a wedding present from my husband, but this was my first time using it since it’s fairly large and I never had enough space for it in our old freezer. Now this is where the first day of the three days comes into play. I didn’t realize it needed to be fully frozen before using, as in sitting in the freezer for a good 18 hours before it can be used to make ice cream. I left mine in the freezer for a good day, day and a half to make sure it would be fully frozen.

Now you can move on to gathering ingredients.

2015-07-30_0001.jpgIngredients:

2 cups whipping cream (I used heavy whipping cream)
2 cups whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
pinch of salt
2 cups strained black raspberry puree (This needs to be made ahead of time. See why this thing takes multiple days?)

To make the puree, start off by cleaning and drying your raspberries. I washed mine and then laid them on a paper towel to dry. Then, add them to a food processor (could probably also use a blender). Add 2 tbsp of water to the processor and mix until pureed. Then, using a sieve (I used a mesh strainer), separate the puree from the seeds. I will say I thought I nailed this one, but in eating my ice cream I occasionally find a seed. Go figure.2015-07-30_0002.jpg

Now, set your puree aside and move on to the next steps.
1. Combine milk, cream, 1 cup sugar , vanilla and the salt in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Heat until almost boiling and then remove from heat.
2. In a separate bowl whisk or use a mixer to beat the eggs and remaining 1/3 cup sugar until it reaches the ribbon stage. (I had no idea what the ribbon stage was, so I googled it. Basically, it’s where the mix starts to thicken and leave that nice, drizzly ribbon off the whisk.)
3. While still whisking/beating pour the warm milk into the eggs and beat until combine. Pour the egg milk mixture back into the clean pot and heat over medium until the mixture thickens while stirring constantly. This takes a little over ten minutes.
4. Take the custard off the heat and stir in the raspberry puree.
2015-07-30_0003.jpg5. Chill custard in fridge with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. (She suggests in the recipe to chill overnight, which I did, but unfortunately I put it in the freezer, not the fridge. No worries. I just had to let it defrost and then warm it back up to a nice, melted consistency before putting it in the ice cream maker.)2015-07-30_0004.jpg6. Then churn in an ice cream maker and either enjoy it as a soft serve ice cream right away or put it in your freezer to firm up and enjoy as scoops of ice cream. (The time you churn it will largely depend on your ice cream maker. I think mine was something like 10 minutes.)
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Once churned, I put mine in a bowl and placed it in the freezer to firm up a little before eating. Doesn’t it look amazing?
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I have to say, even though it took three days, it was definitely worth it. The ice cream was amazing, far better than anything I could have went to the store and purchased. Plus, it was neat to take something handpicked from the plant and turn it into a dessert. I’d like to make it again with a different type of handpicked fruit, maybe peaches or strawberries. Let me know if you try it and what fruit you decide to use. I’m open to suggestions.

I do not own this recipe. This post merely represents my experience with it.
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Baking With Buddy: Gluten Free Blueberry Muffins

I love blueberry muffins. My mom used to make them for me as a child and I think that’s where the love affair, okay maybe slight obsession, started. There’s nothing better than a warm blueberry muffin with melted butter. Having gone gluten free a few years ago due to stomach issues, my obsession got a little harder to satisfy. I can’t just go by a bakery or the grocery store and buy blueberry muffins, at least not most of the time–I have to make my own. I will say, my husband makes some amazing muffins using organic frozen blueberries and gluten free boxed mix, but when we actually picked our own berries last month I knew I had to make muffins from scratch.
To make my muffins, I adapted a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen “How Can it Be Gluten Free Cookbook.” I switched up the ingredients a little so here’s what I used:

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Ingredients

11 ounces (1 3/4 cups plus 2/3 cup ATK Gluten Free Flour Blend) I didn’t use the blend the recipe recommended. Instead, I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour.
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum Again, I use the Bob’s Red Mill brand of this.
5 1/4 ounces (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled I used organic unsalted butter.
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt I substituted milk for this because I forgot to pick up yogurt at the grocery store.
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 1/2 ounces (1 1/2 cups) blueberries
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar I took this out completely as I couldn’t find it anywhere at the grocery store.

Instructions

  1. Whisk flour blend, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and xanthan gum together in large bowl. In separate bowl, whisk granulated sugar, melted butter, MILK, eggs, and vanilla together until well combined. Using rubber spatula, stir egg mixture into flour mixture until thoroughly combined and no lumps remain, about 1 minute. (You’ll notice from the photos that I didn’t do this exactly as the recipe instructs. I actually added the first set of ingredients together in my KitchenAid mixer and then added the other ingredients to it instead of mixing them seperately.) Gently fold in blueberries until evenly distributed (batter will be thick and stiff). Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let batter rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. (Again, I didn’t do this step. Why they suggest letting it sit for 30 minutes is beyond me.)2015-07-29_0007.jpg
  2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable oil spray (I used cupcake liners. I think they make much less mess so I prefer them.) Using ice cream scoop or large spoon, portion batter evenly into prepared muffin tin. Sprinkle turbinado sugar over top. (Skipped this step as well because I didn’t have the sugar.) Bake until muffins are golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 16-20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. (Keep an eye on your muffins. Depending on your oven, they may not take long to bake.)2015-07-29_0008.jpg
  3. Let muffins cool in muffin tin on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
    2015-07-29_0009.jpgI was really pleased with how they turned out, although if I did it again, I would probably chop my blueberries up. Because they were picked right from the bush, they were a little large for the muffins. I think I would have preferred them chopped a little better than whole, which is what I did. Overall, I’ll definitely be making these again as they were very good.
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See how that melted butter looks? Doesn’t it just make you want a blueberry muffin?

i do not own this recipe. this post merely represents my experience and take on it.
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Baking With Buddy: Richie’s Turkey Meatloaf

You’re likely wondering who is Richie and what’s so fabulous about his meatloaf? Honestly, I have no idea who Richie is, but his meatloaf recipe is amazing. This is absolutely one of my favorite recipes, plus my husband loves it.

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Here’s the recipe, which I stumbled upon years ago via food.com:

Ingredients

    • 1 lb ground turkey breast
    • 1/3 cup quick-cooking oats
    • 1/4 cup nonfat milk
    • 1 egg, beaten
    • 1/3 cup chili sauce
    • 1 small onion, finely chopped
    • 1 small red pepper, finely chopped
    • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
    • salt and pepper
    • ketchup

Directions

  1. In small bowl combine oats and milk–let absorb about 10 minutes.
  2. Combine absorbed oats and all ingredients–except for ketchup– in a large bowl.
  3. Mix with large fork.
  4. Spray a 9×13 baking pan with cooking spray.
  5. Shape meat mixture into loaf.
  6. Brush with ketchup.
  7. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes.
  8. Enjoy.

20150114_170753It’s fairly easy to make. I use ground turkey breast, which I purchase in a large quantity at Wegman’s and then, using a food sealer, divide into one-pound portions for freezing. I also use Heinz chili sauce because it’s generally the only one I can find at the grocery store. As for oats, I think the canister I have in the cabinet right now is the Walmart brand, which works just fine. Keep in mind that this recipe is gluten free, but the jury is still out on oats. I can eat them with no problem, but that might not be the case for everyone.

20150114_171519Also, worth noting, instead of using a baking pan, I use a Pyrex loaf pan. And, because turkey is fairly moist, I drain the pan once or twice about halfway through cooking so that it won’t be too mushy when finished. After draining, I typically add a little more ketchup to the top, but that’s a personal preference.

Other than that, I really just follow the instructions included in the recipe. I hope you’ll try this one, and be sure to let me know if you love it as much as I do.

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Making a House a Home: Buying your first home

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The back of one home we looked at. It had an unfinished basement, which Ron liked. However, in the end it lacked the character we were looking for.

In August, I was promoted at my job which required a relocation. Ron and I had been looking to purchase our first home anyway, having rented for almost four years, so this sped up the process. And while buying your first home is an exciting endeavor, it also sucks–like really sucks.

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Although it did have a great view and was fairly secluded, even though it was technically in a neighborhood.

There’s a mountain-load of paperwork, negotiations, home inspections and then more paperwork, and that’s all before the home is bought. Let’s not forget about the fact that due to some less than honest companies and that whole mortgage fraud debacle, the rules now for obtaining a mortgage basically require a kidney and your firstborn child. You have to fill out numerous papers, provide a ridiculous amount of bank statements, have your accounts pretty much frozen for a good 45 days and then answer crazy questions that make zero sense. No, my husband doesn’t own his sibling’s land. No, he’s not paid on commission. No, that birthday check from grandma is just a gift and she isn’t secretly paying for our home because we are only pretending to be able to afford it.

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When I saw this upstairs in one house we looked at, I was out of there. I’m all for “needs some TLC,” but not cracking plaster around the chimney.

It’s pretty crazy, but absolutely worth it. My advice is this: get a great realtor, find a wonderful mortgage guy who will work round the clock for you when the underwriters decide to lose their minds and use a home inspector that suffers from slight OCD. Trust me, he won’t miss a thing.

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Trying to stay calm during the home buying process. Selfie anyone?

Also, when it doesn’t work out or something crazy happens, just breath. Hang in there. It’ll get better. We walked away from our first home after having our offer accepted because we realized through the home inspection that it was basically a massive fire starter. The homeowners had Edison knob and tube wiring (yep, like that Edison) that was missing part of its insulation coating and had paper backed insulation sitting on it. Somehow, the owners didn’t think that was an issue they needed to fix, so we pulled the plug. In the end it worked out and I think we ended up exactly where we should be, but it wasn’t without seeing some other options first.

And, not everyone saw our vision for our house. That’s okay. While the house has been taken down to the studs and redone with new wiring, plumbing, HVAC, roofing, etc., it’s still a 115-year-old home and that isn’t for everyone. We could see the potential, and yes, the work, but I think that’s the fun of owning your first home. We continuously have some project in the works, ranging from small to large, but it’s fun and we’re constantly making it our home. And that’s what’s important, right?

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Things I’m obsessed with: Soap.com

soap-comIf you haven’t been to the blog before, or just somehow missed it, I’m someone who doesn’t like to overpay for things. I like a good bargain and I also try to use as few chemicals as possible. I watched “Chemerical” a few years ago, which is this documentary about how your household cleaners and hygiene products are full of chemicals that are harmful to both you and the environment. If you find yourself with an hour and 15 minutes to kill, you should definitely watch it.

20150426_153612After viewing the documentary, I made the choice to begin switching out my cleaning products and hygiene products with all natural options. That led me to Method products. They’re naturally-derived, biodegradable and non-toxic, plus they still work, which is important. I slowly began switching out my toxic cleaners for their non-toxic counterpart. When something would run out, I would replace it with a safer option. As part of that, I found Soap.com.

Soap.com is like an Amazon for household products. In addition to cleaners, they have personal care items, bath and body items, vitamins, grocery items and more. My favorite thing, is that they often run sales where you can get 30 percent off Method products (or other products depending on the sale) by using a promo code at checkout. Plus, and this is the absolute best thing about them, orders over $49 ship free with 1-2 delivery!

20150426_153814To take advantage of the deals, I typically buy all of my cleaning products at one time when the promo code sale is active. I end up spending about $60 for everything (glass cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, dish soap, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, kitchen counter cleaner, etc.) and it lasts about 6 months. Granted, we have a household of just two plus our furry family member, but $120 a year for all of our cleaning products is pretty amazing. Now we do buy paper towels, toilet paper and dryer sheets throughout the year, but no actual cleaning products.

Also, I occasionally use Soap.com to hunt down natural and organic sunscreen when they have a sale on it. Have you seen the stuff that’s in sunscreen? Plus, they have obscure gluten-free snacks that aren’t readily available elsewhere. I encourage you to check it out. If you use code GRAC22288 at checkout, you can get 10 percent off your order. Also, I use Ebates (if you don’t have it sign up, you’ll love it!) and they typically have promo codes available as well, plus you get a certain percentage of cash back on your purchase.

Happy cleaning!

This post represents my own experience with Soap.com. I have not been compensated to write this post.

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Baking With Buddy: Salsa

Cinco de Mayo is tomorrow and I have to work so tonight is the night for salsa making. I love the word “salsa” and can’t say it without a thick Latina accent that’s reminiscent of a telanovela actress. Also, there may be some Zumba tossed in there, too.

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On to the salsa making! Here’s the recipe, discovered via Pinterest of course:

Restaurant Style Salsa

20150504_183237Prep time: 10 mins
Total time: 10 mins
Serves: 8-12 servings
Ingredients
  • 20150504_1840531 (14.5 ounce) can stewed tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can Rotelle tomatoes
  • 1/2 onion, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1-2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped, with most of the seeds removed (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Dash pepper
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor.
  2. Blend on low to desired consistency. Serve with tortilla chips.
The recipe comes from Let’s Dish which got it from Allrecipes.com. I’m not sure how much it was adapted from the original, but I adapted it some more. Here’s my ingredients list:
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can organic diced tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can Rotelle mild tomatoes with green chiles
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (Who has time to juice a lime? Not I.)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped, with most of the seeds removed (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Dash black pepper

20150504_18381920150504_185109I hand chopped the yellow onion, green onion, cilantro and jalapeno. I then added the ingredients to a seven cup food processor according to the order they appear in the ingredients list. I will say I didn’t blend it for very long; it was definitely less than a minute. I like my salsa a little chunky. And it turned out amazing!

Looking back, I would add a bit less cilantro just because I’m not a huge fan of the flavor it brings, but overall I’m pleasantly pleased with the dish. I didn’t measure the cilantro, but it was less than the three tablespoons that it called for. It was likely in the two tablespoon range. I should also note that this recipe is naturally gluten free! Woo-hoo!

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For dinner tomorrow, I’m going to crockpot some Cinco de Mayo chicken so be on the lookout for that recipe in the near future. Also, have a salsa you love? Share it in the comments. Maybe I’ll make it and hopefully not dance around the kitchen like this…

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I do not own this salsa recipe. This post represents my experience with it.
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Baking With Buddy: Crockpot Cheeseburgers

20150107_171558In browsing through Pinterest, I found a new recipe–Crockpot Cheeseburgers. While I was a little turned off at the thought of using Velveeta Cheese (I’m fairly certain there’s nothing even remotely close to actual cheese in there), I figured I could get through it this one time. So I whipped out my crockpot, easily one of my favorite kitchen appliances, and it was on to cheeseburger land.

The recipe I used comes from Recipes That Crock, but it originates from Gooseberry Patch, and like usual, I made some adjustments to suit my tastes. Here’s the basic recipe, along with my substitutions in red:

Ingredients

  • 1½ lbs Lean Ground Beef (I used one pound of ground turkey instead to try to offset the less than healthy Velveeta)
  • 3 Cloves Garlic- Pressed and Divided (I used minced garlic instead. I very rarely keep garlic cloves in the house.)
  • ¼ tsp Salt
  • ½ tsp Pepper
  • 8 oz Velveeta Cheese- Cubed (or a tad bit more for a cheesier sandwich) (I used 8 oz. of the 2% milk Velveeta)
  • 2 Tbsp Milk (I used organic 2% milk)
  • 1 Onion- Finely Chopped Onion (I used diced yellow onion)
  • 8 Pretzel Rolls-Split (or Hamburger Buns) (I skipped the buns being that I’m gluten free)
  • Garnish- Mustard, Ketchup, Mayo, Pickles, Tomato, Etc.
  • I added a can of organic diced tomatoes

20150107_172306The recipe itself is fairly simple. You brown the beef in a skillet with one clove (or the equivalent to) one clove of garlic along with the salt and pepper. Once brown, you drain the beef and place it in the crockpot with the rest of the ingredients, minus the buns (if you opt to use them) and any garnishes you plan to use. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours.

When finished, either plate it, like I did or use a bun to create a cheeseburger topped with the garnishes of your choosing.

I will say, be careful about the amount of time you cook it. You want the cheese to be melted, but still somewhat thick. If you cook it too long, the cheese will become too thin. I could have probably cooked mine a little less and I went with five hours. I would have liked the cheese to be thicker and thus more like a cheeseburger and less like a soup. That’s really my only complaint. It had a good taste to it, it was just a little runny and maybe some of that would have been helped by using a bun. I may opt for a gluten free bun next time and will cook it a little less. The hamburger is already brown when it goes into the crockpot, so there’s really no harm in shortening up the cooking time.20150107_183044

I do not own this recipe. This post reflects my experience with it.
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Amazon, what are you doing to me?

imagesI’ll start off by saying I’m a loyal Amazon shopper and I have been for years, even back in the early 2000s when it was really limited to basically just books. As a college student, I signed up for Prime using the student discount and continued to renew it without pause. However, recently my renewal hit a snag.

Like most Amazon shoppers, up until recently I had a variety of payment methods linked to my account, many of which were expired and only on there because I hadn’t thought it necessary to take them off. Imagine my surprise when I find out one of those old, very much expired cards was used in January to renew my Prime account.

The card used was not only expired, but had been paid off for years. Since a big part of credit scores now are how long you’ve had credit, I kept it open since it was my oldest card. I never imagined Amazon would use it, not only because it was very much expired, but also because it wasn’t the payment method on file for my Prime renewal.

By the time I found out what had happened, I had already missed two payments on the card, earning me $60 in late fees. I immediately called the card company and was able to get one reversed, but then had to call Amazon and explain the issue. They were very apologetic for the mix-up and credited back the $99, covering my 2015 Prime renewal fee because of their mistake.

Once Amazon credited back their side of it, I was then able to call the card company and get the other fee, plus the interest charges credited back, sending me back to a zero balance where I belonged. I thought everything was straightened out until I was notified the next day that my credit score had dropped–37 points–because of the two missed payments. Really, that’s the part that ticks me off the most. I never miss a payment and I can’t stand the idea that now I look like a delinquent person.

So back to the card company I went. They’re supposed to be sending a letter to the credit reporting agency explaining the issue. They routinely report to the agency following each billing cycle so I’m still waiting for that part of the mix-up to get fixed. Really, the whole thing has been a nightmare and one I want to help others avoid so if you have an Amazon account follow these steps:

  • Login to your Amazon account
  • In the upper bar, click on the box that says “Hello, ____ YOUR ACCOUNT”
  • Click “Manage Payment Options”
  • Delete any cards you don’t plan to use, even if they are expired

This should help you avoid any random card charging issues like the one I just experienced because believe me, you don’t want to have to deal with this mess. And yes, I’m still a loyal Amazon customer, but had they not been so apologetic I may have changed my stance.