Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Easy peppermint bark recipe! And half-eaten Trader Joes haul.

Peppermint bark is my favorite sweet treat to partake of during Christmas time...and home made is the best. It's also a great gift that is just about universally appreciated, if you're looking to avoid spending a ton of money. Here is a pic of the batch I made....
I referenced a recipe I found originally on Pinterest, but made a few changes to make it a bit more minimal effort than it was already....and it turned out excellent.

  • 12 oz Bakers White Bar Chocolate
  • 6 oz Bakers Semi Sweet Bar Chocolate
  • crushed peppermint candy or candy canes
  • coconut oil
  1. Lay parchment paper flat on bottom and sides of a square dish (8x8 or 9x9)
  2. Melt half of the white chocolate with a small spoonful of coconut oil in the microwave in 30 second intervals until it stirs nicely.
  3. Pour onto a sheet into the dish lined with parchment paper. Stick in the freezer for 15 minutes to harden.
  4. Melt the semi sweet chocolate (all 6 oz) the same way, with a small spoonful of coconut oil. Stir it up. 
  5. Pour it on top of white chocolate sheet, spread it out evenly. Stick back in freezer for another 15 minutes.
  6. Do the same process for the last bit of white chocolate, but this time, after pouring the top layer, sprinkle LOTS of crushed peppermint candy. It's up to your taste, ultimately.
  7. Freeze the entire thing for another 15 minutes or so. Then break it into peices, or cut into squares. If you want to cut it, you'll need to let it soften a bit at room temperature.
  8. Store it in the fridge if you can...but it should be okay at room temp for a few days (you just don't want it to get too soft).

Also....I went to Trader Joes recently for a small little round of specialty items. I remain fascinated by Trader Joes. It's pricey, so I don't do regular grocery shopping there. However, it's great to go for snack foods, coffee/tea/wine/cheese, and other random things like personal care products.

Sorry, but some of these items were already partially consumed of at the time of photograph....
 1. Harvest bagels with cranberries and seeds. The best part about these is that you don't need a schmear to make them exciting. They can stand alone, which is my favorite kind of bagel.
2. Cold pressed green juice (half-drunken). Probably the best green juice I've had, honestly. But, I am still not a huge fan of it....I will continue to attempt to force myself onto this trend.
3. Chocolate peanut butter granola bars. I'll probably take these to work and keep them in a desk drawer.
4. Matcha green tea latte. Matcha green tea is one of my favorites, and apparently this has a bit of a latte effect contained within....looking forward to trying it.
5. String cheese. My kids had a couple of these prior to my photographing it. They approve.
6. Lemon poppy seed muffins. YUM. Trader Joes kills it in the bakery. In a good way.
7. French bar soap - Oatmeal/ginger/almond exfoliant. I got this one because it was the cheapest bar soap they had, and I'm almost out of mine in the shower. It smells calming.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Passed the PHR! My study and exam tips...

Full disclosure...that exam was extremely difficult, and I feel that I could have just as easily been writing a blog post today titled something like, "failing once doesn't mean it's over..."

Getting my PHR certification was a professional goal of mine, and my company paid for me to take it ($400 - ain't a cheap exam) as well as paid for my study materials. The relief I feel right now is incredible...that exam was a killer. In the 20 or so seconds between hitting the submit button and seeing my score results, my heart beat was rapidly accelerating...doing something that my company was sponsoring that I could have potentially screwed up was a lot of pressure, and it all built up in those 20 seconds. I thought the test proctor was gonna have to do some CPR on me if I didn't see the results in another few moments. I had flashbacks of union campaigns, acronyms, and sexual harassment....

Here is what worked for me, broken down into part one (studying) and part two (exam day tips). Some of this is general study/exam tips, but I do want to touch on the PHR specifically, in case someone reading this is planning to take this sucker.
PHR Study Tips
1. Use at least one study guide. I believe the SHRM study materials cost about $1000 or so, and prep courses at universities cost even more. I know myself well enought to know that as long as I could get the material, I could effectively teach it to myself....so I bought what is known as the holy grail DIY study book for the PHR (pictured above) for like, less than $40. This was my sole source, and even though the 2012 edition is the most recent, I felt well prepped for the 2014 exam from this. Well written, straight to the point book. Also has electronic companion with flashcards, practice questions, and an appendix with court cases and such in the back.
2. TAKE AS MANY PRACTICE EXAMS AS POSSIBLE. This is probably the most important. Somehow, "the powers that be" translate the rules and laws in a certain way (sometimes not intuitive to what you think), so taking practice exam questions really saved me. I bought a book full of practice exams, found a free one on hrcistudy.com, and got my hands on any additional free quizzes I could find. You can also purchase practice exams for $45 a pop at SHRM, but I thought my material was sufficient, and much cheaper.
3. Time is of the essence. There is a lot of info to absorb, and you want to get to the point where you've already covered all the material at least a couple of weeks before the test so that in the last minute, you can just be reinforcing it and memorizing law details and such. I planned to take a solid 3 months studying, but then we decided to buy a house and all my extra time and energy was spent on that process. I was left with a month to study, and it honestly did not feel like enough time...but I hit it hard there at the end.
4. Find the right music to make you focus. When I'm covering new material, I like to listen to ambient music (like the station "Yoga Workout" on Pandora), but when I'm drilling stuff in at the end trying to commit it to memory, I like to listen to rap. In fact, when I was answering exam questions at the testing center today, I could almost hear Wiz Kahlifa singing in my head.....
5. Get your favorite drink while you work. My brain on caffeine is so much sharper than when there is no caffeine. Sorry, not sorry. If you're like me, then this is an important component.
6. For those who have kids.....GET SOMEONE TO WATCH YOUR KIDS A LOT. In the weeks leading up to the exam, you need your undivided time to devote to studying, and we all know with kids, you never get that time unless you ask for help. From your partner. From your parents/family. From your friend. Someone. Anyone (who you feel okay leaving your kiddos with). I couldn't have done this without my husband or my parents.

And.....now that you've studied hard....here are some exam tips for the day before and day of:

1. Give it up. If you don't know the stuff the day of, you probably won't. Sorry.
2. Get sleep and have a low key, relaxing day before. Your mental state needs to be on point the next day, so staying up late worrying or cramming may not do you any favors. Or maybe it will....but it wouldn't fly for me.
3. Take exam day off from work. The entire day needs to be stress free.
4. Eat a great meal before you go into the testing center. It's a 3 hour long exam...which isn't as long as the GMAT or something like that...but still - be well fed and well hydrated.
5. Drink something highly caffeinated before your exam. Consume it. Feel your brain come alive. Seems like my standardized test days follow me throughout my life...SAT, ACT, GMAT, and now PHR. I get a huge coffee before each one, and I think it's had a positive impact.
7. PHR Specific - Really take your time with the questions. These aren't black and white...there will usually be two right answers, but one is more right than the other. Look for words used in the question, and see how those may tie particularly to one of the answers to make it seem a bit more right than the other. Mark any that you aren't sure of, and you'll have the chance to go back and review them and spend more time on the end of the test if you have it.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Take a creative journey with me...

I am a painter in my spare time. In fact, I used to have a little side-business doing that for awhile, until I started grad school and then started my job. I don't have much time for painting these days, and back when I did paint, they were very quick pieces...just a few hours start to finish. However, like many things in my life now, I'm thinking that approaching my art should take more time and consideration...spending more time to create something intricate and well-planned. Also, my new ideal is using the highest quality canvas and paints to create with. I'd rather spend my time and resources creating one extremely high quality, well-expressed piece than many quick and relatively thoughtless ones. This brings me to my next project...

We just bought our house, and what is missing from our living room is a focal point...and I want this focal point to be a painting that I do myself. However, this house is going to be our "forever house" as we stand today, so I want this piece to be an enduring painting that stands the test of time, color changes, design styles, and also, I want it to be a self-expression...something that allows my house guests to peer into my soul. 

This will be an interesting process from start to finish, so I thought I'd document  it here on the blog from concept to hanging above my fireplace. It will take a long time, partly because I want to spend that extra time being intentional and thoughtful, but also...life!

Here's where I want it to go. Please note, we do have a mantle, but need to bolt it down to the wooden mantle rests that are pictured.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Makeup I use every day....

I wear make up every single day. 5 days out of the week, it's full face. Everything done up. This is mainly due to the work setting I'm at every day (no, I'm not a dancer - I wish). I really do enjoy makeup, but I am not one of those people that likes to hoard (ahem, collect) it. I prefer to have the stuff I really like that works for me, and wear it every day until it runs dry, at which point I either repurchase (if I liked the product) or try something new (if I was "meh" about the product). Recently I've been experimenting with some drugstore stuff (whole foods brand, namely), but as it's run out, I've replaced it with some items I like even more. I'm digging my current makeup menu....and my makeup discovery of 2014 is....DO YOUR EYEBROWS! That is probably the single most impactful thing, and it honestly never occurred to me until I started watching youtube beauty channels (favorite channels are here and here) and tried it out myself.

Drug store items I use:
1. Physicians Formula Organic CC Cream (color: Light) - can get at the grocery store.
2. Loreal True Match Foundation (color: Soft Ivory - I could prob go down a shade here)
3. Loreal Telescopic mascara
4. Maybelline unstoppable waterproof eye liner

Fancy items I use:
1. Anastasia dip brow pommade (color: taupe)
2. Clinique powder (color: Stay Buff)
4. Tarte blush (color: Blissful)
5. Tarte bronzer (color: Park Avenue Princess)
6. Nars eye shadow (color: Kuala Lumpur)
7. Too Faced melted lipstick (color: Melted Peony)

As you can see, I mix it up with cheap vs. higher priced items when it comes to makeup. I guess I splash out where I see value. In my experience, the higher quality brands like those in the second list tend to last me a loooooonnnngg time. If I buy a drugstore eye shadow, for example, that shit lasts me like a month before I run out and have to replace. This Nars stuff lasts me a year, because the color payoff is amazing and the staying power is sick (I've had it before a few years ago, and it was over a year before I used it up).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What's in my study bag? Just the things I need...

I am taking my PHR exam at the end of this month, for work, and it has a reputation for being a %*+€= of an exam.  So, here I am again, being astral projected back to the uni days of packing a backpack or bag full of study essentials to tote around with me to the library, to a coffee shop, or to wherever will suit my atmospheric study needs...
1. Large tote bag (mine is a longchamp le pliage that I've had for a couple of years- love it). 
2. Study guide textbook and practice exams. 
3. Pen
4. Headphones
5. Phone charger
6. Bottled water
7. Scarf (sometimes libraries are super cold)
8. Cash for coffee!

This is not rocket science...but you want to be prepared to sit for hours while glazing your brain with information overload.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Minimalism as a financial tool in 2015...and Dave Ramsey

The clothes capsule and home decor stuff I have now is the only thing I'll be using in 2015, but this minimalism is more about financial goals than "simplifying" for the sake of a streamlined life. So project 333 for me will be more like project 365....ha. I have added a few things to my wardrobe, as well as ridden myself of a few things as well, so I will try to make an updated post on that, for funsies.

We have started on our 2015 resolution early- start the Dave Ramsey plan (7 baby steps...Google it for more info). Monday nights are our budget meetings. Here is a pic of our first meeting, where we sat down to form our goals, action plan, and budget.

After buying our house (and taking responsibility for a lovely mortgage) my husband and I have a strong desire to rid ourselves of any and all debt we have as well as saving a full emergency fund, so that we can focus our lives on building wealth and huge giving in a couple of years once we get past baby steps 2 (debt snowball) and 3 (fully funded emergency savings). We are pretty much "normal" Americans, with pretty good income but a few debts. We knocked out both our credit cards last week and have put them to their graves. That was a fabulous feeling.

So in year 2015, my #1 prerogative  is to put any disposable income possible toward our debt snowball. With the exception of my Vancouver/Alaska trip, which was already planned, like, a year ago. Lol- throws a bit of a fun detour in.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Our Christmas decor strategy....

How do you decorate for Christmas without clutter taking over your home or your attic? Before we had kids, the only Christmas decoration my husband and I had was planting an amaryllis bulb. Now that we have kids, we feel that decorating for Christmas is more important...the kids really do notice and care about that stuff, as we've discovered. 

However, our goal is to keep a few "high impact" items without having Christmas knick knacks overwhelming our space, or having the burden of storing all of that junk during the other 11 months of the year. 

Our "Christmas decor" consists of 5 pieces:
1. Decorated tree
2. Switching out regular artwork in frames to some quick Christmas drawings
3. Switching out regular flower arrangements in our vases to poinsettias.
4. Text painting using plywood ad stencils
5. Wreath

I will mention that we have stockings for the kids, but we wouldn't normally put those out until Christmas morning when they're filled up. That may change in the coming years...who knows. Either way, I love only having to deal with two boxes of Christmas stuff, instead of an entire storage shed like I've witnessed is the case with many families...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

My DIY long bob haircut....

Buying our first house wouldn't feel like a major life event unless I chopped off all my hair in a DIY fashion. I tend to do this coinciding with all my major life events...graduations, studying abroad, getting married (chopped off hair on day 2 of honeymoon, actually), after having both babies, etc. In fact, I rarely ever visit a salon to tend to my hair. Reason being, I feel that for the time and money spent, I can get a good enough result at home on my own. Last August, I got a professional haircut and (EXPENSIVE) highlights done for my graduation from grad school. I can't get it in me to go to the salon for touch ups, so I'm favoring a more low-maintenance, natural look. The remnants of my highlights from last year are on their way out, and I'm digging my natural hair color and free haircut.

Want to try a DIY long bob haircut to spice up your major (or run-of-the-mill) life events? I followed the instructions on this YouTube video, and I found them to be super simple and essentially fool-proof. Check it out here..."Long bob haircut" by PatryJordan.

Friday, November 28, 2014

One pair of pjs.

Over the past few years, I've rid myself of my ratty old pj pants, t shirts, and chemises that were beyond threadbare and ratchet looking. However, this has left me scrounging around for things to wear to sleep...mainly landing on my clean workout clothes. Sometimes my husbands shirts. Etc.

This scrounging around was adding a bit of light chaos to my night time routine. I decided to finally buy a pair of real pajamas. I looked and looked for months, and finally found the perfect pair. They have to be just exactly what I want, because they are my sole pair of pajamas. How do I get away with wearing one set of pajamas all the time? Only sleep in them! Maintain personal hygiene! Launder weekly!

Having one "perfect" pair of high quality pjs has simplified bedtime for me. Also, since my new house has no carpet and all wood floors or bathroom tile, the slippers are a must, so I included them as well.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bought a house!

Welcome to my humble abode.
Let me start by saying that making the decision to buy a house and the house-buying process was the most draining, difficult, and stressful thing I have ever been through in my life, right down to the closing. I will literally NEVER buy a house again. I may have to type up my "house buying" story, kind of like I typed up a birth story for each of my kids' births. But that would have to be a separate post titled "my mortgage officer's first time to ever process a loan". LOLOLOL for days. Ah, to be a cash buyer. One day. But not, because I'm never doing this again.

I have to say we feel very lucky to have gotten into the market in this area when we did...you can read earlier posts about our attempt half a year ago to buy a home that did not work out and was fraught with multiple offers on 6 houses, bidding wars, and the like. This time, the offer part was easy, and just the start of an excessively volatile process to close.

We decided to go for a house on the lower end of our budget, and we truly felt that the one we bought is our dream home. We looked at houses nearly twice the price of the one we bought, but the minimalist instinct kicked in and we bought a small white brick house that we just felt was perfect for us.

I may do some more blogging about housekeeping and decor. I kind of want to feng shui the place....I'm talking fountain in the front yard to bring in prosperity and all that. But honestly, I think we will probably go into pay-off mode now, and crack the whip on our budget to knock this thing out.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pondering infusing color into my wardrobe. And "color analysis"?

I've been wearing my wardrobe of black/white/grey for over three months now, and it's been serving me well. However, after lots of thinking and learning, I've come to the conclusion that black doesn't do a lot to make me "feel" beautiful, and doesn't do much in general to enhance natural beauty or uplift my mood, in my personal experience.

I've had to remove quite a few items in my wardrobe (H&M for adults, as it turns out, is crappy, and some other items I've used have become overly worn out as well...like my black pencil skirt I've had FOREVER). I've added in a few key items that actually have a bit of color: my navy 3 piece suit that I've realized I can launder at home (!), a blush colored blouse I bought on a whim from Target, as well as a cognac-colored (fake) leather jacket that was given to me as a birthday present. I feel a bit more alive when I wear color, so I'm thinking that I'll slowly start bringing some color back in for spring/summer when the time comes, as I've had to remove many of my black pieces...thank god I had the navy suit in the back of my closet, because removing items left me with very little to work with otherwise.

If you are a bit nervous about color, as I am, perhaps you can start by finding your season. What do I mean by that? Please see below...

I recently watched a random video about finding your "season" of colors determined by your complexion/hair/eye color. You can find that here. I also found a blog post describing my color season (summer), here: http://cardiganempire.com/2012/08/color-analysis-3-degrees-of-cool_6.html

Try to find yours! I was surprised that most all the colors I've been wearing in the recent years weren't right for me when you go by this particular type of color analysis (ahem, black, mustard yellow). I beg to differ on the reddish brown color though, because I do feel that one looks pretty good with my complexion. No doubt, as much as I like yellow, perhaps it's not my friend?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

My breakfast, and pondering a declutter of my kitchen.

While I appreciate that variety is the spice of life...if you have something that is working well for you, why change it? My breakfast has consistently been comprised of a coffee/protein shake (I like special K brand), as well as a yogurt parfait. When I have this breakfast, I feel set for the day. My parfait ingredients have evolved....they are currently as follow:

1. Yogurt. I like greek or plain yogurt. Vanilla flavored yogurt works well also.
2. Shredded coconut or shredded dried banana. Gives a subtle sweetness.
3. Walnuts, to add extra protein and make it more substantial/filling.
4. Pumpkin seeds. Honestly, I like to add these for no other reason aside from that they are cute.
5. Dried fruit of choice. I sometimes do fresh, but I really enjoy including dried cherries.

When you got married, did you plan your kitchen purchases/wedding registry to accommodate a hypothetical dinner party? I did. I think many people do. This leads to redundancies in dishes. Redundancies in dishes lead to two things: 1. piles of dirty dishes that can occur because you can go through so many before being forced to wash them, and 2. precious cabinet space being taken up by dishes to feed a 30 person dinner party......when real life 99% of the time is just feeding a family of four.

I've been decluttering, cleaning out, and organizing all kinds of things in my home, including my wardrobe, makeup/toiletries, filing cabinet, digital files, pantry, etc. However, something huge that I still need to tackle is our kitchen. While our kitchen belongings are by no means obnoxiously excessive, we do have many redundancies. For example....SO MANY SPATULAS. Why? Tons of wine glasses. Too many tupperware containers. Also, our cutting boards kind of suck. We need some that are less clunky and space-monopolizing. Finally, I cannot stand our random small appliance collection that just sits in cabinets only to be used once or twice a year. I'm looking at you, iced tea maker.

I think clearing out the kitchen may be more difficult/sensitive due to that it closely involves another party: my husband. He is actually the kitchen master, so I don't want to encroach upon "his" space in there. I think I will need to be less surgical with that space...with a softer approach so as not to have my husband balk as I come barging in with my minimalist ideals.

Monday, October 27, 2014

10 Day Vacation Capsule Wardrobe - Eastern Caribbean

I packed all my stuff in a carry on. There are two types of clothing items I brought: regular clothes, and workout clothes. I brought along some turquoise earrings and necklace, as well as watch, wedding rings, aggie ring, and I got a lovely birthday present in St. Maarten while there, which I have been wearing every single day since....a titanium rose gold Caribbean hook bracelet.

"Regular Clothes" Examples:

1. St. Maarten - White waffle knit sweater with black skinny pants
2. Dinner/Brunch - Black dress - once on its own, and once with the black shirt on top
3. St. Thomas - Wore the white and black striped shirt and skinny jeans

"Workout Clothes" Examples:

1. Running a 5K race on a tiny Bahamian island on our last stop - grey tank top/black crops
2. Morning workouts (running track on deck, or in the ship gym) - any shirt/black crops
3. Anything schleppy - i.e. airport transit - workout top, jacket, scarf, and some type of pant.
4. PJs! I wore the black yoga pants and cream funnel neck sweat shirt every night as pjs. No other purpose for those.

Also, I want to add that I only brought 2 bras. Did laundry once on the ship, but just to wash the workout clothes. There wasn't a need to wash the regular clothes, since I could re-wear each outfit at least once or twice due to minimal sweating in those clothes. Regardless of if I was gone for 1 week or 4, I'd probably only bring this amount....any more than this would be unnecessary for me, especially if I have access to clothes washing!

I love my Caribbean hook bracelet from St. Maarten - early birthday present.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Want to feel zen? Take your vacation days.

I've been out of the country on an Eastern Caribbean cruise with my family for over a week - just got back yesterday.  We only purchased 100 MB of internet data while out to attend to a few urgent items via email, but aside from that, I've had zero internet or phone access.
This has been my first "real" vacation since I've started my job a year and a half ago. Just when I felt like I was going 100 mph orchestrating stuff left and right at work, I was forced to turn it all off. At my company, we can buy or sell extra vacation days. It may be tempting to sell an extra week of your vacation, but now I will suggest to my employees that they should take their vacation, and possibly buy more! I've returned feeling refreshed and clear-headed. Definitely ready to tackle some heavy lifting at work this coming week.

Aside from the above, my takeaway from my vacation was an appreciation for my daily life back at home, and my desire to become even more "minimal" with my routines, processes, and of course possessions.

For a family of four, all we took for this trip were 1 full size carry on and 3 half-size carry ons. Living extremely efficiently for over a week made me realize that I still have a lot of room for streamlining in my closet and my personal care processes.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Wardrobe Updates - Black and white amazingness, and more thoughts on Project 333.

I've been trying to stick out the full course of fall/winter without making any changes to my stuff, but honestly, I've had quite a bit of stuff wear out and I have learned more about what I really end up wearing. Therefore, I've made a few changes accordingly.

Also, after having really excellent luck with the way my kids' H&M clothes have been holding up, I decided to replace some of my clothing items over the past few weeks with some stuff from H&M. Incredibly cheap, but I am crossing my fingers that it holds up well over time. We shall see.

I try to follow the Project 333 rules as much as possible, but I've learned that having more flexibility to replace things as needed works best for me. The important thing for me is to maintain a limited number of items overall. Also, I've decided to not include my jewelry, but instead store it away and wear one set of jewelry during the week, and then change for the following week (and so on...) It gives me variety while still maintaining the simplicity of not having to try to decide what to wear each morning. Oh, and if you're wondering why I don't wear a lot of color - my jewelry can be quite colorful and bold!

Here is what my wardrobe is looking like these days....

Friday, October 10, 2014

Trying to steamline my makeup routine a bit.

bad to the bronze, y'all.
As I focus on simplifying different areas of my life and day-to-day activities, I become more cognizant of areas of improvement. Getting ready in the morning is one of those areas. On a micro level, putting on make up is definitely one of those areas. I'm starting with eye makeup to see if adopting a one-step approach with the correct product will work for me and make my mornings getting ready a bit more simple....

What was I doing before?
  • Brushes
  • Multiple colors
  • Eyeliner powder
  • More brushes
Apparently this stuff is the holy grail for low-maintenance, expensive-looking, cheap, and long-wearing eyeshadow. All the beauty vloggers I watch go batshit crazy for this stuff. I have to admit - I LOVE IT. This pic was taken at the end of the day after commuting, working, kid schlepping, playing, etc. I feel like I don't need eyeliner with this either, since it is dark enough to give some definition. I have stored away my other eyeshadow palettes and I'm going to try to stick to this one-step method for eyeshadow for awhile. I'm going to try to slowly simplify my morning getting ready routine, while hopefully not compromising the end result - LOL. My husband prefers me without makeup, but I love it too much to give it up and go ultra-minimalist.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

In crazy times...drink tea for peace.

I have a ton of stuff going on, both at work and in my personal life. I may speak about the personal life side of it in about a month or so (because my lips are always zipped from work stuff), but for now, I will plow on and attempt to utilize new destressing methods to get me through. It's positive stress, but stress nevertheless. In the midst of being in the weeds, I have taken up drinking diet cokes again. I do find this to be very unfortunate, but right now, stress levels are skyrocketing.

So, normally I'd drink a glass of wine or a blue moon in the evening while I work into the night during dynamic times, but I've opted for a healthier, and even more "peaceful" option to mitigate the other beverages throughout the day: hot tea with a bit of honey.

Somehow laying in bed working on my laptop is zen-like when I'm drinking this combination. If you need to spend some time meditating, praying, or being a workaholic zombie like me, I think hot tea with a little honey definitely helps set the mood.

I've learned my favorite tea is either green or white tea, with a bit of floral and fruit infusion.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Capsule Wardrobe Addition: Nude Heels! And my presentation outfit from today...

my Naturalizer Lennox pumps
After my pair of black pumps disintegrated this summer, I tried to go some time without replacing them to see if I really needed heels in my life. For a couple of months, I did okay, but have started to realize that I feel more professional when presenting or going to more important meetings while dressed in heels. Flats were feeling a bit too informal for me.

I ordered some Naturalizer Lennox heels (still for sale on various sites), and I LOVE THEM. I've worn them every day at work this week so far, and they are so comfortable (for being heels) and look professional yet modern. A nude pump is very versatile, so definitely can be more than just office wear should the occasion arise. I especially love that these have a tiny platform and aren't too high of a heel. 4" heels = no can do. I bought the Dr. Scholls dream heels inserts, and they really do make the shoes even more comfortable by adding some additional arch support (which heels normally don't have).

These came in the mail this weekend, so just in time to wear them to my presentation at work where I was graded on my presentation and speaking skills. These must have been good luck shoes, because the look seemed to have done the trick. Or maybe it was just my mad skillz. Either way, these shoes made me feel confident and comfortable at the same time.

Nude pumps, black ankle pants, white button up shirt, and black suit jacket = my presentation outfit from today.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

2 Months Away from Social Media

I guess blogger and pinterest still kind of mean that I'm on social media, but as for instagram (for the most part), facebook, twitter, etc....it's been 2 months since I've been active on those.

I have to say that it feels great to be away from all that. I got this vibe on facebook of "keeping up with the Joneses", which was becoming quite repulsive to me. Not only from looking at other people posting their attention whore status updates and photos, but also from folks potentially perceiving my updates like that. Now that I'm away from facebook, and I hear people talking about what they read from their friend on facebook, or some comment drama, or whatnot...I'm so thrilled to have pulled myself out of that hot mess. It's just not real life....but when you are constantly checking your facebook, posting things to your facebook, you kind of end up living through facebook. IF IT'S NOT ON FACEBOOK, IT DIDN'T HAPPEN. Lol.

I have to admit that it is kind of strange to not know what's going on with family and friends. Folks are very liberal with making personal information known on facebook, but it's not normal any more for someone to text an update to a friend, or email them some pictures of what's been going on in their lives...which I can understand. I wouldn't really do that either, unless it was some big news or something extraordinary. I ran into a high school friend around town the other day, and I didn't recognize her because her hair was super short (not like she had it in high school, nor in her facebook pics before I dropped off that planet). It felt cool to see someone, and actually NOT KNOW what is going on with them....and have the opportunity to legitimately catch up. Not just pretend to not know everything they've posted on their facebook.

My favorite thing about not being on social media is getting to miss out on reading political drivel during election season from people who I thought I really saw eye-to-eye with. One of the things I found annoying about my facebook experience in particular was that I had to block or hide individuals or certain types of posts from lots of people due to me inadvertently judging folks HARD for the crap they posted on facebook. What's the point of facebook when you've hidden like, a third of the people you're "friends" with?

Overall, I truly don't see myself returning to facebook or anything similar for any reason. I'm reinventing myself in many ways, and hoping to turn a new leaf and branch out into new social networks (off of social media) when I'm ready to do so.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Recovering nail biters out there?

I think I've learned the secret to recovering destroyed finger nails after decades of nail biting! It's no cure for ebola, but it's something. Though, I fear that my nail biting habits will return as I'm officially studying for and taking my PHR exam in three months. Fingers crossed - no pun intended.

Before I get into what has been actually working for me, things I've tried that haven't worked....
  • Getting my wisdom teeth pulled. Was the longest I've ever let my nails grow, but sadly I gnawed them away immediately after my mouth recovered.
  • Getting fake nails. This actually left my nails in far worse condition (which says a lot, because they were already so thin from being bitten away)
  • Letting them grow on and on without trimming intermittently. They'd grow, but they'd break so easily because they were so weak.
So what has been working?
  • Keeping them manicured...three steps: 1. Hardener base coat 2. Polish 3. Top coat. Somehow this makes them a lot thicker, and protects them from chipping or tearing during every day life. Painting my nails has been kind of therapeutic, to be honest...you could almost meditate or pray while you're being meticulous over your nails.
  • Trimming a bit off the top each time I re-manicure (anywhere from every 3 days to once a week). Kind of like growing out hair, keeping nails trimmed takes off the shriveled edges, so that a clean edge can end up growing longer.
  • NO BITING - duh.
  • Drinking more water. I recently started a conscious effort to drink a ton more water, and magically, any ridges that I had in my nails (which would sometimes cause them to break) have almost disappeared. I am hypothesizing that this is a result of my drinking more water.
Disclaimer....they are still on the short side on the "how females keep their nails" spectrum, but for me, this is really quite long. Also, I'm no pro at painting my nails, but this was my attempt at a chunky french manicure....

Friday, September 26, 2014

Adventurous day drinking.

I don't really have much to say for today, other than it was one of those days where I needed to get out of the office on my lunch break for a bit, and drink some Thai/Vietnamese/Korean/??? drinks that involve not only the liquid you are slurping through a straw, but also a variety of solids and gelatinous deliciousness. Coconut. Jelly. Odd fruits. Basil seeds. Grass. I really enjoyed it....it was definitely taking my bubble tea affinity to the next level.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What happens when you have kids? You acquire LOTS of stuff.

When you have kids, you have a lot of kid-stuff in your home....almost without having a say in it. You really do have to accept the fact that you'll have this extra truckload of stuff in your home.

How does one manage the piles and piles of things that make their way into the house? I can comment on how I manage it...for now, I don't really involve the kids in this process because they are still too young to get it. Of course I never get rid of their beloved/favorite toys...they have never noticed when I've gotten rid of something broken or donated something they never played with much in the first place.

my living room - pre and post toy declutter sesh.
  • I try to go through the kids' clothing, books, dishes, and toys every couple of months or so, to keep the sheer amount of stuff from taking over the entire apartment, and to rid ourselves of the stuff that is useless, broken, or too small (if clothing). 
  •  First, get all of it out in the open. From every single room, nook, and cranny of your house. You have to see everything you're working with. 
  • Four piles: keep, donate, trash, and store (toy rotation can be a good thing).
  • Keep the toys that still work and that you notice the kids playing with. Donate toys that the kids have outgrown or don't really use anymore. Trash toys that are straight up busted. Store toys that you wish to rotate out, so that not ALL the toys are out ALL the time.
  • Put the "keep" toys back using a storage system that is easy-access, yet discreet if it needs to be.
  • And done! Your kids no longer have to sift through busted toys to get to their favorites. And you're not having to manage the cleaning and storing of said busted toys any longer.
Other things to note, regarding the intake of kid stuff....
  • I try not to buy the kids physically huge toys (read - would need to sit out on the floor at all times) unless they are a true value-add.
  • I do my best to keep toy-buying to birthdays and special occasions (and limit the volume during those times), but that isn't always realistic, as we do like to get them things off-cycle from time to time.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Project 333...what I've learned a few months in.

Now that I've been trying to follow Project 333 for a few months now, I've learned more about how it works for me in my lifestyle...

1. High quality is the best...in the right pieces. Jeans, bags, shoes, and athletic gear. Those are where high quality goes a long way for me. (I recently replaced my old navy jeans with some nicer ones when they became unpresentable and dumpy due to bagginess. Yuck/yay.)

2. A few cheaper, less durable clothes in the mix = turn and burn to release boredom. If you have some cheaper blouses that you like, but wear to shreds within the span of a year, it at least allows you mix up your look a bit while still having a simple pared down wardrobe.

3. I do like to mix around my jewelry after all. What works best for me is picking some jewelry from my collection to wear for a week, then getting out a new combo for the next week, etc. This gives the benefit of simplicity, while still adding the interest of change.

4. Pumps are necessary for me in a professional setting, after all. I've tried to not replace my heels that I wore down, but I just have certain days where I need to dress to the nines (particularly when presenting), so I've got some basic nude pumps en route to me as I type this.

5. Fine knit basic cardigans always suck regardless of price (in my experience), so just get the cheapest kind you can still look good in. They are a staple in my wardrobe despite their delicate, fickle ways. My yellow one looks terrible after just 6 months, so I'm planning to replace it with something much cheaper.

6. I don't like wearing dresses or skirts that much.

Sometimes I reminisce on the days when I was a stay at home mom or college student and didn't have to fuss so much over my clothing looking professional and presentable. Having less clothes has made it so much easier, but it's still a learning process around what works in what ways.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My minimalist meal take-to-work prep in action!

I'm executing the plan I made last week regarding my meal plan, which is to find things I love to eat and create a routine out of those things. Steamlining my life is what I'm about now - it's an iterative process, so I feel like I'm in a good place to move into addressing a huge area of chaos for me: my food.

I did my first prep session for the week ahead, as per my meal plan. It was surprisingly easy, and took me less than 30 minutes including cleaning, cooking, etc. I made four meals for breakfasts and lunches at work, since one of the days I'm presenting and getting breakfast and lunch catered.

My breakfasts will consist of Special K chocolate mocha protein shakes (not pictured) and these berry/Greek yogurt/granola parfaits. The yogurt I love is Fage Greek Yogurt (pronounced "fah-yeh"). I use frozen berries for these because they mix up better with the yogurt. The granola is from the self-serve bulk section of HEB...I chose a coconut/almond granola. We'll see how that is....
The main portion of my lunches will be these green wraps. These particular ones contain hummus, organic deli chicken, cucumber, and spinach. I was hoping to make it to Potbelly to pick up my favorite hot pepper mix to add in, but I'll get around to that later.
The side dish for my lunches is this Mediterranean curry cous cous. I like the Far East brand that HEB carries. It takes 5 minutes to make, and adds a bit of interest and substance to the lunch.

Friday, September 19, 2014

First attempt EVER at a minimal meal plan.

I was reading in one minimalist blog - zen habits, I believe - that one person found that eating the same thing every day (something that he loves, albeit), has changed his life for the better. Takes the guesswork out of food budgeting, cooking (for those of us who dislike cooking), and the dreaded "what do I take for lunch?" each morning.

Lately I've started to feel overwhelmed by food. I feel like we spend so much money on groceries, yet have very little show for it. I'm always fretting over what the eff I should take for lunch, and don't even get me started on dinner.

Here is what I plan to eat next week (kids and hubby will join for dinners)...of course I'll buy extra fruits and whatnot for snacking purposes, but these are the meals...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

My business trip: what I packed, wore, ate, learned, etc.

I think it's nice to travel every once in awhile for business, but it's definitely not glamorous - in fact, it's very exhausting in reality. You lose a lot of "personal" free time when you travel, because you're either working or in transport to/from your destination. With little kids at home, I do feel lucky to have a job where I don't need to travel often. However, it was actually really nice to see some colleagues in person. I got to meet some for the first time f2f and get to know more on a personal level, which just can't be done quite as well over the phone.

Organization and packing light....pictures below.

  • I took a half-size carry on for all my belongings, and the only small personal items needed in addition were my purse and of course a coffee.
  • Packing is so much more efficient/organized when it's done "compartmentalized". I did that by placing all my undies/bras/pjs rolled up in a separate bag, my dry makeup, jewelry, brushes, etc. in a medium-sized floral bag, and finally my liquid items in a transparent quart-sized bag for the TSA's benefit....
  • Rolling clothes up is the way that works best for me to maximize space. With that being said, I realized that a crisp button-up shirt would be a disaster rolled up in my suitcase, so I took a grey comfy shirt instead (that doesn't require ironing). I wore my suit jacket on the plane and every day to work, so it was never crumpled up in my suitcase.
Pictured are the "compartment" bags I took, as well as the entirety of my belongings I took on my travels...it was so nice to pack light, especially whilst watching others struggle with huge suitcases and multiple bags. Pobrecitas!

Here are a couple of my outfits for work...you'll notice they are slightly different than what I initially planned, but it worked really well for comfort and being wrinkle free! I also opted to bring one of my bold-colored necklaces instead of my gold one, just to stand out a bit in the group. You can't tell cause this pic is b/w...obviously.

 What I ate and what I learned....pics below.

When I travel, eating is absolutely the highlight and central feature of my life. The goal is to either be eating, be hungry so that you can eat, or get hungry. I think eating can make business travel a bit more bearable, and dare I say, a bit more fun!

Some new things I tried:
  • Amazing upscale Indian restaurant that was just a walk away from our hotel - I found it on my Yelp app, so my coworker and I walked over and we both agreed it was one of the best meals we've ever had. I had mustard seed and coconut curry chicken, tandoori shrimp, and crab masala on naan.
  • Shrimp and grits. It had sausage in it as well, and since the particular restaurant was very fancy, I had to at least try to eat the sausage (I hate sausage). I had a few pieces, but ended up eating around the rest of them. Then a co-worker called me out on it, and I felt like I was 5 years old....
  • BANGKOK PEANUT ICE CREAM - SPICY. The best ice cream I've ever had, no lie. It makes me want to put chili powder on all my ice cream from this moment forward.
Some new things I learned:
  •  The Four Seasons is a great place to stay. It was my first time to stay at a Four Seasons hotel, and it definitely lived up to the hype. I learned that they put a $400 ADDITIONAL charge on your card (without telling you - surprise!) in case you incur incidentals (spa, room service, getting your shoes shined). No worries, any amount not used gets refunded after check-out.
  • I need to buy a iPhone charging stick to keep in my bag for travel next time.
  • Going to a new place and being around different people and cultures is refreshing in the sense that it gives you an opportunity to evaluate yourself and your own life. I actually came back feeling a bit inspired....being pulled out of my daily grind is a good thing from time to time.
1. The city 2. My hotel room 3. My hotel 4. DELECTABLE INDIAN FOOD

Sunday, September 14, 2014

My new favorite hairstyle...

I bought a hair bun maker (looks like a mesh donut, and was $2), and now that I have it, I fear that I'll never wear my hair down again. I have always loved wearing my hair in a bun, but the problem has been that it's looked too sloppy to wear at work. That has now changed! With this thing, I can very easily get a polished looking bun in 30 seconds or less...

There are lots of tutorials and info for these things if you google, but really all the process involves is putting your hair in a ponytail through the bun maker, arranging it, and securing it with another elastic and maybe some bobby pins.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kids' fall/winter haul....H&M!

We typically buy clothing for our kids twice a year, once for spring/summer, and once for fall/winter. Both are toddlers, so they grow super-fast and their previous years' clothes for a particular season almost never last over to the next year, even if I buy them with a bit of extra room.

We try to keep around a collection of only the essential items, since clothes for growing softies really don't last very long. In the past, I've liked to shop for kids clothes at Old Navy, Target, Once Upon a Child, etc., because the durability and longevity of the clothing doesn't matter as much for kids clothing that they'll grow out of shortly, as opposed to adult clothing that is more of an "investment". However, I'm pretty sure I may have found my new favorite place to go for kids clothes....H&M! Very inexpensive, lots of cute styles and basics to choose from, and for the price, the clothing actually seems to be pretty well-made. Piece of advice on shopping at H&M....go in person. Don't order online. Because the sizing is all over the place, and you really have to "eyeball" the sizes for each item to see how it may fit your kid. I found that I bought a size up from even a generous "room to grow" size that I'd get at other stores.

Here are my purchases for my daughter, who is 3:
printed sweater tunic, three basic long sleeve shirts, a grey hat, soft black pants, soft polka dot pants, and minnie mouse undies! she already has some dresses and leggings, so this stuff completes her clothing for fall/winter.
And here are my purchases for my son, who will be 2 in a couple of months:
four basic long sleeve shirts, a striped sweater, two pairs of cargo pants, a hat, and some kawaii creature pjs. he already had a few pairs of pants, but was in dire need of some long sleeve shirts.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My 3 Day Business Trip Capsule Wardrobe

Next week I'm going on a 3 day business trip. When I travel alone, I like to go super-light. Recycling clothing pieces, packing versatile items, and only including essentials (especially with makeup/toiletries) makes traveling much easier.

For the purposes of this trip, I'll be going straight from the airport to the office at my destination (and vise versa on the way back), so unfortunately there is not much of an opportunity to wear yoga pants and a sweatshirt on the plane. Therefore, I have to be equipped with comfortable clothes that can also serve as business casual attire. The first night off will be just exploring the city - nothing planned after hours. I'm really looking forward to that - hoping to find a delectable restaurant to try. The second night I have a dinner to attend, and will go straight there from the office.

Here is what I'm planning to wear during my trip...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Start Somewhere: Purging over 28 thousand unwanted digital items!

Want to start streamlining your life, but not sure where to start? Perhaps clearing out unwanted files on your email or computer will get you going in the right direction...it has proven to make a huge difference for me.

We've been so good about decluttering our home and closets, but I've avoided addressing the cluster-eff that is my digital realm. I finally decided to face my fears and dive into four years of backed up files and emails, and now that the bulk of the purge is complete, it feels sleek and streamlined. In fact, it almost feels like I have a brand new computer - the cheap thrills of decluttering. And this is only the purging part....I haven't started to really get my file storage "infrastructure" organized yet. That will be another project, and frankly, the initial declutter is always the most difficult part.

I did a search for any important emails I needed to hang onto (let's be honest, there were only a handful, if any), and after that, I went folder by folder and hit "select all" and then DELETE. The trashcan icon is my new best friend. The Zero Inbox is an elusive state of being, but very satisfactory when you actually achieve it. Even if you are sitting in a room full of crap stacked upon crap stacked upon crap, you may feel just a little bit more "minimalist" if your email is cleaned out.
Over 17 thousand emails weighing my inbox down...YES I WANT TO CONTINUE.
As I've become aware, apparently clearing one's inbox is a gateway drug for clearing out digital files as well. So I went through my computer and purged any unwanted files (almost 25 gigs worth...)
Turning my recycle bin all the way upside down.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Closet Tour!

Want to get up close and personal with my closet? No worries, I will not disclose the contents of my bra and underwear drawers (yet), but at least you'll see how I store them! My closet is definitely a work in progress, but it's become rather functional for me, especially since I started trying to follow Project 333. We have a pretty good-sized walk-in closet, but I'll only show my side, to spare my husband (and your eyes, from the large amount of weights and exercise gear on his side).

Peeking inside our closet door. I store shoes on the shelves (along with art supplies), and my laundry basket is underneath. Most of my clothes are hanging, but I do keep a small set of drawers on the floor under my hanging clothes for storing the following: top drawer: socks and pantyhose (ack), second drawer: undies, third drawer: bras, bottom drawer: accessories, a few sleeps shirts, swimsuit, etc.

On the left, I have my work clothes. On the right, my athletic gear and winter coat. Within those categories, I hang my tops together, and pants/skirts together. I hang my purse on a little area that peeks out from the shelves above.

There is a shelf above to store other stuff. I have my suitcase (which contains another smaller suitcase), a floral box full of keepsakes (my favorite baby outfits for the kids, a few small sentimental items, etc.), a striped box that contains our christmas decor (it's not a lot, but it does make our small space quite festive!), and then the kids' trick or treat baskets and easter baskets. I believe I could store the kids stuff in their closet easily, but haven't gotten around to organizing it yet to make the transition.

Here is a closer look at the front shelves. I have my main shoes I wear all the time (two pairs of flats, boots, and birkenstocks), as well as my heels for special occasions, and also my running shoes and chacos (for outdoor adventures!). Below you can see some watercolor paper and canvases, as well as my paints, bushes, and markers. On the floor, there is a large container full of photo albums and our digital photos on disk (I need to work on archiving these better), and of course, my lovely laundry basket.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Simple dates are the best...

Finding an amazing, yet cheap restaurant within which to chow and chat.
To me, a good date has to have two components: 1. Good food/drink and 2. Good conversation. I think that many people get stressed out about planning or going on a date thinking that it needs to be some extravagant (and thus expensive) affair...but if you keep it simple, it can be stress free and highly enjoyable. Trying a new restaurant with my husband is one of my favorite things to do, and when we get some time alone together, I always really enjoy our conversation. After being married for over five years, it seems that we still haven't run out of things to talk about.

The caveot to this is that you have to be compatible with your date. If you are looking for good conversation and you go on a date with an idiot, then you won't have a good time. When you like to enjoy simple dates with someone (going for a run together, or grabbing coffee together), the success of the date relies heavily on the quality of your partner (and you). This makes me think....maybe when you marry solely for money, and you're not too crazy about your partner's personality....at least you have the extravagance of the dates to distract you from not liking your partner. When you marry for love, you get to enjoy simplicity together, and still really love life. I'm no relationship expert....just rambling my 2 cents.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

I dressed like a man today. And, Whole Foods makeup review.

I consider myself to be quite feminine, but for some reason in the business world, I feel much more comfortable and powerful when I'm dressed like a man (dress shirt, pants, suit jacket). I can really tell a difference in my presence and the way I interact with others at work when I'm wearing this sort of outfit....and I like it.

On another note, ironically right after I wrote my first entry about makeup, my powder as well as my bronzer both crapped out on me. My powder ran out and the rest crumbled up and was impossible to get on my brush, and the bronzer has been starting to irritate my skin a lot, so I had to trash it.

Thus, as I have been doing lately with many of my purchases (or lack thereof), I decided to go the au natural route with my replacements....enter Whole Foods makeup! It's really really difficult to find natural makeup products (I normally have to really scour Ulta for those), so I thought it would be much more accessible moving forward if I found some Whole Foods makeup I liked.

I decided not to replace the bronzer, and just get a new powder. I also got a bright pink lipstick (my favorite type to wear). The brand Mineral Fusion (Whole Foods makeup partner) - powder color: Neutral 1; lipstick color: Charming.

After wearing these, I LOVE THEM. They are pricier than drugstore makeup, but such is life when you want "natural" makeup, apparently. They are still cheaper than many of the products found in Sephora or Ulta.
I think lipstick colors that look shocking in the tube are actually the prettiest ones when worn!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Confession Time.....

My confession is that I still use my Boppy pillow....and neither of my kids are infants any more.

A Boppy pillow is a kind of C-shaped pillow that is made specifically for use with babies - nursing, holding, propping them up, tummy time, cradling them, etc. You buy the pillow, and can choose from dozens of slip cover looks. I loved using the Boppy pillow with both of my kids when they were babies...for my daughter in particular because I had a C-Section with her, and it was too painful to hold her on my own for the first few weeks, so the Boppy allowed me to set her up close to my chest while she nursed.

The thing is....the Boppy, for me, is still SO useful. In fact, I use it every day. It's great as a laptop cushion when I'm laying in bed or sitting on the couch, because I can rest my arms on it and it elevates the laptop to where I can see it better. It can be used as a food surface for when you want to snack or eat whilst watching TV. The Boppy is also quite useful as a pillow in the more traditional sense -  I sometimes hold it while I sleep (sorry, husband!), and sometimes I put it under my knees if I sleep on my back.

I've been rather quick to purge baby items/equipment as my youngest has grown past them (we don't plan to have any more babies). As you probably know, I'm a huge fan of getting rid of things we don't use, so I'm normally very efficient and swift with regard to giving away our baby items. The Boppy is just so functional to me...I can't bring myself to get rid of it in favor of a "grown up" pillow....

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Enjoying the little things...like an easy/cheap spot cleaning fix for carpet!

Our dining area has carpet. We have two small kids. Need I say anything else?

I discovered an amazingly simple and very common-sense (but not for me) way to clean the fossilized spots on our carpet using supplies most people already have on hand (found here). I tried it out, and I was actually shocked at how easy it was and how well it worked. This is the kind of productive energy spend that I'm hoping to get more of in my life as I continue to de-clutter both my physical and mental distractions. Finding enjoyment in even the mundane things that could benefit my home and my family is an interesting task I've put myself to, and so far, our carpet now looks a lot less ratchet.
Before and after!
Have some bothersome stains to remove from your carpet? Before forking out the $$ to rent a carpet shampoo machine, try this...

2 cups warm/hot water
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon clear dish soap
mix these together and scrub your carpet stains with a wash cloth