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.

Ingredients:
  • 12 oz Bakers White Bar Chocolate
  • 6 oz Bakers Semi Sweet Bar Chocolate
  • crushed peppermint candy or candy canes
  • coconut oil
Steps:
  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.
6. DON'T FORGET YOUR ID.
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.