Tuesday, October 18, 2016

stitch fix...for the men!

***Note: This post contains affiliate if you are inspired by this post to try Stitch Fix, please use me as your referral by clicking HERE to support future posts .  Thank you, friends!!!!***

Ya'll know I love Stitch Fix.  

Then recently they announced their newest service -- Stitch Fix Men!  

No, my Hubby didn't jump up and down when I told him, because like many, many men he really doesn't put a lot of thought into picking out clothes or keeping up with fashion trends.  Nope, my husband is more of a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" kinda guy.  Case in point : until recently he had sported the same haircut that he had since college.  Exact same hair as when I met him fifteen years ago.  Exact.

Recently I convinced him to change it up to a more trendy 'do, which he obliged, and even grew a beard, to keep up with our current beard-loving times.  Disclaimer :  I am not really a beard gal, but this is like having massive sideburns in the 1970' gotta do it.  Our kids need to be able to make fun of him in twenty years for this hard-part and beard combo!   Just like I marvel at my mama's white patent leather go-go boots, and my kids will roll their eyes at my wide assortment of military green garb.

"Mom, you definitely weren't in the why with the camo????"

I love that fashion helps tell the story of our times.

Anyway, I truly enjoy Hubby's new hairstyle, and I am quite excited about Stitch Fix Men in that I would love for my him to try something new, fashion-wise!  He never shops, rarely buys clothes - and really needs to at this point.
So after a request from me last week, he logged onto Stitch Fix and created his style profile.  The things we do for love, right?

He even scheduled his first Fix!

I am SO excited!  (He is not that excited, but is humoring me.)

Does your husband love fashion?  Or perhaps he is like mine, and does not take time to shop or follow trends.  Or maybe you are the one that picks out everything for him and would like this process to be a bit easier on you as well.

Whatever the case, Stitch Fix Men might be an awesome thing for him/you to try!

If you are interesting in trying Stitch Fix Men -  click HERE or on the link below to get started on a style profile!  It will be fun!

I can't wait to share what Paul gets in his first Fix with you!  

In the meantime, I just returned from a weekend girlfriend getaway in New Orleans, so photos and recap from that to come!
Hope everyone is having a lovely week!

Monday, October 10, 2016

'no spend september' : a lesson in patience + priorities

I had always been interested in doing a 'no spend' month.

I'd seen other bloggers doing it and it seemed intriguing.  If you've been reading this blog over the years, you know I love all sorts of personal challenges - but I've never done a financial one.  Until now: my very first finance post.  (Insert either an excited or blank-faced emoji here.)

I knew Hubby would be on-board, as he is a finance guy by trade, a big Dave Ramsey and Mr. Money Mustache follower, and very budget-conscious.  We have big personal finance goals and anything that keeps us focused on that is encouraged!

So when I pitched it to him during our Spain trip he was pretty excited!  We started immediately upon returning home, September 1, and we wrapped up a little over a week ago.

I've had so many thoughts going through my head during this process, I am pretty excited to be getting them out there...

Before starting we had to decide what we would spend money on - the necessities - and stick to only that.

This meant no extras.  We would use the same "all-cash" spending budget we usually follow but ONLY spending on what is truly needed. (I take out X amount of agreed upon cash each week for gas, groceries, kid stuff, health and beauty, etc. and don't use a credit card unless there is an emergency.)

So in the airport, traveling home from Spain, I made a list :

Our necessities...
food to feed family (bought intentionally at grocery store)
church offering/tithe
medicine (if an illness or injury occurs - which did, several times)
birthday gifts
renovation supplies for active projects (aka the backyard)

Not necessities...
fast food
ANY eating out, vending machines, restaurants
random cute stuff at Target (ahhhh!)
dates that cost $
new clothes
new, unnecessary beauty products
random plants from Lowe's
apps! internet purchases!
outings with kids that cost $

Your family's list may look completely different, but that is what we came up with.

So we embarked on the month with those parameters in mind.

Full disclosure : 
  • We did go out on a group date with friends that had already been planned.  We enlisted Hubby's sister as our babysitter and used cash we had received as an anniversary gift to cover the dinner/drinks.   We might have went over this amount slightly, but definitely NOT the usual pricey evening out.
  • I did spend on black coffee and herbal tea while out and about on several occasions.  No expensive lattes, but there were a few times when I needed to write outside the house and needed the peace and sanctuary of a coffee shop.  Or I was letting the kids play at a McD's playland and felt obligated to buy something.  Plus, I deemed basic caffeine a necessity about halfway through month.  Seriously.
  • There was one night, right at the end, that I was so stressed and it had been such a long day with the kids that I went through a drive through on the way home and got us dinner.  I was super annoyed at myself after for doing that, as it was purely for convenience and I felt gross after eating that burger.  
My takeaways from the experience...
  • Such a good example to the kids.  My kids really want for nothing, so it was nice to explain to them, particularly Cormac, that we can't just spend our money on random stuff just because we have it.  He struggled with this.  I don't ever just buy them toys for no reason (EVER) but when out I will occasionally say they can pick a treat for $1 or less.  The biggest issue for my kids was actually our usual Friday Icee and popcorn at Target.  Wow.  They struggled to cope with the fact we couldn't just plunk down five bucks at our favorite place for a snack.  I'll admit, I didn't love it either.  But after many questions of "When is No-Spend September over????" we made it through the month, despite lack of Icee/popcorn consumption.
  • Taught me to be much more organized when it comes to grocery shopping and meal planning...and preparing to go places.   I usually don't cook on the weekends at all, but we'll get takeout for dinners or get lunch on the go!  During our no-spend month I had to spend a bit extra on weekend meals; however, we still ended up saving money overall by not going to restaurants.  I also learned to pack snacks for me and the kids - always - and always have a specific plan for my errands.  My biggest "unnecessary spending issue" became clear from the start of the month...I mostly spent extra money because I was ill-prepared - or bored.  If I had packed a snack for myself, I would not become voraciously hungry and need to buy a snack.  If I had gone through the kids clothing before shopping and made a really specific list, I wouldn't buy extra stuff they probably didn't need.   If I take the time to pack a lunch for the kids, we don't have to eat out. If I just don't go to Target, I won't spend money at Target. Seems obvious, I know.
  • Cutting out little extravagances gives me money for real NEEDS.  For example...the aforementioned occasional eating out.  Simply not eating out AT ALL with the kids, even though it was rare, saved me 10-20 bucks per week!  To me that is big savings!  The money I saved this month on cutting out fast food (and doing all free outings)  with the kids bought ALL their fall shoes!!!!!  (I only buy them each three pair in the fall - athletic pair, trendy pair, church pair. They wear these until they are worn out or outgrown. In spring I do the same. Kids shoes are way expensive.) 
  • I ended up doing more relaxing, rather than shopping/running errands during my weekend "alone time."  Since I couldn't go to stores and actually buy anything, what was really the point?  So I'd read my book, or Paul would take the kids on an outing and I would relax at home.  It was kinda weird - and nice.  I'm not naturally very good at that part was a challenge in itself.   
  • The numbers (Hubby thought I should include this!) -- To give you an idea about how much doing this saved us personally...  Month's spending (including mortgage, bills, everything) was $3100, compared to $4100 in September of 2015.  A savings of $1000! 
Overall, it was a really good (and difficult) experience!  My mindfulness about what I spend money on, and WHY I am spending the money, increased exponentially.  I realize now I can make small changes to save us a little cash, which in the end adds up to a lot!  I realize now I can spend a LOT less by simply using my free time for things other than shopping.  (Duh.)  Plus, I feel MUCH better about everything when I read, relax, or do something productive rather than buy stuff.
It's nice to take a pause and enjoy the beautiful, simple things you already have,  instead of things you need to buy.
Will we be boycotting our weekly Icee and popcorn fix at Target going forward?  Probably not.  But other fast food stops I can definitely avoid.  

Have you ever tried a 'no spend' month?  

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

my favorite chocolate chip cookies.

Everyone needs a good chocolate chip cookie recipe in their back pocket.  

I'm not much of a baker, although I do like to try!  This is the one "baked good recipe" that I now have memorized and actually never worry will turn out badly.  I found a version of it a few years ago, after years of searching relentlessly to find a cookie recipe my hubby approved of, and have used it ever since.

But - you have to love REALLY soft, almost under-baked cookies.

As I said, I found the original version years ago, but have since made my own adjustments,  adding more vanilla, baking a bit less, and almost always using dark chocolate chips.  Clearly that makes them healthier.
You will need:
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white granulated sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 cups flour
2 tsp vanilla
1 bag (2 cups) of dark chocolate chips

To make: 

  • Mix the sugars, butter and oil together until combined, then add the eggs and beat until fluffy.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until well combined. 
  • Grease a cookie sheet and place round dough balls that are a bit more than a tablespoon full - do not flatten.  I usually put 12 on a pan at a time, and this recipe will yield about 3 1/2 dozen...depending on how much cookie dough you or little people that are "helping" consume. 
  • Bake at 350 degrees for NO MORE than 8 minutes.  They should barely browned on top - or not at all.  Let cool on baking rack.  They will flatten slightly.  They will be gooey and delicious.  If you like crispy cookies, this is not your recipe.  You could bake a bit longer if you want...but I wouldn't!  They are best while still gooey, but still quite good for a couple days after.
Happy baking!!!!! 

Monday, September 26, 2016

book club : what we read this year!

{Note : This post contains affiliate links to some pretty fabulous books.  Clicking on the links helps to support this blog!}
I am completely obsessed with books.  I used to come home from school, grab a plateful of food, and then spend hours holed up in my room with a novel.  I was notorious as a pre-teen for stealing my older sister's boyfriend's books when he would come to take her out on a date and proceed to finish the entire book while they were out romancing.  (Thank you, Brian, for introducing me to various Paulsen and Krakauer titles!  It was a much-needed break from Sweet Valley High, Christopher Pike, RL Stine and re-reading the Anne of Green Gables series for the millionth time.)

I chose to be an English major in college (like most English majors) just because my two favorite things were reading and writing.  I gave very little thought to what you can actually "do" in life with this degree. English majors are creative and thoughtful...but not always super practical.

Here is one thing I am qualified to do : start a book club.  One year ago I decided enough was enough -- I needed to discuss good books on a regular basis with other bookish folks!  I had finally been invited to join one, but I didn't know anyone in it very well, and I strongly desired an intimate group of women that I knew were as in love with books as I was.  So I grabbed a friend, fellow English degree holder + a high school English teacher, and we each invited a couple female friends to join the group.

There are lots of creative ways to hold a book club.  Some groups choose books from a jar of choices that everyone contributes to.  In ours we simply take turns choosing (can be any genre) and the person picking the book that month gets to also choose where we meet for discussion.  I encourage a place that sort of fits with the theme of the book (I am a theme-nerd) but really any location is fair game.  We meet at bars, restaurants, and even at home.

I thought I would share what our group has read over the past year, since we are coming up on our one-year anniversary in October!  We've done six books, as it worked out to be around every eight weeks we could meet.  There are six of us, so we each got a pick!

1) Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
I loved this book...because it is completely fantastical and even as an adult I can vibe with that.  Most of what is in my head is pretty fantastical and illogical.  I was unfamiliar with this author hitherto, but loved his writing style and was hooked the whole way.  I even enjoyed recapping every day what I had read to my five-year-old son, who enjoys when I tell him in detail about the plots of books I read.  The kid just loves story-telling in general, so I can't wait for him to read this book someday!  The rest of the ladies seemed to like this book as well, but no one else seemed quite as enamoured as me.
2) The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
This memoir was one we all really enjoyed!  Super dark, but pretty gripping all the way through. Memoirs are my favorite genre, and I gravitate towards strong female this one I highly recommend -  maybe my most favorite pick this year.  Lots of grit and great conversation starters.
3) Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield 
This "modern re-telling of Pride and Prejudice" was a quick read but sort of disappointing for a few of us hard-core Jane Austen fans.  If you end up reading it, don't expect any of the sweet and clean romance that Austen provides.  "Modern" here means sexting, vulgarity, and (in my opinion) actually the removal of true romance in the relationship.  I approached the novel as a farce, much like how I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,  so it made me chuckle a lot.  So ridiculous. But if you read it wanting or for modern-day Elizabeth Bennet to be likable, you will be sorely disappointed.  Or maybe not.  Just my opinion.
4) The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
This super popular book was an easy, beach read that I think everyone loved.  Highly recommend for a book club, as it generates a lot of conversation and was a quick read.  (Hubby loved it, too!)
5) Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
This was my pick, and probably the most obscure.  It was recommended by another friend who read it in her book club and said it was a favorite that generated a lot of discussion.  I loved Franz Kafka in college, the dark weirdness of it all, so I jumped on board.  Probably the most difficult read...and I'm pretty sure only two of us actually finished the book.  Of course, everyone else in our book club is a teacher, so they've all been pretty busy with the start of school.  All that being said : a really good book!   Especially if you like fantastical, bizarre, mysterious, heavily-metaphorical, modern retellings of Greek tragedy.  The characters are so intricate and oddly beautiful, and the story is woven together expertly.  Gets a little "out there" and long in the second half, but still left me desperate for I couldn't stop reading.  I definitely want to try other Murakami books.
6) The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
The latest pick!  I have never heard of this novel, but apparently it has been around, has been made into a movie, and has a huge waiting list at my local library.  Amazon it is! :)

Did I love all the books?  No.  I don't think any of us did.  Some were easy to read, others a bit of a struggle.  Everyone has their own preferences.  It is fun to get to know other authors and genres than you are used to and expand your horizons, though!  

Other stuff I read in the meantime...A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (loved) Me Before You by Jojo Reyes (eh) Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham (fabulous) and Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire by JK Rowling (of course, loved.)  I also did two really great Bible studies that honestly were pretty life-changing for me : The Armor of God by Priscilla Shirer and Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby.  If you are looking for a study to help you grow in your walk with Christ and perhaps better understand his plan for your life, I would recommend both of these!
Currently reading : The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Click on any of the images to get a better sense of the books or purchase!

Are you in a book club?  Have you read any of the above books?  What are you reading right now?  
I would love to hear!  

Friday, September 16, 2016

a week in spain.

Spain feels like forever ago.  With school starting and a bunch of other events that have occurred since our trip, I feel pretty removed from the romance of our getaway.  So I am going to immerse myself for the next hour in these photographs, re-read my notes, and try to give you a recap of our very lovely week!

As I mentioned recently in this post, every year we try to take one romantic just-us vacation.

We chose Spain this year because we needed to pick a spot in Europe (we sometimes piggyback our vacations with Hubby's work trips, which helps pay for part of the expense) and we wanted a warm beach getaway.  Plus, neither of us had ever been to Spain.  I really love Hemingway and even though we didn't travel to any places that he frequented, I still, of course, packed a Hem book (A Moveable Feast) that I'd been wanting to read for ages and devoured it during our trip.  (The book is about Paris, but oh well.  So, so good.)

I'll mostly let the photos of our trip do the telling.  If you follow me on IG and IG Story (those little circles at the top of your Instagram screen) you sorta knew what was going on while we were there.  

Here we go!
Flying from Barcelona to the island of Mallorca!
I've never felt so nasty and sweaty as in this photo, after only 3 hours of sleep on the plane.  Ew! But at least we were in Spain! 
fried goat cheese salad and beer while waiting for the train to Soller.
riding this cute old train was worth it - a beautiful scenic ride!
on the train ride from palma to soller
sign at one of the train stops.
we passed lots of pretty cities nestled in the foothills.
mountains and olive groves were all around us.

When we got to the town of Soller it was a short walk to our small hotel, which was near the popular city square.  A boutique hotel in a renovated beautiful old mansion, we unloaded our bags and marveled for a while over the beauty of our room -- smartly updated yet so old.  The ceilings were to the moon, the windows enormous,  and the views beyond lovely.  My kinda place.
I could wake up to this view every day.
Since we were both pretty exhausted from jet lag, the plan for the rest of the day was to take a long, luxurious nap, and then do a really late dinner - as is the fashion there, anyhow.

Dinner ended up being a nearby tapas restaurant, where we ordered various small plates of things we thought looked delicious, as well as grabbed things from the "toothpick tapas bar buffet" (my term) where everything has a toothpick in it and that is how you are charged at the end.  Maybe I was just ridiculously hungry, but everything tasted pretty fantastic along with the several glasses of cava I drank.  (I'm not trying to seem worldly.  I asked for champagne and I was informed they only have cava.  Which is champagne.  I think?)
Anyway, we sat right in front of a guy playing the saxophone, and they were projecting Charlie Chaplin movies on the there was a lot of interesting vibes going on in this place.  A really fun night out!
dark and grainy night selfie after our dinner date.
our hotel!  I highly recommend!
The next day we slept as late as we could, factoring in our messed up internal clocks, ate our hotel breakfast (meats, fruit, bread, cheese...Euro-style breakfasts are kinda my favorite thing) and I drank copious amounts of the amazing coffee that they brought to me in a French press.
Paul representing KY at breakfast by the pool.  
Then it was off to the beach!  We could have taken the tram, but instead we decided to get a workout in by walking the 1.5 miles down to the beach.  To work off all that bread I ate, right?  YES!

We got there and it was really lovely.  A bay, with calm water, lots of sailboats, and a chill atmosphere.  An interesting mix of tourists, as Mallorca is a favorite beach holiday spot in Europe, and August is prime season.  Fortunately, it wasn't crowded...and it was quiet!  People are not obnoxious or crazy like at many beach destinations we've been to.  No one is out to get really drunk there, in fact, you do your drinking away from the beach, in any one of the really great restaurants along the boardwalk.
some cool houses on the cliffs overlooking the beach.

drinking some local beers at lunch.
of course, we had to have some seafood paella at least once.
Day two on the island of Mallorca was market day!  Happily we discovered the big market day was Saturday, so after Hubby indulged in a massage (his vacay ritual) and I read by the pool for a really long time (my vacay ritual) we wandered a couple blocks over to the square where the big market is held weekly.

hubby pretending to enjoy shopping
me legitimately enjoying shopping (and eating fresh coconut)
fresh coconut!
all the olives!
we picked an outdoor cafe on the market perimeter and enjoyed a leisurely lunch of caprese salad and fish and drinks, of course.
I am not typically a rose drinker...but I ordered it a lot on this warm weather trip!
After our market experience, we headed back to the hotel and grabbed our beach stuff -- excited for another long walk down to the Mediterranean...
hotel pool (aka my reading spot)
random house on the walk to the beach.  green shutters were pretty much the thing there.
cute little grocery store on the way to the beach.
After swimming and just laying on the beach for a really long time, we decided to choose a random seaside bar for drinks and a snack.  I decided I am a much better day-drinker than night-drinker.  I like slowly drinking all day, getting a nice little buzz,  then actually being sober by sundown.  Obviously, this is only possible when we are away from our children. :D
bar with a view
This is my post ocean swimming look.  Not great.  My wrinkles definitely got worse on this trip...but totally worth it!!!!!
handsome hubby.
really fabulous mango margarita
delicious nachos.  
we walked off the nachos and took in the sights.
swimming just before sundown
took a selfie not noticing the dude lying in the water there - lol!  
hmmm...not the best shot but you get the idea.
The next day it was time to head to Barcelona!
in the cab to the airport
When we got to Barcelona we took a cab ride (in which our cabby got pulled over and ticketed) to our hotel, your basic Hilton near the beach.  Vastly different from our cute boutique digs in Soller, but, hey, we weren't planning to spend much of our time at the hotel for this half of the week.

We didn't really feel like trying to do a lot of sightseeing that day, so instead we took a run along the huge and busy Barcelona beach (100% different than that of Soller) checked out the crazy seaside scene.  Super crowded, lots of naked and partially naked folks sunbathing or showering off (Soller was more "tastefully topless") and a pretty good beach volleyball scene!  There were also lots of beach restaurants so we decided that after a nap we would take the metro over to Barceloneta (the beach area that was really built up for the '92 Olympics) and get dinner.

We found a cute little tapas spot on the beach and I might have drank the largest sangria imaginable. 
Paul likes to look things up on his phone mid-conversation (don't worry - pertaining to the conversation.) 
I like to take random selfies - like this one with this awesome accordion player
Apparently the subway tram closes at midnight in we ended up walking a LONG way back to our hotel.  Which sobered me up pretty quickly.  Got offered drugs and beer several times along the way.

The next day, because our not-cute or quaint hotel was located across from a mall, we hit up the outdoor food court which boasted this cute sushi place - because, 'when in Spain,' right???  But seriously, we were both going through sushi withdrawals, and this spot was both adorable and delicious.  We need Miss Sushi stateside!
rose, obviously.

sushi is just fun to take photos of.
Now, on to Barcelona!  That second day we decided to get on the tram and head downtown, which was super quick and easy.  Coming up from the subway was a breath of fresh (okay, no, not really fresh) air for me, as I love the energy of downtown areas and obviously the architecture and feel of Barcelona was going to be historic and cool.
I just liked these periwinkle shutters.  A lot.

I remember thinking how much Finola would have loved chasing all these pigeons!
somehow I forgot my selfie stick at here I am testing out a new one!  :D
eating this coffee float with almond ice cream.  almonds are a superfood, so it was pretty healthy.
taking a break in one of the many old squares

the Cathedral of Barcelona was one of the 'tourist spots' we made a point to visit - the rest was a lot of random wandering

beer break.  we sat at this cafe in front of the cathedral for about two hours.
another local beer.
Picasso's art and influence was everywhere
That night we decided to grab some takeaway food, a bottle of cheap (but, of course, really good) wine from a store, and have a night picnic on the beach in Barceloneta.  We listened to music and the waves and it was really chill and fun.  

The next day our agenda was to go back into the gothic quarter of Barcelona, tour the Picasso Museum, go inside the Cathedral, and then randomly wander the city some more.  
But first...a stop at the bakery on the way to the metro for Spain's version of donuts (amazing) and my daily breakfast of a ham and cheese baguette and a cappuccino.

Once in Barcelona, we toured the Picasso Museum, which was really cool for both of us (I'm an art history lover, and Paul loves anything with an audio tour!)  Then we actually walked through the Cathedral, since the day before I had short-ish shorts on and that is not allowed in the church.

Then, obviously, we had to eat and drink some more.  In the square of the Santa Maria church we found the perfect tapas spot.
If you travel to Spain, I hope pig is your jam!  
trust me, this was all very good.  whatever it was.
another serenade from a street musician!  I could get used to this.
So that was Spain!  
Such a relaxing, non-stressful vacation...which was just what we were looking for.  So, so grateful to my in-laws, who watched and loved on our kids while we were away, which gives us this awesome opportunity to see different parts of the world and reconnect with each other.