Monday, May 2, 2016

Grocery Shopping: The Struggle

A couple weeks ago, I got fed up with shopping at Aldi. It seemed that everything I needed to buy from there was about to expire and would expire within a day or so—well before we’d actually use it, or use all of it. I have bought mostly bag lettuce from Aldi because the only other option is iceberg lettuce, and I hate eating just iceberg lettuce. Lately, all of the bag lettuce—no matter which kind I try to buy—would expire within a couple days. Same with their bread (which I don’t eat, but Chris does). I’ve thrown so much food from Aldi away in the past month or so because it has gone bad before we had a chance to use it all. It’s incredibly wasteful and I felt like I was throwing our money away. I’ve thrown away tons of fruit that had mold on it. Bread that was moldy within two days after I bought it. It is incredibly frustrating to go out of my way to shop there to save money only to throw so much of what I buy there away because it’s gone bad. Sure, this was somewhat of a problem in St. Louis, especially with their produce, which was almost always hit or miss—it was never good or bad consistently. But I don’t remember having this many issues with other products like the bagged lettuce and bread. 

So I decided I’d rather spend a little more money and do all my shopping at Kroger to ensure we weren’t throwing away food that has gone bad too soon and that our only options weren’t food that was about to expire. That worked fine the first week. I spent maybe $10-$20 more than I would have at Aldi, but I saved a ton of time (and gas) by only going to one store. And none of our food went bad before we had the chance to eat it. So I shopped at Kroger again over the weekend. This time, I was disappointed and frustrated. Their produce looked terrible and was overpriced. The fruit that was on sale—blackberries and raspberries—looked awful. Their cherry and grape tomatoes had mold growing on them. So I decided to skip produce altogether, thinking we could go to the Farmer’s Market and get better produce at better prices. We had stopped going to the farmer’s market earlier in the year because they just didn’t have enough produce because very little of what we needed was in season at the time.  

We went to the farmer’s market yesterday and I was disappointed yet again. Farmer’s markets seem to be less and less about selling produce, meat, eggs, etc. and more about selling the kind of food you can eat right now and crafts. There were so few produce stands at the farmer’s market, and none of them had anything I was looking for. Luckily, there is another produce stand across the street from the farmer’s market that sells a variety of actual produce. So we went there. Their veggies were priced better and looked okay, so we got all our veggies for the week there. We skipped fruit because although their fruit looked pretty good, it was all extremely overpriced (although without mold, I’m sure). 

It was an extremely frustrating experience overall. Until our house sells, we need to be saving money where we can. But I don’t want to shop at Aldi if everything I buy will expire before we are able to use all of it (or any of it in some cases). And while shopping at just Kroger was significantly nicer in that it saved me time and gas, it was just as frustrating trying to find decent produce for a good price. And Kroger has so many more options it’s almost worse to shop there because I inevitably end up buying at least one or two things we don’t really need (and they’re typically not healthy choices either!). I’m at a loss for what to do currently. Those are the closest and least expensive grocery stores to us. Our other options are Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, which I try to only go to when we need a specialty item I can’t find at Kroger (like coconut aminos, aka soy-free soy sauce). 

Eating healthy is important, but saving money is important too. And I don’t want to feel like I’m throwing money away buying nearly expired food from Aldi. Any tips, suggestions, etc. would be greatly appreciated!  

Monday, March 28, 2016

Doing the Best I Can: March Updates

It's been a while since I posted an update for you guys, so while I have some free time (and by "free time" I mean waiting for a response so I can actually start working on a project), I thought I'd do a little writing here.

First, I know you are all dying to know what's new in the Mold Saga. Unfortunately, it's not good news. Our apartment was inspected and it was found that one of the windows is actually leaking, causing a significant buildup of moisture on the windowsill and the floor below. They didn't find moisture in the bathroom in our bedroom, but that's probably because we stopped using it. Basically, although the inspector recommended installing exhaust fans and replacing the windows, the owner said no. We were told to just leave the doors open while we shower (which we were already doing, in addition to hanging our wet towels outside the bathroom to dry) and to wipe off any condensation on the windows. Meanwhile, we all continue to be sick and poor Copper has been wearing the "cone of shame" for a week and a half now. I have contacted a lawyer and am waiting to see if we have a case to sue the owner over this. If not, then we're stuck with our moldy apartment until December when our lease is up.

My poor baby! We did buy her a "comfy" cone that's a little softer (and reusable). But every time we take it off, she immediately starts scratching her face. :(

Remember way back when I said I was giving up bananas and avocados since they can be cross-reactive in people with latex allergies? Well I gave up bananas for almost a month. Then I had one banana every day for three days in a row. I noticed zero changes except remembering that I'm really burnt out on bananas and I enjoyed not eating one every day. I gave up avocados for a shorter period of time, because guacamole. Again, I didn't notice any difference with or without avocados in my diet. I'm currently under a lot of stress right now with the problems in our apartment, trying to sell our house, and a lot of other stuff. I may revisit this idea in the future, but I think right now, I'm done experimenting with my diet. I'm going to continue trying to eat as healthy as I can for as cheaply as I can (with a few convenience frozen pizzas thrown in here and there), otherwise I might go insane.

I do have some good news to share, though. A few weeks back I had two job interviews. One for a job I was really interested in and the other was for a job I applied for only because I was qualified and was at a point where I just needed a job. It wasn't something I truly wanted to be doing. Well, I didn't get an offer from the one I was interested in, but I did get an offer from the other one. I initially accepted it, but around the same time, I landed a freelance writing gig. The more I did the writing and the more I realized I might have to give it up if I took a full time job, the less and less I wanted that job. If I was going to give up writing, it definitely needed to be for a job I really wanted. After crunching some numbers and deciding we could make it work, I turned down the full time job offer. I am currently writing [almost] full time and also working a part-time job. It's definitely not as much money as I'd like to be making, and it means we won't be making much progress on paying off our debt anytime soon, but I'm already much happier and feel so relieved that I don't have to take a job I don't want just for the money. I took a risk, and I'm hoping it pays off!

I've got a lot going on, some of which I may write about later in a separate post. Right now, I'm spending almost all day, every day writing and it makes me immensely happy, so I'm trying to focus on that.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Mold Saga Continues

Over the weekend I discovered mold growing on my ivy plant. Yes, the very plant I brought into my home to help eliminate the mold (in the air at least) started growing mold on it. Perhaps that’s why after the first few days in our apartment it started to droop and die. It’s now out on our balcony where I’m hoping it will perk back up. I removed all the dead and moldy leaves and removed the top part of the soil that had the mold on it. With any luck, it will start growing again soon. If not, i think I may need to throw the poor thing away. I’d love to start over with another ivy, or another type of plant altogether, but I’m guessing that if a plant that’s supposed to reduce mold starts growing mold on it, others will too. My future houseplants might just have to wait until the mold in our apartment is removed. 

On top of that, yesterday I discovered mold on my hair brush. I don’t even know what to do about that. I can buy a new hair brush, but it will inevitably grow mold too until the problem is fixed. And poor Copper gets worse and worse every day. She’s scratching at her eyes, which are red and swollen, constantly and she’s licking/chewing on her paws. Chris and I don’t feel much better. I think we both have had sore throats, headaches, and sinus congestion, and I get itchy/watery eyes and have a rash that won’t go away (it’s probably not food-related). 

It has been tough to not bite each other’s heads off lately. We’re both sick and exhausted with all of this. While our landlord/property manager has been pretty great about getting people to our apartment to fix other things very quickly (I put in a maintenance request this morning because we suddenly have very low water pressure in our shower, and someone will be out tomorrow to fix it), they have been extremely slow with the mold problem. Initially, they sent someone out right away. I think now that they’re realizing it’s going to take a lot more work (and money) than they first thought, they’re much slower to respond. I sent an email last week that was answered but my response to their email was not. I sent another this morning. Still waiting for a response on that one. I was told they have contacted several companies for quotes for the ductwork, but that’s it so far. They have yet to reply to my response that “I understand that there is more work to be done, but I’m concerned as to what will be done about the existing mold…doing the ductwork and installing exhaust fans is only going to prevent future mold from growing. It does nothing for what’s already there. Meanwhile my family and I continue to be sick from it.” 

Today’s email was a request for an update on the status of this problem and an inquiry as to when the renovations on the apartment across the hall will be completed because if it’s mold-free and has the proper ventilation and exhaust fans, we would be interested in moving. Still waiting for a response on that one.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

February Recap

Copper and I walked 125-ish miles this month! That’s 20-ish more than January! (Remember, my app isn’t 100% accurate, so it might be more.) I can’t believe how much we walked! And March is off to a good start as well (thanks mostly to the nice weather). 

As far as my goals for the year go, I’ve been slacking a bit. We haven’t made any progress toward budgeting/paying off our debts because I still don’t have a full-time job. (You can read about my frustration with job hunting here.) I do have a part-time, work-from-home job that I started recently, but I’m still training and not getting regular projects yet. Hopefully once I really get started with that we’ll have some extra money to start tackling our debt. I’m also hoping to start a retail position soon, which would also be part time, to earn some extra money while I’m still looking for a full-time job. I do have a potential freelance client in the works as well, so that will be helpful too! I created an online resume/portfolio in the hopes that it will help me land a great job. Check it out and let me know what you think! Any feedback is appreciated! 

I’ve finished reading two books so far this year, but have made zero progress on writing my own book, so that’s a bummer. I need to ramp up my writing this month. We are trying to be better about eating at home more, both to save money and eat healthier. We’re not doing as great as I would like for us to do on that front, but I think after we realized just how much we spent eating out last week, we will make more of an effort to eat at home! 

For those of you following along with our Mold Saga, our problems continue. They were supposed to install exhaust fans in the bathrooms on Monday, but the electrician said there was some duct work that needed to be done prior to the installation, so he said he would let them know and then left. I haven’t heard anything since. So today I put in another work order asking about the status of the duct work/exhaust fans and also asking what will be done to remove the existing mold (because exhaust fans are only going to prevent new mold from growing). I am allergic to mold and feel like I’ve been sick since shortly after we moved here. My asthma has gotten worse, my sinuses are constantly congested, my eyes get itchy and watery, and my throat hurts almost daily. Chris has started showing similar symptoms as well (although I think he’s slightly better off since he isn’t home all day, every day like I am), and Copper licks and chews on her paws constantly, which may or may not be related to the mold. So it’s becoming a serious health issue for all of us, which I made sure to include in my work order request. 

Unfortunately, my thumb isn't as green as I had hoped and my poor English Ivy plant doesn’t look like it’s going to make it. It got really droopy in our bedroom and I thought it wasn’t getting enough light, so I moved it out to the kitchen where there’s a lot more light throughout most of the day, but it just keeps getting droopier. I also thought I was overwatering it, so I’ve lightened up on that quite a bit, but it’s still not perking back up. 

When I first potted the plant and put it in our bedroom, I noticed a big difference in how I felt almost immediately. That only lasted for a few days though. Once it started drooping, I went back to feeling crappy. I’ve tried to look online for solutions to get it to perk back up and save it, but nothing has worked, and I’m constantly reading conflicting opinions. Some articles I read seem to think ivy does better in shade or indirect light, while others say they need more sunlight. Most have said not to over-water, so I’m trying to let the soil dry out more in between waterings, but that hasn’t helped. If anyone has any experience with indoor ivy plants and has any suggestions for saving this poor guy (and me!), let me know! 

Here’s to hoping March is full of good things, like a full-time job, an offer on our house (we recently lowered the price!), and no more mold!  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Job Hunting is a lot like Dating

I will admit, it’s been quite a few years since I’ve dated, and even longer since I was going on semi-frequent dates with different people, looking for the right person to date long-term. I have, however, conducted many job searches over the past couple years, and the whole process (which is extremely flawed, but that’s another post altogether), feels a lot like dating.

I did have an online dating profile—briefly—back in college, but it was more as a joke, and I never actually met anyone in person. Today’s job search feels pretty similar to what online dating is like. You create an online profile/image for yourself that potential employers will view and judge you by before they even consider sending you an email or giving you a phone call to potentially set up an interview. In the same way with dating sites and apps, you’re being judged by your picture, your description, your hobbies and interests, and so on.

In the dating world, as with the job search, there are all these “rules”, which seem to constantly change. You want to appear interested, and in a job search, persistent, but you don’t want to come off as desperate or needy—so don’t call or email too often. You should wait a certain amount of time before calling/texting/emailing. I’ve seen varying opinions on whether you should include a cover letter, how long your resume should be (stick to one page, or is more okay?), etc. 

After you speak on the phone, perhaps more than once, you decide to meet in person. You wear your best outfit, try to ask the right questions, and give intriguing, appropriate answers to their questions. You leave the date/interview thinking it went really well. Maybe there will be a second. But even after the first, you're already invested—you've gotten to know them and they’ve gotten to know you; you've gotten a peek at what it would be like to work there/be with them, what the day-to-day might be like, maybe it’s the dream job (or the job that could turn into the dream job—or the person you can picture yourself with long-term…marriage, kids, retirement, etc.). They tell you they’ll be in touch, and if you’re lucky, they give you a specific date.

You wait around, sometimes hearing nothing on the other end. Did you say/do something wrong? Did you have lipstick smudged on your teeth? You wait and wait for the appropriate number of days to pass before it’s deemed acceptable for you to call or email and check in (10-ish business days after an interview, unless they gave you a specific date, in which case, if you don’t hear from them on said date, you should wait another day or two before reaching out so you don’t look too desperate—insert eye-roll emoji here).

Sometimes, you get ghosted. The other person just disappears, ignoring your emails and phone calls. You’re left still wondering what you did wrong, with no feedback as to what you could do to improve (okay, getting feedback from a date might be weird/awkward). Other times, you get the rejection email/text/phone call. “It’s not you, it’s me.” “I met someone else.” “You were a qualified candidate, but we chose a candidate whose skills and qualifications best meet our current needs."

Now you have to deal with that rejection. You’re angry, then sad, maybe even depressed. “What’s wrong with me?” “Why doesn’t anyone want me?” “What am I doing wrong?” It honestly takes some time to get over it, move on, and put yourself back out there, because you had been picturing yourself with that person/company, you had imagined your future together, and with a quick email, all of that is gone. So you have to get over it and move on, and if you’re unemployed, you have to do this more quickly than you might have to in other situations. You have to put yourself back out there and go through it all over again, risk the rejection and heartbreak all over again. Because as the job-seeker, you don’t get to be the cold and distant one who says “It was great to meet with you and we’ll be in touch soon”. It’s expected that you’ll be enthusiastic and eager and show genuine interest each and every time, because potential employers don’t want cold and distant employees. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Testing Out My Green Thumb

I recently did something I never thought I would ever do: I bought myself a house plant. It was my Valentine’s Day gift to myself, actually:

We have a mold problem in our apartment (which I am, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, allergic to). I have cleaned and cleaned our bathroom—the main culprit because there is no exhaust fan or window—to no avail. It also appears that there is mold on the window in our bedroom and the windows in the living room. I started doing some research and found that many houseplants help purify and remove toxins from the air. English Ivy in particular can help reduce mold spores in the air in addition to removing other toxins from the air. 

So I decided to give it a shot. I went to Lowe’s and bought a ceramic planter to plant the ivy in, along with soil, 3 small English Ivy plants, and a small trellis for the ivy to climb. I came home, transferred the ivy to the planter, and then placed it in our bedroom. The colors of the planter along with the ivy immediately boosted my mood. As for the mold-reducing properties, well, I didn't have to wait long to see the benefits. 

I woke up the next morning far less congested than normal which seemed miraculous. By the end of the day, my eyes weren’t itching and watering as they have been recently. For at least the past month or so, it was almost painful to keep my contacts in for too long because my eyes became too itchy and irritated. 

I’ve had the ivy for almost a week now and it has made a noticeable difference. My eyes haven’t been itchy at all and I’ve been able to comfortably wear my contacts for the entire day. While my sinuses haven’t cleared up entirely (I don’t really ever expect them to clear up completely), I have noticed significant improvements. My asthma symptoms have also improved significantly. 

My mom sent me a video showing a woman removing mold with hydrogen peroxide. I tried that in our bathroom and on the windows and it didn't work. So I gave in and put in a work order. They asked for pictures of the mold, so I sent in several, and they will hopefully be sending someone out this week to take care of the problem. In the mean time, at least our air is cleaner.

I’ll keep you posted on Ivy’s growth and my symptoms, as well as what happens with our moldy bathroom/windows! 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Solving My Insomnia--For Now at Least

I think I may have finally solved my sleep problem, or I’ve at least made improvements. After we moved (and possibly even shortly before we moved), our brand new bed, which was purchased and delivered in late October, started creaking/squeaking. I couldn’t figure out what was causing the noise, but every time we got in or out of bed, moved around, or even just sat down on it, it made noise. Loud noise. 

With all the new noises in our new apartment in our new city, I didn’t really consider that this noise might be the culprit. However, I became furious that our 3-ish-month-old mattress, box spring, and bed frame--all purchased brand new—were creaking and squeaking with every move we made. Finally, after a few restless and sleepless nights and listening to Chris roll around and the bed creaking with each toss and turn, I started googling. 

Why would a brand new mattress and box spring be creaking? Especially when the mattress is memory foam and has no springs to squeak and creak.

I looked at several blogs and websites. As it turns out, most box springs these days A. contain zero springs and B. have a piece of cardboard (yes, freaking cardboard) slid on top of the wood frame and underneath the fabric that covers the box spring. The creaking comes from the cardboard rubbing against the wooden frame. So one afternoon last week, I decided to do as all of those blogs and websites suggested: rip out that stupid cardboard. 

It was a little difficult to do myself and I probably should have waited for Chris to help, but if I heard that bed creak anymore I was going to go crazy. So I spent an afternoon ripping out the cardboard from our box spring. It wasn’t easy, and I got a few cuts, bruises, and splinters in the process. But the end result? Worth it.

I got the cardboard ripped out and got the box spring and mattress back on the bed frame and tested it out. NO MORE SQUEAKING! And guess what? I’ve slept relatively well since then. Sure, I had one night over the weekend where it took me forever to fall asleep but I think that was partly that I ate some ice cream pretty late in the evening (and eating sugar too late seems to make me really restless). Every other night I’ve had a pretty easy time falling asleep and staying asleep, for the first time since we moved here back in December. 

This may not last. I may start being kept awake by outside noise again in the near future. But for now, it seems to have helped, and I am so grateful for that. 

I do think it’s ridiculous that we paid good money for a “box spring” that is just wood, cardboard, staples, and fabric. If I had known that, we probably would have built one ourselves—and it probably would have been higher quality and sturdier than what we bought. 

Has anyone else ever experienced this problem?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Soul-Crushing Allergies

For those of you who didn't know, I'm allergic to latex (it would probably be easier to make a list of things I'm not allergic to at this point).

A friend in nursing school recently posted on Facebook that if you have a latex allergy, there are certain foods you should avoid. I responded that I'm allergic to latex and eat most of those foods with no problems. But after I thought about it, maybe I am having problems and I'm ignoring them.

Here's the list of foods she said to avoid, along with how frequently I eat them:
bananas- literally almost every single morning with breakfast
avocados- several times a week, usually in the form of guacamole
chestnuts- uh, never, as far as I know
kiwi- I love kiwi, but I rarely buy/eat them...but if someone includes them in a fruit salad, I will eat a ton of them
guava- I don't know that I've ever even tried guava
hazelnuts- not too often
potatoes- I LOVE potatoes, in the form of french fries mostly, but regardless, YUM
peaches- when they're in season I'll eat a few, but they're not my favorite fruit
grapes- off and on depending on the season
apriocots- never, ew

So, I eat quite a bit of the things on that list. I did a little research after that and found the American Latex Allergy Association (really, I hate that that is even a thing). The technical term for this "phenomena" of having one allergy and having allergic reactions to foods because of it is called "cross reactive allergy". In layman's terms (as I understand it), these foods have similar properties to latex, and therefore can cause similar allergic reactions in those who ingest those specific foods. According to their website, they have a list of several foods, broken down into categories based on degree of association or prevalence of the cross reactivity:



They also have a "Low/Undetermined" section which includes 33 other foods (!!!). I won't list them all here, but I will list some that I frequently eat:
sweet pepper
cayenne pepper
plum (when in season)
cherry (when in season)
shellfish (when I can afford it- ha!)
citrus fruits (several times a week)
strawberry (all the time when in season)
soybean (I don't eat this often, but suspect I am allergic to soy also, and perhaps it's a cross-reactive allergy??)
coconut (several times a week)
peanut (stopped eating peanuts after having an allergic reaction, but again, makes me wonder if that is linked to the latex allergy)
oregano (in pretty much everything I make??)
zucchini (pretty often)
nectarine (when in season)

That's a lot of foods. :(

I think my next step here will be to first eliminate the foods the ALAA lists as High and see how I feel and then reintroduce those individually to see how I react. And then do the same for the Moderate foods. I also found it really interesting to see soybeans and peanuts on the list. Some of the other foods on the Low/Undetermined list I eat pretty regularly and there's no way I could cut out that many foods. So I'm going to start with the high and moderate foods to see how my body handles it and see how I feel. But, probably not until next week, because guacamole.

There are also cross-reactive food allergens for allergies like pollen, grass, mold, etc. But I can't even look at that right now without feeling totally overwhelmed. However, some of the foods on those lists, are also on the latex list (apples, potatoes, carrots, celery, bananas, etc.), so maybe cutting some of those foods will help with both.

Just when I think I've got a handle on my allergies (environmental and food), I read a soul-crushing Facebook post and I have to start over again.

I do find it funny that I had been thinking over the idea of doing another Whole30 or going Paleo again before this information slapped me in the face. Lucky for Chris, I think attempting to go Paleo or do a Whole30 while simultaneously cutting out these foods would be extremely difficult (and would probably make me crazier/moodier than usual). So I'm only going to cut the foods from this list and keep my diet relatively the same for now just to see how those foods are affecting me.

Like I said, I will probably start this next week, so I will keep you all updated on my findings!

Anyone else have experience with cross-reactive allergies?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

January Recap: 100 Miles and Beyond

Copper and I surpassed 100 miles walked last Saturday! In total, we probably walked closer to 105, and probably surpassed it before Saturday since my app never seems to be accurate. Either way, 100 miles in one month is probably the most I've ever walked and it felt great to accomplish that!

In regards to some of my other goals that I set for myself this year, some have been going well, others have not. I've been doing a pretty good job of turning off the TV and putting my phone away at least a half hour to an hour before bed and then making myself a cup of tea and reading a book. I finally finished reading Anna Karenina on Sunday night (actually, it was Monday morning thanks to my newfound insomnia). I have been reading that book on and off since September, so it felt really good to finally put that monster to bed.

Unfortunately, all the tea and reading and relaxing before bed hasn't seemed to help me sleep--it's just helping me get books read. Still searching for things to help me actually sleep. I've tried a white noise app which didn't help at all. I've tried calming music which helps me relax, but doesn't seem to help me fall asleep. I used ear plugs the past two nights. The first night, I slept great. Last night, not so much. I tossed and turned all night and I assume I slept some, but it was not very restful. So sleeping in our new Dallas apartment is still a work-in-progress for me (Chris seems to be able to sleep anywhere and any time after 7pm).

We've been doing okay about unplugging in general (i.e. during meals), but not great. We are cooking at home almost 5 days a week now and are making small attempts to make those meals healthier (sometimes they're really healthy, sometimes we make a frozen pizza). I feel that I'm doing a pretty good job on keeping up with family and friends and having better relationships, but there's definitely room for improvement there.

I did very little writing in January, but I've got some ideas floating around that I need to get on paper this month. I also did not submit anything in an attempt to get published. So I will try to remedy that this month as well. And as far as finding a job I love, well I have an interview tomorrow, so please send prayers, good thoughts/vibes, etc. my way!

Because I'm still unemployed, we haven't made much progress on budgeting and reducing our debt. It's hard to really add extra money to debt payments when we're living on one income and unfortunately don't have any savings. My hope is that once I have a job, we can really buckle down and focus on not only paying off our debts, but building up our savings, so that we're prepared for any future emergencies (medical, auto, etc.), or for any future unemployment (although I hope that never happens again!).

I was sick for most of last week, so I skipped yoga Wednesday-Friday. I finally went back on Saturday for a sound mediation class. Then I skipped again this past Monday since I only got a couple hours of sleep the night before. Unfortunately, that means I'm out of the yoga challenge I was attempting to complete, but I needed to take care of myself. Getting back on the mat yesterday, I was definitely stiff, but I felt so much better after class.

Overall, January was a pretty good month, in spite of the goals I made zero progress on. Luckily, I've got my Passion Planner to keep me on track!

Wish me luck on my interview tomorrow! :)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Road to Sustainability

I've been slacking a little with this blog lately. But I've been busy, working my butt off trying to find myself a job, and not just any job but the job. The job where I get to use my writing and editing skills daily. The job where there's room for me to learn and grow and advance my career. The job with a positive working environment. I'm still looking. But I might be getting close! I've had two phone interviews for one position and I will be interviewing in-person for that position next week. I am excited about the possibility and opportunity this position could bring and hope to have good news on that front soon!

Copper and I have also been walking our butts off! Although not so much today and yesterday. I'm not sure if it's allergies or if I'm getting a cold, but I've felt a little sniffly and throat-scratchy, so I'm trying to drink more water and hot tea  and dial it back a little on the long walks. So far this month, we've walked roughly 92 miles (give or take a few)! Even with scaling back our walks a little, we will still hit 100 miles walked before the end of the month. I've noticed some tightness in my hips lately (from all the walking I presume), so I've been trying to open them and stretch them more in my yoga practice.

Copper went to the vet last week and weighs a whopping 68 pounds, and it's all muscle! Unfortunately, we found out she had two infections in both of her ears. Thankfully, just since Friday, with the medicine and cleaning solution her vet gave us, her ears seem to be clearing up, although one ear was definitely worse than the other.
My poor baby!
We've been out and about, trying new things lately. I went to the Dallas Art Museum last week with a friend from my yoga studio:

Number 3, 1949: Tiger by Jackson Pollock
I also tried sushi for the first time!!!

It was pretty good.
We've finally started cooking at home again for the majority of our meals. (We cave and eat out a couple times a week right now, but we need to reign that in if we're going to be healthier and pay off some debt!!) I'm trying to get us to eat healthier overall and rather than cutting out gluten and dairy, I'm buying whole grains and organic (or less-processed) dairy products to see how it goes. It's a little more expensive, but so far, I've been feeling okay!

Whole grain penne pasta with chicken sausage, whole roasted cauliflower, caesar salad and garlic bread. Chris is even eating more than one helping of salad!!

Penne pasta reimagined for a leftover lunch!

This was last night's dinner and it was delicious! Slow cooker creole chicken with andouille chicken sausage over brown rice. 

In addition to trying to eat healthier, one of my goals for this year (not listed here!), is to try to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. More simply, I want to start reducing some of our waste (and lower our budget!). In the past, I've made small changes, such as switching from Dixie cups in the bathroom to small Tupperware cups (I have about 4 that I rotate). I want to start making more changes like that in other areas. Currently, I use makeup remover wipes to take off my makeup at the end of the day (although, since I'm not currently working, I've been going natural--saving money on the wipes and the makeup!), but I'd like to switch to something less disposable. I've seen DIY makeup remover with Johnson & Johnson's baby shampoo (I think it's shampoo? I don't really remember), but I'm not crazy about buying that and using it on my face (and thus having another bottle to throw out).

I also brought up the topic with Chris of switching to using cloth napkins rather than paper towels. We're only a family of 2, so we don't go through a ton of paper towels, so this isn't so much a money-saving thing as it is more of an environmental thing. I want to reduce the amount of waste we're putting out into the world. Chris was pretty adamant that we keep the paper towels (mainly because it's not a huge extra cost for us), but I might get some just for me to use. 

I'm also looking into alternatives to the Swiffer (dry) cloths. I still have some, so I will use those up first, but I did try a microfiber cloth yesterday, and it seemed to trap as much hair and dust and dirt as the Swiffer cloths do (if not more!). I'm not sure what, if anything, I can use on the Swiffer Wet Jet, but I haven't even mopped our apartment yet (don't judge me!), so I'm not too concerned about that at the moment.

Are you trying to reduce your carbon footprint (or save money!)? If so, what steps have you taken to do so? Any tips for makeup remover, cloth napkins, or Swiffer cloths? Let me know!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Only Planner You Will Ever Need

I'm talking about the Passion Planner. It is a beautiful, well-made, planner that keeps me organized, and helps me achieve my goals.

First, let me explain why using a paper planner works for me. The primary reason: I remember things better when I write them down. Another reason is that it's fun to look back and see how you spent your time over the previous year. It's a good tool for evaluating changes you need to make to spend your time better the next year. It's sort of like a journal for me (I have to have a planner with blank note pages in the back for all my poem/story ideas, cool quotes from books/movies/songs/etc.).

The Passion Planner is all of these things and more. And the Passion Planner's focus is to help you achieve your goals.

Last year, I used my Passion Planner to plan my wedding. It was perfect for wedding planning because it has monthly and weekly to-do sections. So I could go through the planner and for each month, write down the wedding-related tasks/projects/errands I needed to accomplish. Then, I broke those up over the weeks within that month. Planning this way helped me feel [a little] less overwhelmed because instead of looking at a to-do list a mile long and not knowing where to start, I only had a few tasks to accomplish within a month and just a couple each week. I wasn't looking at a list that included things that needed to happen first (like "Pick Venues") right along with things that needed to happen last (like "Get Marriage License"). It made the long, long list of things to do much less daunting.

I've tried color-coding things to make it pretty, but carrying around 10 colored pens in my purse is just not practical. So this year I'm sticking with 3 (at least for now): Black for pretty much everything, Red for upcoming bills, and Green for paydays. In addition to wedding planning, I used this planner last year to keep track of each one of our bills, what date it was due, and how much was owed. I'm doing that again this year, but since my main goal is actually paying off debt this year, I'm also probably going to list all our debts on a page in the back and cross them off as we pay them off. 

Another reason I love this planner is that it has To-Do lists (my fave, seriously), and they are divided between Personal and Work, which makes this great for keeping track of personal and work tasks all in one place. I've had separate to-do lists before and it just gets confusing and I forget things. Having everything I need to get done listed in one place ensures that I will actually get things done. 

In addition to monthly layouts (which I don't use a ton), there are weekly layouts with each day broken down into half-hour increments from 6am to 10:30pm, so you can write in anything you have scheduled or anything you want to get done at a certain time. If you schedule it, you're more likely to get it done. The Passion Planner also has a weekly and daily focus section where you can put your most important priorities for the day/week. Mine usually revolve around exercise or eating healthier, but my focus this week is to open our bank accounts (checking and savings) with a new bank and to continue my job search.

Passion Planner also includes a lot of space for reflection. For each week, there is a "Good Things That Happened" section, so you can write down (and look back on) any good things that happened. I love this section because it reminds me to focus on the good things and to find things to be thankful for. There's always at least one thing I can write down even if I've had a really bad week! So far this week under my "Good Things That Happened" section, I have Farmer's Market and Katy Trail (two places I've visited and loved so far this week). 

At the end of each month, there is a Monthly Reflection. It asks questions such as "What was the most memorable part of the past month? Describe it" and "Review your planner for the past month and assess your priorities: Are you happy with how you spent your time? If not, what steps can you take this next month to adjust them?" It's a great time to look back on the past month and really evaluate whether you made progress toward your goal and if not, you can focus on what steps you need to take to make progress next month. 

My Passion Planner has everything I need to achieve my goals this year and I highly recommend it to anyone who is trying to achieve a goal or goals this year (or is planning a wedding!). 

Do you use a paper planner or an e-calendar? Which do you prefer?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Self Care

My legs/feet/ankles have been very sore the past few days. I think all the walking I've been doing, plus yoga every day is starting to catch up with me. So rather than push myself to the point of injury, I'm taking a rest day.

Instead of taking Copper on a 2+ mile walk this morning, we just did 1.5, and will probably do the same later this afternoon. And instead of doing the two yoga classes I planned on doing today, I'm not doing either of them. Instead I'm going to stay home, get some laundry done, and rest.

Just to give you a real idea of how much walking I've done since we moved to Dallas back in December:

In the month of December, I walked roughly 62 miles (which is a number from my RunKeeper app, that isn't always accurate, so it's probably more than that).

So far in January, I have walked 44 miles (and January isn't even half-way over!).

While I've always been fairly active, I've never walked this much in my life. To put things into perspective, I only walked roughly 5 miles for the entire month of November, and about 10 in October. Also, as an FYI, RunKeeper's background "pocket track" only tracks walks that last 15 minutes or more. So these numbers are only walks that I physically tracked myself with the app, or ones that lasted more than 15 minutes. This doesn't include every step I took like walking to and from my car or something like that.

On top of being physically sore, I'm pretty exhausted. I'm still not sleeping great and we only just started cooking [most] of our meals at home last week. So up until now, we were pretty much eating out at restaurants/fast food which has had a toll on me as well.

In addition to being physically sore and exhausted, we've been dealing with a lot of stress with bills and other issues. We've unfortunately been back and forth with whether we wanted to rent or sell our house back in St. Louis. After talking with a management company and looking over the agreement she sent us, we decided being landlords, even with a management company taking care of most things, isn't something we're really up for--mentally or financially. So we are putting our house up for sale.

I'm a little sad about it. It was our first house and we worked really hard to be able to buy it. After owning a home though, I'm not sure it's something I want to do again. At least not for a long time. I know people say renting is just "throwing money away". But if you genuinely don't want to be a homeowner--don't want all of the maintenance and repairs (and costs) that come with it, renting isn't really throwing your money away. And I'm really enjoying living in our little apartment in the city. City life seems to suit us well. And Copper seems to like it too.

So we will soon be listing our house and hoping it sells (and that we don't lose any money on it). Any good thoughts, prayers, etc. you can send our way would be much appreciated. And if you know anyone who is interested in buying a house in the Florissant area, let me know. Once it's listed online, I can post the link.

I hope you all are having a good week, and remember to take care of yourselves!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Goals for 2016

I know I'm a little late getting to these, but here they are (in no particular order).

My primary goal is to live a healthier lifestyle overall. To focus on self-care, both mentally and physically.

  • Eat healthy. Most of the time. It's okay to splurge now and then. I really want to find a good balance for myself as far as food goes. I think a lot of my IBS symptoms are more stress-related than food-related. So I think if I just continue to eat a healthy diet (including higher-quality grains and dairy) and manage my stress better, my IBS symptoms might be reduced.
  • Be active. I want to continue with the [more] active lifestyle I've had since we moved to Dallas. I'm walking 20+ miles each week (which may go down a bit once I get a job). I'm doing yoga several times a week (almost every day, which again, will probably change once I get a job). I haven't started running down here yet. I want to be a little more familiar with the area before I start that. Overall, I just want to spend less time sitting inside on the couch watching TV. I want to get out and explore (and living in a new city certainly helps!).
  • Read more. My goal this year--again--is to read 25 books. I only read about 13 books in 2015, so I hope that if I don't make it to 25, I at least read more than 13. Less TV/movies/Netflix-bingeing. I want to try to read at least a half hour each night before bed to help myself unwind and hopefully sleep better. 
  • Unplug more often. Especially during meal times with Chris, family, or friends. But also at least a half hour before bed (no TV, no phone, no computer) to help myself unwind from the day and sleep better. 
  • Be present. This goes along with unplugging--putting the phone away at meal times and giving Chris or anyone else I am with my full attention.
  • Drink more water and herbal tea. Less beer, wine, and other alcohol. To go with my book before bed, I plan to drink a cup of hot tea (at least while it's cold out--might switch to infused water in the summer). With our move and the holidays, we've done a lot more drinking, and we love trying new, local beers so this will be challenging.
  • Be kinder to myself and others. I am my own worst critic. I put myself down more than anyone else and punish myself far too often. It's time for me to change that. Through yoga, I'm learning to honor my body--both on and off the mat. It's a constant work in progress, but I have made some great improvements over the last year and hope to continue that. I also want to work on being kinder to those around me. To Chris, especially. But also to family, friends, and strangers. I can have a short temper (although yoga is helping me with that, too!), and I'm trying to think and breathe through my immediate emotions. I'm trying to put myself in the other person's shoes. Maybe that person cut me off because they're having a rough Monday and are late for work. Maybe the checker at the grocery store just got yelled at by another customer so they aren't feeling too friendly. I'm want to be kind to those who aren't kind to me, because they probably need it most. 
  • Have better relationships. I want to make a point to keep in touch with my family and friends on a regular basis, which is especially important now that I'm living out of state and most of my family and friends live in St. Louis. I want all my family and friends to know how important they are to me and to let them know by calling and texting them--not just liking their Facebook posts. I also want to be able to let go of relationships that are no longer healthy or just aren't there at all. I had a "friend" who I regularly called and texted to try to keep in touch, see how she's doing and let her know how I'm doing. But she almost always ignores my messages. So I'm going to let that one go. Friendship is a two-way street and I'd rather put my energy into other friendships.
  • Budget, reduce debt, and increase savings. This is something Chris and I will be working on together, but it definitely falls under "self-care" since having less debt = less stress (for me anyway). Chris and I both have student loans, car loans, and credit card debt, though thankfully not a ton of credit card debt. I will probably do some separate posts on our plans for reducing our debt and budgeting in case anyone wants to follow along. (If you're looking for a blog on budgeting and reducing debt, my friend Elise has a great one--her and her husband have made a serious dent in their debt and were my inspiration for wanting to tackle our own debt!)
  • Write more. With the wedding, moving to Dallas, and the holidays, I haven't had a lot of time to write. I am working on a book though, and want to make some real progress with that this year. I also want to continue writing poetry. Plus, writing more will allow me to have [long-distance] workshops with one of my good friends, which helps with the better relationships goals too. Ideally, I'd like to get something published this year. So I might make a secondary goal to this one to submit to one literary magazine per month in an attempt to get published. 
  • Find a job I love. I've been unemployed (again) for a little under a month. Thankfully, with Chris's job promotion, it isn't imperative that I find a job--any job--right away. Having a job will certainly make budgeting, paying off our debts, and saving easier, though. But my goal here is to take my time and find a job that I truly love. I do have one opportunity on my radar and I'm hoping to get an interview set up for that within the next week or so (I'll let you all know how it goes!). If that doesn't work out, then I will keep looking because I want to find the right job for me. I don't want to just settle on something to say that I have a job. I've had to do that in the past and it made me horribly stressed.
Those are my goals, although I'm sure I think of more to add to this later! What are your goals for 2016? 

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Look Back on 2015 and Ringing in the New Year

We ended 2015 in our Dallas apartment--Chris was asleep on the couch and Copper was asleep on the floor. Thankfully, Chris woke up at midnight to give me a kiss so I didn't have to kiss the dog! ;)

This past year certainly had its ups and downs. I got promoted to Copywriter in April and was feeling on top of the world. Then I was laid off in June. I was terribly sick (the sickest I think I've been in a long time, and on the verge of going to the ER several times), and worried about what I would do about health insurance, money, etc. Chris and I talked about just going to the courthouse (several times) to get married so we could both get on insurance through his work, but that turned out to be too expensive. I was angry that I was so close to my wedding and was unemployed. I was angry that I had to consider getting married early just to get health insurance. How romantic. I was angry that my doctor couldn't seem to figure out why I was so sick and eventually just told me to go to the ER (which I could no longer afford).

I was angry about a lot of things. And stressed about a lot of things in 2015 (unemployment and a wedding will do that). Yoga helped. I think my mom and I started going to yoga together in February. Yoga has taught me a lot in the past year. It has taught me how to breathe properly and keep breathing (which has helped my asthma). It has helped me let go of stress and anger (at least for the hour I'm on the mat) and it has helped me focus on my mental and physical health.

Thankfully, I was only unemployed for a couple weeks before I found a job as a teller. Not my dream job, but it showed me what it can be like to work in a happy work environment, which everyone deserves. After working over a year in an extremely toxic and unhappy work environment, this was a much-needed and refreshing change. I wasn't doing what I really wanted to be doing, and I wasn't making much money, but I loved everyone I worked with at the bank. For the first time in a long time, I had coworkers that I didn't mind spending time with outside of work. I enjoyed hearing about their personal lives and telling them about mine. I'm so happy I had the opportunity to work there for the short time that I did. I met some wonderful people and made some wonderful friends.

Just a few of my wonderful coworkers and the wedding gift they gave me! 

2015 was filled with lots of wedding planning and activities: showers, bachelorette party, cneterpiece-making. Planning the wedding itself was stressful and not super fun. But I got to spend that time with family and friends which made it a little less sucky. And in the end, we had a beautiful day and a beautiful wedding, and afterward we went on an incredible, week-long, stress-free honeymoon. That was probably the best week of my life so far, and for sure the best in 2015.

Well this night turned into a hot mess, but it was fun! :)
We got married! And we totally nailed recreating this Pinterest picture! ;)
Best week ever. Best views ever. Best company ever. <3
We got to relax for a while once all the thank-you cards were sent, but not for long because by December we were packing up our house to move to Dallas. We've been here for three weeks now and it's been a little crazy and stressful with the holidays. Now that the holidays are over, I'm hoping we can start getting into a normal routine (and start cooking dinner at home more nights a week than we eat out!).

We are not good at taking family selfies. 
Chris's parents came down to celebrate his birthday with us and drove my car down which we had left in St. Louis. The drive down took them a little longer because of the flooding, but they made it and we had a great time while they were here. We went out to dinner with them once they got here to a place called Village Burger Bar. Chris and I had been wanting to try it and we ended up really enjoying it. They had turkey burgers (yay for me!) and truffle fries, both of which were delicious. Aside from when I tried to squeeze a lime into my water and it squirted everywhere (including at/on Chris's parents), I'd say it was a good time.

For Chris's birthday (New Year's Eve), we attempted to get breakfast at Einstein's Bagels, but they were out of bagels! I thought it was crazy that a bagel place ran out of bagels during breakfast time. So we went and got breakfast tacos instead, which we had also been wanting to try. I didn't really have a "breakfast taco"...I had a chicken taco with no traces of anything breakfast on it (i.e. eggs, cheese, potatoes, etc.), but it was delicious.

After breakfast we came back to our apartment so Chris could open his birthday present from his parents: a Cardinals hoodie and a Cardinals quarter-zip pullover. Our next stop was bowling. We went to this cool bowling alley a few miles away called Bowlounge. It was kind of retro and they had a ton of craft beer. I tried a beer called Blood & Honey and felt like a total badass.

Bowling for Chris's birthday! He's much better than me. :(
I was doing okay during our first game and had been in first place up until the end when Chris and his dad both pulled in front of me leaving me in third place. After that, I pretty much sucked. I think Chris's dad won the first game and Chris won the second. We tried to play a third game, but our balls kept getting stuck in the ball return and although they offered to move us to a different lane, we decided to move on to our next stop: Twin Peaks.

Apparently Twin Peaks is generally just a restaurant similar to Tilted Kilt or Hooters. But the location we went to in Dallas is where it originated, and the owner likes smoking cigars, so that one location has a cigar lounge. Naturally, we went there for Chris to smoke a birthday cigar and to get some food. The food was decent and Chris enjoyed his cigar, so I'm sure we'll end up back there again soon.

We didn't "kick back", but we enjoyed it! 
A little later in the evening we went to dinner at 18th & Vine, a barbecue restaurant near our house (another that was on our list of places to try). Unfortunately, we all wanted fries with our BBQ and they were out. But it forced us to try other things--I got mashed potatoes, Chris got beans, his dad had some sort of mushrooms. We got fried okra as an appetizer and it was delicious. The service and our main courses weren't that great though (especially not for the prices). I liked my chicken well enough (and it was one of the cheapest things on the menu), but I think I was the only one who enjoyed my food.

We left dinner a little disappointed and headed home. We watched one of the bowl games on TV until we took Chris's parents back to their hotel around 10. Chris fell asleep on the couch, Copper fell asleep on the floor, and I watched all the NYE festivities on TV by myself. We went to bed shortly after midnight and even though I was exhausted from such a busy day, I barely slept. I've had quite a few sleepless nights since we got to Dallas. I'm not sure what I need to do to sleep better. I've tried ear plugs (because our bedroom window is above the parking lot so it's noisy and there are constant air planes overhead), but those were uncomfortable and didn't really work. I think I may try a sleep mask next and maybe some sort of music or white noise and see if that helps. I'm also going to try to read and have a cup of hot tea every night before bed and see if that helps as well (that's part of my new year's resolutions which I'll do a separate post on later).

On New Year's Day, we went to the Original Pancake House for breakfast. I was so excited about this because Chris and I used to go to the one in St. Louis and it was amazing. They had a large selection of gluten-free options and the food was always delicious. We were pretty shocked by how different this location was. Their menu in general was much smaller, but they only had one option for gluten free pancakes. I decided to go with regular pancakes instead, but when we got our food, they were burned and not at all fluffy and beautiful and delicious like the ones at the St. Louis location. The portions in general were much smaller than the St. Louis one as well and we had terrible service. I was so disappointed by the experience. There are other area locations, so we might try a different one just to give it one more shot, but if it's as bad as this one was, then we will only go when we're in St. Louis.

After breakfast we hit the road to drive up to Oklahoma to go to the Choctaw Casino. It was an hour and a half drive to get there, but since we couldn't continue our New Year's Day tradition of going to Fast Eddie's, we had to at least go to a casino. It was the biggest casino I've ever been to, and it actually has two casinos in it. Chris and I won $250! He was pretty bummed we didn't win enough to buy a new TV (which I don't think we need), but I'm sure we'll find some other fun ways to spend it. Going to the casino made for a pretty long day because of the drive, but I think we all had a good time. We hung out at the apartment for a while before heading back out to get a late dinner at Tacos y Mas, which is pretty much our favorite taco place.

Chris's parents flew back to St. Louis this morning. It was so nice to have them here for Chris's birthday (and even nicer of them to drive my car down for us) and we're already talking about future trips :)

I hope you all had a fun and safe New Year's. Thank you to everyone who helped me survive 2015, but especially Chris. He has hugged me while I cried about money and insurance, took care of me when I was sick, and managed to make me smile and laugh through my tears. I don't know what I'd do without him. Here's to another wonderful year!

<3 <3 <3

Family picture courtesy of Chris's mom!