I have been musing on the virtue of humility. I rarely hear about humility other than in a religious context, but it really can apply to any situation. If it is possible for values to be “out of fashion” I believe this one is. Confidence, self-acceptance, and self-care are very popular right now, and seem at odds with being humble. “Humbling yourself” sounds weak or powerless and right now it feels like everyone is talking about being bold, outspoken, and strong. But after thinking about this, I don’t think that confidence and humility are on opposite ends of the self-worth spectrum. I believe that humility actually goes hand in hand with self-worth and can give you even more freedom to feel confident and authentic.
This article, The Humility-Confidence SeeSaw: The Untold Secret of Great Leaders, looks at confidence and humility as opposites. It discusses how one must find balance; too much confidence leads to arrogance, too much humility leads to self-depreciation. This makes sense in practice, a big part of emotional intelligence is balancing these two concepts. But I don’t think that is all there is to humility.
I believe the power of humility lies in the concept of growth mindset. This is a concept in education/psychology where people can either have a fixed mindset, with beliefs such as “I am smart” or “I am bad at math” or a growth mindset such as “I am learning this and will get better with practice”. Growth mindset is powerful because it leads to embracing challenges, persisting, putting in effort, and taking feedback. It also opens up the world to you, you never know what things you might like or succeed at!
I struggle with having a fixed mindset because I care a lot about my identity. I identify with being a good student, learning things easily, and being able to succeed. I get frustrated when things don’t fit this identity. I never learned to ride a bike as a child because it didn’t come as easily as other things and I got too frustrated. In reality, I probably just needed more practice! Fixed mindsets are also based in fear. I can be overly sensitive to feedback because I look at things in such a black and white way. If good or bad are the only options, feedback always feels like criticism rather than an opportunity to make something better. The first step in having a growth mindset is having the humility to realize you are not good at everything and that there is room for improvement.
Another way humility has power is in social situations. Brene Brown writes and speaks about the power of vulnerability builds bridges between people, judgment shuts people out. Especially in today’s political climate, how refreshing is it for someone to say “I might not know everything, but this is what I think right now. Let me hear how you think about it.” Of course, sticking to one’s morals is important, and it is a hard balance to find, but it is so much easier to solve problems when there is less of a focus on who is right and who is wrong. Often, complex issues do not have a right or a wrong which is why they haven’t been solved yet.
Humility also makes it okay to change your mind. Especially in this time of COVID-19, we have all had to change our mindsets as information evolves. Pretty much everyone in the U.S. heard about COVID-19 and assumed it would stay in China, perhaps wouldn’t spread very easily like past pandemics, or was just like the flu and could be prevented by hand-washing. We have all had to revise our mindsets as more information has come across. There has never been school and business closings at this level before, and rather than getting stuck in who was wrong, we all must adapt. A book I read a few years ago, Superforecasting: The Art and Power of Prediction by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner, explains that people who are the most accurate at predicting the outcomes of events are people who consistently update their projections based on new information. They do not get caught up in resistance to being “wrong” they just continue to pivot what they think based on new findings.
I believe humility, vulnerability, and open-mindedness are key for having rich and varied friendships. I have learned there is not a “right” or “wrong” way to do life. We all simply take the options presented to us and choose which we think is best at the time. Things evolve and change and the only thing you can do is to continue to seek the best life for you. Knowing this allows me to make and stay friends with people who have different lives or different experiences than I do. To me this makes life fuller and brings love and connection to my life.
This is a much more in-depth article about humility and its role in self-actualization. This article seems a bit out of my reach, right now anyway (see growth mindset!!). It seems unlikely I will completely stop caring about recognition or the opinions of others, but I do know that the freedom to be a beginner and seeing the gray between right and wrong make life much more enjoyable. I do not want to miss out on something because I am afraid to fail or miss out on a friendship because I am afraid of being wrong. I would rather be brave, show up knowing I will be okay, and see what life has in store for me.
I will do a separate post on my process for cooking and eating, but it is basically summarized by doing meal prep/very easy meals all week, saving the time and energy for a more fun, interesting meal on the weekend. As far as health and nutrition, I am a big “balance” and “do what works for your body” person. I usually find my recipes online but recently bought Emily Stimpson Chapman’s e-cookbook, Around the Catholic Table, which is also a fundraiser for her and her husband to adopt their second baby! Beyond good, simple recipes she is a great writer and has a wonderful story about life not turning out quite how she thought it would. Another podcaster/food author I just found was Stacy Billis who co-hosts the Didn’t I Just Feed You? podcast and just came out with a new recipe book all about chicken (it is called Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner, how cute!). I am a big fan of recipes that are practical and easy because that is what I am cooking and eating 95% of the time!
It has definitely been challenging to meal plan during COVID-19. I keep buying way too much of one thing and then running out of another. For a while, there were shortages on meat and I kept getting substitutes that didn’t fit with the recipes I had planned. I have been acknowledging that this is frustrating while also being grateful that I have plenty of food in general. This time period really is about feeling all the feelings!
A few months ago, Matt decided to switch to a keto diet. This means eating very few (less than 40 or so) carbs each day. So far he loves it. He feels like he has more energy, better workouts, less sugar crashes, and can eat mostly as much as he wants while sticking to his target weight. He can explain it better than I can, but it has to do with his body switching from burning carbs to burning fats. I am still eating how I was before but for our special weekend meals I want to make something we can both eat.
I love a good cooking challenge, and it has been fun trying out different keto recipes. The best thing about a keto diet is that it involves lots of fats. Cheese, cream, and bacon are prevalent in all of the recipes! Below I will share the recipes I have made and how they turned out. Some were great successes, others I would not try again, and some might be good with some tweaks or practice on my part. Feel free to share some of your favorite recipes!
Bacon Jalapeno Poppers– OMG people, this is the best recipe! Matt even requested these for his birthday meal (in August). They are SO DELICIOUS. The cream cheese is sweet, the bacon is salty, the jalapenos are spicy, and together they are incredible. It took a bit of time to clean out the inside of the peppers and stuff them with cream cheese then wrap them with bacon, but then they just cook for 20 minutes and are done! These are perfect for a crowd pleasing appetizer but we also just ate a bunch of them and called it a meal. So good.
Instant Pot Tuscan Soup– This recipe was also such a winner. It is super easy, affordable, and delicious. I made one important change to the recipe which was using canned coconut milk rather than cream. So good! The sweet and fatty coconut, acidic tomatoes, and spicy Italian sausage all combined for a delicious flavor. There is kale in it for added nutrients and we sprinkled Parmesan cheese on top to serve.
Hawaiian Chicken Salad– This recipe was also so tasty and unique! It is chicken salad with mayonnaise and celery, but also coconut milk, nuts (I used walnuts), pineapple, and grapes. It also includes a whole tablespoon of curry powder and lime juice so it has a Polynesian taste!
Old-Fashioned Roast Beef– Okay this is not really a recipe but I have been trying to get better at cooking meat. I sometimes ignore directions in recipes because I hate having to do specific and overly complicated things, but I really can’t afford to do this while I am still getting better at cooking meat. I followed this post and actually got out the meat thermometer (we like it rare and I cooked it to an internal temperature of 125) and the roast turned out perfectly!
Avocado Eggs– Matt made these for brunch and they were so good! Simply stuff avocados with eggs, bacon, cheese, and top with sour cream. Simple and tasty!
Cream Cheese & Spinach Stuffed Chicken– This recipe is also delicious and super easy! You just stuff chicken breasts with cream cheese, chopped spinach, garlic, and Parmesan, and bake. Who could not love that?!
Smoked Salmon Sliders- So this is where I started getting experimental. I did not use a recipe but had some smoked salmon I wanted to use up I combined it with cream cheese, capers, and dill on slices of cucumber. I figured it would taste similar to bagel and lox but the problem was the cucumber was cold and slippery and didn’t keep the salmon on. They looked pretty but I wouldn’t make them again!
Keto Everything Bagels– I had high hopes for this recipe because Matt used to love bagels. It was easy enough, and just involves baking egg and cheese with everything seasoning on top. The thing was, that is exactly what it tasted like: baked egg and cheese. We did not think it tasted like bagels and I would much rather egg and cheese scrambled so it doesn’t dry out.
Keto Carrot Cake– This was my first attempt at Keto baking. I am not all that good at baking. It always feels like a lot of work and then when you finish you still have to come up with something to make for your actual meals! My cake came out lumpy because I didn’t realize you have to cut parchment paper to the shape of the pan first, whoops! The recipe used almond and coconut flour which was more dense than regular flour but tasted okay. However, it called for an artificial sweetener and I tried Stevia which we had on hand. However, I realized I don’t like the taste of Stevia and can definitely taste the difference from sugar. In the future I might try Swerve or Monk fruit as sweeteners to see if I like those better.
My friendship with Karen was beautiful and magical; the kind of thing you only come across a few times in a lifetime and that gives you faith in God and in the world. We became friends on the first day of first grade because she liked my name. Our birthdays were 5 days apart which feels significant when you are little, and we both had middle names like princesses: Belle and Rose. We proceeded to spend the entirety of our first-grade year pretending to be penguins. We both were both great students, and the only reason we ever got in trouble was for talking to each other during class. I also had my very first sleepover at her house. We played a game trying to find my glow in the dark socks under the covers and tried to surprise her parents by making breakfast in the morning. At age six the best we could do was offer them cold cereal on a paper plate. Yum!
We stayed best friends throughout elementary school and had most of our classes together. We invented games outside, climbed trees, wrote stories, and built forts. When Karen was diagnosed with Leukemia in 5th grade, I didn’t understand it one bit. I had never heard of Cancer, could barely grasp the concept of death, and was confused why she got so many presents. However, one thing I could understand was that it was pretty awful to miss school for an entire year. I decided I would call her on the phone every single day to keep her updated on everything and everyone, and I did. We spent hours talking, laughing, and making up stories. Her doctors would have to get on the phone with me and ask me to call back later so they could treat her!
When she came home from the hospital, I learned all about hand sanitizer, helped her pick bandanas to wear over her lack of hair, and tried to grasp that she didn’t have as much energy as I did. But we still played and had fun just like before. The beauty of friends is that they can make any situation lighter. I went on trip to Pennsylvania with her and her family and Karen was so sick from her treatment we had to stop the car for her to throw up in someone’s driveway. That quickly became a funny memory between the two of us. How funny that was to our 11-year-old selves that there was now regurgitated oatmeal in a stranger’s driveway! With our childhood joy it became something so far from the scary, upsetting event that it really was. On the same trip I remember her saying how happy she was to be laying in her grandma’s bed with her best friend. Years later she told me she believes kids who get cancer grow up a little differently, with more of a quiet appreciation life. I think realizations like this were the beginning of that.
When Karen went into remission, life went on and we grew up. We did school projects together, had sleepovers, made up inside jokes, and shared secrets. We went to different high schools but stayed just as good of friends. Our pattern of talking on the phone so much in fifth grade made it second nature to call one another and talk for several hours. We comforted each other through break ups and talked about colleges. At this point, we were basically part of each other’s families and I was even in one of her family’s reunion photos one Thanksgiving. One of the best things about Karen was that she was so genuine and good yet always accepted and supported people no matter how different they were. She always listened, never judged. Whatever differences the two of us developed never mattered. She was inclusive of everyone, and we both thoroughly enjoyed introducing each other to our other friends. Everyone who met her could see what an authentic and kind person she was, and she was welcome everywhere.
The summer after our freshman year of college, Karen called to tell me the doctors said her “cells looked funny” and a relapse was confirmed. This time I had a much clearer understanding of what was happening, and it was devastating. After that there were years of treatments, remissions, and relapses. Each treatment was worse and riskier than the last. There were periods where Karen was totally fine, and then there would be the crushing news of the cancer coming back.
But as Ms. Chris has written about, Karen was no longer a scared 10-year-old. She was an advocate for herself and for others. She wrote her blog with skill, wit, and encouragement. She was the definition of optimism, strength, and authenticity. She published resources for other people going through treatment and supported the Cool Kids Campaign, a nonprofit for kids with Cancer and their families where Karen went to camp every year. She also remained an incredible friend. She shared her emotions honestly and bravely, but still wanted to hear about her friends’ lives no matter how minor their struggles were. She had a tendency for telling friends she was not feeling well for a few days and then proceeded to write in her blog what actually happened. Karen “not feeling well” was often actually horrible, frightening, and painful symptoms that she pushed through for days on end. Her other friends and I would read her blog wondering how on Earth that could be happening to her while we were living through the silly tribulations of college.
Though I know the ups and downs of those years were so hard on Karen and her family, I am glad we had so much time together. Since I was older now, I had a better understanding of the importance of our time together and did everything I could to see her. When she was sick, I visited her at various hospitals. One year our group of friends even brought our annual Christmas party, complete with gingerbread house making, to her room in the hospital. When she was well, we went camping, white water rafting, kayaking, and to the beach. For her 21st birthday, a group of us went camping in a treehouse that Karen reserved. We bought her mini bottles of alcohol and took shots just like any other group of college students. I forgot my sleeping bag and had to share with her. We talked about tacos (her favorite food) and she decided we were like a taco in her sleeping bag and wrapped me in a hug. Just like when we were 6 at my first sleepover, or when we were 11 in her grandma’s bed, but we were now 21, and so much more aware of how special moments like this were.
When I graduated college, I moved to Chicago and then Kansas City. Karen was finishing up a master’s degree (like how?!) and was in remission. Her and one of her other best friends, Jenn, had a road trip planned that involved meeting me in Kansas City where I would introduce her to Matt, who I had met in Kansas City and at that time had been dating for a few months. In June, right before they were about to leave, she got the devastating news that she had relapsed again. Everyone knew the treatment options were getting less and less reliable. I booked a last-minute plane ticket to fly home to Maryland for less than 48 hours to surprise her for her birthday. Looking back this is one of the best decisions I ever made. I coordinated with Jenn and her mom and showed up at the Baltimore aquarium. The look on her face was priceless and she hugged me right away in absolute delight. We had a glorious day with her family of visiting the aquarium, eating brunch in Baltimore, going to a park, and then meeting up with my parents in Annapolis. When I hugged her goodbye there was an underlying finality that I know we both felt.
One month later I received the new from her mom that she had passed away. I was home with my family at that time, and my parents, my friends, and all of Karen’s friends were so supportive. For a while it didn’t feel real and sometimes still doesn’t. Living so far from home, I didn’t see most of my friends for long periods of time and sometimes it would feel like that was just the case with Karen. Plus, life was moving so fast then: in these past 2.5 years I have moved, changed jobs, gotten engaged, planned a wedding, and gotten married. I still feel like I haven’t properly grieved, but then again how can you ever “finish” grieving something like this. I did have nightmares about Karen almost every night for about a year. In these dreams she was fainting or disappearing, and I couldn’t help her. I have a friend who told me this is part of the grieving process.
I booked another last-minute plane ticket to come home for the funeral over Labor Day weekend. It was beautiful, just what she would have wanted, and had an amazing turnout. Funerals are overwhelming though. It is hard to truly connect to what has happened when you are seeing 200 people that you grew up with and haven’t seen in five years. For me the best part was going to her house afterwards with just her closest friends. We had a bonfire with her family, and I snuggled with her mom. Her friends and I went into her room and found the small liquor bottles from her 21st birthday, sat on her bed, and took shots in her honor. Her parents found us and just laughed. To some, that might sound weird, or inappropriate. But to all of us we knew that was what we were there for; to bring light and youth and some 23-year-old normalcy to a situation that was everything but that.
In May of 2018 I moved to Virginia Beach and in September 2018 Matt and I got engaged. As I started planning our wedding, the absence of Karen became truly glaring. Her and Matt hadn’t gotten to meet, but I know they would have loved each other. I did tell her about him when we were in Annapolis for her birthday. As it was right at the beginning of the relationship, I was full of fears and anxieties on how it would turn out. Karen reassured me not to worry and look how right she was! Karen would have been one of my bridesmaids and would have loved all the events and preparations for the wedding. At my bachelorette party in Cape May, NJ I wore her bracelet to signify her presence. At the wedding I had a vase with a single pink rose (for her middle name and favorite color) at my table. I even ordered a mug for her like I did for all my bridesmaids. The mug has an illustration of the two of us and her hair was exactly like the wig she wore when she was in her cousins’ wedding. The robe is light pink, the dress color she would have had as my bridesmaid. I was so happy her parents and sister could come, and it was so special to be out on the dance floor with her baby (now in high school) sister just like I used to be with Karen.
Though the loss one feels for this kind of friend is so great, so is the gratitude. I feel so lucky to have been so close with such a wonderful person for so long; and to know that this kind of friendship is possible. I am lucky that we grew up together and that I can’t even pick out which parts of me were because of me and which were because of her. I do know that in the 2.5 years since she left, I have become increasingly like Karen. That Fall right after she passed away I went to a Faith Hill concert (our signature song was Sunshine and Summertime by Faith Hill), went to Hawaii (one of her favorite places), and adopted three kittens (Karen LOVED kittens and she would find it absolutely hilarious and awesome that I ended up with three). Matt and I do what we can to get outdoors and go hiking. I have started a blog, inspired by hers. And just like Karen, I prioritize and cherish every moment I spend with my loved ones.
There are so many times when I wish I could tell Karen something that only she would understand; so, I tell her in my head, and I know she is there. I look to her when I need to be brave, am trying to be true to myself, or have a nerdy joke in mind. I still have dreams about Karen, but they are much more pleasant dreams where we are happy and grateful to be together again. Spending most of your life with a friend like Karen makes it easy to believe in Heaven. I picture her up there in a beautiful cottage with her Uncle David and my childhood dog, Keiko. She is watching out for all her loved ones on Earth and being her caring, joyful, smart, and helpful self from up above. She is patiently and excitedly waiting for when it is our turn to join her, and to be our reassuring and loving guide into the next world.
As I have gotten older, I have realized the importance of nature. It is proven to improve your physical and emotional health. The book The Nature Fix by Florence Williams is an interesting book that describes the science behind this, but you really don’t need data to understand the power of nature. Nature has been a focus for art and poetry since the beginning of time. You can just feel the difference after spending time in fresh air. A few years ago, I realized that hiking was an incredible antidote to sadness or stress. It is impossible to feel unhappy standing at the top of a mountain, it just is. It makes you feel good both during and after, which cannot be said for a lot of other fun activities.
For a while I was listening to the podcast, Wild Ideas Worth Living by REI, that interviews people who live incredible outdoors lifestyles. The interviewees have traveled the world, hiked for weeks at a time, broken world records, and do all sorts of incredible things. It is cool and inspiring to listen to but made me wonder if I was doing enough. Sometimes it feels like I go to work and then just go home, if I really love nature so much why am I never out there? Even following people on social media or seeing advertisements for “outdoorsy brands” make it seem like everyone is out their camping, backpacking, or doing extreme sports all the time. The biggest thing I have done was hiking the Inca Trail after college and I loved it. I would love for more outdoors adventure in my life and Matt and I try to incorporate this into our plans when we can.
However, I also like my home and being with my pets. I like visiting friends and family and seeing new cities not just being in remote places. I like building a career, saving money, and so many other things. Basically, the outdoors is a big priority, but not the only one, and right now we are at a time in our life when backpacking for four weeks isn’t something we are going to choose to do. It makes me wonder; do you have to go on elaborate trips to enjoy nature? Do you have to live somewhere trendy, buy certain brands, or go famous places to be a nature-lover? Marketers want you to believe this, and I think it is important for people to try and notice when this is happening.
It is fairly easy for me to say no to designer brands since I know that is not what I value, but it is harder when a brand claims to be good for you or to make your life better. I do value going outside and sometimes there is necessary gear or worthwhile travel expenses. There is a reason people often pay more to live near the beach or the mountains, but those are not the only places to enjoy the outdoors. Every single place on this Earth has something awesome and amazing to enjoy. Even if you are busy, live somewhere that is not “known” for nature, or just prefer the comforts of being inside, you can notice and appreciate the world around you. This falls in with gratitude and experiencing awe. And it can be done by anyone.
I am also writing this in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. Pretty much everyone is housebound. Matt and I are lucky enough to still be allowed outside and parks in Virginia are still open (but not beaches). Not everyone has this luxury, but luckily some of my ideas below do not even involve going outside! It sounds crazy but nature is like love, always closer than you think.
Here are some specific tactics to enjoy the outdoors without going far away:
Become a local tourist- explore local, often inexpensive, delightful places wherever you live. Think farmers’ markets, parks, botanic gardens, hiking trails, or small farms with tasty treats. Look online for smaller places that maybe don’t get as much recognition. You might find some hidden gems! Last year for Christmas, Matt bought me a family pass to the botanic gardens here in Norfolk and it has been the best purchase. We always bring friends or family there and there are different things to do during different seasons. A friend and I just brought a wine and cheese picnic there and it was delightful. My parents and I went right when places were beginning to shut down for the virus and we picked out our favorite flowers and viewed the outdoor Lego exhibit that was on display.
Pick up trash- Matt and I just did this last weekend in the park near our house. We were looking for a way to support the community during COVID-19 but didn’t want to be around people and don’t have a ton of extra time. We brought out trash bags and some gloves and picked up 7 big bags of trash from the creek. Right after, a mother duck and a bunch of baby ducklings coming and playing right where we had cleaned. How rewarding!
Do other things outside- Eat outside as a picnic or on a deck or porch if you have one. For some reason that just makes everything feel festive and special. Read or work outside in lawn/beach chairs or even just on a blanket. It feels great!
Walk the neighborhood- there might not be viral pictures of suburban neighborhoods but if you look, there are things to see. Walk the same route each week and notice your favorite plants or trees. See how things change and feel a sense of community among the houses or buildings. Try to find a wild animal friend. Matt and I have these crazy looking ducks called Muscovy ducks that look almost like turkeys. During our time working at home we have looked up how to identify males versus females and named each of the ducks in the area. We look for them every day and take lots of pictures. We have noticed is a Muscovy duck love triangle going on and it is pretty scandalous!
Get some plants- Last weekend with all the depressing COVID-19 news I felt I just had to bring some more life and joy into my life. I bought 5 little herbs and plan on enjoying taking care of them and hopefully cooking with them.
Try something sustainable. You can also support nature with the choices you make inside your home. We are trying out cloth napkins, cloth paper towels, and reusable plastic bags. So far they are going pretty well! I found some cute cloth paper towels on Etsy and the cloth napkins and plastic bags on Amazon. One of my best friends just started her own blog on sustainable tips and information. Check it out here!
Delight in the seasons- Enjoy seasonal scents, colors, decorations, foods, or crafts. For whatever activity you like doing anyway, see if you can enhance it with a seasonal theme. Nature creates a rhythm that we are all in tune with yet is so much bigger than ourselves. It can bring special joy to include this in everyday life.
Look outside- This sounds like a no-brainer, but it is so easy to stop paying attention to what is on the other side of the window. Take time to notice sunrises and sunsets. Watch the progression of the moon or angles of the sun. See how weather and seasons change. During regular times I have a 45-minute commute that is easy to resent. Yet, every day I drive under a tunnel under Norfolk harbor and see all the ships and cranes against the morning skyline. I remember how cool that is and how I couldn’t see that many other places.
Most of these things are just noticing, savoring delight, or creating joy. That is all you need to be a nature-lover. We are all explorers of the world, no matter where we live or what we do.
One thing I was always so excited about was having a space of my own to decorate. Yet when it came to actually decorating our two-story apartment in VA Beach, I realized just how unrealistic it was to expect it would look exactly like something on Pinterest. Most of those homes are coordinated by designers and cost way more than I was willing to spend on the contents. Even just outfitting a whole house with matching products from Target would cost hundreds of dollars.
Pinterest homes are also unrealistic because it doesn’t show them being lived in. There aren’t things like appliances, shoes, and work bags that are used daily. There is a beautiful lodge the company I work for has in Georgia that has been decorated by a designer and featured in magazines. There is also a full-time employee that takes care of the house. She decorates it beautifully for each season and of course it is always immaculate. One time I was looking for something and I realized that cabinets, drawers, and closets were either empty or full of house supplies and decorations because nobody lives there. There doesn’t have to be places for clothes, toiletries, and all the other items you need just for day to day life. This atmosphere is what makes the lodge so special to visit but it isn’t attainable for somebody’s actual house.
Finally, I realized that the images I saw on Pinterest were not me. I am not made of neutral colors and everything matching just right. I like fuzzy, comfy blankets in different patterns, bright wall hangings, pictures of loved ones, and artifacts from places we have been. I can’t wait until we own a place so I can paint the walls whichever color I want; I am planning on painting each room a different color so my house will be a rainbow. I want my house to support our lifestyle, not the other way around. There should be places to easily put shoes, bags, and keys at the end of a long day, appliances we use daily easily accessible, and toys and cat trees for the enjoyment of our pets.
I had to figure all of this out when creating our wedding registry. For me this was one of the most challenging and overwhelming parts of the wedding. I wanted to ask for gifts that brought me joy and would be used but there were so many options. The guides on the internet were completely ridiculous: 50-piece dining sets we would never use, $400 gravy boats, “must haves” that I didn’t even want to use up space to store. Eventually, I set up both a Macy’s and Amazon registry. We also got a decent amount of cash and gift cards. Between everything, I felt like we got everything we needed for a home and items that we would truly use. I had been worried about being overwhelmed with “stuff” and we did end up unwrapping and putting away everything as it came because we didn’t have space for a whole pile of boxes. But I was truly so overjoyed at each of the gifts I got and love remembering who sent them to us. I like to think the variety of options we gave were fun to pick out too. We also got gifts that were not on the registry, and I loved those as well. They were things we wouldn’t pick out on our own, like a cocktail making set that has challenged us to learn different drink recipes and attend a cocktail making class on our honeymoon.
Now that we have everything we need; I am remembering to be grateful and content. There will always be some changes: items getting added while others are given away, yet it is so easy to fall into always searching for (and buying) new home décor. I have been reading more about hedonistic adaptation and how easy it is to keep wanting more and more. You must very intentionally recognize that even if your home isn’t perfect, you have enough. Matt and I have also been exploring used goods for when we move into a bigger place. We found a beautiful table on Offer Up that we now use as our dining room table. Used goods take a little more effort to find but are both frugal, better for the environment, and can give so much satisfaction when you find a good fit! It doesn’t always work to buy used, but we are trying to get into the habit of checking thrift stores or apps such as Offer Up, Thred Up, and Let Go first. We are also interested in joining a local buy nothing group where people often trade or give unneeded items to each other.
I still look at Pinterest for future ideas. Matt and I have grand plans to make a DIY industrial farmhouse style light fixture, a cat jungle gym built into the wall, a creative work/craft space, and down the line a jungle-themed nursery. But I know when I add these things the room won’t look like it does on Pinterest. It will look like some version of that that is imperfect, uniquely me, and most importantly, real.
Lately, Matt and I have been focusing on our finances. We have always made pretty good financial decisions, living within our means and saving for retirement, but we didn’t have a clear knowledge of exactly what we were spending money on or what our financial goals were. When we got married and combined our finances, understanding our money became even more important. We started thinking about buying a house in the future, what kind of lifestyle we want to live, and places we want to travel. All of these things require knowing and adjusting how we are handling money right now.
For our budget we use the app, Mint by Intuit, which I think is the coolest technology (and it’s free!). With Mint you can link up each your accounts and credit cards, even 401k accounts, and set up a monthly budget with different categories (food, rent, shopping, etc.) When you make a transaction on any account or credit card it automatically feeds into the app and is sorted into a category. You can go in and check to make sure the category is correct and quickly change it if necessary. Then you can see how much you are over or under your budget in total and by category every month.
For many people, starting a budget is the hardest part. Logistically, even though keeping up with Mint is super easy, getting all the accounts set up takes a while. It took some time to track down the login information for everything we needed and set up the budget categories. There were a few things we weren’t sure how we wanted to categorize, usually costs that come in annually rather than monthly. We decided the most important thing was that everything was being tracked. Writing off an expense as “one time” skews the data and hides what is really being spent. For now we have a pretty big miscellaneous category for those one time expenses, as well as some categories that are zero for most of the year and then all spent in one month (one example is gifts where the majority of the annual budget is spent in December). Over time, it won’t matter which category costs are placed in and we can always adjust them as necessary.
Starting a budget is also emotionally hard. I think this is because we are afraid, we will find something we really don’t like. What if I have been losing money all this time? What if I look back on this data and regret how much money I have thrown away? What if I turn into someone who only cares about money and doesn’t enjoy life right now? What if I disagree with my partner on how to spend money? So far, these things have not happened, or at least not to a large degree. What has happened is feeling security in knowing that I can always check where my money is going and make informed decisions around it.
We started just by tracking our spending . Then after a few months of watching this, we started making decisions and weighing what things were worth for us. Sometimes we still choose a more expensive option, but we know it is something we value. For us this is often money spent on experiences, our health, or to save time. We have had fun coming up with creative ways to save money and are now getting excited about our future goals and learning about investing.
Two resources I have found very enlightening and inspiring are the Frugalwoods blog and Afford Anything podcast. Mrs. Frugalwoods is an awesome author and blogger who became financially independent in her thirties and now lives on a homestead in Vermont. Her blog is super approachable and has money-saving tips on a variety of topics. She also talks about her philosophy which, like ours, is about living intentionally and choice rather than always saving as much money as possible. She talks about the emotional side of money and the ways that gratitude can eliminate the need to spend on short-term indulgences. Her blog also includes reader case studies where people write in with their spending, assets, and goals and get advice. This is super interesting to get a glimpse into other peoples’ lives and financial goals.
Afford Anything is a podcast Matt and I just started listening to and to me it is the next level of financial learning. Listeners call in to ask the host, Paula Pant, for advice on certain decisions. It is much more technical and often discusses investing options, real estate, and business ownership. I don’t always understand all of it, but I feel like the more I listen the more I learn which I want to do sooner rather than later! I am excited to see how finances develop over time for us and would love to hear what others are doing and learning to meet their goals. It might not always be appropriate to discuss money but the more people discuss and share, the greater the chance of learning something that could really make a positive impact.
I have been considering starting a blog for a little while and have had so many reservations about it. One of them was that blogs are not new anymore. So many people have blogs and a lot of them have a much more interesting life than I do. Anything I say has probably already been said so what is the point? But I have realized this is a bad reason, or at least a type of reason I want to get away from. Not everything has to be “worth it” or “new”. This is something I struggle with; I want to be efficient and contribute things that are worthwhile and not already done. But in this situation, what if it didn’t matter how many people already do it or how “good” mine will be? What if it is just for fun, or just to bring a little more light and connection into the world?
I started listening to podcasts when I moved to Kansas City. I didn’t know anyone and spent most of the day in a small office alone. Listening to podcasts helped me get inspired to live the life I want to live, feel a sense of connection, and just get through tough days. I now listen to them on my long-ish commute or while doing chores. I unfollowed people I don’t really know on Instagram and started following my favorite podcasters, bloggers, and speakers. It has been life changing. My Instagram makes me feel uplifted and understood rather than jealous or depressed (Facebook is another story!).
I realized the state of connecting on the internet now is not just for “influencers” or wealthy people with wildly unique lifestyles. Most of the people I follow are just regular people; people trying to keep their homes organized, cook good meals, or live intentionally. I especially enjoy following people who radiate positive authenticity. They are honest and humble that their lives aren’t perfect, but often reframe things to see the good and share what is working for them with others. This is what I hope to do with this blog.
In addition to sharing information and connecting with others, blogging is serving as a creative outlet for me and a way to reflect on the big picture of my life. I have always loved writing but by high school believed that it was only for academic papers and classes. I want to find that 8-year-old girl in me that loved writing and creating, and this is one way to just do it. It also helps me take one step back and see the big picture of what I am working towards and how much I have to be grateful for in my life. This can be hard to see in the day to day normalcy or when I am unsure of what the future will bring.
I think I will create a separate post with all my favorite writers/speakers, but two that specifically talk about the benefits of blogging are Asha Dornfest and Kelsey Wharton. The links on their names go directly to their posts about blogging which confirmed for me that this is an opportunity to truly connect and share something beyond 140 characters or a carefully selected photograph. I finally decided on the 2020 word of “action”, so in the spirit of doing, here I am starting a blog.
New Year’s has always been my favorite holiday. I love sparkly things and introspection; it is truly the perfect holiday for me! I will say the past two years Matt and I have not made it to any event that requires sparkles but I still love reflecting and goal setting. I love getting excited about the future and thinking about the big picture of what I am working towards in all aspects of my life.
I have attached my favorite 50-question reflection and goal setting template. I have no idea where I originally found this but I filled it out in 2015 and recently found it on my computer. I loved seeing what was going on at that time and how much has changed! I love this questionnaire because it asks really unique questions such as:
“If someone wrote a book about your life in 2019, what kind of genre would it be? A comedy, love story, drama, film noir or something else?”
“What mental blocks did you overcome?”
“What was the best news you received this year?”
“What activities made you lose track of time?”
Another great source for reflection is The Girl Next Door Podcast’s yearly recap and subsequent goal setting episode. I love hearing real people’s struggles and successes plus their goals and “words” for the upcoming year. Hosts, Kelsey and Erica also record a message to their future selves and play it back at the end of each year!
For me, the main thing for this year was (of course) getting married!! Since our wedding was at the end of July, the first half of the year was really dedicated to wedding planning and making that a fun and creative time where I got to make memories with friends and family. I felt like this went pretty well, there were definitely some stressful times but I mostly had a great wedding planning experiences and loved the events leading up to it and the day of.
The second half of the year was focused on Matt and I building our life together: designing our budget, planning vacations, furnishing our home, and discussing career and lifestyle ideas. A lot of this we have started to put into action and I am excited to see it pay off in the upcoming year.
This was also our first full year in Virginia Beach at our current jobs. They are both pretty demanding jobs and with my 45-minute commute I definitely found it challenging to adjust to a life that felt like such a “grind”. I got some processes in place to help be more efficient such as hiring a house cleaner, ordering groceries online, setting up an auto-shipment from Chewy, and meal prepping (as well as freezer cooking).
We have been exploring the area and making some close friends that we are extremely grateful for! I also tried to take advantage of being a 4-hour drive from my parents and we have seen them almost every month since we moved here! I have also learned a lot about my health and have been working steadily on techniques to calm my stress response and hopefully decrease my chronic migraines. This has led to a lot of emotional work such as journaling about past and present feelings and challenging beliefs that lead to anxiety or self-doubt. Finally, I have realized how important it is to find joy in every day and part of this has been through reading, listening to podcasts, and following more speakers/authors/bloggers; the outcome of which has been starting this blog!
I am not sure if I have a word for 2020 yet, I need something that somehow sums up working steadfastly, then finally seeing the rewards. The last 3.5 years since graduating college have been a complicated mix of joy over my relationship with Matt but a lot of confusion in other areas of life. I feel like I can finally see what I have been working towards starting to pay off and some radical changes coming my way!
Comment or message me with your New Year’s reflections and intentions!
To me the hardest part of a fitness routine is the logistics. It can be so overwhelming trying to figure out a work out plan, especially in a new area: what time of day can you work out? What type of workouts do you want to do? Is there any way to make friends at this gym? How much money do you want to spend?
Choosing a Gym We are super lucky to have the Onelife gyms in this area, they have tons of equipment, pools, saunas, and exercise classes (plus free childcare and children’s waterpark areas for parents) for only $30 per month. The best thing for me with my commute is that you can go to any of the locations without an additional charge.
Matt was a member of Onelife for about a year and just switched to SoliderFit which is smaller and has boot-camp style classes. He loves specialty gyms due to their more challenging workout classes and community aspect, plus the class times fit better with his schedule. SoliderFit has a small free weight area that Matt uses when he doesn’t do the classes. I looked into some specialty gyms hoping for a more social gym but I couldn’t justify the $100+ cost per month of a yoga studio, kickboxing classes, or something like Orange Theory.
Picking a Workout Time
Matt has always been a morning workout person. I do better in the afternoons because I am a little slow getting out the door in the mornings. Also, if I go to the gym near where I work it cuts down on the traffic. One thing that has been crucial to my workout routine is meal prepping both lunch and dinner and eating them at work. Since I work until 5 or 5:30, go to the gym, then drive 40 minutes home I don’t usually get home until 7:30 or 8pm which is way too long to wait for dinner. I bring both lunch and dinner to the office and eat dinner right before I leave, then a protein smoothie when I get home after I work out. A lot of my coworkers question me about eating dinner at work but I am proud that I am doing what I need to meet my health goals. Matt and I don’t mind not eating together. This will probably change when we have children but if I have learned anything with creating a workout routine, flexibility is key!
Selecting Workout Content
I like to do weight lifting on my own since I have a good routine from my former physical therapist and personal trainer. However, cardio is the opposite. I will get bored and not really push myself if I do cardio on my own. Luckily I have found some awesome group classes at Onelife that are just what I need. It took a lot of trial and error to determine which classes I liked and which I could get to easily after work. If I go to the gym near my work classes that start between 5:30 and 5:50 work best so I do not have to leave work early but are also not waiting around for the class to start. For the gym that is close to home 7pm is the best time on weekdays and then between 9am and 11am works well for me on the weekends.
Since I want a balance of strength training and cardio I had to find the cardio classes that fit my schedule and then fill them in with rest and weight lifting days. This gives me structure but just enough flexibility so that if something comes up I can switch my plans and still get in 3-5 workouts per week. I am now starting to explore at home workout videos for when I am on business trips or if I really can’t make the class times. It seems daunting to sift through so many workout videos for the ones that are the right level of difficulty, but I know once I get a few lined up this will just be one more way that I use flexibility in creating consistency.