Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday: The Thankful Edition

It's been a weird week.

Short weeks always are though, aren't they? Don't get me wrong, I love Memorial Day Weekend. I really look forward to it every year. MDW means summer, the shore. It means — or it's supposed to, regardless of what the past two days had to say about it — warm nights, long days. It means the start of something great.

{Read my guide to doing summer in Jersey right here and here!}

Take me there...
But having a short week meant my work clock was all off. I've been "in a funk" at work all week, bolting for the door at 5:00 on the dot each day. Outside of work, I've been better than ever — my runs have been good, yoga has left me feeling powerful, I feel connected to my friends and family and I'm being good, feeling good, and doing good.

It's just that pesky 9-5 thing that's been a little tricky lately. I'm hoping I can find the cure in a nice, long, quiet weekend run, some solid writing time, and a trip down the shore over the next couple of days. Cross whatever ya got for me.
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It's also been a very sweet week. Instead of ticking off my favorite X, Y, and Z today, let's just talk about some of my favorite things about life lately.

The long weekend afforded me some very much needed time with my family. Sunday was spent with the cousins on my dad's side; Monday was spent at a BBQ hosted by my cousin on the other side. As my running buddy Claire and I were saying last night, cousins are the first friends you have in life. I count myself so lucky I can say mine — along with my siblings — are still some of my best friends today.

But before the family festivities began, I kicked off the weekend at a birthday party with an old friend. One of my oldest friends, actually. Truthfully, my oldest friend who's still an "active" friend of mine — meaning, we make an effort to speak to and see each other regularly; we don't just excitedly bump into one another at the bar. Sometimes a night spent with someone who knows you so well, who's known you through so many ups and downs and major life events, is just what you need to return to yourself.

In the column of "finally doing something we planned to do forever," Claire and I finally checked out the group run at a running shop near us. Last week we attempted to go, but it was monsooning by the time we reached my front door. The week before, we got the times mixed up and missed it. But we made it just in time last night, and actually both bested our previous timed 3.1-mile (5k) runs.

Post-run was sushi for dinner, and I don't need to elaborate on that at all, right?

Another thing that's been my favorite lately is the ol' blog here, and you incredible people who keep reading it. I know I've said things like this a couple of times in as many weeks, so I won't dwell, but we do have a few new members joining the class this week, so I just want to say hello, hi, and welcome. And that I think you're awesome, just for the fact that you haven't called my friendly local mental hospital and sent them to my house for a pick-up yet. When you guys leave a comment or send an email saying that you relate to what I'm writing here, or offer me your support or words of encouragement, I can't begin to tell you how much it means. But the community really is why I came back to blogging, and I'm happy to have met each and every single one of you.

A view from Sunday's boat outing
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And on that note, I am beyond ready for 5:00. It's gonna be nice and mellow, but it's still time to #backthatazzup right into the weekend — this song has been my everything this week:
What are you up to this weekend?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The New Jersey Native's Guide to Summer, Part Two

So now that you know how to talk, drive, and rock out like a Jersey native, it's time to do summer like one.

We may be best known for our tan lines and bar fights white sand beaches — all 127 miles' worth of them — but there's so much more to NJ in the summertime than laying out and baking on the beach all day. {Don't get me wrong, that's always an option too.} There are a couple of things I try to cross off my summer To Do list every year, and today I'm sharing them with you. So that in case you find yourself in Jersey this summer, you won't just be aimlessly wandering the Seaside Heights boardwalk in a sea of Longyulanders and looking for Snooki.

{If you haven't seen Part One of this Summer Education Course, find it here.}

So you're in NJ for a day or a week and it happens to be summer. Lucky you! This is the best time to be here. Sure, we love the beach and the shore is what it's all about, but you're missing out if you don't make some time for the rest of these NJ Summer Must Dos:

A show on the lawn{s} — Holmdel, NJ is home to the PNC Bank Arts Center, a hugely popular music venue that has offered music lovers in the tri-state everything from KTU's Beatstock to Summer Jam to Ozzfest. Though there are real seats available under the portico, the real party is on the hilly grass lawn. Lounge out and get your listen on to everyone from Dave Matthews Band to John Mayer to OAR to Maroon 5 to Motley Crue. Bring a blanket, have some drinks, a couple smokes of whatever you like and get your lawn on.
Note: An acceptable substitute for this central-Jersey music Mecca is the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, NJ. Pros: Right outside Philly for easy commuting, gorgeous waterfront, spacious lawn. Cons: Camden is also affectionately nicknamed "Murderville," and it's not without cause. So, ya know.

A beach bonfire — If you can't make it happen on the beach, anywhere else you can manage it is acceptable too. {Be smart, and make sure it's legal where you are.} Wind down a wild weekend or kick back on Friday with the tunes going and the gluten-free beer flowing. Bonus: The smoke keeps mosquitos away. Score.

My buddy's band tearing it up // 2013 4th of July fireworks at Avon by the Sea // one of countless bonfire nights

Check out locals at the Stone Pony — You may be familiar with the Stone Pony as Asbury Park's famous venue that knew Bruce Springsteen as just a young, guitar-toting lad, and has launched countless other hometown heroes into successful music careers. Everyone in NJ knows what it means to play at the Stone Pony, and there's just an air of legendary greatness in even a whisper of its name. Go. See a local band you've never heard of. Support the talented musicians you'll find there and become a fan for life.

Hit the boards — If you've never been on an NJ boardwalk, you have to make it at least once. The most famous one is arguably the Home of Sunnin' & Funnin' in Seaside Heights, where you can find rides, games, booze, food, airbrushed T-shirts, and body piercers galore. {Fun fact: My first ever upside down roller coaster was the one on the Casino Pier in Seaside, the subject of this now-iconic photo.}
Michael Reynolds / EPA /October 31, 2012 // via wlu.edu
Then there's the AC boardwalk, which... is a little bit different. Not quite family friendly after dark if ya know what I'm saying. There's more to do on the Asbury boardwalk, and we can't forget Jenkinsons on Point Pleasant. Basically what I'm saying is, get some boardwalking in, whether it's at the top of the shore or down in the Wildhood Wildwood.

Get on a boat — I don't care how you do it, just get yo'self on a boat this summer. My cousins broke theirs out this Memorial Day weekend, and it was just perfect. We anchored out in Silver Bay and sat back and drank up. That Jersey sun can be a nasty gal though, and the sea {or bay} breeze makes it so sweet, so you better slather on the SPF or you'll be sorry later. Bonus: Take the boat over to F Cove on a Sunday, and don't forget to bring snacks. Bonus #2: Water ski or tube, because duh.


Kick it — Maybe New Jerseyans from other parts of the state will correct me on this one, but it's a BBQ/barbecue or you're grilling. We don't grill out, we don't go to cookouts. We grill and we drink. Get a friend with a nice backyard — up north or down the shore, either will work — and get it going on a Saturday afternoon. Extra points to the person who brings outdoor speakers and a lawn game. And when it rains — which it will, because it's NJ — don't panic. A) it will pass within a half hour and B) what other opportunities do you have to make a grown up homemade backyard slip n' slide?

Explore nature — One thing NJ is certainly not lacking in is nature. From Allaire State Park to the Ramapo Reservation to South Mountain to ANYWHERE from the tippy tippy top all the way to the southern edge of the state, there is amazing hiking to be found. Watch out for the bears though, but bonus points when you find the springs and the waterfalls. Oh and there's that pesky Jersey Devil down in the Pine Barrens. I think he's friendly though.

I could honestly go on for another dozen posts. There really is just so much to do in NJ in the summertime, so much more than MTV and Bravo would have you believe. Jersey Fresh brings you an awesome selection of farmers markets every weekend, you'll have your choice of firework displays every 4th of July, the wine/arts/food festivals never seem to stop. We have a festival of hot air ballooning, you guys.

We have fun, we rock out, we tan, swim, surf. What I'm saying is, don't let those impostors fool you. We've got a good thing going on around here, so come on down for a swim. Biggest bonus yet: When you fill up the tank to head back home, you don't even have to pump your own gas.

Alyssa's Identity-Disordered Summer Soundtrack, Pt. 2

1. On My Way by Lea Michele — because ever since the first time I heard it, I knew it'd be a windows-down-hair-blowing-driving-down-the-shore song
2. Move by Ludacris — because you'll be screaming the chorus anyway as you sit in shore traffic; might as well be intentional about it
3. This is How We Roll by Florida Georgia Line & Luke Bryan — because the mix in our drink's a little stronger than you think
4. Latch by Disclosure & Sam Smith — because I haven't driven on the parkway once in about 6 months without blasting this tune as I go
5. Fancy by Iggy Azalea — because it's gonna be everywhere this summer, and you better get used to it now
6. Warehouse by Dave Matthews Band — because "woo!" and because you've gotta prepare for one of the three 2014 NJ DMB shows somehow {and because 4:37!}
7. Be Okay by Oh Honey — because I do believe we'll be okay, oh oh oh
8. Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen — because if you're not bumping this one at your 4th of July BBQ, you're doing it all wrong
9. Livin' on a Prayer by Bon Jovi— because put your drink down, throw your fist up, and give me your best "ohhhhOHHHHH" like a good little Jersey Girl/Jersey Boy when this one comes up
10. In Summer by Josh Gad — because I love you guys



So... I'll see you all this summer, right?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I Lost My Voice

I confess that if it weren't for this wonderful weekly link-up hosted by the oh-so-gracious Kathy, there would be about zero percent chance of a new post appearing on the ol' AGB today. I had a lovely long weekend, but because it was a holiday and I spent every last minute of it doing holiday-ish things, my usual Sunday night routine of prepping for the week ahead fell by the wayside. I don't even know if this is the right day to link up; I'm all out of order this week.

For every one good shot we take together, there are about 30 like the left one.
Big bro and I out on the boat with the cousins. Also: OH MY GOD THE RUNNER'S TAN.  :(
Okay, fine. I came home from the last of the MDW festivities Monday night and watched Don Jon and fell asleep.

I hate to, but I have to confess that part of the reason this blog exists is because of a person to whom I no longer speak. I hate it, but I owe quite a bit to that person.

Mostly, what I hate is this thought cycle that keeps tumbling through my mind whenever I think of this person and my blog. It goes something like this:
Are you reading? Of course you're reading. Of course you aren't reading. Why would you? But of course you would, you would. How dare you. What do you think? You always loved my words. What do you think of them dressed up like this? Don't tell me, you have no place here. X out now. But are you glad I took your advice? Are you sad it was after I had a chance to show you, like I promised? Are you reading? How dare you be reading. I know you aren't reading. But I see you. 
It's exhausting.

If you are reading...

I ate chips and guacamole for dinner last night and regret nothing.

A few nights ago, I got supremely irritated and first thought to call up a friend to grab a drink, but changed my mind and laced up for a run instead. There were a few seconds of "who the hell am I?" going on, I gotta be honest.

...tell me if you are?

I'm diggin' the shape of my eyes in this shot, so that's why it's here.
That night I crushed my best, longest, fastest, furthest run yet. CRUSHED it. No pain in any of my pain spots. No bad thoughts during or after the run. I could have kept going when I hit my final call-it-quits mile-mark {I didn't, because I figured the adrenaline was playing some tricks on me.} because I just felt so strong. It was one of the single most gratifying running moments I've had since my first run five months ago.

But not in so many words...

Even though I'm really happy I relaunched this blog as a lifestyle one, rather than a home for my sporadic experiments in creative writing as it had been, I really miss having a public creative writing space.

Outside of my journal or my scraps of half-thoughts and scribbled lines of lyric prose, I've done just about no creative writing in months, and I really feel neglectful of that part of my {cheese alert} writer's spirit.

I think the fact that I write all day at work — and that writing has grown so stale and redundant — and then come home and blog — which I truly love, so, so much — has drained me of any desire to write anything else. I absolutely love everything about writing. But there is too much of a good thing, indeed.

we both know they're nothing but trouble.

I just spent a really long time looking for a good gif to throw in the last couple of lines, but I came up with nothing. I think I should go now.

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Linking up with Kathy from Vodka & Soda for another round of Humpday Confessions +
Liz & Amanda for the Hump Day Blog Hop!

Vodka and SodaThe Hump Day Blog Hop

Psst! I'm coming back tomorrow with more on how to really do summer in NJ — catch up with the rest of the class if you haven't seen Part One yet!

Monday, May 26, 2014

The New Jersey Native's Guide to Summer, Part I

Now that Memorial Day 2014 {#MDW2104} has arrived, our New Jersey summer can officially start.

No matter where in the country {or the world, maybe?} you are, you likely have some impressions about New Jersey, and specifically about the Jersey Shore, thanks to these people.

No, this is as large as they get. No need to share more
of my blog space with these {PROBABLY PERFECTLY NICE} people
who have perpetuated much NJ hate.
I'm not going to get ranty, but I am here to clear something up real quick: The Situation and Snooki are not from NJ. They are not representative of the Jersey Shore or people from NJ at large. Sure, plenty of us here have big hair, tattoos, and deep tans. We work out, we party like we invented it, and we live and die for summer nights.

But there's so much more to a Jersey summer than Karma and bar brawls. Which is why I'm kicking off the season with a little summer session education and bringing you:


Session One: Definitions

Jersey shore — A coastal region of New Jersey encompassing 127 miles of diverse and kick-ass white sand beaches. Includes everything from the super-klassy Home of Sunnin' & Funnin', Seaside Heights to the beautiful and relaxing LBI to "God's Square Mile at the Jersey Shore," Ocean Grove to the arty, grungy, music-loving, pride-filled home of the Stone Pony, Asbury Park.


Down the shore — a) A direction in which a person travels {"I'm on my way down the shore."}; b) a term to describe the general beach region of NJ {see above!} {"I'm down the shore for the weekend."}; c) a term hotly debated for its accuracy, which New Jerseyans actually don't give a shit about. Don't bother me with these things while I'm down the shore; d) abbreviated in text to "dts"

Parkway — A main highway that extends from the NY/NJ border and along the coast down to Cape May at the southern tip of NJ which delivers drivers at their shore {and other} destinations. {Note: Many New Jerseyans identify their location to others utilizing parkway exit numbers. Ex. 1: "I live at Exit 145." Ex. 2: "I'm on my way down now, stuck in traffic at 109."
Parkway North — Absolute hell on a Sunday evening
Parkway South — Absolute hell on a Friday evening

Benny — A visitor to the Jersey Shore who does not live year-round in the shore region. Originally meant to indicate that a person was from Bayonne/Brooklyn, Elizabeth, Newark, or New York; now simply non-shore native. {Note: me, technically.} {Note #2: Some locals hate on bennies pretty hardcore. Just like some NYers hate on tourists, commuters, and weekend day-trippers. CLAM DOWN everybody. We're giving your local economy obscene amounts of money. Although I am appalled that we felt the need to take Steaks up north into Hoboken. That's just stupid. #ItsAShoreThing.}

EJ's knows what's up.
No shower happy hour — When you take that azz straight from the beach to the bar, maybe having thrown shorts over your bathing suit bottom, maybe not. See: DJais, Seaside Heights boardwalk bars, Jenks, etc. Also a Saturday event at The Ocean Drive (The OD) in Sea Isle City.

Jersey slide — The act of swiftly gliding across two or more lanes of traffic in one fell swoop, usually in a move to reach your exit or migrate into the left {fast} lane.

Speed limit — A mere suggestion of minimum acceptable speed at which to travel while on a New Jersey highway. If you're going the speed limit, you're going too slow and belong in the right lane. If you're going the speed limit in the left lane, you're probably from Pennsylvania and everyone behind you definitely hates you. We have places to be. You can mosey on down the shore in the right lane.

Bar A — Bar Anticipation, a beach bar in Belmar with multiple indoor and outdoor bars, live music, the best bartenders around and the ever-popular Tuesday night Beat the Clock, where beers start at $.50 and increase by $.50 by the hour.

AC — Atlantic City, where anything I could write here would certainly forget to outline something about this dirty, raunchy, sexy, troublemaking town. Come to play, and don't forget to hydrate.

Jersey Strong — An expression/slogan popularized after Hurricane Sandy, which wiped out the Jersey Shore in 2012. Parts of the shore are still rebuilding after the storm as well as the 2013 Seaside Heights boardwalk fire. The Jersey Strong Foundation is an organization that continues to work day after day to bring relief and support to people who have lost their homes, their businesses, and their livelihoods in the storm and other natural disasters; learn more about the efforts & how to help here. {Note: Jersey Strong is also the name of the gym this organization was born out of. Yeah, I'm serious.} See also: "Stronger than the storm."

Mem Day/MDW/Memorial Day Weekend — The official beginning to the season of all of the above.

Labor Day/LDW — The last hurrah for summer, which is both begrudging and a relief, because we can't keep doing this shit forever. See also: The start of the recovery season.

I'll be coming back to share some NJ summer Must Dos & Must Sees, but I've got a yukka to shake and some impatient Italians waiting for me right now. Turn up the tunes and get your summer on, Jersey-style, until we meet again:

Alyssa's Identity-Disordered Summer Soundtrack
{Seriously, who else puts country, house, jam bands, and throwbacks on the same playlist?}

1. Summer by Calvin Harris — because duh, it's in the title
2. Given the Chance by The Starting Line — because HI this song is about playing in Jersey at the Bamboozle

Doing Bamboozle right the first year it moved to Asbury Park 
3. #SELFIE by the Chainsmokers — because whether you #FISTPUMP in earnest or ironically, you will do it to this song
4. Wildfire by John Mayer — because a little bit of summer makes a lot of history. Especially if Johnny Boy brings his rear end back to our neck of the woods this summer for a show on the lawn {we'll get to that next time}
5. Summer of '69 by Bryan Adams — because oh, if summer could only last forever...
6. Chicken Fried by Zac Brown Band — because there's nothin' like a cold beer on a Friday night
7. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen — because tramps like us, baby... you know the rest. Bruce forever.
8. Boys of Summer by The Ataris/Don Henley — because whether it's a Black Flag or a Deadhead sticker on the Cadillac, you're belting this one out while you drive down the shore with the windows down and you have basically no say in the matter
9. Two Step (in the Rain) by Dave Matthew Band — because any self-respecting DMB fan knows that this performance of Two Step is not only the best that there ever was, but also that it occurred right here in NJ at Giants Stadium in 2001.
10. Drunk on You by Luke Bryan — because it's all about getting a little drunk on someone you dig and getting high on summertime


{NOTE: We absolutely do NOT forget the real purpose of Memorial Day around these parts either. We all know a veteran or two {at least} and remember and honor the sacrifice our loved ones and other men and women in uniform have given for our country and our freedom. I give thanks to my very favorite veterans and military personnel: my big brother, my grandfathers, my good friends Kyle and Matt who are still actively serving, my stepfather, my uncle, friends Steve and Matty, and so many more strong and courageous people to whom we all owe so very much. If you're so inclined to show your thanks as well, consider joining me in making a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project this Memorial Day.}

What's the best part of summer where you live? What songs belong on your summer playlist?

Happy Memorial Day! Happy Summer!


Psst — See Part Two Here!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday: The Happy Snowman Edition

It's almost Memorial Day {or #MDW to us Jersey folk, and maybe others, I have no idea} which means it's almost unofficially summer and shore season officially begins this Monday and so I'm in a great big hurry to start weekending so let's get down to business. I'm talking about my Friday Favorites:

Favorite Recipe
I'm pretty sure my grandmother would roll over in her grave if she heard me call this a "recipe," but it's something that I cooked this week and it tasted really good, so just let me have it, okay?

Remember the chicken I {finally} defrosted this week? Well I was going to be fancy and make something fancy with it, but then I got lazy instead. Which is not entirely my fault. I saw my chiropractor on Wednesday and was going to make fancy chicken dinner afterwards, but he had an empty waiting room for the first time in like FOREVER so there was no rush and he spent a good 40 minutes on me and I have zero complaints because going to the chiropractor is honestly one of my favorite things to do. Anyway, I live about 35 minutes away from his office and after the three-times-normal-length appointment, I got home too late to get kitchen fancy.


So I tossed half a jar of salsa into a baking dish, laid my chicken on top of that, threw some more salsa on top and covered the whole sumbitch with shredded cheese and shoved it into the 350-degree oven for 20 minutes, and then had a party in my mouth with it all. Sure, not the healthiest thing I've ever made. But so tasty, so easy, so fast, and so cheesy. I like cheesy.


Favorite Workout
Oh, you guys. I am kind of proud of myself. May I?

So I'm a pretty big fan of lists. In case you had no clue. So I make a monthly goal list, usually listing a few items in financial {savings goals, etc.}, running/fitness, personal, and professional categories. One of my goals this month was to run up this hill in my neighborhood that I once almost died trying to walk up. It's decently steep and SO. LONG. It's basically just an asshole of a hill. And I beat it!

Also, since I started running this winter, this whole "running in shorts & a tank" thing is
FREAKING AWESOME.
I actually drove up it a couple days earlier and started rationalizing to myself that if I checked off every other goal I could get away with a FAIL on this one, because I just really didn't think I could do it. WELL I DID SO SUCK IT, PAST ALYSSA AND STUPID HILL STREET.

I'm terribly sorry, that was so unladylike.

Favorite Broken Record
Since I failed to PR in my race Sunday, I'm calling Tuesday's record high of honks, waves, heads out of passenger side windows, and bugs in and around my face area a win for the week. Running is awesome.

Favorite Flavor
Buy this.


You're welcome.

Favorite Song
Because a little bit of summer is what the whole year's all about:
{The only summer anthem I will ever need again.}

///

And with that, it's time for this little chicky to #backthatazzup right into the long weekend. You'll find me down the shore welcoming the most wonderful time of the year.
And of course, remembering & honoring fallen veterans.
{If  you're feeling so inclined...}

What are you up to this weekend? I hope it's a great one. I'll see you in summer!


{Linking up with Whitney, Amanda, & Lauren}

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How I Do: Dollars & Sense

Disclaimer: I don't know shit about money in general. I know everything about my money in particular. I mentioned my interest in personal finance a few posts back, and some of you guys asked me for a little more. Here's what I have learned and what may be helpful to you as you examine your financial situation and attempt to create healthy financial habits. This is what I "know" and this is how I money:


You need to save money. 
You just have to. I am not a PF blogger so I won’t go into all the specs about how much by what age in what kind of accounts. But you need to save money in a savings account that you cannot easily withdraw from. 

Don’t think you can save? You’re wrong. I promise you. No matter how little you make or how many expenses you have, you can save some of it every month. Five bucks a paycheck counts. Yes, every month. Don’t believe me? That’s because you spend too much on things you don’t need. Don’t believe that either? Track your spending for one month and your head will spin!

one • two • three • four • five

How I Do: I have an emergency fund which, knock on wood, has not been touched since I fully funded it. I have a Roth IRA, because I do not have retirement through my company. My retirement fund is small, but it’s there and it grows every single month. I have a general savings account, which, when it’s bigger, will be broken off into specific funds {travel, new car, property, etc.}

I automatically transfer money into my IRA every month. No ifs, ands, or buts about that money. I look at where my paychecks and monthly bills fall, leave myself enough cash to cover any credit cards {like my Target card, which gets paid in full every month}, an amount I’m comfortable with as a buffer, and shove the rest into general savings. This works out to at least 10% of my net income. Some months I'm very fortunate to put a heck of a lot more in there. Sometimes I only manage 10% total into savings. Life happens.


You need a budget. 
You need a budget. You need a budget.
Budgeting is not scary. Budget isn’t a dirty word. Budgeting doesn’t mean staying in on weekends and buying everything at the dollar store. It means deciding what is important to spend your money on this week/month and prioritizing so that you can spend knowledgeably and wisely.

There are different ways of budgeting. Try a couple and find which one works for you.

one • two • three • four • five

How I Do: I tracked my spending for nearly a year before I finally realized I needed to budget. I looked at months’ worth of data to see what my typical monthly spending was in each category, and then created my budget based on that. Some categories I slashed because they were wastes of money. It took a few months to get it all right, and it still misses the mark a little sometimes. But it works to help me stay in control and aware of the state of my finances.

I plan ahead as best I can too. If I know a costly birthday event is coming up in a few months, for example, I make a note of it so when I write the month’s budget, I can account for that spending. I take inventory of what I have and need before setting health, beauty, home, and clothing budgets. I look ahead to holidays, birthdays, travel, races, and big purchases and then pull back in other areas of my budget to make sure I can spend the money without stressing.


You need a system. 
I don’t care what it is. You can use YNAB. You can use Mint.com. You can use a pencil and paper. You can use spreadsheets and documents, like I do. You can use smartphone apps, like I do. But you need to figure out a system that works for you and that you can stick with.

How I Do: I track all my spending in an iPhone app called iSpending. It’s the most basic money app I’ve ever seen, and that’s why I love it. All it does is help you see what you’re spending in each category each month.

I take that data and put it into a spreadsheet every month that I can keep track of and refer back to easily. Here’s the gist of my spreadsheet — I’m just showing the categories, no figures, because, well. Guess.
{If you'd like to see another post detailing how I come up with figures for each category, how I itemize purchases, my credit card system, and/or what I mean by Cable/PSE&G {home electric & gas} Funds, just let me know!}

I also use a Google Calendar to keep track of everything in and out. Each monthly bill is set to reoccur every month. I add in things like when I expect extra income from side work {I do not budget with this money, though.} and my Target or AmEx {travel rewards!} credit card bills. This helps me see everything at a glance and keep better track of where I am in each pay cycle.


You need to be informed. 
You need to do your research about debt, credit cards, investing, retirement, the housing market, the rental market, legal issues in banking, identity theft protection, and any other financial implication that may apply to you like children’s college funds, financial aid, scholarships and grants, personal loans, insurance, and salary negotiation. You need to be able to make smart and informed financial decisions. You need to be able to take all the information and financial advice out there, condense it, process it, and use it to inform your specific financial plans, goals, and systems. Don't blindly follow the advice of a financier who doesn't know you or your situation. Personal finance is personal.

How I Do: All the personal finance bloggers linked in this post.


YOU DO NOT NEED TO OWN A HOME TOMORROW.
This is the sentence that started this whole thing, when in a recent confessions post I said what I thought of the people who say renting is “throwing money away” and I should be trying to buy a house instead. EL OH EL guys. Seriously. Can we let this myth die already? PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE. Also, this.


There are dozens of other fantastic personal finance blogs out there. Find them by visiting the ones I've linked here and checking on their blog rolls or clicking through their comments.

Thanks for sticking with me all the way through this, chickadees. PF is something that I find so interesting and love talking about. And I'm so saddened by the number of people my age who are just drowning in debt, are terrified to make any future plans, and who feel completely beaten down by money concepts. Hopefully, some of what I've learned can help you as much as it's helped me change so much for the better over the last couple years.

Thanks to the handful of you who said in comments or emails to me that you wanted to see a post on personal finance. Otherwise, I never would have written this post, because I know a lot of people are still afraid to talk about money. Personally, I believe the more we talk about it, the less scary is has to be! So thanks for speaking up and telling me what you want to see. I'm happy to oblige, obviously.  :)

Anything I didn't cover that you want my thoughts on? {Please note that this is basic personal finance info. I am NOT your gal if you want to talk about investing, but some of the ladies above certainly are!} What do you think of all this? Let me know!

(image via)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

All the Ways I'm Losing It

Is anyone worth their blog not a part of this linkup? Humpday Confessions needs no introduction.

Warning: Insane jumbles of words ahead. A truckload of them.

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I've been so... something, I'm not sure what, lately, that I've resorted to using a timer to keep me doing just one thing at a time, rather than jumping all around my apartment/my office/the Internet doing 100 different things at once and finishing none of them. No lie, it's bad. I've caught myself in the middle of reading one blog, commenting on another, with half a tweet composed, with my blog's analytics page open, while holding a half-filled Brita pitcher in one hand, with moisturizer dotted on my face waiting to be rubbed in, while I have my online banking open, and my tea kettle screaming in the kitchen. I swear, I am exaggerating none percent.

So I'm actually setting timers for myself in 5-12 minute increments to make sure when I'm stretching, I'm not popping up because I just remembered I wanted to get the dishes done or pick up Oliver.

As I was typing this I remembered that I walked into the kitchen FOUR TIMES in the last half hour and didn't take the chicken out of the freezer to defrost, which was my actual intention each and every time I went in there to begin with.


I'm scaring myself by writing this all out, so I just googled ginko biloba supplements.

I'm probably going to talk about this at length with my chiropractor tonight because he just gets me in a way I thought only hairdressers and bartenders could.

I still haven't taken the chicken out of the freezer.

I don't hide my blog from anyone "in real life," but I also don't really expect anyone to care, so I don't exactly tell anyone either. {I say this as if I don't use my personal Instagram and Twitter accounts to promote posts, heh.} However over the last week a handful of people {HI NON-INTERNET FRIENDS} have told me they're readers of this ol' spot. I've been in a cold sweat ever since.


Just kidding. Mostly.

I'm pretty sure my officemate and I have inadvertently classically conditioned each other by saying "bless you" after each and every sneeze, because now even when I'm alone I find myself automatically saying "thank you" every time I sneeze, even though no one has blessed me. I probably should have kept this to myself.

I was absolutely scared shitless to post my confessions last Wednesday and the post you saw on Tuesday because talking money, and my personal views on money, on the Internet is more frightening to me than accidentally swearing in front of my grandmother. But you guys received it so well — and a bunch of you even asked me to elaborate, yay! — so I felt much better after the fact. Thanks, Internet friends!

That said, I'm also scared shitless/really eager for tomorrow's post.

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And that's gonna bring it on home for us today. What do you have to confess this week?

Vodka and Soda
Linking up with Kathy & the rest of those beautiful little sinners.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Late to the Party

I'm posting my weekend update on a Tuesday because I just couldn't wait to share my newest tattoo with you guys yesterday. And because I won't conform to your blog rules, Man!

Also, I'm not sure how I feel about weekend recap posts, but here I am doing one. I know some people despise them. Your thoughts? I promise I'm only recapping this weekend because it was just so lovely and delightful and I took a lot of pictures. I do solemnly swear to never recap a boring weekend.

And I'm going to do my best to keep this brief because mama's got a brand new deadline.

My quiet Friday night helped me save my energy for all the running around I did this weekend — literally, literally, and figuratively.


Finally getting around to this book // Lady Grey tea & gluten-free choc chip cookies // planning & listing, ahhh

Saturday was spent with family celebrating my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary.


My mom made a memory book for them with photos and memories from the last thousand years. They loved it.
It was so great to have the family all together; now that we're older and a little more spread out, it's hard to get the whole motley crew in the same place at the same time.


Just give us a second, we'll get there eventually...
Okay who's shocked that I'm talking in this one??
I just love this one so much because of the private little moment my grandfather is having with his great-granddaughter,
my cousin's baby, in the midst of all the chaos.
Ya know what? Screw the good ones. This is the real us.

On Sunday, Claire and I had a race. It was her first, and I'm so proud of her and so pleased that she asked me a couple of months ago about running together.

Pre-race
I had mentioned last week that I wanted to reach a certain time goal, and unfortunately I didn't meet it.

Post-race
But after I was finished beating myself up about it, I realized that this race route had a couple of good hills, where my previous timed 5k run courses did not, and that there will be other races. It was a humbling day.

No longer a novice with two races in the books... right?? ;)
And even though I didn't clock in how I wanted to, I know I still did a damn good job — placing third for my sex and age group, even! WHAT? yeah, it was a small race — and ran better than I ever thought I could before this journey began.

And there are always other races.  :)


I capped off my wonderful weekend with some fresh ink.


I haven't been tattooed in almost three years — which is bizarre, because before this hiatus, I got myself 10 tattoos without ever going more than nine months between sessions.

{I am going to be rolling out a series of posts about all my tattoos soon — stay tuned!}

Read about tattoo #11 here.

Throw some friends, some puppy lovin', some yoga, and some writing in between all that good stuff, and that's my recipe for a perfect weekend. How was yours?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Let it Fly

The function of an arrow is only carried out when it is first pulled backward. Dragged behind. Brought intentionally against the direction it wishes to go.

But it is from this position — this position that seems to delay its progress, that seems counterproductive to its mission, that works directly against the arrow's intended movement — that it is able to launch forward.

Not just any measure forward either. 

It flies.


The things that seem to hold you back in this moment are not necessarily the means to your end. The barriers to your progress. The enemies of your forward momentum.

It is through those moments where you meet resistance that you gain strength.

When you feel your momentum is challenged, look more closely.

Is it defeat, or is it simply a part of your journey forward?

The arrow is first pulled backward before it is able to fly with a strength that could never otherwise know.


It is thanks to the times where we feel the most resistance that we are able to know the greatest progress. 
It is thanks to the things that try to hold us back that we can realize our ability to fly.

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tattoo #11 •• three years in waiting
Chris Kast | Powerhouse Tattoo, Montclair, NJ | 5.18.14

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I Never Did Until I Did

A little over a month ago, I turned 25. And the next day, I ran my first race. After my weeks of whining over turning 25 and "getting old" {god, I can be an asshole sometimes}, a friend reminded me, on race day, that there are still so many "firsts" I have yet to discover, and that despite what I stupidly let myself believe for a minute, it is not all downhill from here.

No, you can't really look all that cute after running 3.1 miles in the cold, wind, and rain. Especially when you're a novice. Sorry about it.
That's me on the left, after my first race. After I had been running for just three months, before which I hadn't run a mile in my whole life. That's me in my first race bib. After crossing my first finish line. Wearing my first pair of running tights! ;)

I've reached a really fun point in my life where I know there are so many incredible firsts in front of me. So many experiences I am dying to have for the first time, and that I will be able to give to myself. It's such an exhilarating feeling, and I can't wait to start crossing more firsts off my list.

But before I go looking ahead to the future too much, I'm linking up with Helene and Sarah for this awesome #TotalSocial linkup to stumble down memory lane and share some firsts I've already conquered.

Helene in Between


My First Tattoo


When I was 17, my mother {who surely regrets this now that I'm #inkedup} took me to a shop we knew for my first tattoo. I had known it would be this one for years — literally, years. I had the image drawn up and carried it around with me everywhere I went. I looked at it every single day, and I still loved it so much. 

I simply love lilies. They're my favorite flower, and I just think they're beautiful and sweet. They are also, interestingly enough, a flower representative of death, often displayed at funerals. Having these in black and grayscale on my body help me to pay tribute and remember all those who have come and gone in my life, those who I'll never see in this life again, but whose impact on my life will never fade.

Since that October day, I've added nine more tattoos to my collection, and I'm so incredibly beyond ready for number 11. It's coming soon, be on the lookout.

My First Instagram


My first instagram post was my fourth/sixth tattoo. {It was done in multiple sessions over 18-ish months and I got a smaller one in between this guy's start and finish.} This one has a verrrrrry long back story and explanation. I thought about doing a feature here where I share all my tattoos and why I got them, the stories of their processes, etc. Would anyone at all give a hoot? Let me know!

This piece is absolutely my favorite. It's also my largest and was my most painful. It starts on my right side hip and ends at the top of my right shoulder blade. I love it and I have never, ever, ever, for even one second, regretting getting it done. Much to my mother's dismay.

Anyway, this baby got a whole four likes and one comment. #instafamous

My First Tweet

God, am I clever or what? Also, check out that date. 2008, y'all. #OG. Those were the days where my friends and I basically used Twitter as a group chat, since we were all private and only followed each other. It made making plans for the weekend a lot easier, I gotta say.

My First Apartment

My bedroom in my first apartment. August 31, 2012
My bedroom. May 14, 2014
Even though I'll be packing up and heading out of here in a few short months, and I can't wait to live by myself, sans roommate, in a new place that's all mine, it's been a great couple of years here. This was the perfect first apartment.

I've learned so much living here, and my life is so different than it was when I moved in. This place has seen me through so many ups and downs in life, love, work, and friendship.

I can't wait to move on, but I'll never take my first apartment, even with all its flaws, for granted. 

My First Loves


I will likely spill so much ink on these two over the life of this blog, so I'll curb it on this already long post. These are my brothers. The loves of my life, and the most important men who will ever be a part of it. They are my heart.

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What are some of your favorite firsts? Have you linked up with Helene and Sarah yet? Hop on board! #FirstsTotalSocial is rocking my world right now and you should come join the party!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I Can't Dance

You know what happens here. Let's to this.

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I finished college three years ago this month. On the one hand, three years isn't that long in the grand scheme of things. On the other, I feel so far removed from college and everything that life was about. I feel old like a full-fledged adult.

Re: my previous point: That is 100% okay with me. I like it.

Related: I kind of a little bit judge people around my age and older who are able, financially & otherwise {crucial element of this sentence} to move out of their parents' homes and do not. {Caregivers and cultural norms excluded.} I know there are thousands of financial reasons many millennials can't — and I feel for them and do not judge them. But if your parents' house is Neverland and you're trying to ride the Peter Pan train right into your thirties, that's a whole different story.

Also related: I have a momentary rage blackout when people tell me that I'm "throwing my money away" on rent when I could "just stay home and save money to buy a house." Ahem. I could go into a 50,000-word explanation of everything that's wrong with that "logic,", but I want you guys to still come here and read me. Suffice it to say:
  1. Buying a home is not by default a better financial option for SO MANY REASONS I CAN'T EVEN and seriously why is this myth still being perpetuated?
  2. I am home. My home is where I live comfortably, happily, safely, and on my own terms.
  3. How's that working out for ya?
I could actually talk about personal finance for days, now that I kind of feel like I actually know what I'm talking about. But I don't because my friends won't listen and I worry my readers won't like me anymore.

I hate guys who work in finance. Well, no. I try not to harbor hate for anyone. More accurately, I hate when guys come up to me in the bar in their straight-from-the-Wall-Street-office suits and say, "I work in finance," with that smirk, as if it's some magic elixir that will make me swoon for them. Your money impresses me literally zero percent.

It seems I've fallen down a rabbit hole and I don't really know how to get out now. Moving on.

The other night I was running on a rather busy street and when "I Can't Dance" by Genesis came on in my headphones I could not stop myself from smiling goofily, singing along out loud and making corresponding facial expressions.

I have no idea how I have not mentioned even once on this blog that I'm running a race this weekend.

I'm running another 5k this weekend! I beat my PR from my last race in a timed run a couple weeks ago, and I'm hoping to blow that time away too on Sunday. Wish me luck, because I have no idea how that's gonna go.

In the days leading up to #HumpdayConfessions, I sometimes jot things down that I want to include in this weekly post of shame as they come to me/as I do something I should confess. 

Vodka and Soda
Linking up with Kathy and the gang, like usual.

Now your turn — spill!