Passports and Glamorous International Travel

On a cold, rainy day in the spring of 2007, I took the worst photo ever. To clarify, I didn't actually take the picture, it was the worst picture that was ever taken of me. When my own mother saw it, she said it looked like a mug shot taken after I'd been picked up off a street corner drinking a bottle of Ripple. Then I had to clarify what Ripple was, and let's just say, being found with Ripple isn't attractive. 

This photo was my first passport photo.

 
 

At 19, I had never been out of the country and was preparing for a trip to Ghana. For some reason, my dad was in town when I was planning to get a passport picture taken at the post office. He picked me up at my dorm room to take me to the post office and then out for an off-campus lunch, but all of this took place after I had walked to and from my classes and been put through the rain and wind ringer. 

I'm not sure why I didn't think to put myself together a little bit, at least from shoulders up. It didn't occur to me until I was standing in line at the post office. When I was finally called back to take the picture, I immediately assumed the appropriate position and smiled. Then the lady taking the picture said I wasn't allowed to smile in passport photos. What?! A smile makes everyone look better, even on a rough day. Instead of assuming a neutral facial expression like a normal person, in my surprised confusion, I looked downright pissed. 

Click! There was no warning as she snapped the picture nor was there an offer of a redo. They at least give you a three seconds heads up at the DMV, for goodness sake!

The whole trip planning experience continued in the same unpleasant vein. I had to visit the campus clinic for a series of inoculations against multiple diseases one might contract in Africa. The first trip ended with my debit card being rudely confiscated and cut up at the front counter because my bank account had been compromised earlier in the day, and I hadn't been notified yet. The second visit to the campus clinic included a stern and very uncomfortable lecture about not having sex with African men while abroad. 

I finally made it to Ghana, and it wasn't glamorous. We stayed in a primitive house in a small village that sometimes had electricity. By the end of the trip, all of my clothes were a little stinky and a lot dusty. Regardless, it was a great trip!

What I thought I'd look like in Ghana.

How I actually looked in Ghana.

Over the following years, I was fortunate to go on a few other international trips. I'm thankful that many of these trips were taken before the omnipresence of WIFI and iPhones and Instagram because I may not have had as many authentic experiences. I may have been too consumed with capturing the most glossy or polished image to post and missed out on the true beauty of a place. 

We're taking a trip next month where I'll need a passport, and I was all too eager to take a new passport photo since my name has changed since using my original one. Let's just say I put on some mascara, did my hair, and made sure my neckline was flattering this go around. When the new passport arrived in the mail, I was excited put it in a cute passport case that I received as a gift a couple of years ago but had never used because the previous one wasn't worthy of a nice leather case.

Wouldn't you know, a week later I received another piece of mail from the Department of State, and they sent the darn thing back to me! Oh well, I'll file it away as a memento from my first international trip and as a reminder to not take travel so seriously and to savor the REAL experiences. 

 
 

Steps to Saving

Today I am going to embrace the "tacky" and talk a little bit about money. Money has been a huge topic on my mind lately. And while most of us grew up learning that it is rude to talk about money, I think that it is incredibly important to learn how our young adult peers handle their finances in order to figure out what works best for you. In the past 6 months, Ryan and I have purchased a house, purchased a ton of new furniture, and dealt with some unforeseen emergencies, including some expensive vet bills when Lou tore her shoulder and an urgent need to buy a new car. Because of this, we've had the very adult experience of building up our savings, blowing through our savings at lightening speed, and starting all over (nearly) from scratch. Today I'm sharing a couple of my tips for how we prepared for these events and entered into what I am lovingly calling "the recovery period."

1. Manage Your Savings Account One of the things I was most shocked to learn the few times I've discussed money with friends is that not everyone our age has opened a savings account. On some levels, I get it. It can be intimidating to have another account, especially if you anticipate it sitting somewhat empty. I am so fortunate that my parents had a savings account open for me from the time that I was little. I can still remember my mom helping me from a very young age to deposit a portion of my birthday and Christmas money each year into my savings account. While I certainly didn't understand or appreciate this when I was younger, those sorts of little savings over time add up, and I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome whenever I began to play a bigger role in my personal finances. The moral of this story is that it doesn't matter how much you have to save - even if it is just a little bit here and there, having a dedicated place to store it is essential!

2. Embrace Having Multiple Accounts Between my personal accounts and my shared accounts with Ryan, I have a whopping 6 bank accounts to my name. Before you think I'm completely insane, this is pretty standard for the way that my bank handles things, and while at first I thought this was a bit much, I have come to totally embrace the freedom and flexibility it gives me. Top priority are my shared accounts with Ryan - we have joint spending, reserve, and savings accounts. The first bit of my paycheck is sent directly to our savings and my 401k through direct deposit. The second bit goes to our spending. Then, each paycheck, I budget out the expenses we have coming in the next couple of weeks weeks and allocate a significant portion to be moved to our reserve, which is exclusively used to pay our mortgage and bills. Anything leftover in spending is used to pay for groceries, household items, and entertainment. In addition, I also have a personal spending, reserve, and savings account. A much, much smaller portion of my paycheck goes to my personal spending account, and I move it into spending, reserve, or growth depending on what is coming up in the near future. This is the account I use if I want to buy clothes or if I'm buying gifts for Ryan. It's my own personal judgment-free allowance I give myself every few weeks. It may seem like a lot, but with the beauty of direct deposit and constantly keeping an up-to-date budget, I'm able to save and allocate my money down to the detail.

3.  Always Have a Buffer One of my goals is to always have a buffer in my savings account. That means that no matter what I'm saving for in the future, I never let myself touch that buffer amount because it is there solely for emergencies. Even after I've made a big purchase, that buffer should still be there. And boy, did that buffer come in handy recently. As you can imagine, after buying our home, our savings took a serious drop, and we certainly were not planning on making any other big purchases anytime soon. However, life happens, and one of our cars was totaled, which meant ready or not, we had to buy a car. Thanks to our buffer, we were able to swing it. And here comes the tacky again: We like to keep a buffer of at least $5k at all times. That may be way too high or way too low for you, but that is what works for us at this stage of life.

4. Create Savings Goals This includes long-term, short-term, and in between goals. Usually I have several short-term savings goals and maybe 1 or 2 long-term. Short term saving goals for me are typically house/decorating or travel related. Since we have gone through some big expenses lately, I'm currently working on redefining on our long-term goals, but probably the next big ticket item in the works is a new car for Ryan. He'll be happy if he reads this post!

Do you have any money tips that help you to plan and save?

 

Guide to Meal Planning

Some of my favorite blog posts to read are guides to mundane daily or weekly routines. I also love the classic "grocery haul" post or "what's in my fridge" post. As my mom likes to say, I'm really nosy. Sometimes these guides provide a little inspiration for a new healthy snack or how to improve part of my day, and sometimes I just find them fascinating. 

In the spirit of sharing instead of stalking other blogs, I'm giving insight into how I meal plan for a week. While I've always been a big planner, meal planning was a skill that I developed after I got married. As a single gal, I could happily survive on cereal or a hodgepodge of leftovers for dinner every night. Now I'm responsible for feeding another human, and during our first few months of marriage, I was really bad at it. I definitely underestimated the amount of food we would eat, and Jay was HUNGRY. 

 
 

For the most part, I try to prepare healthy dinners and allow for leftovers for lunch the next day, so many of my recipes make four servings instead of two. Sometimes I plan to make a dessert or snack that we can eat for a few days. Around mid-week, I start casually thinking about dinner for next week, and I keep a post-it note in my planner that I use to jot down dinner ideas. I also try to get a sense of whether we have any upcoming meals out or if one or both of us has a busy night. For example, Tuesdays are frequently busy for us so, I'll try to make something on Monday that would be easy to reheat for leftovers or plan a 20-minute prep meal. 

 
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I normally go to the grocery story early Saturday or Sunday morning, depending on our weekend plans. Before I head out, I finalize what I want to make each night. Sometimes, it takes me 5 minutes to think about what I'd like to make, and sometimes it requires a bit more inspirations. I'll frequently pull out some favorite cookbooks and recipe cards or I'll peruse Pinterest for ideas.

Once I have my meals finalized, I'll make my final grocery list. I start by adding our weekly staples that we eat for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. We go through things like oats, almonds, milk, fruit, greens, tea, etc. Then I add in the ingredients I'll need for dinner. I typically use a large sheet of lined notebook paper for this list and make a column for produce, meat, canned/packaged foods, and refrigerated/frozen food. This makes it easier to follow my list in a logical order as I walk through the store. 

While it probably takes about 30 minutes of cumulative prep work throughout the week before actually making it to the grocery store, I love meal planning! I don't have to run to the grocery every couple of days to pick up something, and it takes the guesswork out of dinner, which is the last thing I want to do after being at work all day! 

What are your tips and tricks when it comes to meal planning?

 
 

Spring Bucket List

While we're officially three weeks into Spring, there's nothing like the anticipation of Easter and horse racing season to really put me in the mood for the season. Is there anything better than Easter blooms and bright sundresses? 

I looked at my planner last week and realized how full it is for the next few months! On one hand, there's so much to look forward to, and on the other, it's a little overwhelming. I'm hoping to conquer the season by savoring each moment and special time. Here are a few things I'm hoping to enjoy in April and May. 

  • Make a big batch of beaten biscuits - This can be quite the undertaking, but it is worth it for Easter and Keeneland/Derby celebrations.
  • Take a kayaking trip - Spring is the best time in Kentucky to kayak. The water levels are the best in April, or so I'm told.
  • Go to Keeneland as much as possible - Not surprisingly, this is always a goal every April and October. If you've never been, it is SO worth a trip.
  • On a similar note, attend the Kentucky Oaks - This will be my first year going, and I can't wait!
  • Make homemade ice cream - I received a new ice cream maker for my birthday last May and never used it. It's a real tragedy that I'm hoping to rectify soon on a warm day.
  • Sign up for a tennis league - Last year, I made it a goal to pick up tennis after almost 10 years of not playing, and I'm so glad I did! I can't wait to get back on the court this year.
  • Get a skin check - Not as fun as the other items on the list, but something to take care of annually. Even if you don't burn in the sun, everyone should become friends with their dermatologist.
  • Have a picnic - This is one of my favorite ways to have a meal, and I don't do it enough. 
  • Make jam - I made lots of strawberry jam last year and want to continue the tradition. I may also try blackberry this year. I love opening a fresh jar of homemade jam and putting it on toast on a weekend morning.
  • Create beautiful porch pots - I love beautifully full porch planters and love thinking about how to design container gardens. While I miss having a covered front porch, I'm excited to have porch planters that will get some sunlight this year.
  • Resume taking a yoga class once a week - It never fails, once I get in a good rhythm of going to yoga once a week, I fall off the bandwagon. I always feel so much better after a consistent yoga practice.

What's on your bucket list this spring?

 
 

Confessions: Round 2

It’s been a little while since any confessions have been shared, so here’s another round for you. Enjoy!

I H.A.T.E. Adele’s music. She seems like a perfectly nice person, but I just don’t like her songs. If the frequency of her songs played on pop radio stations is any indication of her popularity, then I’m probably the only person in world who doesn’t like her. Practically every time I scroll through radio stations, there she is Rolling in the Deep or belting Hello. Because of this, my car radio dial is on the local NPR station 99% of the time.

 There she is again. Always singing...

There she is again. Always singing...

For about 12 years of my life (middle school, high school, college, young adulthood), I kept a calendar with every outfit I wore, so I wouldn’t repeat the same outfit in an “embarrassingly” close timeframe. I stopped this a few years ago, but I do keep a written track of what I plan to wear for special events, so the same people don’t see me wear the same festive holiday outfit three evenings in a row. However, if I’m seeing different people each evening, then I rock that favorite outfit three nights in a row. #noshameinmygame

 I wore the  J. Crew Perfect Shirt  to practically every holiday gathering in December, but only if I would see different people at each event.

I wore the J. Crew Perfect Shirt to practically every holiday gathering in December, but only if I would see different people at each event.

I pride myself on not spending too much time watching TV or binge watching Netflix. (I have plenty of other time-sucking bad habits.) However, I can’t help watching The Bachelor. It is so dumb and so ridiculous, but I just can’t stop.

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Shout out to our friend, Matt, who posted this petition to change the name of fire arts to spicy boys. Over 85,000 people have signed the petition, and I can’t stop laughing about this. The only way to make this better is to change the name from “boys” to “boyz.”

I received a Roomba for Christmas. I've wanted one ever since we adopted Annabelle and had a "heavily shedding pet" in our home. We run it at least once a day, and it has been life changing. The embarrassing thing is the number of photos I snap of Annabelle with the Roomba and the fact that we refer to it as Roomby, like it's our second pet. My obsession has reached an unhealthy level.

I could keep going, but I'll stop there for now. Am I the only one with strange habits, or do you have some confessions of your own?