Updating My Wardrobe for Fall for Just $40

Every year before school started when I was a kid my Mom would take me to her favorite department store and I’d try on any number of new dresses and pants and shirts and matching headbands. The woman had a thing for outfit themes and I’m not blaming her, I looked darn cute as a mini sailor.

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Look at me, I look like an adorable tiny Santa Claus!

Now that I’m an adult on my own, there’s a somewhat different version of this tradition. I’ll admit that I enjoy virtually flipping through the fashion blogs and reading up on how to tackle everything from a personal take on the latest trend to perfecting my capsule wardrobe.

Something that I don’t agree with, however, is spending uncomfortably outside of one’s means to satisfy that creative bug. Starting in college I discovered my city’s wonderful secondhand resources and I’ve rarely shopped outside of those stores since. My favorite is Goodwill for their really reasonable prices (as opposed to a vintage premium), their excellent selection, and their commitment to amazing principles as a nonprofit.

As the weather becomes cooler and damper up here in the Pacific Northwest, I start to shift my wardrobe to more Fall-appropriate wear. Largely this just means pulling my heavier coats out of storage and making sure my leather boots are all up to snuff, but I also turn to a list I’ve been making throughout the rest of the year on pieces I’d like to add.

I try not to impulse shop because I’m honestly pretty bad at figuring out the gaps in my current clothes options or how certain pieces will pair with what I already own on the fly. Hence the list! Plus I get to really think about clothes in terms of useful categories and whether or not I truly want them.

A few things I knew I’d be lacking in were some nice (meaning non-ribbed) sleeveless tops to go under cardigans, a crisp white button up shirt (because everyone should have one), flared dark wash jeans, and white skinny pants (I know it’s after Labor Day but I don’t much care for that rule and I need a pair like nobody’s business).

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I may have also picked up this burnt orange cardigan, it was just so soft!

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Don’t mind the mess in the background…

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I have a hard time nailing the stripes look but I loved this one.

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I love that this isn’t a traditional button up.

For almost exactly $40 I walked out with 7 pieces that work well with each other and the rest of my closet. All are from great brands like J Crew and Banana Republic and they fit perfectly.

My next goal is to get rid of any pieces I’ve been grudgingly hanging onto due to the lack of an appropriate replacement. My favorite part of the wildly popular Konmari Method for organization is to evaluate what an item makes me feel when I flip to it in my closet while deciding what to toss. I have a few places I’ll be sending those items, including some teen moms in a neighboring school district.

Until next time!

Traveling Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

This week I’ll be making the trek to a family reunion in Minnesota. I’ve been looking forward to it for months, though it’ll be tinged with some sadness since my Grandma’s health may be declining after a hip fracture this month. We’ve always been a pretty jovial group though, so I’m hoping to show her a bit of the good old family merriment.

All the family aspect aside, airline travel seems to come with so many complications and pitfalls these days that I feel like I have to prep everything down to the most minute detail. One of my most frustrating (and strangest?) quirks is that I get ravenously hungry when I travel. Like three cheeseburgers, fries, a shake, and then Panda Express just for lunch kind of hungry.

Costco Hot Dog Goodness
Okay so this is actually a picture of my biggest weakness, the Costco hot dog. You get the gist though.

Since I’ve been cleaning up my eating and getting into a regular exercise routine over the past year or so, it feels pretty cruddy to be shoving my face with fast food right at the beginning of what should be a fun and exciting adventure. Not to mention pocket-draining and nap-inducing at the most inconvenient times!

Sleeping Ella
If only we could all nap like dogs. 🙂

There are ways to make a trip go smoothly for those of you out there like me though! Here’s what I’m packing to make this a successful and healthy jaunt through the airport.

For clothing, I try to pack the exact things I will need and nothing more (except for one extra pair of unmentionables because that one is hard to fix if you’ve miscounted). I’ve found that even if I need an extra outfit one day, I’ll probably end up not needing something I packed another day. The bare minimum toiletries has always worked for me as well.

I have to stick to my exercise routine to feel like a functioning human being while on a trip, so that’s always something I take into account too. Just roll everything up and go at it like a jigsaw puzzle of clothing!

Packed Suitcase

I love to take advantage of the copious amount of entertainment that my smart phone and tablet provide. Not only are there tons of options, but it also means you don’t have to carry around extra things in your bags. Because let’s be honest, how many of us are taking more than a carry on these days?

We have Amazon Prime for the free shipping but I’m really happy with their Amazon Video App. Unlike Netflix, which we also have, it allows you to download episodes and movies so you can watch them offline. Just make sure you download everything well before it’s time to head to the airport, I wouldn’t want to rely on their WiFi!

If you don’t have Amazon Prime, my next favorite diversion tactic is my Podcast app. I always have about…three dozen podcast channels that I listen to at least somewhat actively at any given time. It offers a ton of variety and all for the low, low price of free. You can also put ebooks and audio books on your phone through your library with the Overdrive & Hoopla apps. Again, totally free. I listened to The Girl on the Train that way and it was an awesome experience.

The Girl on the Train

As a last ditch form of distraction I have a few phone games that I consider highly addictive. My favorite one to date is called Qubed and it’s a funky Tetris-style game that gives my hands something to do while listening to other things. Set is also great for the same reasons.

My last piece of entertainment advice would be to have a project to work on. Feeling productive feeds into my list making/completing personality, so I love the rewarding sensation of crossing a to-do off.

I was listening to a Cracked podcast and I learned some unsavory facts about how people actually get sick when flying. It turns out it’s not the recycled air that does the dirty deed, it’s the surfaces you touch at your seat. They just never get cleaned, which I’m sure I knew somewhere at the back of my mind given the tight turnovers I’ve seen with every flight I’ve been on.

That’s why I’m adding a disinfecting wipe or two to my packing list this time! Another pro-tip from them was to never, ever drink the plane coffee (or any water that’s not coming straight from a bottle). File that under ‘things I wish I didn’t know’ right next to how one gets pink eye and the fact that our bodies contain about the same number of bacterial cells as human ones.

My best tactic to beat the insatiable travel munchies was to just stay ahead of my hunger. That meant overnight oats at 3am on the way to the airport, a salad at what my normal breakfast time would be, a big snack I had packed, and finally an early dinner at the ballpark.

Twins Game at Target Field
The Twins still got destroyed but that is entirely beside the point on Dollar Dog day at the park with your Dad. 🙂

I hope this helps any new or less confident travelers out there! It took me a while to not feel overwhelmed when I set foot in the airport, but planning things out really does help!

I think my next post will be a traveler’s guide to the Twin Cities for all those who may be thinking of hitting up this gem in the Midwest.

How to Throw the Post-College Dinner Party (That Your Friends Will Finally Make Time For)

When I graduated from college a few years ago it became quickly apparent how difficult it was to keep in touch with friends as we all entered this crazy new phase of our lives. Moving to a slightly more out of the way part of the city with no car of my own and a brand new 9-5 type job meant getting creative about finding ways to maintain these friendships.

 

Enter the weekly potluck dinners at my house, complete with wine and beer, fun themed nights, and more laughter than I can recount. It served a dual purpose as well, given that by the time I finished school I was incapable of making boxed cake mix to save my life. (Side note: If you ever accidentally add twice as much vegetable oil to your Betty Crocker batter than what the recipe calls for, turn back now. It’s truly more gross than I could have ever imagined.)

 

If this is where you’re at in life, I have a few tips for what is essentially herding cats:

 

1. Try out a few days and times for the first few dinners, but once you hit upon one that works try to stick to it. It’s much easier for everyone to incorporate it into their schedules and plan for it.  Motivation gets you started but habit is what carries you through and all that! We’ve happily settled into Wednesdays at 6:30, so don’t be afraid to have it on a non-weekend day too.

 

2. Maybe this one is more of a 1a. You will never be able to work with everyone ‘s schedules and you should accept that now. If you’re like me, this will kill you at first but it’ll be okay Figure out which people are a top priority and make sure you’re working around them. Other than that, I suggest having a large enough group to reach out to so that if only half can go any given week, you still have a fun dinner.

3. Make your friends do some of the social legwork! My college was a definite bubble even though we were located in the middle of a big city. Oh, and did I mention that the whole student body was smaller than my high school’s? Social psychologists have even done research to show that it’s tough to make new friends once you leave school. Encourage your guests to bring new friends, significant others, coworkers, roommates and anyone they think might be a good addition. Heck, I’ve even had over three of my friends’ parents! if nothing else, they usually provide new topics for conversation.

4. Be flexible. I have a friend I love to talk with but he usually can’t show up until at least an hour into dinner. I’m not giving up my chance to chat, so you better believe I’ve figured out how to make his sudden addition go as smoothly as possible. The best way I’ve been able to manage this (and the constantly changing number of people) is to switch to eating in our living room, much as I love our dining table.

5. Start potluck, but be aware of the pitfalls. Many of my friends still don’t own cars (neither do I, though my boyfriend does) so keep in mind that biking with a casserole dish may be out of the question. In this day and age people tend to view commitments a bit more flexibly since all they need to do is fire off a text to cancel. If you assign a main dish to a person and they can’t make it last minute, your dinner is suddenly rather stressful. If you have any guests with eating restrictions, you need to be a little extra vigilant in getting the word out as well. One of my closest friends is a vegetarian, so I’ve gotten pretty handy at finding work arounds without making her feel awkward or bad about it. The upside for you with potlucks is that you’ll be cooking less, likely spending less money, and you can explore fun themes (“your fave comfort food” and “a dish from your childhood” were two good ones that sparked a ton of conversation) easily.

6. Once I had the means, the time, and the skills, I switched to cooking most or all of dinner for those evenings. This meant that my friends could look forward to a night of relaxation without having to worry about logistics. Some people picked up fun hobbies (Homemade bread or a bottle of red from a birthday winery tour? Yes please!) that really added to the party. Mostly though, I learned how to cook for a big crowd quickly, healthily, with minimal investment and maximum enjoyment.

7. Taco bowls. Sushi bowls. Buddha bowls. Teriyaki Bowls. Bowls where you can make the components and let everyone put the final product together with little effort is just A+ in my book. Vegetarian? Check. Starving? You load up on what you want my friend. Extreme dislike of bell peppers bordering on an allergy (true story)? Easy to avoid! Plus it’s so simple to make an inexpensive and healthy dinner with brown rice, veggies of some sort, and a protein. Other examples? Salad bar, baked potato bar, waffle bar and DIY pizzas.

8. Too much food is better than too little, so make extra of things you don’t mind eating later or freezing. I tend to make plenty rice and freeze the leftovers for quick lunches and dinners. Don’t be afraid to send people home with food too! I’ve made some of my guests that are still in school some very happy campers that way.

9. This is a great time to get rid of the random food lingering in your fridge or in your pantry, so take advantage of that! Roasted assorted “aspirational veggies” always go over well at my house.

10. The crock pot is your best friend. Always.

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Here’s an example of a relaxed dinner party for 5:

 

Brown rice (a Costco bag of it goes a long, long way)

 

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Roasted bell peppers, onion & garlic (Leave the 4 peppers whole, quarter the onion, peel the garlic, put on a pan at 400 for 40 minutes & flip halfway through. Spray with some sort of oil if you’re feeling all fancy.)

 

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Crock pot Mexican beef (Hunk of beef. Whatever spices you have that are vaguely Mexican like chili powder and adobo in a totally eyeballed amount. Water to almost cover it. Set to low until you get home. Separate with forks.)

 

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Lettuce (Chop those leaves up a bit. Tear ’em if you’re super lazy.)

 

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Spiced black & kidney beans (Two cans of beans rinsed + those same Mexican spices in a pot for a few to warm them up.)

 
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A loaf of to-die-for bread my friend made (Find some rad friends!)

 

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Altogether, it was 2 minutes of prep in the morning, 10 when I got home, and ready an hour later. Plus lunch the rest of the week!

 

Now, if you’re looking for how to host an elegant black tie dinner for 8, I’ll be posting about that down the road. 😉