Happy Birthday, Sandy P!

I’ve written it before, but my mom is a saint! Today is her birthday, and I want to wish her an amazing day. She is graceful and beautiful, sincere and kindhearted, and less importantly, the #1 commenter on my blog.  Mom – thanks for all you do for us. I hope your birthday month is as fabulous as you are! My wish for you is that this will be your happiest and most successful year yet. The best is yet to come! I love you and can’t wait to celebrate this weekend!

JAX Weekend

Thursday after work, Matt and I headed down to Jacksonville, Florida to visit his family. We got there around midnight on Thursday, said hello, and headed to bed. Friday was spent catching up and preparing for the low country boil later that night. The LCB was one of the best I’ve ever eaten, and it was great to catch up with some of Matt’s old friends. Saturday we laid by the pool all afternoon, and competed in a corn hole tournament, in which Matt’s parents won every single (about 20) games. I’m convinced they had been practicing in anticipation of our arrival. Saturday night, Matt’s sister and her boyfriend prepared an excellent Mexican dinner, and we ended up playing a really fun game, Party Phrase (free iPad app), until after midnight. Sunday, we ate a delicious breakfast and relaxed by the pool before heading back to Charlotte. It was a great weekend, catching up and relaxing with Matt’s family. We crammed a lot in, but was well-worth the trip down!

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1. e.l.f. Essential Shimmer Eyeliner Pencil: e.l.f. is one of the most amazing make-up companies; partly because they have really great products, but also because they have even more amazing prices. I entered into that emergency zone where my eyeliner pencil had been whittled down so small that I could no longer pick it up, and without any time to run to the mall to get a replacement. I ventured over to Target and decided that for only $1 (yes, only ONE dollar) it was worth giving the e.l.f. brand a shot. I love their eyeliner so much, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to my expensive brand again. It has lasted me almost five months, glides on effortlessly, and comes with a sharpener on the lid. They have a line of brushes that are also ridiculously cheap, and are currently running a free shipping promo on orders over $25 with code SHIP25. I haven’t tried any of their other products, but am inclined to do so after my great experience with the eyeliner.

2. Trader Joe’s Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Chocolate Almonds: These might as well be called crack cocaine, because they are that addicting. My sister-in-law left me a container a few months back and they were gone in one day. I CRAVE these. I make special trips to Trader Joe’s just for them. The addiction has gotten so bad that I can only buy one container at a time to control myself from devouring multiple containers. On my last trip to TJ’s, I  was in such a rush to have one, that I couldn’t wait until I got home. I was furiously trying to get into the packaging and having no luck. I needed my pocket knife’s assistance, but it happened to be on my key chain which was in my ignition. Yes…I shamefully pulled into the nearest parking lot, turned my car off, took the keys out of the ignition, and used my knife to break free the plastic packaging. The worst part is that TJ’s is less than 2 miles from my house, and I can’t even wait that long.  Rock bottom? Perhaps…but worth it.

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3. Grifone Primitivo Wine: While I’m on the subject of Trader Joe’s, I’d like to put out a PSA regarding an amazing red wine that is sold there. It is Grifone Primitivo. Primitivo and Zifandel are technically the same grape, both from boot’s heal in Italy.Matt formally had banned red wine from our repertoire because he said  it made me “sassy” and “bossy” – like I need any more of that, and honestly, I didn’t really enjoy it. But I can say that now I’m a believer! This red in particular is light for summer, and goes down easy. At $3.99 a bottle, you can’t go wrong.

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4. Pretty Wicked Moms: I am slightly embarrassed by the amount of reality TV that I watch. I keep myself occupied keeping up with mostly every Bravo show, but somehow managed to fit another show into my Tuesday night slot. Pretty Wicked Moms airs on lifetime and features five Atlanta-based moms. At first I thought the show was pretty corny, but have really started to enjoy it. They are all beautiful and have adorable kids and good looking husbands. Emily “The Queen Bee” is my favorite. She is a southern belle from Mississippi who owns a boutique in Atlanta (Swank), and is cousins with Eli and Peyton Manning. It’s refreshing to see women who are actually housewives from Atlanta who don’t wear wigs, throw shade, or date Big Poppa.

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5. Stem: I first mentioned the website Quirky in last week’s Friday5. The site is designed to help the average Joe design, market, and sell their genius inventions. I found Stem on the Quirky site, and it is a tool that I think everyone needs in their kitchen (along with pretty much everything else on the site). Stem is designed to be inserted into your favorite fruit (lemon/lime) and then used to spray the juice on your favorite foods. Gone are the days of chopping, cutting and squeezing. Genius!

Poor in Charlotte

Chances are that if you’re poor in Charlotte, you’ll likely stay this way. A recent study on income mobility shows that climbing the economic ladder in places like Charlotte, is harder than in other cities across the country. Raleigh, Atlanta, Memphis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio also make the list of places where the poor will struggle to make it to middle class.

By contrast,  New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Seattle, California and Minnesota, offer far more upward economic movement.

In North Carolina, more and more poor people are living in big cities, like Charlotte. Mecklenburg County now has one of the highest concentration of poverty in the state. From 2005 to 2010 poverty levels in Mecklenburg County rose increased by 58 percent.

Factors that positively affect upward mobility? Two-parent households, better elementary and high schools, and engagement and civic and religious community groups.

Read more from The Charlotte Observer here
Watch the NBC Nightly News video here

Sweet Pea’s Pickled Veggies

When we were in college my mother started coming up with grandmother names for herself. What? Your mom wasn’t already dreaming of grandchildren when the thought of marriage and children was the furthest thought in your mind? Over the years it’s progressed from Mimmy, to Mims, and she’s currently landed on Sweet Pea. Poor lady has a few more years between her and kiddos and I can only imagine what names she’ll come up with next…

I mentioned last week that we’re heading to Florida later this week to vacation with Matt’s family. I always like to bring his family a little something, and  thought Sweet Pea’s Pickled Veggies would be perfect. Pickled veggies are really easy to make, and amazingly delicious. We like ours really spicy, but you could reduce the amount of red pepper flakes or hot sauce if you prefer. The ingredient list looks intimidating, but I promise it’s spices you already have in your cabinet. If you don’t have something, get creative and use what you have! You won’t  be disappointed – they’re bright and colorful and great to snack on during those southern summer days.

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Sweet Pea’s Pickled Veggies

-2 cups white vinegar

-1/3 cup sugar

-1/3 cup honey

-4 teaspoons sea salt

-2 teaspoon dill seed

– 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

-1 teaspoon hot sauce

-1 teaspoon ground black pepper

-12 whole cloves

-4 bay leaves

-1 teaspoon garlic powder

-sliced veggies (be creative with this! our favorites are cucumbers & cauliflower, but you can use whatever)

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1. Fill up jar with your cut vegetables. You can combine a variety of veggies in one jar, or just stick with one type per jar. We use the quart and half, wide mouth, Mason Jars.

2. Combine  the first 11 ingredients in the jar with the veggies.  Shake until all the sugar has dissolved.

3.  Chill at least 4 hours, shaking occasionally. Store in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Friday5 {Beach Edition}

This time next week we will be relaxing on the Florida coast with Matt’s family. The past few months at work have been completely overwhelming, and relaxing getaway is just what the doctor ordered. In honor of our upcoming beach weekend, here are a few of my favorite things:

1. Vino2Go:  Essentially a wine glass inside the protection of a tumbler, this adult sippy cup ensures your Vino stays nice and cold, without dealing with annoying condensation during the blazing summer months. The lid makes transportation easy and the BPA-free acrylic  plastic is perfect when you don’t want to risk one of your nice wine glasses breaking. The best part? The cup now comes in an XL (12 oz.) version for those of you who love their juice as much as momma does. For those of you who are local, Black Lion sells them, or you can buy them here.

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2. Food Tent: If the “Mosquito Squad”, “Mosquito Troop”, “Mosquito Wrangler” and “Mosquito Terminator” signs in just about every single one of my neighbors yard is any indication, the bugs this year must be bad! With all the rain we’ve had lately, the bugs are out in full force, especially mosquito’s. A fly landing on your hot dog can ruin your dinner party mood faster than Heather DuBrow taking you to an upscale  restaurant on your bachelorette party in Mexico. So…do yourself a favor and head to World Market and purchase a food dome or collapsible mesh food tent.

Side Note: I heard on The Today Show that if a bug lands in alcohol, you’re fine to remove it, and keep drinking. HOWEVER, if it lands in any other liquid, you should get a new glass.

3. Shake Women’s Tote: I stumbled upon a great website called Quirky. The concept behind Quirky is that they help people like you and me, research, design, engineer, brand, manufacture and sell your big idea. Their website has a bunch of really interesting products, but the Shake Women’s Tote caught my eye. I think Quirky’s description sums it up perfectly: “Life’s a beach, but when sand gets into your beach bag… well, now that’s just a b&#%h. Introducing the Shake Women’s Tote, designed to keep your items in, and sand out. This bag features a reversible flap that can be pinned to either side, allowing you to reveal or conceal the netting at will. When sand begins to intrude, just flip the flap, and shake all your troubles away. Shake is the perfect companion for any sand-resistant beach bum.

4. Cooler Party Cube: Don’t like to mix your Bud Lights and your Cokes? I understand.  The Cooler Party Cube can help solve that issue! The party cube is a lightweight, portable cooler, that comes with a waterproof interior divider that allows you to separate your cooler into two different sections. It also has a collapsible and removable stand so you  don’t hurt your back leaning over to grab a cold brewski. There is also a slot on the side of the cooler where you can insert a standard size umbrella to keep the cooler out of the sun. Brilliant!

5.  Beach Towel Clips: Nothing like a towel flapping in the wind, or blowing away, to really rile up your nerves on a relaxing beach day. Enter beach towel clips. These cute accessories clip on to any deck, lounge, or beach chair and help keep your towel down, and your mood high.

 

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Quarterlife Crisis? Upgrade!

John Mayer’s, “Why Georgia”, first popularized the “quarter life crisis”  and really had us all wondering if we were living it right.  At 15, these were just lyrics, but fast-forward 10 years, and these questions are now a reality for me.  I feel like now that I’m in my mid-20’s there are a lot of pressures to figure out my course in life. I spend a lot of time and energy planning how to get ahead in my career, and how to stand out in a male-dominated industry. I think a lot about how excited I am to be married and settle down, but also somewhat mourn the loss of my carefree, early-20’s. I constantly think about when and where I’ll start a family, if I’ll continue to work or stay-at-home. I wonder if I’m doing enough financially to support my dreams and goals down the road. There’s a lot to figure out right now, and it can certainly be overwhelming!

A few years ago I started following Christine Hassler (@christinhassler) on twitter, and also subscribed to inspirational emails from her. She is a speaker, life coach, and author specializing in 20-somethings. She is passionate about busting the myth that life is about living by a checklist and having it all figured out. Christine believes we all deserve and are capable of discovering our passion, pursuing our dreams, and making an impact on the world.

Recently, I received an email invitation to attend a Quarterlife Upgrade Virtual Conference. There are 30+ speakers over 5 days. These are top experts of our generation speaking on topics regarding career, love, abundance, finances, nutrition, parenting and passion. The best part? This event is FREE! To receive your free ticket, you must first register here.

$64K

Last week the Economic Policy Institute released its updated Family Budget Calculator. According to the EPI, the average cost for a family of four to live comfortably in Charlotte is $64,728. My first initial thoughts:

  • Why does my individual monthly budget resemble that of a family of four (hellooo necessary cutbacks on my end!!)?
  • That seems extremely low. 
  • What do they consider  “comfortable” living?
  • If that’s the case, I’m pretty fortunate

What do you think? Do you think your family could survive off of this amount?

Two Parents, Two Children

Item Cost
Monthly Housing $793
Monthly Food $754
Monthly Child Care $1062
Monthly Transportation $607
Monthly Health Care $1427
Monthly Other Necessities $396
Monthly Taxes $355
Monthly Total $5394
Annual Total $64728

July 4th in the Windy City

Finally getting back into the swing of things after a fun-filled long weekend in Chi-Town. Matt was conveniently able to schedule a work trip in Chicago for the first half of the week, and I flew up Wednesday evening to meet him. It was my first trip up since my sister got married, and was great to see her and her *husband*. Because I arrived around 5pm, I decided to take the train into the city so my sister wouldn’t have to get stuck in rush hour traffic coming to pick me up. The train is always an adventure…after sitting next to three, obnoxious, drunk high schoolers, and at one point, thinking the train car was about to be held up by a homeless man begging for money for a much-needed prescription, I was ready to get off ASAP.

We had a glass of wine and some app’s and then headed to Bill and Giuliana’s new restaurant, RPM Italian.  I was praying I would see B & G, and maybe even baby Duke, but no luck. However, the meatballs made up for the disappointment. After dinner, we stopped at a local bar, Barcito, for my sister’s favorite drink in all of Chicago; The Booty Collins. Who knew green tea infused vodka could taste SO good? We were enjoying our drinks outside when we were approached by a 10-year old selling a bunch of random items. Whitney and I couldn’t resist buying the light-up Minny Mouse ears. We were definitely channeling our inner Tamra and Vicki. The boys clearly wanted nothing to do with it (however, they were the ones who actually purchased the ears for us…just saying!)

Thursday was the 4th of July, the day we had been waiting for all year. My brother-in-law’s family has a big 4th of July party at their house every year, so we got up early and made a delicious banana pudding (our Dad’s famous recipe) to take up there. They live in a suburb of Chicago, about 40 minutes outside of the city. I hadn’t seen his family since the wedding, so it was great to see them all again. They go all-out for this party, and it was a great day. Bob’s dad is a hoot, and he and his buddies drink out of these giant glasses every year. I’m hoping that since I’m now considered family, I’ll have one of my own one day…

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Later that night, Matt had surprised me with a nights stay at The W Lakeshore in the heart of the city. We were sad to have to leave the Stanton’s party early, but were really excited to be able to have a vacation within a vacation. The W is right on the lake and happens to have a bar on the 14th floor with large windows that look right out to Navy Pier. We got into the city in just enough time to quickly check-in,  race up to the 14th floor, grab a drink, and position ourselves to watch the fireworks.  The firework display over the lake were amazing, and it was such a great treat! After the fireworks, we went down to our room to find that the lake view room we had paid extra to upgrade to, didn’t exist. Our room looked out onto a lovely parking garage. Grrrr. After a long day of drinking Pinot Grigio, sassy CMH was in full effect and my little fingers quickly dialed the front desk. They explained that they had overbooked – so annoying that hotels do this. Its simple. You know how many rooms you have, and you know how many guests you’re expecting. After being put on hold twice, and speaking to a rude employee, I was fired up. I threatened to walk down to the front desk, but was assured it would be best if I just stayed in my room. The manager finally called up to our room and first offered $50 off our bill (umm, seriously?).  After arguing some more, he said he could comp 1/2 our room price…again…not good enough. We wanted the lake view room, like we had paid for. The worst part is that I had called earlier that week, and the day of to ENSURE we would have our room, and they promised we would. After more  negotiating, we finally landed with a free night’s stay at one of their hotels in the future. Disappointment city. Get your stuff together, W! All in all, it was a night away with my boo, and it was much appreciated (despite my aggressive attitude for part of the evening)

We were feeling very lazy on Friday and so we headed to my sisters club for the day. This place is amazing. It has a gym, multiple restaurants, bars, pools, amazing locker rooms, a spa, indoor driving range and tennis courts. The pool was absolutely packed, but we were lucky enough to spend the day kicked back and enjoying the sun. Later that night, Bob’s sister came into the city and joined us for dinner at one of my absolute favorite restaurants in the city, Mercadito.

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If we didn’t already have enough excitement for the weekend, we decided to cram in one more event: a horse race! About 45 minutes outside of the city is a beautiful horse track that has races almost every day of the week during the warmer months. We met up with some of my sisters friends and took the train to Arlington Park. The train is a perfect option because you can drink mimosas onboard and it drops you off right in the parking lot of the track. We paid a little extra to have a suite and it was well worth it. The park is absolutely gorgeous and it doesn’t feel like you’re in Chicago anymore. There are 11 races total during the day with 30 minutes between each race. It’s such a fun process to research the horses, and then place your bets. I tried every strategy I could; colors, numbers, names, jockey record, etc. and didn’t have much luck. All in all,  I only lost $9 , and it was well worth it for a great day at the races!

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Chicago will always have a very special place in my heart. The vibrancy and energy of the city is undeniable. If I’m being honest, I wanted to dislike Chicago for taking my sister away from the South. But I’m so thankful that she has such a wonderful life there, and that we’re always welcome to come visit whenever we want. I’m also very thankful for my brother-in-law; I really hit the jackpot with him! I don’t know many other people who would specifically leave an ice cream surprise snack  the freezer for me OR secretly purchase this special suit…

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Tuesday Blues? Draw some food!

Does it ever seem like  Tuesdays are worse than Mondays? This morning was rough. It’s really hard to come back into the office after a holiday weekend especially when you have no boss. Matt, Savannah, and Natalie must have been feeling me this morning when they aired their “Whats Trending” segment. According to a new study by the Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, drawing pictures of unhealthy foods like pizza and cupcakes can actually boost your mood.  Results from the study say that Pizza boosted moods by 28%, Cupcake – 27% and Strawberries – 22%.

I tried this trick (and had to add ice cream, hot dogs and macaroni too) this morning and have to saw the results are inconclusive as to if it boosted my mood, or just made me insanely hungry? What are you comfort foods? Think this will work in your next business meeting?

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Watch The Today Show clip here.