Another Year Over

I cannot tell you how happy I am to say goodbye to 2014. This year has been the most physically and emotionally challenging year of my life. I’ve been anticipating this day for months now, everything that went wrong this year haunting me constantly, almost making me forget all the amazing things that happened this year.

Yes, this year was difficult as hell and life through me some curve balls that I was not expecting, but despite all of that, I also had some successful moments. I got to travel for work, I made new friends from all over the country (and world, too!) via tumblr, I got my finances mostly in order by learning how to effectively manage my income and budget, I took a calligraphy course I’ve wanted to do for a while now, and I modeled in a special holiday photo shoot for one of my favorite women’s magazine, Verily Magazine. The photo shoot took place in Metropolitan Building in Long Island City, which is where magazines like Vogue and Elle, amongst others, shoot often. It was pretty surreal!

I also saved up enough money for my trip to Europe this coming Spring, a graduation gift to myself. On that note, I am officially eight (eight!!!!!!) weeks away from having my bachelor’s degree. I signed up for the graduation conferral yesterday and I still can’t believe it. None of it feels real. I can’t imagine what life is going to be like once I’m finally done with school, but I’ll climb that wall when I get to it.

Oh, and I learned how to make ribs! I don’t mean to toot my own horn here, but the ribs I make are pretty freaking delicious. I’m quite proud of myself for that! All thanks to the recipe my boss’s wife shared with me. That changed my life. I see a lot of rib-eating in my future.

I realized that when I focus on the good, the bad doesn’t seem so big or relevant any more. I learned from those awful moments, definitely, but I also have to learn how to move on and learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others, that way I can have more time and energy to focus on the amazing reality that is life. Not every moment is going to be great, but that’s life.

I am not one for resolutions. I refuse to give into the hype of making a promise to myself only to give up within 6 weeks. It’s just setting myself up for disappointment; but I do like making a general list of what I would like to do throughout the entire new year, and if i get to it, great! But if I don’t, there’s always next year. I don’t know what 2015 has in store for me. To be honest, I’m a little nervous about it. There’s a lot of change coming up, and thinking about it freaks me out. I do know one thing though, thanks to the love and support of my family and friends, I made it through this year, so I can make it through whatever the following year plans on throwing my way.

I should probably update this blog more, I’m clearly lousy at that. But I refuse to say I’m going to do it on a regular basis: that never works for me! I wish you all a very happy and healthy New Year filled with love, laughter and lots of wine. Thank you for following along with me and listening to my ramblings. Y’all are the bees knees!

P.S. You can see the holiday photo shoot I was fortunate to be a part of here: http://verilymag.com/holiday-party-wear-style-trends-winter-2014/ 

Small Moments: Purchases

As noted here, I’ve been trying to get my budget under control. With this goal and my weekly budget restrictions in mind, I make sure everything that I buy now will be worth it. I research, compare, and if I need a little extra cash for it, I save some money from the week before to make up for it. All this prepping has helped me make two purchases within the last month that I am really satisfied with.

1) John Frieda JF2 Salon Shine Hair Dryer

About a year ago, I stopped straightening my hair with the wet flat iron and learned how to use a blow dryer. I’m still not a pro and have to turn to my trusty CHI flat iron the next day to do fix the frizz situation, but I was just using an old blow dryer I found in the bathroom cabinet. I also started getting lazy and going to a DryBar to get my hair done each week, and needless to say, this was not helping my budgeting efforts at all. After a few days of comparing and hesitating, I decided to purchase this blow dryer. I was leaning toward a more expensive, fancy blow dryer, but I’m so glad I didn’t go with one of those, as the reviews with this one and the fancy ones were pretty much the same. This blow dryer is not perfect, but even for a beginner like me, it works really well.

2) Naked2 Basics Eye Shadow Palette

My next favorite purchase was this eye shadow palette. I’ve wanted a Naked palette for a while now, but hesitated against buying it because of the price, and I really didn’t need another palette with multiple colors since I already have others that I don’t use enough as it is. However, this palette is perfection. I use it almost every day now. The colors are nice and neutral, yet can be used to make more dramatic, smoky looks, making it the perfect combination for traveling. With all the traveling I’ve done and will be doing in the future, it doesn’t get any better than that. It is beautiful, and I am totally in love with it.

The best thing about these purchases though: they were both less than $30. It may seem trivial, but making purchases that I feel so good about such as these give me a sense of accomplishment, and remind me that I don’t have to spend $100+ on something just for it to be good quality. Good things come in small packages (or in this case, prices), too! So these are my small moments for this week. I know I’ll have both of these purchases for a while and will get the most out of them both, so that makes it all the better.

Small Moments: Traveling

November is the month when every one starts preparing for Thanksgiving and thinking about all the things they’re grateful for (naturally). As I was sitting in the train earlier this week, I realized that I have a lot to be thankful for, and decided that the best way to acknowledge that appreciation would be to write it down. So with that in mind, I will be writing a new series each week called Small Moments, which will highlight certain things I appreciate from that week.

For my first post, I am grateful for the opportunities my job offers me to travel. I spent the last two weekends traveling to Dallas, Texas and Memphis, Tennessee. It was my first time visiting both states, but I had a great time. One of the things I mostly wanted to do while I was in each state was eat BBQ, and compare the ribs. The verdict: while I liked the ribs in Texas, the ribs in Memphis were amazing. Like I’m still thinking about those ribs a week later. And the biscuits and gravy. Man, I had that for breakfast every day while I was there. It was so good..and now I’m hungry.

It was also nice to see how different people down south are, especially in Memphis. I honestly felt like a super important person because everyone at the hotel and at restaurants were so polite. As a bonus, the Mississippi River was right across from my hotel, so that was cool, too! I guess you could say that while I enjoyed Dallas, Memphis was my favorite city to visit out of the two. You can find some pictures of my trips here on Instagram!

I feel very fortunate that I can travel for work. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of being able to do, and now I’m doing it! Next week I’m going to Michigan, but that’s on a personal trip. It’s not every day your oldest niece turns 5! 🙂

What The Budget

I’ve always been a shopaholic, and as my income increased, so did my shopping habit. I knew I had a problem and had to fix it, but then there was a sale at Nordstrom, or Gap, or H&M, etc, and I’d pull out my little plastic card, further increasing my credit card debt.

I didn’t think it was that bad though. I’d always pay my full balances on time, and I used everything I bought, so it was worth it, or so I thought. While my cards were mostly paid off, my savings account was depleting by the minute, and then I was overdrafting my checking account, as well as my savings account, and that’s when I realized that I really did have a major problem. So I did the only thing I knew would help me. I hired a financial advisor through learnvest.com, and got to work.

And boy was it work. First, she helped me create a budget based upon my income and fixed expenses, which left me with some weekly spending money, but it was a lot less than what I was used to, so that scared me a bit. I didn’t think I’d be able to stick that amount, but I knew I had to try. Next, I had to freeze my 7 credit cards. Yup, that’s right, I had 7 credit cards, and I had to freeze them, a-la Isla Fisher in Confessions of a Shopaholic. That was the hardest part, packing them into a plastic bag of water, and sticking them in the back of my freezer. I had a major headache after that.

This was back in July. Now, three months later, I’m doing my darnest to stick to my budget. All but one of my credit cards are paid off, the credit cards are still in the freezer, and I’m putting money into three (three!) savings accounts each month. I’ve also started saving up for my trip to Europe in the Spring, my graduation gift to myself, and I am so happy with how far I’ve come.

I still have a lot to work on. I’ve managed to kick my shopping habit to the curb for the most part, but there are still times when I struggle real bad. It is not easy, but seeing the number goes down on my credit card debt, and go up in my savings is so satisfying. Shopping was my hobby, my safe place. It was what I knew, and it brought me comfort, and maybe it always will, but this is my time to improve myself, for no one but me. It is a great feeling.

Also, for anyone looking to get a handle on their own budget, I highly recommend learnvest.com. It has literally changed my life. While I pay for the financial advisor’s services, they have a free option where you can link up your accounts and set up your own budget. It’s super convenient. Do it. You won’t regret it.

Busy Bee

A few months ago, I was looking for and applying for a new job, but after a few weeks of unanswered emails and applications, I decided to give up, and just stay where I am. Here’s the thing: I like my job. I enjoy working here, I get along well with my coworkers, and the hours are flexible, which is awesome. Only problem with this job is that the commute is an hour and a half to and from my house. That’s three hours of travel a day. I have to take the subway and the Metro North train, so the commute is not only long, it is also incredibly expensive. This was really the only reason why I wanted to find a new job, and now that I look back on the time I spent job searching, I’m glad I did not get a call back from any of the other places.

Why? Because about a month ago now, as I was walking around the garden behind the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, I got a text message from a mother looking for a babysitter. Turns out she had gotten my number from a mother I occasionally babysit for, and she was in need of a part-time babysitter for her 2-year-old son. Long story short, I accepted her job offer, started working for her 2 weeks later, and learned a lesson about patience and timing.

So now, thanks to the hour flexibility, I’m working 35-40 hours at the office, and babysitting for 12. This is my third week, and so far, it hasn’t been so bad. It is a lot of work though. I am out of my house by 6 a.m. and don’t get home till after 7 p.m. There’s that and then there’s also the homework I have to do every day for my online courses. To be frank, I am exhausted. All the time. There is no such thing as too much coffee in my agenda now. I sleep any chance I can get, doesn’t matter where I am. The hum of the moving train is very soothing, let me tell you.

Truthfully, I might be biting off more than I can chew here. But even though I have more on my plate than ever before, I feel content. I feel the most accomplished when I’m busy, so this works perfectly for me. Sure, sometimes I wonder what is wrong with me that I feel the need to put myself through all of this trouble, but that’s usually at 5:30 when my alarm clock goes off and the sun isn’t even out yet. I do have to figure out a better sleeping schedule though. This 5-hours-of-sleep-per-night thing is not cutting it for me. But I know myself, so I won’t even bother to say that I’m going to try to go to bed by 10:30 because Lord knows that is not going to happen. For now, I have coffee by day, and wine by night. That’s good enough, right? Yes, yes it is.

Au Revoir, August. Bonjour, September

While the rest of the summer was considerably dull for me this year, I’m happy to say that the month of August was not so bad. In fact, so much happened this month that I can’t believe it’s already over. This last week of August was my favorite. I celebrated my 22nd birthday, took two days off from work to go to Washington, D.C. and spent the weekend upstate with my sisters and nephews.

On Monday, my birthday, I went to work as usual, had dinner with the family (Mom made lasagna, my birthday request, as is our tradition), went to Coldstone Creamery for ice cream with two of my cousins, and saw Finding Nemo at the park with my brother, his wife, four of their five sons, my sister and her husband and baby. It was kind of awesome, especially the movie at the park. We could see the 59th street bridge in the background, and it was nice to see so many people gathered together. It was so community-like, which was so foreign to me. I didn’t even know they did things like that in the city! But I definitely enjoyed it.

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent driving to and from New York and D.C. I love it there. I’ve been there on multiple occasions, but I always had a reason to be there, and never really had the chance to be a tourist. This time though, I was taking total advantage of my tourist status and enjoying all the sights. Walking around the Capitol at night was one of my favorite moments- especially when we found a small garden with a fountain. It was completely deserted and so beautiful. You could see the Capitol building right behind it- it was super romantic, and I couldn’t help but think how great that spot would be for a proposal/engagement. I am such a girl. I also really enjoyed the zoo and museums. The fact that they were free didn’t hurt either. Free? I’m there! I also had to take a selfie with the Lincoln Memorial; it was my most “touristy” moment.

Fact: It seems like every person in Washington, D.C. is a runner. Like every one was running. It was cool.

This weekend was spent at my parents’ house upstate. My sisters and I drove to Albany with our nephews and spent the day in the New York State Museum. My brother-in-law had never been there before, so naturally we had to introduce him to our family’s favorite museum. It’s a tradition by now. I love it, and it never gets old. It was a great day.

So as far as August goes, I’m kind of sad to see it go, because that means my sister and her husband will be returning to Spain in 3 days and taking my adorable nephew with them. The best part of the entire summer was being able to spend two months with RJ. He really is the most adorable baby of all, but I’ll write another post about him another time. (He’s laying down next to me on my bed right now as I write this, giggling at the ceiling. Such a little distraction!)

And now that September is here, I’m looking forward to the Fall, the best season of all. The next few months are going to a challenge as I adjust to life’s latest curveball, but I am looking forward to it. Also, pumpkin everything season is back, so that is kind of awesome. 

Recipe Successes

The weather in New York has been surprisingly pleasant and Autumn-like lately, especially for August. I love it! With Fall weather comes the ability to do one of my favorite things without hearing my father complain about it being too hot to turn on the oven…baking! I love baking, and cooking in general.

So on Sunday, I woke up early and made homemade crepes for my sister, brother-in-law and myself. I used this recipe that I found on Pinterest. I filled it with strawberries, blueberries, and cream cheese. To a sweeter twist to the cream cheese, I added a drop of vanilla extract. I then topped the crepes off with maple syrup and powdered sugar. The great thing about crepes is that you can literally fill it up with anything you want, eggs, cheeses, fruits, meats…and voila- you have breakfast!

We had guests over for dinner that evening, and I whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Nothing fancy, I just used a basic but reliable recipe. No need for Pinterest this time, though I do want to try one of the many interesting recipes for chocolate chip cookies on there!

And lastly, I made these power muffins. They’re called power muffins because they’re made with blueberries, oatmeal, and greek yogurt, which equals power! I’ve been trying to cut back on my expenses (I’ll write about that at another time), so I decided to make these muffins for breakfast this week instead of buying breakfast each day. I did things a little differently from the recipe, though. I didn’t have honey Greek yogurt, just blueberry Greek yogurt (go figure, huh?), so I used that instead and added two tablespoons of raw honey. Not surprisingly, with the yogurt and the fresh blueberries, my muffins came out completely blueish/purple. They looked so weird! But they tasted pretty amazing, so the color was irrelevant. And I have breakfast for the rest of the week- yippee! Oh yeah, I found this recipe on Pinterest, too. Yay, Pinterest!

I forgot to take pictures of the finished products, especially the crepes because I was just so darn hungry and capturing that moment was the last thing on my mind, but I think you can get the idea of what it should look like from the recipes.

So, three recipes in one day? You can say that I had a pretty busy Sunday in the kitchen, but I’d say it was a success! 🙂 

P.S. You can follow me on Pinterest here. Happy pinning! 

Family Time

This past weekend, my family on my mother’s side had a family reunion. Aunts, uncles and cousins from many states came over to my parent’s house in the Catskills to spend two nights together. 40 people (30 adults and 10 children until the age of 10) all crammed together in one house with just three bathrooms. It was glorious. And I don’t mean that sarcastically. See, the thing about my family is that we don’t really have that family drama you always hear about, the rivalry between aunts and the dislike between siblings. For some reason, we aren’t about that. Of course we still have familial issues, because let’s face it, who doesn’t?! But ultimately, we all get along well with each other, and gathering together has always been fun. Nothing says family bonding time quite like sleeping on the floor with 25 other people as your uncle and older brother have a battle-of-the-loudest-snore!

Before my grandfather passed away almost five years ago, the whole family always gathered together for basically every holiday. Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, birthdays, or any other excuse we could come up with to get together. This was a simpler time. This was before the cousins all went off to college and started their lives in different states. This was when Abuelito was still alive, keeping us together. He was the head of the family, the mold, and he loved nothing more than spending time with all his kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids. Since he died, it’s been a bit difficult to maintain that tradition of celebrating every holiday together; but one thing has not changed: the love we have for one another. That love is priceless. We have an interesting way of showing it (name-calling and teasing are the go-to love method, jokes about everyone) but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We try to have a big family reunion at least once a year, and so far, so good. There will always be a few people who can’t make it for whatever reason, but the important thing is that we try. So while we may have lost our way a bit since Abuelito’s death, I like to think that he’d still be proud of us for at least maintaining in contact with each other all the time (hello, wattsapp family chat group!) I imagine him smiling down at us from Heaven as we laugh about something silly. I think we do a pretty good job of keeping his spirit alive amongst us as well. He was a joker, and we’ve got jokes for days. And there is never, ever a dull moment. Not with so many people around! And so much food. Seriously, food coming out the wazoo. It amazes me that we somehow manage to feed so many mouths and no one seems to go hungry. Amazing. I love my family, and I am so very grateful and blessed. Definitely wouldn’t have it any other way. 

17 Years Late

I remember watching the movie in Summer camp when it first came out. It was interesting. I liked it, so I borrowed the book from the library, brought it home and sat down to read it. For some reason my 9 year old brain just could not get into it. So I wrote it off as a book that was not for me.

Six years later, the mom of the little boy I babysat at the time made me take the book home and give it another chance. She could not believe that I did not like it. She couldn’t understand that. So I did. I took it home, and gave it another chance. But again, I didn’t get past the 4th chapter.

Here we are again, another six years later, and I have finally, totally given the Harry Potter series a real chance. And I am so disappointed in myself for waiting so long to do so. My coworker/ office bestie, Liz, has been nagging me for months to “just read the first book, trust me”. When I realized I could borrow the book for free on my kindle (thanks, prime membership!), I figured why not. So I downloaded the book to read during my commute to work. I read it in three days. I was so hooked, I could not wait to start on the next one. I was a little bummed out when I realized I could only borrow one book for free a month (darn you, prime membership!), so I waited a few days for July 1st and borrowed the second book for free (take that, Amazon!) Read that in a few days, too. And now I’m half way through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

I watched all the movies about three years ago, but I don’t really remember much. The excitement of what is going to happen next is still there, fortunately! Honestly, I never thought I would so into these books. I am obsessed. It’s a little ridiculous, to be honest, but I’m so glad I listened to Liz and picked the first book up again. Sure, I’ve waited a long time to join the Harry Potter fandom, if you will, but hey, better late than never, right? 

Also, I’d like to take this moment to point out how much I love Hermione and Ron. Not just romantically, though there’s that as well, but as Harry’s friends. The books would not be the same without them. 

My goal is to finish reading all the books by the end of the summer. At this rate, I think I’ll be done by my birthday in August. Woohoo!

Ever-So-Temporary Model Status

Friends are great for so many different reasons. Each one has a talent (or talents), and sometimes, these talents need some fine-tuning, some practicing. That’s where the true value of friendship comes in- when you can somehow help a friend perfect their talent, whether it’s by letting them try out a new hairstyle on you (or cutting your hair, even…that takes some serious trust!) or by posing for their photography portfolio. I’ve done both, and I love being able to do so. There’s a certain feeling that comes along with helping someone work on their passion. It’s like you’re making them stronger, closer to what they want to be, and that is awesome!

Yesterday, I posed for my good friend and amazing photographer, Becca. She’s also an amazing artist. Seriously, her work blows me away! We’ve done photo shoots before, in all the seasons except summer, so we decided to do a summer photo shoot but with a different vibe than usual this time. All our previous photo shoots were kind of “happy, go-lucky”-like. This time, we wanted to be more artsy and try something new. So we did! Instead of shooting in her yard, we grabbed a wooden bar seat and went to an open field in her neighborhood. The focus wasn’t so much on smiling, but on other expressions.
becca1

becca2

It was a bit hard to stay focused and not laugh all the time at how silly I felt striking all those poses, but it was so much fun to try something new. I felt like a real-deal model. And I am really impressed with how the pictures turned out! 

Fun fact 1: I always straighten my hair because I could never really deal with managing my natural curly hair, but I’ve finally decided to stop fighting nature and just embrace it, and I’m so glad I did. I feel a lot more confident with my hair, and I’m always getting compliments on it now, which is a nice bonus, hehe 🙂

Fun fact 2: Becca is my boyfriend’s sister. It’s always nice to have a super talented photographer in the family 😉