May Goal: Limit Discretionary Spending Month

It’s MAY! I can’t believe it! May already!

This post doesn’t really fit into my blog ‘genre/theme’ but I want to make it public so I keep myself accountable.

You know how the weather starts to get warmer, days are sunnier and suddenly, you’re unknowingly spending more money? On new spring/summer clothes, on new make-up, on dining out on a restaurant patio, on happy hours, on brunch. Maybe this is just me. But the past few months, I’ve been spending a bit recklessly but always attributing it to visitors in Denver (we HAVE to go out for dinner! Every night!) , birthdays, tax returns.

And truthfully, I’ve been spending my money a bit less carefully since Alex moved in. Once I had him to split rent and expenses with me, I ‘got’ some of that money back, right? Not right. But that’s how I’ve been acting. It’s the first time since graduating college that I felt like I had ‘extra’ money. Money I *should* be saving is instead going to TCBY treats, Bull & Bush burgers, and concert tickets. My spending is not out of control by any means but I’m not doing myself any favors by spending ALL of my discretionary money each month.

So, for the month of May, I’m challenging myself. I will limit  my discretionary spending – and Alex is doing the same.

I will bring my lunch to work (potential savings = $20-40/week!), we’ll eat dinners at home instead of picking something up or eating out (potential savings = $150+/month!), we’ll drink our own beer on our patio instead of happy hour (potential savings = $40/month!). No shopping (online or in a store), no impulse wine purchase at the grocery store.

These ‘potential savings‘ are based on how many times I know we do these things (buy lunch, eat out, drinks, etc) and an average of how much they cost. (I have Mint.com to tell me exactly how much I’ve been spending in all of these categories.) Our biggest money pit is eating out – seriously – it’s so easy and lazy to buy lunch or dinner out. And no dishes to clean! I know that committing to eat at home will be our biggest saver.

And of course, this means that our grocery bill may be a bit higher but if an extra $20 in groceries means 4 lunches not eaten out, we’ve saved money.

I do have a few events that I’ve already committed to and will bring myself an allowance to spend – dinner at Blend Retreat on Saturday night, a beer at The Fray concert in a couple of weeks, etc.

I know that this month will be a big challenge for me – but a very good one! I think once Alex and I get into the routine of NOT eating out all of the time (and after we see the savings in our bank account), this 1 month challenge will become less challenge, more habit.

Are you a spender or a saver? I like to save but I also like to DO and EXPERIENCE and TASTE which sometimes (most of the time) costs money.

Fitness: 2 Workouts in 24 Hours #WhatsBeautiful

The first challenge I took on for the Under Armour What’s Beautiful challenge was to workout 2 times in 24 hours.

Man, it was a LOT harder than I expected.

I decided to try the first swim workout of my 1 mile plan to get a feel for how long it will take for me to complete. The plan I’m following is 0 to 1650 and will ‘officially’ start it this week. The first week of training is the same workout, 3 times:

  • 4 x 100 meters  (12 breaths rest between 100s)
  • 4 x 50 meters (8 breaths rest between 50s)
  • 4 x 25 meters (4 breaths rest between 25s)

Post-surgery, I’ve been flailing through my ‘active’ life – no training plan, no focus. It’s been pretty willy-nilly – whatever I was feeling that day or week, I would do it. Yoga, dog walking, Pure Barre, etc. When this What’s Beautiful challenge came up, I was happy to have a reason to have a focus again! It’s SO nice to have workouts and a goal!

So yesterday, I jumped in the pool for my trial Week 1 workout. It took me about 45 minutes from leaving the locker room for the pool to returning to the locker room post-swim. The swim was really tough – my arms and legs were tired by the time I finished my 4 100s but I pushed through. If it’s not tough, I’m not pushing hard enough, right?

(Swim tip: write out your workout and put it in a plastic bag! It keeps your plan nice and dry.)

I knew I’d be tired and sore after swimming and I know that yoga solves all problems. For realz. I hit up CorePower Yoga (my favorite yoga studio in Denver!) for a 4 p.m. CorePower 2 class – heated, more advanced yoga flow. Our instructor, Ruby, said this would be a ‘light’ flow class (#twss) and it was, compared to other classes. It was less fast, less intense than the other C2 classes I’ve been to. Perfect! Just what I needed – a nice, slow flow to get my blood and lactic acid moving.

Unfortunately, after a 700 m swim workout (that my body isn’t used to!), even a ‘light’ yoga flow was very challenging! My quads, arms and mind were so tired – I’m proud of myself for working through it. I made my favorite yoga quote my intention for entire class:

*When the mind says stop, this is where yoga begins* (and it/I was featured on the Gaiam Facebook page!)

I know as this What’s Beautiful challenge progresses, I’ll get stronger, my body will adapt and doing yoga after a swim will not be as tough as it was yesterday. And swimming won’t be as tiring as it was yesterday!

Today, my mind and body are really tired (some puppy potty issues early this morning didn’t help!) and my arms, shoulders and legs are sore. I’m not sure if it was the swim or the yoga but my booty is feeling the burn this morning too!

As tired as I am though, it feels so good to be back into the swing of a training plan! And I’m ready to get back into the pool tomorrow.

Fitness: Under Armour Women's What's Beautiful Challenge

Earlier this week, I got an email about the Under Armour Women’s What’s Beautiful Challenge and I’ve jumped in to the competition.

What’s Beautiful is a 9-week challenge, encouraging women to redefine what it means to be beautiful and to be a female athlete. Throughout the 9 weeks, there are various challenges for the women to complete and at the end of the competition, UA will pick 10 finalists who’ve documented the most impressive, inspiring, monumental journeys. From these 10, 3 winners will be chosen to be the new face of Under Armour Women (2 picked by UA, 1 picked by public vote).

My first love and what I’m so wanting to get back to is running. However, after 2 knee surgeries last year (October, December) I know it’s not the right time for me to be running yet. So I mulled over what I wanted to make my challenge – something that would push my limits and out of my comfort zone.

That’s right. I’m going to train to swim ONE mile.

I’m really terrible at swimming – and since I’m not great at it, I’ve avoided it since my elementary school swim team years. Post knee surgeries, I started swimming as a way to get moving and start getting some fitness back. I enjoyed it but, as soon as I felt comfortable walking, moderately running, doing yoga, I dropped swimming like yesterday’s news.

But now I’m back at it and committing to learning and improving. This is exactly the challenge I need – just like training for a running race, it gives me a fitness goal to focus on. Before, I was swimming just to swim – no plan, really. Now, I’ve got a plan, schedule and drive.

Follow along on my 9-week journey! I’ll be blogging about it here and you can also find me on What’s Beautiful here.

Who’s with me?! Who has signed up for the What’s Beautiful challenge? If you haven’t, what are you waiting for! Jump in and let’s meet our goals together!

Fitness: Overdoing It & Playing It Safe

Last week, my knee and body was feeling SO GOOD! Last week, I ran 2.6 miles on Sunday, 2 miles on Tuesday evening. Because I was feeling so great, I got up early on Thursday Morning in Kansas City to run 2 more miles.

Not the right choice.

My body was tired and I listened. I stopped the treadmill after 1 mile stretched out and got ready for the day. But my  left knee (surgery #2, December) was feeling really sore. Yikes! I pushed too hard, too soon.

Well, today is Wednesday and my knee is still sore – not like it was last Thursday but still sore! A clear sign I over-did it. Too much, too fast. Very stupid!

I know should have followed a plan (Couch to 5k) and graduated myself back into running. But until about a month ago, I didn’t feel safe running. Once I did run with no pain, it was just too tempting to see how far I could go – especially when I was feeling so great! I was completely bull-headed about it and just took off. My body isn’t ready, my left knee isn’t ready. This is something I need to EASE back into and build time and distance slowly. This was the wake-up call I needed to chill out on the running for now.

Unfortunately, way back while I was on crutches, I signed up for a race as motivation, a goal. I signed up for the 5 Mile Cherry Creek Sneak  run on Sunday. (This is why I was trying to run 2 miles for a 3rd time) This was a lofty and unrealistic goal from the beginning but I thought that I may have been able to do it. That with my new knees, I’d be invincible, right?! Wrong. it turns out I’m still human, even with bionic knees.

So in light of the new knee still feeling sore, I’m going to play it safe (and smart!) this weekend and drop from the 5 mile run to the 5k run. I will also certainly not be running the 5k – I will be walking 3.1 miles to my beer at the finish line.

However, I’m still on the fence about actually walking the 5k. On longer walks with the dog, my knee is feeling sore by the time we come home – and I’m not walking 3.1 miles with the dog. So I plan to reevaluate on Friday or Saturday about how my knee feels and if it’s a good idea for me to participate.

A 5k (or any race) isn’t worth risking the health of my knees and the new cartilage that’s trying to grow. If I forego the Cherry Creek Sneak race registration I paid, oh well. Better to have ‘lost’ those $30 than to go through another expensive ($$$) surgery and 6 more weeks of crutches.

Wedding Wednesday: Bridesmaids & Their Dresses

**Wedding Wednesday is a feature on my blog documenting our wedding planning process – thoughts, reflections, ideas, milestones. Follow along as we plan a wedding in our home city of Cincinnati while we live in Denver. 

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I know I haven’t discussed our wedding party or my bridesmaids yet on the blog. This is mostly because 1) there are a lot of them and 2) I don’t like to include people on the blog without asking first. I want to respect privacy that people may want. So since I haven’t asked if they’re okay being all of the internet, I won’t post photos or too many details but I’ll give a quick run down.

  • Sarah: Maid of honor – longest, oldest friend! We met way back in elementary school when I lived in Denver, kept in touch when I moved away from Colorado and picked up right where we left off when I moved back to Denver a few years ago.
  • Trisha, Lexi: Bridesmaids – my younger sisters. No brainer!
  • Molly Kathleen: Bridesmaid – Alex’s younger sister. Again, no brainer!
  • Kristen: Bridesmaid – we met in Cincinnati and when Kristen moved back home to Denver, she made it so much easier for me to get my butt out here after I graduated. We were roommates my first year in Denver.
  • Elizabeth: Bridesmaid – great friend from college who’s only become an even closer friend since graduation.
  • Molly: Bridesmaid – another friend from junior & high school/college; we’ve become so much closer since graduation. She’s also dating Alex’s brother!
  • Ashley: Bridesmaid – friend from high school and various volleyball teams throughout our teenage years.

If you were counting, that’s 8 bridesmaids. And Alex has 8 groomsmen. That’s a huuuuge wedding party.

I’m not the girl who’s been planning my wedding since I was a little but I did always imagine just a few attendants – 4 or 5 at the most. However, when faced with the reality that Alex and I BOTH are one of five kids in our family and we both felt strongly that all of our brothers (5 brothers combined) and sisters (3 sisters combined) be included, the idea of a small wedding party quickly disappeared. So it’s a huge wedding party but I’m so happy that we’re able to include our siblings and so many of close friends in our wedding.

SO! With 8 bridesmaids in various parts of the country (Florida, Colorado, Ohio, Minnesota), I chose to use David’s Bridal for their dresses – each city has a DB where the girls can see and try on a dress before buying.

I also decided not to put them all in the same dress. I feel very strongly that each girl should look and feel her best – and that I’m not the best person to decide what will make them feel great! So I found 3 different dresses that were the same fabric and similar-ish feel and am letting them each decide which dress the like.

Strapless

Sleeves/Straps

One Sleeve/Strap

The dresses will all be in black – as much as I love a hot pink dress, our wedding isn’t the right place for that. Also, I don’t love hot pink dresses.

I tried all of the dresses on to get a feel for how they’d fit before I asked my favorite ladies to wear it. It also helped to show my girls what they look like on a real person. Each of them knows what I look like in real life so I hoped that by seeing the dress on me rather than the model on David’s Bridal’s website, they could get a better feel for the dresses.

Because I bought my dress at David’s Bridal, the nice ladies who helped me with bridesmaids dresses added each dress to my ‘account’ so when my bridesmaids go in to pick their dress, the store can pull the exact dress for them. (Maybe this is the case for brides who buy their dress elsewhere, too?)

I also wanted to be very conscious of price – weddings are an expensive affair to be a part of and with girls traveling (and even those not!), I did not want to burden them with an expensive dress that required a special color or specific type of shoe everyone would have to buy, etc, etc. Black dresses mean that everyone looks great and they can wear whatever black shoe they want – LGSMASH approved, of course. These dresses are all $139.00 or less, regular price.

I know one bridesmaid has already bought her dress – I can’t wait to see which dresses the rest of my girls pick out!

 

Food: The Cheesecake Post

Alex’s birthday was on Thursday and I’d wanted to make him a cheesecake earlier in the week for him to have ON his birthday – since I was in Kansas City. Well, that didn’t happen due to a disposal explosion.

Instead, I made cake on Saturday afternoon!

Alex’s friend (and best man!), Alex V., was in town for the weekend and when the boys went hiking, I stayed behind and did some damage in the kitchen. For  as long as we’ve been together, I’ve made Alex cheesecake for his birthday. This year, with the discovery of using Greek yogurt for cooking and baking, I wanted to use Chobani in this year’s cheesecake.

CHOCOLATE CHIP CHEESECAKE

(adapted from here)

Ingredients

  • 1 C graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp plus 1/2 C sugar
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 8-ounce package Neufchatel cream cheese
  • 1 C (2 individual cups) Vanilla 0% Chobani Greek Yogurt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 c chocolate chips + 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 325*
  • Mix graham crackers, 2 Tbsp sugar and melted butter. Smoosh into your cake pan (I used 9′ glass round); bake for 10 minutes until brown
  • While the crust is baking, combine Neufchatel, yogurt, eggs and flour in a large mixing bowl; mix with an electric mixer until blended
  • In separate bowl, add 1 Tbsp of flour to chocolate chips; mix until chocolate chips are coated in flour; add to mixing bowl with cake filling
  • Pour the mixture into the cake pan, bake for 30-35 minutes; should be cooked but slightly jiggly in center
  • Cool in fridge for at least 2 hours
  • Enjoy!

A little trick I’d learned in my earlier baking years is that if you coat chocolate chips in flour, they won’t sink to the bottom of cake/brownie batter. My cheesecake wasn’t deep enough that it really required the flour but I like to do it anyway.

The cheesecake is delicious! It’s gotten 2 thumbs up and many small pieces stolen from the fridge from both boys. It also may have been a small part of breakfast. (We really need to grocery shop.)

In addition to the cheesecake I wanted to make out of Lynne and Alex tradition, he also requested a cake from his childhood – boxed yellow cake with chocolate icing in 2-9 inch rounds, stacked.

Boom.

We have yet to break into this cake yet. And I realize now why people have cake stands with lids! The icing has dried a bit but I hope the cake is still moist. We’ll find out tonight!

So much cake, so little time.  

 

Travel + Fun: Kansas City (& Ninja) BBQ

It’s the last day of the conference and I’m ready to head home to Denver!

This conference has been interesting for me – usually, I travel to conferences for my company to be an exhibitor. Yes, we have a little table, table cloth, banners, brochures, the whole nine yards. This time, though, I was able to attend as a regular attendee. The conference is called Transforming Local Government and is geared toward helping municipalities across America information share and be more innovative in their operations.

One thing that I’ve noticed this year in the conference I’ve been to and will be going to is that the big ones are designing native apps for attendees to download. This is a way cool innovation, especially for the industry that my company plays in (insurance + government: not the most progressive industries!). Unfortunately, I have yet to attend a conference that offers free wi-fi or has decent cell phone service in conference halls so it renders the app mostly useless. But it’s a step in the right technological direction.

I digress.

So it’s my last day in Kansas City, last day at the conference. And true to Kansas City form, I ate KCBBQ twice yesterday. No photos but it was delicious. I had enough BBQ for the rest of the year, at least. Well, maybe a month.

Instead of photos of KCBBQ, I leave you with this BBQ gem.

Just a little NINJAQ for your Friday.

Fitness: Stay Fit Kit at Hilton Garden Inn

When I got in to Kansas City later Tuesday evening, the only thing on my mind was dinner. I’m staying at a Hilton Garden Inn for the first time in a very long time. The hotel isn’t nearby any restaurants so my only option was delivery. Good for me – pizza was on my mind!

While I waited my pizza to arrive, I hit up the hotel fitness center.

Pretty standard – 2 treadmills, 1 bike, 1 elliptical. Not standard? Free weights!

I ran 2 miles on the treadmill – no knee pain! – and on my way out of the fitness center, a little sign above the towels caught my eye.

Hilton Garden Inn’s Stay Fit Kit! I remember hearing about these when Hilton first introduced them but this is my first time at a Hilton that carries them. (Maybe they’re only at HGI brand?) I walked over to the front desk to ask for one to use during my stay.

The Stay Fit Kit comes in an easy-to-carry mesh bag and is stuff with fitness goodies.

And not just ANY fitness equipment, Gaiam fitness equipment!

I took advantage of the Stay Fit Kit on Wednesday morning and did some abs and arms before a long day of conference sessions. Two items I’d love to add to the Stay Fit Kit is a yoga mat and sanitation wipes. I like the weighted ball but it’s a bit grimy on the handles. And I really don’t like the idea of laying on a hotel floor to do situps or plank so I used a bath towel.

I’m about 2 feet longer than a bath towel. A yoga mat would have been ideal!

This morning, I got up early and hit the treadmill again. I’ve been feeling really comfortable running 2-2.5 miles so today, I wanted to push myself to 3 miles. But, my knees and body weren’t ready. Running 2+ miles Sunday and Tuesday proved to be too much too soon. I quit at 1.5 miles this morning.

Knowing about these Stay Fit Kit definitely puts the Hilton Garden Inn hotels high up on my prefered hotels from now on. I like to keep active when I travel for business – usually days are long and full of big dinners – and a quick workout keeps me feeling alert.

Wedding Wednesday: Engagement Photos

As of today, Alex and I have been engaged for 9.5 months but only just last week did we finally take engagement photos.

When we were first engaged, Alex was still living in Florida. Then, the week after he moved to Denver, I had knee surgery #1. Then knee surgery #2. So it’s taken us a while to get photos done and that’s okay!

We met with J-K Photography on Saturday morning at a local park Alex and I love, Washington Park, for our session. J-K Photography is a team of wonderful ladies, Jeanette and Kathi, who I know J-K Photography from the AFSP Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk. They volunteer to shoot photos during the walk and create a very touching slide show each year.

We lucked out with blue skies and minimal wind until after we finished. It was so much fun to play around and pose for the camera – Jeanette and Kathi came armed with some great props (a chalkboard!) and great photo ideas.

We don’t have all of our photos yet but I thought I’d share the sneak peek we got yesterday.

I can’t wait to see the rest! I have some fun ideas for what we’ll do with a few of the photos.

I’m really happy that we decided to do engagement photos – and do them in Denver. We’re getting married in Cincinnati and will have beautiful photos taken then but I felt it was really important to capture the Lynne and Alex in Denver, too. It’s been such a fun 9 months being engaged and finally living in the same city and I think our photos will reflect that.

 

Travel: Travel Season, Kansas City

It’s that time again - travel season! I travel to quite a few conferences for my job and spring/summer/early fall are when most conferences in my industry are held. So while accounting ‘busy season’ is just concluding, my busy season is just ramping up!

This week brings me to Kansas City! It was a beautifully mild evening last night when I landed.

Wanna know what make traveling excellent for me? These things:

Frontier Airlines & Benny the Grizzly Bear

Ben & Jerry’s Scoop of Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Mental Floss Magazine

Magazines are a must have on airplanes for me – I brought 5 with me this trip. I have yet to stay awake for an entire flight, no matter how short (today’s was just over an hour?), so I’ve found that books are not the right choice for me.

Mental Floss was a gift subscription from my dad and is one of my top favorite magazines now. It features interesting topics, has short sections and is written in a very smart and funny voice. One of the features this month is all about bears! So much I never knew or had ever considered about those animals!

What makes travel more exciting for you?