Friday, August 30, 2013

The Perfect Post-Baby Skirt

Earrings, Belt, Suede Flats, Linen Tee, Skirt

Friends! I just found the perfect post-baby skirt! Last weekend, we went shopping at the new outlet mall in Chicago. And of course I wanted to check out J. Crew Factory. I saw this skirt when crafting last week's post and tucked it away for future use and/or purchase. It looked so cute on the model that I had to try it on in person.

And I loved it.

John was waiting outside the dressing room with Monica while I was trying on clothes. When I emerged from the dressing room and asked for his opinion, one of the first things out of his mouth was, "Is that an elastic waistband?" And I proudly answered, "Yes!" 

The stretchy waistband is beyond comfortable and perfect for the post-baby body when things are still a little soft and figuring themselves out. It's also a great piece for those early in their pregnancy. And who am I kidding, wear this skirt and don't feel guilty for having a second scoop of ice cream this weekend :)

Some might argue that a maxi skirt is more forgiving and serves the same purpose. But I'm loving the slightly structured shape of this skirt because it automatically makes me feel more put together. And the cobalt is so fun! You can dress this girl up or down. I plan on wearing it on my first day back to work.

This weekend, my new favorite skirt it only $40.50 (45% off!). So go get one!

Have a fantastic, long holiday weekend!

see more Friday's Fancies at {long distance loving}

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

"It's Your Money: What will you do with it?" Review

I'd like to interrupt this week's refresh of Step 3 of Makeunder My Finances for another very helpful post. Since John and I are savers by nature, the only debt we have to our name is our mortgage. We pay off our credit cards every month, were extremely fortunate to have our parents pay for college (in addition to scholarships), and we paid for our new car in cash. It took a lot of hard work and discipline on ours and our parents' parts, so I don't take it for granted. This discipline is extremely freeing because we don't have to be as strict with our budget. We know how much money is coming in, have automatic transfers set for savings and retirement, and have some extra wiggle room once the monthly bills are paid.

However, I know not everyone is in this place. Since I've never been in debt, I don't feel like I have the authority to talk about it on Fiscally Chic. If you want to learn more about getting out of debt, I can recommend several blogs to you. I can also recommend the new book out by Eric Williams of Words of Williams.

It's Your Money: What will you do with it? is out today, but Eric sent me a copy a few weeks ago to read and review. It's a quick read and I probably could have knocked it out in one sitting if given the opportunity. The book is split into two parts. Part I is the backstory of how Eric and Kelsey accumulated almost $40K in debt and the lessons they learned along the way. If nothing else, this part of the book inspired me to never to get into debt. Conquering debt is more than just beating the numbers, there's also an emotional aspect. And reading Eric and Kelsey's story and desire to be out of debt before starting their family really hit home.
"We were making the sacrifice at that point in our lives (pre-kids) so we didn’t have to in the future. It was a hard lesson, but one certainly worth the effort. [I]t built character. It certainly wasn’t easy, but nothing worth the effort ever is. At one point Kelsey was really sad that I had to miss our twin nieces’ birthday party because I had to work during Memorial Day weekend. I remember telling Kelsey (in one of those grab-her-close kind of moments you see in movies) that I was missing out on the party now so I don’t have to miss out on our own kids’ birthdays in the future."
Eric dedicated this book to their daughter Rooney, who inspired them to get their financial act together and start creating a legacy for our family. Now that Monica is here, we want to do everything possible to make sure she's taken care of and that we can be at her soccer games, piano recitals, or whatever other activities she decides to pursue.

Part II of the book offers practical action steps to help you get a handle on your own finances and start developing a plan to help you achieve your goals. If you're working on getting out of debt (student loans, credit card overspending, or whatnot); this part of the book is definitely for you. Eric walks you through creating your first budget (or spending plan), paying off debt, and offers tips on keeping your budget going.

Eric and Kelsey were able to conquer their debt in 23 months. And this wasn't due to inheriting a small fortune or winning the lottery. They did it on average salaries with lots of hard work, sacrifices, and discipline when it came to managing their money. That's not to say they didn't have a little fun along the way. Eric encourages building some fun into your budget each month, be it going out to dinner, catching a movie, or purchasing a celebratory item once a large financial goal is reached.

It's Your Money can be purchased directly from Eric and Kelsey's blog, Words of Williams. There are some extra perks if you buy today (8/29/13), so you'll definitely want to check out their book release post. It's Your Money is available on Amazon as an eBook and in paperback.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Herbed Grilled Chicken

John and I don't have a huge list of must-watch TV shows, but once Fox's MasterChef rolls around, we record and watch every episode. And just like past summers, we're inspired by MasterChef to get in the kitchen and try new recipes! In a recent episode, the contestants were assigned different types of poultry to cook: pheasant, pigeon, quail, duck, turkey, and of course chicken.
After seeing the turkey, John declared that he wanted to grill some giant turkey legs. Think state fair-sized. Since the only turkey legs at the grocery store were frozen, we settled for chicken legs. They actually looked pretty comparable with the attached drumsticks and thighs.
Using ingredients picked fresh from our garden and on-hand in our spice cabinet and fridge, John assembled quite the tasty rub: sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, red pepper flakes, garlic, salt, and pepper.
We liked the chicken so much we made it again this past weekend. This time, the rub included sage, rosemary, thyme, 3 Serrano peppers, garlic, cumin, salt, pepper, and lime juice. Mince everything up and mix in a bowl. 

Next, peel back the skin of the chicken. Using a knife made things a little faster and easier.

Take a big dollop of your rub and place it on your chicken.

Fold the skin back over, tucking in the rub for a little marinating nap. Placing the rub in between the skin and meat helps more flavor get into the meat and the prevents the herbs from burning on the grill. We let our chicken marinate in the fridge for 4 to 5 hours.

Grill it up! We prefer our charcoal grill, but propane or even a skillet on the stovetop will do!

And I don't usually eat chicken skin, but it gets so herby and crispy on the grill that I couldn't help but indulge in the fatty goodness.
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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Back to Work

Watch, Leather Satchel, Leopard Flats, Chambray Shirt, Floral Skirt

The local schools are back in session, and I'm having my own back to school moment of sorts. My maternity leave is winding down, which means it's back-to-work-time for me. To say I have mixed feelings is an understatement. While I'm excited for a little more adult interaction and to stretch my brain muscles, I'm not looking forward to sacrificing the snuggles with my little lady.

This is my first time going back to work, so I don't know how it'll go emotionally. Yes, I know I won't stop thinking about her during the day and will count down the minutes until I can scoop her up and give her a big hug and kiss again. But how hard will these emotions hit? I felt a shift is priorities when we got engaged and then married, so I can only imagine the scope of my emotions now that I'm a MOM. Monica has rolled from her front to back and is currently working on kicking herself over from her back to front. Will I miss a milestone while she's at daycare? Mommy guilt is a beast.

And then there's the (hopefully not too much) stress of pumping at work. I've been nursing exclusively, with only a bottle on occasion, so I'm not sure how much she'll be drinking during the day. And whether I'll be able to pump enough for her. We have to provide daycare a can of formula just in case, but I'd really like to avoid that. Personal preference and no judgment on the mamas who need to supplement with formula or use formula exclusively. Every mama needs to do what's best for themselves and their little one.

On a lighter note, I'm looking forward to wearing "real" clothes again! Though I might have to take an inventory of said "real" clothes before going back to work to be sure I have things to wear! Sure, I still occasionally wear maternity clothes, but I don't want my coworkers to think I'm pregnant again. Perhaps a little "back to work" shopping is in order this weekend ;)

see more Friday's Fancies at {long distance loving}

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Makeunder My Finances: Step 2

This week is Step 2 of the refreshed "Makeunder My Finances" series, as inspired by Jess Lively's classic makeunder steps. If you missed Step 1 (Create a Vision) you can find it here.

Step 2: Exfoliate Stuff

According to Jess, "this is the step where you dump the stuff that isn’t needed for the life you want to live. Just like our skin, there is a lot of dead ‘skin cells’ in our homes that are clouding the healthiest, best life we want to live. And by sloughing off that unnecessary layer of crap, we emerge brighter and more purposeful." Guess what? There might be some dead skin cells lurking around your finances as well. But first, you need to take a look in the mirror see what and where they are.

This makeunder step may be the most daunting since it involves accumulating the information that makes up your past and current financial situation. Sure you could pull up old bank statements, save receipts, and write down all of your spending on a sheet of paper, but it doesn't have to be that difficult. There are several online tools for tracking your financial data; and is our financial weapon of choice. Mint is a fantastic free and secure (!) site that offers personal finance and budget software, online money management, and budget planning. Mint brings all your financial accounts together online so you can see the big picture in a single click. We have our checking and savings accounts, credit cards, mortgage, and 401(k) and investment accounts all feeding into our Mint account.

Mint screenshot

With your assistance, Mint categorizes your transactions so you can see how much you're spending on rent, food, entertainment, shopping, etc. It also monitors income, loans, and investment transactions. I also love seeing how our net income and net worth have changed over time.

Once you've compiled your financial data, it's time to take a look at how your saving and spending habits align with your overall vision. I recommend looking at the largest bucket first and then go down the list.

When we first started using Mint over three years ago, I had no idea how much I (John is really good about bringing his lunch to work) was spending on lunches or coffee during the work week. I thought that the couple dollars here and there wouldn't make a difference until I saw the grand total at the end of the month: $130 even though we bought lunch food at the grocery store.

At the time, this was a large sum of money considering we were saving for a downpayment on a house. But looking through the lens of "financial freedom," this spending was an investment in our future. On the surface, I was going out to lunch and grabbing coffee with my coworkers. In hindsight, I was building my professional network.

Mint screenshot

After identifying your financial priorities and financial reality, it may be time to make some changes. There are as many spending/savings plans as there are diets. For example:
  • 50% Needs, 20% Savings, and 30% Wants (per Daily Worth)
  • Save to spend budget: 60% Monthly Expenses, 10% Retirement, 10% Long-Term Needs, 10% Short-Term Savings, 10% Fun (see Daily Worth)
  • 35% Housing, 25% Living Expenses, 15% Debt, 15% Transportation, 10% Savings (from Jean Chatzky)
  • Dollars per day for play (see Pete Mockaitis)

How much you spend in each particular area is up to you. Is shopping your thing? As long as you're automatically saving for retirement, have an emergency fund, and can pay off your credit card bill each month/pay in cash; who am I to judge if you buy expensive purses?

Maybe you've realized that your income doesn't support the lifestyle you desire. You now have a choice: you can spend less, earn more, or a combination of the two. I recommend the hybrid method where you can get the most bang for your buck: negotiate a higher salary, start a business, refinance your mortgage, negotiate lower monthly bills, and don't sweat the small stuff (like driving out of your way to save $0.05/gallon). In the long run, you can only cut expenses to a certain point. Earning more is more sustainable.

Next week is step 3: identify intentions. This will be your specific targets regarding savings and spending.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Running Errands with a Two-Month-Old Baby

Diaper Bag, Belt, TOMS, Shirt, Jeans

Earlier this week, Monica and I did a little "back to school" shopping because when I go back to work, she'll be making all sorts of new baby friends at daycare. Even though we just went to Target, I wanted to "dress up." I've been getting tired of my shorts and T-shirt routine and decided to mix it up with my skinny jeans and a white button down shirt in a half tuck. I know...let's not go too crazy!

While this outfit is similar to what I'd wear pre-baby, it's also pretty strategic as a mom. The button down allows for easy access to breastfeed, the thick belt hides the fact that my jeans are zipped but unbuttoned, and the Gap jeggings suck everything in. Don't believe me? MODG did a two-part post on skinny jeans for moms. And my trusty Gap jeggings were the reigning champ.

Of course, we can't forget the diaper bag. During the last few weeks of pregnancy, I stressed (and possibly cried) about the diaper bag. Thank you, pregnancy hormones. I asked friends for recommendations and did some extensive mom blog research. I wanted a diaper bag that didn't scream "diaper bag." Plus, it would be nice if John could carry the bag without feeling emasculated. And I didn't want to spend beaucoup bucks on it.

I thought the Skip*Hop Duo in French stripe was a good option, but I never pulled the trigger. John suggested (and I vetoed) using one of the several duffle bags in our basement. Turns out, we had another contender hiding in our closets. I present to your our diaper bag:

A black Gap messenger bag circa 2001. I figured it was worth a try before spending any money on a new bag. And two months later it's still working for us. The cross-body strap is critical for easy toting and it has several pockets/compartments to hold baby and mommy essentials:

For Monica:
  • Diapers (duh)
  • Wipes
  • Changing pad (these are working for now)
  • Diaper cream, though we use this sparingly
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Plastic bags for dirty diapers (These hold in the smell really well! I accidentally carried around a dirty diaper in one of these bags for over a day and didn't smell it at all.)
  • Extra Soothie pacifier
  • Extra outfit and socks
  • Aden + Anais swaddle blanket (Helpful when the air conditioning is blasting. I also use this as a nursing cover.)
  • Aden + Anais burpy bib (So big and soft! Can be used as a burp cloth or a bib.)
  • Bottle if I know we'll be out longer and/or I don't want to nurse in public

Obviously there will be additions and subtractions based on the weather. And as Monica gets older, we'll have to add toys (like Sophie!) and snacks to the mix.

For me (in addition to the usual suspects: wallet, phone, car keys, lip gloss, sunglasses, pen/pad of paper):
  • Water bottle (breastfeeding makes you thirsty!)
  • Granola bar/small snack (it also makes you hungry!)
  • Lansinoh nursing pads for any boob leakage
  • Tide to Go pen

Have a fabulous weekend!

see more Friday's Fancies at {long distance loving}

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Makeunder My Finances: Step 1

Shortly after starting Fiscally Chic, I wrote a 4-part series about makingunder our finances. This approach to saving and budgeting was inspired by Jess Lively and her steps for makingunder your life. A makeunder includes getting rid of the excess junk and clutter in your life to make room for nicer, more intentional purchases. Even if you aren't buying new things, your ratio of "nice" to "not nice" things will improve as you donate, recycle, or throw out the "not nice" stuff.

In a financial makeunder, cutting back on wasteful spending creates more opportunities to save and spend on the good stuff: retirement, giving more to your favorite charity, etc. In a sense, you can also makeunder the ways you earn money by negotiating a higher salary or increasing your rates or product prices.

When I first wrote about makingunder our finances, we were saving up to buy a house. Now that we've been living in said house for 2+ years, changed jobs, and have a baby; our financial situation has changed. So I thought it'd be helpful to revisit the financial makeunder steps. Additionally, I want to share the steps for those who may not have read the posts back then. Enjoy!

Step 1: Create a vision

Before overhauling your finances, think about your overall vision. Your vision could be for your personal financial situation: saving or earning more money to buy a home, for retirement, to go on vacation, or for your child's college fund. You might also want to payoff student loans, your mortgage, or credit card debt. Or maybe you're looking to buy a new car. If you have a vision of starting a business, you're probably creating a savings cushion before quitting your full time job.  

Creating a vision will set the focus for the next three steps; so get as specific as you'd like. John and I have an overall vision of financial freedom. This includes several supporting goals of paying down our mortage and saving for retirement. Soon we'll be starting a college fund for Monica. When we were saving for the down payment for our house, our vision included the neighborhood, cost, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and when we'd like to start the home buying process.

When creating and solidifying your vision, it's helpful to put together an inspiration board. Pinterest is a great place to collect images of your dream home or exotic travel destinations. If you want to go old school, write down your vision and post it on the bathroom mirror or refrigerator door. And if your vision has a deadline, write smaller goals and reminders on your calendar.

I hope you find this series helpful. As Jess puts it, a financial makeunder "takes the stress out of it in a way and doesn't make everything good or bad, but intentional or not intentional." The goal of this series is to help you examine why you spend money and your priorities instead of just "do this" and "don't do that." I want to help you put together a plan that works for your unique situation instead of just following a formula.

Next week, step 2: exfoliate stuff.
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Friday, August 9, 2013

Inspired by Tomatoes

Earrings, Tomato Tote, Sandals, Lace Top, Shorts

Friends....we have a situation on our hands. And that would be the obscene amount of tomatoes coming from our garden. Yes, we partially brought it on ourselves with the four cherry tomato plants. Between those and the plants that randomly popped up from last year's tomatoes and the compost we have more tomato plants than I'd care to count.

In addition to sharing our bumper crop, we've been preparing all sorts of tomato-heavy dishes: caprese salad (I'd also love to try this version with peaches), caprese burgers, roasted veggie pasta, and Mediterranean quinoa. Also on the list of recipes to try are Portillo's chopped salad (so what if the tomato is more of a garnish?), linguine with clams and blistered tomatoes, and a tomato tart.

Help a girl out. Do you have a favorite tomato recipe to share?

see more Friday's Fancies at {long distance loving}

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Postpartum Running

Running Shoes, Tank, Shorts

Wow! Another week has flown by and we're back to another Friday. I didn't really mean to take the week off from blogging, but when this little face is smiling at me, it's a no-brainer to spend my time playing and snuggling with her. Yes, I could do a little writing during nap time, but that's when I try to take care of myself with a quick shower or nap. Another way I've been taking care of myself is by starting to run again.

Monica will be 8 weeks old this weekend and I began running (with walking) about 2 weeks ago. I've been getting out for (sometimes very slow) walks since she was 5 days old and felt like I was ready to pick up the pace a little more. Plus, my doctor said everything was healing well after the C section and I was cleared to exercise.

In true Cathy fashion, I found a 10K race and started to follow Hal Higdon's training program. A 5K seemed too easy and a half marathon is out of the question since I took a year off from running. Sure, I tried to exercise while pregnant, but running was out of the picture.

One of the obvious reasons I'm running again is to try to get back into shape. I put on somewhere between 35 and 40 pounds during this pregnancy. While that's a healthy amount to gain, it was a mentally scary number on the scale. And I was already carrying a few extra pounds when I got pregnant. I'm already down 30 pounds, but those were the easy ones. Monica accounted for about a third of that and I was retaining a bit of water near the end of my pregnancy. Breastfeeding has probably knocked off a few more. 

Mentally, I need to get out and run because it helps me clear my mind. Plus, when I go out for a solo run, John gets some daddy-daughter time with Monica.

On the positive side, having a baby has made me less self-conscious about my body. It just grew another human being for 41 weeks and worrying about my belly is low on my priority list. Sure, I'm still rocking some maternity wear and am wearing clothes that hide my imperfections, but I'm starting to fit into more of my non-maternity clothes. Like my skinny jeans (!), even though they were unbuttoned at the top. And I wouldn't mind fitting into a few more articles of clothing. I miss you, pink gingham button down!

As for the running itself, it's slow going and my legs are definitely rusty. Sometimes my running is more akin to a slow shuffle than jogging. And let's just say I need to invest in a few new sports bras! My Dolly Parton-like boobies are uncomfortable and flying all over the place!

So for the well-endowed runners out there, any sports bra recommendations to share?

see more Friday's Fancies at {long distance loving}

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