Our priorities

Everyone has priorities, and everyone's priorities are different. Mine have continuously changed over the years, as my values and expectations for my life have changed. As the resident planner/organizer in our marriage and household, I am constantly thinking about what we should prioritize, which challenges we should tackle first, and what aspects of our life are most important to us.

At one point, my priorities centered around getting a super high-paying, high-demand job, buying the biggest house, the nicest clothes and basically "keeping up with the Jones'". My priorities have changed SO much since then. I'm really not as interested any more in obtaining status symbols, like that huge house just for the sake of having a huge house. Did you know that for the last couple of years, we have toured homes by multiple production builders and consulted with multiple custom home builders? We did learn a ton through that process about which builders we love - and don't - and what we will be looking for in the future, but how naive we were to think we were going to build a house next year. I wish I had that cry-laugh emoji right now.

What a joke! We don't have any kids (yet), so why in the world would we put ourselves into debt that massive for a 5 bedroom house when we would only really need one or two bedrooms for the next few years?! HA. We spent a couple of years with priorities centered around 1) building an emergency savings fund and 2) paying down our student loan debt. Our priorities now center around 1) saving money for a down payment on our first home (AKA a reasonably-sized and reasonably-priced home in which we can build equity, without digging ourselves into a huge hole in order to keep up with the Jones') and 2) paying down our student loan debt.

We have actually done pretty well in focusing on these priorities by taking some of Dave Ramsey's budgeting advice and 'customizing' it to suit our lifestyle and goals. (I find some of his advice to be really unrealistic for the average, middle-class American.) We basically give each other a fairly low, strict budget to spend on non-necessities every week, and put the absolute maximum we can at the end of every month into our savings and onto our student loans. To me, our loans are a much bigger priority than our savings, because I'm not obsessed with getting an expensive house - and because student loans gain interest faster than our savings accounts do, and financially it doesn't make sense to prioritize saving money when you have student loan debt.

We'll probably still build a home in a few years, once we have paid off our student loans and we have kids that are preparing to start school. Right now, though, that sort of investment doesn't make sense for us. We are quite enjoying living our simple life, engaging in our hobbies, and traveling, rather than focusing so much on belongings and material things.

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My favorite beauty products!

Those of you that know me know I don't wear much makeup on a daily basis. It's a lot of work, a lot of money and personally, I think my skin reacts better and looks better in general if I leave it to its own devices. I'm not gonna lie, though, it is fun to get dressed up, put on makeup and fix my hair for special occasions. I am still experimenting with some products (blush, for example, and mascara), but others I have found products that I really love and will probably remain staples in my makeup repertoire.


Pre-styling leave-in: John Frieda Frizz-Ease Nourishing Oil Elixer

I don't really do much to my hair in the mornings, I just blow it dry. Even with that small amount of styling, though, I felt like my hair was pretty dried out (especially in the winter time). I used John Frieda's Frizz Ease line back in the day, so I tried the original serum as a pre-styling protector and treatment, and loved it. I decided to try the nourishing formula just for fun, and loved it even more! I have fine, soft hair that tends to get drier as I get older, and it works awesome for me. (For the record, the other leave-ins I've tried are Perfect 10 and Aussie, and I was not a fan.)


Liquid foundation 1: Mac Studio Fix Fluid in NC15

This foundation is super-max coverage, and has a slightly matte finish. I only wear it for special events when I know it's going to be hot and/or humid, I need to wear it all day or I need maximum coverage because my skin is acting up. I *love* the way it makes my skin look, but it does smell a little funny and I can't wear it every day because it makes the dry parts of my face too dry.

Liquid foundation 2: Clinique Moisture Surge Tinted Moisturizer

This is also a great foundation, but is on the other end of the spectrum - it is fairly sheer, and very moisturizing. I wear this on my nose every day (and on any dry parts of my face that tend to get red in the winter), but don't put it on the rest of my face because it tends to get a little too moisturizing.

Powder: Mac Mineralize Skinfinish in Light Plus

I wear this powder on top of my liquid Mac foundation for special events (and on my oily forehead). I also wear it on the rest of my face that I don't cover with my Clinique Moisture Surge for "every day" events that aren't, you know, my daily work-gym routine.

Blush: I'm still exploring blush. I splurged a few years ago and bought NARS blush in Deep Throat (I know, gross) and I loved it. I'm not sure if I can justify the expense again, and since I don't really know what the difference will be between a drugstore and a designer-brand blush, I think I'm going to try a drugstore brand next. I'm totally open to suggestions if you have any!

Skincare: Clinique 3-Step Skin Care System

If left untreated, I have some pretty gnarly eczema around my mouth. I just started battling with this a couple of years ago, and Clinique totally saved me. I took their 3-Step Diagnostic online and went into Blue Mercury and bought the products it told me to (most of them anyway - the cleanser, toner and moisturizer. I didn't bother with the 'extras'). The best thing about this program is that it's super customizable. My skin is combination, so I now use the three products shown above but a gel-based oil-free version of the moisturizer on my nose and forehead, which tend to be greasier than the rest of my face.


Mascara: Sigh. I have run the gamut of drug-store mascaras and still haven't found a die-hard favorite. I know I like Cover Girl Clump Crusher, Loreal Voluminous Million Lashes and Maybelline Lash Stilleto, but I can't say I love any of them. (I also used to love Maybelline Falsies, but then they changed the brush and now I hate it.) I remember really liking Lash Stiletto, but unfortunately because I am so fair I always want brownish-black, and I can only ever find it in the super-dark black shades (Get it together, Maybelline!) I have super-long, light, fine lashes, and I want them to separate evenly, curl well and stay curled all day. I am totally up for suggestions (but I don't want to spend a fortune!)

Liquid eyeliner: Revlon Colorstay Liquid Liner in Black-Brown

I prefer to tightline my eyes, so I have to have a liquid liner that provides a sharp line and stays put. This eyeliner is simple and has a super-fine-tipped brush, and it has been my go-to for years.

Pencil eyeliner: I don't use pencil eyeliner as much as I do liquid any more, but when I do, I like Maybelline Define-A-Line eyeliner. Again - I like this product because it is simple, inexpensive, provides a precise line and stays put. I'm not a fancy-pants when it comes to my products, and this is another simple go-to I've always liked.

Eye shadow: I literally do not own eye shadow. I have some in black and navy blue that I used for Halloween a few years ago….but other than that, I'm sort of waiting on Santa or the Hanukkah Bunny to bring me the Urban Decay Naked palettes at the holidays. HA

Brows: Sigma Brow Expert Kit in Light

Okay, so I did a bunch of research before Christmas last year, because my parents still ask me for a Christmas list and I knew I wanted a brow kit. I have great brows, but they are unruly as Hell if I don't keep on top of them. All I owned was tweezers, but since the bold-brow trend was coming back, I wanted to be able to fill in any sparse areas (and I really wanted the brush-and-scissor combo). I know the bold brows can easily get out-of-control-mannish, but I just wanted something to define and fill in the outer portions of my brows, which tend to get more sparse and blonde. Guys, let me tell you. Life. Changing. I got the kit as a gift from my dad, and it is worth the money! The only thing I really wish it had was an actual filler pencil, but I get why it doesn't - too easy to get carried away. Filling in with powder looks much more natural.


Lipliner: Revlon Colorstay Lipliner

I currently own this lip liner in Wine. It pairs well with the colors below, and again - simple, leaves a defined line, stays put, and is inexpensive. 

Lipstick 1: NARS Semi Matte Lipstick

I currently own this lipstick in Jungle Red. It was a gift, but if I bought it myself it would be a splurge. I love it, though. Awesome pigment, doesn't stain my lips (which is why I'd splurge on it - drugstore brands stain my lips SO bad), and stays put for hours. This is also the perfect shade of red for my complexion. 

Lipstick 2: Clinique Different Lipstick

I currently own this lipstick in A Different Grape. It was a sample a friend got when she made a purchase at Clinique, and she gave it to me. I love it. It's more moisturizing and technically is less matte than the NARS lipstick above, but it doesn't appear glossy at all. This color is awesome (I'm wearing it in a recent Instagram pic!) and it stayed on for hours the first time I wore it. Big fan.

What are your favorites?? I'd love recommendations for a couple of these areas where I haven't found my go-to products!

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On body image and appearance

A lot of my posts come from conversations I have with other people that get me fired up about a topic and make me realize I really care about it. This post is no exception.

I am obviously writing this post from the perspective of an American woman (as viewpoints on body image obviously vary between genders and across nationalities). While some men certainly have similar experiences when it comes to body image issues, women as a whole are arguably under a much greater amount of pressure to look a specific way. It is extremely difficult to grow into a confident woman that is comfortable in their own skin if there is no one telling you specifically, "You have value that is in no way related to your body, your skin, your hair, your teeth, nor whether or not you wear makeup." I'm here to tell you all something: those things hold no value in human relationships.

I have a message for other women, and especially young women: your body and appearance are in no way tied to your value as a woman. You should not be comparing yourself to others. It's difficult not to, and probably unrealistic, because that is just a natural part of the thoughts of most women. Your value as a woman lies in how you treat others, how you build them up, how passionate you are about your hobbies, your willingness to love and help others, your intelligence, your drive, your generosity, your interest in learning, education and self-improvement, how well-spoken you are, your loyalty, and how you volunteer your time. It has nothing to do with how straight your teeth are, how clear your skin is, how your legs are shaped, whether your eyebrows are symmetrical, whether your hair is long, short, curly or straight, whether you wear makeup, get your nails done, or wear stereotypically "girly" clothes.

Comparing your body to others' is a waste of your valuable time and energy. For everything you dislike about your body, there is someone wishing they looked like you in some way. When I was young, I hated my legs. They're genetically very muscular, and I always wanted long, lean, modelesque legs. As an adult, I have grown to love them, because they are strong, and will carry me for my whole life. I place much more emphasis on giving my body - and myself - credit for its abilities than I do on how specific parts of my body look. I'll also have you know that in many cases, while you are coveting that woman's teeth, hair, skin, eyes, or legs, she is wishing she had your teeth, hair, skin, eyes, or legs. Maybe I wanted skinny legs as a young person, but other young women were likely wishing they could get their legs as toned as mine. This phenomena is true with regards to every part of your body, and every part of your life. The grass is always greener on the other side, as the saying goes. You have talents and passions that should be utilized for the betterment of the world, your life and the life of your loved ones - not spent on figuring out how to make your eyelashes separate evenly or agonizing over the fact that your calves are two different sizes.

I'm not putting down women that take time getting ready in the morning. That's also an incredible waste of my energy. I actually find it fun to occasionally curl my hair, or put on makeup, or wear nice clothes. Women who do that every day - more power to you! That's fantastic. My problem lies in two things: 1) when women are doing it to cover up their insecurities and mask their negative feelings about their body, and 2) when women are judged for their appearance in any way or primp themselves in an effort to compete with other women alone or make them feel "less than". I also don't connect my feelings on body image to health-related issues: though I don't feel anyone should be judged for their weight, I acknowledge that significant obesity should be addressed in order to avoid detriments to someone's health. (But that is an entirely separate issue from body image itself.)

Young girls: I have to break something to you that is not going to be pleasant to hear: Your body is going to change constantly throughout your entire life. If you don't resolve to love yourself in any form, as soon as you get comfortable with the way you look, your body will betray you and you'll have to adjust your thoughts about your body all over again. You'll feel "too skinny" in high school, then you'll fill out in college and you'll feel "too curvy". Then maybe you'll start working out or get really into a strength-and-power-intensive sport and feel "too muscular". Your metabolism will slow down as you age, and you might get curves in new places. Your skin will be riddled with pimples when you're a teen, and you'll feel self-conscious about that, then it'll be clear for five years in your early twenties, and you'll be like ,"awesome!" Then you'll enter your late twenties and get adult-onset acne and have to fight that fight all over again. You'll get pregnant, and your body will change, and maybe it will never, ever go back to the way it was before you had your first baby. Here is my advice to you: love and accept your body for being what it is right now and for all the different bodies it will be in your lifetime, or you will fight a constant battle of self-love for your entire life.

Ask yourself: Do I get upset that I am muscular and my calves are two different sizes, or am I thankful that I have a healthy body that provides me the opportunity to travel, hike, climb and live a long life? I choose the latter, because really - who wants to spend their time and energy contemplating something so shallow as the way that they look, and what other people think about their appearance? At the end of your life, you're not going to be lying there thinking, "Man. I should have worn more dresses and smiled less so people didn't see my crooked teeth." I hope you will be lying there and reflecting on all the incredible experiences you've had, remembering all the people that have touched your life, and being thankful to have had the opportunity to touch the lives of others.

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Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup with Avocado

It's not hard to make lifestyle changes, and healthy food can be delicious. Unfortunately a lot of people think that eating healthy includes a lot of salad - I rarely, if ever, eat salad. We just sub in healthy versions of other foods - ground turkey for ground beef, low-fat milk for whole milk, sugar-free coffee creamer for all those wild-flavored coffee creamers, that kind of thing.

My husband is an awesome cook. I plan to occasionally post some of our favorite meals on here, particularly those that are healthy and easy to make! So here's the first of a series for you all!

Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup with Avocado <- we use a slightly modified version of this recipe, which is vegan.

Photo courtesy of lunchboxbunch.com

1 cup mashed, baked sweet potato
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup coconut milk (additional if needed to adjust thickness)
salt to taste
1/2 tsp chipotle powder
1/4 cup diced avocado
3-4 crushed Marcela Valladolid Chili Lime Flaquitos (or similar brand/type of chips)
dash of seasoned chili salt

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Bake your sweet potato until tender.
3. Remove potato skin, add to blender along with the broth and coconut milk. Blend on low until smooth. Taste a drop to see that it is slightly bland at this point. Add the salt and spices to taste.
4. Serve with garnish or avocado and crushed chips over top.

This is seriously sooooo good! One of my favorites that Seth makes, and it's super healthy! I highly recommend you give it a try if you're looking for a delicious, quick and healthy dinner.
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Recent travels

I love to travel. So much personal learning comes from traveling - you don't have to be in classes, or take seminars, or even take tours of any historical sights to learn through travel. Travel (especially international travel) teaches you to be resourceful, and patient, and teaches you a huge amount about other cultures. It really gives you some perspective on your own life when you are able to see the whole world outside the little bubble of your home state (to say nothing of living in another state).

I will preface this post by saying that I am extremely blessed and spoiled to have married into a family that places travel so high on their priority list, and to have a mother-in-law generous enough to take me on some of these trips (Cancun, the Bahamian cruise and our upcoming Africa trip, specifically). Not everyone that gets to travel to such incredible places is willing to admit this, but some of these trips were gifts. I believe in giving appreciation, thanks and credit where credit is due, and not acting as if my meager bagel-stand income bought me the vacations I took while I was in college, or that I am spending money currently earmarked for student loan payments on vacations. ;) I'd rather be real about what I have and have not provided for myself. I did manage to do several of these trips on my own and with my own money, however (China, Grand Cayman and our honeymoon), and so I do have lots of advice to give about how to travel cheaply and efficiently if that's something ya'll think I should write about.

Here are some bigger trips I've been on recently, my thoughts and opinions on those trips and destinations, and advice I have if you plan to travel there:


8-week study abroad program with the Council on International Educational Exchange in Shanghai, China

If you are in college, I highly recommend studying abroad. Particularly if your tuition will be the same abroad as it is at home, you really have no reason not to go. You just have to dive in head-first and go for it, and don't look back. Immerse yourself and be serious about learning the language, if you're going for language learning (like I did). I do wish I had savored the experience a bit more, but I had a lot of maturing still to do when I went.

China is a super weird place. If you want culture shock, don't go to Europe. Go to Asia. And don't go to "bottled Asia" and take a tour of the Great Wall and all that crap. Go on your own, and explore. Stay in hostels (in groups, of course. Don't be dumb.) Learn some basic language before you go, or at least get really good at pointing at guide books. See some touristy things, sure okay, but also seek out the more obscure things. I got to do some pretty interesting stuff when I studied abroad, mostly because I didn't bother to spend time in Beijing (I figure, if I really want to see the Great Wall, we'll go back). I went to a Maoist propaganda museum, I went on a cruise of the Yangtze River through the Three Gorges Dam and saw an ancient "Ghost City" supposedly inhabited by demons, saw the world's biggest buddha statue, hiked a mountain (oh if only I were in good shape back then, so skinny-fat!) and held a panda at the Chengdu Panda Base:

I do wish I had taken my language-learning more seriously. There were some highly intelligent, focused and educated people on that trip I could have practiced my language skills with, and I would have gotten even better than I did. But, hind-sight is 20/20 and I still really loved the experience. One of the best decisions I've ever made.

Carnival cruise, Bahamas

Yeah, so….don't cruise with Carnival. We booked this cruise (my mother-in-law, Seth, his brother and I) for Jamaica and Grand Cayman in November of 2009. We got a call from Carnival three days before departure stating that the ship that was slated to take us to Jamaica and Grand Cayman was having rotor issues, and that it wouldn't be able to make it that far. So, they told us we were being re-routed to the Bahamas. (If you've been to the Caribbean, you know that the Bahamas are not nearly as cool as Jamaica and Grand Cayman.) They refused to refund us our money (forget the airfare), they wouldn't refund us the money we had spent booking our on-shore excursions in Jamaica and Grand Cayman, they were just all-around unhelpful. The ship was fine - not much to do, if I'm honest, some random "game show"-type entertainment in the "theater" area in the evenings, and a casino, but beyond that not much to do. Nassau was a hot mess, but the "Carnival-owned" island they took us to, Half Moon Cay, had a nice beach. We did go parasailing there, too, which was really fun.

All-in-all, we wouldn't cruise with them again. I've heard good things about Royal Caribbean, so if we ever chose to cruise again we would probably try them next.


World's Fair, China

Seth and I found cheap airfare (meaning,  $900 per person instead of the normal $1600) back to China the summer after I went, so we decided to buy tickets to the World's Fair, which was being held in Shanghai. I was already familiar with the city, and we both spoke passable Chinese, so we figured, why not. It ended up being a really fun experience. It was SO crowded and SO chaotic, but still really amazing. Most countries had a pavilion, and most of the smaller island nations or poorer nations had booths in a larger group pavilion. Unfortunately, the US pavilion was pretty disappointing. The first section was essentially dedicated to making fun of how uncultured Americans are (to be fair, it was pretty accurate, but still embarrassing). It was a video of regular Americans and American celebrities attempting to say "Welcome to the World's Fair in Shanghai, China" in Chinese. So. Awkward. We were some of the only non-Chinese attendees at the Fair, so it was particularly awkward for us. I feel like we totally could have pulled out the stops better, too - the second room was dark like a theater and showed a video of a little girl planting flowers in her neighborhood (the general theme was environmental friendliness and innovation) and it had some fake rain, which was cute. But there were others that were phenomenally more impressive. Like Spain:

Made to look like a basket, Spain's pavilion featured flamenco dancers and this giant (creepy) animatronic baby (whose purpose we still do not know.)


Australia's pavilion was focused around this giant stage in the middle, that looked like a sandbox. The staged rose and fell at different intervals, basically like a giant, animatronic mini-play. It was awesome. The second-to-last photo is of a room full of giant rain sticks, and the last photo is the final room of their pavilion, which had huge LED versions of native Australian flowers hanging from the ceiling.

and my personal favorite, Switzerland:

Switzerland's pavilion was a slow chair lift around a cylindrical room, which was covered in plants and grass. It took you up to the top of their pavilion, then slowly wound its way around the top (which was great, because you could see a lot of the Fair from up there). It was just such a cool, simple concept, and I thought suited the theme really well.

There were a ton of other really awesome pavilions, but those were just some that stood out to me. I could probably make a whole post just talking about this trip. The World's Fair this year started today, in Milan, Italy.

Us in front of the China Pavilion in the Expo Axis


Scuba certification, Grand Cayman

As a Christmas/Hanukkah gift to Seth, I got my scuba certification (by far the most expensive Christmas gift I have ever given anyone). My dive school here in DC offered a great deal on a package to go to Grand Cayman to do my "check-out" dives, so we went with the school in August. Cayman is beautiful, and it was the perfect place to do my check-outs. I was also spoiled because my dive school was sooooo awesome (SPE Dive School in Friendship Heights, if you're in the market! I highly recommend!) I recommend to everyone that they try scuba - I'm claustrophobic and I did pretty well learning to wear a mask and breathe through a regulator.

We got to dive with sting rays, which wasn't as scary as you might think. They were so calm and sweet. I also got to dive on a ship wreck, and we did a night dive, which was cool. We did a deep dive, which I wasn't a huge fan of, except I saw a sea turtle. That was cool.


Honeymoon, St. Lucia

We went to Sandals in St. Lucia for our honeymoon. It was awesome. It was legitimately the PERFECT place to honeymoon. They pick you up and drop you off at the airport, and everything at the resort is all-inclusive, so you don't have to think about anything. The food and drinks were fantastic, the staff was friendly, the rooms were spacious and clean, and we got an ocean-view room. The water was clear, the sand was soft and it was hot, but not unbearably hot. It was also really affordable, so we didn't have to spend an arm and a leg getting to and from the island. We spent five nights, and it was the perfect amount of time to relax and unwind after getting married. I LOVED it. We plan to go back to another Sandals for our five-year anniversary, because they give you a great deal as a return customer.


Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls River Lodge & Little Makalolo June 26- July 6- recap to come in mid-July!

California: Hiking in Yosemite and/or up the coast, TBD in early September - recap to come in mid-September!

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