Since Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees…

THIS WEEK’S GUEST BLOG IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY MY GOOD FRIEND JAMIE BURRIDGE, AS SHE TALKS ABOUT HER EXPERIENCE WITH HANDLING MONEY AS AN ADULT.

Budgeting. It is something we all know we need to do, but it seems so tedious. As long as I keep a general running balance in my head and check my bank account balance, that should be sufficient, right?

If this is you, let’s start with this question. Ask yourself how many times you have over-drafted or had to transfer money from savings to cover the electric bill because you spent more than you should over the weekend. I’ve been guilty of it too. But that’s why I’ve learned to budget.

Because while a budget is boring and very adult, it’s something responsible we all must do if we ever want to be ahead of the debt train.

To set a budget that works through job, location, and expense changes I recommend three things:

  1. 2-3 Bank accounts
  2. Spreadsheet of Monthly Expenses
  3. Direct Deposit

 

Bank Accounts:

I recommend three, but you at least need to have two. Look for bank accounts that have no fees attached, or if the fee is based on direct deposits, make sure you can meet the minimum every month. Nerdwallet.com is a great place to start to compare benefits and fees. Make sure you consider things like if you need some place local so you can do in person banking, such as needed quarters for laundry (long story, but it’s something I had to consider after moving to Chicago). Consider ATM fees. Ideally no fees are the best option.

  • Bank Account Number One is for savings. I currently have a savings account, but have used a standard checking account for my savings before. Just look at all the fees and earned interest rates tied to each type of account. If you find that having a standard checking account will work best for your situation, just make sure you don’t order checks or a debit card for this account. Savings is your back-up plan. You don’t need easy access to it.
  • Bank Account Number Two is for your bills. This needs to be a checking account, because you will have money going in and out of this account on a regular basis. This is the account tied to all your bills. You need to make sure you keep enough money in here to cover any auto-payments at all times. Don’t go grocery shopping unless you know you have the money to cover those auto-pay bills on the correct days. A debit card for this account is optional. If you prefer plastic, use this debit card for groceries and shampoo, those monthly needs on the list. Just make sure you only spend within the budget you created. If you don’t think you can do that, just pull the cash out of the bank so you know what you can spend on groceries and still make sure the rest of the bills are paid.
  • Bank Account Number Three is optional. This account is your spending money. Since all my bills come out of Account Number Two, I know that whatever is left over from my check is placed here. This is the money I have for drinks with friends or fun shopping or a night to the movies. Once this account is empty, I’m done spending money for the month, because I don’t touch my savings account and the other account is for bills. If you don’t want to have three accounts, pull the leftover cash out of Account Two and place it in an envelope for spending money. This account also works for paying down debt. This is leftover money above what you need for your budget, so you can use some or all of it to put toward paying down that loan or credit card debt faster.

 

Spreadsheet of Monthly Expenses

Oh spreadsheets. Some people love them; some people don’t. The benefit here either way is the preset easily editable columns and rows that accurately add numbers for you. When you are making a budget, you need to list out your monthly expenses with the totals somewhere. Then you will need to add them together. This is not the place to forget to carry the 2. Another reason for a spreadsheet is that it is editable. If you add a Hulu subscription, you can create a new row, and the total at the bottom will change to include the new expense. This is less work for you. If your rent changes or you have a baby, you can change these numbers to update what you will need in Bank Account Two to make sure you are covering everything.

When looking at your monthly expenses you need to know three things about each bill:

  • What it is for: If you are paying bills and don’t know what they are for, you should probably cancel that subscription right away. LinkedIn Premium comes to mind. They offer a 30-day trial, but make you put in your payment information. If you forgot to cancel, go ahead and do that right away.
  • Bill due date each month: Most people get paid bi-weekly or twice a month. With this in mind, I try to make sure the due dates for my bills fall towards the beginning of the month or the middle of the month. Most of the time, you can call and change your billing date. I recommend splitting the bills into two sections instead of having them all due at once, just in case you unexpectedly aren’t receiving the paycheck you planned for.
  • Total amount: Of course, you should know how much money is going to each place, so you can make sure you have the right amount of money in your bank account to cover the expense.

These three things can be put into the spreadsheet like so:

Day Due Bill Amount
1st Rent $800
1st Internet $50
15th Student Loan $300
16th Car Payment $250
Total $1400

You will want to total up the last column so you know what your budget looks like for the month. I recommend organizing the rows by due date. That way, you can see what comes out the first half of the month and what comes out the second half. Try to make sure those amounts are about equal, so once again if something happens where you don’t get paid (layoff or didn’t get sick days), you aren’t in a bind to pay the majority of the bills all at once.

Don’t forget Netflix, Audible, and all those other subscription services. Other bills to remember are things that you pay quarterly or biannually (insurance, etc). Add up what the amount is for the year, and then divide by 12 so you know you are setting that money aside. Then when the bill comes due, you know the money is already there.

 

Direct Deposit

Now that you have a budget and can see how much you need to pay the bills, you know how much money you will need in Bank Account Two. If you are paid twice a month, take your budget and divide by 2. This is how much needs to be deposited from each check (from our example, $700). If you are paid bi-weekly, I recommend multiplying your budget by 12, then dividing by 26 weeks. This is how many paychecks you receive in a year when paid bi-weekly. For our example, you will need to direct deposit $647.

The remainder of each check should go into savings and Bank Account Number 3 for spending money. Always make sure you are putting more into savings than you are spending, but also make sure you leave some spending money each month so you don’t feel trapped and broke all the time.

 

A Few Final Notes:

  • Auto-Pay: If you can, set up your bills for auto pay. Most companies offer a discount for auto-bill-pay. Take advantage of whatever savings you can take. In your budget, leave the regular amount, not the discounted amount, just in case you ever need to cancel the auto-pay feature. Make sure the bills are coming out of Bank Account Number Two the day after funds are deposited so you don’t overdraft.
  • Groceries etc: Part of your bills needs to be a budgeted amount for groceries, shampoos, pet food (because who doesn’t have furry friends?), and fuel for your car. You need to have a general idea of what these regular odds and ends cost you. Round up here to give yourself room. Try to make sure you spend within (preferably under) your budget each month.
  • Cash: I know most of the world uses the convenience of plastic to pay for things these days or tap to pay. I recommend since you have a debit card, use that at the free ATM to pull out cash whenever you can. Cash is physically countable. What this means is it is easier to stick to a weekend budget at the bars if you are paying with physical money, instead of keeping an open tab. Cash will also keep you on track with those midday latte runs. (Side note: Cash can also help keep you on your food plan. If you are calorie tracking, you can budget with cash how many lattes you get for the week. When the green bills are gone, you know no more lattes.) The last benefit to having physical money in your wallet is you are at less risk of identity theft.
  • Shopping in person: It is so easy to surf Amazon and take advantage of free shipping while eating lunch at the office, or waiting for the bus, or (if we are really honest) while using the bathroom. This unfortunately makes over-spending easy too. I recommend browsing in-store. If you can’t physically buy it that day, you have to go home and rethink about getting online to make that purchase. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shop online, but sometimes browsing an unlimited store means we buy things we didn’t really need or want, just because it was something to do.

 

So where should you start?

The spreadsheet takes less than an hour to create. Setting up your direct deposit is as simple as getting the forms from HR at work. It usually takes a full pay cycle for it to switch over. Setting up auto-pay should be done after the direct deposit takes place, but then that can be scheduled when you go online to pay your bills.

Once the budget is set in place, it takes care of itself for the most part and you can go about your day-to-day without trying to make sure you keep a running account balance in your head. If something in your life changes, you can easily go back to the spreadsheet to add a bill or subtract a bill. You may need to update your direct deposit to reflect the change. I recommend you only change the direct deposit if you need more money deposited into the account. Make sure you are spending within your means. Take advantage of using cash whenever you can, because this is helpful for keeping you on track. Try to leave the debit card for Account Number Two at home unless going to the grocery store. This how you don’t accidently spend your cable bill money on a cute sweater for your dog (guilty party below).

puck

Happy spending!

Word Art

A pencil begs entrance

Scratching a hopeful whine

At the paper’s door

Paper opens a sliver

Long enough

For a sweet gray tendril

To wander out

 

But poor pencil is left

On the streets

A vagabond dog

With nothing but a graphite whine

Pencil paws precisely

Whimpers a final stroke

At paper’s blank frame

Still no budge

 

With eraser between legs

Pencil sighs

Looks through one pointed eye

At the guilty pleasure

Of graying scratch marks

All over paper’s door

 

Pencil snorts

Serves paper right

Halloween for Scaredy Cats

How is it already almost November? How is it that the trees are almost bare and the wind is just starting to shift to a chill that reaches the bones? How is it Halloween week, and I’ve only felt like jumping out of my skin once?

Maybe you’re like me in that you love All Hallow’s Eve for its celebration of autumn, dressing up, and the American sweet tooth – but you’re not so sure about the scare factor.

So for my first blog in a while, I thought I’d share my favorite fall hack:

Halloween Movies for Scaredy Cats (not just for kids anymore!)

  • The Addams Family (1991) – You get to enjoy young Angelica Houston as Morticia and a baby Christina Ricci as Wednesday in one of the best morbid misfit stories around! With fantastic early 90’s graphics and a story that revolves around the importance of family, I would argue this is one of the best TV-to-movie adaptations in existence (available on Netflix).

addams

  • Beetlejuice (1988) – Speaking of baby actors, does anyone actually remember Alec Baldwin before the gut? This Tim Burton cult classic has a little more crass humor thanks to the leading bio-exorcist, but ironically it also revolves around a theme of chosen family and true love even in the afterlife (available to rent on YouTube for $2.99)

beetlejuice

  • Young Frankenstein (1974) – By far, this is my favorite satirical horror movie of choice. It might be the most accurate film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s original text, AND it stars a young Peter Boyle as Frankenstein’s (or is it Frahnkenshteen?) monster. Complete with Mel Brook’s punny humor, you’re more likely to end up crying from laughter than fear at this Halloween classic (available on Netflix).

young frank.gif

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) – The main character is a candy maker. Multiple children meet an untimely demise because of their sugary gluttony. What better moral movie message could you share with children during this time of year? (Also for the record, I adore the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, circa 1971, but if you’re going for just a bit more creepy, you really have to go with Johnny Depp as Mr. Wonka over Gene Wilder, if you ask me…). Then again, there are so many great Johnny Depp movies that could be on this list, like Dark Shadows and Edward Scissorhands. Marathon anyone? (available on Netflix)

charlie

  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) – I completely understand if this movie is not your cup of tea, and if you’re looking for family friendly Halloween movies, I would encourage waiting a while before showing this one off to your kids. But it has been part of my Halloween tradition for almost 10 years now, and really you should just join the rest of us already. It’s another cult classic you need to see at least once in your life, and October 31 is one of the best times to get midnight tickets for an actual theatre viewing. Or maybe you have a better movie to watch with cross-dressing aliens, a catchy dance number, and Tim Curry in platform heals? (available to rent on YouTube for $2.99)

rocky horror.gif

What about you? What are some of your favorite non-slasher Halloween flicks? And while we’re at it, do you think The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) belongs as a Christmas movie, or is it more Halloween-y? Weigh in in the comment section below, and I hope you have a great Halloween weekend!

For Pup’s Sake, Pt. 2

You know that moment in every dog movie when you’re not sure if the dog’s going to make it and your heart starts breaking a little?

That’s been my life for the past month.

It all started when Rory and I were playing a harmless game of fetch in the park around the corner. She was making a hard turn to come back to me with the slobber-soaked ball one minute, and the next she was wiped out and looking at me through eyes wide with pain.

rory1
Rory post-fall getting some pity snuggles

Best case scenario? She’d just sprained her ankle. But of course, it’s never the best case scenario when we’re adulting. Rory had torn her ACL, and if she wanted to walk normally again, she was going to have to get major surgery.

So I thought this was a perfect opportunity for Part 2 of my dog-moming tips – the good, the bad, and the mutly.

rory.jpg
Recovering post-surgery at home

When it comes to your dog’s health, there are four basic rules you need to keep in mind:

  • Trust a professional before the internet: I learned this one the hard way. Rory swallowed a hard piece of plastic about two years ago, and it scraped her throat just enough that she was coughing up blood the next day. A google search was quick to tell me she had stomach cancer and had few hours left on this earth. So of course I spent the extra money to take her to a 24-hour emergency vet and get x-rays of her esophagus…only to find out she was fine. Moral of this story: sometimes it’s worth it to wait until your vet’s office opens before you panic.
  • It’s okay to shop around for doctors: Speaking of dog doctors, this was the very advice I was given by my Chicago vet as soon as Rory’s ACL tear was diagnosed (actually called a CCL in dogs and a much more common injury than you’d think…learn more here). ACL repairs in larger dogs cost around $5,000 in Chicago, plus it’s a specialty surgery, so most clinics don’t even offer it. After talking to a few other pet surgeon specialists, I found that I could half the cost if Rory could get the surgery done back in Indiana (I took her to Dupont Vet Clinic, and the were amazing!). Was it hard to drop her off so far away from home? Heck yes! But my wallet is also much happier with my alternative decision.
  • The cost: It’s no secret that pets cost money. But I hate when anyone has to choose between cost and care for their furry family just because the bill can be so inflated. Pet insurance is just starting to become a thing, and even then, it only covers regular shots and a spay/neuter when your pet is young. I know it’s not ideal, but there is now also a credit card you can get specifically for both human and pet medical expenses. It’s always worth it to read the fine print, but Care Credit says on their website: “With shorter term financing options of 6, 12, 18 or 24 months no interest is charged on purchases of $200 or more when you make the minimum monthly payments and pay the full amount due by the end of the promotional period. If you do not, interest is charged from the original purchase date.” If anything, an option like this can help you hesitate less if/when the worst happens to your floof.
  • Recovery: This is actually where the internet can come back into play. Just like humans, pets won’t be right back on their feet after a major surgery. And with Rory’s current recovery, I have to do a lot to help her regain mobility in her injured leg. Two weeks after surgery, I’m now in the stage of applying gentle heat and helping her with regular stretches. And where did I learn these stretches? Really, you can learn how to do just about anything on YouTube nowadays. Check out these videos from Ask Doctor Jo and Tennessee vet Marc Smith if you want to help your pup with some healthy leg stretches too!

It’s been a rough month with a steep learning curve, but Rory is recovering beautifully now. What about you? What are some of the tips and tricks you’ve learned from your pet’s trauma that you’d like to pass on to others?

Pencil Bouquet Season

“You’ve Got Mail” is one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s why I believe daisies are the friendliest flowers. I can quote most of the movie in my sleep. And in the words of Joe Fox, “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. On the other hand, this not knowing has its charms.”

I know we haven’t quite yet hit pumpkin spice season, but many of my teacher friends are already working on getting back into the classroom. My post this week is both in honor of my time as an educator and my people who are still going back to school every August.

 

I am a teacher

which, by definition, means

(I instruct)

for a calling

for a paycheck

for a hobby

 

I am a teacher

which, by experience, smells

like (being surrounded)

swimming every day (from 8-3)

in a sea

between islands of body odor

(and wet paint)

 

I am a teacher

which, by vocation, feels

like I am among old children

miniature men (with mouse voices)

clown girls

with (new-found) melons

burgled beneath their sweaters

 

I am a teacher

which, by location, places (me)

among historical dictators

who dream up novels

(while mowing the lawn)

Spanish senoras

who use homecoming as an excuse

to play with a (Katniss Everdeen)

bow and arrow

English professors

who (in their “spare” time)

climb (and move) mountains

 

I am a teacher

I plant (the dreams of)

a changed world

in the (fertile) hearts

of adolescence

 

I am a teacher

(part fashionista)

part carnival stilts climber in heals

I heard cats (known as teenagers)

for a career

 

I am a teacher

with steel-clad bladder

and Mr. Fantastic arms

that can hold five people at once

 

I am a teacher

I bake

I counsel

I harvest

pulling from (their branches)

another bushel

of (poisoned) apples

$10 Meal. $20 Bottle of Wine.

SUZY RUMSEY IS BACK! THIS WEEK’S GUEST BLOG IS BROUGHT TO YOU ONCE AGAIN BY MY FORMER PROFESSOR AND DEAR MENTOR, AS SHE CONTINUES TO SHARE HER WISDOM FROM THE KITCHEN.

So maybe you have a date, and it’s finally time to cook for him or her. Or the in-laws are coming. Or maybe you’re wanting to have some girlfriends over to watch Pitch Perfect. Again. Or maybe you just want to treat yo’self. Whatever the reason, there comes a time when one needs to cook an actual meal for actual people. Possibly you want to impress those people. Just a little. Not like bacon-wrapped-filet-mignon-with-truffle-butter-haricot-verts-and-new-potatoes impress. But something more than spaghetti with a jar of Ragu on it.

How about baked ziti? It’s pretty easy and can be cheap. It tastes good. And it is fun to say. Say it with me: zeeee teeeee.

And it wouldn’t hurt to be able to offer a bottle of wine without the nickname “three buck chuck,” right? So, here’s a ziti version that is meant to elevate the dish a bit beyond jarred sauce, but I wanted to keep it cheap so there’s more money left over for wine. I could have added all kinds of shmancy things to make this dish swing dance in your mouth, but here’s a pretty basic version to start. The cool thing about it is that it has a lot of veggies in it, so it is a complete meal on its own. Neato.

For my $10 dinners, I assume you have four things on hand: water, salt, pepper, and olive oil. You’ll use both your oven and the stove. You will need a sheet pan (cookie sheet with sides), a pot, a deep fry pan, and maybe a big bowl. And a knife and cutting board so you can, you know, cut things.

Suzy’s Baked Ziti

Serves 4

Ingredient Cost
½ pound hot Italian sausage (pork or turkey)

1 large onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. Roma tomatoes

1 23 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 T tomato paste

16 oz whole wheat penne pasta

1 10 oz box frozen chopped spinach

1 8 oz package Italian style shredded cheese

1 T Italian Seasoning

 

Total

$2.00

$0.50

$0.25

$1.00

$1.50

$0.25

$1.00

$1.00

$2.49

$0.25

 

$10.24

 

(Yeah, I know it’s $0.24 over $10. These are estimated prices and your total bill might be a bit more or a bit less. It’ll be ok.)

Step 1. You So Saucy!

Preheat your oven to 450°. Cut the Roma tomatoes lengthwise and squish out some of the seeds. Drizzle the pan, the tomatoes, and probably the counter with olive oil. Sprinkle on salt and pepper. Smoosh the tomatoes around a bit to make sure they are evenly coated. Arrange cut side up. Put pan in oven for 25 to 30 minutes until they look caramelized and sort of brown and shriveled. Let cool. Once the tomatoes are cool enough to touch, remove and discard the skins. Set the pan aside to hang out for a bit. Reduce oven temperature to 400°.

While the tomatoes are roasting, dice the onion and mince the garlic. Microwave the box of spinach on high for 1 minute or until it is thoroughly defrosted. Dump the contents into a clean dish towel, draw up the corners of the towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Set aside.

Heat a high sided frying pan over medium. Cook the sausage and onions until the meat isn’t pink and the onions look… cooked. Maybe add some olive oil if the pan looks dry. Add the garlic and stir around a bit. Add the tomato paste and Italian seasoning. Then add the pan of roasted tomatoes including all the juice and add the can of crushed tomatoes. Add some salt and pepper. Press any tomato chunks with the flat side of your spoon to make smaller chunks. Or use an emersion blender if you have one and feel like getting fancy. Turn the heat down to low to simmer for a bit and let the ingredients get to know one another a bit. This is date night after all.

Step 2. If You Like It You Shoulda Put a Lid on It  

In a big pot, probably the biggest you’ve got, fill 2/3 with water. Put a lid on it (this helps it boil faster),   and bring to a boil over high heat. (You could have done this while the tomatoes were roasting if you’re able to multitask.) Once water is boiling, toss in maybe 1 tablespoon of salt. Dump in your dried pasta and cook a minute or two shorter than the recommended cooking time listed on the box. This will probably be like 8 minutes or so. Ladle out maybe 1 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta.

Step 3. Your Mise en Place are… en Place

Use olive oil to grease a 13×9 pan.  Then, if the pasta pot is big enough, or in your largest mixing bowl, dump in the pasta, the sauce, the spinach (loosened into individual pieces) and a little of the cheese. With either your hands or a big spoon, stir it up until it looks well mixed. Add some cooking liquid if it looks too dry. Taste a bit to see if it needs salt (it probably will). Now dump the whole mess into the greased 13×9 pan. Top with the rest of the cheese. Maybe drizzle some olive oil on top or sprinkle on a bit more Italian seasoning.  Shove the whole shebang into the preheated oven for like 20 to 30 minutes until the cheese looks like you want to dive face-first into it.

Extras. Imagine the Pasta-bilities

Want to make the ziti fancier? Add a small jar of prepared pesto, add more meat(s), add ricotta, add mushrooms, make the sauce from all fresh tomatoes, add wine before it simmers, etc.

Want more than just pasta? Add a bag o’ salad and dressing, add garlic bread or breadsticks, dessert, etc.

Don’t eat pork? Substitute with turkey sausage.

Vegetarian? No problem. Just delete the meat and maybe add more cheeses.

Hate Spinach? Sub in another veggie like shredded carrot which you won’t taste but will add that veggie bulk.

Paleo? Whole30? Use cooked spaghetti squash, increase the meat, delete the cheese, and maybe top with crumbled bacon (it’s good!)

But wait! The Wine!

You can try going to any number of sites online that offer wine recommendations. Most of their recommendations I’ve never heard of and can’t find easily. Instead, I’m going to suggest a few of my favorites you can get at your local Kroger store or a typical liquor store. Because this is pasta with red sauce, I’m going to focus on red wines.

First, I recommend looking at red blends instead of specific grape varietals. I’ve found that for wines in the $15-$20 range, red blends often have a round, drinkable quality that is missing from a merlot or pinot. Vintners just dump all the extra grapes into one batch and see what happens. You can get a tasty bang for your $20 bucks. I’ve been really digging Kendall-Jackson’s red blends, Decoy red blend, and Noble Vines 1 Red Blend lately.

If you want a specific grape, I encourage you to try out Sirah, Malbec, Zinfandel (please note this is not that pink, cloyingly sweet “white zinfandel” that Beringer and Barefoot are known for), and Pinot Noir. I find that new wine drinkers often gravitate to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon just because they sound familiar. Try something new!  Inexpensive options abound for these other grapes, and truly, you are more likely to find a solid bottle picking a different kind of grape.

One last thought about wine. One of the perks to having $20 bucks to try out new wine is that you may be able to try TWO $10 bottles, particularly if there are sales (e.g. Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel and, surprisingly, Barefoot Malbec). And let’s face it, if you open both bottles to, ahem, let them breath, after a while you’re not going to care if it isn’t great wine.

INTERESTED IN WRITING A GUEST BLOG FOR THE NEWBIE NESTERS? CONTACT ME AT THENEWBIENESTERS@GMAIL.COM!

Favorite Reads 2017

We’re officially past the middle of July, so I can’t exactly call this a summer read post. But as an avid reader, I can never get enough book recommendations from my people.

Below are a few of my favorite brain candy bites I’ve enjoyed over the past year. You should be able to find any of them at your local library, or (separate from the graphic novels) they are all available via Audible as audio books.

Let’s start with my recent favorite graphic novels (a hugely underrated genre, if you ask me. You can read more about why I especially love nonfiction graphic novels here).

  • Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas (Jim Ottaviani): I walked away from this book with not only a new appreciation for these amazing women of science, but also an even deeper love for great ape research and preservation. Such a quick read, but definitely worth picking up! (Ottaviani’s rendition of The Imitation Game is also just stunning.)
  • An Age of License (Lucy Knisley): Knisley has paved the way in unswerving personal life reflections in comic form. She is most known for Relish, her love letter to food in her life, but this travelogue is a beautiful love letter to the in-between of being an early adult and trying to figure out where we belong in this world.

As a former high school English teacher, I have special place in my heart for young adult literature. Arguably some of the best writers of our time are writing for teens these days, and the older I get, the more I enjoy sinking into certain books from this genre.

  • Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy (Rick Riordan): Riordan is a comic genius, hands down. His ability to revitalize Greek mythology and connect it to the 21st century world is priceless. This latest series of his works as a sequel to his original Percy Jackson magic in which the god Apollo has lost his immortality as a punishment from Zeus. Plus, this second book in the series is completely based in Indianapolis, IN!
  • All the Bright Places (Jennifer Niven): Another beautiful book based in Indiana! I first heard about this book through the Zoella Book Club (this girl has AMAZING taste in books!), and I walked away from it both heart-broken and inspired. This novel speaks to the unseen beauty of the everyday and challenges every one of its readers to go looking for unexpected adventures.

And finally, two adult fiction pieces that are definitely worth the read…

  • Mr. Churchill’s Secretary (Susan Elia MacNeal): This is part of the Maggie Hope series I discovered through Audible. Light-hearted mysteries (like the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich) have always been one of my favorite easy reads, and MacNeal delivers a book full of enjoyable characters over the backdrop of World War II England. Expect cameos by Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth, and the Roosevelt family!
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Robin Sloan): This novel is one part intrigue, one part love letter to quirky indie bookstores. But more than anything, I enjoyed this book for its conversation about the future of books in the age of the computer.

What about you guys? What have you enjoyed reading so far this year? I look forward to your recommendations!

For Pup’s Sake

I have been blessed with one of the best floofs in the world.

She has been an extra in Shakespeare plays, an honorary Hufflepuff, volunteer mother to a tiny kitten, and one of the best hiking companions I could ask for.

IMG_20170401_202652031

But Rory wasn’t the first dog in my life. In fact, my parents would still argue to this day that I was lucky enough to come from a family who knew enough about dogs to guide me toward some important decisions when it came to choosing and raising my dog. So today I’d like to pass on some of that puppy starter kit wisdom, complete with a few pictures of a dog of my own.

 

  • The Right Breed: I have a full-bred Australian Shepherd, but my family has always proudly been the owners of muts. There can be a value in seeking out a purebred dog, because research can then tell you what that dog will most likely become, but you also need to remember that choosing a purebred also means paying a lot for a dog that is more likely to have major health issues. I chose a shepherd breed because they are less likely to be over-bred, but even then Aussie’s can have serious heart issues. Either way, if you decide to go the purebred rout, make sure to both research and regularly be in communication with your breeder. Choose a private breeder. Do NOT support puppy mills.
  • The Puppy Trust Test: So you’ve found a breeder you like. You’re ready to go meet the litter in person to pick your pup. But how do you know which one is right? There are two things you want to look for when picking the right dog: peace and trust. Contrary to what most dog movies will tell you, keep an eye out for the dog that doesn’t lunge straight for humans when you go to meet the puppies. You don’t want a terrified dog, but an energetic puppy can often lead to a dog who doesn’t always want to listen to you as an adult. Once you’ve found the calm, collected pup in the group, pick him or her up with one hand and hold the dog over your head. A dog who flails and gets nervous in your hands is less likely to trust you, while a dog who relaxes and acts like this is completely normal has already decided you’re a keeper.
  • When should I bring my dog home? If you’re working with a breeder and have the option to bring home your dog whenever, the experts will say a puppy can come home from the mother as early as 8 weeks of age. I brought Rory home at 10 weeks, but I could have waited until she was a full 3 months old. Basically, the longer you can keep a pup with the mother, the more time your puppy will have to learn social dog graces. Rory was less prone to nipping and aggressive playing, because her mom had already taught her those behaviors were unacceptable.
  • The Blanket Trick: Sleep with a blanket or towel in your bed for at least a month before you bring your dog home. Then when your puppy comes home, give the blanket to your pup. This will help them get used to your smell and associate it with comfort and home.
  • Monthly cost for a new puppy: You will need to take your pup to the vet every 6 months for the first 2 years of their life. So including the cost of vaccines, neutering/spaying, training, treats, food, and toys, you should budget for about $75 per month until your puppy’s second birthday.
  • The Ice Cube Trick: My mom has always said that puppies are a great training manual for being a human parent someday, especially because they will wake you up several times throughout the night until their bladders get bigger. After you let your puppy out, they will often go straight for the water bowl, which will only mean more breaks from sleep for you throughout the night. To prevent this, put the water bowl up for the night and offer your puppy an ice cube to munch on in the middle of the night. It will slake their thirst, help with teething, and (most important) it won’t make them have to pee again.
  • Training and Grooming: No matter how well-trained your dog is, there is value in going to at least one round of training classes with your pup. It’s an opportunity for you and your puppy to bond and for you to socialize your dog in a safe space. The same is true for taking your dog to a groomer at least once when they’re young. This will teach them to not be bothered with people touching their paws and head and can help make them more comfortable around new people overall.

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What about you? What tips do you have to share with your fellow canine parents? If you’re interested, I’d love to share some starter tips for kittens as well!

Netflix Binging Worth Your Time

I’ve written before about how much video streaming and TV viewing has changed since my years in college. But just as how I’m watching has changed, so has what I’m watching.

When my parents moved my brother and me out to the country just before second grade, they started a cable subscription. My friends may have only had what we called “The Farmer Five” channels, but we lived in style with Nickelodeon, Disney, ABC Family, Cartoon Network, and so much more. By the time I was a young adult, cable seemed an important necessity to a wholesome life.

However, when I graduated from college and suddenly the cable bill was left for me to pay, I opted out of the $60/month option for $10 monthly Netflix payment and access to all the reruns I could ever hope for.

It’s funny to think that I’ve been sending money to Netflix for almost 10 years. And even in that time, I’ve shifted away from my weekly Netflix DVD in the mail and bingeing on the TV show box sets I keep in a basket near my Blu-ray player. Now I stream everything through my Xbox, and most of my DVD’s have shrunk down to the size of an external hard drive for easy transport and access wherever I go.

Plus, while Netflix is still great for a good, nostalgic rerun marathon, there are Netflix Original shows to consider as well in the mix. So this week, I want to share…

My Top Five Binge-Worthy Netflix Shows

Orange is the New Black: This might be the first Netflix Original I first got hooked on, but now I can’t stop. Based on the memoir of the real Piper Chapman, this show shares multiple perspectives of America’s messy underbelly over the backdrop of a short-term prison in New York. It is the perfect blend of edgy, sassy, and honest to the point that I have to make sure to clear my social calendar for at least a week when a new season comes out. (Episode length is up to 60 minutes)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Since moving to Chicago, I have been regularly called an Indiana Mole Woman, and it doesn’t even bother me. This show tells the story of Kimmy Schmidt, a girl who was abducted and kept underground for over a decade with several other women in Indiana. After being rescued, she moves to NYC, and the rest is comedic perfection. (Episode length is up to 30 minutes)

Grace and Frankie: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin both star in this show about two women rebuilding their lives after their husbands come out as gay…for each other. The situation is already too funny for words, but then add in a group of writers who have managed to create a show where we can laugh with the act of aging, not at it. Fonda and Tomlin are still graceful as they deal with bad backs, carpel tunnel, and reentering the dating pool after 50 years of marriage. (Episode length is up to 30 minutes)

Fuller House: It’s the same house, a lot of the same actors, and the same level of family feel good cheese…but something about this reboot just feels right. There’s a little less mood music, a little more girl power, plus guest appearances by John Stamos if you’re willing to commit to a whole season. (Episode length is up to 30 minutes)

Julie’s Greenroom: You can tell me this show is meant for children until your face turns blue, but that still hasn’t stopped me from loving every second of it. Think Julie Andrews (my favorite human) meets Muppets meets the fine arts…plus guest appearances from Idina Menzel, Josh Groban, Chris Colfer, and so many more! If you’re a Broadway junkie like me, you just might have to pull up a chair and check it out. (Episode length is up to 30 minutes)

I know there are so many other good originals on Netflix (and more being added every day). What are you watching this summer, readers? Post your recommendations in the comments below!

 

Around the World with the Right Stuff

I know it’s been quite some time since I’ve posted. Blame it on the beginning of summer and several big life decisions. The short version of the story is I’m staying in Chicago for now (frustrating parking and all), and I’m pretty content with the fact that the UPS workers around the corner from my office now know my name.

There are several things I’ll never get used to in this land of concrete and body odor, constant travel being one of them. Since moving to Chicago last July, I’m not sure if I’ve ever stopped moving. And this includes travel outside of the city. I regularly wander to Valparaiso, Indianapolis, and Fort Wayne back in Indiana – and recently my boss paid for his entire team to go to Mexico!

Now I’m pretty sure if it’s done right, the bite of the international travel bug never stops itching. Previously, I’ve been to Rome, Paris, and London, but Cancun, Mexico was a whole other fantastic experience.

For those of you who are novices to traveling the world, I’ve included a few of my top travel tips this week. So here we go!

THE PACKING

  • Because electricity is different in Europe, make sure to get an international plug converter. Don’t plug ANYTHING in without it, or you’ll fry whatever you plug in. You can find these converters at Best Buy or Radio Shack.
  • Roll clothing, instead of folding it in your suitcase. It leaves more room.
  • In your carry-on, pre-pack all liquids and medications in a see-through Ziploc bag. Put it in a front pocket. That will make it easier to grab when you go through security.
  • Pack an empty carry-on sized bag in your checked luggage. You can fill it with souvenirs then for your travels home.
  • Even though we want to believe that your luggage will not get lost, it’s always good to be prepared. Pack one change of clothes and some essential toiletries in your carry-on just in case. Change of underwear is most important!

THE FLIGHT

  • Pack good headphones. Most international flights have unlimited movies and TV for you to watch. Or you can always download shows from Netflix and YouTube to watch offline.
  • Make sure to sleep at least a little on the way there if you can. You’ll thank yourself later.
  • Usually adult passengers on international flights gets one complimentary alcoholic beverage. Enjoy some champagne to take the edge off the plane time!
  • Pack gum in your carry-on. It helps with takeoff and landing times because of air pressure changes.

THE TRIP

  • Some of the best advise my mom gave me: Don’t feel like you need to spend all your money on souvenirs for others. Your pictures and stories are cheaper and will mean so much more to them.
  • Check out the travel laws for whatever country you’re heading to before buying alcohol. Some countries might confiscate it before you get it back on American soil.
  • As you buy souvenirs, keep an ongoing list. This will help you when you have to fill out customs forms to reenter the country.
  • If you can, don’t pack 10 brand new outfits. Pack lots of clothes for layering. One pair of pants, two or three pairs of shorts, and one skirt. If you want something nice, pack a dress that doesn’t wrinkle easily. Then pack shirts that go with all of them. The more you can pre-plan outfits and be prepared for any weather, the happier you will be.
  • PACK GOOD WALKING SHOES! I know you guys will be going to and fro by car and bus a bit, but we Americans always underestimate how much Europeans are used to walking from one place to the next.
  • If you have a smartphone, this is honestly the best option to use as a camera. Put it on airplane mode while you’re overseas (so it doesn’t use up data), and then only use it to take pictures. This makes them easier to edit and share online later, instead of waiting to put them on a computer when you get home.

No matter what, always be polite and appreciative to airport security. I have stopped counting the amount of times I’ve received special treatment because I smiled and thanked them for doing their job.

Bon voyage, readers! Where are you planning to go this summer?