Get Friendly!

One of our goals this year was to make more friends and do more with the friends we already have. It might sound silly but once you’re outside of college (and grad school), it’s rare that you’re in social settings with tons of people who are your age and share similar interests with you – so making new friends can be a little tougher than it sounds. As far as the “doing more”, well, we (and I’m sure we’re not alone in this) have a bad habit of doing things with just the two of us. And while we love doing things as a couple, sometimes while we’re out and about (at a museum, at a park, hiking, etc.) we think, “man, so and so would probably like to do this, too!”

We said that we wouldn’t said “no” if asked to do something. We haven’t help completely true to that, but we’ve definitely been better (and even given up our 9:30 bedtime!). Recently, I emailed a group of friends to see who would be interested in starting a book club. Surprisingly, everyone said they were in and had always wanted to be part of a book club. We had about 12 people for our first meeting a few weeks ago and we read The Book Thief. We plan to rotate houses each month to as not to overwhelm any one host, and to give everyone a chance to put their own spin on the evening. It was fun to discuss the book, but also so nice to spend time with friends and meet new friends, too!

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This past weekend, we hosted “Drinktoberfest” instead of going to the Oktoberfest event here in Charlotte. We invited over our friends + their kids (and my brother’s family) to hang out, enjoy bratwursts, drink some pumpkin beer and play corn hole. The kids had a blast running around and playing with their Tonka trucks and the adults enjoyed catching up. It’s so nice to have a backyard where we can do these kinds of things!

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I’ve recently said “yes” when asked to go to Yoga on Tap at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery but someone I only knew online (no worries, we had plenty of friends in common and went to the same university for undergrad). And I had a blast, even though I’m far from being a yogi and was there with practical strangers.

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And made 3 new friends at NoDa Brewery run club (also gals I only knew online up until that 3 mile run). And I’ve also said yes to 3 miles with my friends Valerie and Katie. Friends and fitness? That’s right up my alley!
photo 3 photo.PNG-2 photo.PNGA group of grad school friends got together one night to hang out and catch up at Heist Brewery. These folks inspire me with their lives and the work they’re doing. I miss being in class with them and having 3 hours of intellectual conversations (or at least having them make me laugh all through class).

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Our fun friend Stacy joined us for Science on the Rocks at Discovery Place. A night where adults get to run the place, while drinking fun things like liquid nitrogen wine slushies. Oh, and it was 90s night!

photo 2Last time I was in the triangle area, I got to sit down for coffee with my most favorite college roomie and BFF. I had recently blogged about it being 2 whole months since I had seen her, but she’s the kind of friend where we can literally not speak for weeks and pick right back up where we left off. Most of the time we don’t go weeks without speaking, we send each other silly texts on the regular. I was pretty sure we were going to get asked to join a sorority while we were walking through Chapel Hill since it was apparently rush time for UNC.

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I feel like I have a pretty good friend base (even if they are all having babies and we’re the no-kid family). Not to say that I couldn’t have more. And not to say I don’t miss my friends who chose to remove themselves from my life just before my wedding. I’ve recently talked with a few of them, which was nice but it’s clear that things will never be the same. How could they? No need to re-hash the story here, if you want to read it, you can find it somewhere back in January 2013’s posts; we all made decisions that ended our friendship.

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It’s hard losing friends at any age, but I think probably harder to lose friends that you’ve had for so long and thought you’d have forever. I never really let myself get upset over it, I think I was so stunned that they just left. But now I see that we won’t go to anymore weddings together, we won’t watch each other’s kids grow up, we won’t plan summer beach trips together or ring in the new year together. Birthdays will only be celebrated with some, and only through text messages. Grad school graduations won’t be acknowledged. Rival football games won’t be mentioned. These things all make me a little sad. Those are things i expected to share with each of them. Occasionally, my husband will ask about one or all of them: have I talked to them, do I miss them, etc. The answer to the first is sometimes yes, the latter, always yes. I grew up with these girls, and guys. We did practically everything together. Some of my fondest memories are with them.

But I’ll make new memories with new friends…. life goes on. I’m so thankful for the friends that I do have here in Charlotte and the BFFs that I have sprinkled around. I’m grateful for the friends we have across the country who we may only see on occasion but are so special to us. I’m definitely more aware of who I spend time with and I try to avoid those one-sided relationships. I’m excited for us to continue building “our friends” as a couple and hope we get to spend lots of time with new and old friends in the coming years.

We always try when traveling to connect with friends wherever we are but sometimes schedules don’t work out. I love my new book club, and the Stella & Dot party I hosted was fun last year. I’d love to hear your tips for staying in touch with friends from all over! Where do you go, what do you do? Does anyone else have a goal to say “yes” to all the invites they get from friends?

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Pumpkin Everything

With the arrival of Fall this month, I immediately starting craving all things pumpkin (except for Starbucks’ PSL, I know, go ahead and hate me). It’s easy to crave comfort foods in the Fall, especially as the weather gets cooler and we want to be full and warm. So trying to be conscious of that, I’ll share my favorite pumpkin recipes and then some healthy recipes to offset some of the unhealthiness of those.

First, (since I love dessert so much), 3-ingredient pumpkin cookies. They claim these are “low fat” but I wouldn’t overindulge. They are quick and easy and great if you need to take something to a holiday party or work function.

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Next, pumpkin chocolate chip bars. These are heaven in your mouth. I won’t make any low-fat claims, but I will tell you how amazing they are. They will be devoured wherever you take them. That is, if you can get them out of the house; my husband wants to eat them all the second I make them.

Pumpkin Stew is another favorite. You make it and serve it right in the pumpkin, which will surely wow your guests (or kids). This one takes a little longer to make but will be well worth it. It’s a hearty meal, too. Make sure to scoop out some pumpkin with each serving to give everyone a little more of the pumpkin flavor.

For breakfast, I’d serve pumpkin pancakes, maybe with chocolate chips or caramel drizzle on the weekends but plain maple syrup will do the trick, too. You can’t go wrong with maple syrup. Oh and bonus? These are gluten-free (enjoy, Christina!).

Lastly, pumpkin chili, because everyone loves chili in the colder months. You add in black beans and garbanzo beans to make this recipe delicious, but we’ve always been fans of having 4-5 kinds of beans in our chili, so I say the more the merrier. This is a vegetarian recipe, but you could certainly add meat if you wanted. I would probably recommend ground turkey.

Now, looking for a few healthier fall meals and side dishes? These will be loved by your friends and family, so start cooking!

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Potato & Green Lentil Salad, a vegan side that’s actually pretty easy to throw together. I used baby red potatoes, but as the recipe says, you can really use whatever you prefer. Since it’s vegan, there’s no mayo which is a plus in my book! I loved the mustard-y flavor of this dish and that it was served warm, and not as gooey as traditional potato salads.

Vegetarian stuffed Greek peppers are not just colorful, but also flavorful. You can put so much goodness in one of these babies and even customize it for each person. Another favorite is this quinoa stuffed portabellos. I made these for dinner one night and was surprised at how full I got! I even had extras for lunch the next day.

15247_10100998721121973_1725917825394690934_nSince being a (mostly) vegetarian this month, I’ve eaten a lot of fish. Couldn’t cut seafood out of my diet, too! This roasted salmon and brussels sprouts recipe is perfect for fall. Brussels sprouts are definitely one of my favorite veggies to have for dinner – especially in the fall!

Lastly, I love this easy recipe for rolled oats turkey meatballs. I would suggest mixing in 1 TBSP of an organic (low sodium) tomato sauce to give them a little more flavor, especially if you’re not planning to use for spaghetti and meatballs. I ate mine as the meat for my meal, with a side of veggies. Usually 3-4 meatballs fills me up. You’ll want to play around with the recipe the first few times you try it.  *You’re supposed to stay under 2300 mg of sodium/day. Be aware of how much is in the packaged or canned food you’re eating. When possible, go with unprocessed foods!

I’d love to hear your favorite fall or pumpkin flavored foods – please leave a comment with a link to the recipe. Always looking for new ones to try! Speaking of, I’m dying to try this white bean, kale and sausage recipe I found on Pinterest! It will have to wait until October though, I’m finishing out September strong with vegetarian meals.

Get out of your own way!

I had a wonderful week attending the Connections conference presented by Exact Target. For many, the conference was a chance to interact with vendors and hear about new products, but it was slightly different for me. Marketing was my career in a past life, I’ve since moved on to internal communications and as I tend to do, am already looking forward to my next step in my career.

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Author John Green

I chose sessions such as “My Personal Journey: Inspiring Stories from Fearless Females”; “The Power of Personal Brand and How to Create Yours”; “Unraveling the Myths of Creativity”; “Using Communities to Drive Stronger Engagement” and “Propelling Your Career with Mentors and Sponsors”. The sessions I really loved were listening to Twitter’s Chief Communication Officer participate in a Q&A, hearing will.i.am discuss how his childhood impacted his decisions to be charitable now, listening to author John Green, who is so much more than an author and of course, seeing Mindy Kaling give the closing speech this afternoon. Can we say girl crush?

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Author John Green

Mindy is just as adorable as she is on every show you’ve seen her on. She’s hilarious and sweet and seemed authentic – which was a big word at this year’s conference. I love how she addressed being a female in a male dominated world, how she said to choose 5 people who really matter and ask their opinion versus listening to the negativity of everyone who has an opinion and how she talked about being confident.

“I find that saying the wrong thing in a very confident way is the key to everything”

Mindy reminded me today is that you don’t always need validation that your ideas are good. Being prepared and confident can make it automatically seem like your ideas are good. I definitely consider myself more of an “idea” person than a businessperson. Even so, I don’t always have people saying “exactly” when I speak, or agreeing with all of my proposals. But I am confident enough in what I know to sit at the table and speak up. Mindy told us that yes, as women, we are held back compared to men, but we need to stop focusing so much on that and focus on our work. If our work is good, then you’ll get more recognition.

IMG_5306 Mindy has worked her way up from a struggling writer to not just actor but writer, producer and director of her very own show. She’s living her dream. While most of us stopped dreaming of being famous after about age 11, we have other (much more realistic) dreams. Maybe it’s to own your own business. Maybe it’s to write a book. Maybe it’s to be the CEO of a company. Whatever it is, it’s within reach. Hard work pays off and Mindy demonstrates that.

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“That’s the tragic thing about being ambitious. As your success grows, so does your ambition.”

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So, I left the conference with very little product knowledge (enough to tell my boss that the user experience will be changing along with the interface) but with a ton of inspiration. I’m motivated to pursue more of my dreams; to not be scared of rejection (it’s inevitable); to step up my game; to demonstrate my value and expertise; and to listen to the voices that really matter. I feel very empowered right now, almost as much as when I read Lean In.

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I could blog a whole different post on how women don’t take as many chances as men. I could show you statistics of how we count ourselves out of jobs because we’re not totally qualified, whereas a man would go for it because he had some of the qualifications. We often let our ideas go unheard because of other voices in the room, and our fear of sounding dumb (you won’t!). As I got on the plane to leave Indianapolis, I opened Women’s Health and read an inspiring note from the Editor-in-Chief, Michele Promaulayko. She talks about clearing the confidence hurdle. One of my favorite quotes is, “even the mega successful [women] aren’t fearless – they’ve just been brave enough to push past that fear of failure.”

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Life rarely hands you the perfect opportunity without you putting forth some kind of effort, but if you take chances and do the work, you have a chance to be successful at something you’re passionate about. I’m ready to dive back into my work and to do impactful work that aligns with my passions. You should get out of your own way and get to work doing what makes you happy, too.

*A few books I recommend if you’re looking: The Confidence Code, Lean In, How to Communicate with Confidence, Womenomics and anything by Deborah Tannen. 

Pretty in Pink Bucket List

I’m going to ask you upfront to share this post far and wide so that we can reach a goal and help make some wishes come true. 

I was introduced to the Pretty in Pink Foundation by my husband’s sister. For the past 5 years, she has participated in their annual Fashion Walk Gala in Wilmington. She participates because she is a cancer SURVIVOR. The Pretty in Pink Foundation helped her with some medical bills as she went through her treatment, and within them she also found friends and a support group. We are proud to support this organization that helps women here in North Carolina with their medical bills, co-pays, and also holds their hand as they go through testing, diagnoses, and treatment.

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We attended the Fashion Walk Gala earlier this month and as always, I was touched by the stories shared. The strength of these women who are fighting battles that no one should have to is inspirational. One mother had our whole table on the verge of tears as she talked about never giving up because she has an 18 month old and she wants to be there for his whole life. An older lady laughed with her husband as she talked about all the medical woes they had faced – and vowed to keep moving forward, together.

14220_10101000932779793_2122672083804079527_nThis year’s fashion walk participants wrote down their top 3 things they want to do in the future and that’s where you come in. These women show us on their bucket lists that they have so much life left to live and so many things they want to do to have fun, see the world, spend precious moments with their families.

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I’ve compiled a list of at least one thing that these women wanted to do and an estimated cost of each. Through a Go Fund Me site that was set up, we can raise the money for these things and purchase them for these women. For the things that can’t necessarily be purchased, I am reaching out to others to help with connections and making some of these other wishes come true.

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I’ve set a goal of $20,000 to raise to grant these wishes. So please, share this post with your Facebook friends, share it on Twitter, email it to family and friends near and far and let’s help bring some happiness to these women as they travel down their unimaginable journeys.

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Here is the Go Fund Me page which outlines some of the bucket list items such as learning to speak French, horseback riding on a trail, riding in a hot air balloon, go kayaking, visit Bald Head Island, go see a broadway show, go to Santa Fe, see the Steelers in Pittsburgh, see Paul McCartney live, take the family to disney world. I’m positive that together we can make these wishes come true.

Sneaking away to St. Martin

During the week of Labor Day, we hopped on a plane to St. Martin for a relaxing getaway. The trip started off on a good note when we were bumped to first class on our US Airways flight and had the most wonderful flight attendant (Judy) waiting on us on our 3.5 hour flight to SXM.

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Since the planes land on the Dutch side of the island (St. Maarten), we got a tour of island in our taxi ride to our resort – The Grand Case Beach Club. It was nestled between picturesque mountains and turquoise water right there on the beach (or two beaches: Le Petit Plage and Grand Case Beach).

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We had a stunning view of Creole Rock, and even spent one afternoon snorkeling there with some amazing rainbow parrot fish, eels, and about a gazillion more caribbean fish species. It was some of the best snorkeling we’ve ever done.

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Our resort offered kayaking, sailing, stand up paddle boarding (SUP) and snorkeling right off the beach, too. We spent an entire morning exploring the gorgeous water in front of the hotel and just for the record, I only fell off my board ONCE. (Fact: SUP requires some serious balance and core strength, and your feet will hurt afterwards from holding on).

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Each morning we went to the restaurant on site for our continental breakfast. My favorite was of course the chocolate croissant. I actually took my Shakeology with me on this trip so that I could remain somewhat healthy (and I embarked on my attempt to be vegetarian for a month on 9/1). Listening to the waves was so tranquil and such a relaxing way to start our mornings.

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We ventured into Grand Case (the best culinary experiences on the island) for dinner most nights. Our favorite spots were Le Cottage and La Villa, although we also had a lovely creole experience where the chef was also the owner and took plenty  of time to come out and just chat with us. The food was nothing short of spectacular on this trip.

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We ventured out to Orient Bay Beach one day, which is the famous nude beach on the island. However, since we were there in September, it was the “off season” and all the nudists stayed home. We pretty much had the run of the place while we were there and dined at an excellent beach restaurant before setting up in some chairs just steps away from a bar for the rest of the afternoon.

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Our resort was totally gated and had security guards walking around at all times which made it feel very safe. We were upgraded upon arrival there to a suite style condo with bed/bath upstairs, and living room, kitchen and another bathroom downstairs. Our patio led right out to an overlook over the beach (the stairs were no more than 5 feet away). We also had an upstairs balcony which provided amazing views of the island. The pool at the resort was one of the prettiest set ups I’ve seen, just dreamy!

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While we’re talking safety, nothing happened to us while we were there but upon asking advice on a couple trips we were thinking of taking on our own, I was told, “Just don’t take anything with you.” There was also a “theft insurance” charge for renting cars on the island and parts of it were not very well lit. That being said, the locals left us alone. Only once (on Orient Bay Beach) were we asked if we wanted to purchase something. Philipsburg was more touristy and probably the least safe place we went for that reason.

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In Philipsburg, we had lunch before walking around. It was gorgeous on the water. The shopping area was your typical Caribbean shopping area which owners out front asking you to come in and a few peddlers on the beach asking you to purchase their items. We didn’t spend TOO much time there before we headed off to Maho Bay beach to see the planes land. Since Maho Bay is also on the Dutch side where the casinos are, we popped into one while we were there. My (risk adverse) husband won while playing poker and immediately quit playing, so we weren’t there for more than 45 minutes before we headed back to Grand Case.

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Their signature drink on the island is the Guavaberry Colada since they have a guava berry rum factory on the island. Each restaurant offered their own specialty after-dinner (or lunch) rum. Some of the flavors we tried were caramel, banana, coconut and a delicious mixture of coconut rum, grenadine and pineapple juice.

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We very much enjoyed our trip to St. Martin and would recommend the French side to anyone going to visit. However, if you’re still deciding where to visit, our vote is Aruba. Aruba is still our favorite island. The friendliness of the people is unmatched (and they’re all so incredibly intelligent). Not for one second on the island did we feel unsafe, even when we walked or biked the .75 miles back from the high rise area at night. While Aruba has a desert climate and St. Martin has a tropical climate, we didn’t mind the heat and no humidity in Aruba. It never rains in Aruba (it only rained on us once in St. Martin). Aruba had happy hour which we loved, St. Martin did not. The food was amazing in both places but Aruba holds a special place in our hearts. If we had a free trip back to either of these islands, we would undoubtedly choose Aruba.

When to do what!

I’ve gotten some questions lately about when to send gifts, when to send Thank Yous and of course, how long can you wait to do either?

First of all, if you’re going to the wedding and it’s a reasonable sized gift, you can always take it with you (hint, hint: card with cash!). If it’s a large gift, you’re in the wedding, or you don’t want to make the bride + groom lug the gift home after the wedding, you can have it shipped to them in advance – most websites like Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, Bed Bath & Beyond and Target do this for free or a small fee. Most people wait to send wedding gifts until the 2 month range prior to the wedding, or when one can assume showers/engagement parties are over. If the couple sends you a message saying they are having a small ceremony this year or going to the courthouse and plan to do something bigger with the whole family/friends crowd next year, it’s acceptable to wait until the bigger party, but certainly okay to go ahead and send them something (they did just get married!).

If you’re on the receiving end of the gifts, it’s in your best interest to write those thank yous as you receive the gifts – I promise you will be glad you did later! If you just can’t bring yourself to write thank yous before the wedding, keep a detailed list of who sent what so that when you do have time, you’ll be able to write detailed notes. In the event you don’t receive any gifts shipped to your home pre-wedding (doubt this will happen), you have up to 6 months to write your thank yous after the wedding. I would advise you not to take the full six months. Sit down each evening for a week after your honeymoon and split the list with your hubby and bust out 10 a piece each night, you’ll have it done before you know it and guests will appreciate the quick acknowledgement of how much you loved their gift. The Knot has a great guide for Thank You notes that will help you with this task.

As with everything else in life, you’re better off being early than late 😉