Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A pick-me-up

I've been feeling a little down in the dumps lately, so I thought to myself, Self, you deserve a little fun time! So I made a lunch date with the blog and Panera, because they have free WiFi and the food makes me happy.

Why so blue, you ask? It's a bit silly, I suppose, when you really think about it. It's just, I was on the floor for my first night of server training at my new part-time job, and the other servers were kvetching about how abysmal the tips are sometimes (hey, it's a college campus), and it just got me down. I know I'm lucky to have enough work to support myself. I just really wish I didn't need three jobs to do it.

Plus, returning to the food industry yet again feels like such a big step backward for me. I graduated from an excellent school, and I'm still struggling to get by with the job I was fortunate enough to land. Therein lies the problem with our generation: We were told that after college, the world would be our oyster. We'd have every opportunity imaginable at our very fingertips, because we'd be college educated. Maybe that was the case for our parents' generation, but from what I've seen in my life and those of my peers, it isn't the case for us. We're disillusioned, yada yada yada, I know. That doesn't make it any less of a struggle.

Sorry to get so deep and depressing here, folks. I write what I'm thinking, and that is what I'm thinking about today constantly. But that's not why you all are here. You're here for photos of clothes. So here are some clothes I wore a few weeks ago:

shirt and necklace: New York & Company
jeggings: Burlington Coat Factory
shoes: Payless

Wore this to meet up with a fellow OU journalism grad who also works in Columbus. It's funny, we graduated the same year, knew a few of the same people, were in the same school within the College of Communications and even had dovetailing extracurriculars (her student PR firm worked with my student magazine) but we never met! We got drinks at Bar Louie, over at Easton. For you non-Columbusites, Easton is a giant outdoor shopping extravaganza of amazingness. We talked for a long time and it was a great meet up!

It's weird to say, but I was a little nervous before I left the apartment (if my face doesn't show it). I've never been good at networking, mainly because I've never really done it before. I always assumed that networking was one of those meaningless buzzwords that get thrown around a lot, like "synergy" and "Oh, I suppose I'll just have one tiny glass of wine tonight." (Okay, so that last one doesn't fit, it's just my poor attempt at humor. I should just leave the funny to people who actually know how to do it.)

What was I saying? Oh yeah. Networking. It's fun, because you get to talk to people and have interesting conversations, which is one of my favorite things in the world. Which is why I'm blogging from Panera and can't stay away from Twitter for more than a few hours. (Thank god for smartphones, right?)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Moved in and a giveaway winner

Well, Matt and I are pretty much moved in to the new place! We still have some major cleaning and hole-filling at the old apartment, but we have three weeks to finish that and I think we'll take our time, haha.

The new house is coming along, slowly but surely. There are a few major changes that we'll need to make, like adding a cabinet and some counterspace in the kitchen, building a vanity in the bedroom, reworking my closet and adding lots and lots of shelving (this place has wayyy less storage space than our old one). But the good news is that our landlord is completely cool with us doing all this mini-remodels. He told us to make the place our own, so that's entirely what we intend to do! I'll get some photos up just as soon as the house stops looking like a tornado hit it. Which may be a while.

Did I mention we don't have Internet yet? (Or cable, for that matter.) Our installation appointment isn't until the 20th (!!!) so there will be a lot of coffee shops and sitting on the floor of our old apartment (thank God we didn't cancel the Internet yet) to do my blogging and freelance work. That being said, posts might get pretty infrequent until we have reliable service again, and returning comments might be even more sparse. Advance apologies for that.

But enough about my boring moving stuff. I have a giveaway winner to annonce! And it's...#9, JeNeal!

Congrats, JeNeal! I'll give your email to Ashley and she'll contact you about your print (or prints, if you choose).

Until next time, whenever that may be :)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fiscal Friday: Groceries

My friend Chasity recently asked me to do a Fiscal Fridays on grocery shopping on a budget, or on how to save money on your groceries. I'll be the first to admit that this is an area in which I need to improve as well; just last night, Matt told me that the grocery list I gave him was too expensive, and I need to work on cutting it down. (I plan the meals in the house. I can't help that I have expensive tases, haha.) So, to help my readers and myself make a less expensive grocery list each week, here are some tips.

(image from user Cadaverexquisito on Wikimedia Commons)

1. Plan your meals.
I follow a method that I've watched my parents do for as long as I can remember. They make four weeks' worth of menus (dinners only Mon-Fri, lunch and dinner Sat-Sun), then make corresponding grocery lists for each week. Every Sunday, my dad would print the menu and grocery list for the next week (they started the week on Monday), look through the kitchen and cross items off the grocery list that we already had in the house, then go get the rest of the groceries.

This is helpful for a few reasons, the first being that you never wind up buying things you don't need. And if you plan your meals right (i.e. have chicken three different ways in one week), you can even save money buy buying in bulk...but more on that in a minute. For our household, I created five weekly menus consisting of five meals, since we usually get lazy one or two nights a week and eat leftovers or order in. But I made a fatal error: I made pricey menus. I got overzealous with things like Asian meatball subs with Chinese five-spice French fries, New England clam chowder, orange sesame pork chops, crab spring rolls and...well, you get the picture.

This is where "planning budget-friendly meals" comes in. I'm sorry to say that I really, really need to work on this one, so I don't have any real advice for you yet. But I'm working on it, so maybe I'll have a post on that in the near future :)

2. Buy in bulk.
It might increase the cost of a single grocery trip once a month, but believe me, the overall savings are totally worth it. Good bulk items that you should be buying include frozen meat like ground beef, chicken, pork and fish; dried goods like pasta, rice, sauces and canned or frozen fruits & veggies; anything that you eat a LOT of, and in my opinion, eggs. (Hard-boil half the eggs right when you bring them home and they will keep WAY longer than raw eggs. Then you can eat them as snacks, for breakfast, turn them into egg salad for lunches, etc.) Things you shouldn't buy in bulk? Produce and dairy, because they'll likely spoil before you can use them. And that's just wasting more money!

I'm a firm believer that Walmart is the devil, but even I have to admit that it can be a decent place for bulk purchases. If it makes fiscal sense for you, consider a membership at warehouse-type grocery stores like Sam's Club or Costco. Just remember: You have to make up for the cost of your membership with actual monetary savings.

3. Be a coupon clipper.
No, I'm not telling you to be one of those crazy ladies who freaks out because she lost her coupon for 10 cents off that bunch of bananas. But it's worthwhile to scan the Sunday ads for sales and stock up on items (aka, buy in bulk) when they're cheaper.

Apparently, there are some websites that help you find coupons, or they compile them for you, or something like that? I've heard of them, but I have no idea what they are. Anyone out there know what I'm talking about?

4. Store brands are your friends.
Stop saying they're gross, or they taste different, or they're inferior. Most of the time, that simply isn't true. And the only way to know for sure is to try it! For example, I only buy store-brand pastas, sauces and usually stick with store-brand cereals, but I "splurge" for Kraft Mac 'n Cheese and Vlasic pickles, because I know they simply taste better to me. I also usually spring for higher-quality lunchmeat, because the store brand stuff is pumped up with fillers and water. Ew. Store brand cheese, though? I'm all over it. (Sidenote: Cereal is absolutely the best thing to buy off-brand. Name brands are marked up SO MUCH!)

5. Know where to shop, and when.
This one is a little tricky, particularly for you non-Midwesterners who don't have the stores I'm about to mention. My apologies for that one. But if you have an Aldi near you, I would say that this should always be your first grocery shopping stop. Get your generics here, and (sometimes) your produce. It's all VERY cheap, because it's all off-brand.

Other stores, like Kroger or Giant Eagle, are more expensive but offer other perks, like gas points. Giant Eagle is a great example of this; even the off-brand items are pricier than at other stores, but you often make up for those costs when the time comes to fill up your gas tank and you realize you get 50 cents off per gallon. Kroger, on the other hand, has fuel points as well, but they also usually have 10 for $10 deals or something like that going on. Yes, please!

Which brings us to the topic of "when." Find out when your grocery store(s) normally has its sales, particularly on perishables like produce, breads and dairy. It's okay to buy the "manager's special" items, as long as you immediately freeze them (bread or meat) or use them within a day or two. (For those who don't know, "manager's special" items are about to expire, so they give you deep discounts in hopes that they won't have to throw the items away and lose the profit.)

* * *

Well, that's all I have. I hope you were able to find some useful info in this, and that it wasn't all "duh, Emma, we knew that!" If you have any tips that I didn't include, feel free to add them to the comments! Also, a disclaimer: I wasn't paid or perked by any of the stores/brands I mentioned. I just felt like getting specific. If any of the aforementioned stores/brands (or anyone else) WANTS to pay me to talk about their stuff, shoot me an email!

Also, could you do me a huge favor? Go take this survey about budgeting. It's completely anonymous, only 8 9 questions long and it will REALLY help with next week's Fiscal Fridays post! Plus, I'll love you forever and send you e-hugs :) Thank you so, so much!

Have a financial question you'd like me to tackle? Email me at verbal {dot} melange {at} gmail {dot} com.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wherein Emma Learns to Live Without Sleep

Ugh. Can we talk for a moment about what a terrible style blogger I've been lately? As of today, it will have been more than a week--a WEEK!--since my last style post. It's true, this blog is a mélange, it's not supposed to be about any one thing. But in the months since I've started it, there has been a definite focus on style on a budget. And food on a budget. And budgeting on a budget. I guess I'm kind of disproving my own point here. Regardless. I'm sad that I haven't been posting as much this week as I would have liked to.

shirt: thrifted
cami: Marshall's
shorts: New York & Company
shoes: Target
necklace: Forever 21

The simple fact is that honestly haven't been able to post that much this week. This post? This one you're reading right now? It was written in multiple sittings, most of them during my lunch break at work. See, I normally write posts in the morning, before I leave for work. But this month has been a whirlwind, and I'm behind on my freelance work, so mornings this week have been devoted to catching up.

So Emma, why don't you just post in the evenings? Ah, dear reader, if only it were that simple. No, my evenings have been taken up with training for my moonlighting gig as a waitress in a corporate restaurant. (Oh God, so many hours of training. I seriously could complete it alone in about three hours, but it's group-style, so we're looking at 20+ hours instead. Lovely.) BUT THAT'S NOT ALL.

Matt and I were supposed to move in to our new place on September 1st. Last week, the landlord mentioned that he wanted us to move in early to deter copper thieves (really!), so we agreed. On Sunday, he called and said we should pick up the keys on Monday. Guess how much we have packed/ready to move? Not. One. Damn. Thing.

So in the evenings (if I'm not sitting through hours of training) I'm packing, cleaning, painting, unpacking and generally losing it. And guess what I'll be doing this weekend? Bingo. Freelance writing, training, moving/cleaning/painting. Sounds exhilarating, no?

I'm sorry. This sounds so much more whiny (whinier?) than I meant for it to. I just feel like you guys deserve an explanation. I'd blog if I had the time! Which I may not for another week, depending on how everything goes. Anyone else want to guest post?

(Don't worry, Fiscal Fridays will persist tomorrow. I promise. The topic? Groceries. Thrilling, I know. Try to contain yourselves till then ;) You can start distracting yourself by entering my giveaway and taking this short, anonymous, 8-question survey about budgeting (to help me with next week's Fiscal Fridays post)!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Guest Post: Raych of Marriage by Design

Surprise! Matt and I are moving this week (and I'm facing a million other projects...) so here's a fun post from Raych of Marriage by Design. Raych is super sweet and her blog is a bit like has a little bit of everything. I'll be back tomorrow/Friday with some scheduled goodness, and will hopefully be able to catch up on comments and whatnot next week :) Enjoy!

Hi there! I'm Raych from Marriage by Design and I'm filling in for the lovely Emma as she moves to her new place! Today I'm going to give you a little tutorial for some simple hors d'oeuvres. I usually blog about home décor and fashion but every now and again I'll throw in a cooking post.

Let me preface this post by saying I am not a cook. I don't even really enjoy cooking very much. I do enjoy eating and since Husband can't cook, the responsibility falls on me. There has been more than one occasion where Husband will call and say "oh by the way, so and so from work is coming over to watch any given sporting event tonight." This is when these hors d'oeuvres come in handy.

First up is a really quick raspberry chipotle dip.

1 can black beans, rinsed
1 can or 1 frozen bag of corn, rinsed
1 block cream cheese
1 bottle roasted raspberry chipotle sauce
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

This is as easy as it gets, folks. Just layer cream cheese, chipotle sauce, beans, corn and cilantro onto a tray or dish and serve. (This plate is shaped like a parrot; its the only one I could find in my mother-in-law's kitchen.)

Here is a close up of the finished product. I usually serve this dip with tortilla chips or crackers.

This next hors d'oeuvre is my absolute favorite: asparagus roll-ups.

1 loaf of white bread
1 can or jar of asparagus spears, drained
1 tub of blue cheese crumbles
1 block of cream cheese, softened
1/4 stick of butter, melted (not pictured because I totally forgot)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Use a pizza cutter to cut the crusts off the slices of bread.

Mix the blue cheese with the cream cheese until smooth. I usually mix half the cheese at a time, it's a little easier than trying to do it all at once. Spread the cheese mixture on to the slices of bread. Place an asparagus spear on each slice and roll it up.

Once you have finished rolling up all the asparagus spears, melt the butter and brush it on top of each roll up.

Pop them in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Basically, until they are golden brown on the edges, like this:

Serve them warm. Hope these hors d'oeuvres help save the day if/when your husband brings unexpected guests over!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Giveaway: Print(s) from After Nine to Five

It's Monday, folks. And what better way to get rid of those Monday Blahs than an awesome giveaway? Ashley of After Nine to Five is relaunching her shop today, and it has a few sweet graphic subway art prints in addition to her stock of adorable jewelry. The prints are either custom-made to include words and/or dates of your choosing, or they have themes that would appeal to a wide range of people. Current themes in the shop include True Blood, outdoors, Office Space and Star Wars.

And the winner of this week's giveaway gets a choice: two non-custom prints, or a single custom print of your design!

To enter, all you have to do is visit Ashley's shop, pick out your favorite item and leave a comment here telling me what it is. And don't forget to leave your email so I can contact you if you win! (The last giveaway I hosted, the original winner didn't leave an email address, so I had to pick a new one :( So leave your email! If you're afraid of spambots, just write out the words "at" and "dot com" to protect yourself.)

Extra entries (make sure to leave a separate comment for each!):
1. Follow Verbal Mélange via RSS, Google Friend Connect or Bloglovin'.
2. Follow Ashley's blog, After Nine to Five, on any of the above outlets.
3. Follow me on Twitter.
4. Follow Ashley on Twitter.
5. Like Verbal Mélange on Facebook.

Giveaway will close this Friday, August 26 at 11:59 pm EST. Winner will be announced Monday morning!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fiscal Fridays: Making Choices

A big part of budgeting is making choices. Sometimes, those choices are obvious or easy (Oh, well, I guess I won't be blowing $120 on shoes this month). Other times, it comes down to the nitty-gritty, the things you really want that don't seem that bad because they're inexpensive. Like the bottle of wine I bought yesterday, because work was hellacious and it was Thursday and I still had $14 left for the week (sidenote: go me!).

In the long run, buying the wine wasn't that big of a deal. My favorite brand (Moscato D'Asti) is relatively inexpensive at about $14 a bottle. (In this case, I went a little cheaper because the store I was at didn't carry my brand.) I had a glass and felt much better about my stressful work day. Later last night, Matt and I went over to a friend's house to watch TV and generally just not be "that anti-social couple who only hangs out with each other and no one else." And on the way home, we stopped for another favorite treat of mine: McDonald's french fries dipped in ice cream.

Before you judge, let me just explain that it is the absolute perfect combination of salty and sweet, and crispy, and cold. It. Is. Fantastic. Don't knock it until you've tried it.

Anyway, I really, really enjoyed that treat. And it got me to comforted me as much as a glass of my favorite wine did, at about half the cost:
budgeting choices

So, as much as I looooove my moscato, I think I'm going to make a switch up to fast food. Because moscato is fizzy, you have to drink it all within a day or two of opening it, so I always end up buying more than I really "need." But McDonald's is single-serving, AND it's cheaper, so fiscally, it's a better option. (Maybe not for my thighs, but that's a whole other can of worms that I'm not even going to open.)

I hear you. You're thinking, Emma, it's just a few bucks here and there. How could that possibly matter? Well, when you're trying to get buy spending only $20 in frivolous things a week, every single dollar starts to look a whole lot bigger. My parents used to accuse me of "nickling and diming" myself to death. What they meant was, I fritter all my money away on little things, until I turn around and suddenly, nothing's left. I've done this my whole life, since I got my first job at 14, and it's a hard habit to break. But by making smarter choices, I can at least try to control the damage a bit better in the meantime.

And besides, this really isn't even just about the ice cream versus the wine. This is about making conscious choices about everything, every single day. Budgeting isn't easy; it's work. But the payoff is, if you'll pardon the pun, so sweet.

Have you had to make any annoying or inconvenient choices for the sake of your budget?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Recipe: Spaghetti Carbonara

Like many of the recipes I infrequently post here, this is an adaptation of a Rachael Ray dish. (Note to Rach: Maybe if your recipes didn't have eight billion ingredients, I wouldn't need to adapt every dang one of them. Just saying.) I've simplified it and adjusted it to my tastes, so there's definitely a lot of wiggle room for you guys to adapt freely as well!

This is one of my favorite lazy-night dishes because it takes about 20-30 minutes to make, it's super easy and it's sooooo delicious! No lie...for just being some spaghetti with stuff in it, this dish is absolutely awesome.

- small fistful of spaghetti (what you'd normally make for two people; a little less than an inch in diameter)
- salt
- extra virgin olive oil
- 4 slices bacon (I like to use applewood smoked), chopped into small pieces
- 2 or 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- red pepper flakes (to taste)
- 1/3 cup dry white wine or chicken stock
- 1 large egg yolk
- ladleful (less than 1/4 cup) boiling pasta water
- Parmesan cheese
- fresh parsley, chopped
- pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add a liberal (read: lots and lots) of salt. Add the pasta and cook it until it's just slightly underdone. I'm talking a hair below al dente. Should take about 7 or 8 minutes, according to Rach.

In the meantime, drizzle a little olive oil in the biggest skillet you have and cook the chopped bacon until it's nice and crispy. Add more oil, if needed, and add the garlic and red pepper flakes if using. Sauté for about 2 minutes, then add the wine/chicken stock and let it simmer until it reduces a bit.

Beat the egg yolk and while you're whisking it, add the boiling pasta water. This starchy water will actually cook the yolk a bit and make a nice binding sauce for the dish.

Drain the pasta, keeping some of the water reserved, and add it to the skillet (told you you'd need a big one) and remove from heat. Add the egg sauce, a heart sprinkle of Parmesan (no more than 1/4 cup, I'd say), some salt and pepper and the parsley. Toss until the pasta soaks up all that sauce (add a little more pasta water if the mixture gets too thick). Top with extra Parm, if you want, and serve immediately. Sit back and enjoy basking in the glow of your significan't other's praise at how awesome the food is.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lacy and late

The "lacy" is for this outfit, worn a week and a half ago. The "late" is for what I am today, because I just could. not. decide on an outfit. Don't you just hate those kind of mornings? Ugh.

I bought this shirt the other weekend when my mom and sisters and I all went shopping. We stopped at F21 and even though I completely blew my budget, dropping $20 on this top (hey, it was only $8, how could I pass that up??), a necklace and a bracelet, I comforted myself by realizing that my sister spent $100, so the situation could have been much worse for me. (Granted, I was insanely jealous that my sis had $100 to drop on new clothes, but she's always been a better budgeter than me. She deserves that one.)

top: Forever 21
cami: Old Navy
skirt: New York & Company
shoes: thrifted
necklace: F21?
bracelet: thrifted

In retrospect, I realize a few things about shooting this outfit. One: Post-work sun is not kind. It washes out all color and no matter how hard you try to fix it in Photoshop, it's simply beyond fixing. So now you can't see any of the pretty detailing in this lace top. Two: Going to the woods at the Park of Roses in three-inch heels to take photos is not a very good plan. I had so much mud on those babies... and Three: Pretending to look nonchalant in the woods while simultaneously trying to avoid the line of sight of the guys in the nearby parking lot is not as easy as it sounds. Or maybe it's exactly as easy as it sounds, which is not at all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Introducing...the kitty's name!

You ever have one of those mornings where you wake up exhausted, despite a full 9 hours' sleep, and you contemplate using a sick day except the magazine goes to the printer the day after tomorrow and it's nowhere near ready so you pretty much have to be at work so you drag yourself out of bed into the shower and some clean clothes take some groggy outfit photos and prepare to head out the door sans coffee because your doctor says you reallyshouldn'tdrinkthatstuffanymore--

{deep breath in}

No? Just me? Okay, here's a funny cat video compilation instead. It pretty much explains why we named our kitten Spazcat McGilicutty (Spazzy for short).

Now imagine those antics every evening and half of the night. I blame myself. I accidentally only bought toys with catnip in them. And apparently her scratch thing has catnip in it too. So she's pretty much constantly tweaked out. Sorry, Spazzy.

And for those of you who aren't cat people (what?!), here's my most recent mani:

I'm wearing Sand Tropez by Essie as my base color, with Blue Slushie by Opi for Sephora (the Glee line) and some neon orange that I've had for years and years.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday Blahs

We all know it: Mondays are just plain disappointing. After a weekend of being alternatively productive and lazy (Saturday I got tons of stuff done; Sunday I did nothing but watch TV and make a grocery list), I feel like Monday is just intruding on my not-quite-over-yet weekend. I'm officially campaigning for a four-day work week. Who's with me?!

Meh. I'm just grumpy because over the weekend I developed a cold. Who gets a cold in August? Seriously?

shirt: thrifted
jeans: Silver via Macy's
shoes: Target
bracelet/necklace: don't remember
earrings: Claire's?

These photos are from a few weeks ago that I just found floating in my "unposted outfits" folder. I have a confession: I love nautical influences. I think it's because the whole nautical thing is so heavy on horizontal stripes, and about half of my closet is horizontal stripes. Well, not really, but they do make up a disproportionate amount. They're just so classic, and so easy to remix. What's not to love?

Also, don't worry...I'm not going bald. My hair just likes to pretend I have bald spots sometimes. Hey, we all have our little hair quirks. It's not like I'm the only one, right? Right??

Friday, August 12, 2011

Introducing: Fiscal Fridays

Today I'm starting a new series of weekly posts based on the Financial Diet. I'm calling it "Fiscal Fridays." Each week, I share a tip or experience related to budgeting, saving and spending money. Enjoy!

Source: Dollar Bank via Wikimedia Commons

Today's topic: Saving Money.

Saving money has always been a priority of mine. Not a very high priority, mind you, but it's always been on the radar as one of those "I really should start..." (My top three ways to finish that sentence? "Saving money," "working out again" and "cleaning the apartment more frequently.") Anyway, I've always meant to start doing it, after I got my credit card debt paid down. Because that's more important, right?

Wrong. So, so wrong.

I know it seems counterintuitive. Why should I start saving money, when I'm wasting all this cash each month on finance charges for my maxed-out credit cards? Shouldn't I focus on getting them under control?

Well, yes and no. The short-answer reasoning behind this is that you always, always want a stockpile of cash saved up. In case your clutch goes out (ahem) or, worse, you have an unexpected medical emergency or even lose your job. Conventional wisdom says that you should have at least three months' salary saved up in a "rainy day" fund at all times. While that might be difficult to achieve, I think that it's absolutely necessary to have, and that should be your main financial focus until you get it.

Since I don't have enough extra money after all my bills are paid to do some serious saving, I've decided to pick up another job waitressing. Football season is coming up, and for those of you who aren't familiar with Columbus' football scene, well...we're kind of fanatics. The sports bar where I'm working is going to get a ton of business, and I'm confident if I save every penny of my paycheck and tips during football season, I can get a good savings stockpile started. It won't be the equivalent of three months' pay at my real job, but it will be a good base. From there, I can work on saving just a little bit more each month until I reach my goal.

While I'm saving the money from that job, I'll continue to make higher-than-minimum payments on my two major (and high-interest; we're talking 18% and 24%!) credit cards, in an attempt to wrangle them down. But for the next few months, my focus will be on save, save, save.

The nice thing about getting this part-time waitressing gig will be that I'll still be able to spend $20-$30 a week on frivolous things like clothes, booze and dining out. I truly believe that it's vital to work just a little bit of petty cash into every budget, just so you have a little freedom and are less tempted to blow your budget entirely.

What about you? Any tips or ideas for helping to save money?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

New York City recap

Well, it was such a whirlwind weekend that I don't want to bore you with all the details. But I had so much, fun, I'm going to bore you with quite a few of them :)

We took the train there and back, as well as to get from NYC to the cute little town in Jersey where we were staying with my aunt. And let me tell you...trains are cool, but there are some characters who ride them. On our trip out (we went from Elyria, Ohio to Pittsburgh, then on to New Jersey), our train was two hours late to the station in Elyria. Which was fine, except the (unstaffed) station was nothing more than a remodeled double-wide trailer...where a homeless man was sleeping. A bit nerve-wracking, especially in that part of town. But we were on our way without any major incident.

Then, while we were waiting for our train in Pitts, a woman comes over to where Matt is sitting (I had stood to stretch my legs) and plops down in my seat! She kept saying she needed to sit, and we kept trying to make her choose any of the dozens of other seats that weren't surrounded by our luggage. So she stands up, only to sit on my suitcase! And starts talking about how she's been throwing up all morning. I secure a bottle of water and a trash can for her, then we start to gather our luggage to move to a different seat. When I put my hand on my suitcase, she reaches out for it, claiming it was hers! I showed her it was mine (thank God for luggage tags) and she bursts into tears--she doesn't know where hers is. (Someone else in the station pointed it out to me. It was three feet away from her.) Our train boarded then, so we left Crazy Lady in the hands of station employees.

There was another woman on the transit from the city to Jersey, who didn't get the hint that she was being intrusive in her conversation with Matt and I. She went so far as to ask how many black people and gays/lesbians live in Columbus, and to ask whether it was "safe" to talk to black people, because in Philly (her home for the summer), she didn't talk to black people. What?!?! I hardly knew what to say. Who does that?

Matt and I in Times Square.

North view from the Empire State Building, with some of my faves pointed out.

Crazy train adventures aside, it was a lovely weekend. My aunt and uncle were wonderful hosts, and the city was so incredible. The first day, we stayed mostly in Midtown. Explored the Empire State Building, walked up and down 5th Ave (didn't get to do too much window shopping, but Matt let me drool in front of the Cartier store for a bit), saw St. Patrick's Cathedral, Times Square, the Museum of Modern Art and the Rockefeller Center. We also entered the lottery for tickets to The Book of Mormon, but we didn't win. We walked 10 miles if we walked two feet, and I wore the worst shoes. (But hey, at least I looked cute...even if I physically couldn't walk at the end of the day, haha.)

Starry Night at MoMA

A Jackson Pollock at MoMa

Saturday, armed with better footwear, we tackled downtown. Hung out on Canal Street in Chinatown (scored a sweet bag and some perfume!), rode the Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty, checked out Battery Park, saw the World Trade Center Site, and mastered (not really) the subway. We headed back uptown to enter the lottery again, which we lost again, but we got a nice dinner in Times Square. The waiter even brought us free dessert! It pays to chat up and be friendly to your waiter :)

On the pedicab

Sunday, we tried to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I wanted to get into the Alexander McQueen (swoon) exhibit, but the line just to get into the museum was about two hours long (!!!) and we only had four hours until our train left. So we passed. I was really disappointed, so do you know what Matt said? "Do you want to go back to Madison Ave and look at that shoe store we passed?" He was referring to the Christian Louboutin store that I almost jumped out of the car for. Yeah, he's pretty much the best boyfriend ever. So we went down Madison and I left a nice noseprint on the window of the store. Gross, I know, but I was dying. Those shoes! Oh God.

The Christian Louboutin store. I die.

We walked through Central Park after that for a bit (not nearly long enough to do it justice, unfortunately), then headed down to the biggest Macy's in the world to get Matt some clothes for the job interview he had Monday morning. Macy's on 34th there anything quite like it?

So that's the fast and un-detailed version. Or at least, the fewer-detailed version. I have a few Flickr sets here if you want to see more photos. I took even more than what's in the albums, but you don't really need to see every single piece in MoMA, do you? Ha.

Phew, that was long. If you read it to the end, thanks! If not...hey, I understand ;)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I'm baaaaaack!

Well, sort of. I'm having a really hard time catching up on everything that is my life this week. Work is a madhouse (well, only for me), I'm way behind on my freelance work, and the blog...well, let's just say I didn't really prepare anything--ANYTHING--to be ready when I return. Oh well.

It doesn't help that I spent Monday, the day I had set aside for rest and recuperating, running errands and whatnot. But the good news is that one of those errands was picking up my car from the garage. It's fixed! And it didn't cost me an arm or a leg or my firstborn child. That's always good.

But I'm still so exhausted, as I've spent the last week averaging 6 hours or less of sleep per night. Last night, I fell asleep at 8:30 with my laptop on my stomach, trying to play catch-up with the freelance job. How sad.

So today, I'm going to just post an outfit and some teasers for the week or two ahead. Kay? Kay.

pink short-sleeve oxford and shorts: New York & Company
gray tee: Old Navy
necklace: The Limited

So in the next week and a half, I will:
- upload my NYC pics to Flickr for your entertainment and write a little post about the trip itself, which was hectic, crazy and wonderful
- reveal the kitty's name, along with a video that demonstrates why it's so perfect
- reveal a new givewaway

Sounds pretty do-able. The uploading photos is going to take the longest...there are more than 200 of them, and I have to just weed through to find the best. Ick.

What are your plans for the next few weeks?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Guest Post (Again)!

Only this time, I'm the guest blogger! Head over to Maggie Rose to find out how to make this delicious Asian-Hawaiian dish from my childhood. (No, we're not Asian or Hawaiian. It's just an easy meal so my mom made it a lot, haha.)

We will return to your regularly scheduled Verbal Melange randomness tomorrow :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Guest Post: Loren of Halcyon Days

And now, the final guest blogger for my little vaca! I'm technically home today, but our train came in (or, should have come in, as I'm writing this a week in advance) around 5 am, so I'm likely dead asleep right now. Or unpacking. Either way, I'm in no place to blog, so Loren of Halcyon Days is filling in. Her style is so unique and fun, and this girl has some mad Photoshop skills. So that's what she's here to talk about!

Hello Verbal Mélange readers. This is not Emma because she is on vacation, probably doing something awesome. I’m Loren from over at Halcyon Days. When Emma asked for some guest posts and I gladly volunteered because she is super cute and I adore her blog. I wanted to put together a quick Photoshop tutorial, because while I am a beginner chef and photographer, I am sometimes paid money to work with Photoshop. I majored in Computer Graphics in college and now work as a Multimedia Programmer. I’ve seen a couple blogger ladies lately lamenting their lack of Photoshop skillz so I thought I would run through a couple basics. (If you don’t have access to Photoshop you can use GIMP, it’s open source, free, and does 95% of the things Photoshop can do, although I will not be providing screen shots for it.)

First: Any time you edit a photo you’ll want to make a duplicate layer before you start editing (just in case something dumb happens). You can right-click and select ‘Duplicate Layer’ but I like to drag my layer and drop it onto the ‘New Layer’ button because that names it for me.

For Very Basic Color Corrections
Photoshop has a handy dandy “Image > Auto Contrast”, “Image > Auto Tone” and “Image > Auto Color”. Depending on your photo these can work really well. The “Auto Contrast” basically adjusts your photo so that the darkest color is pure black, and the lightest to pure white. (So not always 100% effect it’s super simple and easy for photos that are only slightly off.)

Better contrast/brightness correction
For slightly better correction and control over levels in your images use the Image > Adjustments > Levels Window.

The graph here shows the Image Histogram, which represents and how the luminosity in your photo are spaced. (This photo has a lot of midtones and darker colors, fewer lighter ones.) It shows you two sliders for the “Input Levels” and the “Output Levels”. You can set these numbers or use the sliders. The top sliders set the input luminosity in your photo. The rightmost slider will now become white and the left controls the black. The middle slider will adjust where the 50% mark lies and can be used to adjust the overall lightness/darkness of the photo. Normally these are set at 0, 1, and 255 but I’ve changed them to make the photo appear as below. The bottom Output Levels will set the new output darkest and lightest color. You generally won’t need to change this but it set the reset the darkest color to black and the brightest to white. You can adjust the levels of each color separately from the Channel drop down menu, which can help you create some cool vintage effects.

The Most Delicate Alterations
The most complicated (and best levels) can be set with the Image > Adjustments > Curves.

The graph in this window shows the same as the histogram as the levels window. If you click the diagonal line you can add a point that can be moved to change the output levels. The Channel drop down works the same as well, and each separate color has its own curves. This menu gives you much more control over the output/input levels than the Levels window. I wish there were a foolproof method to editing the curves but the best way to learn to edit these is through experience. The “Preset” drop down will show you a couple different types of curves that you can edit to fix your photos. Here are the final curves from my example image. Very small changes in this window can make a big difference.

For both windows if you have something perfectly black and/or perfect white in your photo you can use the eyedropper tools to set everything. This is an easy way to white balance a photo when possible. (Because I never remember to white balance my camera.)

Once you have altered the curves or levels you can’t edit them. An easy way to edit multiple photos the same way is to use the “Actions” window to record your selections and use those actions on your other photos.

I hope this has been helpful. I know that I just tried to pack in a whole bunch of information into a short 700-word post. I’ll try to hang in the comments to clarify anything that was confusing. Emma is, I’m sure, having fun and will be back soon for your regularly scheduled Verbal Mélange posts!