Monday, January 9, 2017

Making College the Best for You

I'm clearly not on the same page as everyone else!

I'm still fresh off the heels of graduating college and am still in the transition period between graduate and adult—or so I feel I am. While I am certainly very much just kicking off a wonderful, lengthy life with many years to go, college will go down as some of the best four. I will never regret the decision I made to attend a four year college despite the fact that I will be paying for it for the foreseeable future.

While the education was quite pricey, the experiences that I had outside of the classroom were priceless and made the time so much better. I was blessed with amazing people and got to fall in love with the amazing city that is Pittsburgh. Side note: peek this HarpersBazaar article listing PGH as one of the top 10 places to visit in 2017!

If I were to give some kind of advice to those just entering college (like the old wise person I am!) it would be, simply put, to go to class and also go places outside of class. In more specific terms:

Take advantage of what your school offers. Pitt was wonderful place to explore. Our student IDs could be used on public transportation throughout the Pittsburgh area. Anytime we needed or wanted to get to a different neighborhood or spend a day downtown, there was nothing keeping us from doing so. Our IDs also granted us access at most of the museums around the city. Let me tell you, it didn't suck to spend a rainy day wandering around the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, which was right across the street from our campus.

Benefit from the free stuff on campus. I loved the plethora of free stuff that was available around campus throughout the year. On campus concerts, wellness classes and events, and alumni events were frequently on the calendar to ensure that we were never totally bored. I was also a huge fan of Pitt Arts, which provided the opportunity for students to attend film screenings and performances by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Ballet, and the Opera with discussion and food included. I may or may not have appreciated the fabulous desserts and rich conversation at the Orchestra (and the beautiful architecture at Heinz Hall!)

Stay on top of your mental and physical health. Another benefit that I was very much grateful for was the 24-hour fitness centers around campus. Each residence hall included a private gym just for those students living in that particular hall. There were all two other fitness centers in the basketball arena and in the student union if you had time to set aside to sweat between classes! Mental health is also important. "Walk away" was a frequent text from my mom late at night when I was clearly burning out from information/work overload. Warning: those moments can be frequent in college; learn to identify the stress early and learn how to best handle it. I would close my laptop and devote at least one night during the weekend totally to my friends and good times. Maybe hit up karaoke night?

Make some money. Of course you can't commit yourself to working too many hours when you're already devoting so many to your studies; however, you can definitely fit in 10-12 hours a week to make some money for groceries! I got a job my junior year when I went off the campus meal plan since we had a kitchen in our apartment-style dorm. I was able to support my appetite (an accomplishment) and start squirreling away some cash for senior year when we would be moving totally off-campus. Additional financial tip: shop for things only as you need them. You may find yourself in the store more than once a week, but if you know what you need and you stick to that list it should be no problem.

Plan ahead. Understanding how you are going to pay for your education before you get into it is important. You need to know before you get started where you are getting your money from. I familiarized myself with the repayment packages before graduated so that I could prioritize my spending. I went strictly federal on my loans—I feel like pursuing other private loans might have stressed me out a bit more. There are also many services out there, like Earnest, that give you the opportunity to refinance and rework your loans to fit a model that you are more comfortable paying off and possibly paying off faster. And that's the goal isn't it? To pay it all off as fast as possible.

<3 Ashley

What are your college survival tips? Or if you're going to be attending, what are your concerns?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Holiday Sweets

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The holidays are over, but there are still some aspects that linger. Example: the bags of cookies, containers of fudge, and my brother's birthday cake. I imagine that my blood sugar is so far past the roof at this point. Tell me I'm not the only one with this struggle. We all want to start the year off right and get those veggies and treadmill miles logged, but how can we do that we the temptations of the season still hanging around?

My solution? Shove it off on others. I've been harping on my family to help themselves and even offered to bring along bags of sweets to meet-ups with friends (they said no because "2017 is the year I take control") THIS IS NO TIME FOR DISCIPLINE!

I truly do not feel I can commit myself to my new year health kick until the sweets have left my fridge. Plus, half of the cookies and all of the fudge were made by me—and there is no way I am throwing out all of my hard work. I will hit the pavement running again and will certainly work on making healthy meals (with the new cookbooks I got for Christmas!) but I will still be snacking and working on getting those holiday sweets outta here!

<3 Ashley

Are you still being haunted by the ghost of Christmas sweets?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

On A New Year

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Hello, and welcome to 2017! 

I for one am incredibly excited to see the turnover in years and celebrated accordingly; my friends and I traveled to NYC to attend a very fun and fabulous Great Gatsby party. You better believe that I went full flapper in my outfit.

The final 10-second countdown to midnight at the party was so full of excitement and relief. I think that we can all agree that overall 2016 has been the not-so-good, very bad year. This year has been marked with international conflict, personal issues (myself included), and far too many Hollywood deaths for a girl to handle. Seriously, who will entertain me now?

While I certainly will not look back at this past year fondly, I will remember everything it taught me. It taught me to be strong in the face of incredibly difficult moments; it taught me how to lean on my friends when I need to; and it taught me how friends come and many times they go. This has certainly been a year that has forced me to grow up in a lot of ways.

I do not know what 2017 will hold for me—hopefully a full time job? But I do have just a few small things that I would like to get out of this year:
  • I want to read a lot more. Much of my attention in 2016, especially the second half, was on the computer screen. I received a number of fantastic reads for Christmas that I would love to devote my free time to this year.
  • Organize my thoughts and my life better. 2016 was a very forgetful year for me. I frequently found myself in a panic trying to get things done that really should have been done maybe a week earlier. I will see you daily, agenda.
  • Multi-task less. Let's face it. We all claim to be great multi-taskers, but at what point can we admit that the products of this multi-tasking are not as great as if we had focused all of our attention on them. I aim to focus my time better so that I am able to do my absolute best.
  • Take a breath and think before I speak. Maybe it was just the climate of this last election, but 2016 saw me spouting off at the mouth frequently without much thought or consideration.
Let's see if I can actually stick to this plan and make at least two of these hopes reality.

<3 Ashley

What are some of things you want to accomplish in 2017? 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Christmas Cookies

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In recent years, my favorite holiday activity has not been searching for gift ideas or even opening gifts on Christmas Day; it's been baking Christmas cookies. When I was back in Pittsburgh for school, we would pick a night in December before winter recess and get together with my roommate's mother for a cookie baking marathon. I'm talking the oven staying on for at least 5-6 hours and baking 11 varieties of cookie kind of marathon. All done while holiday music or a movie played in the background.

I plan on keeping this new tradition going this year. I'm beginning the search now for recipes to bake with my mother this year for a new batch of Christmas cookies. My plan is to bake a few varieties and put together some bags as stocking stuffers for the family and maybe even set aside some to take to Christmas dinner...if they can make it that far. :P

My favorite Christmas cookies are those that have peppermint in them. Last year, we made chocolate peppermint cookies that were absolutely to die for! Here are a few cookies that I have loved in the past and look forward to making again this year:

<3 Ashley

What are your favorite types of Christmas cookies?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Holiday Checklist

The holiday season is busy—there's no denying it. It's easy to let our to-do list get away from us and all of a sudden Christmas Eve is upon us and we have so much to do and so little time. I'm trying desperately to keep it together this year and not get frazzled at the last minute. 

I am someone who creates list to keep herself in check. Heck, I think I once put "make grocery list" as a bullet on a to-do list. Can you tell what kind of person I am yet? So lists will also be the crux of my holiday planning and execution. From the gift budget, people's wish lists, Christmas card lists, and recipe lists my holiday is looking like an organized one.

But I don't stop at just one list. No, that would be the human thing to do. I have lists in my phone, on my computer, on a pad of paper, on index cards in my bag, and in my planner. It may be a bit overboard; but you gets the job done. My Christmas cards went out in the mail today to everyone on the list. No stragglers. No one to remember later. I got them all!

Next stop is the shopping. This year's shopping list is actually fantastic because I know EXACTLY what I'm getting everyone. I know where am going for these items too. How did I become this beta version of the person I was last year??

<3 Ashley

How do you stay on your game during the holidays?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Take the Pledge: Shop Small

After a day filled with family, friends, football, and shameless carbo-loading we all tend toward the tradition that is Black Friday. I have gone out late with friends in the past few years to get a few small gifts and experience (for some reason) the rush of super early morning shopping. However, I have to say that I don't get the excitement. 

One day that has gotten me excited in recent years is Small Business Saturday. I am a massive fangirl of my hometown of Carlisle, PA and love to walk the streets and slip into the Revolution/Civil War-era buildings that boast some of the cutest businesses around. There are several stores that I practically live at when I venture downtown:
  • Miss Ruth's Time Bomb: Every time I step through the doors of Miss Ruth's I make a beeline to the back end of the store which boasts a large assortment of vintage clothing—I've seen some straight up 1930s garb! I have never gone in and not tried anything on before I've left. You can also get your fix of vintage hats, shoes, and dining wares!
  • The Clothes Vine: This is where I go to dream. It is a bit pricier than the Time Bomb, but the clothing is just so beautiful and you can tell that they've curated some quality product. The style here is very eclectic, which I love. 
  • Marjorie's Gems: I only just recently discovered this wonderful little store on one of the last First Friday outings of the summer. I don't typically shop jewelry, mostly because I don't wear it very often. But Marjorie's carries some of the most interesting pieces I have come across—and they're so well priced! Their $5 wall is a place I like to call home.
Small businesses really are our economy's backbone. Did you know that they make up about 54% of all sales in the U.S.? Yes, we love our super stores and larger chains for the ease and convenience they provided, but can we truly speak to the quality of some of these items. I always struggle with clothing from larger stores because you can tell from just the touch: this is not going to last. Small business provide care and quality. Sometimes the price tag might read higher, but you get what you pay for after all. Each of the businesses I've detailed in this post and even more that I haven't truly care about the products and services they provide their customers. Every time I walk into the Castlerigg Wine Shop on Carlisle's main street, the owner engages me instantly and ensures that I know where the wines come from (shoutout to the wineries we apparently have in Pennsylvania) and what is particularly popular. 

These businesses are important in our economy, yes, but also in our culture. They know us. They connect with us in ways that larger brands cannot achieve.

Fundera, a company aimed at helping small businesses on the financial end, is campaigning this year to bring out even more customers. This is certainly a movement that hits close to home and one that I can get behind. I pledge to continue to support local business and shop small on November 26. Will you?

<3 Ashley

So what do you say? Shop small with me this weekend? What local businesses do you love?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Thanksgiving Prep

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Get ready, folks. Thanksgiving is upon us and it is time to check that grocery list and check it twice to ensure that you have everything you need—no one wants to spend the last minute in the grocery store. We are hosting the meal this year and I am taking charge of the turkey, stuffing, and the best pumpkin pie (ever). I am the kind of person who likes to have her ducks all in a row ahead of time so as to lessen the chance of something going wrong. I mean something can always go wrong...I just like to make it less likely. :)

Here are a few of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes and hosting tips to help take some of the stress off of you on Turkey Day:

  • The Best Way to A Roast Bird: There's a lot of debate about turkey prep and I know I won't be following this to a T. However, there are a lot of great tips in this post and the author wrote with such confidence that I can't help but put a lot of trust in it.
  • Hosting Checklist: The Food Network has provided a handy little graphic detailing how far ahead you should start your meal prep—from defrosting the turkey to cheating and making side dishes a day in advanced.
  • Cranberry Sauced-Up: I know a lot of people aren't the biggest fans of cranberry sauce. I don't understand these people, but I acknowledge they exist. Perhaps in lieu of the sauce, go a different route and serve up some pre-dinner cranberry cocktails, like these Cranberry Moscow Mules! Or if you want to be friendly to all ages, try this slow cooker cranberry apple cider.
  • Additionally, after watching a few episodes of Rachel Ray leading up to the holiday, I understand that she suggests going into the kitchen armed with a glass of wine. Depending on what your Thanksgiving Day schedule is this may be of some use to you. We are eating early and I'm not sure how much grandma will approve of me uncorking a bottle at 10 a.m.
I hope that you find success in your holiday hosting duties. Be sure to reward yourself for the good work by hitting up the stores for Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. Maybe even take part in Cyber Monday? 

<3 Ashley

What are your best Thanksgiving tips and recipes?