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Friday, August 21, 2015

Happy Birthday! Up-cycled Gifts & Heirlooms

We didn't buy our daughter anything for her birthday, and here's why. 

My daughter's second birthday is coming up, and in just over one week we will be celebrating. I'm looking forward to her celebration and I'm sure she'll have a great time, especially since we will have a beach and play equipment nearby. After Audrey's first birthday party last year, I remembered packing the car with her gifts and thinking to myself that we really didn't need to get her anything. Why should we bother in the future? Instead of purchasing gifts, this year I did a few things that will change the course of our family's gift receiving while keeping a precious item in working order for generations to come. 

My grandfather made me a beautiful kitchenette set when I was a little girl. It's complete with 4 cabinets and an area for the stove. My parents held onto it for me, and it made its way into our house last spring. It's been one of Audrey's favorite toys in the past few months, but it needed some things.
  • The kitchenette was initially white, but there were parts that were stained yellow and it lost its brightness.
  • Two doors were falling off, and one was completely off.
I up-cycled my old kitchenette to give to Audrey, and now the maintenance is complete and I'm ready to add decor the kitchenette didn't have previously, although I don't have a design at the moment.
  • I sandpapered the entire piece, 
  • I cleaned the hinges,
  • I re-attached the doors,
  • I re-painted with three coats of white paint to get rid of stains, pen marks, pencil, and marker. 
I also chose to grab one of our green tables from storage and paint that white so the kitchenette has a matching table, and I can now move her plastic table to the basement for when I do laundry. 

The other decision I made--not necessarily for Audrey's birthday but more for the future--is to take my old American Girl doll and Bitty Baby doll to the Doll Doctor at American Girl. I'm unsure of how much "surgery" the babies will need, but it could cost me up to $40, which is not bad considering buying her one brand new American Girl doll would cost at least $115, and giving her my refurbished doll will be both resourceful and sentimental in addition to cost-effective. 

Furthermore, now our families will know what sort of gifts Audrey (and maybe baby number two) will want. These dolls can be our main toys, minimizing the amount of excess toys they are bound to have. Instead of buying several small, less expensive dolls, there will always be Bitty Baby and American Girl.

In total, Audrey's second birthday present cost us $8, but it's likely to be an exciting surprise for her. I'm not sure if she'll notice the changes that were made unless I do an awesome job decorating, but I know she has missed the kitchenette and will be ecstatic once it's back in her bedroom where it belongs.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Roll With the Punches

I am currently 13 weeks pregnant. My last pregnancy I had morning sickness, but I remember being able to function at work and simply being happy that I was pregnant. This pregnancy was also planned, but I sadly don’t feel as excited as before, and here’s why. 

I have been having extreme morning sickness. To put it simply, I am sick all the time and because of my sickness have lost weight and have an abundance of migraines. My midwife gave me the option of two different medications, and I was written a prescription for one of them. The other medication I wasn’t completely sold on because there’s controversy over the side effects. When I went to pick up my prescription, the pharmacist told me that it would cost me—after insurance—over $400.00. I was speechless. Upset, I told him, “No thanks, I’ll suffer.” I left and cried in my car. (I later learned that there was actually a mistake, and the prescription would have been $700.00.) 

I decided not to let my inability to get an affordable prescription ruin my pregnancy experience and livelihood, so I got proactive. I made an appointment with an acupuncturist, I’ve been seeing my chiropractor, and I’ve been making myself exercise again. The nurse at the clinic told me some safe over the counter medications I can take that will help, as well. (All alternative remedies together are less than that prescription, and not all are covered by my insurance.) 

This past week has been an improvement, and I think it's actually because I forced myself to exercise in an air conditioned environment. I tried exercising earlier in my pregnancy but it made me sick, and I recently realized that the heat and humidity of our Wisconsin summer could be contributing to me getting sick.

While I don’t feel like myself, I’m generally feeling better, and it’s not because my morning sickness is over or cured. It's actually because I’ve come to accept the fact that I might not ever feel wonderful during this pregnancy. I am grateful to have had an experience with minimal migraines and manageable morning sickness in the past, but as a mother and birth doula I'm well aware that each pregnancy is different, and each birthing experience is different, so until this baby is born I will roll with the punches.  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Natural Beauty

One positive change impacting the productivity of my life is how I get ready in the morning. I have paired down my beauty products to those I view as necessities for a fresh and natural look. I’d like to mention that for special events, or simply when I feel like dressing up, I often add a little more to my look.

What’s changed since the last post? 

I announced my pregnancy with a fun graphic I made! My husband and I were glad to have received so many positive compliments, and we’re looking forward to what the future holds! I’ve been incredibly sick and as a result haven’t posted lately or done much of anything. Beauty-wise I decided to try a hint of gray in my hair. It’s a trend I couldn’t pass experimenting with, and I’m glad I did it! It's so fun.

My streak of gray started blue.
Baby #2 Announcement

Back to my naturally inspired beauty routine.

My typical daytime look from April, 2015.
This is what I use every day.


When showering, I use Aveda shampoo and conditioner but often switch what exact shampoo I use. I put my hair up in a towel for a little while, comb it out, and use a dab of Moroccan Oil for slight styling and sleek shine. I’ve been using Moroccan Oil since March, and from March to present my hair has become much softer and looks healthier. It was a good switch from the styling mousse I used to use. Although I miss the tighter curls mousse would hold, Moroccan Oil has proved to be better for my hair. I typically don’t use hairspray although I own some for when I’m styling my hair for a special event, going out, or Wisconsin’s dreadful winters.


I have rosacea and very dry skin, and with years of testing the only affordable moisturizer I know that works wonders on my face is Aveeno. I always—every day—put Aveeno on my face before anything else. After my moisturizer has dried, I use a little bit of CC cream and a small amount of translucent loose powder. I remember as a teen in the early 2000s caking on cover-up. I’m glad I have and am aware of more options today!


On a normal day I don’t typically apply eye shadow, and if I do I use earth tone colors. I like using the lightest earth tones on my brow bone, and I typically wear a honey or darker chestnut color in the far corners of my eyes to widen their appearance. For eyeliner, I use a combination of black and brown depending on my mood. If I put the eyeliner on my waterline, I like doing so towards the outside of my eyes to, again, widen their appearance. For mascara I have a favorite kind from the NYC brand, and I use MichellePhan’s application techniques for best results.


I don’t have to do much to take care of my eyebrows, and for that I’m thankful. I will get them waxed every once in a while, and I started filling them in very lightly with brown eyeliner. When I mean light, I meant light, and I know many makeup gurus would recommend using a brow pencil rather than an eyeliner pencil, but frankly for me it doesn’t seem to matter.

That's It!

That’s my entire routine! As previously mentioned, I am sure to spend more time getting ready if I have a special event, but my beauty routine has been shortened due to a combination of getting better at doing my makeup with time and having a list of other obligations. After my shower, it typically takes me 5 minutes to get ready or 15 minutes with different hair styling.

More Fun Info:

  • Michelle Phan has been my best makeup application teacher since I started following her in 2008.
  • I was inspired to simplify my beauty routine by a number of bloggers. Many of these bloggers have gone no-poo (without shampoo.) Although I support their efforts, I’m not interested in going without shampoo.
  • Chriselle Lim is a great stylist I enjoy following. She recently started blogging more about motherhood and maternity in the realm of style.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Traveling to New York City: Serving & Reflection

In April of 2015 I had the opportunity to co-organize a trip to New York City, and the majority of the time was spent in servitude towards others. The last few days of our trip my husband and I had the chance to do some sightseeing after our work was finished, and that was amazing. We also met up with some old friends who now live on the East Coast, so it was a good way to end an exhausting and humbling week of hard work. I didn’t write a post back in April when we went on the trip because life happened and my post slipped through the cracks, but I'm glad to have had the time to reflect on my experiences and pick the most memorable.
I'll start with a late reflection of my first work day. Location: Broadway Presbyterian Church. This church, located in Manhattan, has both a soup kitchen and walk-in clinic available for all to use. There are nurses and doctors who donate their time to be there. It was a wet and rainy morning when we arrived at our location, so we dried ourselves off when we entered the building to start our shifts. Meanwhile, there was a line of people forming in the rain outside. I was pleased when the director, a man who had used the church’s services in the past, decided to open the doors early for the folks waiting in the pouring rain.

One belief at Broadway Presbyterian is that their guests (or clients as some organizations prefer) should be served their meals rather than coming forward to the servers in order to eat. When the doors opened and we were put to work, I was working quickly and tirelessly. Out of habit I started calling people “sir” and “ma’am.” One man--whose face I will never forget--stopped me and said, “Thank you. Thank you for being so polite.” He said this as if he has never received that kind of respect before. Afterwards, he asked me to start serving the other members of his table before him.

That situation made me think about how sometimes, when people are homeless or less fortunate than we are, we might not remember them as being our equal. For that man it was a very big deal for someone to look him in the eyes and address him with respect. It was an emotional moment for him, and I could tell by his body language and shy smile.

I’ll also remember him because after all the people were served, the servers had the opportunity to sit down and eat our meal, and he was one of the first people to approach our table. He said something to the effect of, “Thank you for serving us today. I know we can be rowdy!” He wasn’t kidding. Towards the end of lunch, some guests were becoming aggressive, requesting seconds which weren’t allowed, stealing food in tupperware containers, and picking fights with one another. It was difficult to be a server, and it was difficult to stay composed. It was difficult not to wonder why they were being so demanding when what they were being given was free, after all.

The man who thanked me earlier stopped at our table and inadvertently reminded me that there are people who are grateful, and it takes more than giving someone free food to change their life. Change is an ongoing process for many people and our servitude is a small but important part of that change. We should be sure to place our emphasis on internal change, and remember the faces of the people we serve. When I feel compelled to stop helping others because of another person’s ungratefulness, I try to remember the one person who cared, or the one person who thanked me, because one person can make a difference.

"Change" was my word of the month. April was when I committed to changing my lifestyle. My husband and I managed to pack one small carry-on rolling bag and one backpack with all our items. When we met up with other people from our group, they were very surprised to find that we were both able to pack a week's worth of clothes and supplies for the mission trip within two small bags. I was at first, too. I had two pair of jeans and 3 shirts that I rotated throughout the week. Having a washer and dryer in the building helped make that possible. I had also decided to cut down on the amount of makeup I wore, so it was a good week for that change, too.

We did some awesome sightseeing as well. I can't begin to list all the places we saw, and I'm confident in saying that we walked and used the metro so often that by the end of our trip it felt as though we lived there. We knew where to go for groceries, how to navigate, and the food truck owner's name. (He tried getting us to expand his truck to Milwaukee and work with him. His gyros were the best EVER.)

Although sightseeing was fun, it wasn't our main reason for going to New York. Going to New York to be in service was a humbling experience. We went on this trip after Lent and Easter, and I was going through a personal transformation, so those aspects made the trip even more successful for internal change. I'm glad we had the opportunity to go!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Thrift Haul & Resale Adventures

Lifestyle changes are always an adventure, and I’m thoroughly enjoying my journey to minimalism, although it’s not always easy. Even though our home has less clutter, we still face decisions of what to purchase and how much money to spend. I donate most of what we don’t need to charity, but I’m becoming savvy when it comes to selling used items and upcycling things to be sold. Here are some examples of what I have done recently and in the not-so-distant past.
My favorite purchase this spring has been a second-hand double bicycle trailer. Normally these trailers sell for hundreds of dollars brand-new, but I went on a Facebook buy/sell site and bought ours for $25.00. It works wonderfully, and we didn’t need a brand new one, especially because we will only be using it for a few years. The previous owner bought it at a garage sale, and it's still in good shape. The cycle will continue! My husband and I love riding our bikes, and now we share that hobby with our daughter who is currently obsessed with going for bicycle rides to the park.
Last week I opened an account at a consignment shop, and I have a few items I will be selling. These are items I’ve never used and don’t anticipate using with our next child. One of them was recalled, but the company agreed to send me replacement parts to fix what made the item recalled. Now I’m able to sell it after a quick and easy maintenance session, and the resale value is exceptionally high. The same week I also sold a box of one dozen wine glasses, but I didn’t sell them for much at all. It made the purchaser happy, and I would have donated them anyway. Really, I just wanted them out of my house as soon as possible, and now my other wine glasses have room to live.
A few years ago my mom upcycled her wedding dress for me, and it was beautiful. All she did was take off the sleeves (which were gorgeous but I was married 4th of July weekend) and I wore a larger hoop under my dress because my mom is taller than me. It had beautiful beading, and she had the dress professionally cleaned and previously preserved for me in case I wanted to wear it. (Awesome!) She bought the dress secondhand in the first place. I hope this dress’ cycle will continue in one way or another.
When my husband and I first moved to our city I was cloth diapering our newborn, and we had an abundance of furniture. Rather than selling it or donating one of our end tables, I offered to exchange it for cloth diapers. If you know anything about cloth diapering, you know that stuff is expensive, and buying used isn't always cheap! It was a great exchange for us. I was able to exclusively cloth diaper for the first three months of her life, but as life became busier I chose to diaper her in 7th Generation diapers, which both my husband and I like the best because there’s virtually no odor.
I'm getting better at buying and selling used things, especially in this city. From my experiences I’ve concluded that people--often times moms--are very thrifty here. When chatting with other moms at the library or YMCA, I’ll rarely hear a mom give advice to one of her friends by saying, “Pick up X at Target.” Instead, the talk of the town seems to be what buy/sell Facebook sites are the best and why, and there’s a lot of swapping clothes, toys, and furniture among younger families here. I like it!
When thinking about what you own, what are some things you can donate? What are some things worth selling? What are some things you can upcycle and sell, and will it be worth your time? Answer these questions for yourself, and good luck!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Adopting Minimalism: 7 Weeks of Change

This spring has been the most productive season I have ever had in terms of personal growth. Over the past 7 weeks I have been going through a massive personal change involving simplicity and frugality. I have been taking steps to be a more practical and happier person, and I'll share with you how that has affected my life since late March.

I have decided to adopt a minimalist mindset. I'm not interested in selling all my personal belongings and living out of a white box, but I am in the process of going through my entire home and reducing clutter.
  • I started with my closet by getting rid of clothes that don't fit me, that I don't wear, that are stained or ripped beyond repair, and so forth. I was able to purge 3 (or more) full garbage bags of clothing.
  • I then went through my shoes and our hallway closet. I couldn't even tell you what I got rid of because I actually don't remember.
  • My little office space in our foyer was next. I donated any non-reference and non-classic books, went through paperwork, picked my favorite decoration to leave on top, and now my desk is clutter-free. I decided that the only physical books I will buy from now on are classic novels and all other books will either be rented from the library or bought as an e-book. 
  • I have taken 2 car-loads to Goodwill and donated a bag of really nice items to someone I knew. My donation helped keep people employed, avoided putting things in landfills, and will make for a nice tax deduction!
Adopting a minimalist mindset has also (inadvertently) transferred into spending less money. Since I have adopted this mindset, my husband and I have extra money in our bank account due to both of us adopting frugality, inspired by minimalism. Basically, any time I want something I second-guess myself and usually opt out. I also found an alternative to the lady products I was using (click the link to read more), and that has already saved me $25.00 or more in one month. My next battle is avoiding going out to eat.

After a rough winter, it's been very hard to get back to a workout routine. I recently took my mountain bike out for the first time since before I was pregnant with my daughter, and it was a great experience that inspired more outings.

I've also reduced the amount of makeup I wear. I went through all my makeup recently and cut down my collection to 2 eye shadow pallets, 4 eyeliners (which is actually a lot, so I have to work on that) and 2 mascaras. For face coverage I use a light CC cream and translucent setting powder. I wear makeup 1/3 of the time. I have reduced the amount of makeup I wear from 7 days per week to 2-3, and I wear sunscreen every day.

Blue Lotus Farm & Retreat Center - Pavilion
With working for a religious institution paired with meditation and prayer practices, I have been growing spiritually and I absolutely love it. Being a birth doula and living the doula lifestyle has fit well with my spiritual and minimalist lifestyle. I have merged spirituality with fitness by starting to practice yoga again, and last weekend I was treated to a retreat for Mother's Day by my parents. The retreat lasted roughly 4 hours and was at Blue Lotus Farm and Retreat Center. It was a great escape, and my mother and I are planning more events like that to enjoy together.

The biggest improvement above all is my stress and anxiety level. I can't describe how difficult this past winter was in relation to stress, and the state of our home didn't help. The truth is that my husband, daughter, cat, and I live in a small duplex where simplicity is a welcomed necessity. Since reducing how much we are bringing into the home and since purging unwanted and unused items, I have felt as though a heavy weight has been lifted off my chest. It's a magical feeling.

The inspiration for this change came from my husband, first, and also from Ariana Schwarz, the blogger of Paris-To-Go. I was introduced to her blog and minimalist lifestyle through a podcast by Kimberly Wilson, a multi-talented wellness professional whose products I adore. I have also been inspired by Joshua Becker, the blogger of BecomingMinimalist, and my two favorite subjects to dive into now are minimalism and birth. The book I'm currently reading is Secrets of Simplicity by Mary Carlomagno, and so far I love it. It's exactly what I'm looking for in non-fiction at the moment. I have also been influenced by House Hunters International (which I find pretty funny as a piece of influence) and the theology of various faith traditions.