Thursday, April 27, 2017

Currently: April Edition

Time marches on! It's the last week of April - say what?  Here's what's currently going on in my world!

Reading:  The Mothers by Brit Bennett. I was on the hold list at the library for this for the longest time and it finally became available. Others have raved about this book and I can completely see why. Part of me wants to read it quickly because it's so good; the other part of me wants to savor it because it's so good.  The writing is phenomenal - check it out!

Loving: wearing some new springy clothing. I was SO over my winter wardrobe in February/March. It's been fun to wear lighter, brighter layers. And I've been able to wear fitted/skinny cropped pants which is my favorite kind of bottom to wear!


Cropped pants from Banana with a new top from Banana.  It's hard to tell in this photo but the top has a fun ruffle at the bottom and at the end of the sleeves.

Another pair of cropped pants from Banana with a bright top from Banana.
I bought some pants at a Loft 40% off sale. They are the sale color as the top in the photo above. I love vibrant, bright-colored pants!
Struggling:  with another RA flare. 😖 I flared the first week of April and it came back on Tuesday night with a vengeance. I wasn't able to type without being in pain as it impacted my fingers in my right hand so I stayed home yesterday. My doctor upped my steroid dose and prescribed a non-habit-forming sleep aide as the low dose of steroids I've been taking has wreaked havoc on my sleep. I'm on the struggle bus right now regarding my RA as this is my 4th flare in 6 months, which is a lot compared to what I experienced the last couple of years. The increase in flares is likely related to changing meds during the last 5 months of last year in preparation for being able to start a family (one of the drugs I was on was very toxic so not safe for conception - I had to go off it by December so we could start trying in June). I'll go back to see my doctor after my honeymoon and hopefully she can come up with a different treatment program.  Luckily, I had the best nurse to take care of me yesterday. Oscar is so good about giving me extra cuddles when I don't feel well/am in pain.

She looks so long in that top photo, but she loves to streeeeeetch out when sleeping on our laps!

Feeling: so very grateful and excited. Those of you who have read this blog for years know that I've patiently waited for the right man to come into my life. In my 30s I had gotten to a point where I was OK with a life that might not include marriage and children - but I still hoped for those things to be part of my life. Phil was worth the wait. Our story is not a fairy tale.  There were challenges (my cross-country move, the loss of his dad, career challenges) that we had to work through. But all the difficult things we've dealt with has made me all the more excited and grateful for the life ahead of us. I'm sure we will have mountains and valleys ahead of us in our married lives, but I know our relationship is strong enough to endure the test of time!

Thinking: about alllll the to do lists and spreadsheets I have to track wedding tasks.  I'm super organized so feel like planning a wedding is kind of in my wheelhouse, but it's still so much work!

Anticipating: my "Girls Gone Mild" bachelorette party on May 6th! I haven't ever been a bar person so when it came time to plan my bachelorette party, I didn't want to go to the bars. Instead, my sister and good friend are hosting it at my house. We'll eat Mexican food, drink wine, and play word-themed board games. It's going to be such a fun night!

Watching: movies on the weekends with Phil. I'm not a big tv watcher but we try to find something to watch each weekend as I can't multi-task when watching a movie so it forces me to just relax.
The best movie we watched recently was A Street Cat Named Bob.  This is a must-watch for any cat lover!!!!  And it's based on a true story!

Working: on a huge project at work. My boss made me the lead person on a project to improve/expand one of our product offerings. It's the perfect project for me as it allows me to draw from experience at my last 2 jobs and it's the kind of work that I love most. But it's been a huge undertaking and I've been busier than I've ever been!  We've already captured some new business as a result of the project and there is lots of potential for future business so it's great for my company and my career. It's just been a little bit challenging to be so busy at work and in my personal life and to balance traveling with planning a wedding.  I thought my last trip to Chicago for work was my last one but it looks like I'll be going back one more time in May. Luckily it's just a day trip but those are extra exhausting! I just keep telling myself to focus on the fact that I have almost 3 weeks off from work for the wedding + honeymoon! I'm trying not to think about what will happen while I am gone from work or what I will come back to in June... 

Grateful:  for my amazing family and friends. They have made me feel so very special and loved and have spent so much time and money on my bridal showers which were beautiful events!

Listening:
to our wedding playlists!  I made a playlist for dinner and one for after dinner.  I am really passionate about music and own many many albums. It was fun to build playlists for our wedding reception!

Wishing: for beautiful weather on our wedding day. We are getting married along the riverfront of downtown Minneapolis so it will be a gorgeous backdrop for pictures. I'm just crossing my fingers that it doesn't rain!!!

What are you loving, listening to and wishing for these days?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Shouldless Days: April

I really did not think I was going to get a shouldless day in this month since my to do list is OUT OF CONTROL these days.  But I needed one more than ever this month.  Between wedding planning and being as busy as I've ever been at work, it feels like I'm going 90 mph all day every day.  And I'm not sleeping very well.  Probably because of the stress of being so busy, but my low dose of steroids (which is keeping my RA flare under control/making sure it doesn't come back before the wedding) certainly isn't helping.  All this is to say that life is wonderful right now, but I'm kind of stressed/tired/overwhelmed!!

So yesterday was a shouldless day.  Phil went to his mom's on Saturday so I got to spend my shouldless day with him which was wonderful. It's a taste of what is to come after the wedding is behind us!  I'm excited for the wedding but boy am I excited to just be MARRIED.  Here's how I spent the day!

I was up at 5:30 am.  Le sigh. So I went downstairs to the couch and read for a little bit. This is my April book club book and I'm kind of struggling with it because the protagonist is such an awful person and the other minor characters aren't likeable either. As the book unfolds I can see that she went through some terrible things but it seems like she was a manipulative person when she was younger, too. I'm not saying she deserved anything that happened to her.  I just struggle with really really unlikeable characters. I'll be glad when I finish this book and can move onto something else.


Luckily after 30 minutes of reading I was able to fall asleep on the couch for another hour.  My body desperately needs sleep right now so I'm trying to sneak in couch naps whenever I can!  When I woke up I had breakfast and enjoyed coffee in a new mug I got from my cousins at my wedding shower. I know I'm not a Mrs. yet, but I figured I'm close enough.  The mug is so pretty and has the perfect handle (comfortable handles are so important!!).  In the background you can see the Wusthaf knife block that the CEO and CFO of Phil's company generously gifted to us for our wedding!  Looooove those knives!!


When Phil got up, we turned on Face the Nation.  Oscar jumped on my lap for some cuddles...


and settled into to get caught up on the week in politics.


After that, I headed out for a run.  It was a beautiful day! 
Running along Lake Harriet = my happy place!
 My run went super well. This was the first run since my hip surgery where I felt like I am back!


I walked into the house to the smell of brunch cooking! Phil usually makes brunch one day of the weekend. He makes eggs and hashbrown squares with shredded pork tamale on top (he gets 2 tamales for lunch one day most weeks and saves one for our brunch).  It's delicious!!


After that I did some meal prep for my lunches for the week and the dinner we'd have that night.  Then I headed outside to read and enjoy a mocktail (beet and ginger concentrate with diet tonic water - yum!).


After that, I went to a barre class which was so hard and so good! There were only 2 students in the class so we got a lot of form corrections which are always helpful. Then it was time to head home and start dinner. Phil grilled chicken for the salads I'll have for lunch this week.

I love grilled chicken! I flattened it to an even thickness and marinated it in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and herbs
Then Phil grilled the veggies for our dinner.


The peppers and onions were multi-purpose. Some will go on my salads, the others were seasoned with cumin for the tacos we had with some leftover pork that I had in the freezer. Asparagus is an odd pairing but we had some left from the dinner we grilled on Friday so I wanted to use it up. We do not waste produce in this house!!


After dinner, we settled in and watched a couple of episodes of "Bill Nye Saves the World." I loved it, Phil thought some of the segments were drawn out. We'll be watching the whole season, though. Bill Nye's quirkiness is so endearing!

Yesterday was one of the best days I've had in a long time.  Don't get me wrong - life is good these days. I just need more slow-paced days like these full of my favorite things and people, and with time outdoors!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Finance Friday - Thinking About Saving for Retirement

Happy Friday, everyone.  Today I'm kicking off a new post series called "Finance Friday." As many of you know, I work in financial services and am a CFA Charterholder (CFA stands for Chartered Financial Analyst). So finances and financial management are kind of my thing.  That said, I recognize that financial topics like saving for retirement and selecting investments and such are topics that others have varying levels of interest in and knowledge about.

When something intimidates you, the natural response is to ignore it. But your financial health is such an important thing to think about because we all have a goal to retire at some point and enjoy the fruits of our labor. And while there are programs like social security that should enable us to leave the workforce and retire, there are varying levels of confidence that social security will remain funded long enough to provide retirement income for Americans, especially those in my generation and younger.

According to this article from CNN, the trusts that funds social security income will be depleted by 2034. That does not mean that social security will go away in 2034, but social security benefits will be cut by about 20% as the payments to beneficiaries will need to be funded by incoming tax money (right now there are assets in a trust that earn income to supplement the amount of social security taxes that the government collects). I will be 53 years old in 2034.  I won't even be at the age to receive social security benefits. So if the benefits are being cut by 20% at that point, how much further will they be cut by the time I start to receive social security in 2048? [full retirement age is 67 for those born after 1960 - you can start to collect at 62 but the amount of your benefit is reduced by 30% if you start to collect at age 62.]

I recently received an article at work (that I can't share because it requires a paid subscription, but this Huffington Post article from last summer says that same thing) that said nearly half of baby boomers have no money saved for retirement and intend to rely on social security income in their retirement years. Granted, the baby boomers that are entering their retirement years likely never feared that social security income wouldn't be around to provide retirement income. But in my opinion, my generation - generation X - and millennials can not assume that we will receive social security benefits when we retire.

Maybe there will be some sort of large scale reform that will increase the likelihood that we'll receive sufficient social security income, but that's a big maybe, in my opinion. I know this is probably scary for many to read and think about, but it's something we need to be aware of and plan for.  Granted, if you happen to work for a company or industry that provides a pension then this is less of a concern for you. But nonetheless, ignoring thoughts and conversations about how to plan for retirement is akin to never going to the doctor because you don't want to know what the state of your health is. Because just like your physical health, your financial health is going to matter in the long run.

Again, I want to stress that I understand that thinking about this might make some of you really uncomfortable and quite anxious. But isn't it better to think about it and do something about it now when you potentially have 30+ years to put a plan into action versus thinking about it when you are approaching your retirement?  The good news is that time is literally money when it comes to investing (a topic I'll be touching on in my next post in this series). Yes, there will be times when your investments decline in value, but over time, those investments will grow.

This first post in my "Finance Friday" post series is more of an 'ideas' post that is meant to get you thinking about your retirement. But I do want to leave you with some 'actions' to take.

Finance Friday Actions

1. Consider working with a financial advisor - I personally do not work with a financial advisor because between Phil and I, we have the knowledge and resources to manage our assets and prepare for retirement. But I would say we are the exception, not the norm. If thoughts of retirement freak you out and make your stomach hurt, I think a great first step is to meet with a financial advisor. They will have the tools and resources to talk about preparing for retirement and if they are good at their job, they will do so in a manner that will make sense/not intimidate you. If you have 401k, IRA, and other investment accounts, they should be able to run an analysis on how much income those retirement accounts will provide. They can factor in social security income, or they can exclude it to give you a 'worst case scenario'. Your company may even provide a financial advisor as part of their benefit package. If you aren't sure, just ask your HR department.

2.  Set your 401k contribution to your company's matching rate, or greater - Most companies provide a 401k match as part of their benefit package. It's usually in the range of 3% to 6%. At a minimum, you should set your contribution to the % that your company matches - otherwise you are leaving free money on the table.

This post is already super lengthy so I will stop here. Since this is a new post series for me, please let me know if you have any feedback or if there are topics you'd like me to discuss in the future. My goal is to post something at least once a month on this topic.  And if I ever post something that you don't understand, you can always email me at lisasyarns at gmail dot com. I know this is cheesy, but knowledge is power, so the more you can educate yourself on finances and preparing for retirement, the better.  My goal is to empower everyone to take more ownership in making sure their financial health is in tip top shape!

Finance Friday Question:  Have you given much thought to saving for retirement?

Disclaimer:  The thoughts in this post are my own thoughts and are not meant to be taken as investment advice. I have no fiduciary responsibility to anyone that reads this post. Additionally, my comments are US-centric; retirement benefits vary from country to country.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wedding Wednesday: My Family Wedding Shower

I'm back with another wedding post!  This past weekend my mom, sisters, and sisters-in-law hosted a shower for me at the lake. They have been planning this for many months so I was so excited to see what all they had up their sleeve!

First things first, here was the invitation!  As you all know, I love all things French so the Paris theme was perfect for me!  They also incorporated our wedding colors (navy, gold and light pink).


The shower was held at the church in the town by my parents lake home where my parents are members. It was nice to have it off-site as we had enough craziness at the lake home with all my siblings/nieces/nephews.  A lot of my aunts and cousins weren't able to attend since Easter weekend is a busy weekend for many, but I had my mom, my mother-in-law-to-be and all of my sisters and sisters-in-law there, plus an aunt and several cousins from my dad's side of the family.  So we still had a nice 20+ sized group of people!

My Chicago SIL handled all of the decor.  Party planning and decorating is totally her thing (this is the SIL that flew in to help me make our centerpieces). Each of the tables had an Eiffel Tower centerpiece plus paper flowers that she made herself using her cricut!  I gathered all of the paper flowers to use at our reception. 


Similar to my Minneapolis shower, I was greeted with mimosas!


Then it was time to take some pictures!

My mom is on the left and my mother-in-law-to-be is on the right
Surrounded by my sisters and sisters-in-law. My sisters are standing next to me (many people have mistaken Abby, the sister on my left, as my twin!), and my sisters-in-law are on the ends.  I really think of my sisters-in-law as sisters, though, and am very close to them. My brothers couldn't have picked more amazing women to marry! My sisters will be matrons of honor.  I'm so excited to have them stand up there with me as we say our vows!

Emily, Abby, me, Emily (yes I have a sister and SIL with the same name!) and Julie

My sister-in-law Emily made me this sash, which was begging for a pose like this!


The food at the shower so so good! My mom and SIL Julie made 6 different quiches. They also had croissants for the gluten eaters, cheese & crackers, and a veggie tray.


Here's a close-up of the quiches. One was crustless and the other 5 had homemade gluten free crusts.  My mom is the best pie maker and has found a great recipe for GF pie crust (GF pie people - check out the America's Test Kitchen GF cookbook - the pie crust recipe is wonderful, as are all the recipes we've tried).

For dessert, we had fresh fruit with a dipping sauce, Eiffel Tower chocolate treats, peanut butter truffles, and macarons!!

After stuffing my face with all of that delicious food (I did not hold back, I've been eating healthy lately but have given myself permission to enjoy the heck out of these special events!), it was time to open gifts!

I didn't share any photos of my gifts from my last shower but here are a couple of photos of gifts. We registered at Crate & Barrel and Amazon.  For our plates, we went with a basic white style.  I had so many bright-colored platters so decided to go with white as it will go with anything!

Our chip & dip platter - this will get put to use at my Mexican-themed Bach Party that my sister and friend are hosting at our house.  
My aunt had a cutting board made for us with my new last name!


There was one mystery gift at the end...




I'm hoping and praying that we'll need the other one within the next year or so!!

Our family was so generous so we came home with quite the haul.  This is just some of the boxes.  It's making my minimalist fiance feel a little panicky but I have gotten rid of quite a bit of stuff over the last 2 weeks as we've unpacked our gifts.


We get a couple of weeks off from wedding-festivities and then during the first week of May, my colleague/mentor and his wife are hosting a pre-wedding Cinco de Mayo party at his house for work friends and then the following day I have my "Girls Gone Mild" bachelorette party which will also be Mexican-themed.  What can I say?  This girl loooooves tacos! 

It's hard to believe that I will say "I do" one month from today!!!  Life sure is good!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

National Library Week: 5-star Reads of 2017

Happy almost Friday!  I'm back with another reading-centric post in honor of National Library Week!

Today I'm going to share the 5-star books I have read so far this year. 2017 has been a wonderful reading year for me so far. For the first time in 3 years, I've abandoned working on a Read Harder Challenge and instead am reading whatever I feel like reading (plus book club books). I've read 25 books so far this year and 5 of them are 5-star which is pretty impressive considering that I only gave 9 books a 5-star rating last year. I have been a bit less stingy with my star ratings this year, though, so that's part of the reason I've given more 5-star ratings. Here's what I have loved so far this year.

1. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi - This book was amazing. The subject-matter is so incredibly sad and heavy as it's written by a neurologist who gets lung cancer in his early 30s. He writes this book to record his thoughts about mortality and his experience being on the patient side of the patient-doctor relationship. I think that every medical student should have to read this. If you are afraid to read this given the heavy subject matter, I suggest giving it a try. Yes, it will probably make you ugly cry but the writing is so dang beautiful so it's worth all the tears.

2. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson - This YA book is about a set of twins in their teens. The narration switches back and forth between the twins, Noah, a boy, and Jude, a girl. They are as close as can be until a tragic life event rocks their world. They both have secrets they are keeping from each other that are driving a wedge between them. The time frame of the narrative also shifts as Noah narrates about the time before the tragic event and Jude narrates the time after.The writing is beautiful and the author conveys so much emotion. 

3. March:  Book One by John Lewis - This is the first book in a graphic novel trilogy written by John Lewis about the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. The graphic novel format is such an effective way to convey these historical events. John Lewis was a Freedom Rider and experienced these events first hand. I can't wait to read the rest of the books in this trilogy!

4.  Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson - This book is a psychological thriller which is not my typical genre. I read it for a quarterly book club that I have with a former coworker and it was her selection. She knew I read and loved the author's last book so figured I'd like this one, too! Luckily she was right! I had to buy this one so am glad I liked it because I would have hated to buy a book and not love it. The subject-matter of this book is creeeeeepy, though, as it involves serial killers and stalking. I typically don't like creepy content but this book worked for me.

5.  Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild - This is my next advocacy through reading pick so I will share more of my thoughts about it in late April or May. I burned through this book at a rapid pace because it was non-fiction that read like a novel since the author delves into the lives of the Tea Party members she meets in Louisiana. It was fascinating, upsetting and perplexing. 

If the first 3.5 months of 2017 are any indication of what my 2017 reading life is going to be like, I'm in for a treat!

What's the last book that you gave a 5-star rating to?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wedding Wednesday: My Minneapolis Shower

Hello from Chicago!  I am back here for another work trip - I flew in yesterday morning and will be here until Thursday afternoon. Hopefully this is my last work trip before the wedding! With the wedding just over 5 weeks away, this is crunch time!!!

I've put in lots of work over the last several months into planning our wedding, but this past weekend I got to shift my focus to enjoying some pre-wedding celebrations! On Sunday my college friends threw me a beautiful wedding shower.  They are very good at planning parties, so I knew it would be a special event. But they really exceeded my expectations!

First things first, the invitation!  They really did a great job of tying in the book theme of our wedding!



Now for the event!  My friend Heidi hosted it in the club room of her apartment building. I was greeted with a mimosa!

Cheers!
Here is am with my hosts:  Brooke, Heidi and Amanda. We met in the spring of my freshman year back in 2000 when I joined the sorority they were members of. I know there are a lot of stereotypes and opinions about sororities, but I made some amazing friendships through the sorority that will last a lifetime. These girls have seen me through so many peaks and valleys that have occurred over the last 15+ years. On the light side, there are lots of inside jokes and stories and memories to laugh about. On the heavier side, we've stood by each others' sides through health challenges of our own and our family members, cross-country moves (both wanted and unwanted), and the other challenges of life.


There were so many details to take in at the shower.  My favorite was the banner that I plan to use at the church or reception. It's so pretty and ties in with our theme and colors so well!


From the tablescapes...

to the place setting wed-libs game...


to the thank you treats ("bookworms" aka gummy worms)

to the platter of macarons...


Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the brunch spread they prepared for us. But take my word - it was oh so good!

No detail was overlooked. It was truly a beautiful event that I will remember forever. What made is all the more special, though, was the people who were there. 14 friends from different corners of my life joined together to celebrate my upcoming nuptials. It gave me a small taste of how wonderful it's going to be to have all these special people in one place as Phil and I say "I do" for always and ever.

As soon as I got home, I got busy unpacking the many gifts my friends generously bestowed upon us. Since Phil is a total minimalist, I made sure to pack up anything that we will no longer need thanks to these new gifts! Within 2 hours, I had unpacked and delabeled all the gifts and packed of 6 boxes of things to give to family members or goodwill. I don't know what etiquette is about using gifts you receive for your wedding, but whether or not it's appropriate to put them to use right away, we are because I can't handle the chaos of lots of boxes! Plus it's great to reuse the boxes and tissue paper to pack up the things we want out of the house.


I have one last thing to share! The day after my shower we received an unexpected gift from the mom of one of Phil's college friends. Phil has gotten to know this set of parents so well as they live on a lake in Minnesota and have hosted Phil and his other college friends many times. She sent us the coolest gift!


It's currently being displayed on our piano but will definitely be on display at the wedding as well!

The pre-wedding festivities are just beginning, though!  Next weekend I have my family shower at the lake which I am oh so excited about!!  Then 3 weeks later, I have my "Girls Gone Mild" bachelorette Party. Let the good times roll!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

National Library Week: I'll Read Your Anthology

Happy Tuesday!  Did you know it's National Library Week? As a super heavy user of my local library, this is a week worthy of celebration! While my degree is in math and I certainly love numbers, I think I love words even more. After all, books and reading is the theme of our wedding!

In honor of National Library Week, I'm going to post a couple of reading-centric posts, with the exception of my Wedding Wednesday post tomorrow. Today I am talking about writers whose anthology I am trying to read. These are the kind of authors whose books go on my request list at the library. I don't even need to read the synopsis because I know the author is such a perfect fit for me.

For each author, I am going to share which of their works was my favorite in case you want to check out these authors and need an idea of where to start.

Khaled Hosseini - This books are not for the faint of heart as they deal with complex, heart-breaking issues. Hosseini is originally from Afghanistan but when he was a teen, his father moved their family to Paris for a job opportunity. However, they were not able to return to Afghanistan due to a revolution that was occuring so the family sought political assylum in the U.S. and settled in California. Because of the author's past, topics of displacement, immigration, and life in a war-torn country feature prominently in Hosseini's works. My favorite by Hosseini is "And The Mountains Echoed." I do know of others who love this author's work but didn't love this book, but it's my favorite. This story was different from the other two books he has written, as the story meandered through different periods of times and different setting and covered many different characters, but they were all interrelated and the story flowed seamlessly. I read all 400 pages in less than 24 hours which is a testament to how good this book is.


Anna Quindlen - Some people have an interest in tracking down celebrities, but I dream of running into Anna Quindlen on Riverside Park on the Upper West Side. I know she runs there as she mentioned that habit in her book, "Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake." Quindlen's writing is so beautiful.  I find myself flagging passages or taking pictures of them with my phone. I haven't read all of Quindlen's work, including her latest release, but I am working my way through her anthology. My favorite book is Every Last One. I can't tell you much about the book as I don't want to spoil anything so suffice it to say that the family of the novel's protagonists suffers from a terrible act of violence. The book mostly focuses on the aftermath of the tragedy and how the family works through it. 



Thrity Umrigar - This is an author that has recently been upgraded to a 'read everything she has written' category. This author is originally from India so her books are set in India or are about characters from India. My favorite book is her most recent work, The Story Hour. In this book we meet Lakshmi, an Indian woman living in the U.S. She has attempted to commit suicide so works with a therapist named Maggie. The narration shifts between each character and the book is about the lives of both women as well as their patient/therapist relationship. Both characters have flaws and make poor choices but the author writes about them in a way that helps the reader to feel compassion for both women.






And there you have it!  3 authors whose works I love. My favorite authors definitely reflect the kind of writing and stories I enjoy as I love books that feature characters from countries outside the U.S. or delve into how people deal with difficult experiences in life.

Are there any authors whose works you will read without knowing anything about the plot?

P.S. Check out my library hack for managing your hold list at the library!