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I don’t talk about work a lot on this blog. That is intentional. This is where I come to disconnect from my 9 to 5.

But I have to post this photo from a recent trade show I attended. It’s one of my fav photos… because its with one of my fav celebrities!

He-hee!

Yes… I poked him!

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I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. It feels like a false start to something I should be, and like to think I am, striving for throughout the year.

With that said, when his January hit, I jotted down a few things I’d like to focus on improving in the coming months. Nothing I hadn’t been trying to “resolve” to do for while prior, but they weren’t getting done so why not jump on the bandwagon?

Yesterday I stumbled upon the list, which I had saved in my phone’s “Google Tasks” app (so millennial of me), and I was happy to say that I was able to “check as complete” three out of the four items.

Now, they may seem a bit vague so please consider that I am an overachiever and would not consider them completed if I did not feel I had done so 100+%.

1. Freelance more

Ok, so this is the one of the four I did not yet check off. However, while I have not been freelancing for financial compensation, I have embarked on a few of my own “career-oriented” projects and been getting involved in a few others. Want proof? Check out my food blog, BiteForBite.com — I just finished the layout last night so I’m super excited to hear what you think.

What has made this even more fun is that I created it with my gal friend in Cali, giving me a reason to email-harass her on a regular basis.

While I have contributed very little to this so far, I’d like to take the opportunity to introduce you to an online magazine a friend of mine founded for independent, go-getter women: MoxyMag.com. I’ll let you check it out to learn more, but she’s built a strong network of writers and worked around the clock to make it a success, and I look forward to contributing more in the coming months. You can check her out at www.melissabreau.com, and you can check out my long-time friend who joined Melissa’s team, at kimbonotkimmy.blogspot.com.

2. Exercise/Live Healthier

I know, not original, but if you had seen the state of my lifestyle — devouring late night take out and avoiding stairs at all costs for fear of hyperventilating — you’d have been disgusted. During the holidays I stocked up on Groupon, Living Social, Deal On, etc., coupons to yoga, pilates and even spin classes. And I am so proud to say that I’ve learned to handle a spin class — a previously impossible feat — and I am almost-officially hooked on hot yoga. Who knew? (photo: my Groupon collection)

In addition to my new-found love for extreme-sweating exercises, I’ve cut out caffeine, late night binging and switched back from beer to vodka (it’s more summery after all). I feel annoyingly optimistic and cheery, and have gotten accustomed to receiving weird looks from my fellow train passengers for bouncing around my seat to my iPod on the 750, as well as from my colleagues who are now used to me practicing my split leaps in the hallways.

3. Relax More

This, believe it or not, was/is the hardest. Relaxing is not something I succumb to easily. For me, it usually comes in the form of exhaustion after running myself thin on the above activities. However, without even really trying, I’ve found a sense of balance, and when I need to relax, unwind, veg… I do. I’ve worked my way through two seasons of The Tudors (TV is a huge form of mind-numbing relaxation for me) and been spending my weekend days wandering along the beach looking for bodies…. (JOKING!! Not funny Liz; it’s a horrible situation!)

4. Volunteer at an Animal Shelter / Young Authors Group

Yesterday I had me second training session to be a volunteer at Animal Haven, a nonprofit animal shelter for cats and dogs in Manhattan. After Max the smushpup left me for his new home, I miss my evening doggy walks and vowed to volunteer some of my time at a shelter. I love all things furry, and while no animal can compare to my Dora Dora Doll (that’s her nickname), it breaks my heart to see other animals without people love. Working in a shelter isn’t glamorous; there is a lot of cleaning up, but one lil look at the Brindle pup sleeping with his face smashed against the cage, or the three weeks-old kittens sleeping so entwined it was impossible to tell how many were there, and we (the volunteer group I was in) were all “Awwwing.” I can’t wait to get going with it. (photo: my Dora Dora Doll… because she’s the cutest kitty in the whole wide world)

As for the young authors group, some of you may know I applied for the Girls Write Now program last year and was, sadly, rejected. I had sought out another form of volunteer work related to my passion for writing, but decided I would hold off and reapply to Girls Write Now’s program next year.

On that note, cheers to a New Year, a new season and the resolutions we make all year long!

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My cash-diet recently took a dive. It wasn’t necessarily my discipline that slacked, but a combination of vacation indulgences and realizing that I had almost racked up enough points on my credit card to buy something cool.

Soooo, when my brother and I took off on our NY to Seattle road trip last weekend, I left the debit card at home and charged all our expenses –– a number almost equivalent to three paychecks –– to my credit card to rack up as many points as possible.  Yeeeaaaaahhh. I think that’s the point of the cash-only — to avoid doing just that. I’m just sitting here waiting for my monthly statement so I can see the final “points” result.

See, this is how the CC companies rope you in. One little incentive and boom! They own you! What they don’t realize is that I was an accountant, meaning I paid a university a lot of money to teach me how to be anal about numbers. Therefore, while I charged everything for the past 9 days, I also wrote it all down, tracking the ending balance as I went.

And this is exactly what I plan on continuing to do — charging my expenses, while staying within my budget, until I reach my “points” goal! Take that CCs!!

I may have gone over my travel budget a little but during this trip… but it was well worth it. The trip was fab!!

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At the beginning of the summer I bought the Dinosaur BBQ cookbook. Mid-way through cooking my first Dino recipe I declared to SS, “this is the summer of Dinosaur BBQ. I am going to cook my way through this cookbook. It is going to be fantastic.”

Two weeks ago, and four months after the above statement was made, I cooking my second recipe from the infamous book. I was visiting K and as always, we spent most of our time cooking. We made GDino BBQ Strikes Again! rill-Smoked Salmon with Chile-Lemon Booster Sauce and it was DELICIOUS! We compromised and replaced the Mutha Sauce with a generic barbecue sauce. Dino products aren’t a supermarket staple in her area and there was no way we were going to start making it at 7 o’clock at night. (It takes a decent amount of time!)

Word of Warning: If possible, don’t manhandle the ingredients for the sauce and/or the coating for the fish. My fingertips were burning for two days after I rubbed the jalapeno/garlic/ginger/lemon/lime mixture together.

Today, with nowhere to go and each with a list of in-house tasks to get done, AAA and I decided to break up the day by cooking a meal. So we took the Dino cookbook out for its third, and possibly final, spin of the 2010 summer season. The menu? Oven-Roasted Mojito Chicken!

The mojito marinade is available in stores, and quite possibly in stores near us. However, Trader Joe’s is not one of them, and at the time of shopping it seemed easier to buy the ingredients to make the marinade instead of stop at another store on the way home. And I am glad to say, it actually was. The marinade is ridiculously easy to make. And almost all the ingredients are items you’d likely have in your house.

By the time we sat down to eat, we had accumulated 7 hungry mouths. AAA also made tadig rice and her sister’s potato and onions with Farmer John’s Cheddar Cheese (yes, that fact that it was from Farmer John in Wisconsin is a big deal) and I whipped up some of Francaise Fille’s homemade ice cream for dessert. It was a feast! And a delicious feast if I might say.

My intention to make this the “summer of Dino” may have been ambitious, but the recipes we did dive into came out scrumptious. I think next year I’ll follow through with that Dino-themed BBQ I intended on hosting this summer. Anyone want to throw some dates out?

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Less than an hour after I posted my week one update on the cash-only diet, I received an email from a friend with a 40% coupon code for a shoe manufacturer I’ve been known to give my money to. Talk about temptation! I didn’t really need shoes — I mean, no one needs them. But I did want to replace a pair of cheap shoes I purchased the year before that I wore a handful of times before they proved to be worth every penny I didn’t pay for them.

I browsed, clicked and played around in the chopping cart for a bit. But in the end, I resisted. I was pleased with myself for living up (down?) to my limitations the previous week, and I wanted to continue to stand proud. Plus, I was venturing off to New England that evening to visit a friend so I knew I would be indulging my shopping interests more than I ever do alone. (And I did!! I replaced my shoes with a much better pair that were on sale and have already stayed lasted longer than the last ones.)

I like to be able to allow myself to indulge when I visit K. Since we see each other only three or four times a year, it would be wrong to limit ourselves. After all, all we really ever spend money on is vodka and food — and this time was no different.

I finished off week two’s cash Monday afternoon during my weekly trip to TJ’s to stock up on lunch. I spend the full amount this time, but considering that included a weekend away, a magazine subscription and a pair of shoes, I’d say ‘not too shabby.’

And I’m on point for week three. This is continuing to be harder and easier than I expected. The hardest part is avoiding online purchases, which is how I’ve done most of my shopping since, well, since online shopping existed.

Now if I could only find the discipline to train for this damn Mud Run my butt might follow suit of my wallet!!

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I recently read Taylor Plimpton’s debut novel, Notes From The Night: A Life After Dark, a look at the New York City club scene. While I quite enjoy clubbing, this level of nightlife is pretty foreign to me.  Plimpton’s in-depth analysis actually gives meaning to what may seem like an otherwise shallow or irresponsible existence. And he acknowledges this throughout his discussion. Near the end, he begins to recognize a change in himself and his interaction with the night. In other words, he recognizes that he’s growing up.

The story offers a loose plot that he comes back to as he analyzes each timeframe of a night out. He begins with how and why people go clubbing on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday night. He discusses the concept of pre-gaming — where you go and why. Then the getting in, what him and his guys spend most of their nights doing, and who they meet. Then the dancing, the women… — as I write this I realize how boring it sounds.

The plot takes you through one night — or many written out to feel as one — that he uses to support his analysis. I think I’d have personally enjoyed the story more if the plot was more consistent. I tend to like books for their abstract view, this included, but a little less would have helped balance it. There is only so many ways you can talk about how the dancing crowd taking on a life of its own, or the impact of a beautiful women passing by.

His analysis also ends inconclusive. He never offers an opinion on whether his affair with nightlife was worthwhile, enlightening, prohibitive, etc. I like that it allows you to develop your own opinion, but not being familiar with the lifestyle, I wanted a bit less objectivity.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves to analyze the reasons people do the things they do. I’ve never given much thought to the motivating factors for clubbing; it’s brilliantly intriguing in that sense. And beautifully; you feel like he’s talking to you. But if you are looking for a funny story about nightlife antics then you are looking in the wrong place.

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Last week I was inspired by 20-Nothings, Jessie Rosen, to go on a diet: Suze Orman’s Cash-Only Diet, that is. And with one week down, I did pretty well. I have $20 still left in my wallet. Not sure if it was a result of the spending limitations, or, more likely, sheer exhaustion, but the past week was pretty tame on the social front. I spent more days/evenings at home than I have in a long time. I’m sure this helped the cause.

My first thought when realizing I had $20 left was “Oooo, an extra $20 for next week!” But I felt somewhat guilty thinking that way. Isn’t that cheating the program? I decided to take it a step further, and to save any money that is leftover at the end of each week. Therefore, this morning, I transferred $20 into my savings account and will withdraw $20 less when I hit up the ATM later. What I will do with the savings I am not sure. I did not embark on this project to save — not yet at least — but, rather, help pay down my debt. For now I will let the savings [slowly] accumulate and just enjoy looking at it — that will be my reward. And then if I decide I need something that doesn’t fit into my weekly budget, or fancy buying something for someone special in my life, I’ll have some extra cash, and not be tempted to touch the plastic.

Good plan? I think so.

I was surprised both at how easy and hard week one was.

It was easy because once limited to only the money that was physically in front of me, I realized how little I really needed. An avid debit card user, I was always aware of how much was in my checking account when I swiped, but actually having the money in front of you changes its value. You are forced to physically watch its depletion.

What was hard about it was changing my view of cash. I always saw cash as a perk for getting the little things on a daily basis — egg sandwiches, ice cream, a new bottle of shampoo (actually, I usually swipe at pharmacy stores). There were certain things that warranted cash, and that was all I would use it for. When seeing a wad of cash in my wallet last week, my initial thought was, “That’s a lot of egg bagel sandwiches,” not “Hmmm, I could buy a new pair of hiking sandals with this!” Who pairs for shoes with cash?

Hiking sandals. That brings me to the other hard part: Holding back.

The same as when I went on the Master Cleanse and every item of food looked delicious and left me pining, every piece of merchandise that passed my view enticed me. Coupons and newsletters flooded my inbox with discount yoga classes, sales on shoes and novel gift ideas. I know I would have fought the urge to buy many of these things no matter what, but there were some that I, if possible,  I wouldn’t have given a second thought to before typing in those magical numbers.

Some of the hardest things to pass on were:

  • $69 for one-month unlimited yoga, in today’s NY Groupon
  • $25 for $50 of apparel at the Gap (I hate the Gap since they began designing all their clothing to rip within weeks, but I still have weak moments and believe the Gap owes me after my years of loyalty.)
  • $90 all-terrain sandals that would be fantastic for my upcoming cross-country trip and any spontaneous warm-weather hiking we decide to embark on
  • $?? for some gift ideas that I have to wait on till my I have a fresh wade of cash in my pocket

On that note, week two starts today. I am a bit more nervous this week. I am going to Rhode Island to visit a friend this weekend and one of our favorite things to do together is eat… and one of my favorite places to shop and blow my budget is supermarkets. This is going to take constraint. But I have the willpower.

Here we go…

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