Me draw pretty one day

DeathtoStock_Desk4

Remember that one time I woke up and decided to go to grad school? Well let’s just consider this the sequel.

No, I’m not going back to school for a PH’D, but I AM going back to school – kind of: I decided to self-teach myself graphic design.

What started as a passing thought (so passing that I even Googled “Do you have to know how to draw to be a graphic designer?”) quickly caught my imagination. Originally I had thought about learning how to code and do web design but after talking to the hubby, decided to focus on graphic design. I know it seems like a pretty radical turn but it’s not. I’ve always appreciated good design, especially logos and packaging (as evidenced by my crazy attention to details Christmas gift packages and pretty much every party I’ve hosted and the wedding). As of now, I had been hacking away making magic with nothing more than Microsoft Word and PowerPoint (and borrowed designs) but I don’t want to be a hack anymore. I want to actually know what I’m doing! I used Photoshop to design all the signage and stationery for the wedding and I really enjoyed doing that so much so that I entertained the idea of opening an Etsy shop for invitations and other designs (like only a million other people). Basically, I was officially hooked and it only makes sense to develop the rudimentary skills I do have into something more substantial.

I had been looking around at design courses at some extension programs at Berkeley and SFSU but I just couldn’t stomach the cost of another several thousands dollars on top if my current loans. I even looked into courses at the local junior college but even that came with a hefty price tag. The hubby recommended checking out Lynda.com and I even looked at a few other online design courses before settling on SkillShare. While they both don’t offer a structured graphic design course, SkillShare was a lot more affordable for me ($10/month versus a minimum of $25/month for Lynda.com – more if I want access to the project files that the instructors use).

I’ve been using SkillShare for about a month now and so far I have really enjoyed myself. I’ve completed I’ve learned a few cool tricks already (like  masking layers) and I’m excited to learn more. I do plan on creating a sort of portfolio here to document my progress and give me an opportunity to practice explaining what I’ve done. I’m not the best at explaining things since I’m usually so focused on following the directions that I can’t really explain why I did something outside of “that’s what they told me to do.”  Plus I want to show off my pretty pictures. No lie. So be prepared for the occasional “This is what I did in school today” posts and don’t forget to ooh and ahh.

And if that isn’t enough, I do still plan on learning web design. The hubby found a promotion that got me a free membership to Treehouse for a year so I can start learning how to code as well. I haven’t started those classes yet but when I do, I’ll let you know how those are going as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about SkillShare or just want to try it out for free for a month, sign up through my referral link!

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Confessions of a not very good blogger

You guys! You guys! So much has happened since my last post in…uh…January? Really? January? I didn’t realize it’s been that long since my last post. Well, uh, at least it was from this year. It IS from this year right? Right.

So, what’s been going on since January? Things. Things like planning a wedding (that blog hasn’t been updated either. I suck), honeymooning in Vegas, traipsing around Napa Valley with family, trying new recipes, general lounging and acclimating to life as a newlywed, working out (more often than not – kinda), video game playing, Netflix watching, Game of Thrones reading, Graphic Design and web design/development learning, and contemplating life. In short, it’s been a little busy around these parts.

However, I am looking forward to getting back to writing! I know you’ve heard it all before so I won’t even waste the breath or words to say that I’m serious this time; that I changed. Because, let’s be realistic: there are only so many hours in the day and if it comes down to writing a blog post or spending quality time with the husband (or napping), I’m going to spend the time with him (or nap). But that isn’t to say that I’m any less dedicated. It’s just to say that my priorities have changed slightly.

But I’m rambling. I have a mess of thoughts in my head just waiting to be organized into coherent sentences for blogs so stuff will be coming.  So for now I’ll leave you with this (and don’t worry; I’ll be back!)

IMG_2273

You can’t outrun pancakes and bacon

It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you. Without a dope post to read through.

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

You remember my last attempt at running the Healdsburg Half last year and how I spent the majority of the race alternating between being pumped and being miserable while pretending to run and then ultimately walking? To make up for that laughable experience, I was determined to turn in a better race this year (that competitive nature of mine strikes again) and spent the summer training. I was serious about it: I signed up for 2 races (a 5k and a 10k) and set up personal mileage goals to keep me motivated, bought a new pair of running shoes to reduce blisters (my other shoes were too tight) and even accidentally picked up fancy custom insoles (yes, accidentally). See, serious. I hit a good stride with my training and was well on the way of meeting my goal of 13 miles by the end of September, leaving me with enough time to hit 14 miles before the race. Needless to say that didn’t happen.

Even though my last month of training stalled due to weird weather systems, weddings, birthday parties, visitors, and general oversleeping, I still felt pretty good that I would be able to deliver a decent performance this time around. The morning of the race soon came and I dragged the mister out of his warm bed so he could stand around in a random vineyard too early in the cold, dark morning with a bunch of strangers. That’s love.

Trentadue Winery - Healdsburg Half

The calm before the storm.

I was very awake very early in the morning.

Soon we were off and I was feeling really good. The race directors created a new route so I couldn’t really gauge where I was in reference to the end of the race, but we did run through parts of last year’s course so that was fun. Aside from seeing what other people dressed up as, one of my favorite things about this race are the girls from Girls on the Run at the aid stations throughout the course. They were always ready with cheers, smiles, and encouragement. I looked forward to seeing them while passing an aid station and was a bit bummed when I passed a station and they weren’t there. Those cheers does wonders to a runner’s soul. At the last one, some of the girls gave out stickers to runners so I stopped to get some (also, it gave me a great excuse to walk).

hbh 2013 - stickersEnjoying my new stickers
[Source: Finishers Pix]

Overall, while my time was longer than last year (my official time was 3:16:03), this was a much better experience. I was in such a good mood and feeling my music so much that I wanted to stop for a dance break in the middle of the race. Instead, I ended up singing along to a few of the songs, but not too loudly since  I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Anywho, since I wasn’t busy bemoaning how miserable I felt, I spent my time thinking about food. Around mile four, I started thinking about how amazing bacon would be. Then somewhere around mile six I started obsessing over pancakes. Bacon. Pancakes. Pancakes. Bacon. OMGIWANTBACONPANCAKES!

Then I started singing the Bacon Pancakes song:

Do you know how distracting it is trying to run while thinking about pancakes and bacon? I was so hungry that the race felt like it was never going to end. Each step brought me closer to pancakes and bacon. I started counting down the miles separating me from pancakes and bacon around mile nine. Four miles until pancakes and bacon. Three miles until bacon and pancakes. Two miles until pancakes and bacon. I nearly lost my mind when I passed the 13 mile marker.

hbh 2013 - finishI’m excited for two reasons: 1: I’m done and 2: PANCAKES AND BACON!
[Source: Finisher Pix]

My phone promptly died shortly after crossing the finish line so I don’t have my customary post-race photo, or one of my stickers, or of my plate of pancakes and bacon from IHop. Yes, we stopped at IHop on the way home because when you’ve been thinking about pancakes and bacon for almost 10 miles, you get pancakes and bacon.

And they were the best pancakes and bacon ever.

In the Kitchen: Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cupcakes

Every so often I get the urge to bake. Usually it happens when there’s rain on the horizon but considering it’ll be in the 80s for the next week or so, that doesn’t seem to explain this latest baking craving. I’ve been adding new dessert recipes to my Pinterest board but just haven’t had a chance to buckle down into the kitchen to bake anything – I’m still trying to figure out when to make cookie dough for the freezer! I have a fairly ambitious baking wishlist:

  1. Chocolate chip cookie dough
  2. Peanut butter cookie dough
  3. Sugar cookie dough (maybe?)
  4. Mini cherry tart cookies
  5. Apple cider doughnuts
  6. Challah bread

I knew something was up because, seriously? Challah bread? I’ve always shied away from breads because I am kind of intimidated by yeast. It can’t be too warm or too cold (like Goldilocks, this yeast). But there’s something about it that’s so enticing.

Anywho, I finally managed to make some time in the kitchen while my nieces and nephew were visiting to try out a recipe I’ve been hoping to try since I first found it: Cinnamon Toast Crunch cupcakes. I originally saved this recipe because Cinnamon Toast Crunch is the mister’s favorite cereal and I thought this would be a great dessert to make for him. Dessert and breakfast all in one? Sign me up!

Of course, time passed and I still hadn’t made it but the stars aligned and on the hottest day we’ve had so far this year, I cranked up the oven and made some cupcakes. I never said decision making was my strongest virtue.

The original recipe called for boxed cake mix and while I have no qualms with using box mixes, I wanted to avoid going to the store (which was silly because I ended up going to the store anyway) so I used a vanilla cake recipe and added cinnamon for the cinnamon cake base and followed the recipe for the Cinnamon Toast Crunch cream cheese frosting.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch cupcakes

 

Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cupcakes
Adapted from Your Cup of Cake

Cinnamon Cake Base
(based from Sweetapolita’s Fluffy Vanilla Cake)

5 large egg whites (150 g), at room temperature
1 whole egg
1 cup whole milk (237 ml), at room temperature
2-1/4 teaspoons (12 ml) pure vanilla extract
3 cups (345 g) cake flour, sifted
2 cups (400 g) sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (17 g) baking powder
3/4 teaspoon (5 g) salt
12 tablespoons (170 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 24 even pieces
1 1/2 teaspons cinnamon (this is added to make it a cinnamon cake)

Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup Cinnamon Toast Crunch powder – (Crush the cereal in a bag and then sift out 2/3 cup)

For the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease, line with parchment, and flour two round 8-inch pans.
  2. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir the egg whites, whole egg, 1/4 cup of milk, and the vanilla. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients together on low speed (I use the “stir” setting on my mixer) for 30 seconds.
  4. Add the butter one piece at a time, about every 10 seconds, ensuring it’s cold (you can keep some in refrigerator while you’re adding pieces). Continue to mix on low until the mixture is a fine crumbly texture. Add milk, and mix on low speed for 5 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg mixture in 3 separate batches, mixing until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. (You want to ensure that the batter is homogenous.) Fold once or twice to ensure the batter at bottom of bowl is incorporated.
  5. Scoop batter into cupcake tins, filling about 2/3 full.
  6. Bake for 13-15 minutes, rotating the pans after 10 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with a few crumbs when inserted into the center

For the frosting:

  1. Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add Cinnamon Toast Crunch powder. Add vanilla and powdered sugar. Adjust the consistency using milk if it is too thick.
  2. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes and top with cinnamon sugar and Cinnamon Toast Crunch squares.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch cupcakes

Renewing My Financial Outlook

congressional budget

Since my YNAB reboot earlier this year to get my finances under control, I’m here to report that I’m still trying to get my budget under control.

This is not a failing of YNAB, but simply poor planning on my end. When the mister moved out here in March, I had to get his room ready; I had to purchase a new bedding set, a lamp and a few other items. I was on a time crunch so I charged everything before having the money saved up to pay for them, which is what YNAB tries to get us to do. Also, instead of moving money around to cover the unexpected expenses, I just kept trucking along, quietly digging myself into a financial hole. It took a couple of months to dig myself out of that hole and only after nearly draining my savings account, which in retrospect was a BAD idea.

After that, I continued to spend without reallocating my budgeted dollars. Now that the mister was here, we started to go out a lot more than I was used to doing (read: rarely). We would go to the movies, pick up dinner, or I would purchase items that I hadn’t anticipated buying nor adjusted the budget for and the debt snowballed. It didn’t help that I had started thinking being flexible with the budget was okay; it is but not the way I was flexing. Budgets are a living, breathing thing but they’re not going to be helpful if you continue to overspend and not make any adjustments to cover those expenses.

Whomp, whomp.

So here I am back to working my way out of another monetary hole but I have a clearer plan for escaping and not returning. I’m putting money towards my debt and am starting to see the numbers go down (yes, I have added to it in the mean time but it’s all getting paid!). And while I try to not spend on unbudgeted items, I don’t make myself a prisoner to my budget and have simply reallocated money when necessary. Adding to this was a series of blog post on the YNAB blog this past week discussing savings goals and that encouraged to me actually come up with some tangible goals to work towards that actually has me excited about budgeting again:

Short Term Goals:

  1. Pay down all credit card debt. I’m currently have just over $1,500 worth of credit card debt over two cards. While it’s probably the most I’ve had on a credit card since my internship year in San Jose, I’m already well on my way to paying off one of my cards completely (that will probably be paid off by the end of September). I’m shooting to have this debt paid off by December.
  2. Build a one-month buffer. This is the main goal of YNAB (and rule number 4), living off last month’s income. I haven’t been able to get there just yet but I’m determined to make it happen before the end of year. I plan on setting aside some money (even if it’s just $10) with each paycheck to help me get to this goal.
  3. Save for the wedding. Yes, a wedding is happening sooner than later (more details to follow) and while we have a very nice cushion to start, we still need a few more dollars to meet our new budget. Plus, I’d like to go on a nice honeymoon, all of which cost money.
  4. Save for our apartment. While we’re currently staying with my mom, I know we can’t stay with her forever (though she wouldn’t mind). Once the mister lands his job, we’ll be on the hunt for our first place so we’ll need the funds for the deposit, moving costs, and furniture.

Medium Term Goals:

  1. Create an emergency fund. I started saving for my emergency fund last year but ran into some difficulty but I’m ready to start again. I’d like to have at least $6,000 for emergencies.

Long Term Goals:

  1. Pay off student loans. This is going to take some time but I’m hopeful that I will be able to get these paid off in 10 years. Wow, 10 years sounds like a really long time.
  2. Save for retirement. I’m in my 30s so this is a great time  I really need to get going with this. I already have a Roth IRA set up and have rolled over my 401k from my old job so we’ve got something going. I would like to increase my contributions though and while I won’t benefit from the tax breaks, at least I know I’ll be able to withdraw my cash tax-free later in life.
  3. Save for down payment. While home ownership in the Bay Area isn’t impossible, it definitely isn’t as easy as it could be in just about any other place. I’m sure we’ll be able to find a house we both love in the area that will fit our needs but we will need a down payment. 20% is the gold standard so we’ll see how we do.

While I know this isn’t going to be some quick fix, I’m looking for a sustainable transition and a healthier financial outlook. I know there will be times when I see something I just must have that I hadn’t budgeted for, but I won’t feel constrained by my budget. If it’s important, then I’ll be willing to move the money around so I can get it. If I’m not willing to do that, then on the shelf it shall stay until I’m willing to make those adjustments. I’m simply trying to set myself up for a stronger financial life, not only for myself, but also for my family. If I can create healthy money habits now, it’ll be easier to teach my kids to follow in my footsteps in the future.