Holiday Gift Guide: For Work, Life, and Fun

I know, I know, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet! And I am staunchly not listening to Christmas music or decorating. I am firmly in the “celebrate Thanksgiving first” camp. However…I don’t love waiting too long to buy gifts. And my parents starting asking me for what’s on my list in October. So I figured I’d get a jump start on my list making before I head home to visit family for Thanksgiving. So what are some ideas to add to holiday gift lists?

Gifts for Work
1. Card Holder | 2. Planner | 3. Desk Organizer Set | 4. Set of Trays

First off, we have gifts for your work life. The great thing about this set is that although these are great options to add to your own Christmas list if you’re trying to spruce up your work environment, they also work well for your office Secret Santa/White Elephant parties! They’re work-related, gender neutral, and professionally appropriate.

  1. Everyone needs a good card holder. I used to have my business cards stuffed in a drawer, which didn’t look great when I had people visit my office. This business card holder makes you look much more put together.
  2. For those of you trying to organize, track, and plan your time, I could not recommend this planner more. I’m very picky about my planners. They have to have the exact right components, and I’m not always a fan of ones that have spots to be “mindful” or “things I was thankful for today.” Thinking about those things is great! But just not something I want to write in my professional work planner. This one has monthly, weekly, and daily views, and a place to list daily priorities Every evening before I leave work, I write down my top 3-4 priorities for the next day. Then, when I get in the next morning, I’m able to just jump right in and make progress without even thinking about it.
  3.  and 4. Finally, you want your desk to be organized and clutter-free. There’s not much worse than when your boss comes in your offices and sees papers strewn everywhere. And I swear, I know exactly where each paper is! But to everyone else, it’s not a great look. Dress for the job you want, and have the desk of the person you aspire to be. The desk organizer set is stylish and can corral your pens and notebooks easily. Have others items that look messy? Just put everything else on a tray. Even if your tray has a few napkins, a stapler, tape, and a highlighter, having it contained in one area already makes your desk look better.
Personal Life Gifts
1. Mattress Topper | 2. Matt & Nat Purse | 3. Coffee Table Tray | 4. Skincare Routine (Double Cleanser, Snail Repair Ampoule, Toner, and Vitamin C Serum)

These gifts are perfect to give a little pep to your personal life.

  1. First, we have this cooling mattress topper. I know, it’s not usually something you’d find on a holiday wish list! But if you’re not completely happy with how you’re sleeping, this could change your life. (It did mine!) I’m a very hot sleeper, and was always wary of getting foam toppers because I heard they ran hot. This one is specifically designed to stay cool, and honestly it’s like lying on a cloud every night. The only problem is it makes it harder to accomplish my goals of getting up earlier in the mornings! It’s so hard to drag myself out of bed.
  2. This purse is actually on my wish list for this holiday season. I need a bag that’s appropriate for work and play, as well as has a zippered top. This one fits the bill! It also comes in a number of colors.
  3. Looking to spruce up your home decor? Get a coffee table tray! Fill it with candles, a vase with flowers, coasters, or anything else that adds a little color and interest to your living room. (And yes, I have a thing for trays.)
  4. Finally, the new year is a great time to try a new skincare routine. So why not add some items to your list! This double cleanser (foaming and oil-based) make my skin feel the cleanest it’s ever been. Toner is a must-have, and then try some serums to round it out.
Gifts for Fun
1. Moto Jacket | 2. Whiskey Stones Set | 3. Super NES Classic | 4. The Checklist Manifesto

Now, how about some items for fun? These are great to ask for yourself or give to others.

  1. How cute is this moto jacket form Old Navy? This is the perfect casual jacket to pair with jeans, a cute dress, or even over a cocktail dress (for a sort of modern look) for a holiday party.
  2. Know a whiskey connoisseur? This box set of whiskey glasses and whiskey stones is a cool gift that will round out any home bar.
  3. So I know the Super NES Classic came out a while ago, but I wasn’t able to snag one in the initial release! Now that stores are restocked, this is a fun, nostalgia-driven gift for yourself, or maybe a younger sibling.
  4. Books are always a great gift. I’m currently reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande (a big name in the medical field right now), about how a simple tool like the checklist revamped the way things are done in professionals from the medical field to disaster recovery.

So there are some ideas to get you started for this holiday season! What’s currently on your list?

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Motivation Monday: A Week of Almosts

white cup filled by coffee

During week one, my goal was to get up by 6:30 AM every day. How’d I do?

  • Monday: 7:00 AM
  • Tuesday: 7:00 AM
  • Wednesday: 6:30 AM
  • Thursday: 7:15 AM
  • Friday: 8:00 AM
  • Saturday: 6:30 AM
  • Sunday: 6:30 AM

So I was…kind of successful. Considering I had been getting up at 8:00 AM or later, it was definitely an improvement! I only met my true goal 43% of the time though. And it was always tough. Except, surprisingly, Wednesday morning. I stayed up until about 2:00 AM watching election returns, went to sleep for about four hours, and then was wide awake between 6:00 and 6:30. That’s election night adrenalin for ya! (But believe me, I was dragging by that afternoon.)

Of course Saturday and Sunday I was at a conference, so the getting up early wasn’t so much optional. But I’m still counting it!

So where do I go from here? Well, I’ve got to keep trying. So I’m continuing my goal this week to get up at 6:30 AM. This week, my plan is at least to beat 43%. Hey, if I increase the number of days I get up early by one per week, I’ll be at my goal in a month!

So what is the new goal I’m adding this week? It’s a crazy week for me; I’m still at my conference today and Tuesday, and then Thursday and Friday I’m in Chicago for another meeting. This is a tough time of year to start making changes to my routine! Of course, if I wait for the right time, it’ll never happen. So I need to aim for something additional this week.

Week Two Goal: Workout 3x for at least 20 minutes.

That shouldn’t be too hard, right? I’m not too worried about the intensity or calorie burn; all I’m worried about right now is habit-building. It would be great if by the start of 2019, I had a lot of really great habits in place that I could really buckle down and build upon. Plus, January – May is my busy time at work, so the sooner I get these things down the better!

What about you? Do you try to make changes this late in the year, or are you waiting for New Years resolution time?

Finance Friday

woman using space gray iphone x

Now we get to the really uncomfortable topic: money. It’s strange how we’re willing to talk with friends and family about other areas of my life that are not going well (weight, fitness, work, relationships), but money is still such a taboo topic. It’s incredibly hard for me to want to write about it here, anonymously on the Internet. I’ve struggled with how much I want to share. There’s definitely a feeling of shame that comes along with how my finances are doing that doesn’t appear when I think about my weight. I’ve had the capacity to deal with both in better ways than I have, I’m unhappy about both, and yet only one comes with this profound sense of failure.

Is it because it’s readily apparent how many people in our society struggle with weight issues? It’s not something you can really lie about easily. If you’re overweight, it’s obvious. Finances, on the other hand, are not public. Nobody can look at you and say “oh, they look like they’re about $20k in debt.” And yet it’s definitely something that most people deal with. Millennials between 25 and 34 have an average of $42,000 in debt, with up to a fourth of that being credit card debt. I’m obviously not an outlier, which is somewhat reassuring, but knowing that fact doesn’t put me in any better of a financial position.

It’s time to get serious. I need to be honest with myself and work my way back into a better fiscal situation. So here it is: I’m in about $39,000 in debt. The large bulk of that is student loans, and I have one credit card that is just barely in the five figures (*cringe*). My savings are mostly depleted, after throwing what I can at debt and a rather large vacation I had agreed to earlier this year (*double cringe*).

How did I get here? The student loans don’t bother me quite as much; I know they are at least considered “good debt” (i.e. worthwhile debt). Not that any debt is great, but they’re much easier to contend with than my credit card debt. When I first moved to DC at age 24, right after grad school, I had maybe $4,000 on my card from the tail end of grad school and the move. I thought I’d be able to pay it off quickly. But the reality of my salary (below $40k) plus living in an expensive city, coupled with my student loans coming due, made it difficult. I’d make progress for a while and take a step forward, but then “unexpected” expenses (or expenses I just wasn’t prepared for) came up and it would be two steps back. As my salary rose, so did my expenses. I moved from a big group house (cheap rent) to situations with fewer roommates, and then finally got my own one bedroom once I hit 30. The repayment amounts for my student loans went up. And then there was the fun stuff I spent on too (I’ve only taken two real vacations in my adult life, but they did end up adding to the amount on the credit card.

It’s hard to see that all in writing, but it’s important. I need to understand how I got here to avoid it going forward. And I know it will be slow going sometimes going forward. But I do have a plan.

I need a budget. Or rather, You Need a Budget. YNAB is the absolute best budgeting tool out there. I’ve used it in the past when I was working on getting my finances in order, but of course, as soon as I stopped, my situation took a step back. Any backsliding was completely on me, not the tool. Because it has made progress for me in the past, I know it’s the right budget format for me.

And really, in a lot of ways, finances and weight aren’t so different. To get yourself out of a hole in either case, tracking is key. So while I work on tracking my calorie deficits, I’ll be working towards a budgeting surplus. While working in two different directions, I hope I’ll be able to find balance in the middle.

Check back in next week to see how budgeting is going and why I think a budget like YNAB is something everyone should have.

Now that I’ve bared my most embarrassing confessions, what about you? Is money your most taboo topic, or is there another topic you try to avoid even more?

What to Wear to a Conference

As part of my job, I attend a lot of conferences. I’m heading to one this weekend in fact, and by December, I’ll have been to about ten this year. Before my current job (which I started in 2017), I had never really traveled for work. But the non-profit/association world is one with a lot of travel and meetings, so I had to learn quickly what to pack. Conferences are full of long days, meetings, networking, and being on your feet. So where do you even start with packing?

Conference updated

This is the entirety of what I would suggest for a 5-7 day conference trip. You’ve got options to mix-and-match, professional options, and comfortable options. Let’s break it down, shall we?

Anne Klein Faux Wrap Dress | Penelope Cap Toe Pump | Chloe Scalloped Ballet Flat | Kate Spade Stud Earrings | Roman Holiday Statement Necklace

To me, there’s nothing better for a travel day than a wrap dress. It’s comfortable on a plane ride, looks professional, and can be dressed up or down. If you’re headed right to a conference from the airport, I’d suggest a wrap dress and ballet flats during the travel. Keep your pumps in your purse, and change shoes once you get to the conference. (And as a practical matter, make sure to always keep your flats in your purse during the conference for easy comfort adjustment.) This outfit can also be worn to dinner with colleagues and coworkers.

Speaking of shoes – make sure your accessories are minimal. I like to bring three pairs of shoes (flats and two sets of pumps), and just a few pieces of jewelry. Stud earrings can be worn all week long, and a couple of different necklaces to pair with different necklines is all you need. The less you have to think about accessories, the quicker you can get to those 7:00 AM meetings.

Important Meetings
Tahari ASL Gray Suit Skirt | BR Silk top | Ketina Druzy Pendant Necklace | Kate Spade Stud Earrings | Penelope Cap Toe Pump | Tahari ASL Zippered Peplum Skirt Suit | BR Satin Tank

A suit is always a must-have when it comes to professional conferences. Inevitably, you’ll have a day where you’re meeting with important contacts or have to give a presentation yourself. You really only need one suit, but I’ve included two options here.

The first option is your basic suit – everyone should have a traditional suit in black, gray, or navy. Pair it with a blouse that brightens it up and you’ll be ready to meet anyone.

The second option is my favorite, though. How great is this suit? I love the peplum shape and asymmetric zipper. This is a suit that someone with a lot of confidence would wear. They know they belong, and don’t have to downplay their femininity to take charge. A black top goes with the purple well, and this top doesn’t need a necklace.

The great thing about these pumps is that they have both navy and black in them, meaning they go with just about anything. If you bring both black and navy clothes with you to the conference, these shoes will do double duty.

Sessions and Networking
BR Drapey V-Neck Top | J.Crew Cameron Slim Crop Pant | Ketina Druzy Pendant Necklace | Nic + Zoe On the Go Blazer | Penelope Cap Toe Pump | Chloe Scalloped Ballet Flat | Kate Spade Stud Earrings | BR High-Low Hem Top | J. Crew Marled Crewneck Sweater | J. Crew No. 2 Pencil Skirt

Now we get to the bulk of the conference. You might be sitting through educational sessions, manning a booth in the exhibit hall, or attending networking events. You want to be comfortable, but be able to easily dress up your outfits at a moment’s notice.

The first outfit is simple navy slacks with a royal blue shirt (a color combo I’m really loving these days). Add heels and a blazer when you need to be a little more professional, and relax a little in flats when you sneak off to get the free coffee that will get you through the next few hours.

The second outfit is actually two in itself – I couldn’t decide which I liked more. Green and navy go perfectly together, and this is another set that can easily add a blazer to dress it up. If you’re attending conferences in the winter, a cream sweater goes beautifully with the skirt as well.

Day to Night
Boden Mia Ottoman Dress | Kate Spade NY Vivian Pump | Kate Spade NY Stud Earrings | Roman Holiday Statement Necklace

Finally, you always need a little black dress with you. This sheath is professional enough to take you through the day at a conference, but is also perfect for transitioning to an evening reception or networking event. When you have a simple black dress, I love to add interest with shoes. While animal prints can sometimes be a little garish, if you stay with natural colors and a reasonable heel, they can be a fun addition to a more subdued outfit.

Is anyone else on the road a lot for their work? What are your favorite types of outfits for work travel?

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Weigh In Wednesday

blue tape measuring on clear glass square weighing scale

Now we come down to the brass tacks. Weight loss. I’m 5’0″ with about 40 lbs to lose, and I must hold myself accountable. Just looking at those numbers is incredibly demoralizing, but it’s also almost a relief to actually write it down.

How did I get here? I ate too much and stopped exercising enough. It really is that simple. I can go into all the reasons behind those (working late hours, a lot of work travel, and living by myself really got me off my good habits I used to have), but the reality is that plenty of people (including people I know here in DC) have those same obstacles but manage to maintain a healthy weight. And this isn’t who I want to be. I feel sluggish, I don’t recognize my body or face anymore, and I feel like the opposite of the confident, professional woman I want to be.

So here goes. My first official weigh-in for the blog: 174 lbs.


That’s probably a little inflated from all the stress eating of election night, but it is what it is.

So what is my plan? It’s pretty simple – have a calorie deficit every day. There’s of course other goals I have that will help with those – eat healthier, work out more, but really when you come down to it, I need to have at least a 500 calorie deficit per day if I want to lose a pound per week.

My process goals will be:

  • Track intake on MyFitnessPal, and aim for about 1400 calories per day (or less if needed to get to my 500 calorie deficit).
  • Complete the rings on my Apple Watch every day to ensure I’m moving enough. Get a really good streak going. I was a little unsure about wearing my watch to work since it’s so sporty-looking, but I did get this nicer looking watch band on Amazon, which I think makes it professional enough to take to work.

So there we go. That’s my simple (but not necessarily easy) plan. I’m counting on this blog to keep me accountable! Check in next Wednesday to see my first week’s progress.

Do you have any health goals you’re currently working on?

{This post contains affiliate links that may generate commission for the author}

Election Day

i voted sticker spool on white surface

It’s Election Day. Arguably the most important day of the year. While some people jump from celebrating Halloween to preparing for Thanksgiving, in DC all eyes have been on November 6th for months, if not years at this point.

Election Day has very real consequences for people in DC and throughout state governments. Some may find out tonight that they are out of a job when their Member of Congress is not reelected. Some might realize that a surprise victory means that they have two months to pack up and move to DC in time to begin the new Congress. The results tonight could flip the power structure in Congress in at least one chamber.

For my job, the real work begins tomorrow morning. I’ll sit down, look at who is leaving Congress, who is coming in, who is moving from the House to the Senate, and then start to strategize. What public health champions do we sill have, and which ones did we lose? What members can we rely on next year? Which new members do we want to reach to ensure they know about our issues? If one or both of the chambers flipped, does that change what our asks will be next year?

The results of the election are obviously critical to my work. But they are extremely personal to me, and I’m sure most of you out there as well. As someone who has at least volunteered with campaigns every election year, it really is all consuming, and there is so much at stake. This year, even more than most years, it is vital that every single person get out and vote. We are at a crossroads in our country, and I truly hope that we choose the path of decency, hope, truth, and progress. There is too much at stake to be complacent.

Normally, on election nights, I’ll gather with friends at a bar and excitedly watch the results come in. Tonight, I feel more subdued. I have hope, but I’m not as optimistic as I once was. After 2016, I don’t have as much certainty as I did in previous years. So I’ll be at home, with three screens open to track the results as soon as they come in. I’ll be sequestered with my spreadsheets and predictions, anxiously awaiting the results to see what our future will hold.

My one plea: vote. Do whatever it takes to get to the polls. Nobody’s life is unaffected by politics, and the more people vote, the stronger our democracy will be.

Motivation Monday

accurate alarm alarm clock analogue

Mondays. The day everyone dreads the night before. The morning it’s hardest to pull yourself out of bed. After a fun or relaxing weekend (or just two days you didn’t have to think about work), it can be jarring to step over the threshold into a new week.

Even though I love my job, Mondays can still feel like this for me. But what if I started trying to be excited about Mondays? What if I focused more on what I could achieve during the week, and Mondays meant I was one week closer to completing my goals?

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to look at Mondays as an opportunity from now on. The beginning of a new week is the perfect time to evaluate what you want to accomplish during the next seven days.

And boy, do I have a lot I want to accomplish. As you might have read in my previous post, my fitness and financial goals are going to take a lot of work. And while I’ll continually be working on those every day, I think it’s best to focus on one measurable weekly goal to improve your life. One goal that you go all in on, that if everything else fails, you’ll still have attained real change. By building on those goals each week, I’ll hopefully start to create a life full of habits that help instead of hinder my ultimate objectives.

Week One Goal: To wake up at or before 6:30 AM every morning.

My first goal is one that plenty of people already have a handle on, whether through discipline or necessity. Those people probably look at this and think “6:30 would be sleeping in every day for me!” And to those people – you are who I aspire to be. But I’m not there yet. My current mornings are not even filled with luxurious sleep; they’re basically filled with the sound of my alarm going off every nine minutes for an hour or so as I keep pressing snooze. I finally drag myself out of bed, likely more tired than if I had just gotten up in the first place. This routine gets me off on a bad foot every morning. I don’t have time to work out, I’m rushing to get ready, I stand over the sink to quickly eat breakfast, and then by that point I have to call an Uber or Lyft to get myself to work at a reasonable time (creating a hit to my wallet as well as the number of steps I could rack up if I took the bus or Metro). It makes me start my mornings feeling like I’m someone who just doesn’t have things together.

So this is the first step I’m going to tackle. Just getting up early. I’m not worried about actually working out during the mornings this week, or changing my routine otherwise. I’m allowed to of course – but the only thing I’ll be measuring myself on is creating the habit of getting up on time. Check back next Monday to see how successful I was!

What about you – what habit change do you think would really make a difference in your life?