Friday, July 21, 2017

Our Adoption Story and Custom Announcements From Basic Invite

** This post has been compensated by Basic Invite, Inc. All opinions are my own.

Our adoption hearing photo taken on May 12.

I have always known I wanted to adopt a child. I just never expected the way it would happen.

In December 2015, the subject of adopting Victoria first came up as we traveled to Phoenix to visit family. She had been under my aunt's care for months at that point. Graham and I have always loved our niece, so it was a no-brainer for us to offer to take her in when the need arose. We hope for nothing but the best for her biological parents, but our main concern was for her well-being.

Our adoption process took more than a year from that point. From the beginning we maintained contact with her caseworker and stressed that we would be more than happy to have her join our family. I would stay up countless nights crying into Graham's arms because I was so worried about what would happen to her. It was an uncertain time that required a lot of patience and trust that it would all work out.

During that year, we checked every box we needed to check. We had our home study done (twice), we underwent fingerprint checks, childproofed our apartment, spoke with lawyers and caseworkers who were involved -- you name it.  I also visited V in Phoenix as much as I possibly could to strengthen our bond.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Two days after running the Chicago Marathon in 2016, I had a marathon day of flights. I flew to Phoenix and back in one day to pick her up and bring her home to Chicago. Graham stayed behind to finish setting up her room while I traveled with her. It was such an emotional day for us; it was the day we became a family. When Graham picked us up from the airport, he had a teddy bear for her and she wore the biggest smile on her face.

From then on, we still had nine more months to go before our adoption was finalized. We had caseworker visits every month, but other than that we were pretty much a regular family. (We sure had a lot to learn about parenting, though!) The only notable difference would come up when she needed medical services and we'd have to submit paperwork because her last name was different than ours.

Our adoption was finalized over a phone hearing in May, nine months after she came into our custody and just two days before my first Mother's Day. We wanted to share with family and friends her new middle and last names in a nice way. Because she already had her first name, we wanted to choose a middle name that we connected with and that we loved. I wanted to announce the moment with a card as I would have done had I given birth to her, and I didn't want to miss out on this special marker of a major moment in our lives. I wanted to celebrate that V would finally share our last name and I could think of no better way than sending out announcements for Victoria Rose.

I turned to Basic Invite because I had seen previous blogs and reviews about how great their cards are. I found those positive experiences to be right on the mark. I completely customized the text of one of their elegant birth announcements to create adoption announcements displaying Victoria's new middle and last names. I love the way they came out!

I used my favorite photo of V from our family session with Square Mouth Studios in Indianapolis.
Family members have already started to receive them this week.

The back of the announcement has three photos taken by me and one by Square Mouth Studios in Indianapolis.

When designing your card, announcement or invitation, Basic Invite allows you to choose from a 180 color options and lets you instantly preview your cards online. You can select a design and then change the color of any element. I found the design I liked but wanted to make the text a light coral vs. a gray, and it took about a second. I also moved where the text was on the front of the card, where I used a photo from a family session we did soon after she arrived in Chicago. It was the easiest card design I've ever done, which I appreciated because I am not someone who wants to spend a long time edited a design.

Once your design is complete, you can order a custom printed sample to see and feel the exact quality of the paper and overall card or invite before placing your final order. Besides adding color to your invitation, card or announcement, you can customize the envelope to match as well, with more than 40 colors available. Addressing the envelopes is easy with Basic Invite's free address collection service: Simply share a link, get the addresses from friends and family and then have those addresses printed on the envelopes for free. How awesome is that?! This would be especially helpful for those who are planning a wedding. I didn't use this option because I didn't have an overwhelming amount of announcements to send and I enjoy handwriting them, but if you have many to send, this will definitely save you time!

One nice touch I liked about the envelopes is that they are peel and seal, which makes sending them easier and quicker. Side note: I really enjoy sending physical cards because I also like picking out awesome new stamps, like this collection featuring national parks.

Besides announcements, you will find a vast selection of invitations for just about any occasion you are marking, including customized baby shower invitations, and thank you cards. And if you need something custom like I did, you can certainly edit any text field to say what you want.

While going through the process of ordering the adoption announcements I became emotional because I am just so happy to finally officially be a family and have such a sweet, strong and happy child in my life. She is everything I hoped for in a daughter and more.

Have you created invites or cards with Basic Invite? If not, browse their selection and tell me your favorite designs! What would you create?

Connect with Basic Invite:

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Savory Breakfast Taco Recipe | Fueling My Inspiration

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #RediscoverLaMorena #VivaLaMorena #CollectiveBias

As I've gotten older, I have realized more and more the importance of remembering who I am and where I came from. I was always eager to move out of Phoenix and experience something new besides the same Mexican food, trips to California, and camping across my home state of Arizona. When I finally moved away, though, I discovered that I miss home and those things I sometimes took for granted. Now that I live in Chicago, far away from my family in Mexico, Arizona and California, I find that eating traditional or Mexican-inspired foods reminds me of home and makes me feel more inspired to explore the world. It's not just about food; it's rediscovering the inspiration to keep exploring new places, foods, and experiences.

One way I do that is revisiting the simple but delicious foods I ate growing up and that were staples at our dinner table. These include tortillas, beans and pickled jalapeños. These simple ingredients were a constant for me. For you it might be something else, but for me, these three items signify home and comfort. While I struggle to make the exact (and amazing) dishes my mom cooks at home, I use them as inspiration for my meals now. I try to make easy and healthier versions of the foods of my childhood in my everyday life to fuel me as I continue to explore and mold my purpose in this world. I plan to continue that so my daughter grows up knowing and loving the same flavors I did and has a connection to our culture through her dinner plate.

While I have always been known to put jalapeños on everything because I prefer savory over sweet any day, I have recently rediscovered LA MORENA®, which has been around for longer than I've been alive and is a trusted brand of authentic Mexican products. I have since been challenging myself to find new ways to use this kitchen staple in my meals. Cooking Mexican food has been slightly out of my comfort zone only because my mom set the bar pretty high with her cooking, and I sadly did not study it enough before moving away from home two and a half years ago. It has since become one of my missions to not only learn to cook those dishes I grew up with but to improve my Spanish speaking.

I always have a glass container with jalapeños ready to go on top of anything. But now I want to use it more as an ingredient rather than a flavor enhancer. Lately, a favorite breakfast of mine has been savory and filling breakfast tacos incorporating LA MORENA® Whole Jalapeños (13 oz). (These are also available in 7 oz and 28 oz cans, as well as sliced.) They are super easy and quick to make, and they leave me satisfied and with enough energy to take on the day, whether it's trying something new (like a new fitness class), checking out a new part of Chicago (to me) or revisiting favorite places in our city.

Before I share this recipe, be sure to enter LA MORENA®'s sweepstakes to rediscover your own passions!

#VivaLaMorenaSweepstakes(7/19 to 8/23)

Now I'll share the yummy breakfast tacos I love to make before a busy Chicago summer day. I like to top them a Chipotle sour cream using LA MORENA® Chipotle Sauce that I'll share as well. Over the weekend I fueled up with three of these before heading out on a 5-mile half-marathon training run on the Chicago Lakefront Path. (I later ate the leftovers before kayaking on the Chicago River.)

First, I find all the ingredients I need for this hearty breakfast at my neighborhood Jewel-Osco. You can spot the bright LA MORENA® packaging in the Hispanic foods aisle. My local Jewel-Osco store also carries LA MORENA® Chipotle Sauce for the Chipotle sour cream sauce in the salsa aisle. Most of the other ingredients you need for this recipe are typically found in the Hispanic foods section.

To make the breakfast tacos, you'll need:

LA MORENA® Whole Jalapeños (28 oz) are often thought of as a garnish, but they add more flavor when they are actually prepared in the dish.

Makes about six tacos.
  • Cooking spray (or oil)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup chopped spinach or mixed greens (about 1 ounce)
  • 1/4 cup of black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 2-4 chopped LA MORENA® Whole Jalapeños (amount of jalapenos depends on your preference) You can also use LA MORENA® Sliced Jalapeños (7, 13 or 28 oz cans).
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 corn (or flour) tortillas
  • 1 tablespoon of Mexican cheese (either shredded cheese or Cotija cheese)

Heat sprayed cooking pan on medium-low heat. Add chopped spinach, black beans, chopped red onion, and chopped LA MORENA® Whole Jalapeños and sauté them for a couple of minutes. Whisk eggs, season them with salt and pepper, add them to the pan and stir. Cook for a few minutes to desired consistency. Heat tortillas on separate burner or pan (or warm them in the microwave) for about 30 seconds to a minute. Wrap cooked eggs in the tortillas and add your desired toppings.

Suggested toppings: Sliced avocado, pickled carrots from the can of LA MORENA® Whole Jalapeños or Chipotle sour cream sauce (recipe below). Add as much cheese as you'd like!

NOTE: You might find that LA MORENA® Sliced Jalapeños are easier to chop, which cuts back on prep time. I buy both Sliced and Whole Jalapeños for various uses. Be sure to transfer unused jalapeños to a glass storage container for later use. LA MORENA® has lots of recipes for traditional dishes to use them in.

My preference is to cook the eggs and veggies a little longer, but cook them how you like them.

I like to use the pickled carrots from the can of LA MORENA® Whole Jalapeños or Sliced Jalapeños (7, 13 or 28 oz) to top my tacos, along with sliced avocado and Cotija cheese. (Use shredded Mexican cheese if you prefer.)

Cooking LA MORENA® Whole Jalapeños (13 oz) in the actual eggs rather than as a topping distributes the flavor more evenly and makes the dish more savory and delicious.

For the Chipotle sour cream sauce you will need:
  • 1/3 cup of sour cream (or crema Mexicana)
  • 4 teaspoons of LA MORENA® Chipotle Sauce
  • Juice of quarter to half a lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Add more LA MORENA® Chipotle Sauce as preferred in 1-2 teaspoon increments. Drizzle some of the sour cream sauce on top of the tacos for added flavor. You can make more than you'll need and save it for later. It goes on just about anything!

Note: Be sure to transfer the leftover LA MORENA® Chipotle Sauce to another container and store it in the fridge for later use in your favorite dishes.

Before mixing LA MORENA® Chipotle Sauce and sour cream. 
I added some lime juice, pepper and garlic salt based on my preference.

My completed tacos with avocado, Cotija cheese, pickled carrots and Chipotle sour cream.

These are perfect to enjoy on a weekend morning before heading out on the day's adventures. If it is just me eating the tacos, I save the rest of the eggs and sauce for breakfast on the following day. It saves time that I can instead use to explore.

Orange juice and breakfast tacos to keep me energized.

Let me know if you make these super simple and tasty tacos and what you thought of them. Also, be sure to enter LA MORENA®'s sweepstakes (top of this post) and let me know where it takes you! Have you tried LA MORENA® products? 

Connect with LA MORENA®:

Rediscover more flavors and recipes for this summer with LA MORENA®. It has provided the products you need for traditional recipes for more than 35 years!

Find LA MORENA® on social media:
Coming soon on my Instagram: Watch out for a post on where LA MORENA® is taking me this summer!

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Half-Marathon Training, Week 2

So far, so good. Week 2 of Chicago Half Marathon training was successful in that I trained four days out of the week and increased my running mileage by 10 percent. That percentage is my goal for increasing mileage each week of the 12-week training process. Week 3 will be tricky because my oldest nephew, who just graduated from high school, will be visiting us in Chicago for a long weekend, so I will be busy showing him around the city. My short-term goal is to stay on track while making time for family. I also need to get back on track with strength training.

Here's how last week went down:

Monday: 2-mile treadmill run. It was muggy and I didn't want to run outside.

Tuesday: Stretching.

Wednesday: 2-mile run on the treadmill. It was another rainy and busy day, so I had to fit it in somehow. I did incline intervals to challenge myself. I missed group training this week because we needed to run some errands regarding our condo repairs and that was a priority for me.

Thursday: 2-mile run on the treadmill. Again, I fit it in where I could.

Friday: Rest.

Saturday: Rest. I had planned to run my 5-miler this day but I was exhausted from running errands that morning and was recovering from some back pain I felt on Friday. I did 30 minutes of yoga that evening.

Sunday: 5 miles. It was a beautiful day in Chicago and the temperature was ideal for running. I felt great and motivated, though that wind kept slowing me down. I had a delicious meal of breakfast tacos earlier so I had tons of energy to burn.

Week's mileage: 11


It's amazing how much more inspired I've been feeling simply by knowing that I can do this and I have the tools I need for success. When you invest in yourself, you can have the confidence to know you can accomplish your goals. I have invested in child care, running coaches/a training schedule and time for myself, and I know it will pay off.

I hope that if you're reading this and you have a goal, whether it's running a race, hiking a certain trail, or feeling better in your clothes, you just have to put that intention out there, focus on it, act on it and it will happen. Feel grateful that the results are coming and you will be rewarded.

Quote for your day: "The inspiration you seek is already within you. Be silent and listen." -Rumi

Previous Recap:

Monday, July 17, 2017

Date Night Idea: Murder Mystery Dinner Show

** The Murder Mystery Co. provided complimentary tickets for this post. All opinions are my own.

Graham and don't get to go on date nights often enough, so when The Murder Mystery Co. reached out to invite us to a dinner show, I was so excited! We had originally planned to attend a show in June, but our babysitter decided to not show up and not tell us. That's another story, though. This time we had reliable child care so we our minds were at ease on our way to the "Till Death Do Us Part" show at Salvatore's Ristorante in Chicago.

While parking is available via valet at the restaurant, we decided to instead use my trusted SpotHero app for parking nearby. It was an easy walk to the restaurant and we made it with plenty of time. The doors for the 7 p.m. show open 30 minutes before for VIP members and 20 minutes before for general admission.

Cast member Anita Goodman greeted us when we arrived, and I immediately suspected she would be the killer. I then proceeded to think each other person was also the killer. ... When you walk into the restaurant, you are offered photos and props to use. Then you can grab a drink at the bar before heading upstairs to check in. I tried one of the $7 drink specials after taking a couple of photos.

We had VIP seats at a table near the front, and we were seated with eight other people. (VIP seats also included the photos we had taken when we arrived.) Soon after being seated by the bride of the show, Summer, we discovered that Graham would be a suspect named Skip Showers. He was hoping not to be in the limelight, but he was a great sport about the whole thing. His character was hilarious and we all had many laughs about it.

Dinner started with bread and salad before the pastas and chicken were served. Vegetarians can have the penne with marinara, while meat eaters can eat the sausage rigatoni or the chicken. It's served in one large dish each, which means you have to pass the dishes around. It's a bit tricky and the plates are warm, but that's not a big deal. Don't expect life-changing dishes, but I liked the vegetarian pasta. Ice cream was served for dessert.

The show revolves around a death at a wedding, and the entire audience must participate to make it a successful evening. If you are introvert like I am, you might have to come out of your shell a bit, as you need to ask questions of others throughout the night. A drink helped! Each table has a sheet to jot down clues, as well as faux money that you use to bride others for information. Since Graham was a suspect, he was bribed by other tables for clues, which were listed in a binder at our table. The suspects from each table were also called up in front of everyone for interrogation by the detective, all of which helped us get closer to figuring out who did it.

At the end of the show, each table has time to submit their pick for the murderer, and the correct and most specific answer wins! Certificates are handed out for best costume, best actor and best actress as well. (By the way, before the show you receive an email with suggestions on theme-appropriate attire for inspiration.) Many people went all out with their costumes, which made it more fun. I SO wished I had planned an outfit ahead of time.

Overall, I had a fantastic time! I feel like this is the type of activity during which your attitude determines your enjoyment level. Just go with it! I laughed more than I have in a while. I could see us doing this again with a group of friends, especially for a birthday. (Next time I'd like to see the other show, "Of Sound Mind and Dead Body.")

The actors were entertaining and the crowd on Friday night was super enthusiastic. It made for a great experience.

FYI: Shows are available in Arizona, California, Colorado, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

One of our keepsake photos from the murder mystery show.

Have you ever been to a murder mystery dinner show? What did you think?

Friday, July 14, 2017

Life Update & Favorites

** This post contains affiliate links. I make a small commission on purchases made through these links. 

Today I'm sharing a compilation of thoughts that wouldn't really compose an entire post on their own. We've had a ton going on lately, and sometimes I struggle to keep up. Planning has helped immensely, as has simply writing things down in a journal or blog to let these thoughts out. I'm trying to release the worry and remind myself everything will be OK. I just know it.

Here's what's on my mind:

It's been raining in Chicago for a million years. The storms wake Victoria up and she thinks the thunder is a monster. Also, this is messing with the lighting I need for blog photos, which frustrates me because I like to bring my A game and I feel like it's preventing that. #bloggerproblems

I am considering doing another round of decluttering. In 2015 I did a 30-day decluttering challenge because I was preparing for a move and Victoria's arrival. Adopting a child has meant bringing in tons of stuff into our home (via gifts, hand-me-downs and our own shopping for her) and I have reached the point where I need to declutter again. Would you be interested in reading about the process?

We are checking out a preschool tomorrow. The whole idea of finding a school, day care/preschool for Victoria overwhelms me. The system here in Chicago seems so complicated and often involves a wait list.

Paletas are my favorite, specifically the lemon flavor. They are my favorite thing to eat in the summer, ever. Last weekend Victoria and I walked to the park specifically to look for a vendor who sells them.

I bought a Super Suit to protect our GoPro Hero 5 and I love it. The GoPro is supposed to be waterproof, but we don't want to take any chances. If you've been here before you might know that we lost our GoPro in Costa Rica and it was found a year and a half later by someone who was snorkeling. The SD card still worked! To prevent losing another GoPro we bought a Floating Handle Grip and the Super Suit. We also have a floating case. Yes, these accessories are a little pricey, but so is losing a GoPro!

We recently had a leak in our condo in Phoenix that damaged the entire kitchen flooring. My mom has been living in it without flooring for a month. It's been a challenge finding a contractor to fix it from afar, plus my mom's English is limited. We finally hired someone, but we decided to replace the flooring we had with tile to match the rest of the downstairs. Unfortunately, that tile is sold out in Arizona -- we checked every Lowe's in Phoenix -- and it apparently isn't an option to have it shipped from another store (we asked!), so we are doing something insane and having it shipped via freight, which involves talk of pallets, lift gates and docking facilities. Also money. Oh, joy! (We have insurance but we still had to pay the deductible plus this shipping cost.)

We have tomatoes and strawberries growing! If you follow me on Instagram you may see that I constantly post garden updates. I am excited to finally be able to grow tomatoes, even if I only really like them in salsa.

I fully believe in manifesting and I feel like I'm being rewarded for my gratitude and trust. This hasn't always been the case. Earlier this year I kept questioning why certain things kept happening to us, specifically after Taylor died and we had some unexpected expenses and setbacks. Lately I've been trying to change my mindset to believing we are going to accomplish what we want as long as we make moves and trust, and it's paying off with new opportunities. I just kept thinking "It will happen." and things immediately started to come my way. This in turn makes me more motivated to take action. Do you practice manifesting?

I have some fun brand collaborations coming up next week. I pursued them because they made sense for what's going on in my life and hope you enjoy them. Thanks for understanding that collaborating with brands is one way I make my travel dreams come true. Also know that I try to accept sponsored posts that I think would be helpful in some way, whether by letting you enter a promotion or giveaway, learn about a great product, try something new, etc.

My plans for the weekend: Take care of business (tile shipping, sponsored posts), plan upcoming road trips, eat some delicious food, and film a yoga video!

Quote for your week: "What you think you become. What you feel you attract. What you imagine you create." -Buddha

Hope you have a fantastic weekend! Please share with me what you've been up to or thinking in the comments below!

Related posts:

GoPro Favorites**:

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

YouTube Made Me Buy It, Vol. 3

** All items mentioned in this post were purchased by me. This post contains some affiliate links. I make a small commission on purchases made through these links. 

Here we go again: Another post on products YouTube influenced me to buy. In the past year I've started watching YouTube significantly more. Over that time I looked to YouTube to find cruelty-free makeup products to switch to, but along the way I also became sucked into fitness vlogs and, lately, planner videos. I also enjoy general lifestyle vlogs, especially those that involve decluttering. This latest round of products are those that I bought after watching my favorite YouTubers.

Catch up on the first two posts in this series:

And now, Round 3:

GymsharkNikki Blackketter (various prices, sold out): I started watching Nikki B. in February and quickly fell in love with her personality. I also like to screenshot her workouts so I can try them on my own. When she came out with a line of clothing with GymShark I loved pretty much everything, but I didn't really NEED a lot of the stuff. On launch day, after initially only wanting to buy a hoodie that was already sold out, I ended up buying a pair of the leggings and matching studio jumper. I figured that since the collection was limited edition I should get one or two things and sell them if I don't like them. I also figured I would enjoy the leggings as much as the pair of Flex GymShark leggings I own, which are the most comfortable and flattering leggings ever for working out. The leggings ended up being too small, so I sold them on eBay for just a few bucks more than I paid. I liked the studio jumper for traveling back from Phoenix to Chicago and plan to wear it more on chilly days and evenings. The entire line is sold out and was limited edition, but I believe Nikki and GymShark will work on another line at some point.

BH Cosmetics Carli Bybel Deluxe Edition Palette ($22.50): I was looking for a few more purples, pinks and shimmers in my small eyeshadow collection, so when I saw the palette and that it was affordable at about $20 (when it first came out via BH Cosmetics), I picked it up. It also comes with highlighters, so I am pretty much set on highlights and shadows for a long time. This palette has a lot of kick-up, though, which makes the white palette get dirty easily. I don't find the shimmers to be that intense unless you wet them or apply with your finger. It's pretty though.

L.A. Girl Pro Coverage Luminous Foundation ($8.99): I LOVE this foundation. It makes my skin look glowy and healthy. It is the only foundation I own at the moment. I like the medium coverage for the summer because it's not too much for everyday wear. The cap to the bottle (which has a pump) feels a little cheap, but that's not a big deal. My shade is Beige.

Yeti USB microphone ($129): I wanted to buy a microphone for voice-overs on my upcoming yoga videos, and after watching about 20 videos, I decided this was the best option. I originally wanted to get a cheap microphone, but Graham convinced me that I shouldn't always get the cheapest option for everything and that I need a quality microphone. When I talked about investing in passions recently on this blog, this is partly what I meant. I wanted to make myself more excited to make videos, which I enjoy, even if my YouTube following is small. I love the look of the silver microphone, and it's worked well so far. I also bought a pop filter for it (about $6). Other color options are available.

Saucy Sticker Co. planner stickers ($2.50-plus): No one I watched really talked about these stickers specifically, but after watching some plan-with-me videos, I was compelled to buy some stickers on Etsy. I like Saucy stickers because she recently redesigned them to make the functional icon stickers bigger. I don't buy full kits but rather a la carte functional sheets and those with half-boxes and washi so I can cover up my writing when plans change. I can make sheets stretch out for weeks, and I find that stickers make me more excited to use my planner. If you'd like to see a post about how I plan, let me know in the comments!

Shop the post**:


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Becoming a Mermaid
With AquaMermaid Chicago

** Thank you AquaMermaid for hosting me for a mermaid class. All thoughts are always my own.

Photo taken with a GoPro, so quality of image differs from my other posts.

I've always been a mermaid at heart. Haven't we all dreamed of being a mermaid? AquaMermaid helped me make that dream a reality at its mermaid class over the weekend at the UIC Sports and Fitness Center. What a Sunday Funday!

I was a little nervous before the class on Sunday, but I'm not sure why. A fellow student quickly put me at ease with her kindness. I didn't know anyone else in class, but by the end we were all chatting and having fun together.

We began by getting outfitted with our fins and tails. You first put your feet in the fins and then zip up (in my case, Velcro) your tail up. Then you pull the tail up the rest of the way. That was the trickiest part, but I found that if you lie down it's a lot easier. If you're wondering about the fit of the mermaid tails, AquaMermaid has a size chart on its website.

First, what to bring to the mermaid class:
  • Towel
  • Waterproof camera (I bought my GoPro in its new Super Suit.) 
  • Googles
  • Swimsuit
  • Moisturizer and lip balm for after class (I wish I had brought these because I found that my skin felt so dry after class.)
  • Lock, if you plan to use a locker
  • Friends!
Once you get in the water, you learn the basic mermaid moves, which we practiced in groups of three. One of them was the mermaid hello, which meant bringing your knees to your chest and waving your tail. The class I attended was for teens and adults, but classes for children 7 and older are also available. Our class had people in their teens to their 30s and 40s. (By the way, AquaMermaid classes are also available in Ottawa, Phoenix/Scottsdale, Montreal, Toronto, Quebec, Kitchener-Waterloo and Norfolk County.) 

Among the tricks we learned: swimming sideways, swimming in groups holding each other's shoulders, handstands, etc. It was a bit difficult to swim with the tail on at first, but by the end I was getting the hang of it.

After we learned and practiced the basics, we could move on to the deeper end of the pool to learn more tricks. We also at one point did ab work: Placing our elbows at the pool's edge, keep our bodies and legs straight and lifting our tails up to the water's surface, then back down slowly and with straight legs (as in a leg lift). I found it difficult to get the tail up to the surface. We also participated in a relay race, but by then I was beat. (This is when you will need your goggles. You also need them if you prefer to swim underwater.) The class is definitely a workout!  

The class ends with enough time (about 10 minutes) to take photos, so don't worry. The instructor knows just what poses to do, too, in case you're stuck. It's also a fairly Instagrammable event, if you're into that sort of thing. 

Also, if you find that you fall in love with the class, you can become a member and buy a mermaid tail of your own! 

A mermaid class would make a great outing for a group of friends, especially for a birthday. I could see doing this with a few friends and then going to brunch afterward, because you most certainly work up an appetite. A gift card to AquaMermaid would also make a unique gift for an adventurous person in your life. I'd love one! My biggest tip for mermaid class is to have fun and enjoy the laughs!

Questions I received when I shared a post about my mermaid class:

  • Is it hard? In the beginning it can be a bit difficult, but it gets easier. I felt it the next day. 
  • Am I too old for this? NOPE! We had teens up to middle-age students in my class.
  • Are men allowed? Guys can certainly attend. Mermen are welcome, too! 
  • Can I actually become a mermaid? If you'd like to become a professional mermaid, you can take training via AquaMermaid! How cool is that?!
Also: Parking for the Chicago class was easy to find on Taylor Street, just a short walk from the center. (And it's free on Sundays, when these classes were held!)

Have you ever considered taking a mermaid class? Doesn't it sound like fun?

Video: my mermaid class experience:

Monday, July 10, 2017

Half-Marathon Training, Week 1

** This post contains affiliate links to some of my favorite products of the week. I am compensated for purchases made through these links.

I finally started my training for the Chicago Fall Half Marathon last week! I was scheduled to begin the previous week, but I had a work trip to Phoenix that prevented me from joining my group and coaches as planned. I am so excited to start over after failing at half-marathon training earlier this year. Here we go!

Monday: Ran 2 miles to test out our jogging stroller. Graham actually joined me for this run around the neighborhood and park. It was nice to have company, though we had to stop many times because 1. I am out of shape 2. Victoria needed to stop for various reasons.

Tuesday: No workout because it was Fourth of July and I didn't feel like it.

Wednesday: About 1 mile at group half-marathon training. We had a hill workout in which we did:

  • Lunges up the hill (3 times)
  • Easy runs up and down the hill (5 times)
  • A game of "Turn!" in which you end up running all the way up the hill
  • Short jogs in between (3-4 times)
  • Side shuffles in a zigzag up the hill (3 times)
  • Planks (1 minute each, 3 times)
  • Stretches
  • A jog to and from the hill
Thursday: 1.5 mile run/incline walk on the treadmill. I alternated between running and walking at a 10 percent incline. I was super sore from Wednesday. 

Friday: Light stretching.

Saturday: 3.75-mile stroller jog around the neighborhood. We had to stop to adjust, use the restroom, etc., but for the most part V sat in the stroller and watched her tablet. That's pretty much the only way I can get her to go on a jog with me. I was proud that I was able to nearly complete my scheduled 4 miles. I wish I could have joined my running group for the run, but I don't have a sitter who is available at 6:30 a.m. on Saturdays.

Sunday: 1-mile treadmill run/walk after my mermaid fitness class! Yes, you read that correctly. I will have a post up this week on the experience! It was such a good workout.

Total miles: 9.25


I feel motivated going into half-marathon training. I am finally finding ways to work out, like using the stroller and taking advantage of the treadmill at my apartment building.

My goals for training:

  • Stay consistent.
  • Attend at least the Wednesday group workouts.
  • Incorporate more yoga into my training, either at home or in a studio.
  • Match my last half-marathon time. 
  • Track what I am eating. I used to track my calories/macros every day, but I've recently neglected that. I'd like to get back into the habit of tracking.
  • Don't worry so much about my weight.

What are your current fitness goals? Do you think fitness recap posts are helpful/inspiring? Let me know in the comments!


Week's favorites**:


Friday, July 7, 2017

5 Ways to Improve Your Photography

I just completed a photography course, one of my June goals, in which I learned so much about how to improve my photos. I consider this just the beginning, and I plan to take more classes, including one on editing. But I wanted to pass along some of what I learned in case any of you are struggling with taking photos. This is more geared toward beginners such as myself, because I do not claim to be an expert in photography. I do know that all of the tips listed below have helped me become a better photographer and understand my camera better, though I have a long way to go.

1. Angle and composition. So many of us take the camera, bring it to eye level and take the photo. But if you get down low or stand up on a higher surface, you change the entire perspective and can often get a much more interesting photo. Making the subject be off center can also do this, as can changing the depth of field. Also, simply changing the direction of where you're shooting changes everything. For example, my instructor asked me to take a photo of a flower, and I went for the closest one, but he suggested one that was being hit by the sunset light on the completely other side of the tree, and the photo turned out 1,000 times better. You may not consider things such as positioning as a beginner, but they make all the difference.

2. Light. Moving the object or subject to a location with better natural light will instantly yield better photos, but you can also do things like moving a lamp closer or using reflectors. Even better is learning to manually use your camera so you know how to adjust your shutter speed, for example, to allow more light into your camera. When you're on manual, you can also use metering, which is an indicator in your viewfinder that tells you the correct exposure.
3. ISO. The lower your ISO is, the better. Higher ISOs will yield a grainier/noisey photo that isn't great for printing purposes. I still am trying to learn more about ISO, because out of all photography concepts, that trips me up the most.
4. Lens and proper camera usage. Different lenses allow you to do more things. I have a certain Nikon lens that goes from f1.4 vs. the f3.5 of my kit lens. That means I can take images at lower light situations than I would with my first lens. I also have 200mm and 300mm lenses that are great for capturing greater detail and objects that are a little farther away, among other things. Along with that, changing up my camera settings has helped immensely. For instance, I had no idea I could use flash compensation to change the brightness of the flash on my camera. I rarely use flash because I prefer natural lighting, but now that I know how to adjust it, I can use it to look more natural when needed. I also know that changing my output setting to RAW images helps me in the editing process, because I can edit the larger RAW image and then save it as a JPG and edit further in Photoshop or Lightroom.
5. Tripod. If you're getting a lot of camera shake, one potential reason is that you're not keeping your camera still, and a tripod has helped me with that. I've been using mine a lot more after neglecting it for more than a year.

Lastly, practicing and experimenting with different settings on my camera has greatly improved my photos this past month. When taking a photo, I give myself more time to sit and change setting as needed until I like the photo I am getting. Taking a class has inspired me to keep learning more about photography and keep practicing. I've had my camera in my hand a lot more frequently this past month, and I love it!

Have you taken photography class? What tips would you share with others?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Cruelty-Free Empties, Vol. 9
(Plus Makeup Decluttering)

** This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission for purchases made through these links.

I recently went through my (small) makeup collection and decluttered some items, which I plan to give to someone who would like them. This reminded me that I also have five empties to share! These makeup and skin-care items are all cruelty-free and fairly affordable, and most of them are winners.

My most recent empties:

Mario Badescu Ceramide Herbal Eye Cream ($18): I liked this a lot. It kept my eye area moisturized and soft. I noticed my concealer looked great over it as well. I haven't repurchased this yet but I plan to buy it soon. It doesn't do anything for dark circles or under-eye bags, in case you're wondering.

Mask of Magnaminty ($15): I have written about this many times before, so I won't say much about it. In the past my skin was becoming too sensitive to it, but this time I didn't feel anything out of the ordinary. I plan to trade in my five empties from Lush to get a new mask. I like to switch off between this one and Cup 'O Coffee.

Pacifica Dreamy Youth Day and Night Face Cream ($15): At first I thought this was making my skin greasy and break out, but I was wrong. I started using it as my daily moisturizer after a mini break and I liked it. I wish the packaging were a bit better, though; it could be more efficient and less wasteful. I already purchased this again. After that I may use the Confidence in a Cream by It Cosmetics, which I also liked.

Milani Supreme Kohl eye liner: I liked the pigmentation and packaging, but this eyeliner smudged on me every single time, and it didn't take long. I would not buy this again. I plan to try the Lottie London felt tip liner, which I have heard positive reviews about.

Milani Prime Perfection Face Primer ($5.89): I have written about this primer before, which I compared to one by Wet 'n Wild. I liked the scent and the feel of the primer. I have gotten many compliments on my makeup lately, and I believe it's the combination of this primer and the LA Girl foundation I've been using. I plan to repurchase this primer.

Makeup decluttering:

I am giving these makeup items to a family member I know will like them. Most of these were only used once or twice, and one of them is not open.

Colourpop Ulta Satin Lip in Panda: I just don't wear it often at all. There's nothing wrong with the shade.

Too Faced mini blush in Love Hangover: Again, I don't use this.

e.l.f. Bronzer and highlight duo: It was sent to me to try and I just don't wear it that much. When I did wear them, it was on my eyes.

Too Faced Chocolate Soleil bronzer in Medium/Deep: It smells amazing, but I don't use it.

Tarteist Lip Paint mini in Birthday Suit: This was free. I don't have an issue with the formula; the color makes me look washed out.

Burt's Bees Mango lip balm: This isn't opened. I just prefer the original.

Colourpop Super Shock Shadow in Hammered: I thought this was going to be more green when I ordered it. I don't have a use for this and only wore it once.

Wet 'n Wild Come Correct Celebrity Concealer ($3): This was terrible, too tacky and not the right shade. I wouldn't call this an empty because I couldn't even use it. Good thing it wasn't expensive! This one is being discarded.

What products have you been using up? Did you enjoy them?

Shop my cruelty-free empties**: