Wednesday, October 21, 2015

On Setting Simple Goals

Confession time: I've never been a very big "goal setter". Until recently, that is. In school, the highly motivated teacher's-pet type people always had very clear goals for what they wanted to do in the next 5 minutes, 5 months, 5 years, etc. Not me! I've tended to be a little more loosey-goosey about how I go about my days. (Think "Type B Personality").

So, in an effort to be more "Type A," because I guess that's a good thing, I've decided to do more goal-setting. A wise individual once said "your dreams become goals when you write them down", and I think there's some truth to that. So this year, instead of being well-intended and buying an agenda, I've been well-intended AND even written some things down!

It turns out there's research to support writing down goals. This book, What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School, says in 1979, only three percent of the Harvard business grad students had set clear goals for their future and written them down. Another 13 percent had goals that they hadn't put on paper, and 84 percent didn't have any specific goals. That's mind-blowing to me because I thought Harvard business students were supposed to have stuff together. It's also encouraging that I'm not alone here (and I'm with the majority of Harvard, alriiiiiiight.)

Ten years later, those who had goals were making twice as much as the other group. What's even crazier is the ones who had written down their goals were making TEN TIMES MORE than the rest of the group.

So I guess the takeaway is goals are good. I haven't made any crazy-huge goals yet like invent the first hovercraft √† la Back to the Future Part II. At the moment, I'm mostly writing down things I have to do (like renew the tags on my car) and rewarding myself when I get 'er done. I don't reward myself with anything big — it could be a latt√© that I would have bought anyway, but somehow it tastes sweeter if you feel like you've earned it.

No word on whether "renew the tags on your car" will make me earn ten times more in my mid-thirties, but I'm willing to give it a shot. And research also says that writing things down helps you to remember them, so, y'know, I remember to renew my tags. Or I'll be more likely to remember my long-term goals.

Any goal-setters out there? If so, let's become friends so you can rub off on me.

Photos by Austin Elliott of Locke + Stache Media.

Monday, September 28, 2015

She Plants Things: Fall Flowers 101

Bring out the felt hats 'cause it's fall, folks! A new study just released says the trendiest place to wear a felt hat is at a local greenhouse — it has a 64 percent success rate of obtaining compliments from other plant-enthusiasts. (OK so that might not be true, but it probably is.) So, of course I had to throw on the floppy hat and take a trip to buy some new plants.

For some reason, I never cared about plants in college. Maybe they weren't allowed among the candles-on-candlewarmers that nested our cement-walled rooms. Or maybe my school's clocktower was so great that it consumed any extra space in my mind that could have been filled with flowers. Currently, I find them to be a pleasant addition to my living space. Anyway, who even knows what they like in college? I'm a grown-up now, and grown-ups like plants. (Right, mom?)

Over the course of the time I've lived in an apartment, I've had my fair share of succulents (see proof here, here, and head over to my Instagram to see my favorite birthday present from my sweet roomie). Succulents are great because they're pretty low-maintenance, and basically, once you figure out how to take care of one, you can apply the same method to a billion other types of succulents. Since fall is here (#PSL), I wanted to expand my knowledge to some other types of seasonal plants, so let the learning begin.

In my mind, if any one flower defines early-fall, it's a giant pot of mums. Interestingly enough, I learned from The Old Farmer's Almanac that you're actually supposed to plant them in the spring. Who knew?? For me, that's no big deal because I don't have a yard, so these babies aren't going to be planted anyway. For a small investment, though, they'll make my porch an even more enjoyable location for eating fancy cheeses and watching sunsets.

Other fun facts about mums: I haven't bought a pot for this one yet. Any ideas? I'm veering away from the standard terra-cotta for this one because I'd rather see the orange flowers "pop" more on a contrasting color.

Actual fun facts about mums:
- The correct term for these flowers is "Chrysanthemum," which is a 7th grade spelling word.
- They are originally found in Asia and northeastern Europe
- The first mums in America date back to 1884.

I also bought some kale, mostly because I thought it was pretty and wondered if you can eat it. (Honesty hour.) (It's the purpley-cabbage-looking one if you didn't know.)

So to answer the question I just Googled, ("can you eat ornamental kale"), I present the answer from "Ornamental cabbage and kale are in the same species, Brassica oleracea, as edible cabbages and kale. They are the result of hybridizing and, although they are still edible, they aren’t as tasty and tender as their cousins."

So, someone who writes for thinks kale tastes good. Huh.

For the mums and kale both, I'll water them when the top 1 inch of soil starts to dry, unless I forget and accidentally kill them.

Let me know if you bought fall plants, have kept them alive, didn't buy fall plants because you think they're dumb and/or like eating kale! I'm going to go eat some pizza!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Red, White, and Blueberries

Let me guess, you’re going to a 4th of July party with a bunch of hipsters who can’t eat anything yummy (read: burgers and brats), and you have no idea what to bring. Problem solved!*

*Note: Problem not solved if your hipster friends are doing Whole 30 as this summer treat is full of dairy. Problem only solved if your crew likes yogurt in mason jars. 

The main reason I think this would be a good party treat is because it’s so easy to make and super customizable. I made these parfaits look patriotic for the 4th, but you could use virtually any ingredients to make them fit your preferences. (See this post I did on a less healthy caramel apple parfait.) 

Patriotic Parfait Recipe
- Blueberries
- Strawberries
- Greek Yogurt (I used Chobani Vanilla Blended)
- Almond Slivers, Granola
- Honey to taste

It feels silly to even call this a recipe because it’s so easy-breezy. But in case you couldn’t figure it out on your own, I layered the ingredients in the mason jar, beginning with the greek yogurt. I added the blueberries next, and another layer of yogurt then I put strawberries on the top (obviously I should have put the blueberries on the top considering this post is called “Red, White, and Blueberries — oops). On the very top, I drizzled honey and added a few almond slivers.

So really this #shelearnsthings is about meal-planning because I’m so excited to have these yogurts to take to work this week! It takes me a while to warm up to the idea of breakfast in the morning, so I kinda have to force myself to eat something small first thing. (Does breakfast make anybody else nauseous, or is it just me?) My roommate, Merry, takes parfaits similar to these to work weekly and she really likes making (and eating) them. So, I’m accepting her influence and making room for more mason jars in the fridge! Speaking of the fridge, they should last several days when properly refrigerated.

Let me know if you make parfaits for patriotism! I'm going to eat mine now. America!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

10 Tips for Saying Thank You

Writing notes of gratitude may be a lost art, but perhaps due to Jimmy Fallon, thank you notes are coming back in style. Here's 10 tips for how to properly appreciate someone:

1. Be sincere: Even if your Aunt Irene gifted you a cat sweater you totally hate (although I'm not sure why anybody would hate a cat sweater), try to give your gratitude honestly. E.g., you should say something like "this sweater is sure to keep me warm over the winter!" (fact) rather than "I've never loved anything more!" (lie).

2. Be timely: Timeliness is important when writing thank you's because it often reflects sincerity. A too-late thank you could look like an afterthought, and you wouldn't want that! Ideally, send thank you's no later than 2 days after the gift was given or event was experienced. (Oops, I guess I'd better start writing some..)

3. Be specific: Specificity is one of the cardinal rules of thank you cards. You'll want to name exactly what you're giving gratitude for, and even feel free to mention why you're giving thanks. I had a set of fill-in-the-blank thank you notes as a child, and they were good for this. "Thank you for the __________; I like it because __________." Sounds silly, but people like to hear why you enjoyed the gift and how you'll use it!

4. Find a cute card: Self explanatory. Re: That cute card, use a notecard instead of a letter. This takes a lot of pressure off you because notecards can fit approx. 5 sentences as opposed to the 15 or so you could fit on a letter. Chances are, you don't have a novel-worth of things to say in your thank you note, so keep it short and sweet. 

5. Thanking somebody for a tangible gift: Send a picture! Snapping a photo really adds a nice touch to the note. I have a family friend who is so kind to often send me gift cards for my birthday or Christmas. I also have a tendency to save gift cards for a "rainy day," if you will, so I try to send a handwritten note and follow up with a picture text when I buy my new dress/candle/wallet/whatever!

6. Thanking somebody for an intangible gift: An interview is a good example of this. One of my friends sends a handwritten thank you note after any job interview she has, and I'm pretty sure she's gotten every job she's ever applied for. Another example is if somebody hosted you in their home, saying thanks may be implied, but writing it will make the host feel extra-special. 

7. Appreciate presence more than presents: This should be a goal in life, whether or not you receive a tangible gift. Be grateful for the people who surround you. If they're giving you a reason to thank them, they probably care about you, so challenge yourself to appreciate the sender more than what was sent (even if they sent you, like, a billion dollars). 

8. Write using your hands, with pen on paper: It's 2015, so digital thank you's are passable (any thank you is better than none), but you'll get bonus points for a handwritten note. Everybody loves to receive snail mail (as long as it isn't from MasterCard), and you'll look like the nicest person ever.

9. When in doubt, say thanks: "Should I send a 'thank you' to Susie for babysitting my pet lizard?" Yes. "Do I need to send a note to Sam saying thanks for letting me cheat off his math homework?" Yes.

10. When appropriate, thank the person in public: This probably goes more for intangibles than anything else, but sometimes it is nice to publicly recognize people for what they've done for you. Your friend probably won't toot his or her own horn, so toot it for 'em!

Dear people who read this blog post,

Thank you for taking the time to read this. It made me feel special. I included a few photos in the post; I hope you'll accept my gratitude.



Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cheesy French Toast Friendship

If you landed on this blog post from a thumbnail photo you saw of a bunch of cheese on french toast and now you're planning on thinking "that looks disgusting" the whole time you're reading this, you're probably not alone. But hey--can't knock it until you try it! This Memorial Day weekend marks the 1-year anniversary of when my supercool roommate Merry and I moved in together. So naturally, we decided to make cheesy french toast.

Last year, we had just finished moving everything up the 3 flights of stairs to our apartment, and somehow Merry started talking about this ridiculous recipe she grew up on in Wisconsin. Merry's mom would often put cheese on their french toast. Yes, CHEESE. I know what you're thinking because I thought it too. Why would anybody ruin french toast by putting CHEESE on it?? And why on earth would anybody ruin cheese by putting it on FRENCH TOAST?? But sometimes, when you combine 2 good things, you wind up with something even greater. Enter cheesy french toast.

So we headed over to the store with our friend Meghan to get things to make french toast…and cheese…and came home on a rainy Memorial Day weekend to eat it, sitting in our new living room with no furniture. But we had friendship, and cheese. It's a great memory for us, so now you can all recreate it because I'm giving you the recipe!

Cheesy French Toast
Makes about 6 slices

- 4 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 6 slices bread
- 6 slices sharp cheddar

1. Whisk together eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla to create batter to cover bread. Dip bread in egg mixture, coating both sides evenly.
2. Cook bread over lightly greased skillet on medium heat until golden brown.
3. Melt slice of sharp cheddar over top.
4. Don't forget the bacon. (It's not technically part of the recipe, but everything is better with bacon.)

Also don't forget the syrup. Mer's mom said she learned how to make french toast this way when she was 7. So, we're not totally sure on the original source for the recipe, but I like to think some brilliant soul in Wisconsin had too much cheese on his hands and came up with this.

I think if they ever reinstate Fear Factor into NBC's nightly lineup, answering affirmatively to "will you eat french toast with cheese on it??" may win somebody a lot of money someday. (We know it sounds weird and looks gross but it's really quite good.) ((Eating bugs on Fear Factor is probably way less enjoyable.)) 

P.S. Thanks to Austin Elliott for doing all the photography in this post and letting me edit 'em and to Merry Tucker for making french toast and letting me eat it and put her recipe on the internet.

Monday, May 11, 2015

She Sells Things

You must have thought I've forgotten about learning. Or that I fell off the face of the planet. Or worse, that I've been trapped on some remote island with no internet access. 

None of those things are true. But if you thought, "Hmm, Ana hasn't blogged in a while. I wonder if she's been busy opening a mini-boutique," you would have been right! Opening a shop has always appealed to me, and I can now officially say that 2015 was the year that I dipped my pinky-toe into the vast pool of business ownership. 

Turns out there are a lot of things to do to open a business--who woulda thought. But I am enjoying the new adventure! I'm carrying a lot of products from Rifle Paper Co. (insert heart-eyes emoji), some magnet boards, wall hangings, lamps, mugs, coasters, and a few other little knick-knacks.

I've already learned things (look at me go!) through this process, and I'm sure I'll continue to learn a ton more. It is helpful and humbling to have an individual like my mom (who has been a small biz. owner for over 20 years) to help me navigate the process for myself. 

So, where is it? I thought you'd never ask! There is a boutique in my hometown called The Market, which my mom has had space in for as long as I can remember. There are a few women who have space in the shop, and everybody has different things, ranging from home furnishings, gifts, clothes, baby clothes (the cutest), accessories, etc. etc. etc. It's pretty hard for me to remember that I'm there to sell things and not buy all the things. 

Now that I've gotten the shop up and running, I should be back to learning things more often. Thanks for sticking with me, guys!

So if you wanna, look up The Market's page on Facebook, and follow @themarketspringfield on Instagram. Also, if you have any products you'd love to see in the shop, send me a note at shelearnsthings(at)gmail(dot)com, and I'll see what I can do! 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

9 Things Every Girl Wants For Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is in 3 days, people! You might be a girl who doesn't want to hint at what you want for the big holiday. You might be a clueless guy who has no idea what to buy. I've solved all of these problems by posting what all girls are thinking, publicly, on the internet. Here are 9 great gift options any girl would love to receive for V-Day:

1. Candy

All girls love Conversation Heart candies, and there are several perks to buying them. The first perk is if either guy or gal is a terrible conversationalist. Ta-daaaa! Instantly fixed. Say, for example, you choose a heart that says "Cutie Pie." It's a 2-for-1! You can either talk about A. How that girl/guy is a cutie, or B. Your mutual love for pie. 
Sidebar: Don't expect a girl to eat the candy hearts because everybody knows they taste like TUMS, but hopefully she'll at least take a photo of them to put on her Instagram feed.

2. Notes

Notes are undeniably thoughtful, and girls love to receive them. Bonus points if you write her a love song. Or a haiku. 

3. Chocolate

It is a universally-recognized concept that women love chocolate. Capitalize on it! And act quickly because the chocolate in Walmart's Valentine's aisle is going like the rapture. 

4. Flower

Buy the lady a flower! Or, y'know, a dozen flowers. She will undoubtedly Instagram these if you fail on the candy front.

5. Coffee

Since we're all agreed that coffee is the best thing ever invented, your girl will obviously love this gift. For the gift that keeps on giving, you might consider buying a coffee *gift* card (although perhaps you should combine this with an actual date, too.) You could take her on a coffee date for Valentine's Day, or if you're a real overachiever, you could buy her a whole coffee shop! (I recommend knowing a little about business ownership/the coffee industry before taking the plunge on that last option.)

6. Hamburgers 

If your girl doesn't have a huge sweet-tooth, you could get her burgers for Valentine's Day. I highly recommend this option for anybody trying to date me.

7. Office Supplies

The best gifts are thoughtful. Show her you support her career! Why do guys always ask girls out by buying them fancy martinis, anyway? Buy me something useful and lasting, like a stapler. I would appreciate that more, and I've been meaning to buy one.

8. Cat Food

All women like cats. (Right???) So, if you want your lady to know you care about her, care about the things SHE cares about. Like her cat. And buying him food. You could save her a whole $12.78! Plus, if she knows you can take care of her cat, it will give her more confidence that you can take care of her.  

9. A Boyfriend

Every girl wants a boyfriend for Valentine's Day. Give me a boyfriend, or give me carbs!