November 20, 2014

Ways to Give Back in St. Louis

This year is flying by  it's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is only a week away! I'm looking forward to the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, because those weeks feel particularly special, since they usually involve spending time with family and celebrating with friends.

I'm also working on being more mindful of my consumption habits this year. It's easy to overindulge (on food, spending, or both!) during the holidays, and I hope to be more intentional about the decisions I make by avoiding unnecessary purchases and instead finding ways to support families who are in need. 

Want to join me and give back with your family, book club, or roommates? Here's a few suggestions for gathering loved ones together and making a difference in the St. Louis community:

Sort and box food at the St. Louis Area Food Bank
The St. Louis Area Food Bank always needs help with donations and November through December is a busy time for them. Spend a few hours during the weekend sorting new items or shopping for food they need (you can call to ask about certain items). Children are welcome, too, so bring along a niece or nephew!

Become a birthday buddy for a child in foster care
I've learned a lot about foster care through my work at United Way and I think it is so important to serve the people and children who are a part of this system. The Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition in St. Louis is a great organization that runs a birthday buddy program year-round to help the children they serve receive birthday gifts. It's an impactful program, and any individual or group can participate by choosing a child to sponsor.

Package donated toys and gifts at The Salvation Army
A partner with the U.S. Marines Toys for Tots program, The Salvation Army serves as the distribution agency for the St. Louis region. Throughout November and December you can help the organization by donating new toys or sorting donations for distribution. Children under 16 are also welcome but must have adult supervision.

Donate clothes and household items to St. Vincent de Paul
If you don't have the time to volunteer, assessing what you have and what you can donate is another way you can contribute to the community. St. Vincent de Paul accepts gently used furniture, household items and clothing for their thrift stores, which raise money to address unmet needs in the region. Best of all, they offer home pick-up.

Serve the homeless population through St. Patrick’s Center
Winter weather is particularly hard on people who are currently homeless or facing homelessness. St. Patrick's Center provides housing, employment and health opportunities for those in need and creates opportunities for individuals to achieve sustainable independence. If you’re interested in serving our city's homeless population, St. Patrick's Center has many ways you can give back as an individual or with a group.

Adopt a family through 100 Neediest Cases
100 Neediest Cases began in the early 1900s and continues today as a way to give local families a brighter holiday. Through 100 Neediest Cases, thousands of needy families in St. Louis are identified and helped through donations of money and household goods. It's easy to adopt a family, and you can contribute as an individual or with friends.

picture via thinkstock

August 29, 2014

A Much Needed Update

The short version: I'm alive. So is Michael. Our house is livable (unlike what you saw in this post), and I'm listening to Murder in the City by The Avett Brothers on repeat.

The long version: It's been more than four months since I showed up to this space. It's harder for me to show up online during the summerfriends are visiting, the sun is shining and the last thing I want to do with my free time is spend it staring at a glowing screen. I also had so many changes happening in my life and I never thought to record them here. Here's a quick rundown of what's gone down in the last four months:

  • A freelancing job I had for five months ended in May. It was a blessing to have this job on the side, because the income from it played a huge role in offsetting house costs. Believe it when people tell you that spending money on a house doesn't stop once you buy it. The freelancing gig took up a lot of my time, and forced me to work every weeknight evening and on weekends. I loved working with the organization and was grateful for the opportunity, but I definitely do not miss it.
  • I've been busy working on other house projects. Once my freelance gig ended, I was able to fully embrace being a homeowner. Up until this point, I hadn't had any time to work on house projects, let alone clean the place (this didn't bode well with my clutter-hating husband). Met with summer's warm weather and excited about having my evenings and weekends back, I threw myself into cleaning our house and tackling the mess of weeds that is our yard.
  • I quit my job to start a new one! This happened in June, and was a turning point for me. Although I grew professionally while working at the creative agency, it was time for me to make a change for my career. I was contacted by United Way of Greater St. Louis to interview for a newly-created position in their marketing department and was offered the position a few weeks later. The job change was exciting for Michael and I in many ways, and I'm happy to be involved in the nonprofit community in St. Louis once again.

I put a lot of ideas for this space on the backburner during my break, but I can't wait to jump in with posts on freelancing, house updates, living conscientiously and AirBnB. I hope you'll join me!

April 16, 2014

Keep the Momentum Going + Giveaway

You can take my medal, but leave me my complimentary snacks and swag.
I am a race junkie.

I live for those five minutes before each race, when the sun is just beginning to rise and I'm jumping in place trying to stay warm. I love reading the signs that fans make for their loved ones—signs that inspire me, make me laugh and push me to keep my legs moving when I'm feeling sluggish. I love passing people (rarely happens). I love being passed (always happens). Most of all, I love the buzz that comes from preparing for and running in a race—it's a feeling that doesn't wear off when your legs cramp or your ankles buckle from stiffness. It's a buzz that keeps you going even when the last race you ran was one of your worst.

It's why, coming off my slowest half-marathon yet, I still want to tie up my shoes and get ready for another next race.

I'm easing up on the mileage this time, and just signed up for a 10K in Creve Coeur on June 7. I consider 10Ks to be the perfect length for a race—they offer enough mileage for both beginning and seasoned runners to feel accomplished when they cross that finish line. I've never competed in the summer, and am looking forward to the challenge of the wet heat of Saint Louis (at least I'm telling myself that). I'm also excited about what this race means for the community of Creve Coeur. Though I'm not a Creve Coeur resident, I still nerd out when an event engages a community and provides funding for future city-wide events.

If you're trying to stick to your own fitness goals and live in Saint Louis, you should check the race out. If you're not a Saint Louis resident, Alicia is brainstorming a Midwest "Run Blogger Run" event that will hopefully happen later this year. She talks about it here.

Most importantly, I want YOU to join me on June 7 for the Heart to Heart run! Seriously. I'm giving away a free entry for the Heart to Heart 5K or 10K (your preference) and want to see you there.

Want to enter? Just comment on this blog post with your fitness goals for this year and how I can reach you if you win (leave a Twitter handle, email address, etc.). Everyone is eligible to enter—shoot, if you don't live in St. Louis and can't visit for the race I still want to hear about your fitness goals.

The race entry giveaway ends Monday, April 21 and I will contact the winner on Tuesday, April 22.

April 14, 2014

Celebrations this Weekend

Two weekends ago, we had a visit from my parents, participated in a coffee crawl of downtown Maplewood and ran in a half marathon on Sunday. I barely survived it all, suffering from a sinus cold and total body soreness after running the half. It was fun but left me exhausted and sick come Monday morning.

This past weekend, our time was a lot more relaxed and involved more celebrations for Michael's birthday. It was the big three-oh, so we ushered in the new decade with the breakfast of champions: cinnamon rolls.

 After work on Friday, I rushed home and cooked like a crazy person to prepare a birthday dinner party. I tend to make new foods at the most inconvenient times, but the roasted tomato flatbreads I baked were comprised of simple ingredients and came together quickly. I also made an appetizer that was guaranteed to be a hit: bacon-wrapped dates. The happy surprise of the night was our main dish. I channeled Julie Child and stuffed, tied and roasted a boneless leg of lamb! And it was good!
cheese plate and flatbread appetizers
We capped off the night by roasting marshmallows in a fire pit. (Which, have you ever dunked a roasted marshmallow in Baileys? It's amazing.) Weekends like this one remind me of why I love Saint Louis so much. We're blessed by a great community in a city where we once knew no one.

April 8, 2014

Five Awesome French Wines at Trader Joe's

I have a confession: Michael and I have been members of a "wine society" for the past two years. This in no way means we're authorities on wine, but it does gives us the opportunity to figure out what we like to drink. Also, it's given me the confidence to identify wine characteristics and describe them in ridiculous ways ("This one tastes like black mold in an abandoned basement" or "this smells like a blooming dandelion field in the Swiss Alps") and I usually end up pretty tipsy one Sunday evening a month. It's a win-win situation.

Anyway, during our last wine society gathering I tried 10 different French wines from Trader Joe's. It was one of my favorite wine tasting experiences to date, because I love Trader Joe's, enjoy wine and wanted solid proof that they have better offerings than two-buck Chuck (Seriously. We can do better than two-buck Chuck).

Let's start drinking like we know what we're doing. Next time you're hosting a dinner party, having a friend over or simply catching up on your Netflix queue, make the decision to drink better wine. Don't know which budget-friendly bottle to reach for? Here are five great French wine options from Trader Joe's.

Five Budget Friendly French Wines at Trader Joe's from Seeds & Thorns Blog

This wine is all Syrah, and has the peppery flavor that Syrah is known for with a thinner finish. It gets more peppery the longer you let it breath, and would be great with bacon-wrapped dates, a roasted leg of lamb or a juicy burger.

I tend toward red wines, but this white is a classic seafood wine that comes from the west coast of France where the Loire valley meets the Atlantic. It's dry and crisp, and could be paired with an appetizer salad if you're not a seafood lover. To develop the best flavor, take it out of the fridge twenty minutes before you plan to drink it.

This wine comes from a chateau that may no longer be in existence (its grapes apparently are out-sourced now), but it's a budget-friendly Pauillac that's worth purchasing. The first time around, this wine was great but not my favorite. The flavor really picks up if you give it time to breath, and it's a good wine to try if you're interested in getting into Bordeaux.

It's unusual to find a Pomerol at Trader Joe's, so snatch this one up! The grapes in this wine are from the premier right bank appellation in France, an area that is always heavily Merlot-based. It has some tannins (a bitter taste) in the finish, but comes with a strong nose and a nice finish.

Love sweet wines? This one is for you. I enjoyed this wine, and I'm not a typical dessert wine drinker. Composed of mostly Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is sweet but has an underlying acidity that creates a great balance. It comes in a small bottle and goes well with strawberries or fruit-flavored ice cream.