Budgeting Bloggers: December Budget

Budgeting Bloggers, hosted by Fran, is a great way to hold myself accountable for my clothing purchases each month. It helps to track my spending habits, identify trends, and streamline my wardrobe with more intention. Check out what other bloggers purchased this month!

Budgeting-Bloggers-December-2014

A whole year gone! I can’t believe I’ve been tracking my clothing budget for over a year and a half now. It certainly has held me more accountable and it teaches me so much about my shopping habits. I feel like I’m at a place now where I don’t have any major needs to fill in my closet and I am highly considering a capsule wardrobe (again).

Even though November was a killer, I still got a few more things in December.

Here’s what I got:

Land’s End:

Drifter Mock Zip Sweater in Midnight Indigo – originally $59.00 – paid $25
Fitted Turtleneck in Black – originally $25.50 – paid $10

I also got the Zip Sweater in Ivory and a Down Vest in Wine Grape for Christmas!

I am in love with these sweaters! They’re the perfect addition to my winter closet and I’ve already worn them many times, making them well worth the purchase (and gift). I’ve been looking for a black turtleneck ever since I saw T. Swift’s “Shake it Off” music video. I’m not even really a fan–except for that song–but even I had to admit that she looked very Audrey. Can’t go wrong with these classic items.

H&M:

Navy and White Jersey Striped Tank – on sale for $3 (not pictured)
Knee-length Vintage-Inspired Black and White Skirt – on sale for $25 (not pictured)

I couldn’t pass up a tank I knew I’d wear a ton in the spring and summer and I’ve already worn the skirt twice. The silhouette makes it a perfect option for swing dancing.

Sears:

I Love Comfort Dasher Mary Jane Pumps – originally $39.99 – paid $19.97

Comfortable heels for dancing for under $20? Done.

Total Spent in December: $82.97

Total Spent in 2014: $1617.01

Seeing that number really hits home. I’d really like to challenge myself to see if I can reduce this number moving forward. In many, many ways, I made a lot of really smart and inexpensive choices this year. I’m proud of my more intentional shopping and really feel like I added some great pieces this year. I broke the habit of buying things for cheap simply because it was a great deal and tried very hard to stick to only buying what I really loved. I still have a lot of progress to make, but I feel like I am well on my way. It’s been interesting adjusting to my new career and lifestyle in terms of wardrobe and I imagine that will only continue into 2015.

Speaking of the new year, I know I alluded to some big changes coming and they are indeed on their way! I may or may not continue with this Budgeting Bloggers series on the blog, but I think I will continue on a personal level regardless, as it has been a very illuminating and useful system.

How do you feel about your clothing purchases for the year? 

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links. Thank you for supporting the brands that make The Modern Austen possible!

Time for a Change

Almost two and a half years ago, I wrote this post about “blogging burn-out.” After a mere three months of blogging, I experienced my first speed bump and true test where I had to decide to quit or forge on. Obviously, I decided to push forward and I’m so grateful that I did, but let’s revisit some of my thoughts that day:

August 4, 2012

I’ve hit that point. That point when you question whether or not you want to continue what it is that you’re doing. You question whether or not you have the time or energy or resources to do it. And you know that if you stop it now, you won’t pick it up again (at least, not for a long time).

Blogging the past few months has been a great experience. I have loved being more creative, putting myself out there, and learning so much about photo editing, writing, fashion, style, and more. I know I have a long ways to go, but it has been a rewarding experience. However, I’m at that point in the summer where my priorities are taking over. I have a teaching job now that will require all of me–my heart, my brain, my energy, my time. I want very badly to be that super woman who you see all over the blogosphere: the woman who can balance a full-time job, a family, a spouse, friends, crafting, AND blogging. I often wonder, “How do they do it? And how can I learn?”

So, I’m at a standstill. I’m not happy with where my blog is now (even though I am proud of how far I’ve come in such a short time), but I have major plans to improve it. The problem is, do I have the time and the energy to do it?

I think I want to prove to myself that I can do this. Even during my first year of teaching. Because what better time to document my life than when I am moving out and everything is changing?  

It’s strange to me how much has changed in my life over the past few years, yet after reading this, seemingly nothing is different. At the core, many of our thoughts, desires, and ambitions are largely the same; they just take different forms as we grow and emerge into the people we are meant to become. While I am in an extremely different place now than I was then, I still go through periods of blogging burn out and have to ask myself if I should continue on or not.

When I began blogging, I had no idea what I was doing. As a result, I just decided to do it all. I published multiple DIY posts, fashion-inspired posts, and ramblings in the same week and held a giveaway after a week of blogging. I talked about everything and anything, without having a clue what it really meant to generate good content or to have a brand or market to an audience and certainly not how to monetize or manage sponsorships or anything that would come later. In some ways, I envy that ignorance. It was always fun and exciting and I could make big strides quickly, celebrating mini successes more frequently.

Blogging has changed dramatically in the past few years that I’ve been a part of it and, for the most part, I’ve remained flexible enough to rise and fall with the ebbs and flows. With each new rising “trend,” I would adapt but still stick to my own ideals for what this space means and will continue to mean to me. What was known about being creative online then is different from what it is now. Even marketing one’s blog has altered so significantly over the past year. And now, nearly everyone has their own blog. And that’s more than okay–it’s welcomed, even. We all have a place and a purpose in this blogophere. But this inclusion has definitely changed this avenue in ways we’re still learning so much about.

Back in May, I finally scratched an itch that I had been experiencing for many many months by doing a complete overhaul of my blog–switching themes and making things pretty. It was instrumental in propelling me forward with my blog and giving me the creative juice to stay motivated with a new business and content-driven mindset. While I’m certainly no where near that ambitious goal, I am proud of the progress I have made over the year.

Still, somewhere along the line, life happened. After the last two tumultuous years, I was finally experiencing fulfillment in my work and in my personal life that took precedence over the blog at times. And that was more than okay. Life (family, friends, work, etc.) first, blog second. Always. And in the midst of this, I’ve hit another speed bump, roadblock, obstacle course, burn out.

I’m stuck.

And for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why or what to do about it.

Before you get ahead of yourself, I’m not going anywhere. I still value blogging so very much and want to continue to blog for the unforeseeable future. HOWEVER, I do think it’s about time for a change. A big change. I don’t know when or how or even what some of these changes will be like or take place, but I do know they will happen.

I sat down with Kristin this past weekend for yoga and brunch (which is the perfect combination, by the way) and we had a heart-to-heart about blogging. That’s how we met, after all. One of the many amazing things about Kristin is that she is fantastic at taking in your jumbled, disjointed thoughts and constructing them into logical steps to move forward. She was able to take things I hadn’t even worked out in my head once and generate an understanding and direction I’ve so been missing these past few months. I left with a to-do list of things I am going to work through and while I am nowhere near the implementation, I am at least taking those initial baby steps.

I don’t exactly know what form this blog will take or if I will start fresh or what I will do just yet, but I know that I am so blessed to have such wonderful and loyal readers who will support me no matter what. Change is uncomfortable and painful and it may turn some people away for good; while I will be sad to see some inevitably go, I will welcome the opportunity to pursue something I wholeheartedly believe in and enjoy. I will never downplay anything I have posted or created up to this point–without these growing pains and bits that I’m really proud of, I would never be in the fortunate place I am today to continue to be creative every single day.

All I ask of you, dear reader, is that you try to be patient and kind with me as I work out the kinks and pull on a coat of bravery. Maybe I won’t be posting as often. Maybe I’ll be messing with the design. Maybe I’ll be doing something very dramatic. Whatever it is, I would truly appreciate your support. It’s not easy to do this, sometimes. But it is always, always worth it.

My Top 10 Wavy and Curly Hair Essentials

Despite the fact that the majority of people I know tend to have some sort of wave or curl to their hair (whether they admit it or not), there is still not a ton of knowledge to be found in one place for curly-haired people. And because every single curly has his or her own unique curl type that seems to have its own personality, it can be even more difficult to sift through curly hair resources to find information that is pertinent to you. It’s no wonder that so many curlies have resorted to using a straightener every single day. While I enjoy and appreciate straight hair (even for myself on occasion), I am a firm believer in embracing your waves and curls! Since discovering my waves once I hit puberty, it has been an uphill battle to find the products and techniques that work on my wavy curls. While I don’t think the journey will ever end, I feel confident in my research and experience that I have found a nice list of essentials that my curls could not do without.

It’s important to note that while these things work for me, they may not work for you and your curl type. If you’re going by the Curly Girl method, I have 3B/2C/2B curls and waves–somewhere between “wavy curvy,” “wavy whirly,” and “curly twirly.” Yes, it’s totally normal to have multiple curl types on one head. When I was in late elementary/early middle school, my best friend Chrissy always called my curls “wavy woos.” I think it works well. Even though you may not have the same hair type as me, a lot of these essentials can still apply to other wavys and curlies. While pricey and time-consuming, the best thing you can do for your curls is just to try different products and techniques until you find something that works. (And often times, you’ll continually have to adjust this routine as time goes on and your pattern evolves.)

Without further ado, here are my top 10 wavy curly hair essentials. Be sure to scroll to the bottom to enter in a very special curly giveaway!

My Top 10 Wavy and Curly Hair Essentials

1. Curly Girl: The Handbook (2nd edition)

If there was one “manual” out there that I would recommend for curlies, it would be this. Written by the fabulous Lorraine Massey, this book outlines in detail the various curl types, best hair cut techniques, recommended products for each texture, recipes for homemade treatments, and more. I received this book back in high school and it changed my understanding and perspective of curly hair dramatically. I’ve read another handbook of sorts (Curl Talk by Ouidad) and while it was informative, I still much prefer the CG Handbook and revisit it whenever I’m in a curly hair rut. And if you’re a curly girl, you know that happens cyclically and it’s important to have a go-to to rely on. (Stick around to the end of the post for an opportunity to win your own copy!)

Curly Girl The Handbook is my #1 Wavy and Curly Hair Essentialvia

2. A Curly Hair Artist/Stylist

A few months ago, I talked about my extremely positive experience with the lovely Kelly Elaine Inc., a specialized curly hair salon in Pittsburgh. Kelly and Victoria have been instrumental in making my curls more manageable and beautiful. Once you find a stylist who truly understands curly hair, you can finally relax when you go to the salon! Kelly recommends you look for a stylist who is part of Curly Hair Artistry. Founded by Scott Musgrave, this group of talented stylists regularly train and learn about curly hair cutting and styling techniques. Click here for a current Global Stylist Listing. Before you get a cut, ask your stylist if he or she cuts curls dry and what education they have to get a good feel of how they might work with your own curls. Read more of my interview with Kelly for more tips and advice for finding your perfect curly hair artist.

A Custom Curly Hair Cut and Review Kelly Elaine Inc

3. NaturallyCurly.com

In addition to having the Curly Girl Handbook, it’s equally as important to have a place to turn to for articles, product reviews, and forums. NaturallyCurly.com is one of my favorite resources to consult regularly. I mostly use it to look up products I come across at Target or see online and it is really helpful to see reviews from others who have the same curl type as you. You can also look up salons in your area that are “curly hair certified” and read reviews on them. You may have seen my review of Kelly Elaine, Inc. back in 2011 on there! There’s also some pretty cool giveaways and testimonials to check out.

4. Your Holy Grail Products

I am of the belief that you may never find your “holy grail” products, but you’re in luck if you come relatively close. For me, these products have changed over time, but right now I have had the most consistent results with the DevaCurl products. Here’s what I’m using these days:

In the Shower

Raked Through Soaking Wet Hair and then Scrunched Gently

I’m hoping to do a more detailed post about styling in the future, but this is the trickiest area when it comes to curls. Some curlies can achieve perfect coils with mousse and hairspray, while others require carefully distributed creams and gels. There is a big debate when it comes to ingredients, but typically try to avoid sulfates, parabens, and silicones–although not all silicones and other “no-nos” are bad for certain curls. I’ve been a huge fan of Curls Rock by Tigi (the original blue pump, not the new black pump) in the past and it is full of silicones. Trial and effort, people!

Tip: Don’t give up on a product until you’ve tried it both on soaking wet and towel-dried hair. I have had the best luck with soaking wet hair right out of the shower, but this may not work with certain products.

5. A Microfiber Towel

Please note that while I am recommending a towel, I am NOT recommending you pile your hair in it and wear it as a turban. This will promote frizz and disrupt your curl pattern greatly! Instead, I am recommending a smooth, absorbent towel (i.e. microfiber, not terry cloth) to use for scrunching out excess moisture. For me, this is the last step in the styling process before heat drying. For some of you, this may be before you apply products. Again, try out variations and see what works best for you.

6. A Diffuser Attachment

If you aren’t using a diffuser to blow dry your hair and you’re not getting frizz, you MUST spill your secrets. While I think air drying is very important, sometimes most often there is not enough time to wait three hours for your hair to dry (I’m not even exaggerating with how much hair I have.) AND I achieve more bounce factor when applying heat. To illustrate, check out this Instagram from a few months ago:

The Difference a Diffuser Makes on Wavy Curls@themodernausten

While I am actually on the search for a new diffuser, I have found that I’ve had the best luck with diffusers that have prongs to reach into the roots of your hair, rather than just the bell-shaped or “sock” variations. I’ll report back when I find some good options.

Tip: Don’t start using heat until your hair has partially dried on its own. I usually style my hair right out of the shower and then go get dressed, put on makeup, etc. before finishing up. Keep your hair dryer on low while using the diffuser to prevent frizz.

7. Metal Hair Clips

Curly hair can often be weighed down while wet, especially with product loaded in. Clip up your roots using sturdy metal clips like these to achieve lift and to help the drying process move faster. Try to clip your roots in a rainbow pattern, as Kelly demonstrates here.

Using Metal Clips to Achieve Lift at the Roots for Curly Hair

I used to swear by the “plopping” method for lifted roots, but I find I have a little more control with clips. I still think plopping* is a great option when you need to get hair out of your way or if you really need to take a nap or lay down in between styling and drying time.

*Plopping is using a t-shirt to pile your hair on top of your head, wearing the neck of the shirt as a “headband” and tying the sleeves together to hold it all in. It elevates the hair to provide volume and lift and discourages playing or messing with your hair, a common culprit of frizz and loose texture. (You know we’re close when I’m willing to “plop” my hair in front of you!)

8. A Hair Buff

I have the worst second (and third) day hair ever when it comes to my curls. Some curlies are lucky and their curl pattern gets better or less frizzy as days pass. My hair, unfortunately, looses its curl after a long day and it’s a big stringy mess after it’s been laid on at night. Things like “pineappling” haven’t been effective for me either, though they may work great for others. So far, the closest I’ve come to success has been because I used a Buff at night. Here, one of Kelly’s clients demonstrates the best way to use a hair buff for night-time to ensure great second (or third) day hair.

Even though I’m still fine-tuning the process, I still love using my half-sized Buff for all sorts of things! It functions as the best workout headband I’ve ever owned because it doesn’t fall off and it can be adjusted to take care of those shorter pieces of hair that fall out of my messy bun. Additionally, it’s perfect for keeping my hair out of my face when I’m doing my makeup, cleaning up around the house, or just need it out-of-the-way. Every time I wear it, I think how much more effective it would’ve been to wear a Buff during Girl Scouts back in the day rather than wearing a bandana while around the fire pit!

It comes in two sizes (I wear the half version, but if my hair was past my shoulders, I probably would’ve gotten the full size).  Kelly thinks one of you might want a Buff too…keep scrolling!

9. A Wide-Tooth Comb

Throw away all of your combs and brushes. The only comb you need is a cheap wide-tooth comb (preferably with a handle) that you can find at the dollar store. The trick? You’ll ONLY use this in the shower when you apply your conditioner. (Some of you may use it to distribute product, too, but I haven’t found this to work well for me, as I have to many waves prone to pulling straight with brushes and combs.)

10. A Spray Bottle

It seems silly to put a spray bottle on this list when you could so easily splash and scrunch water on your hair to revive it, but a spray bottle will do a much better job at distributing the moisture and minimize the amount of interfering you’ll do with your hands. Spritz your hair when you need a little pick-me-up or make your own spray gel to evenly distribute gel during styling.

What would you add to this list, curly guys and girls? Share you top picks in the comments below!

A special surprise

Wavy and Curly Hair Essentials Giveaway

Because Kelly Elaine Inc. is so incredibly awesome, Kelly has given me the opportunity to reward two of my curliest readers! We already gave away two product kits a few months ago, and now it is time to give away two of my favorite essentials!

Prize #1: Curly Girl: The Handbook (2nd Edition) – valued at $13.95

Prize #2: Original Full Buff – valued at $20

Giveaway is open to Continental U.S. residents only. Winners’ entries will be verified and contacted via email. First winner randomly chosen will have the choice between the two prizes. Giveaway runs from 12/11- 12/18 at midnight. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: Kelly graciously provided me these items to giveaway in exchange for the review I posted a few months ago. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting the brands that make The Modern Austen possible!

PittStop 2014: How to Survive and Thrive at Your First Lindy Hop Exchange

Two weekends ago, I attended one of the most memorable and enjoyable events I’ve ever signed up for: PittStop, a regional lindy hop exchange. If you’ve been reading along for a while now, you’ve probably picked up that I’ve been swing dancing for about six months now and LOVING every second of it. Even though I have been dancing consistently ever since, it was still intimidating to sign up for an exchange, where you’re likely to be surrounded by advanced dancers. The theme of this year, however, has been pushing myself out of my comfort zone and I can say with confidence that it has been worth it every single time.

PittStop Lindy Hop Exchange 2014

What’s a Lindy Hop Exchange?

Lindy hop is a form of swing dancing, apparently named after Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight to Paris in 1927 when the newspaper read “LINDY HOPS THE ATLANTIC.” It has a lot of quick footwork and involves the infamous “swing out,” which may take me my entire life to master! Check out some impressive advanced lindy hop in this awesome video.

An exchange is an opportunity for dancers in all different cities to come together to dance and enjoy one another’s company. Since many locals host visiting dancers, it often serves as an “exchange program” of sorts, encouraging fellowship akin to summer camp. Since most exchanges offer this free housing, this allows for relatively inexpensive traveling. What sets exchanges apart is that they typically do not have workshops or lessons; they mostly exist for the sole purpose of social dancing. Lindy exchanges can range in terms of size, but PittStop is one of the largest on the east coast with about 400 dancers, attracting visitors from all over.

The schedule is intense, this particular exchange featuring seven dances in a period of two and a half days, including two late night/morning dances from 1-5 AM. We were also fortunate enough to experience several nationally renowned live bands, including Gordon Webster, The Boilermaker Jazz Band, The Fried Bananas, The Downtown Shimmy, and Jimmy Sapienza’s Five Guys Named Moe. The daytime and evening dances featured swing music while we slowed things down for the late night sessions with blues music.

An exchange is a great way to explore a new city, too. PittStop featured a few really unique and gorgeous venues in our lovely city, such as the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum and Pittsburgh Opera. Our mayor, Bill Peduto, even made a PittStop Proclamation.

My First Exchange

Going into PittStop, the only expectation I really had was that it was going to be exhausting and fun. And I was definitely right. But it was so much more than that. I ended up attending the exchange on my own, something I never would have done months ago. (I wasn’t persuasive enough to convince my friends to do the whole weekend with me–can’t say I blame them since it IS intimidating, but so worth it.) While I certainly knew a good handful of dancers from the Pittsburgh swing scene, I didn’t have anyone to fall back on or someone to hang around with the whole time. This solo scenario isn’t for everyone, but it really allowed me to talk to a lot of new people and gave me complete control over my schedule. In any case, you really do bond with those you meet or share the exchange with. I really enjoyed meeting people from West Virginia, Michigan, Virginia, Ohio, and D.C., for example, and have even become Facebook friends with a bunch of them. It was really awesome to build on the friendships I’ve already made, too.

Since I consider myself an “intermediate” swing dancer, I didn’t feel too intimidated or nervous about being surrounded by such talented dancers. My brave friend and colleague Melissa and my talented college buddy Will joined me on Saturday night for the incredible Gordon Webster evening dance with little to zero swing experience; while they were such troopers and learned a lot, it may not have been the best first experience for them since there wasn’t a formal lesson to practice first. I so appreciated them coming out and having fun regardless! It’s not an impossible feat for first-timers, but I would suggest you at least learn a few basic steps before attending an exchange. (Pittsburghers, I know a guy.) Keep in mind, you WILL get infinitely better by the end of the weekend, no matter your skill level.

PittStop Lindy Hop Exchange 2014 Ralf Brown PhotosPhoto credit: Ralf Brown (who is not only a great photographer, but a phenomenal dancer, too!)

One of the biggest surprises of the entire weekend was my newfound love of blues dancing! I had danced to a few blues tunes in the past, but really did not know what I was doing or what to think. The best thing about blues is that you really don’t need to have prior experience; you do, however, need to have some confidence and feel comfortable getting closer to your dance partner than the typical dance. As a follower, I was lucky to have some strong leads who guided me (both for lindy and blues) and made it so much fun. It was the perfect way to relax after a long day of lindy hop without crashing. I even attended a house party at the very end of the exchange where we blues danced in socks and dragged out the experience as long as we could. Too much fun.

Now that I’ve attended PittStop, I plan on attending other exchanges and dance workshops for years to come–hopefully getting the opportunity to travel! It’s so exciting to see things I’ve always said I wanted to do come to fruition. Next “stop:” Steel City Blues Festival. Join me?

How to Survive (and Thrive)

Should you be crazy (and awesome) enough to attend a lindy hop exchange, here are just a few tips to help you not only get through 30 hours of dancing without getting sick but also to help you make the most of your experience:

How to Survive and Thrive at your first Lindy Hop Exchange

Pack multiple outfits (and shoes) per day.

No matter how much deodorant you use, you will sweat. A lot. Do yourself and your dance partners a favor and bring a hand towel and an extra shirt, as you’ll likely need to change during the dance and most definitely in between dances. Make sure you have a few pairs of comfortable shoes (with the appropriate socks or tights) and bring a few bandaids to prevent blisters. Your shoes should have soft soles that will allow you to spin easily, such as Keds, oxfords, or flats, but make sure they have laces or a strap so they don’t fall off. I wore these slip-on Keds, these fake classic Keds, and a pair of character shoes throughout the weekend, occasionally putting a strip of duct tap on the sole to make it easier to turn.

Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate.

Drink more water than you think you need and fuel your body with Emergen-C and Gatorade. You will need it. On this same note, be sure you’re eating foods that will give you sustainable energy.

Attend as much as you can.

The only way to get the most out of your experience is to really be present in as much as you can. It may be exhausting, but you never know who you will meet or what you will learn. Keep in mind, you still need to be careful and…

Pace yourself.

Only you know your limits. Take breaks throughout the dances–you don’t need to be dancing for every single song (or your feet will kill you). Take a water break, sit down, stretch out before and after dances, and get as much sleep as you can. I ended up leaving a dance early on Saturday afternoon to rest up for the evening dance and I’m really glad I did.

Ask people to dance.

In swing dancing, there are no rules. Guys ask girls, girls ask guys, guys ask guys, girls ask girls. Just dance! Don’t be afraid to ask someone you don’t know to dance. You’ll never grow unless you push yourself. Dancing with someone is one of the easiest ways to break the ice without the awkwardness of small talk and nothing to do. You’ll always have something to talk about if you find a break in the conversation. Besides, you’re bound to make a ton of new friends.

Dance friends–what would you add to this list? Give your best pointers in the comments below!

I would highly recommend PittStop (or any lindy hop exchange) to anyone who wants to try something new, make friends, dance for fun, and have an incredible and memorable time. I am so grateful to have found a hobby that fills me up to the brim and to have so many opportunities ahead to grow, learn, and enjoy. Push yourself to give it a try and then let me know how much you love it, too. (And then let’s go dance!)