Author: Valerie

Link Love Wedneday: The Baby-Sitter’s Club Revival

1,_Kristy's_Great_IdeaGood evening, friends. I don’t know about you, but I am just loving the month of October so far! I have already begun decorating the apartment for Halloween, and this past weekend, I enjoyed our first cold front of the season at a beautiful green spring. It is shaping up to be another beautiful month!

What are you looking forward to this month?

Share your own October plans in the comments section below, and in the meantime, enjoy this week’s round of Link Love!

What are your favorite articles from the week? Sound off below!

How to Write an Awesome Cover Letter

logotransparentGood morning, sunshines! I hope everyone is having a wonderful week and planning for a beautiful weekend. :)

My latest guest article for Career Camel is up and I’d love for you to read it! This time, I share my strategies for writing the perfect cover letter. Easy as one, two, three!

Whether you’re in the job application process or just looking to learn, check out my post and comment to let me know what you think!

The Freshman 15: Avoiding College Weight Gain

The Freshman 15: Avoiding College Weight GainAhhhh, college weight gain. It’s the reason the term “Freshman 15,” which I’ve borrowed for my blog’s college advice series, even exists at all! Although the Freshman 15 is a popular subject (and fear!) among college students, I have avoided writing about it in the past because of my personal struggles with weight and body image.

My weight fluctuated in college, and crept up on the scale in the months following my graduation. Much like college, my job is very event focused, and I found myself making some unhealthy food decisions based on convenience and stress. However, in February 2014, I decided to make a huge change, adopting a much cleaner diet and dropping nearly 20 pounds in the process. My journey to better health is ongoing (and I could probably write an entire book about it!), but I’ve learned a lot of important lessons along the way that will benefit any college student – or graduate – looking to avoid that dreaded weight gain.

The Freshman 15: Avoiding College Weight Gain

1. Even if it’s free, you don’t have to eat it.
Free food is abundant in a college environment, and it’s the perfect way to draw students in to events on campus. As a college student, I was a sucker for free pizza. Even worse, I consumed tons of free pizza as a college grad because I worked at a lot of university events and pizza was always available. Over time, I learned that free food was NOT always the best option for my waistline! Now, when I know I’m going to be surrounded by unhealthy free foods, I’ll try to eat something beforehand to curb temptations, or I’ll bring along a healthy snack. If you are going to indulge, stick to one slice.

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2. Don’t drink your calories.
Alcohol is filled with hidden calories! We often think about foods being high in calories, but it’s easy to forget that our beverages can be, too. (Personally, if I were allotted 500 calories and could choose between alcohol and chocolate cake, I would always choose the chocolate cake, but that’s just me.) It’s okay to order a drink once in a while, but be wary of how much you consume! Opt for water or make your drinks skinny to trim back some of the calories.

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calories3. Prepare meals at home.
Not only are you saving money by eating at home, but you are also more likely to cut your calories and avoid many of the unhealthy hidden ingredients found in restaurant food. While many menus do have some “lighter fare” options, you still don’t always know how much sodium or what quality ingredients are used in your meal. When you cook at home, you are the one in control!

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4. Walk to class.
Unless your college campus is spread widely throughout the city, walking to classes can be the perfect way to burn calories throughout the day and sneak in some exercise. My university has horrible parking problems, so walking instead of driving between classes was actually faster for me and a good way to save on gas. If you don’t like to walk, consider riding your bike or skateboard instead!

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5. Make it work in the dorms.
A full kitchen is ideal for meal preparation, but even if you live in the dorms, you can still live a healthy lifestyle. Look for easy, healthy recipes you can prepare in the microwave or store in your mini-fridge. You may not be able to create gourmet dinners you’re comfortable posting on Instagram, but you can still manage some simple meals using the bare minimum.

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SkinnyPop_4_4oz_JW06-copy6. Bring healthy alternatives to parties.
If you’re attending a party or social event and nervous about being tempted by all the unhealthy party foods, bring your own addition. Find nutritious snack recipes that people will enjoy, bring a fruit/veggie platter with hummus (I’m telling you, this can be a huge hit) or even pick up healthier versions of your favorite snack foods. I used to be addicted to super-buttery microwave popcorn (terrible for you AND filled with horrible additives that are linked to a lot of diseases), so I replaced it with Skinny Pop and Boom Chickapop popcorn instead… They have ingredients you can actually pronounce, they have far fewer calories, and they taste delicious! Another favorite of mine is spinach/kale chips from The Better Chip brand, which my friends enjoy as well. Everyone will be able to eat a little healthier, and no one will know the difference. :)

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7. Find coupons to buy healthy foods at a lower price.
Since I started eating more produce and keeping certain specialty items in the house for healthy cooking, I’ve noticed my grocery bills have gone up. (I’ve also noticed my restaurant bills have gone down… but I digress.) Look out for coupons at your local grocery store and buy in bulk when possible. Generic brands are usually fine as long as you check your ingredients, and organic doesn’t always make a difference when it comes to certain fruits and veggies. You don’t have to break the bank when shopping for healthier foods, but keep in mind that even when you do spend a little more, you are investing in a healthier future.

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photo_2010_11_10_nutrition_label8. Read your labels.
When I began my first Whole 30, I was amazed to see how many unhealthy (and unnecessary) ingredients were hidden away in many of the foods I commonly bought. In fact, I had to go to a specialty store to buy pickles that didn’t have food dye OR sugar/corn syrup in them! Did you know that many tomato sauces and chicken broths also have sugar in them? As someone who tries to avoid added sugar, I am still amazed at how hard it is to find foods without these sweeteners in them. Keep in mind that “low-calorie” doesn’t always mean “healthy,” and try to purchase foods with better ingredients in them as often as you can.

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9. Find convenient snack and meal options.
Let’s face it – for many of us, preparing clean and beautiful dishes for every meal can be a little unrealistic. When balancing coursework, a job, extra-curricular activities and a social life, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to always have the perfect dinner on-hand. However, this is not an excuse to eat TV dinners and run to the vending machines between classes! Figure out what you can eat when you’re in a major hurry or just too tired to cook. For me, this means stocking up on fruit, carrots and Lara Bars that are perfect for my grab-and-go lifestyle. I also like to hard boil a few eggs at a time and have them ready in my fridge when I need a quick protein-filled fix. Meal replacement shakes can also be a good way to go!

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10. Figure out your healthiest options on campus.
Does your college have a dining hall or food court? Do your research and figure out what meals you can enjoy without sabotaging yourself. The university where I often work has a well-stocked salad bar, which can be a great option when I don’t feel like packing a meal that day. Are you a sandwich enthusiast? Swap out your usual fried chicken for grilled, and consider doing away with the bread altogether! Craving a burrito? Make it a burrito bowl. You can make small changes to cut back while still enjoying the same tastes you love.

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richardsimmons11. Participate in more active social activities.
You don’t have to live at the gym in order to live an active lifestyle. Instead of letting all social activities revolve around food and drinks, consider going for a walk around a new area of town with your friends, or hike in a place you’ve never been before. Go to the beach. Spend the day mini-golfing. Go to a group exercise class together. Power walk around your mall before the stores open, and then go shopping. (Mall Walking: It’s not just for old ladies anymore!) You don’t have to sweat or do anything particularly strenuous, but find ways to get out and move around while still enjoying your friends’ company.

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12. Don’t eat late at night.
Nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m. Even after 9 p.m., I’ve noticed that food choices tend to become a lot less healthy the later it gets. Pick a cut-off time to stop eating, and stick to it! This will help you skip the late night snacking that plagues so many of us throughout the college years and beyond.

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20131226-23285013. Out of kitchen, out of mind.
Want to stop eating certain foods in excess? Don’t buy them! I found myself eating way more pasta than any normal person should (especially at 5’2” ½), so I stopped keeping it in the apartment. Since I made the decision to stop buying it, my cravings for the food have decreased significantly. I also no longer stock my kitchen with junk food. It sounds simple enough, but it’s a lot harder to mindlessly eat the bad stuff when it isn’t around. (It also helps that my roommate doesn’t keep it in the house, either!)

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14. Build your support system.
Find friends who will be a good influence on you! Ignore the naysayers – they will be out there. When I decided to change my diet for good, I did receive some negative comments from friends and acquaintances, and chances are, you will too. Don’t listen to them. You need to do what is best for you and your health, so spend time with people who also live a healthy lifestyle and are not looking to sabotage yours.

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15. Create lifestyle changes.
For me, diets just don’t work. I have severely cut back on calories and tested out fad diets, and ultimately I learned nothing from the experience and wound up gaining the weight back. This time around, I completed two rounds of the Whole 30, an elimination program designed to help you discover food sensitivities and improve your overall health. Once this was over, I learned that my body hates gluten, sugar gives me headaches and super-processed junk food makes me cranky! (Yes, food really can affect you in more ways than just your weight.) Through this program, I lost a lot of weight and kept it off because I created a lot of new habits and began a lifestyle of about 80/20 clean eating. You can’t just change your food choices temporarily – you have to develop healthy habits if you want to achieve lasting results!

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Readers, have you struggled with college weight gain? What are you doing to combat that? What other topics would you like to read about on The Freshman 15?

Things Girls Like

caa8957a12a25135_2894847831_1aa08871c7_b.preview_tallToday is my 24th birthday! I have had a feeling for a while that 24 is going to be a good year, filled with unexpected opportunities and accomplishments. Over the last few days, I have been celebrating with my family and friends (and my boyfriend, whose birthday is also today), and am so excited to ring in a brand new year. Because my birthday has been filled with the things I like — chocolate cake balls, yoga, useful gifts, free burgers, fantasy football and, of course, my loved ones — I thought it was only fitting to share this slightly more general list of things that many girls like. If you’re shopping for a 20-something girl this season or simply trying to understand one, please enjoy this comprehensive (and probably sexist) list.

Things Girls Like

  • Farmers markets. We probably don’t need all the produce we just bought, but we feel a little more environmentally aware when we buy local. We also enjoy the experience of posting pictures of ourselves at the farmers market on Facebook, even if we didn’t end up buying anything at all.
  • Brunch. Brunch is a fun activity to participate in, especially after the farmers market. However, it generally doesn’t count as a true Brunch unless you order a mimosa or, at the very least, an orange juice. (A chronic water-drinker, I tend to fail at Brunch.)
  • Mason jars. A few months ago, the Mason jar became the Regina George of Kitchenware. Girls enjoy crafting with Mason jars, drinking out of Mason jars, even layering their salads in Mason jars. Want to make your friend a delicious cookie with a twist? Throw flour, baking soda, sugar, vanilla extract, eggs and butter in a Mason jar. It won’t taste very good, but she will adore it so much that she’ll post it on Instagram with the hashtag #blessed.
  • Starbucks drinks that “feel like Fall.” Girls from Florida and other states that don’t experience real seasons are especially guilty of this. When the pumpkin spice lattes are back in stores, we know that it’s almost time for “sweater weather,” and we can finally break out those cute-but-hardly-functional infinity scarves.
  • Taking pictures with flowers. Flowers make our lives infinitely prettier, so if we photograph ourselves holding flowers or sitting in a garden full of flowers, we are guaranteed at least 50 percent more likes on social media.
  • All things DIY. Especially when those DIY projects involve Mason jars.
  • Expressing their emotions with emojis. Why use words when we can use silly iPhone faces to show our true feelings?
  • Lighting candles. Vanilla and lavender are sooooo relaxing.
  • Statement necklaces. What better to accessorize with, my dear?
  • Vision boards. They’re like a real-life version of Pinterest! Use your vision board to plan a wedding, shed excess weight or plot out revenge on all of your ex-boyfriends.

Share your own favorites in the comments section below. You know you want to!

Link Love Wednesday: Dog-Human Hybrids

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I hope everyone is having a wonderful start to your September! September is one of my favorite months because the weather starts to cool down and my birthday is almost here! This month, I also began a new exercise routine and started my fantasy football career. I defeated my boyfriend’s team in our first week of fantasy football, and look forward to facing off against my mom’s team in a few weeks! (We have a very interesting league.) :) What have you all been doing to kick off the month?

Enjoy this week’s batch of Link Love and share your own favorites in the comments section below!

What are some of your favorite links from the last week? Share them in the comments section! :)

Happy reading!

Nailing the Interview: What Every Job Candidate Should Know

logotransparentOver the last few months, I’ve had the pleasure of contributing to the London-based career advice blog, Career Camel. These guest articles have given me the awesome opportunity to share career- and college-related advice with a brand new audience! I’m excited to show you my most recently published article, Nailing the Interview: What Every Job Candidate Should Know, where I provide some tried-and-true techniques for landing the job of your dreams.

Please check it out and comment to let me know what you think! :) Feel free to add your own tips in the comments section as well.

Enjoy!

The Weekend Five: TV Crossovers That Need to Happen

82705raven_01Because I’m a fan of so many TV shows, you’d think I would love crossover episodes. After all, wouldn’t it be awesome to see some of my favorite characters from two or more TV shows, duking it out on one set? Sadly enough, I’ve never seen a crossover episode that I really enjoyed. (I am hoping that the Family Guy/The Simpsons crossover this fall will change that!)

To remedy this horrible problem, I took it upon myself to create five brand new TV shows that involve character crossovers. These shows range from comedy to drama to reality, and will hopefully make the work a lot easier for the writers, as the episodes practically write themselves! Sit back and relax with a bowl of your most buttery popcorn as we flip through these five amazing TV show crossovers.

The Weekend Five: TV Crossovers That Need to Happen

1. That’s So Raymond (That’s So Raven + Everybody Loves Raymond).
Sports writer Ray Barone (Ray Romano on Everybody Loves Raymond) finds himself teaching journalism classes at a San Francisco high school, until one day he begins having visions of the future. His long lost cousin, Raven Baxter (That’s So Raven) teaches him how to harness his psychic powers, but the two get into plenty of costumed hijinks along the way. The show features Raymond’s nagging wife Debra, several sassy catchphrases (“That’s so Raymond!”), and Ray Romano’s glorious Muppet voice.

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1994b04a592e32d67f6d1c08f81e88d02. Boy Meets Girls (Boy Meets World + Girls).
Cory Matthews (not yet married to Topanga, with whom he is currently on a break) and the guys from Boy Meets World decide that New York is the perfect place to spend their twenties. They move into the apartment across from Hannah Horvath and Marnie Michaels (Lena Dunham and Allison Williams on Girls). Cory finds himself fascinated by the younger, fast-talking Shoshanna, while Shawn falls for troublesome Jessa, whose past may be darker than his own. Meanwhile, as part of her quarter-life crisis, Marnie hooks up with the ambitionless Eric Matthews, much to her own chagrin. The show features clever commentary on the millennial generation, Shoshanna’s bizarre hairstyles, Skype dates with Mr. Feeny, and a lot of Lena Dunham nudity.

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3. America’s Next Top Teen Mom (America’s Next Top Model + Teen Mom).
Tyra is always looking for a new spin for her competitive modeling TV show. Why not add MTV’s famous teen mothers into the mix? The young contestants are judged based on their smize, the number of weaves they can wear in one episode, their ability to text and drive, and how well they deal with their baby daddies. The show features lots of tears, a weekly discussion about the contestants’ “realness,” a screaming Tyra Banks, and Jenelle Evans’ hot lawyer.

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once-upon4. Once Upon a Grimm (Once Upon a Time + Grimm).
Once Upon a Time and Grimm, both heavily focused on fairy tales and folklore, hit the small screens around the same time. Putting them together for a spin-off TV show (or at least a crossover episode) would be a no-brainer! Nick Burkhardt, a Portland homicide investigator and Grimm (a hunter who perceives supernatural forces and can fight them), finds his way to the East Coast town of Storybrooke. He and his partner, Hank Griffin, team up with Emma Swan (the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming) to vanquish whatever villain is currently haunting Storybrooke. Meanwhile, Monroe (a blutbad, much like The Big Bad Wolf) begins an illicit affair with Ruby (Red Riding Hood/Werewolf Extraordinaire). Police Captain Sean Renard takes a liking to Evil Queen Regina (the Mayor of Storybrooke) and they bond over their shared knack for interior decorating. The show features true love’s kiss, several magical fight scenes, Nick Burkhardt’s concerned face, good triumphing over evil, and too much clever dialogue for its own good.

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5. Orange is the New Scandal (Orange is the New Black + Scandal).
Olivia Pope fixes things. But when she finds herself sentenced to a year in federal prison for the crimes she has committed, she can no longer play her role as Washington D.C.’s resident fixer. Instead, she begins helping her fellow inmates with their own issues. She gets Red back to her job in the kitchen, prepares several inmates for their appeals, puts an end to the prison race wars, and even works to improve Crazy Eyes’ image. The show features emotionally-charged prison visits from President Fitzgerald Grant, flashbacks to Olivia’s fabulous coats, a developing friendship between Olivia and fellow prisoner/hairdresser Sophia (who helps her maintain her beautiful hairstyles), and a significantly improved prison system.

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You’re welcome, TV viewers.

Link Love Wednesday: #LoveAtFirstFlight

audrey-hepburn-style-9Some schools are back in session, which means it’s time to trade in those bathing suits for books and return to the classroom. Whether you’ve already begun opening your textbooks or still have a few weeks of summer left, allow yourself to relax with this week’s batch of Link Love!

What are some links you’ve come across in the last week? Share your great finds in the comments section below!

The Freshman 15: Finding Happiness in College

findinghappinessincollegeFor those who attend my alma mater (and many other universities throughout the world), today is the first day of school! Growing up, I always loved this time of the year, as I stocked up on fresh school supplies, spruced up my wardrobe and hoped that a cute new boy would move to town and be in all of my classes. Now in my second year out of school, it still feels crazy for me not to experience that “first day” excitement, as my inner nerd aches to read through a new syllabus and crack open a new textbook.

Many of you are starting college today (or next week, or early next month) for the first time ever. I congratulate you! College can be overwhelming, exhausting and, at times, heartbreaking. Completing your undergraduate degree is no laughing matter. But when I look back on the past 23 (almost 24) years of my life, I remember that many of the happiest moments took place during my university years.

Over the years, several of my readers have asked, “How can I find happiness in college?” Today, as you embark on this new and exciting adventure that is your undergraduate career, I’d like to share 15 of my own tips for truly living your college experience in a positive way.

The Freshman 15: Finding Happiness in College

1. Get involved on campus.
You will get out of your college experience what you put into it. What you do in the classroom is one key to your success, but keep in mind that it isn’t the only key. By joining a club or committee that interests you, you will not only gain valuable experience that you can’t obtain from a textbook, but you will also meet new people and challenge yourself in new ways. For tips on how to get involved on campus, check out my handy guide here.

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13589981289522. Smile.
Did you know that the first Friday of October is World Smile Day? :) Sometimes even a simple smile can brighten your day and turn your mood around. People respond better to you when you look happier, but people are less likely to approach you with a scowl on your face. It’s simple: Smile more, and happy things will follow.

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3. Eat a more nutritious diet, and cut out the chemicals.
Seriously. This was always something my dad preached in our house, and I never wanted to believe it, but it’s true. I find that when I eat a diet rich in whole foods (as opposed to raiding the vending machine at work and binging on fast food), I’m a lot more even-tempered and less likely to overreact to minor things. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. Not only will this make you happier in the long run, but it will make your waistline happier, too.

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4. Talk to your friends…
We all need somebody to lean on. You’ll make friends as you adjust to your new environment, and as you grow closer, you will likely turn to each other for support. This is a good thing, because it will allow you to grow closer and form more meaningful relationships.

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thcaaxvjkd5. … But don’t lean on one person too much.
When you rely on one person too heavily, you may wind up putting too much pressure on him or her to solve your problems and be that shoulder to lean on. You don’t want to be that one negative friend that people dread talking to, so be sure to keep that in check when confiding in others.

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6. Utilize the university counseling center if necessary.
If you’re having trouble adjusting to college life or are having some emotional difficulties, a good resource to take advantage of is the school’s counseling center. Chances are, your tuition and student activity fees actually pay for counseling services anyway, so it is a free resource that you might as well use. This can help you find new ways to cope with your problems and talk to someone who isn’t as close to the situation as your friends are.

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7. Whenever you start to doubt yourself, listen to an emergency compliment.
I love this site, Emergency Compliment, because it’s exactly what it sounds like. The page generates a new “emergency compliment” every time you refresh, and the compliments will definitely make you smile. Similarly, you can write down all of the positive things people have said about you, and read them on the tougher days to remind yourself of how great you really are.

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free+time18. Get organized.
Make checklists and keep a calendar to stay on task with your school work, extracurriculars and social obligations. This will ensure that you don’t forget anything important and therefore cause yourself even more stress and anxiety than you were already facing from those two papers and three midterms. For tips on managing your time effectively in college, visit my guide here.

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9. Take each day one at a time.
Don’t try to solve all of the world’s problems at once. When you try to do too much, you stop doing any of it very well. Be careful not to spread yourself too thin!

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10. Go outside.
Enjoy the fresh air and beauty of nature, even if you are inundated with schoolwork and group projects. As a student, I often brought my books outside when the weather was nice, and I found that this had a major impact on my overall mood. If you can, try to study or meet for lunch with friends outside once in a while… the change in scenery will (quite literally) brighten your day.

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endorphins11. Move around.
Does your university have a free gym for students? Use it! The endorphins will boost your mood and help relieve some of the stress you’re facing. Plus, it’s a very healthy way to get your mind off of some of the things that may be bothering you!

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12. Find a major you really love, and stick to it.
If you enjoy what you’re doing and have an end goal in sight, it will make it that much easier for you to push past your challenges. You may hate that organic chemistry class you’re taking, but if you are passionate about your other pre-med classes and excited about the idea of becoming a doctor someday, you’ll have an easier time forcing yourself to study. Don’t pursue a major just to impress others or check it off your list — instead, find something you’re passionate about. For tips on how to choose the right major, click here.

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13. Volunteer.
Helping others, instead of focusing on the things that have gone wrong in your life, will cheer you up and allow you to give back to the community. Join a volunteer organization at your university, or look for a local non-profit whose mission speaks to you.

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-114. Develop some school spirit!
If you take pride in your school, you will be less homesick and have an easier time adjusting to the challenges you face on campus. Attend a few athletic events and wear your university’s colors proudly! This also helps you to connect with others on campus and you may even make friends at the games.

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15. If you expect wonderful things to happen, they will.
My friend Nicole always says this, and I completely agree! Good things will come when you have a positive attitude and expect them to. When you’re going through a rough adjustment, keep your chin up and hope for the best. Positive thoughts can attract positive outcomes.

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What are some of your tips for finding happiness in college? Freshmen, what topics would you like to see on The Freshman 15?

In Hindsight: Four Things I’d Tell My University Self

logotransparentGood afternoon, friends, and sorry for any lack of updates lately! To make it up to you, I’d like to share my latest guest blog for Career Camel, a London-based website dedicated to helping college students lock down the career of their dreams.

For my guest post, I was asked to discuss some of the things I would tell my freshman self if I could go back in time. The question was definitely a challenging one, but I have definitely grown in the past five years and learned a lot about myself in that time.

Pop over to Career Camel now and check out my article! You won’t regret it. :) Share with friends and add your own lessons in the comments section!