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Invented Charm Posts

Returning to Work, Part II: Five Things to Do When You’re Struggling

This is part two in my series about maternity leave, returning to work, and my decision to be a stay at home mom. You can read part one here.

five things to do when you're really struggling

When I was really struggling with finding a work-life balance, I looked at a million blog entries and posts across the web—some helped and some made me feel even worse for not having my shit together. I found a lot of great suggestions about how to manage stressful mornings, how to handle the financial pressure of having a newborn (read: child care expenses), how to do meal prep on the weekends to make dinnertime less frantic—but what I needed was a more manageable path toward self-care. I was stretched too thin, and ultimately I found the pace I had set for myself to be unsustainable. Whether or not you’re a new parent, we’ve all experienced tough times and stressful transitions. These tips are universal, but I am approaching them through the lens of a former full-time mom and worker and currently as a stay at home mom.


Five Lessons Learned from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Five Lessons Learned from the life changing magic of tidying up

Some of the following include Amazon affiliate links and Birchbox referral links, which means that if you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I’ll receive a percentage of that sale at no cost to you or points for a referral. All thoughts and opinions are my own. For a full disclosure statement see my About page.

I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in December, and then in early January my husband and I began to tackle our home. We fully purged our clothes, books, and papers. We got about three-quarters way through komono, a Japanese term for miscellany, the broadest category, and we have yet to complete the tidying process with her most difficult categories—sentimental items and photos.


My Week in Review, July 8

I sometimes question myself for starting a lifestyle blog when there are so many big issues going on in the world right now. I made a career out of helping students find their path, and while I didn’t give it up lightly, being a stay at home mom makes me wonder at the end of each week if I could be doing more. I struggle to feel like I’m enough. I think we all do.

I am a feminist and I support social justice movements for gender, sexual, racial, ethnic and class equality. While I don’t write about these subjects, I have to believe that what I am writing about is worthwhile. Self-care, living well within your means, feeding and clothing yourself and your family, managing your time and your home, creating and appreciating art and culture, and dreaming big is universal. I’m going to keep working on this blog, reaching out, and connecting. Writing and sharing is what keeps us connected to the world, it’s what helps us make sense of it.

pink flowers on the sidewalk
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A Casual Summer Capsule Wardrobe

I know you’ve seen the posts and bloggers out there championing the merits of a capsule wardrobe. Maybe you’ve pinned a few looks on Pinterest and thought ooh, that sounds nice. But just as quickly you’ve also thought nah, I could never live with such a small wardrobe. I had a million reasons why I didn’t think a capsule wardrobe was for me. Here are just a few:

  1. My closet is a mess.
  2. I love to browse and splurge occasionally—I can’t commit to a capsule.
  3. I don’t really have a personal style.
  4. No one cares how I dress.
  5. I just really like wearing yoga pants, okay?

i just really like wearing yoga pants, okay? 5 reasons i thought a capsule wardrobe wouldn't work for me.


My Week in Review, June 30

Some of the following include Amazon affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I’ll receive a percentage of that sale at no cost to you. All thoughts and opinions are my own. For a full disclosure statement see my About page.

I know I’ve talked about self-care before, but I’d just like to suggest taking yourself out to lunch with a friend and giving yourself a pedicure with a classic red nail polish (I chose Come to Bed Red by Butter London). I feel like a million bucks in comparison to how I started out this week. Read a chapter in your current book, paint your nails, take a walk alone to clear your head. Do one thing for yourself, and yourself only, as my friend Maggie says. Ignore the dishes and the laundry, chores can wait.

treat yourself. do self-care. just one thing for yourself. read a book, light a candle, do your nails.
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Returning to Work, an American Horror Story, Part I

I was really scared about sharing my story, but I’ve had great support from friends and my loving partner. I wrote this piece for myself to put into words everything I felt and agonized over this last year. The ongoing lesson I’m learning is that I don’t want to make decisions from a place of fear. It’s in that spirit that I hit publish and have kept myself from running over here and hitting delete.

Returning to work. A series about maternity leave, working full time, and my decision to be a stay at home mom.

Around this time last year, I was headed back to work after my maternity leave. It was a time fraught with emotional highs and lows. Now, almost everywhere I turn, I read something that hits me where it (still) hurts. I recently read an interview by the New York Post with Meghann Foye, in which she promotes an idea through her novel that childless women deserve time off to find themselves, a meternity leave, a benefit she sees her childbearing counterparts have over her. I’m not going to say that the concept of meternity leave is stupid per se, because I am not against anyone getting a break from work if they need it, but I will say that Foye’s ideas about maternity leave are wrong.

Maternity leave, paid or unpaid, if you are lucky enough to get it in any capacity in the US, is hard work. Babies are demanding, including the most even-tempered of them—and nothing can really prepare you for their relentless needs. Entering parenthood is about learning an entirely new mode of survival; it’s not the idyllic or “self-reflective” time that some might imagine. While “self-advocacy” is certainly a skill some mothers learn, let’s not jump to the conclusion that mothers are confident or “sure of themselves” when they return to work, or that their workplace “provides a modicum of flexibility,” as Foye claims in her interview with Anna Davies about her novel.

I was nervous to go back to work last year, but I had never seriously considered being a stay at home parent either. I lacked any sort of models in my life of what that might look like. Simply put, dual income households were all that I knew. I prepared by doing my research and following helpful checklists provided by many bloggers. My first major hurdle was lining up child care when I didn’t get my first choice at the conveniently located campus daycare, though I’d been on a wait list for almost a year. I opted for an in-home provider about four miles away from campus, thinking that I could make the trip there and back during lunch to see my son and nurse. I had heard from so many working mothers that finding childcare close to the office was key in making the transition back to work a relatively happy one. After that, I made freezer meals, practiced with my breast pump, bought postpartum work clothes, gave myself an at-home mani-pedi, and packed up all my essentials in a new little bag. I was as ready as I’d ever be.

returning to work is fraught with emotional highs and lows
This bag was the only cute thing about going back to work.

I knew that going back to my office would be difficult. The dynamic had changed substantially with new leadership and staff changes, but nothing could really prepare me for the reality of what that would mean as a new mom. My whole first month of work was a comedy of errors—it started with needing to queue with dozens of others just to get my parking privileges reinstated, having to pump breastmilk in a common room with only paper signs providing security because the mini-blinds I’d doggedly requested for months before my leave were still not ordered (and when they did arrive were the wrong size and my fourth floor window was broken during the installation), organizing a massive clean up of the 4×4 office kitchen because it was Kitchen Nightmares‘ level of filthy, and having so many mistakes on my paycheck that I became a frequent visitor at Accounting (and probably should have received one of those frozen yogurt punch cards because at least then I would have gotten something free on my tenth visit). Those things were all stressful, but the absolute most gut-wrenching thing that happened was on my very first day back. I asked my new supervisor if I could leave ten minutes early, and she asked me why. Why do you need to leave early? 

Why? WHY??? I felt flames on the side of my face. I needed to leave early that day and would probably need to on others for the same reason—my child. I was parked a quarter mile away from my office since I’d been at parking services for over an hour (see above) and by the time I had a permit all the closer lots were full. I was responsible for drop-offs and pick-ups and there was no margin for error. You have to pay fines at daycare if you’re late, on top of the incredibly hefty monthly price tag (think mortgage payment or college tuition).

Next she asked when. When are you going to make up your time? I had no real way of making up my time—I had allotted my lunch breaks for seeing my kid to nurse, and if I stayed at work instead I’d still need to take another (unpaid) break to pump breastmilk. I couldn’t come to work earlier or stay later because I had to do the pick-ups and drop-offs (see above). So what could I say? I had no answer that would be acceptable. I mumbled something and darted out of the building, embarrassed and truly worried about my future as a working mom.

my story about returning to work. "I felt the weight of my decision to return to work for what it was--a nightmare, a waking one that kept me on edge all the time."

I felt the weight of my decision to return to work for what it was—a nightmare, a waking one that kept me on edge all the time. I couldn’t sleep, I felt sick and anxious at night and on the weekends because I was scared to go to work. What if I was late? What if I had to leave early? What if someone needed me while I was pumping breastmilk? What if I hadn’t anticipated the needs of everyone else around me like I used to before I had a child?

I felt alone, and everyone I turned to was in a different (and sometimes) slightly better situation than me. I talked to women who were in positions of authority and I found that they largely got to make their own rules about their schedule. I talked to friends who had very flexible supervisors and cooperative units that did give them the “modicum of flexibility” to work from home a couple hours a week or clock a few hours checking email on nights and weekends. I had friends who were able to work part-time, and had a family network of support for childcare. I had none of those things in my favor, so I clung to the idea that it would get easier with time. It didn’t.

This is just part of my story, but I’ll end it here for today. I’ll leave you with this beautiful rant from People I Want to Punch in the Throat. Read it and laugh out loud like I did.

Photo credits // agenda (featured in graphic): Willy Sietsma via Ultra HD Wallpapers / unicorn pouch: Invented Charm


My Week in Review, June 24

Some of the following include Amazon affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I’ll receive a percentage of that sale at no cost to you. All thoughts and opinions are my own. For a full disclosure statement see my About page.

Another hectic week has flown by. Are there any other kind? Since my last week in review, there have been some big changes and a lot of firsts. I toured 20 houses for sale; bought the first swimsuit I picked up off the rack at Macy’s so I could go swimming with Rory for the first time in his little life; wore a swimsuit for the first time since childbirth, and swam for the first time since 2009; celebrated Father’s Day with my family for the first time since 2003. FYI, I can’t find the suit online at Macy’s but here it is at Amazon if you are curious. Sad face because it’s cheaper there than what I paid in the store.

I have to say, despite the stress of house hunting and having to wear a bathing suit in front of people, it was an awesome time. I actually really like the swimsuit and refused to feel bad about myself in any way when I was in the dressing room, and I kept any negative self-talk at bay while I was poolside. The important thing is that I got to spend time with my family and experience swimming with Rory. It was nothing short of special. I have finally learned to be gentle with myself…it only took 35 years.

succulents from moorten botanical garden in palm springs
Succulents from Moorten Botanical Garden. Follow me on Instagram @inventedcharm

This weekend we’re headed out of town again for a family birthday party, but on Sunday I’m hopeful to get down to the nursery to pick up some more plants. We have a bunny population that apparently loves succulents!? Two of my succulents in my planter look eaten, and my lavender plant is all wilted and dry even though I’ve been watering it. Last fall we went to Moorten Botanical Garden in Palm Springs and it gave me grand dreams of having a beautiful patio full of planties. I really need to up my game if we’re going to put our condo on the market.

For your reading pleasure:

  • Summer treats you can enjoy on a budget from Invented Charm: A quick plug for myself. Can I just ask if blogging ever feels like it gets easier? Don’t get me wrong, I’m really enjoying it. I just wonder because I plan posts and think they will take a certain amount of time to execute, and I’m nearly always wrong by a lot. Case in point, I finally managed to publish this piece late last night only after channeling Tiffany Han’s advice on letting go of perfection…
  • How to Give Back When You’re Trying to Save from The Everygirl: I haven’t put much thought into creating a budget for charitable giving, but I do let my heart speak to me. A friend was seeking contributions for her Relay for Life campaign and shared her personal connection to the cause and it touched me. It was easy to hit the donate button and select an amount that I could make work with my means. If you’re waiting to get rich before giving, don’t. Give, give, give–what you can, when you can. You will never regret sharing.
  • Salted Butter vs Unsalted Butter in Baking from Sally’s Baking Addiction: If you want to improve your baking skills, I definitely recommend the whole baking basics series of posts from Sally’s Baking Addiction. I am a self-taught baker, and by that I mean I just started baking one day without knowing or trying to learn any of the science. I’ve had mostly success, but then I’ve never been particularly adventurous. I learned a lot from reading the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook by Christina Tosi, and her recipes were the only ones where I really struggled to get things right.


I hope you have a great weekend!

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Summer Treats on a Budget

I love summer and all the delicious treats associated with the season, but I don’t have unlimited funds to satisfy my cravings. If you’re like me and trying to be more conscious about your spending this summer, here are some budget friendly ideas for treats you can enjoy at home.

ten summer treats when you're on a budget that you can enjoy at home

Some of the following include Amazon affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I’ll receive a percentage of that sale at no cost to you. All thoughts and opinions are my own. For a full disclosure statement see my About page.

Summer treats when you’re on a budget:


1. Iced Tea

If you like to order enormous cups of iced tea from Starbucks, try brewing it at home for a fraction of the cost. A box of the Passion Tazo tea is less than $7 for 20 bags. Herbal tea is a great choice for the whole family since it’s naturally caffeine free and can be sweetened to taste or even mixed with lemonade a la Starbucks. If you prefer something a little more potent, try Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s Tropical Passion, also ~$7 for 20 bags. It’s a blend of black tea with passion fruit, guava, and tropical flowers. I brew my tea hot in my Takeya pitcher and then chill it in the fridge. You can make iced tea at home several times over for the cost of buying it when you’re out.

2. Cold Brew Coffee

Making traditional iced coffee at home is pretty inexpensive, but it’s also not that tasty. Watering down hot coffee with ice cubes is not my idea of a treat. I used to let batches of “iced coffee” go to waste because it tasted bitter and I would end up going out for coffee anyway and spending more money. So this summer I’ve been searching for the perfect recipe for cold brew coffee, which steeps grounds very slowly at room temperature and creates a smooth and less acidic coffee.

summer treats you can enjoy from home on a budget. try making cold brew coffee instead of going out.

The gist is this: ground coffee, water, wait 12-24 hours, strain, serve cold/over ice, enjoy with milk/cream and sweetener of your choice. Here are a few recipes to get you started:

My one piece of advice not in any of the above links is to take note of your grinder if you’re using whole beans, as grinders are not created equally. My grinder has multiple settings for fine, medium, or coarse, and I have had much better luck with cold brew coffee in my French press when I set my grinder to medium rather than coarse.

3. Flavored Seltzer

It’s important to stay hydrated, and even more so when you’re in the heat. I try to drink a lot of water, but sometimes I just want a mid-afternoon treat. I’d much rather grab a can of no cal or low cal seltzer water over a Diet Coke (an addiction I’ve worked hard to break). Lately I’ve been turning to La Croix flavored seltzer (coconut is my favorite! $10.50 for 12 cans via Amazon), and this week I bought Watermelon flavored Spindrift at Trader Joe’s ($3.99 for 4 cans). Sure, seltzer is not free like tap water, but it’s still incredibly budget friendly, and health conscious. If you want to know the history behind the rising trend of seltzer water, here you go.

4. Beer, Wine & Cocktails

I used to love grabbing drinks with friends after work or on a lazy Saturday, but summer is the perfect time to host happy hour at home. Even an apartment or condo dweller like myself has access to outdoor space. Enjoy the sunset with your favorite brew, a chilled wine, or even a hand crafted cocktail. If you order two drinks at a bar or restaurant you can easily spend $20. Why not buy a six pack of a local IPA for $9.99 and a bottle of Rosé for $10? Looking for something a little more exciting? Try making jello shots like they do on A Beautiful Mess.

summer treats on a budget you can enjoy at home. host happy hour at your home.
Look at these gorgeous Pink Lemonade jello shots from A Beautiful Mess.


5. Popcorn

Going to the movies to beat the heat is an absolute must, but this can seriously add up over the summer especially if you’re shelling out $10 or more for movie theater popcorn every time. (I would know! My first job in high school was working at a movie theater.) Try going to free movies in the park or at local community centers and packing your home popped corn. Even better, find something on Netflix or Amazon Prime and experiment on your stovetop making kettle corn or buttered popcorn in a DIY microwave bag. You’ll spend way less than what you would if you go out to the movie theater.

6. Nachos

Ballgames, amusement parks, festivals, and fairs all boast one thing in common. Nachos. These nachos are usually made with a cheesy, gooey sludge and topped with pickled jalapeños–they are something unto themselves. But this summer I’m going to limit our trips to fairs and festivals, and forget about ball games and amusement parks, we are strictly staycationing. Instead, I’m going to make these Corn and Black Bean Nachos.

summer treats you can enjoy from home on a budget. nachos are a staple at ball games, festivals, and amusement parks. make your own gourmet version at home.
I want to eat these all summer long. Check out Smitten Kitchen’s Black Bean and Corn Nachos.


7. Floats

On the road trip home from my parents’ place up north, we stopped at A&W for dinner. It was perfectly greasy and reminded me of my childhood. To top off the meal, I ordered a large root beer float to share with my husband on the drive. It was $5 and I got full about half way through and we ended up tossing the rest after the soft serve ice cream melted. I can easily create my own floats at home–several in fact–for the price of just one purchased at the restaurant. Buy a six pack or a liter bottle of root beer, vanilla ice cream, and serve in a tall glass. This would be a really fun and low- stress dessert to serve at your next barbecue.

8. Ice Cream Sandwiches

I bet you’ve seen all the amazing food blogs where people make ice cream sandwiches from scratch–homemade ice cream, fresh baked cookies, sprinkles and chocolate chips to decorate. Maybe you’re like me and look longingly and know you’re never going to find the time to make ice cream sandwiches from scratch. Maybe you’re already working on filling in a frequent buyer’s card for those gourmet ice cream sandwiches they sell at the fancy ice cream shop (no, that’s just me?). How about making semi-homemade ice cream sandwiches? I set aside a dozen balls of dough for the freezer whenever I make cookies. I could pick up a gallon of ice cream at the store and seriously impress my friends the next time I host them for dinner. And if you don’t like to bake at all, you can get a dozen cookies at the grocery store for less than what an ice cream sandwich will cost you at my favorite spot where they go for $6.95 a pop.

budget summer treats you can make at home. try ice cream sandwiches that are semi-homemade.
Look at this beauty. At nearly 7 bucks, this is a special occasion treat only!

9. Fruit Pies, Cobblers, & Crisps

I long to learn how to make pastry, but alas that just hasn’t happened for me yet. But store bought crust is seriously cheap, and I can make a filling with beautiful summer berries or stone fruit (or even bags of frozen fruit), all for way less than what I pay when I go out for pie at my local diner.

fresh market fruit makes an inexpensive summer treat. you can make homemade or semi-homemade pies, cobblers, and crisps.

If you’re like me and making crust intimidates you, try making a cobbler or a crisp instead. My mom is famous for apple crisp with an oat and brown sugar crumble, and if you have a box of Bisquick you’ve got the makings of a quick cobbler. Sure, a beautiful pie from scratch would be ideal, but semi-homemade is a way more economical choice over dining out or buying something from the bakery. Here are some recipes to try:

10. S’mores

What could be more fun than roasting marshmallows over an open flame and sandwiching them between chocolate and graham crackers? Literally nothing. But if you’re not building a campfire anytime soon and making microwaved s’mores doesn’t interest you, how about S’mores Brownie Pie from Sally’s Baking Addiction? You bake it right in your oven, no camping trip required! It’s definitely on my baking list for the summer.

What are your go-to summer drinks, snacks, and desserts?

Photo Credits // drinks (featured in graphic): Ed Gregory via Ultra HD Wallpapers / coffee: Dominik Martin via StockSnap / jello shots: Laura Gummerman from A Beautiful Mess / nachos:  Deb Perleman from Smitten Kitchen / ice cream sandwich: Christina Toy from Invented Charm / berries: Eric Danley via Ultra HD Wallpapers



My Week in Review, June 17

This has been an exhausting week! I can’t believe it’s finally Friday. We decided to take a semi-spur of the moment trip up to my hometown to visit family and friends, and also because we are considering a move! So we’ve been checking out houses and seeing if this will be a good fit for us. I gave up on trying to post three times this week. There was just no way I could manage it with packing for a trip, a very long drive on Wednesday night with a toddler, and touring houses all day today. Here is what I did do this week…

What I Ate:

  • Turkey Bolognese with pasta adapted from Life is But a Dish and Penney Lane: I made this last Friday and we feasted on the leftovers for several days. I even hosted an impromptu dinner with a friend on Tuesday night! It’s quick and easy and doesn’t call for anything too complicated. It paired nicely with a Pinot Noir and a Rosé, FYI. Added bonus: my kid loves homemade bolognese and ate it all up.
turkey bolognese quick and simple with pantry staples
follow me on Instagram @inventedcharm


For your reading pleasure:

  • 5 Reasons You Should Take a Break from Watching TV from A Beautiful Mess: I read this and said YES aloud and then told my friend Maggie. She had already read this post and we made a pact to cut TV (and then I think we both kind of failed, oops). But we are definitely down for cutting TV this summer. I’m thinking of limiting my TV to just the shows I actually look forward to each week and cutting the ones that I just let play in the background while I mess around on my iPad. I could use that time more effectively elsewhere.
  • Want to Change the World? Be a Writer. from Helene In Between: I was struck by these lines, “As bloggers, we have a platform, even if it sometimes seems like a small one. Our articles do have an impact. We actually can make a difference.” That’s how I felt in my previous job in higher education. I think that’s all I’ve ever wanted out of my life–to make a difference–and it’s exciting to think that I don’t have to give that up even though I’m a full-time mom and part-time blogger.
  • Cherry Blackout Brownies from Mouth Half Full: Cassie asked for help on a name via Twitter and I obliged. I am super curious about brownies with black beans! I’ve made chocolate chip cookies with chickpeas before, so I’m totally game for this dessert/legume combo!

On the tube:

  • Angie Tribeca on TBS: “Why does a baby need a music class? What, is he going to start a band?” #tooreal #mykidtakesbabymusicclasses


  • Tegan & Sara and the Scott Brothers team up for a video: I love Tegan & Sara, and I watch all things Property Brothers. Therefore, I think this is a match made in heaven.


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