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Last weekend I attended the 2014 Influence Conference in Indianapolis. The driving idea behind Influence is to make your online life more meaningful and intentional through the sharing of your faith, the words you use and the mindset behind what you share on things like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.I’m still unpacking my thoughts and re-reading my notes from the two days I spent at Influence. I’m sure that a lot of what I learned at the conference will continue to impact my writing for months to come, but I wanted to share some immediate take-aways while the conference was still fresh in my mind.

1. There is value in doing things that are difficult and uncomfortable.
I’ve said it before, but I’m a closet introvert. I enjoy giving presentations at work and love making television appearances, but I find large conferences and group interactions entirely overwhelming. It’s hard for me to go, go, go without taking some down time for myself to decompress and process, and I find it difficult to constantly put myself out there and meet dozens of new people.

My knee-jerk reaction is to avoid conferences all together and avoid feeling uncomfortable, but in the days following Influence I’ve realized there is much value in being out of your comfort zone now and again. That doesn’t mean I’m going to sign up for dozens of conferences a year, but Influence made me realize that carefully-chosen, intentional opportunities are important for my own growth.

2. Time spent online doesn’t have to be wasted time. 
Sometimes I feel guilty about the amount of time I spend online. There’s time spent on the computer at work (unavoidable) and the time I spend blogging. Add the time I spend scrolling through Instagram and Twitter and Pinterest to the list and it really adds up. Influence got me thinking about being more intentional with my time online, thinking twice about the negative Tweet I’m tempted to send out or what type of affirmation I’m seeking from a photo I share on Instagram. I’m not saying everything I share needs to be happy and rosy, but there’s a fine line between being real and being just plain negative.

3. Everyone (and I mean everyone) has something they’re dealing with. 
When I arrived at check-in for Influence, I immediately noticed the shiny, well-dressed and put-together nature of all the attendees. But as the weekend went on and I heard the women in attendance share their stories, I was reminded, yet again, that no one has it all together. I know this. You know this. How is it so easy to forget? It was a reminder to me not to be too quick to judge or assume someone has it all together just because they’re wearing a cute outfit and have fresh highlights.

4. God wants me to be me, not someone else. 
As I watched the extroverted, bold women lip synching and dancing on stage at the opening black and white party, I started to get down on myself for being on the quiet, introverted side. Extroverts put themselves out there and boldly share God’s word! They’re the life of the party, the people everyone wants to be around, the first to jump in with something to say. I am not that person. I’m 27 years old and sometimes I still forget that God created me with a specific purpose, and that includes my quiet spirit. Instead of trying to be something I think I should be, I’m working on focusing on being more of who I truly am.

I left so incredibly inspired (and exhausted!) after attending Influence! It was such a blessing to meet so many wonderful, creative and inspiring women. I’m already looking forward to attending next year with a baby in tow! If you’re interested in signing up for Influence, tickets are already on sale here.

Madison

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I mentioned in my September goals that we’ve been taking a closer look at our budget and finding new ways to save. One of the easiest ways I’ve found to save money in our monthly budget is to save while grocery shopping. Since eating healthy is extremely important to our family, I’m not willing to buy cheap food just to save a few dollars, but when I can find ways to save without sacrificing on quality, I’m all in.

Lately I’ve implemented a new routine for grocery shopping and saving money. Each week Joe and I have a budget of $100 to spend on groceries; however, groceries are lumped into a larger category that includes eating out and entertainment, so if I can save money on groceries it leaves room for more fun date nights and trips to Starbucks. Oh, and saving, too!

We usually shop for most of our groceries at Target, since there is a large, nice Super Target near our house. I’ve really been impressed with the increased number of organic and natural items offered under the Target house label, and the produce is almost always good quality. Occasionally I make a trip to Costco (about 2x/month) or Whole Foods to shop from their bulk bins and buy certain cuts of meat or specialty items I can’t find elsewhere.

1. Before I grocery shop, I sit down and make a list of what we have going on for the week, this includes nights we have plans to eat out, when we’ll be home later than usual, etc.

2. After I’ve looked at our week, I will plan what meals we’re going to have. This includes browsing my Pinterest board for inspiration and digging into the archives for old favorites. Sometimes Joe has a specific request, but usually he’s fine with anything I make. I also leave room for one night I label “pantry raid” that means we’ll eat leftovers, eggs and toast, mac and cheese, etc.

3. Once I’ve nailed down what we’re going to eat, I make my grocery list. Then, I go to Target.com and search through their coupons to see if they have coupons for anything on my grocery list. They almost always have a coupon for eggs, milk and a few other staples. Lately they’ve also found coupons for money off fruit and vegetable purchases, which I love! Searching only one coupon site saves time, since I’m not keen to browse 5 or 6 different sites. I just don’t have that kind of time!

4. After I’ve found coupons on Target.com, I go to my Ibotta app. This is a new app that I can’t recommend enough. It gives you cash back via Paypal just for buying groceries! They also have a referral program, so when you refer a friend, you get more money in your account. When you download the free app, you can select your favorite stores and search for deals. For example, this week I got $3 back for buying bread (any brand) eggs (any brand) Justin’s nut butter and Greek yogurt. I appreciate that the products they have listed are often either non-brand specific or higher in quality, including many natural and organic items.

When I first heard about this app, I thought it was too good to be true, but it’s the real deal. Many times to “unlock” a deal, you simply answer a question about how often you eat or purchase a product, or learn a quick fact about the product for which the coupon is offered. I love it! To sign up, download the Ibotta app from the app store.

 

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5. Finally, I check my Target Cartwheel app, cross-referencing what’s already on my grocery list with what discounts are available on Cartwheel. The app gives small discounts for buying certain products (usually 5 to 10%) listed. It’s not a lot, but it’s quick and it adds up.

When I’m making my list I also note now much of a Cartwheel discount I’ll get on the product. That way when I’m at the store I can compare and make sure that buy that specific brand associated with the Cartwheel discount actually makes financial sense. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t! For example, last week there was a 20% discount for a particular brand of beans but even with the cartwheel discount it was still cheaper to buy the house brand without a discount.

I think that about sums up how I’ve been shopping and saving lately. It’s amazing how many little things add up to really big things, which I love. Plus, saving money feels like a game or challenge to me, which keeps it fun instead of cumbersome.

How do you save while grocery shopping? Anything I’m missing from this list? I would love to hear!
Madison

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How far along are you?  17 weeks 1 day
Generally Feeling: This is the first week that I can say I’m truly starting to feel better. Mornings continue to be hard, since nothing really sounds good, but for the most part the nausea is getting more manageable. I’ve been battling bad headaches in the past couple weeks, but I’m finding that it’s almost 100% related to how much water I’ve been drinking. If I up my water intake they go away, so I’m continuing to be mindful of that.
Showing? Yes! Not a lot, but enough that I feel more pregnant and it no longer feels like it varies as much from day to day. Seeing a little bump makes it feel so much more real.
Cravings? Milk! I was never much of a milk drinker before I got pregnant, but now I can’t get enough. I discovered the most wonderful “healthy milkshake” the other day and have literally been drinking one or two a day. Combine 1 cup whole milk (preferably organic) with a big handful of ice, a dash of real vanilla extract and a pinch of stevia and blend on high in the blender until creamy and frothy. So tasty!
Weight Gain: 13 pounds 
Fears: Pregnancy is funny because I feel like I go from one fixation to another. I’ve been working really hard not to give into irrational fears. My doctor confirmed this week that although baby’s sitting low, growth (measured in fundal height) is appropriate, so that’s one less thing to worry about! I’m continuing to realize that there will always be something to worry about if I want to. 
Looking Forward To: Still getting anxious to decorate. I’ve been Pinning nursery ideas like crazy and sending all my inspiration over to my mom, who is my co-designer in all things. I’ve been a cleaning maniac lately, too. We’ve always had a clean house, but I feel like nesting mode has already kicked in as I think about all the things around the house that I want to have done before baby arrives. 
What I’ve Been Loving: I’m certain that I’ve felt the baby a handful of times now. It’s not consistent and I have to be paying close attention to recognize what I’m feeling, but it’s such cool sensation! Additionally, I went on my first run of this pregnancy yesterday and man, did it feel good. I’ve been afraid to run, but yesterday it just felt right. Sweating and covering a few miles really made a huge difference in my mood!
Sleep: Still not the greatest. I’m very close to buying some sort of pregnancy pillow. If you have any recommendations, I’m all ears! 
Maternity Clothes? I bought a handful of dresses last week online at ASOS Maternity that don’t necessarily look “maternity” which makes them perfect for transitioning in this in-between time. I’ve never purchased anything from ASOS but I am in love with the dresses I got, especially this one and this one in navy.  Other than that, I’ve been getting buy with a lot of non-maternity items as well. Thankfully the weather is still beautiful here, so I haven’t had to transition to true cold weather clothing. 
Boy or Girl: Two more weeks to go! Do you have a guess? Leave it below! 

Pumpkin Pie Minis 3 | Espresso and Cream
My good friend, Lauren, has been mentioned a number of times on this blog. She is one of my oldest blog friends, and we followed each other’s blogs for years, practically since the beginning when I’m sure neither of us had any clue what we were doing. Lauren has gone from corporate finance guru to small bakery owner to her most exciting new role: momma-to-be! I’m so excited for Lauren and her hubby and can’t wait for them to welcome their little boy soon.

A couple of Lauren’s friends are hosting a surprise virtual baby shower for Lauren today. And, to keep things true to Lauren’s love of sweets and all things mini, we all created desserts that are miniature in nature.

Unfortunately, my attempts at miniature crust-less mini pumpkin pies with struesel topping were an utter failure. Well, I guess I can’t say they were a total failure since Joe still devoured them and said they were pretty tasty, but they’re certainly not worth sharing on E&C, at least not yet. However, I absolutely couldn’t miss out on the shower and getting a chance to celebrate Lauren, recipe or no recipe! Here are a few other pumpkin pie recipes on E&C I would suggest you check out:

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1. Chocolate Pumpkin Pie (aka Pumpkin Spice Latte Pie)
2. Caramel Pumpkin Pie
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. Skinny Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

And in case you’re looking to check out the other recipes from the shower, here they are!

Mini Pumpkin Layer Cakes from The Baker Chick

Mini Apple Spice Cupcakes from Dinners, Dishes, and Desserts

Mini Nutella Brownies from The Cooking Actress

Mini Iced Oatmeal Cookie Apple Pies from Girl Versus Dough

Pickles in a Blanket from The Lemon Bowl

Mini No-Bake Chocolate Cheesecakes from Bake or Break

Mini Cookie Cocktail (and Mocktail!) from We Are Not Martha

Mini Chocolate and Peanut Butter Fondant Cakes from London Bakes

Double Decker Birthday Cake Blondie Bites from Baker By Nature

Mini Brown Butter Pumpkin Cupcakes from Eats Well With Others

Roasted Caprese Stack with Peaches from Warm Vanilla Sugar

Crunchy Cookie Butter M&M Bars from The Avid Appetite

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How far along are you?  16 weeks 2 days
Generally Feeling: This week I struggled again with quite a bit of nausea, which is draining because it makes finding foods that satisfy quite difficult. But overall I have SO much more energy and have been able to get a lot done, which makes up for the nausea. I’m thankful that my extra energy has been making it easy to workout consistently, too.
Showing? The last few days I feel like I’ve really started to show more. I think it may be the real thing, too, because I’ve been able to sleep through the night without needing to go to the bathroom, which I’ve heard can be a benefit of “popping” in the 2nd trimester. 
Cravings? Nothing new to report. I’m still loving citrus fruits like lemons and clementines blended in the Vitamix with water and stevia. Overall, I’m really having a hard time finding anything that sounds good and my main goal seems to be finding foods that don’t make me feel sick. Toast with butter and salt is still a favorite.
Weight Gain: I haven’t been weighing myself at home, only at doctor appointments, so I won’t have another update until next week. I’m guessing 11-ish pounds 
Fears: This week I really worried about our baby’s growth. Things like “fundal height” and the size of my uterus became a temporary fixation and source of worry. I think part of it is the fact that I’m hardly showing, which I realize is normal, but it makes it hard to believe that this baby is growing and developing normally despite the fact that I’m not showing much on the outside.
Looking Forward To: Decorating the nursery! My mom is coming up in a couple weeks and we’re going to really start work on decorating. We bought our first major purchase, a rocker/glider from Room and Board Outlet this past weekend, too! 
What I’ve Been Loving: Joe and I started reading baby books to the baby at night before bed. Maybe it’s silly since our baby can’t really hear anything yet, but it helps us connect with our little peanut and it’s fun to get into a routine of doing something with the baby together at night. 
Sleep: Not the greatest. Between the trips to the bathroom and trying to get comfortable on my side, I toss and turn quite a bit.
Maternity Clothes? Still not wearing many maternity clothes aside from my one pair of maternity jeans. I’ve been using a belly band and the old hair tie trick, because I honestly love the way my normal jeans fit SO much better than maternity jeans. I went to Old Navy this week and purchased a few non-maternity dresses that fit my body and give me a little extra wiggle room. And I purchased a few pairs of black maternity leggings from Gap that have already gotten plenty of use with this colder weather! 
Boy or Girl: Waiting (impatiently!) until October 6th! 

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