Here’s How I Want to be Inspired this Year

Last year was hard. A lot of good things happened: we bought a house; we got married; we expanded our family by eight very furry paws. But I also lost two grandparents and got incredibly burnt out trying to make our house livable in five weeks and spent a lot of time worrying about our new senior dogs’ health. We didn’t have the time to travel or enjoy our new backyard or spend all that much time with friends.

This year is going to be different. Because I’m going to make it that way. This year, I want to feel excited about and delighted by my life. This year, I want to be inspired, in more ways than one.

I want to be inspired by my spaces.
We’re homeowners! And while it sucks when the furnace repair man completely kills your heat while troubleshooting, homeownership also means creating spaces you love. We are so darn close to having a living room, bathroom, bedroom and guest room that reflect who we are and how we spend time in our home. I know there’s always more to be done, but this feels like a step in the right direction after making things livable last year.

I want to be inspired by new (and old) places.
When you’re renovating and wedding planning, you don’t leave the area code much. This year we’re back on weekend road trips and are beginning to think about a honeymoon. While I doubt we’ll ever return to our pre-pandemic level of travel, it feels good to have some trips to look forward to.

I want to be inspired by my outfit.
I turn 30 this year, and that seems like an appropriate time to really love the clothes looking back at me when I open my closet. I’m slowly ordering updated basics and splurging a little bit on staples like a new laptop bag and wedding guest dresses.

I want to be inspired to create and contribute.
Last year, I did a lot of consuming. Mindless scrolling while I ate or waited for the shower that didn’t really serve any purpose but killing time and taking my mind off my to do list. This year, I want to do things and think things and curate things that make me excited to share.

Settling into All 2022 Has in Store

For the last few years, rather than set a New Year’s resolution, I’ve chosen a word to focus on. In 2020, the focus was on investing; last year, I thought a lot about cultivating. After some debate (as well as two months into the new year and a full year since my last blog post), I’m spending 2022 with the word “settle” in mind.

Settling might be interpreted as being okay with “good enough” but that’s not how I’m thinking about it. In 2022, I want to settle into all of the wonderful, life-changing events taking place this year.

By the end of this year (if all goes according to plan, which we all know is not guaranteed these days), Cody and I will be celebrating our first Christmas as husband and wife, as well as our first holiday season in our new home. I want to lean into the (long) journey of making our house a home and enjoy the process of planning a wedding the reflects who we are and the people we love.

For me, settling into this next stage is about stepping back and appreciating the hard work that got me (and us) here. This is the reward for late nights finishing work for freelance clients, a year of house hunting and the willingness to see past (and scrub off) decades of cigarette smoke.

I tend to reach a milestone and push on toward the next. Not this time. This year is for taking a deep breath and settling into exactly where I am.

#sadsznfieldtrip: Tipico Coffee and Hoyt Lake

I spend a lot of time on Instagram, for better or worse, but I am very cognizant of who I follow and what they share. One of my favorite follows is Maggie, the person behind @coffeeandcardio. She talks about coffee and workouts and hiking, as well as mental health and building good habits.

This winter, she’s sharing some easy, pandemic-friendly ways to give yourself a boost of serotonin. I took her up on what she calls a #sadsznfieldtrip, a pre-work trip that combines good coffee and nature. I left the house after ordering a dirty chai latte from Tipico Coffee, picking it up from their colorful Elmwood Ave. shop a little after 7 am.

One of my favorite places in Buffalo is Hoyt Lake, which is conveniently located between Tipico and our apartment. Coffee in hand, I walked from the Albright Knox to the History Museum and back as the sun rose over the lake. From The Terrace to the Japanese Garden, everything looked extra beautiful kissed by the early morning sun. Even the Scajaquada was pretty as the morning’s commuters drove through the park.

Even in 15° weather, I wasn’t alone. Plenty of hardy Buffalonians were out jogging and walking their dogs. The trip was short (and even then I couldn’t feel my fingers by the end of it) but exactly what I needed to make my WFH week a little less monotonous.

Cultivating (Literally and Figuratively) in 2021

Last year, I chose to approach the year with a word in mind, rather than focusing on a specific resolution. I really enjoyed spending the year working toward the general theme of investment, especially considering a lot of 2020 was kind of useless for things like travel, something I initially thought would be a big part of the year. Opting for a focus over a resolution made it easier to make progress without feeling like the whole goal was pointless.

With so much still up in the air, choosing a word to focus on seems like a good idea for 2021 too. This year, I’m approaching things with the word cultivate in mind. There are five ways I’d like to incorporate it into my life throughout 2021:

Growing a Garden

This is a very literal interpretation of the word cultivate. Last year, I had some modest success starting flower and vegetable seeds in our living room. I’d like to have an even bigger and better garden this year, so I’ll start planning soon! I grow primarily in containers, so I’m not going to let our house hunt keep me from enjoying the weird pride of watching your seeds sprout and flowers bloom.

Creating Rather Than Consuming

Over the last year, I’ve sunk pretty deep into the habit of doom-scrolling, especially during breakfast and right before going to sleep. I’d love to mindfully opt for creating rather than consuming once in a while. Whether this is doodling in a coloring book, taking photos or writing blog posts (more on that in a minute), if it keeps me off my phone, I’m in.

Enriching My Community

I volunteered a lot during high school but I let it fall to the wayside during college. It’s way past time to find a couple of organizations I care about and start making a difference in my community.

Expanding My Personal Brand

When we were stuck at home last spring, I jumped on the online course train with everyone else. I started Introduction to Personal Branding through Coursera and made it through a quarter of the syllabus before it got warm enough to spend time outside. It’s time to revisit the material and put some real thought into what I want my personal brand to look like, especially online.

Building Succulents & Sunnies

Succulents and Sunnies did not benefit from my extra time in 2020. It was really hard to find the motivation to post on a lifestyle blog when my lifestyle was something like “work from home gardener” rather than my usual “weekend getaway-obsessed Buffalonian.” I do miss documenting the big (and little) moments with something more substantial than an Instagram post. I want to spend some time creating a blog that feels more like me and be better about amplifying the posts I do write.

A Stocking Stuffed by Small Businesses

Stockings might be one of my favorite holiday traditions. I just love all the itty-bitty gifts. In my family, stocking stuffers lean toward the practical: nicer-than-usual lotion, pens, chocolate, and hair ties are staples.

These goodies usually come from big-box stores at (almost) the last minute—but it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s totally possible to stuff your loved ones’ stockings with goods made and sold by small businesses in Buffalo and beyond. These small businesses make some of the tiny items I’ve loved throughout this year.

the budl shop

Shopping small is even better when you know the business owners you’re supporting! A college classmate recently started the budl shop, making dainty, desert-inspired jewelry perfect for stuffing stockings. Each piece is handmade with love in Los Angeles and shipped nationwide in zero-waste, 100% sustainable packaging.

If you’re looking to stuff a stocking or two with the budl shop this season, use code ANDSUNNIES10 now through December 31st to save 10%!


Whether your loved ones are proud Buffalonians living within the city limits or they flaunt their love for the City of Good Neighbors from afar, Poppiejanes’ ornaments make the perfect stocking stuffers. Last year, I topped my coworkers’ gifts with these little guys too!

Zandra Beauty

Zandra Beauty lotion in my stocking

My skin is very sensitive, so I’ve been experimenting with soaps and lotions this fall. I love the light texture and sweet scent of Zandra Beauty’s lavender vanilla chai hand and body lotion. It’s handmade with organic ingredients, making it a nice treat for your loved ones, without breaking your stocking stuffing budget.

Niland Candle Co.

Niland Candle Co. says nothing sets the mood like lighting a candle, and I can’t agree more—especially during the holidays. The shop’s unique holiday scents, like spruce and balsam + cranberry, are the perfect stocking stuffers. My mom and sister found these in their stockings last year, and they’ll probably make an appearance again this season!

The English Rose Tea Shoppe /

Loose leaf tea in my stocking

Loose leaf tea is something I rarely buy for myself but love finding in my stocking. Medina’s The English Rose Tea Shoppe has just about any variety of tea you can imagine, in whatever quantity you’re looking to gift.

High Mowing Organic Seeds

High Mowing Seeds in my stocking

With some extra time on my hands last spring, I started many of the plants in my garden from seed. With this winter and spring looking just as socially distanced and travel-free as last year, I’ll be nurturing seedlings in our living room again. High Mowing Organic Seeds’ cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and lettuce were very easy to grow, even in pots along our sidewalk.

Staving Artist Woodwork

Staving Artist Woodwork, based in Penn Yan, uses wine barrels to create gorgeous tables, centerpieces, and serving trays. Most of the shop’s statement pieces won’t fit in a stocking, but they have lots of tasteful, high-quality, affordable, and useful knickknacks that are perfect for stuffing the stocking of your favorite wine connoisseur or Finger Lakes lover.

Kindled Concepts

While Kindled Concepts’ adorable stocking tags might not be great for stuffing stockings, this small business knows how to make the stockings themselves very, very cute. They are a new addition to our holiday décor this year, and I’m obsessed! This husband-and-wife team also makes custom ornaments, cute coasters, and other goodies that will, in fact, make great stocking stuffers!

3 Breweries and an Engagement in the Finger Lakes

When Cody suggested spending a day drinking beer in the Finger Lakes last month, I wasn’t going to say no. This summer has been slower than most—for obvious, coronavirus-related reasons—and the thought of spending a beautiful summer day at picnic tables with beautiful views sounded great.

We started at Climbing Bines, which Cody and I have visited before, where I opted for the Honey Apricot on draft. There were plenty of open, socially distant tables under umbrellas and sun sails, perfect for enjoying what was turning out to be a perfect late-summer day. When everyone agreed on walking through the bines before getting another drink, I happily followed.

Posing in the bines at Climbing Bines in Penn Yan

Shannon and Patrick posed for a cute picture in the bines and suggested Cody and I do the same. It was truly a picture-perfect backdrop, so I obviously agreed. I should have realized when Patrick, Shannon and Morgan were all taking pictures that this was not just any cute picture.

As I tried to walk away, Cody got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. Honestly, if the conversation wasn’t on video, I wouldn’t be sure I said yes. I was so overwhelmed by the absolutely perfect setting, the thought of spending forever with my favorite person, and the stunning ring he was holding in front of me.

Hugging in the bines after

Can of Ship Wreck NEIPA on table at Climbing Bines

After some deep breaths and laughs and more pictures, we were ready to grab that second drink we were after pre-engagement. During our second drinks, Cody shared all the details of planning the day in my favorite place, we called and texted our parents, and we enjoyed our second round (with way less stressful than the first round for everyone in on Cody’s plan—everyone but me).

We got takeout from Top of the Lake and headed to Abandon Brewing Company for even better views than Climbing Bines, which I didn’t think was possible. I had never been here before and was instantly in love with its view, its beer, and its welcoming, unpretentious atmosphere. Shannon put together the cutest “She said yes” basket, complete with champagne and the best farmers’ market cookies.  We toasted to forever, drank sours and IPAs, and talked to a few more family members while looking over Keuka Lake.

Entrance to Abandon Brewing Company in Penn Yan

Full pint glass on picnic table with Keuka Lake in background

Basket filled with champagne and other gifts

Last but not least was Other Half Brewing Finger Lakes. I was so excited to try something a little different from what we find at other breweries in Western New York and the Finger Lakes. The bright pink sour slushie did not disappoint. Enjoying one last drink as the sun started to set was the perfect end to an absolutely unforgettable day.

IPA in plastic glass on picnic table at Other Half FLX

On the way home, we filled in a few more family members and really let the day sink in.

A Guest Room Refresh on a Budget

When we started apartment hunting three years ago, we weren’t necessarily looking for a second bedroom. When we found a duplex that not only offered two bedrooms, but half a basement and half a garage, we jumped at the opportunity for a little extra space. The second bedroom slowly became part guest room/part junk room. It collected Christmas presents we didn’t quite have a home for yet, drying clothes, empty boxes, craft supplies, and a lot more.

Cluttered guest bedroom before updating

Cluttered guest bedroom before updating

When I started working from home in March, it was the first time I had ever sat at the desk we put in the second bedroom almost three years ago. The extra space became a saving grace; without it, I would have turned our kitchen table into a semi-permanent office space. At first, the clutter and mismatched furniture didn’t bother me – everyone was making do with odd spaces while working from home.

However, as it became obvious that this would be my workspace for a lot longer than originally anticipated and our clients headed back to their offices, working in this space lost what little draw it had initially.

My Do It Yourself Upgrade

How could I make the room both more welcoming for guests and more functional for the 40 hours a week I now spend in it? Of course, I also didn’t want to spend a ton of money on updates, so I needed to utilize furniture I already had. The bed and desk stayed, as did the lamp. I swapped out plastic drawers for a dresser that was still at my parents’ house.

I wanted to take what we already had and meet three goals:

1. A Less Cluttered Workspace

This room now has to function as an office, first and foremost. I made two big changes to make working from the guest room a little bit easier. First, I rearranged the furniture to add more space between the big pieces of furniture. Switching the desk and bed to opposite walls, along with flipping the direction of the area rug, makes it easier to move my chair around. I also moved the shelves to the top of my desk (they had been below it) to give my legs a little bit more room.

Desk with shelves on top displaying diplomas

The plastic drawers, which were remnants of dorm room living, were the thing I liked least about my video chat background. One was filled with craft supplies, while the other held a combination of skincare and scarves. I knew I still needed that storage space, so I brought my childhood dresser to the apartment. It still had tulip drawer pulls and hand-painted grass on it, which is not exactly the aesthetic I had in mind for this update. Two coats of Behr’s Whitewash Oak and simple drawer pulls gave this dresser new life.

Painted dresser with framed items on top

In the coming weeks, we’ll probably add a small table next to the desk for our printer too. Hopefully, we can find something for next to nothing at a garage sale or on Facebook Marketplace and, if we need to, use leftover paint or stain to freshen it up.

2. An Upgraded Guest Experience

We have an extra bed, and I would hate to have it off-limits just because our guest bedroom is also an office now. Nothing was really wrong with the bedding, but it is primarily what’s in the background of my video calls so I decided an upgrade was worth it. A new white bedspread (from Hearth & Hand) lightens the room and offers a neutral backdrop for a few guest must-haves. It also gives us a place to use a gorgeous live edge plank my dad finished and a beautiful quilt Cody’s grandma made.

Guest bed with new bedding

Teddy bear rests on new shams

3. A Few Pretty Touches

Paige gifted Cody and I a stunning two-panel painting of a cliff outside an Irish fishing village a few years ago. I didn’t want to hang it somewhere I wouldn’t see it, so it’s been living in a box at my parents’ house (where I never saw it…) instead. This seemed like a good opportunity to put the painting in a space where I would see it constantly. I’m also over the whole “we can’t put nails in the walls” thing, because after three years we will probably not see much of our security deposit anyway.

The other noticeable upgrade was turning a very ’90s lamp into something that didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Two coats from a can of spray paint and a new lamp shade were all this lamp needed. I also covered two clipboards with a map of the Austin Capital Metro system for an easy way to display photos and other memories.

I think that I’d like to use the wall space above the lamp for a very low key gallery wall that wraps around the corner. This is definitely going to take a while to get right, so I’m not holding my breath. The succulents on the desk could also probably use some stones over the soil, so I’ll keep that in mind on my next run to Lowe’s or Home Depot.

The Total Cost

I wanted to keep the cost of this refresh below $150. But I also knew that making my workspace more functional was worth investing in. I chose not to spend money on updates that we wouldn’t be able to take with us when we left, like painting the walls or installing new blinds. Instead, I focused on pieces that will live beyond this office.


  • Paint: $15.20
  • Drawer pulls: $12.96


  • Bedding: $97.86
  • Amenities: $20.62


  • Paint: $4.33
  • Lamp shade: $21.72

Total Cost: $172.69

4 Tacos Every Buffalonian Needs to Try

Cinco de Mayo marks a battle between Mexico and France that happened in 1862. Of course, Americans have turned this historic event into an excuse to eat and drink our Mexican favorites. And I’m here for it.

Cinco de Mayo seems like as good a time as any to share a few of my favorite tacos from local Mexican eateries. If you’re looking for a tasty way to support Buffalo’s taquerias and Mexican restaurants, here’s what I recommend:

La Divina’s Potato & Poblano Taco

Contrary to popular belief, not every taco needs meat. La Divina stuffs two corn tortillas with a delicious combination of hashbrown-style potatoes and poblano peppers crisped on the flat top. This is what vegetarian dreams are made of.

Potato and poblano taco from La Divina in Kenmore

Casa Azul’s Carne Asada Taco

I’ve never had a bad taco at Casa Azul, but the carne asada is my favorite. It’s simple and delicious. You can trust me on this one, because I had just about everything on the menu when I partnered with them for Dining Out For Life last fall.

Four tacos, including carne asada, at Casa Azul in Buffalo

I take most of the pictures that end up on this site, but the wonderful Caitlin at Reilley Photography is to thank for the photos from Casa Azul!

Cantina Loco’s California Fish Taco

If you were, for some reason, looking for the perfect combination of a Buffalo-style fish fry and Cantina Loco‘s creative tacos – this is it. It’s a burrito-sized taco with a health serving of fried fish and slightly spicy slaw, and it’s delicious.

California fish taco from Cantina Loco in Buffalo paired with a margarita

Maizal Mexican Kitchen’s Pollo de Tinga Taco

Maizal Mexican Kitchen does classic, no-frills tacos right. You can’t go wrong with this combination of chicken, tomatoes, peppers and onions. Plus, an order of three comes with Spanish rice and refried beans, so you’re definitely not leaving hungry.

Pollo de tinga tacos from Maizal Mexican Kitchen in Amherst

There are so many incredible tacos to choose from in Buffalo. Next on my list are Taqueria Los Mayas (for both the zucchini and corn and breakfast tacos) and literally anything from Las Puertas.

5 Steps for Growing this Summer’s Garden

Staying home isn’t all bad. While I’m sure it will only get harder as the weather gets warmer, for me and Cody, isolating ourselves means more conversation, more music, more cooking and more time to think about how our “gardens” will look this year.

For now, I only plant in containers; I don’t want to change our rented space in any way that would leave it worse off when we move out. I also don’t love weeding and containers make managing weeds a million times easier. The last two summers my planting strategy had been haphazard at best. I stop at the nursery on the way home from work, put what looks nice in my cart, and call it a day.

There’s nothing wrong with that strategy. I actually really loved how the planters on our porch turned out last summer, so I’ll probably take a similar approach to them this year. However, my vegetables have been less than stellar the last few summers and this year there’s a new space I want to fill with blooms.

Last Saturday was Buffalo’s first truly nice afternoon. We spent hours outside, not really planning to get much done, just glad to be out of the house. I started going at a patch of weeds, vines and small trees that had slowly expanded over the last couple of years. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. By Sunday afternoon I was left with a blank slate between our garage and the neighbor’s fence.

Empty space between garage and fence

I hadn’t realized what an eyesore the corner had become until it was gone. Now comes the fun part: what’s the best way to fill this space? I’ve been searching Instagram, gardening blogs and Google images for inspiration. My biggest challenge is that the space gets literally zero direct sun. I tracked it every hour just to be sure. Nada.

My goal is to create a space that we can set up lawn chairs in and enjoy after work. I want to use what was until very recently an ugly corner and make it a welcoming space where I can spend an hour reading or writing with a cup of tea or cold drink.

Hand drawn mockup of new garden

It’s going to take some time to create that corner. Lucky for summer me, spring me has a lot of time on her hands. Here’s what’s on my container garden to do list:

  1. Order seeds. With extra time on my hands, I’m going to try to start some what I would normally buy from a nursery. Earlier this week, I ordered cucumber, spinach, cherry tomato, cilantro and lettuce seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds. I also bought nasturtium and mint seeds from Renee’s Garden.
  2. Plant seeds. Buffalo’s last frost date is at the beginning of May, so we’re just about a month away from planting outside. For most veggies, this is the perfect time to start seeds inside. Hopefully, the seeds I ordered will arrive this week or next so I can get them in soil.
  3. Buy materials. I love the containers on our front porch, so I’ll get a couple more of those for the new spot. It will also need some stakes and a few 2×8 boards to wrap some of the more utilitarian containers I’m planning to use.
  4. Build. Even though it’s too early to put plants in the ground, I want to lay out containers and see how everything will look. That way I can edge the new space, add the wood and put up wire fencing before seedlings go in.
  5. Plant! I’ll still go to the nursery for most of my flowers when it’s warm enough to plant outside. There will be two planters in the new space, which will need to be shade-friendly. Two more planters will go on the front steps, which get a lot more sun. I’ll also plant the vegetables and herbs I started inside.

Fingers crossed that the extra work now will pay off this summer. I can’t wait to have a cozy space to enjoy time outside!

A Quintessentially Portland Day Trip

My sister, Paige, has lived in New England for just over two years. I’ve visited in the dead of winter and for sunny summer trips through coastal Massachusetts towns. Last summer, we ventured a little further during my four-day stay in Salem.

Our first day, we enjoyed Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum and farmers’ market, along with a delicious charcuterie board (at Gulu-Gulu Cafe), at a leisurely pace. The next, we walked (miles) through Boston and Cambridge. We spent our last day laying on the beach in Beverly for an unseasonably warm June day.

The biggest adventure of our long weekend adventure was a quick trip to Portland, Maine. I hadn’t been to the city since a family vacation in the mid-2000s, long before I cared about good coffee, craft beer or Instagram-worthy lobster rolls. The drive from Salem to our first stop, Tandem Coffee Roasters‘ Congress Street location, was just over an hour and a half, making it an easy day trip.

Coffee at Tandem Coffee Roasters' Congress Street location

We enjoyed lattes and pastries alongside tourists and locals alike before heading down Congress Street to do some (very thorough) window shopping. The collection of shops lining the streets both downtown and in Old Port are the perfect combination of art galleries, curated collections and well-known favorites. After a couple of hours popping in and out of shops, we were ready for lunch.

Patio at Highroller Lobster Co in Portland, Maine

Lobster roll at Highroller Lobster Co in Portland, Maine

Our only meal in Portland had to be a lobster roll. We opted to split a lobster roll and a basket of fries on The Highroller Lobster Co.‘s colorful patio. While the frosé looked amazing, our next stop was East Bayside’s breweries.

We sipped on flights at Lone Pine Brewing Company‘s Portland tasting room and Goodfire Brewing Co. While the patio at Lone Pine was packed, walking around to the back of the building, where Goodfire is located, provided a much more relaxed environment, albeit with fewer options on draft.

Sunny patio at Lone Pine Brewing Company in Portland, Maine

Pint of beer at Goodfire Brewing Co. in Portland, Maine

The brewery-lined street is perfectly located for a walk along the Eastern Promenade Trail. And our walk just so happened to be at the same time as a puppy play date at East End Beach. We headed back to the car after a long loop through the neighborhood, ready for a snack-filled drive back to Salem.

View of sailboats from Eastern Promenade Trail in Portland, Maine