Starting 2018 with a Few Small Changes

Taking time at the beginning of the year to set goals helps me make changes I’ve been meaning to make throughout the previous months. Nothing major, but little changes that I feel make a difference. One year, I started making my bed in the morning. Another, I promised myself I would actually floss my teeth every day.

This year, January was a non-stop whirlwind of weekend trips, blogging about them, job interviews and holidays. Trying to set and maintain goals would not have been fair to myself. February promises to be a bit more relaxed with more time at home, perfect for a positive start to my resolutions for 2018.

1. Blog once a week

My current content calendar includes 1 new blog post a week, so this goal is definitely obtainable. My biggest change will be planning ahead when I know I won’t have time to write during a given week. Having content written and photos edited before I need them is a simple change that will hopefully make my life easier!

2. Edit a video

I never want to be a vlogger and I don’t particularly enjoy watching long vlogs, but I do like a good challenge and learning new skills. I took a bunch of video footage at Allegany State Park during a camping trip with friends last fall. We had warm, sunny weather and the raw video is really pretty. Compiling a short video of the trip is definitely on my long term to do list.

3. Post an Instagram story once a day

Sharing snippets of the everyday makes a difference in the number of followers I have. Other people have also noticed that regular behind the scenes updates help keep new followers around. I also don’t feel as pressured to post picture-perfect images to my feed on a regular basis when I’m active on Stories.

4. Take social media breaks

This is probably going to be the most difficult item on this list for me, but I want to take 1 day a month to completely ignore what’s happening on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Social media isn’t all bad, but it does affect my ability to focus and my outlook on any given day.

5. Eat well

I won’t be dieting anytime soon, but keeping a balanced diet is always a goal. My eating habits the last few months, between moving out of my parents’ house, the holidays and travel, are not impressive. More vegetables, less dessert.

The Prettiest Packages under the Tree

This weekend is the last chance to put the finishing touches on Christmas, which is just around the corner! Today Cody and I baked cookies, I shopped for stocking stuffers with my dad and continuous snow all but guaranteed a white Christmas.

Pretty Presents | Wood Ornament Tutorial

Last night I finished wrapping my gifts, which didn’t take long at all thanks to the number of family and friends who decided not to exchange gifts this year. Instead, we’ll be attending events together, and saving for vacation and long weekend trips later this year.

I wouldn’t want to skip gifts altogether though, because choosing my wrapping paper, ribbon and gift toppers is my favorite part of Christmas. This year I wanted something simple and not too Christmasy. My first choice was matte black paper, but I couldn’t find any in a local store. If anyone knows of a specialty store in Buffalo (or an online shop with free shipping) let me know!

Pretty Presents | Wood Ornament Tutorial

Pretty Presents | Wood Ornament Tutorial

Instead, I went with two-toned silver paper in both stripes and a floral pattern. It’s a Hallmark paper that I found in the bridal section of Walmart. I paired it with a bright blue in 2 widths to keep things wintery. Each package got a white tag and a wooden ornament to finish things off.

Make Your Own Wooden Ornaments

The wooden ornaments not only add a natural element to these packages, they make a nice homemade stocking stuffer as well!

To make your own, start with a decent sized branch. I chose pine to keep things Christmasy, but birch would be really pretty as well! Dad helped me slice them about 1/2 inch thick with the table saw and I sanded them down to make them smooth enough to write on. Some of the bark was loose, so I snuck hot glue under it to keep everything together.

Pretty Presents | Wood Ornament Tutorial

At this point you can either paint or leave the wood natural, which is what I chose to do.

I found really cute Christmas lettering on Pinterest (they’re all saved on my Christmas Crafting board) to use on the ornaments. Just print them the approximate size of the wood slices and use chalk to transfer the design. To do this, color the side of the paper without the lettering with a thick layer of chalk. Trace the lettering using a ballpoint pen with the paper’s chalk side towards the wood and then go over the chalk lines with a Sharpie.

Once I found a few designs I liked and that weren’t too hard to transfer I stuck with those for all the ornaments. There were more than a few flat-out ugly ornaments that didn’t make it past this step.

Pretty Presents | Wood Ornament Tutorial

I added a couple of coats of Minwax Polycrylic and drilled a small hole to thread a ribbon through. Overall, I’m pretty excited about how these turned out and they didn’t take too long, besides the sanding. If I were to do these again, I’d dry out the slices before sanding them by putting them on a cookie sheet in the oven at 200°.

Pretty Presents | Wood Ornament Tutorial

Are you all ready for the holiday? There were lots of last minute shoppers out today, so I’m guessing some of you will be wrapping tonight and tomorrow!

It’s Starting to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so I’m not one to rush Christmas shopping, decor or celebrating.

But now, the second weekend in December, it really is starting to look and feel a lot like Christmas. Last night, I got to see In a DC Minute‘s beautiful Fox Cross Farm decorated in Christmas glory. Afterwards, I joined Shannon and Morgan for a night of baking cookies and Christmas movies.

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It's Starting to Look a Lot Like Christmas Decor

Today, the Bills are on TV, playing in an actual snowstorm while flurries go past our kitchen window. My cinnamon tea is hot and dinner is in the Crock-Pot. (If this post didn’t sound just like my mom in the first few paragraphs, it now sounds as if she’s writing my blogs.)

With the general cheer of this weekend, I wanted to share how Cody and I are getting our little home ready for our first Christmas here. Last Saturday, we found a beautiful tree at Jurek Plantations. We both brought our favorite ornaments from home before finding a few store-bought additions.

It's Starting to Look a Lot Like Christmas Decor

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It's Starting to Look a Lot Like Christmas Decor

In other spaces, we switched out throw pillows and added twinkling lights, pine boughs, a framed thank you card Paige made a few years ago, Willow Tree angels and a few handmade decorations from Filomena’s Favorites in Medina. I’ll definitely be shopping some post-holiday sales to pick up a few more items to decorate with next year!

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It's Starting to Look a Lot Like Christmas Decor

The Perfect Farmhouse Table for Your Tiny Apartment Kitchen

When Cody and I moved into our apartment, we realized the 5 person dining table from his great grandpa wasn’t going to fit in our eat-in kitchen. And neither was anything we could buy for a reasonable price. So we made our own, without too many missteps.

Keep scrolling for our entire shopping and cut lists!

This project took us the better part of 3 weeks, but it could easily be finished in a weekend if you don’t have as many distractions as we did. I wasn’t planning on posting about this project, so I don’t have step-by-step photos – but it turned out too good not to share! I love how simple it is, which makes it easy to decorate no matter the season.

Farmhouse Kitchen Table for Small Apartment | Shopping List and Cut List

Farmhouse Kitchen Table for Small Apartment | Shopping List and Cut List

As always, measure twice and cut once! We found that after cutting our five short pieces for the table top, the width was slightly more than what we estimated; it all depends on the cut of the boards. After cutting and sanding everything individually, we assembled the legs, aprons and support bar. The apron is set in a quarter inch from the outside of the legs. We measured at both the top and the bottom of the apron, then put on wood glue before attaching the pieces with screws.

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Farmhouse Kitchen Table for Small Apartment | Shopping List and Cut List

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Farmhouse Kitchen Table for Small Apartment | Shopping List and Cut List

For the top, we assembled everything on the ground before attaching that to the base. Once everything was together, we sanded the top again to knock down some of the less than perfect seams. We could have planed either the pieces individually or the table top as a whole, but that would have slowed us down even more, so we chose to love the imperfections on the top.

If you have the space, it would be easier to stain and paint before attaching the two pieces, but we did not do this. Painter’s tape worked just fine to keep the stain and paint separate.

We chose a dark wood stain for the table top, to make up for the fact that we used pine (which was wayyy less expensive than hardwood) and painted the legs a creamy white.

To get the finished look, we used just 1 coat of Minwax’s Wood Finish Penetrating Stain in Espresso 273 and 3 coats of Mixwax’s water based Polycrylic protective finish. The only downside is that this finish is not super heat-resistant. For the legs, I used this tutorial on color washing with Behr’s Heavy Cream. It’s very easy and takes almost no paint, which is nice.

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Farmhouse Kitchen Table for Small Apartment | Shopping List and Cut List

Eventually, I’d like to find chairs that are a little more farmhouse style, but we’re using the chairs from Cody’s grandpa’s table and they work just fine!

Shopping List

2 4″x4″x8′ fir boards
2 1″x8″x8′ pine boards
2 1″x4″x6′ pine boards
8 oz Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish
8 oz Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain
8 oz Behr Premium Plus Ultra Interior Matte
Kreg Pocket Hole Jig Kit
Kreg 100 Count 1-1/4 inch Screws
4 oz Elmer’s Carpenter Wood Glue
Paintbrush
Fine Sandpaper (for between coats of Polycrylic)

Materials We Already Had

5″ Orbital Sander
5″ Orbital Sandpaper (a medium grit works fine)

Cut List

For the Top

5 21.75″ from the 1x8s (Four of these will come from 1 board and 1 from the 2nd board)
2 36.25″ from the 1x8s (This may change slightly, depending on the exact width of your 1x8s.)

For the Aprons and Support

4 26.25″ from the 1x6s
1 31.25 from the 1x6s

For the Legs

4 identical cuts from the 4x4s (The height will depend on what chairs you’re using; it really doesn’t matter as long as they’re all the same!)

My Fall Favorites: Essentials for Making the Most of Autumn

It’s officially autumn and even though it’s still warm in the afternoon, the mornings have been cool and foggy. Fall is my favorite season and October is my favorite month. I make the the most of fall with mums in every shade of yellow, red and purple, apple pie and cable knits. And yes, that is a pumpkin spice latte in my coffee cup.

These are my favorite fall accessories:

1. L.L. Bean Boots
Breaking out my fall shoes is an occasion worth celebrating, and no pair of boots makes me happier than my Bean Boots. They’re so comfy and my favorite fuzzy socks fit inside! I’ve also found that some of my favorite fall activities take place in my Bean Boots. Cue the cool weather hikes, fall festivals and weekend camping trips.

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2. Columbia Thermal Crew Socks
I love thermal socks and wear them the majority of the year. These are by far my favorites: they don’t fall down, the aren’t too fluffy and they keep my feer super warm. Bonus: I found these socks at TJ Maxx for less than they’re listed online on Columbia’s website.

3. Mums
This one is pretty self explanatory. What’s not to love about mums at the entrance of every store and on every porch in every fall color.

My Fall Favorites and Autumn Essentials

4. Yankee Candle Spiced Pumpkin Car Jar
I *highly* recommend investing in a fall-scented Car Jar. After my car is sitting in the sun all day, I open the door and it honestly smells like I’m pulling pumpkin cookies out of the oven. Who doesn’t need that after a long day at the office?

5. Artisan de Luxe Nell Throw
I almost bought this for myself last week at Home Goods, and, in a testament to how well my mom knows my style, she bought it for me for my birthday this week. The rich texture compliments our worn leather couch and natural throw pillows really well and I’m excited to curl up in it as the weather gets cooler.

My Fall Favorites and Autumn Essentials

6. Nanny’s Apple Pie
My grandma was a fantastic baker, and nothing was more impressive than her Thanksgiving staple, apple pie. My aunt is continuing the apple pie tradition. If I’m the one making, I’m more of an apple crisp kind of baker, but nothing is quite the same as a flaky crust and perfectly layered apple slices.

7. Homemade Concord Grape Jelly
This is probably a weird addition to a fall favorites list for those of you who don’t look forward to picking grapes off the vine in September every year. My dad’s uncle’s vineyard looked (and tasted) delicious when we visited last month; there’s nothing better than concords warmed by the sun on a fall day. And of course, there’s nothing to do with the pounds of grapes we picked but to make jelly!

My Fall Favorites and Autumn Essentials
Also, how cute is this apple hand towel my grandma embroidered?

8. Mossimo Supply Co. Cable Knit Cocoon Cardigan
If it was in my budget, I’d buy this sweater in every color. It’s so warm and cozy, and it comes in the best fall colors. The cable knit adds a little extra texture that makes this sweater perfect for throwing over a summer tank and calling it fall, which is my favorite kind of fashion.

9. Falling Leaves
Autumn is synonymous with gorgeous foliage. I spent countless hours pressing fall leaves in phone books as a kid, and did it again last fall for my holiday gift tags. No matter how old I get, there is such thrill in finding an unblemished red leaf on the ground.

This Dance Is For Me + My Favorite Improv Songs

The first time I was asked to improvise was in a ballet class freshman year of college. I was already out of my element, a communications major in my second semester in a room filled with sophomore musical theater and acting majors. Sometimes remembering a barre warmup in front of them was more than I could handle.

My dance background in ballet, jazz and tap didn’t include any improv, so this request to just move with new music was scary. Terrifying even.

I always loved moving around to the music on the radio. I have a hard time listening to music at work because I’m constantly bobbing up and down, choreographing in my head to whatever song is on. That choreography got in the way when I tried to improv. Instead of letting go, I tried to remember every move I made, in case it turned out “good.”

By the next time I was asked to improv, I had declared my dance minor, was a junior, was used to dancing without the mirrors and even liked end-of-class partner massages. It turns out I really enjoyed improvising once the awkward factor was out of the way.

Improv Playlist | Succulents and Sunnies

The ability to move without caring what you look like or what other people think is a true skill, one that took a long time for me to develop. These days, the ease of improv – you don’t need a ballet barre or big space or the perfect song – makes it the form of dance I do most. Sneaking into the group exercise room between spin class and kickboxing at the gym for a little movement is my happy time in my post-college world. Who cares about the woman doing core or the guys jumping rope? This dance is for me.

If you’re looking for a few songs to get up and move around to, these are some of my favorites:

9 Must Haves for a Day at the Beach

Summer is short in Buffalo, so when sunny days come your way, you take advantage of them. This means always being ready to throw a few essentials into your backpack and head to the beach! These are my 9 favorite beach day essentials:

1. Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen: This is my favorite sunscreen. It works, it doesn’t feel slimy and it doesn’t bother my skin. It is more expensive than your average Coppertone, but worth it! The bottles are also small enough to be TSA carry-on approved.

2. Old Navy Flip Flops: These flip flops are perfect for hot sand, rocky beaches, rinsing feet off, running to the bathroom and just about every other beach day errand. Plus, you can buy a pair for $2.50, or stock up during the $1 flip flop sale mid-summer.
Summer Beach Day Essentials | Succulents and Sunnies
3. Black Sea Followband: Wearing jewelry at the beach is dangerous – you’re asking for earrings lost to the waves and funky tan lines. However, I like accessorize just a little bit by adding this bracelet to my beach day outfit.

4. Lush Breath of Fresh Air Toner: I included this toner in my winner essentials list as well. It’s perfect for refreshing sun-drenched skin and wiping off layers of sunscreen before heading to the ice cream stand once the sun goes down.

5. Nalgene Water Bottle: Staying hydrated on the beach is hard, so a giant water bottle is a must-have. I love that plastic doesn’t sweat as much as metal water bottles and the top is big enough to fit ice cubes in.

6. Bubbles: Mom got me bubbles for Easter, and they’re a fun addition to beach day activities. Plus, they look great in pictures.
Beach Day Summer Essentials | Succulents and Sunnies
7. Knockaround Mai Tais: Knockarounds are just about everyone’s favorite beach accessory. They’re tough to break, cheap and available with polarized lenses. Plus, their new frame designs are flattering for smaller faces (like mine ✋) so you don’t have to sacrifice fashion for function.

8. Not Your Mother’s Beach Babe Texturizing Sea Salt Spray: Buffalo might not have any salt water nearby, but that doesn’t mean you can’t rock surfer girl hair. This makes wet hair look textured and helps it dry into a uniform wave.

9. A Good Magazine: If I’m spending a week on the beach (and a few hours in a plane to get there), a new book is a great accessory. If I’m visiting the local lake for an afternoon, a magazine is a better bet. I love Real Simple, Cosmo and Magnolia Journal!