12/27/15

New Year // 2016 Goals

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas and holiday season. I truly enjoyed slowing down a bit and enjoying my time with family. Cookies were made, movies were watched, food was consumed, dogs were snuggled and naps were taken! All the important elements of a good little break were accounted for. Given that the new year is a week away, I thought I would pop in today to share with you my 2016 goals.

I like to say goals because while it is only a word, I find that there is far more pressure attached when we call them resolutions. Resolutions are more finite with less room for negotiation. Goals in my opinion, acknowledge that we are human and that we are all works in progress. I think we need room for error. Improvement is a journey. I also like to call them goals because some of the things on my list don't really fall under the resolution heading, and are more just things I hope to do in the coming year. So without further blabbing...here are my goals for 2016!

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  • Create More - this one might seem vague but its purposely open. Essentially what this means is that I want to do more - whether that means photography, cooking, crafts, gardening, etc. I often have ideas for projects that never happen and I want to try and bring more of my ideas to fruition this upcoming year. I just want to create. In whatever way that it might transpire.
  • Save More/Be Frugal - this one will be one of my greatest challenges because I tend to spend money quite impulsively sometimes. In an effort to have greater success with the idea of saving, I am leaving this goal a bit open ended. I'm not going to say I want to save a specific amount of money or that I plan to cut out various things in my life in order to save, but I hope to be more mindful of my purchases. I plan to expand on this subject in the coming year so keep an eye out for some posts in the future. 
  • Read 12 books - now this goal is nearly embarrassing because 12 books is a drop in the bucket for many. However, as much as I truly do love to read, I have slowed down quite a bit over the years and I don't read nearly as much as I should or would like. So I am giving myself what I think will be a manageable goal of roughly one book a month. I plan to bring you book reviews throughout the year and am always open to book recommendations! 
  • Try 12 new recipes - like my book goal, I would like to try my hand at a new (to me) recipe at least once a month. I love to bake and cook but I often find that I will stick to the foods I have made before and know that I enjoy. This year I want to try some things I've either never had before, or that I've never made before. 
  • Volunteer - volunteering has been something I have wanted to do for years and I feel ashamed to say that it never actually happens. This year I want to really push myself to find the right volunteer work for me. I have a lot of causes for which I feel passionate and I want to take my impact beyond donations and actually try to get involved. 
  • Do yoga twice a week - I have recently started doing yoga, and I really enjoy it. However, I find that I struggle at maintaining consistency so I am giving myself a very bare bones goal of practicing yoga twice a week. My hope is that I will grow accustom to this routine and then be able to expand on that more successfully!


Well, these are my goals for the new year - I hope that they inspire you to make goals for yourself as well. I would love to hear what you hope to achieve in 2016 in the comments! Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year! 

12/18/15

Five Songs for Friday #2 - Ho Ho Ho Edition

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Music is a huge obsession of mine, so I wanted to incorporate that into the blog. Five songs for Friday is a regular post (weekly, biweekly, monthly, etc.) in which I'll share some of my current favorites with you! If you've got any song/artist suggestions for me based on what I've listed here or in the past...I'm all ears! (pun INTENDED)! 


H O L I D A Y * E D I T I O N 


12/11/15

With Your Hands // Holiday DIY

Yesterday was a draining day in which I spent far too many hours stuck at my desk working on a huge paper that was due...of course, yesterday. I usually thrive under pressure when it comes to school assignments, but I was suffering from a serious case of writers block and while I knew what I was writing about, I just couldn't seem to find the words I needed. A long day turned into a long night and I decided that what I really needed after such an exhausting day was to just take a day to decompress and do something creative and fun. I'll be honest. This DIY that I'm sharing today is less about the end product and more about the process. So I encourage everyone to take some time, specifically during this hectic holiday season, to sit down and get lost in something creative.





Remember making snowflakes as a kid? It's a fuzzy memory but I'm fairly certain its something I did. After a conversation with my sister over Thanksgiving break, we decided to try and do it again. It was pretty amusing to be honest ...maybe its easier when you're a kid. I'm not sure. I saved the ones we made over break, and cut out a few more, then I busted out some watercolor paints, turned on the Christmas music and started painting them.






I honestly cannot remember the last time that I painted anything other than a wall and it was nice to just take pause and play around with no care about the end result. I took the painted paper snowflakes and hung them with fishing line in a window (which I'm fully aware is dirty.... cleaning it would have gone against my do-nothing day). It might look juvenile but like I said, it was more about the process than the end result. I will say one thing though: buy some decent brushes!! I had picked up a cheap pack of brushes from an arts & crafts store awhile back and you certainly get what you pay for. They were falling apart and shedding like crazy!




12/7/15

Holiday baking: ginger cookies

There are probably over a million different types of cookies you could bake for the holidays. Last year I made at least a half dozen different kinds over the course of two or three days. I really enjoy baking and the holidays are certainly one of the best excuses to do so!

One of my favorites that I discovered last year were these ginger cookies. I came across the recipe posted on Gimme Some Oven and without reading any comments for feedback, knew that  I had to try them. I was so happy I did and aside from the brookies that I made influenced by Lily Pebbles (which required a bit of math thanks to conversions), they were one of my top favorites. They're chewy without being so chewy that they battle your teeth and the taste is a perfect balance between the ginger, cinnamon and cloves - nothing overpowers. They are dangerous though - because despite the fact that one recipe yields quite a few of these babies, they can dissapear awful quickly!






I can certainly advocate for the inclusion of these cookies into your holiday baking plans! Trust me they are worth it!! You can find the recipe here.

12/4/15

Let's Go: Albright Knox Art Gallery - Monet and the Impressionist Revolution, 1860-1910

I'm ashamed to admit how long it has been since I last visited my local art gallery. It has without question, been far too long. So when I heard of an exhibit that just recently opened up that focused on Monet and other impressionists, I ordered tickets with little hesitancy and my mother, sister and I ventured off the weekend before Thanksgiving to get our culture on.


I'm very lucky to live in an area that is home to a gorgeous art gallery - the Albright Knox Art Gallery. I remember trips here when I was younger (and more specifically, playing on the back side of the gallery), and I have no good excuse as to why I haven't been back for years. The combination of Thanksgiving break and the Monet exhibit were just the perfect catalyst to change all of that.


The exhibit is called Monet and the Impressionist Revolution, 1860-1910 and will run from November 15th 2015 - March 20th 2016. The exhibit features work from Claude Monet, Paul C├ęzanne, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, and more. The exhibit showcased some of my favorite artists and was absolutely worth the costs of a ticket (PS - if you have a student ID, you can save a bit)!! I did take a few photos, which I will share here but to be honest, I purposely tried to limit any photography because it is truly an exhibit that needs to be seen in person to appreciate.










Tickets for the exhibit also includes admission to the overall museum, but to be honest, the Monet exhibit deeply overshadowed what was on display in the rest of the museum (perhaps because to be honest, I'm not a huge fan of modern art...forgive me).

I'd highly recommend the Monet exhibit if you're looking for something to do in Western New York! If you are traveling to the Buffalo area for the holidays, it would make for a great family activity. You can buy tickets here!

Oh, and don't forget to explore the exterior of the gorgeous facility as well! :)


12/1/15

#GivingTuesday: Five Organizations to Support.

The holiday season can be a chaotic time of year. It's easy to lose focus, or to get caught up in the more commercial aspects of the season. I thought it would be nice to pay some attention to some easy ways in which you can make an impact, no matter how busy you might be. In honor of #GivingTuesday I've put together a quick list of five organizations to support now, and year round!


1. Doctors Without Borders - This organization goes into the most dangerous spots in the world to help anyone and everyone that they can, without scrutiny by providing medical care. Learn more here. Donate HERE. 



2. Hope House/Kids With Cameras - The idea for Hope House came from the powerful impact of the documentary, Born Into Brothels and the Kids With Cameras organization. Hope House is currently running an indie-go-go campaign to raise money toward the building of a safe haven for children from the Red Light District in India. Donate HERE! 



3. No More - The No More campaign was started by actress Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order: SVU fame. The goal of No More is to raise awareness of domestic violence, with the goal of ending it completely. They estimate that 12.7 million people are abused, raped, or stalked by a partner every year. You can learn more here, shop here, or get involved here!

4. Greenpop - Greenpop is an organization in South Africa that was started by Jeremy Loops and others. They are committed to the environment and to date they have planted over 56,000 trees. Learn more here. You can donate a tree here!

5. Beagle Freedom Project - The Beagle Freedom Project is doing important work on a global scale. They aim at ending animal cruelty and saving the many dogs who are used for testing in facilities all over the world. Often, the animals chosen for these experiments are beagles. They recently won an award for their efforts from Lush! You can learn more here, donate here, or even shop here! 

BONUS: #GiveABook campaign - this one is an easy way to help out, that only requires the use of social media. The #GiveABook campaign is supported by Penguin Random House publishing. Simply use the hashtag #GiveABook on Facebook or Twitter between now and December 24, and Penguin Random House will donate a book! They have also put together this map, that can help you find out where you can donate books locally for the holiday season! 

Hopefully this list helps to inspire you to find ways to give back this holiday season. I would love to hear how you give back both during the holidays and year round, in the comments!!

11/27/15

The Holiday Gift Guide Pt. 2: Ten Gifts Under $50.00

Given that Christmas is about a month away, I figure now is the right time to share with you my holiday gift guides. There will be two parts to this guide: an under $25 and an under $50. I tried to include something for everyone in this guide and I hope it helps you find the right gift or gives you a little inspiration for your own wishlist! ;) Please note: while there may be a few affiliate links throughout, I have not been compensated in any way for mentioning any of these products!

TEN GIFTS UNDER $50.00

 1. One of my favorite animals are elephants so this shirt from J.Crew is right up my alley. To make things even better, 100% of the proceeds from this shirt go towards the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust! I'm all about shopping that helps do some good! 



 
2. In a similar vein, these bracelets from The Brave Collection are another gift that does good. The sale of these bracelets helps to work towards ending human trafficking an issue that is still a very large and real problem in our world. They are handmade in Cambodia by local artisans and come in a multitude of gorgeous colors. The berry color I've featured is my current favorite - its perfect for the season and is the next one I hope to get!  ;)  

3. One of the things that I may have not mentioned on here is just how much of a Harry Potter lover I am. The series is something I grew up reading and I find the stories just as great now, as I did then. Recently, a special illustrated edition of the first book was released (with the rest of the series to follow) and it is breathtakingly gorgeous! This would be fantastic for any Potterhead on your list - young and old. It is certainly a collectors piece!  

4. This essential oil diffusing Humidifier is something I have been eyeing up for quite a long time. I finally decided to try it out and am so happy that I did (review to come soon)! You can use it simply as a humidifier, or you can add the essential oils of your choice to it. Right now I am enjoying tea tree and lavender. It also has multiple colored light options that you can leave on a cycle or stop for solid color. Sometimes I just leave this on as ambient light and its a nice little night light.  

5. For the beauty lovers on your list, this hair care set from Living Proof might be just the gift. I recently professed my love for this product line in a blog post and I truly do feel that the range is worth the hype. The set might seem small but its just the right size to allow someone to try something new without the commitment of full sized products.  

6. Staying in the beauty vein, this travel set from Nest in their Midnight Fleur scent would make a wonderful gift in my opinion. Scents can be tricky gift-wise but this scent is one of my all-time favorite perfumes and I find it difficult to fathom anyone not enjoying it. It's a unique scent with notes of patchouli (a favorite of mine) and vanilla orchid. The warm scent is perfect for winter! 

7. Do you have any dog lovers on your list? This travel dog bed might be the perfect gift for any pet-oriented people you're looking to buy for. It can be used at home, in the car, on vacation, or wherever else you dream up, and is quick-drying - a bonus when it comes to dogs (I think I have permanent muddy prints in my car from my dog!). Oh, and its on sale too! Win, win!! 

8. This reclaimed wood herb planter box is not only insanely gorgeous, but also incredibly functional. This kit allows anyone with a minimal amount of space to garden year round in their home and sow (ha - get it?) the benefits of fresh herbs. This kit is great for any gardening aficionados and newbies alike! 

9. Regardless of where you live, a nice cozy pair of slippers can be a must-have during the winter months. This pair from Minnetonka  keep your feet nice and warm, but also comfortable. They look great while doing so too! Grab these quick because right now, they're being price matched at Nordstrom!  

10. Last but not least, I wanted to offer up a slightly more unique gift idea. Subscription boxes are quite prevalent these days but this one from Yogi Surprise is different than most. Yogi Surprise is a yoga lifestyle subscription box that brings 6-8 full sized products to your door every month. They offer products that are vegetarian and also, non-GMO for a value of roughly $70, and a monthly cost of about $45! Give a month to someone on your list for a unique surprise delivered right to their door!

11/20/15

The Holiday Gift Guide Pt. 1: 10 gifts under $25.00

Given that Christmas is about a month away, I figure now is the right time to share with you my holiday gift guides. There will be two parts to this guide: an under $25 and an under $50. I tried to include something for everyone in this guide and I hope it helps you find the right gift or gives you a little inspiration for your own wishlist! ;) Please note: while there may be a few affiliate links throughout, I have not been compensated in any way for mentioning any of these products!


TEN GIFTS UNDER $25.00

1. A smartphone tripod - nearly everyone has a smartphone now and we're all walking around with some impressive little cameras in our pockets.

2. An adult coloring book - there are plenty on the market now, so its easy to find one to suit whomever. I'm all about the animals though, so this one catches my eye. 


3. Personally, I think that everyone should read It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario its an amazing book. You can read my review of it here. 

4. Lotions are a quick & easy gift during the holidays, but the Righteous Butter from Soap & Glory is truly worth giving. The smell is AMAZING and it sinks right in without leaving your skin greasy. 

5. Another perhaps typical gift idea for the holidays is a candle. However, this candle from PF Candle Co in teakwood & tobacco is anything but typical. Buy two: one for a gift and one for yourself. Trust me. 

6. If you have someone on your list who is a big coffee drinker. This French Press might be a good idea. The process isn't as quick as a Keurig but it will produce a far more authentic coffee experience! 

7. This is a gift that can be great for anyone. A salt lamp helps to purify the air and looks great while doing so! Plus, the light is nice and subdued so its perfect for a nice evening glow or ambiance.  

8. This scrub from Lush is easily on my list of holy grail Lush products. The scent in my opinion is unisex and it leaves your skin feeling super soft. Perfect for winter!  

9. For the eco-conscious, a nice glass water bottle can be a great gift. These life factory bottles come in a multitude of color options. 

10. Winter is long and cold. It's far more tolerable when you're able to get nice and cozy. A heated blanket makes that possible. These are available in a multitude of colors.






11/18/15

The Great Vegan Cheese Adventure: Will it Melt?!


I am a total foodie. I like to think that I am fairly open minded when it comes to food and it most cases, I will try anything once. I definitely have foods that are tried and tested, which I will always go back to, but I'm also up for anything different/unusual/unique or new! That being said, I try to aim for better options - you won't see me trying some new flavored pop-tart, but you may see me trying a new non-dairy ice cream, or in this case, vegan cheese!




Vegan cheese has been an area of contention for me for quite some time. The last time I tried a cheese alternative I was so disgusted that I haven't tried again for at least a year or more. When I saw a new cheese at the market, it was with great apprehension that I even stopped to investigate. In the long run, I decided to be brave and today for lunch, I figured it was as good a time as any to finally give this cheese a test.


The cheese in question? Chao cheese. It's produced by Field Roast, whose products I had seen before, but never tried. I picked up the creamy original option (though after looking on their website, I really wish my store stocked the tomato cayenne version too!), which is a coconut based, tofu cheese. The price was quite steep, at $5.99 a package, but it will yield me at least three sandwiches, so its not completely offensive. I set to making my grilled cheese with wheat bread, earth balance spread, the chao cheese & a few slices of tomato. Now the most important question...

Did the cheese actually melt??

Yes, it did! I was very shocked when I tested out the cooked texture of the cheese to find it had melted and had a nice and creamy consistency. In the times I have tried cheese alternatives, I haven't yet found one that properly melted. So Chao cheese certainly passes that test! As for the taste of the cheese, I would have to say that I would definitely try it again. It was a bit different but that's to be expected. It was far from horrible though! I would love to get my hands on their tomato cayenne cheese though because honestly, I think that would be even better for a grilled cheese!



So if you're looking to find a non-dairy vegan cheese alternative, definitely give Chao cheese a try! I'd have to say that it's certainly the best I have tried so far! You can find out where to purchase it from here!

11/16/15

Living Proof - Perfect Hair Day: Review.

Today I thought I'd do a quick little post to share with you what has been my go-to for hair care as of late, as well as to give my thoughts on the products. I like to switch it up from time to time when it comes to bath & body products and recently, I was testing out the Perfect Hair Day range from Living Proof.




I picked up the small 2oz travel size duo from Sephora awhile back. Honestly, I was thinking that if I didn't like the products then at least I wasn't stuck with a huge bottle of product I didn't want to use! The size also makes them perfect for travel and for a product junkie like myself, its nice that they don't take up too much room in the shower.




I could see how for some, the smell might not be their cup of tea, but personally I enjoyed it. I felt like the pair of products worked really well together. They didn't irritate my scalp (which can be an issue for me) and they didn't leave my hair feeling dried out either. I found that my hair was a lot easier to manage when blow-drying after using this pair, + the styling treatment that came along with them. However, as for the claim that they keep your hair cleaner, longer? I would have to disagree. I didn't notice any difference when using these compared to any other shampoo or conditioner I've used in the past. 




Now down to the nitty gritty. This set ticks many of the boxes I look for as they are silicone free and free of sulfates. They're also cruelty-free which is something I strive for, but am currently not doing 100%. However the price is a bit off-putting if I'm honest. This set retailed for $29 (including the styling product) at Sephora. I've already re-purchased another set that comes with a couple other products from the range, which I'll be trying out in the future. Right now I'm trying a different brand that is MUCH cheaper! Overall though, I would certainly recommend trying out this line if you're looking for a new shampoo and conditioner!

As always, all products are purchased with my own money. Any products provided for review will be noted. If you have a product you would like to see reviewed, please let me know in the comments!

11/3/15

#OptOutside - A Better Black Friday


Shopping admittedly might be one of my favorite activities. I'm a lover of a good deal. A good sale excites me. So, it might come as a surprise that I am advocating the boycott of a day theoretically all about getting amazing deals. While I do love some good ol' retail therapy, and I have gone out on Black Friday a few times in the past, I have seen how ridiculous the event has become. When I first went out on Black Friday, it was actually on...Friday (how crazy!). Now it has infringed upon Thanksgiving so much that it might as well be Black Thursday. I personally don't think any deal is good enough to justify taking millions of employees away from their families on Thanksgiving. (To be honest, I find that the better deals are online anyway!)

So given my thoughts on the matter, I was extremely happy when I received an email from REI announcing their plan to close all of their 143 stores on Black Friday and give every employee a paid day off. Rather than going out in the wee hours of the morning to shop, they are encouraging everyone to instead, #OptOutside. I am a full supporter of this campaign, and I'm not alone: over 700,000 people have announced that they too, are going to #OptOutside. So I'm writing this post to encourage everyone to join in and do the same!


There are plenty of things you can do instead of walking the malls of Black Friday. Go for a walk around your neighborhood! Take a weekend camping trip! Check out a nearby park! Go hiking...biking...explore a place you've never been before....the options are limitless!

You can join in the campaign by using the hashtag #OptOutside, and you can grab one of these nifty images to share on social media here!

What will you be doing on Black Friday? Will you #OptOutside?

10/30/15

Five Songs for Friday #1

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Music is a huge obsession of mine, so I wanted to incorporate that into the blog. Five songs for Friday is a regular post (weekly, biweekly, monthly, etc.) in which I'll share some of my current favorites with you! If you've got any song/artist suggestions for me based on what I've listed here or in the past...I'm all ears! (pun INTENDED)!


 
 
Happy Friday everyone! 

10/22/15

Five easy ways to procrastinate.

Its been a hectic week. I've had a lot to get done and I feel like I've been racing from one assignment to another. I think I may have hit my limit because today, I wanted to do anything other than the group of things on today's to-do list. Procrastination might just be one of my better talents. I seem to work best when under pressure (which I wish wasn't the case because it seems I create my best work when I am). So since procrastination is an area in which I am an expert, today I share with you some tips because who knows, maybe you're one of those people who is extremely productive 100% of the time. In which case, show me your ways??

F I V E    E A S Y    W A Y S    T O    P R O C R A S T I N A T E:

1. Play a game. My current go-to is The Sims 4. I can spend many an hour on building a house alone. I also enjoy a nice bout of random wandering in GTA V from time to time.

2. Take a really, really, really long shower. Clean the house. Cuddle your animals. Tired? Take a nap! Essentially, there are plenty of acceptable reasons to put off what you need to do.

3. Watch YouTube - some of my favorites include Casey Neistat & Ben Brown

4. Bake something! Today I decided to make a batch of chocolate chip M&M cookies. Want the recipe? Leave a comment below! 




5. Finally, ... you could always write a blog post about procrastinating....


10/17/15

Let's Go: Chestnut Ridge Park

There is no time of year like fall. The changing leaves, pumpkins, sweater weather, comfort food...I could go on and on. Fall is hands down my favorite season, and it is a great time for exploration and mini road trips! The other day I went out and found myself (quite by accident) at Chestnut Ridge Park. Despite being a born and bred WNY-er, I had never actually been to Chestnut Ridge, so when I happened to find myself right down the road, I had to finally give it a go.

Chestnut Ridge is perhaps most known for the eternal flame, which I didn't check out - as I was most interested in the views from the sledding/skiing hill. I didn't stay too long since it was quite cold and windy out but I did get a few shots and watched a storm roll in over Lake Erie and the city.



















In this photo, if you zoom in (or just know where to look), you can see the Niagara Falls, Ontario skyline - including the Skylon tower. I'm definitely going to head back on a clear day to get some more shots!


Fall is an amazing time of year to just go out and explore. You often don't even have to venture off very far to see some amazing sights. Just go!