Thursday, April 30, 2015

Art in Austin


Austin has so many fantastic art galleries, and street art abounds. You can always wander the streets and take in the scene, but if you're looking for a more structured sight-seeing opportunity or a fun way to beat the heat, there are some great museums!
Image from Blantonmuseum.org
The Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin is full of European paintings, American contemporary art, prints,and drawings. It's a fun (and air-conditioned) cultural activity when you're looking for a break from outdoor activities. 


The Hope Outdoor Gallery (or the Austin Graffiti Park) is full of professional and amateur works of graffiti art. You'll see memorials, impressive spray-paintings, and secret messages meant for just one person. It's fun to explore, and you can bring a can of spray paint to make your own mark while you're there.  

Image from TheGuardian.com
The Mexic-Arte Museum is a fine arts museum dedicated to community enrichment through the presentation and promotion of traditional and contemporary Mexican and Latino art and culture. If your'e in Austin, it's a fun stop, and the collections change frequently so there's a lot to explore. Make it an AWESOME day by combining a trip to this museum with a taco crawl!

This list is short, and it's certainly not comprehensive. You could spend day visiting galleries and museums in this city. For a full, curated list, check out Art Austin. Have fun!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Buy Me a Drink


A negroni is one of my absolute favorite drinks, and Bar Congress does it right! Made with St. George Terroir Gin, Gran Classico Bitter, and Italian Vermouth, this drink is a little less bitter than the traditional counterpart (beware: it goes down easy).  Swing by and have a drink before you mosey down Congress to the bat bridge. A cocktail, a stroll around town, and bat viewing makes for a fun evening!

If you're not in Austin but are looking for a delicious cocktail to sip on, try this recipe:

Combine 1 oz Gin, 1 oz Gran Classico, and 1 oz Sweet Vermouth and ice. Shake well and pour over ice. Garnish with an orange peel.

Cheers!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Welcoming Wedding Guests

Whether you're planning a destination wedding or just hosting some out-of-town guests, it's nice to welcome your friends and family to the wedding weekend with a little treat. There's no need to go overboard, but a little something for them to dig into once they've arrived and checked into the hotel will let your guests know how much you appreciate their presence.

Image from Pinterest
Stay local. For out-of-town guests, half the fun is exploring a new city! Share some local goodies and a map that will help them as they explore. 

Image from Pinterest
Keep it simple. There's no rule that you need to fill a giant bag with snacks- just give them a sweet treat and something fun. The picture above includes some caramels, sparkling water, some local ground coffee, and a fun map of the wedding festivities. I love that it's so curated- it feels like a special gift!

Image from Pinterest
Pick the perfect packaging.  A cute reusable grocery tote will be useful after the wedding weekend, and the one pictured above is so perfect for a destination wedding in Mexico. 

Image from Pinterest
Include YOUR favorite things. This is your wedding weekend, so share something that makes you smile. It doesn't have to be edible to go into a welcome bag. Are there candles that you can't get enough of? A box of matches from your favorite restaurant? Hand lotion with a scent so heavenly that it makes you swoon? Include it!

Image from Pinterest
Go with the overall theme. This monogrammed bag above is filled with everything Vermont-y. A golf ball and tee (presumably for a little pre-wedding tournament), some chocolates, wildflower seeds, and yummy snacks.

I'm looking forward to putting some of my favorite Austin goodies into some bags for our guests. I've already got a good list of stuff in mind, but I certainly appreciate suggestions!

Monday, April 27, 2015

April: Autism Awareness

The month of April is Autism Awareness month. You may have seen Facebook posts, Light It Up Blue campaigns, and other information throughout the past few weeks, but here's the scoop: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development that effect 1 in 68 American children. The disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. 
Me and my brother, who is diagnosed with ASD, at my graduate school graduation
Autism awareness is a cause that hits close to home for me, and I can personally attest to the incredible amount of resources that it takes to care for a child with ASD.  I LOVE that the HollyRod Foundation is seeking to fill an unmet need by providing compassionate care and services to underserved individuals and families that are burdened financially and emotionally by a diagnosis. 


If you're looking for a feel-good way to start the week, support a great cause and shop the Visionary Bracelet (above) or make a small donation to The HollyRod Foundation or Autism Speaks

Friday, April 24, 2015

Wrap it Up!

Mother's Day will be here before you know it. Once you've picked the perfect presents for the special ladies in your life, make them pretty! Wrapping gifts is simple, and beautiful presentation goes a long way. Check out this short video for a how-to:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Layering on the Sunscreen


The onset of spring means fun in the sun, so it's time to incorporate a little something extra into your daily routine: sunscreen! I layer on the SPF daily, and I've tried several different formulas. Here's the run-down (from left):
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch: This fast-absorbing, non-oily formula is perfect for layering under your makeup. It doesn't have an overly sunscreen-y scent, and you'll barely notice it's there. However, one bottle doesn't go very far. If you're headed to the beach, you'll need to pack more than one. 
  • AvaSun: If you're looking for a safe, non-toxic formula, this one is for you! Full of organic essential oils and ingredients, this sunscreen goes on thick and is water resistant. Note that it does take a while to rub in, so you're at risk of looking a little pasty as it absorbs. 
  • Up & Up Sport Sunscreen: When you need to reapply liberally (read: you're spending all day poolside), this inexpensive spray on sunblock from Target is a winner. Stock up and use the handy spray to get to hard-to-reach areas. Just make sure you apply it very liberally and make sure it's even. You don't want a streaky sunburn (or any sunburn for that matter). 
  • Rodan + Fields Essentials: This is one of my favorite body sunscreen options.  It contains antioxidants to absorb damaging free radicals and it's packed full of moisturizing ingredients. Swap it out for your body lotion in the summer to ensure your skin is protected. 
  • Coola Pina Colada Sunscreen Spray: This fun option has an incredible scent that transports you instantly to a tropical island. It's a little on the pricey side, and it might make you feel a little greasy if you're working out, but for a day lounging poolside it's divine. 
No matter which sunblock you choose, make sure you apply it correctly! Here are a few tips from the American Academy of Dermatology:
  1. Choose sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher, is water resistant, and provides broad-spectrum coverage, which means it protects you from UVA and UVB rays.
  2. Apply sunscreen generously before going outdoors. It takes approximately 15 minutes for your skin to absorb the sunscreen and protect you. If you wait until you are in the sun to apply sunscreen, your skin is unprotected and can burn.
  3. Use enough sunscreen. Most adults need at least one ounce of sunscreen, about the amount you can hold in your palm, to fully cover all exposed areas of your body. Rub the sunscreen thoroughly into your skin.
  4. Apply sunscreen to all bare skin. Remember your neck, face, ears, tops of your feet and legs. For hard-to-reach areas like your back, ask someone to help you or use a spray sunscreen. If you have thinning hair, either apply sunscreen to your scalp or wear a wide-brimmed hat. To protect your lips, apply a lip balm with a SPF of at least 15.
  5. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours to remain protected, or immediately after swimming or excessively sweating.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Homemade Granola Bars

Image from JessieMonds.com; She loves this recipe too!
I've been itching to get into the kitchen for a baking marathon lately, and although I've abstained, I'm definitely going to whip up a little something this weekend. Flour is one of my favorite bakeries/cafes in Boston, and although I live far away, I have the recipe to recreate one of my favorite sweet treats: Granola Bars.

What You'll Need:
1 cup dried apples
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups water
1 cup walnut halves
1 3/4 cups all-purpose GF flour
1 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp, cut into 8-10 pieces
6 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp flaxseeds
3 Tbsp sunflower seeds
3 Tbsp millet

Directions:
  1. Make the jam first. In a medium saucepan, combine the apples, cranberries, apricots, granulated sugar, and water. Bring it to a boil over high heat, then remove it from the heat and allow it to sit for about 1 hour, 
  2. Transfer the cooled jam into a food processor and pulse 8-10 times or until a chunky jam forms. This can be done up to 5 days in advance and stored in the fridge. 
  3. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. 
  4. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, until they become nutty and fragrant. Transfer to a plate to cool.
  5. Leave the oven set at 350 degrees and line a 9x13in baking dish with parchment. 
  6. In a food processor, combine the toasted walnuts, flour, oats, brown sugar, coconut, salt, cinnamon, and butter. Pulse about 15 times or until the mixture is evenly combined. 
  7. Dump the mixture into a medium bowl and drizzle the honey on top. Work the honey in with your hands until it comes together. 
  8. Press about 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of the pan, and put the raining one third in the fridge. 
  9. Bake 30-40 minutes, or until the crust is a light golden brown. Remove it from the oven and spoon the prepared jam on top with a rubber spatula, covering the entire surface. 
  10. Remove the reserved granola mix from the fridge, break it up with your fingers, and combine it with the flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, and millet in a small bowl. Sprinkle it on top of the granola bars. 
  11. Return the pan to the oven and bake it for an additional 50-50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. 
  12. Allow the pan to cool on a wire rack for 2-3 hours, then cut into 12 bars. 
  13. These granola bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week. Serve them with coffee and enjoy!
Tip: These little granola bars are really a dessert. Last time I made them, I cut them up into tiny squares and served them on a cookie tray at a party. They were a huge hit! 

If you like this recipe, check out the Flour Cookbook.  You can't go wrong with any of their delicious desserts, and most are easily made gluten-free with just the right mix of flours. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Gifts to Give: Engagement Presents

Weddings are definitely a gift-giving occasion, but engagements are celebratory too! Although gifts are not required when a dear friend gets engaged, a nice card or a small gift is a sweet way to let them know how excited you are for their big news. Champagne is appropriate, but if you're looking for something different, here are some fabulous ideas:

A custom illustration of the happy couple; Reani on Etsy
Cute pillows for the happy couple; Zana Products on Etsy
A fill-in-the-heart wedding countdown; LovedBaby Designs on Etsy
Cute dishes for that new bling; RockPaperStyleShop on Etsy

I also love the idea of supplying the engaged couple with some new glassware. We got a set of champagne flutes that get used frequently, so it was a perfect and unexpected gift!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Prep Ahead


I love coming home after a day at work, uncorking a bottle of wine, and leisurely preparing dinner, but on busy days it's hard to squeeze it all in! Prepping meals on Sunday, in advance of the week,  cuts  down on weeknight cooking time and frees up more space in my schedule for workouts, errands, etc. Plus, it's great for budget-friendly meal planning and keeps us from buying lots of unhealthy lunches during the week.


Here are some great make-ahead options:
  • Grilled veggie/steak/chicken kabobs
  • Grilled burgers or chicken- pack them up with some mixed greens, chopped tomatoes, and a scoop of guacamole for a healthy lunch!
  • Snacks (No cooking required): Cherry tomatoes, carrot chips with guacamole, sliced apples with almond butter, beef jerky
  • Vegetable enchiladas
  • Tortilla soup with crispy tortilla strips
  • Lasagna or a big pot of sauce so you can quickly whip up a yummy pasta dish mid-week

Friday, April 17, 2015

Full Skirt Friday

I recently tried on a full skirt (just on a whim) and I was surprised at how much I absolutely loved it! To get some ideas on how to style it just right, I've been surfing the web. Here's some of my outfit inspiration:

From Lolobu.com, via Pinterest
From This Silly Girl's Life, via Pinterest
Pinterest
Bloglovin', via Pinterest
From Blog.StyleEstate.com, via Pinterest

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mom's Recipe: Pistachio Cake

This weekend is going to be full of celebrations in Chicago. We're celebrating a birthday and a wedding, and I'm looking forward to a weekend with friends and family.


Thinking about  celebrations has brought back memories of a green pistachio cake that my mom used to make.  It was a favorite of mine growing up,and although I haven't had it in a while, it's one of the tried and true recipes that my mom included in the cookbook that she recently compiled.

What You'll Need
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup flour
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1 cup powdered sugar
8 oz cream cheese
12 oz Cool Whip, divided
2 packages of instant pistachio pudding
3 cups whole milk

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Crumble the butter, flour, and nuts together, then press into the bottom of a 9x11 glass baking dish.
  3. Bake the crust for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove and allow it to cool completely before moving to the next step.
  4. With an electric mixer, combine the powdered sugar and cream cheese together until well blended. Give it time to REALLY mix!
  5. Fold in about 2/3 of the Cool Whip and mix it at low speed until blended.
  6. Spread the cream cheese layer on the cooled crust. 
  7. Mix the pudding mix and milk together until well blended (about 2 minutes), then allow it to set for 5-10 minutes.
  8. Spread the pudding over the cream cheese layer and top with the remaining Cool Whip.
  9. Refrigerate the cake for at least 2 hours, then serve and enjoy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Picking the Perfect Present

Flowers are always a great gift! Get this bouquet from Bouqs.co for just $40. 
Mother's Day is right around the corner, and every Mom deserves a little something special. If you're looking for the perfect gift for Mother's Day (or any special occasion), follow these simple tips:
  • Make a list of what she's interested in. If you think of things that align with those interests, you might come up with some unique gift ideas or something that will delight and surprise your gift recipient. 
  • Look back. Has your gift recipient recently adopted a dog or had some other big event in their lives? Think of ways to commemorate that experience with an artist's rendering of her pet, or a frame for that beautiful family photo she had taken. 
  • Give an experience. Does your mom constantly complain that she has nothing to wear? Hire a personal stylist to come over and audit her closet. Does she love Les Mis? Buy her tickets to see a show! Sometimes experiences can be the most memorable gifts.
  • Make it an event. Opening the present is half the fun! Get creative with your packaging, even if you're gifting an experience. You want to make sure they enjoy the experience of opening it.
  • Buy something YOU love. Even if your gift recipient doesn't have quite the same taste, pick out something YOU are excited to give. Your enthusiasm will make the gift-receiving experience more fun.
  • Make it personal.  Customizing something by monograming it or making it unique to the gift recipient will make any gift easy to love, and it shows that you really made an effort in choosing the perfect item. 
  • Get charitable. Does your recipient really have EVERYTHING? Think about a cause that might be near and dear to their hearts and make a donation on their behalf. It's a great way to give back.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Gold Fox Paper: Pretty Wedding Invites

Fun Fact: The Postal Service has deemed April as "National Letter Writing Month." In keeping with the spirit of snail mail, we just finalized our wedding invitations, designed by Gold Fox Paper and I am IN LOVE! I'm not giving away our design quite yet, but Ana has done some beautiful things for other weddings:





No matter what design you choose, there are a few wedding invitation rules that apply to everyone:
  • Invitations should be sent 6-8 weeks prior to the wedding. If the wedding is  destination wedding or most guests live out of town, play it safe and send out invites 3 months in advance. 
  • Your RSVP deadline should be 3-4 weeks prior to your wedding date. This gives you enough time to follow up with non-responders, finalize the headcount and seating chart, and make last minute arrangements. 
  • Save the Date cards are perfect for sharing basic information (date, location) and the wedding website. As an alternative, you can also include wedding website information on a small enclosure card with your invitation.
  • Do NOT include registry information on your save the date cards or invites. It makes it seem as if you're asking for gifts. Instead, make sure close friends and family know where you're registered and include a link on your wedding website. 
  • If you're inviting single guests, you can include "and Guest" on their invitation, or omit it if you'd prefer for them to arrive solo.  Both are acceptable. 
  • Invite your guests by name. If they're married or in a serious relationship, make sure to include both guest names. This is common courtesy and it makes the invitation non-transferable (i.e. there's no confusion- Cousin Joe cannot bring his buddy Jack, because you clearly listed that Joe and Ashley were invited). 
  • RSVP cards should be pre-addressed and stamped. Make it easy for your guests to respond!


Monday, April 13, 2015

Happy Birthday Brady!

We brought Brady, our Australian Labradoodle, home last summer and today he turns ONE year old!
I have to admit that I wasn't a huge dog lover before having a puppy of my own, but Brady stole my
heart. I'm looking forward to many more years of snuggling with him! Here's our year in review:

Brady and I took our first selfie on the car ride home (day 1!). He was nervous!
Brady loved living in Charlestown...
But we packed him up and made the trek from Boston to Austin.
He dressed up for a Halloween Party at the new place in Austin...
And in November, he decided I was a keeper and  he helped Neal propose!

Brady had a wonderful first Christmas in Austin, lookin' good in his scarf...
And this spring he made friends with Judah, who shares his same birthday.
He also graduated from sleeping in a crate to sleeping in bed. Now we can't get him out of there!

Happy Birthday Brady!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Favorite Travel Totes

It's Friday, and although I'm looking forward to a relaxing weekend at home, I'm itching for a weekend getaway! There's something so nice about sneaking away and getting out of your daily routine, even for two short days, but before you do, you've got to pack everything up. I've rounded up four AMAZING travel bags that are perfect for your summer jaunts.


Clockwise from top left:

  1. This Kate Spade Nylon Weekender is so cute and will fit everything you need for a night or two out of town. 
  2. I'm coveting the Lo & Sons O.G. (Overnight and Gym Bag). It might not look like much, but this bag is an organizational dream! It's perfect for the girl on the go, and you can use it during the week to schlep your laptop and your gym gear to and from the office. 
  3. Clare Vivier makes this luxe Italian leather weekender.  If you have an eye for quality, this bag is for you! I love the teal with a pop of red, but it comes in more classic tones as well.
  4. The Stella & Dot Getaway tote is a steal! It's expandable, so you can do a little bit of shopping on your trip, and it comes in several fun prints. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Flourless Chocolate Cookies


I had a major chocolate craving last night, and these yummy chocolate cookies hit the spot. The list of ingredients is short, and they're quick and simple to throw together.  You don't even need a mixer!

What You'll Need:
2 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup Dutch process cocoa
4 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
4 egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup chocolate chips/chunks

Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Mix the powdered sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt in a large bowl. 
  3. Stir in the egg whites until the mixture thickens and you can form balls of cookie dough.
  4. Stir in the chocolate chips, then roll out the dough into 1-inch dough balls.
  5. Place the dough on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops get glossy and cracked.
  6. Remove the cookies from the oven and transfer them to wire baking sheets to cool. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Kitchen Redesign Project

House hunting in Austin has been a tiny bit discouraging, but we've been doing a lot of fantasizing about our dream home. Top of the list: a fabulous kitchen.

The kitchen is the place that we spend most of our at-home time. It's a central spot for cooking, eating, and entertaining, so an open-concept kitchen that feels like "us" is going to be a must-have in our future home. We're not afraid to put a little bit of work into it, so we've been scouring design sites for inspiration. Here are a few gems from Pinterest:







Which one speaks to you? I think a combo of the black and white option mixed with some of the subway tiles from the other photos, might be just perfect for us! Fingers crossed that we find a house to fit it in...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Toss the Bouquet

Fresh flowers are one of my favorite things, but when we met with our florist to talk about wedding flowers I was blown away by the options and all the different wedding-flower terms! Bridal bouquets come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and choosing a bouquet that matches the vibe of your wedding is important. Here's the run-down:

Posy Image from Pinterest
Posy: This small hand-held bouquet is budget-friendly and great for a bride with a small frame. You might also hear it called a tussy mussie, and it's a great option for the mother-of-the-bride, mother-of-the-groom, and any other special guests.

Nosegay Image from Pinterest
Nosegay: Slightly larger than a posy, this bouquet is typically made with compact blooms that are packed tightly into a small bunch. It's a great option for bridesmaids, and it looks adorable when you stick it in a small vase to decorate the cake table or bar at the reception.

Round Bouquet Image from Pinterest
Round: These bouquets are typically larger, depending on your budget, and can be made with a variety of different blooms. Pick seasonal options  to get the biggest bang for your buck.

Hand-tied Bouquet Image from Pinterest
Hand-tied: These types of bouquets seem ultra-trendy at the moment. Think loosely tied blooms and greens, with a just-picked natural look.

Cascade Bouquet Image from Pinterest
Cascade: A formal option, this bouquet style has a waterfall-like spill of blooms that cascade over the bride's hands. I love the look of leaves and feathers pictured above- it's a more contemporary take on this style.

Composite Bouquet Image from Pinterest
Composite: This one was totally new to me- individual petals are wired together to create the look of a single bloom.

Pageant Bouquet Image from Pinterest


Pageant: You may also hear this bouquet called a presentation bouquet, and the idea is that you can cradle all the long-stemmed flowers in one arm.

Pomander Image from Pinterest
Pomander: These small, compact, bloom-covered balls are a perfect option for a flower girl. So cute!

Weddings aren't the only occasions for these beautiful bouquets. A hand-tied bouquet makes a beautiful hostess gift, and a pomander may be cute as garden-party decor. What's your favorite style?