Welcome to December!

Hi friends! My Christmas tree is up, the weather has gotten colder, and we have fun plans with family and friends over the month. It must be Christmas time!

I so enjoyed having an advent calendar as a kid (remember the candy behind each little door?), that I keep the tradition going even as an adult. Instead of candy, now I fill the calendar with fun little activities to enjoy each night of the Christmas month.

To kick off the Christmas season, I thought I’d share the grown up advent calendar activities I’ll be partaking in this year. 00001

Download the printable here

Did you notice there are more than 24 things to do? You didn’t miscount – I included more activities than needed so everyone could pick the things that sound like fun to them. Some of the things to do are little traditions Dan and I have (like making latkes or listening to the Italian Christmas Carol, Dominick the Donkey ), so I thought that by making more than needed, everyone would be able to find enough holiday activities to last the season.

I tried changing up some of the activities from what we’ve done before (see  2014 and 2015) by including a movie I haven’t seen (It’s a Wonderful Life) and some Christmas poems I haven’t read, but kept the activity of listening to the Cinnamon Bear radio show. Hopefully, this is the year we finally get through the whole program.

I’m looking forward to starting our advent calendar tonight!

It’s Fall!

Can you believe it? It’s officially fall today! In celebration, I thought I’d share our new door wreath with you guys.


I really like the contrasting orange/browns of the wreath against the bright aqua blue door.

I don’t have any pictures of when I was actually making this, but the process is super simple. I started with a standard grapevine wreath and seven fall berry floral sprays – all from Michael’s.

I cut down the stems on each berry piece to just a couple inches after the “branches” came together. Without much pre-planning, I pushed each berry piece into the wreath, tucking pieces of the berry sprig into the grapevines enough for it to stay without needing to use string or glue. Finally, once all the berries were secured, I made sure a few sprigs stuck out of the wreath at the edges, to give it a fuller effect. Again, no rhyme or reason to what I did – I just tried to make it look nice.

I still need to decorate the rest of the front of the house because I haven’t bought my crop of pumpkins this year, but this wreath is a good start in trying to fall-ify our house.

Happy Fall!

Ladies’ Luau Brunch

Hi strangers. As always, my apologies for the lack of posts. I’ve been on three trips away from home in the last couple months, and have greatly enjoyed my time exploring different cities while up and away from my computer. This made my blogging take a hit – I haven’t posted since my anniversary in early June. Yikes.

While I did miss blogging, I have been making the most of my summer. I love all the things that warm weather brings – beaches, swimming, outdoor parties, patio dinners, and my annual ladies’ luau!

If you’ve been a reader of mine for a while, you know I’ve been having a luau with my dearest friends for years – since we all graduated college to be exact. I really have fun with planning this party since it’s always a laid back affair. I always enjoy trying out new food recipes, different decorations, and fun summer-y drinks!

This year, I focused on a pineapple theme in both the decor and the food. And yes, I went crazy. I’m not a designer, so I can’t create custom made printables for my party. But, I’m a really good Pinterester.

I found this printable banner and used it to make the garland above my drink table, using dowels and twine to secure it. I found those pineapple cocktail napkins at Homegoods, and the 3D straws were a surprise find at the Dollar Tree.

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The same designer of the banner made matching ice cream cone wrappers, which I used to wrap the plastic silverware and placed them on a mix of yellow and green plates (from Dollar Tree) on top of a pineapple tablecloth I found at Homegoods on the same shopping trip as when I found the cocktail napkins.Last year, a friend gave me the pineapple tumblers you can see just peeking in at the top of the photo as a hostess gift for that luau – so glad to be able to put them to good use this year!

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I decked out the food table too with some Hawaiian looking blooms from Trader Joe’s in vases with this pineapple watercolor printable to dress them up, and the same banner as from my drink cart to add some color to the wall behind the food.

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I had fun planning the food this year since I went with a brunch instead of an early dinner, as I usually do. To keep the atmosphere feeling casual, I tried to stick to more bite sized options, so guests wouldn’t be tied to the table with their plates. And yes, pretty much everything I made had pineapple in it – Hawaiian meatballs, Ham and pineapple flatbread, yogurt brulee with pineapple compote, a pineapple bundt cake, and donuts.

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OK, there was no pineapple in the donuts, but the toppers made them appear pineapple-like.

Finally, I handed out mini pineapple favors to each guest as she left. I always like to give out a little something at the end of a party – it’s such a fun touch. I wanted to stay with the luau/tropical theme, so I bought Starburst movie boxes and wrapped them up to look like pineapples, using bright yellow paper as wrapping paper and green paper to create the top, leafy part of the pineapple. Unfortunately, I never snapped a photo of them before they left with my guests.

This may have been the best luau yet!

Thanks for sticking with me guys. I’m hoping that I’m back to regular posting again.

Year 6: Iron and Candy

Here we are again, fellow readers. My wedding anniversary is just around the corner. This time, Dan and I will be celebrating 6 years of marriage!

As I’ve done each year since I’ve been blogging (see my second, third, fourth, and fifth year posts to catch up), I’ve put together a compilation of easy to find, but unique gift ideas for couples who are celebrating their sixth anniversary, like us, and want to give each other a traditional sixth anniversary gift of iron, or, in modern day, candy. Though I first thought this would be the most difficult anniversary to find gifts for, I now think this batch of items is my favorite anniversary gift collection yet! Here they are, clockwise from top left:

Year 6

How fun is this cotton candy maker from Bed, Bath, and Beyond? I love the nostalgic vibe it gives off – like you’re stepping right into a summer carnival! This item is a must if you and your spouse plan to throw backyard parties all summer long.

A gumball machine! This is the one item that is both candy and iron. Put it in your entryway as a fun conversation starter, and to send guests home with a gumball or two for the road when they head out from your next party.

This isn’t candy you can eat, but this gummy bear pool float from Wal-Mart fits the candy theme and would be fun to use this summer. Pair this gift with a weekend away, a trip to the local beach, or even just a run to the town pool.

I’m thinking a grill-lover would really enjoy this monogrammed forged steak brand from Williams-Sonoma. The brand is a fun way to personalize your steaks every time you grill – either for a big BBQ or for just the two of you. Throw in some well cut steaks and you’ve figured out your anniversary dinner too.

I’ve seen these at weddings and showers, but I’ve never made personalized M&Ms myself. Choose a pet name you call one another or even put an image of your honey on each M&M.

I recently received a Le Creuset dutch oven as a gift, and I love it! We don’t use it as often as I’d like, but for your anniversary, you can give your spouse a more everyday type of cookware with this Le Creuset cast iron skillet from Amazon.

I’m a summer child, through and through, so I’d love this firepit for our backyard. The design is way better than you would typically find in this price point, with the great modern square-shaped base. I could see myself having a big bonfire party and sitting next to this firepit on those summer nights.

No, clothes aren’t made of iron or candy, but pretend this Iron Man shirt from Target is just like Tony Stark’s iron suit. If your husband is a big superhero fan, then this is the gift for him. Heck, I’m Team Tony too and would wear the shirt myself!

Nothing here quite right for your spouse? Check out my 6th Anniversary pinterest page for even more ideas!

Super-Sized Succulents

I’ve been on the lookout for some decor to add to our newly finished bookcases. I knew I really wanted to add plants to the family room, and truly, the whole house, so I started there.

Besides me, Dan, and Phoebe, we don’t have any living items in our home. Honestly, I’m a serial plant killer. I couldn’t seem to keep any plant/herb/flower I was given alive for more than a month or two. I couldn’t figure out the reason. Yes, I watered them. No, I don’t think I watered them too much. Yes, they got sunlight. No, they didn’t get too much sunlight. We’ve had daisies, succulents, and basil, and all have died on my watch. This time, I was determined to succeed.

I ended up going with three different kinds of succulents, which I planted in these cute vases from Target.

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I wish I had taken a better picture, to show you scale. The vases are not small, like you would use for the typical size succulents you think of. The vases themselves are over 5 inches tall, and the succulents were the largest ones I found at Home Depot. I picked three different kinds with different shaped leaves and colors.

The clean lines and modern feel of the planters mixed with the fun succulents look great. I’ve added all three plants to the bookcases, and I really think they look great there. They match, but aren’t too matchy-matchy.

I’ll admit – I’ve caught a bit of the plant bug now. I definitely want to add more greenery around the house, so it’s back to the drawing board to research plants that are easy to keep alive…I mean easy to care for and are good for a beginner.

Copycat White Chocolate Raspberry Bundt Cake

I tried my hand at making a fancy bundt cake for a friend’s birthday a few weeks back. It turned out amazing, so I just had to share it with you guys.


I know, it doesn’t look like much, but this white chocolate raspberry cake was fantastic! I started with this recipe, and made a few changes and substitutions.

First of all, instead of the 3.4 oz of white chocolate Jello pudding, I used 1 oz of sugar free white chocolate pudding. It’s all I could find. And to make the batter a bit thicker, I used milk in the cake mix instead of water. We only had skim in the house, but you could use 2%, whole, or even half and half in a pinch.

Watch out for the chocolate chips sold at most stores. They aren’t true white chocolate chips. If you look closely, they say “white morsels.” Do not use these in the cake. They don’t melt correctly, and they’re made of a whole list of chemicals that I can’t even pronounce. I bought Ghiradelli white chocolate baking bars and chopped up the chocolate into very thin pieces, so they would melt evenly while the cake baked. This recipe calls for 1.5 cups of white chocolate chips, which ended up being one and a half 4 ounce white chocolate bars.

Finally, as always, I let the eggs come to room temperature before using them in the batter. I know, it sounds weird, but I swear that whenever I use eggs straight from the fridge, the cake isn’t quite as light as it is when I wait for the eggs to warm.

Be prepared for the cake to take somewhere between 55-60 minutes. I kept checking it after 45 minutes, but it was still liquidy. After 60 minutes, I took the cake out of the oven and let it cool in the bundt pan on a wire rack. once it was completely cooled, I wrapped the whole cake in plastic wrap and kept it in the fridge overnight, right up until I needed to frost it.

This was a huge cake, and not even a piece was left an hour after it was served. I got so many complements, and a few people even asked for the recipe. They said it tasted exactly like a cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes which would cost somewhere in the $40-$50 range. I’m definitely going to be saving this recipe to make again.

The Carpet and The Reveal

I originally intended for this to be two separate posts, but after my long break from blogging, I decided you have been in suspense long enough. I give you our (mostly) finished family room.

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We’re so happy with the way it turned out. I’m behind real time in blogging, but much to my surprise (and happiness), from demo to putting furniture back in, the room took a little over 3 weeks. We weren’t quite at the same reno pace when it comes to hanging pictures,styling the bookcases, and adding cabinet hardware. I think we were just so glad to be able to use the room again that we wanted to enjoy it, so the finishing touches waited a bit.

Let’s go backwards a bit in the renovation and start where I left off in my last post – with the carpet. We knew we wanted carpet with a pattern (I thought it would make the room look more like it had a big rug in it than just plain old carpet), but patterned carpet for a reasonable price was hard to find. We found patterns we liked made by Shaw, but that carpet was only sold by small, upscale sellers, which made us concerned it would be out of our price range. While at Costco one day, Dan saw a flyer that Costco sold Shaw carpet through a network of distributors at a discount. We easily found the webpage when we got home, and emailed to find out more information A local seller contacted us immediately.

They brought us a bunch of samples to view at the house, so we’d get a good idea as to how it would look in the space. We found a diamond shaped pattern we liked, and thought would go well with the herringbone tile we had already picked out for the fireplace, so we ordered it on the spot.

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We got a great deal, and in addition, we got 10% of our purchase back via a Costco gift card.

I was nervous that we picked a lighter colored carpet, but felt we couldn’t go with a dark color because of the deep gray colored couch we already had and wanted to keep. I’m happy to report that the carpet was a good choice, and looks great in the room. As for stains, we’ve already spilled a number of things on it, and have no stains! As a bonus, Phoebe’s hair doesn’t seem to be too noticeable on the carpet, which really makes it nice during her shedding season, which is now.

Lately though, I’ve turned my attention toward the bookcases.

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I couldn’t believe that we didn’t have enough decorative items to style the shelves. I started with the golden rule of decorating – trying to use what we had. I pulled a bunch of smaller objects together from throughout the house that I thought might work. That filled about, oh, 3 of the compartments. For the rest, I’ve just kept my eyes open when I’ve been shopping and slowly, I’ve been adding things, taking items out, and re-arranging. To keep things looking cohesive, I’ve been trying to stick to a few main colors, which also appear in the prints we’ve put up on the wall – bright yellow (which is also the color of our curtains), deep blue, and sky blue. I’ve also kept it to dark metallic and wood tones, which are reflected in the butcher block and hardware of the built ins.

We’re not finished yet. We still have more frames and a mirror to hang, I’m on a hunt for new throw pillows, we need a plant or two in the room, and I’m constantly swapping out bookcase items. Even so, I’m really satisfied to see all our hard work pay off. Unlike before, I enjoy being in the room and spending time there. It feels like our space now.

With that, I’ll declare our family room renovation complete!



The Paint

We had only a couple days to paint before the carpet guy came for installation. Obviously, we wanted to get the job done before then, so spills wouldn’t ruin our new carpet. We painted at warp speed to keep the renovation going at a quick pace.

Our big decision was to decide on a color. I had taped up greys, blues, whites, and even a minty color during the planning stage, before any demolition took place. Nothing was decided.

Now, as we find ourselves needing to buy paint, I was super hesitant on selecting a color. I wanted the ability to tape up more paint chips and see what I liked, but I did not have that luxury. For starters, we were only in the room to do work, so I wasn’t spending much time looking at the colors on the wall. Plus, without the new bookcases painted, our carpet, or our furniture in the room, I wouldn’t get a true sense of how the color would look. We ended up holding paint chips up to our couch (which was in another room), our teeny carpet sample, and some spare herringbone tiles to settle on a color.

We got down to two colors – Manhattan Mist, which is the color we have in the rest of our house, and Lunar Surface, which is a shade or two darker than Manhattan Mist. (Both are Behr paints). We still hadn’t made our decision when we got to Home Depot, so I pretty much told Dan to pick and walked away from the paint counter. Dan went with Lunar Surface. I couldn’t wait to see the color up on our walls, so the moment we got home, I painted a large swatch.


With it being late, I didn’t have the best light to decide if I liked it, so after Dan finished painting the first coat of white on the bookcases and mantle, we went to bed and would have a fresh look at the paint in the morning.

I ended up really liking the color, and Dan and I spent the next day painting, painting, and painting – the walls, the bookcases, the mantle, and the ceiling. It took all day, but we got it done.


I really like how the colors turned out. I think Lunar Surface was definitely the right color to go with after all. I was worried it would be too dark, but I think it works well in the space and plays off of the marble herringbone tiles and grey grout, as well as being a contrast to the bright white built ins.

Only one thing stands in the way of being able to move furniture back into the room – the carpet. Next time.

The Tiles

Once the mantle was built out, next came the tiling. Dan and I contemplated a few choices, which I shared with you previously. We ended up going with choice #1 – the marble herringbone tile.  It looks great with the darker grey grout we picked, and the black fireplace doors. The herringbone really pops.


To get some contrast, and save a bit of money, we ended up doing plain subway style marble tiles for the wood nook. We actually found both kinds of tile cheaper at Floor & Decor, so that’s where we bought all the tiles and the grout.

Our contractor spent the next day or so finishing up the mantle, including building the step in front of the fireplace, doing the tile work, trimming out the entire bookcase wall, adding the butcher block to the top of the mantle, and installing the fireplace doors.

Yes, we decided to install doors to our fireplace. It turns out, it is a much cheaper option than the alternative of buying and installing an insert, which we had looked into for fuel efficiency purposes. The doors will help prevent air loss up the chimney by up to 90%, so that should mostly solve the problem of the room becoming so cold when we have to leave the flue open overnight. Hopefully. Plus, I think the fireplace looks more finished with doors on it, rather than it being just a big opening in the wall. I shopped around to find the best price for the doors, and surprisingly, I found the best deal at Walmart. It looks like the price is back up to its normal cost, but when I bought the doors, they were on sale for $210, down from $268, with free standard shipping (I paid $5 for the rush shipping, which was still cheaper than the next best price at any other retailer).

After all that work was finished, our contractor’s role was complete, and here’s what we have to show for it:


Doesn’t it look great?

Next up is where we step in again – the painting.



The Fireplace

Once the bookcases and cabinets went in, it felt like the room was (finally) starting to take shape, and we were making progress with the renovation. Instead of ripping rocks down, shelves were being built – things were going well!

On Day 2, our contractor spent the day building again – this time, the fireplace, including the mantle, surround, and step.


We had pretty specific plans to be sure we could add the wood nook, which would visually center the fireplace. Unfortunately, we hit a snag. The blueprint called for the wood nook to be just 6.5 inches to the right of the fireplace. Well, Dan drew up the plans before we took down all the rocks, so we didn’t know there would be fireplace bricks where we wanted the wood nook to be. Ugh.

To fix this, we moved the wood nook over a few inches to accommodate the extra bricks. It pushed the center of the entire mantle to the right a bit, but we didn’t really have another choice.


Given how much woodwork it was to build everything, this day’s progress was visually the least when I got home. But, I knew we would need the building structure in place before the other things like installing tile and adding the mantle could be done.

Slow and steady progress.