Cozy Gift Guide

Christmas is less than two weeks away! Hope you have a head start on your shopping! If not, consider gifting some coziness this holiday season. Who doesn’t want another pair of warm, fuzzy socks? Or a scented candle that crackles? Maybe you just want to get your own hygge on. Or cosagach. Or whatever you want to call it. Whatever the reason, cozy gifts are one of my favorite things to give (and receive!). Here are a few ideas to give the gift of coziness this year…

Furry blanket. I am a sucker for a nice, warm furry blanket. I have several that I keep around my apartment: one on my bed, one on the couch, one on my desk chair, and one in storage…just in case. You can find faux fur/fuzzy/fleece blankets at several different places: Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Macy’s, West Elm, Amazon, etc. My favorite place to buy them is – of course – HomeGoods. They are usually pretty cheap…around $15 there, so you can stock up for yourself and get some as gifts. For extra coziness, buy a coordinating throw pillow or two to go with it!

Fuzzy socks. Socks are the one thing that I buy my family EVERY year for Christmas. My go-to socks are usually Smartwool or Darn Tough, but the ‘Cozy Chenille Sock‘ from UGG may be the coziest-looking sock I’ve ever seen. (Check out UGG’s ‘Fair Isle Fleece Lined Crew Sock‘ and the ‘Pom Pom Fleece Lined Crew Sock‘ for more sock coziness.) Target also has a pretty good selection of well-priced fuzzy and fleece-lined socks. I have several socks from the Gilligan & O’Malley brand that I love to sleep in. And…of course…Amazon would probably have a thousand different socks to choose from, so that is always an option as well. Just make sure you order in time for Christmas!

Sweaterized mugs. No, “sweaterized” is not a word, but it’s the best way I can describe mugs with those cute, knit covers. I love cozying up to a book or movie with a cup of something warm: hot chocolate, coffee, tea, cider, etc. And I bet it’s even cozier when you drink those out of a mug with a cute, soft “cozy.” Target sells mugs with knit covers already on them, but Etsy is definitely the place to buy the “cozies” (that’s apparently what they are called…how convenient!) by themselves. Most are hand-made too!

Comfy fleece. If there is one piece of clothing that I wear almost every day in the colder months, it’s my Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover. I actually keep it on the corner of my bed so I can throw it on as soon as I get up in the morning, and I usually don’t take it off until right before I go to sleep. (I have slept in it before and let me tell you that it is TOASTY.) It’s the coziest, warmest, most comfortable fleece I’ve ever had. Of course, there are endless options when it comes to cozy fleeces. Try brands like The North Face, L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, and True Grit. Most clothing stores, however, should offer something in the cozy category. After all, hygge and self-care are all the rage right now.

Cozy robe. I know the Christmas pajama tradition is popular with a lot of people, but if you don’t want to give another set of PJs, give a robe instead! A few years ago, I received the UGG ‘Duffield’ robe as a Christmas gift, and it has been one of my favorite gifts I’ve ever gotten. Mostly because I actually use it, and it’s a great Hallmark Channel Christmas movie-watching robe. In my opinion, however, you can’t go wrong with a good flannel robe. They are easy to find (check J. Crew, Target, L.L. Bean, Woolrich, or any department store), and offer a great range of prices. Usually anywhere between $20 and $130. Sherpa or plush robes are also cozy options and should be in the same price range. Robes for everyone!

Hot water bottle. For instant comfort and coziness, the classic hot water bottle can’t be beat. Get one with a knit or fleece cover for the ultimate cozy night in. I don’t often see hot water bottles in stores (not the pretty ones anyway), but Boden seems to have the cutest hot water bottles ever made. How can you not love the little pom poms??? Amazon does have quite a few options as well, and you can find more of the functional-looking ones at Wal-Mart and most pharmacies. They also come in handy when you are sick or need to alleviate pain, so buy one for yourself for the impending flu season.

Scented candle. This is one of the most important aspects of hygge (aka coziness). Candles create soft, ambient lighting and evoke a sense of warmth and comfort. My favorite type of candles are Woodwick candles. They have wooden wicks (duh) that crackle like a fireplace when you burn them. If that’s not the coziest candle ever then I don’t know what is. If you’re not into the crackling sound, then literally any candle will also work. Get a Rewined candle for the wine lover in your life, or a Homesick candle to remind someone of home. I usually get my candles at HomeGoods or Target, but where can’t you buy candles these days?

Books. Maybe this is not a thing for most people, but for me, books always give a sense of comfort. I love a good coffee table book display, and having a home library is one of my life goals (with a sliding ladder, of course). If you want to give someone an entire year of cozy ideas, Adriana Adarme’s book, A Year of Cozy, is the perfect gift. (It’s on my Christmas list!) Plus, it has the most cozy-looking cover I’ve ever seen. There are also several books dedicated to hygge that would make great gifts for someone looking to cozy up their life. The Little Book of Hygge and Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness are two great options. Or, just get any book that looks pretty to liven up someone’s coffee table, shelf, or end table. Bonus points for antique books! They really up the cozy factor IMO.

 

Even more cozy gift ideas…

Slippers

Fuzzy body pillow

Fleece-lined lounge pants

Essential oil diffuser with mood lighting feature

Heated or electric blanket

Soft and soothing eye mask

Digital fireplace DVD (or stream it on Netflix like I do!!!)

 

Hope you got some good ideas for giving the gift of cozy this Christmas. Check back soon for more gift guides and a post about Christmastime in Chicago!

 

 

Disclaimer: None of the items listed in this post are sponsored. I don’t get paid in any way, shape, or form for any of this; I’m just throwing out ideas. Pretty much all of the items listed here are things I either already own or want/are on my Christmas list.  

November Favorites

It’s time for a November favorites post! I haven’t done one of these in a while, so this one is a comprehensive list of things I’ve been loving over the past few months. It’s a little long, but I hope you enjoy it!

DuoLingo

I’m teaching myself German! Or trying to, at least. It’s a slow process for me, but I’ve really been loving the DuoLingo app. It’s simple, intuitive, user-friendly, and you can pick up your phone and do a lesson whenever you have free time. You can also tailor your goals and intensity of lessons. It’s not going to teach you as much as a professional class would, but it’s a free app (you can pay for a premium version if you want), and you can learn at your own pace. There is also a flash card app (Tinycards) that you can download that corresponds with the DuoLingo lessons for quick and easy vocab review. I will say that DuoLingo is a little heavy on the memorization and vocab side; you don’t really learn how to conjugate verbs or put together grammatically correct sentences right away. I’m hoping that comes later because I still haven’t gotten there. I’m basically teaching myself verb conjugation as I go along, so there is definitely a little bit of independent study that is required if you are really looking to learn the language. Otherwise, it’s a super easy way to introduce yourself to a new language.

Hallmark Channel Christmas movies
This is absolutely my guilty pleasure. Every year I actually look forward to the bombardment of ridiculously unrealistic, over-the-top, cheesy Christmas movies that Hallmark airs during the two months leading up to Christmas. (I even just discovered a Hallmark Christmas drinking game that I’m definitely going to be doing in the next month.) This year, however, other TV and movie companies are jumping on the bandwagon. Most notably, Netflix. They recently released an original movie called A Christmas Prince that is peak Hallmark Channel Christmas. (In case you were wondering…yes I did watch it and yes I did love it.) What’s crazy is that today, I saw an ad for Lifetime channel’s new Christmas movie called…My Christmas Prince. I’m not even kidding about this. LITERALLY THE EXACT SAME STORY. Simply amazing. And yes I will be watching that as well.

Scrub Daddy

Everyone is going to make fun of me for posting this on my favorites list, but I don’t care. I want the world to know! Scrub Daddy really is the best sponge ever. I saw it on Shark Tank a few years ago and I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes at this dude when he was trying to sell a sponge, but now I’m totally a believer. It’s like magic. Run it under warm water and it become really soft. Run it under cold water and it stays firm. But the best part…IT. DOES. NOT. SMELL. Do you know how much I hate the smell of dirty, old sponges??? More than I hate skim milk, the smell of oranges, and people who wear their sunglasses on inside…combined. You can even put this sponge in the dishwasher to clean it if you need to. It also doesn’t leave scratch marks which is nice for me since I have cheap nonstick pans and a glass stove cooktop. I even bought the multicolored pack so I can have a sponge for each specific cleaning job (bathroom, microwave, dishes, etc.). If you are getting a present from me this Christmas, don’t be surprised if you get a Scrub Daddy to go with your gift.

Tea
I have been drinking a lot of tea lately. Mostly because one day I went to a yoga + brunch extravaganza and for some reason thought it would be a good idea to go to HomeGoods right after drinking a bunch of wine and prosecco. Spoiler alert: It’s not. I ended up buying a freaking tea set. In no way do I drink enough tea to justify buying an entire tea set. The cashier asked me if I was a tea drinker and I think I ended up telling her I was throwing a tea party for some friends. Which I was not. Unless you count me drinking tea with my Pillow Pet, Olga, looking on from the windowsill as a tea party. Anyway, while at HomeGoods I also ended up buying a few packages of tea that looked British and if anyone knows tea, it’s the Brits. And it turned out to be really good tea! I was a little hesitant about buying food from HomeGoods, but even the cookies (aka biscuits) I got to go with the tea were pretty good. HomeGoods for the win!

Roku

So after almost 6 months of not owning a television, I went out and bought one during all the Labor Day sales. Except I realized that I can only watch DVDs because I don’t have cable and I didn’t have any kind of streaming platform. I really wanted to get Apple TV, but it’s seriously expensive and I didn’t think it was justified at the time. So I ended up buying a Roku streaming stick and I actually really like it. For the price ($29.99), it really can’t be beat. You can get all the main streaming apps (Netlfix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, etc.) plus the premium video services like HBO Now, HBO Go, Starz, and Showtime (if you have accounts with them). I also use the free ABC, CBS, and PBS apps to watch on demand shows. I am hoping in the future to get Sling TV so I can pay à la carte for different channels, but for now I’m pretty happy with the free stuff I can get on Roku. If you aren’t wanting to fork out the money for Apple TV and want an alternative to the Amazon Fire Stick, then Roku is probably your best bet. Plus, it could make a pretty great Christmas gift.

Victoria TV Show

I am a huge fan of the Netflix original series, The Crown. (Season 2 premieres on December 8!!) I love a good docu-drama, especially when it involves the British royal family. A couple of months ago, I discovered a new show called Victoria. (I believe it airs on iTV in Britain, but it is shown in the U.S. on PBS Masterpiece.) It follows the life of Queen Victoria in her early years…the moment she becomes Queen, her and Prince Albert’s courtship and early marriage, and the birth of their first child, as well as the trials and tribulations of her early reign. The whole Victorian Era has always fascinated me, but you don’t really hear a lot about Victoria when she was younger. You always see her pictured as an older woman dressed in black who lived out her later years in solitude and sadness. Her life before Albert’s death, however, is depicted in the show much differently. It’s one of my favorite new shows and I have to say that I have learned a lot about the young Victoria and Albert (even though much of their relationship is exaggerated in the series.) Also…I have a pretty big crush on this Prince Albert guy. So there’s that. Series 2 premieres in the U.S. on January 14, but you can watch season 1 on Amazon Prime Video right now.

Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket

I finally bought myself a Nano Puff jacket. I’ve been wanting one for years, and my trip to Colorado was the perfect excuse for me to finally pull the trigger. I really didn’t need another jacket, but I have to say that I use this one more than any of my other jackets now. It’s lightweight, warm, and super packable, which is perfect for traveling. You can even stuff the whole jacket into its own internal pocket to throw in your bag, pack, or suitcase. Plus, I love that it’s made with and insulated with mostly recyclable materials. Sustainable clothing…YAY! It’s insulated with synthetic materials (aka: not down), so it’s not going to be the warmest jacket out there, but for the winters here where it usually stays in the 40s most of the cold season, it’s perfect for me. It’s also lightweight enough to wear comfortably under a rain jacket or other outer layer making it a perfect mid-layer piece for outdoor excursions.

Mindhunter

Another TV show that I’ve really been into lately is also a Netflix original series: Mindhunter. It’s the story of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit when they first started delving into the whole idea of serial killers and using research to better understand and predict violent crimes and “deviant behavior.” Other than catching a few Bones reruns on television during the day, I was never really into the crime drama genre. For some reason, however, I’ve really been into this show. It’s just really interesting to see how the idea of serial killers came to be and how they used interviews of people convicted of violent crimes to develop the concept of profiling. It’s just a really good show…but not for the younger kids. Lots of language, adult content, and some pretty messed up – and very graphic – descriptions of crimes. So put the kids to bed before you watch it.

That’s what I got for this favorites post!

Happy December!

#OptOutside

#OptOutside

It’s Black Friday!

That means a shopping frenzy for some people…but not for me. I won’t even be working today despite the fact that I work for a retail company. I am actually getting a paid day off today to do nothing but go outside. Crazy, right? And totally awesome. Thanks, REI!!!

Yes, for the third year in a row REI is paying all of its employees to spend Black Friday outside. It’s a pretty cool idea, and I feel like it puts a little more meaning back into Thanksgiving weekend. I know a lot of people really love the Black Friday holiday shopping frenzy, and you can for sure get a ton of great deals, but I’m not really into crowds and waiting in long lines and mobs of adults fighting over whatever the hot new item is. If you are though, that’s cool. You do you, boo. Everyone has their thing. (Hope you get some good deals!)

Anyway, the point of this post is bring up the idea of spending Black Friday outdoors instead of in a crowded mall. You don’t necessarily have to go hiking or skiing or climbing…maybe you just want to drink on your patio. That’s perfectly acceptable IMO. Whatever you do today though, I hope you find some time to go outside and disconnect from all the craziness. After all, we have the next 30 days to drive ourselves nuts with Christmas shopping.

See you outside!

Join the social media movement and post pictures of your Opt Outside day using the hashtag #OptOutside. For more information, go to www.rei.com/optoutside. You can see how other people spend their #OptOutside day, and find local things to do for your #OptOutside day too! 

 

 

Disclaimer: This is not a post sponsored by REI. I am promoting the #OptOutside campaign on my own free will and have not been reimbursed by anyone for doing so. Not that I ever am. Just throwing it out there though. 

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone is enjoying the day off and is looking forward to some delicious food! It’s a pretty busy day for me, but I just wanted to write a list of some of the things I’m really thankful for in my life. Some are serious and some are pretty ridiculous, but it’s the little things that give life meaning too.  

family
friends

having the day off today AND tomorrow (thanks REI!)
my health and well-being (most days)
Mother Nature
Hallmark Channel Christmas movies
wine (Chardonnay, in particular)
cheese
wine + cheese plates
fall colors
U.S. military and veterans
Netflix
coffee
dogs
past experiences that have taught me things
grandparents
online shopping
chocolate
yoga pants
atheleisurewear (aka: my uniform, for the most part)
Adele (she gets me)
books (looking for recommendations atm…)
movies that are just as good as the book
pretty much movies in general
anything cozy (fuzzy socks, warm sweatshirts, soft blankets)
beer (craft beer mostly…because I’m a millennial)
sleeping in
days off
“me” time
binge-worthy TV shows
scented candles
lotion-infused tissues (waaaaayyyyy better than regular ones)
good hair days
fresh flowers
Kate Middleton (because she is perfect and I want all of her clothes)
Wi-Fi
not having to waste a good outfit on an insignificant day
traveling
that time of year when you can sleep with your windows open
babbling brooks (alliteration…)
getting snail mail (especially from Grandma)
getting compliments from strangers
freedom
Thanksgiving (because it makes you realize all the things you have to be thankful for!)

A Week of Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving Week!

I can’t believe Thanksgiving is in just a few days! I’m excited to have lots of family coming in for the long weekend. It will be a little busy, but I’m glad to be off for four days to have the opportunity to just relax and enjoy the company of friends and family. I had a really nice staycation this past weekend…I feel very well-rested and ready for all the Thanksgiving festivities! Got my stretchy pants out of storage and everything.

Since this week is Thanksgiving week, I am devoting some time each day to being grateful: writing in my gratitude journal, spending time reflecting on the good things in my life (while also trying to put a positive spin on the bad things), jotting down gratitude notes in my planner, etc.

I know this is something that should be done every day, all year, but I’m really going to work on it this week and hope that it’s something I can continue on throughout the year.

There are many ways to practice thankfulness. I’m a fan of gratitude journals (The Five-Minute Journal is a favorite of mine) and writing things down in my life planner. I also occasionally use meditation apps (Headspace and Calm are two good options) that help guide you through gratitude reflections and mindfulness practices. Some people just acknowledge being thankful for something in their head and that’s fine too. Whatever works for you. Just taking the time to recognize the all good things in your life is what’s important.

Being thankful can help put a lot of things in perspective, and can also increase your overall happiness if you do it often enough. It can be hard to practice gratitude on a regular basis, I will admit. I, myself, am really inconsistent with my gratitude journaling, but if you are wanting to be a more grateful person, I think this week is a great time to start.

 

I’m back!

My evening stroll through Forest Park

Hello all! I’m back!

I realize I have been neglecting my blog for the past couple of months, but I’ve just been in a weird funk lately. I have had little desire to write and haven’t really had much inspiration as of late. Which is weird because usually fall always gets me excited about Halloween, fall fashion, yummy comfort food, and fall bucket lists (pumpkin patches, apple picking, harvest festivals, etc.). This year, however, the weather was warm and not fall-ish most of October and I have been unusually busy. With Thanksgiving next week already(!), and the Christmas holiday season fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to get back in the groove.

What have I been up to these past couple of months?

  1. I had my 10-year high school reunion at the end up September. Not super exciting tbh…it was pretty much the same people hanging out with the same people they were 10 years ago. I did get to spend time with the few friends I still talk to from high school, however, and that was pretty fun. But, man, I feel old now.
  2.  My mom and I went on a trip to Colorado a little over a month ago. It was amazing. I highly recommend visiting Colorado in the fall at some point in your life. So beautiful. It was basically a mini, mother-daughter road trip. We stopped in Colorado Springs to see the Garden of the Gods and to have lunch at Bingo Burger. We rode the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad which ended up breaking down, so our 3 hour return trip to Durango ended up taking over 7 hours, but that’s life ya know? There are worse things than being stranded in the Colorado wilderness on a beautiful fall day. We also spent half a day visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park which I have to say was pretty amazing. I didn’t know what to expect since it’s a relatively unheard of national park, but it was beautiful. It had also snowed that morning so everything was pretty and white. We also stopped by the Victorian mining town of Georgetown for lunch, grabbed a Coors beer in Golden, and took a detour to see the Buffalo Bill museum and grave. Great fall trip!
  3. I spent a weekend in Chicago visiting some friends from college and celebrating my friend’s daughter’s first birthday. (My train to Chicago also broke down, so it was 4 hours late to my station. I am not riding any trains for a while…) It was a nice, relaxing getaway for me. Pretty much ate and drank my way through the weekend while spending some quality time with a few of my best friends. And a very cute one-year-old. 
  4. I’ve been trying to take advantage of all the fun, fall activities that go on this time of year. I went to a winery for yoga + brunch which was great and such a basic white girl thing to do. No shame though…it was amazing. Obviously I stayed for wine tasting.
    I also have been doing some fall hiking. In case you didn’t know…fall really is the best time to go hiking: cooler weather, fewer bugs, and less people.
    Fall also means all the good TV shows are back, so I’ve been busy catching up on my usual shows (Modern Family, Stranger Things, Speechless), as well as a few new ones (Ghosted, Victoria, Ozark). Now I’m just waiting for peak Hallmark Channel Christmas movie season!

Just wanted to catch everyone up with my recent adventures and give an update on my absence. No particular reason for it honestly…I just wasn’t feeling it. I’m not even sure what “it” is, but I haven’t had it for a while. Let’s just say I took a mental health holiday.
I had a lot of fun ideas for posts for fall, but I just never got around to doing anything with them. I am really going to make a conscious effort to be a little more consistent through the rest of the year though. Expect lots of favorites posts, holiday fun, and more!

 

August Favorites + Updates

It’s time for some monthly favorites! I’m a few days late on this post (as usual), but it’s been a busy week. So let’s just get right to it…

Rosemary & Olive Oil Triscuits

I have been OBSESSED with these! I buy no less than three boxes every time I make a grocery run because I eat them so fast. They are also sold out a lot of times at my grocery store, so I stock up when I can. I usually eat Triscuits with cheese or sausage, but these I just eat right out of the box like chips. It’s odd because I’m actually not really that big of a fan of rosemary, but these are nicely flavored with just a hint of rosemary and I find them delicious. I even made the recipe on the back of the box: Rosemary & Olive Oil Chicken Tenders. It tasted like fried chicken, but healthier (it’s baked instead of fried). And I made a knockoff version of Raisin’ Canes dipping sauce to go on the side. Yum!

Patagonia Capilene Thermal Hoody

This is a favorite item of mine from the backpacking trip I took last month: Patagonia’s Capilene Thermal Weight Zip-Neck Hoody. I wore this every single day on my trip and it was perfect. You can wear it as a mid layer piece under another jacket, or by itself as a shirt. It’s quick-drying, breathable, and stretchy so you can do pretty much anything in it. I debated on whether or not to get the hoody version, but I’m so glad I did. My beanie got SOAKED one day when I left it out in the rain, and the hood on this shirt was the only thing I had to keep my head warm for a few days. I was a little worried that it might smell after being worn 7 days in a row (Patagonia’s Capilene stuff is known to do that), but surprisingly it didn’t. Patagonia for the win.

Trader Joe’s Hatch Chile Mac & Cheese

We had a lot of green chile-flavored stuff on my Colorado trip. Since we spent most of the time in the Southwest corner of Colorado, there was a lot of New Mexican-styled foods. And I took full advantage of it. (I had so many delicious breakfast burritos!) Last week, a friend of mine at work was eating the Trader Joe’s Hatch Chile Mac & Cheese frozen meal and I almost died of excitement. MAC & CHEESE WITH GREEN CHILES OMG. I went and bought 4 of them right after work and I have been eating them almost every other day. It’s not too spicy, but you get a nice, subtle green chile flavor that gives it a little extra something. And now my Pinterest food board is covered with homemade green chile mac and cheese recipes.

Game of Thrones
Obviously. I am going to be honest and say that this show pretty much took over my life this past month. As of mid-August, I was really far behind. (I had only seen seasons 1-5.) I was tired of trying to avoid all the spoilers that were all over social media Monday mornings, so I decided to catch up. My goal was to be caught up by the time the finale of Season 7 aired. So for about a week and a half, all I did was watch Game of Thrones. I even spent 8 hours one Sunday evening watching most of Season 6 and some of Season 7. I DO NOT recommend doing that. It’s just too much of an emotional toll. People dying, people coming back then disappearing again, horses dying, etc. I can barely handle one episode a week! While I am glad that I caught up, I would not watch almost two full seasons in a week and a half. My heart can only handle so much. (Note: If you’re not caught up and want to be by next season..don’t worry!!! We all have to wait two freaking years until the final season!!!)

Athleta Highline Hybrid Ankle Tight

This was another item of clothing that I took on my backpacking trip and LOVED. It was the most comfortable pant I brought on the trip, and has now been officially named my favorite hiking pant/tight ever. I currently have the first “edition” of this pant, but Athleta has recently come out with the Highline Hybrid Ankle Tight 2.0 which is pretty much exactly the same thing. They also have a new cargo pocket version which I am dying to get because who doesn’t love pockets??? These are pretty expensive tights, I’m not gonna lie ($98 and $108, respectively), but I got mine for about $30 when they went on clearance. They also may be a bit much if you are wearing them more casually. They are made of a pretty thick fabric with abrasion-resistant, soft-shell panels on the front for added durability so they are definitely geared towards more travel/hiking/adventurewear. Oh and they have four zippered pockets. So yes I wear them for everything. 

The new royal baby!
Last, but certainly not least, is news of the new royal baby on the way! If you know me at all, you know that I have a slight fascination with Kate Middleton. (AKA: The Duchess of Cambridge. AKA: Countess of Strathearn. AKA: Lady Carrickfergus. AKA: The future Queen of England!!!) And her beautiful, perfect children. And her clothes. And her hair. Ever since she walked into that room almost 7 years ago wearing that perfect, blue Issa wrap dress to announce her engagement to Prince William, I have been obsessed. I even have a Kate Middleton Pinterest board which you should probably check out. (Spoiler alert: It’s basically a collection of most outfits Kate has worn since her engagement announcement.) Anyway, the palace recently announced that William and Kate are expecting their third child, and I could not be more excited! At the moment, she is not quite 12 weeks along, so the new prince or princess should be arriving sometime in the spring. (I hope it’s another girl!) Unfortunately, Kate is experiencing the same severe morning sickness she had with George and Charlotte so let’s hope she feels better soon! In the meantime, I’ll be anxiously waiting to see what adorable maternity clothes she wears this time around!

That’s it for the favorites. I do have some fun updates though! Check them out:

Updates + Coming Soon!

⊕ I am heading back to my alma mater this weekend. I got some last minute tickets to the Notre Dame football game, which gives me the chance to visit my old stomping grounds at Saint Mary’s College. Expect lots of Instagram posts of some seriously beautiful college campuses.

⊕ I have another trip planned! In exactly one month, I am going back to Colorado! This time on a mother/daughter mini road trip. Ever since I got back from Colorado and my mom saw the videos of my old timey train ride, she has been dying to go. So…we got some really cheap flights to Denver during Southwest’s recent sale, and are spending Columbus Day weekend exploring Colorado. Check back soon for more details on what we will all be doing!

⊕ I have some fun fall-themed posts planned so keep a look out for those in the coming months. It’s already starting to feel like fall here…I’m so excited!

Things I Learned From Backpacking

I’ve been home from my Colorado backpacking trip for a few weeks now, so I’ve had some time to reflect on all the things that I’ve learned.

Most people’s first backpacking trips are usually rewarding, yet very educational experiences. You learn things about yourself, the people you are with, and the environment in which you are. You will probably also discover whether or not that $400 rain jacket was worth it or not. (It was.) So here are a few things I’ve learned from my first (but hopefully not last) backcountry backpacking trip:

  1. Your pack will inevitably be heavier than you anticipate. I was planning on my pack weighing around 35 pounds. It ended up being just under 50. FML. Most of the weight came from food and snacks, but I was told not to skimp on food since there was obviously no grocery store I could go to if I ran out. I actually ended up with the perfect amount of backpacking meals, but I could have done with probably half of the snacks that I brought (energy chews, granola bars, electrolyte tablets, etc.). I brought a seemingly large amount of clothing, but I actually used pretty much every item of clothing, except the extra long sleeve shirt.
  2. Pack everything in waterproof dry bags. A lot of my stuff got wet the first day we hiked and pretty much stayed wet the rest of the week. It rained almost every day we were there, and if it wasn’t raining, it was usually pretty overcast. Not the best kind of weather for drying wet clothing. I thought maybe if I brought the damp stuff in my tent overnight it would be somewhat dry in the morning, but no. I’m pretty sure the condensation from the tent made everything even more damp. I had one dry bag, but I was using it to hang all my food from the tree. Definitely could have used like 5 more of those.
  3. ALWAYS wear sun protection when hiking at higher altitudes. I was warned about the sun and how much easier it is to burn at higher altitudes. It makes sense. Being at 12,000 feet above sea level you are obviously closer to the sun and more prone to the sun’s harmful rays. I was really good and lathered up with sunscreen every day, made sure to wear a hat, and brought plenty of long-sleeved shirts for protection. On the second day of hiking, however, I had a serious lapse in judgment. It was a partly cloudy day with the sun going in and out of the clouds. I took my hat off because it was impeding my views (it was a little big on me and kept sliding down my forehead). It was only off for an hour, maybe an hour and a half, but I ended up pretty much frying my scalp. I was putting sunscreen on my face every half an hour or so, but I never thought about my head. I have so much thick, wavy hair that I’ve never really had a problem with it, but I guess when you’re that high up you have to be even more careful. Lesson learned.
  4. Invest in a sturdy pair of waterproof boots and a good rain jacket. It rained A LOT in Colorado. I think the seven days we were there, there was maybe one day where we didn’t run into any rain. And it usually wasn’t just rain. It was hail and sleet and wind and thunderstorms. I somehow was talked into buying a $400 rain jacket for this trip. (Note: I did not pay that much for it. I got a discount from the vendor through my work.) I never thought in my life that I would need that technical of a rain jacket, but I’m so glad I had it. I wore that jacket every single day, even when it wasn’t raining. It’s windproof, light, and warm, and packed pretty nicely in its own hood. I’m not saying that everyone who backpacks needs a crazy expensive rain coat, but just make sure it’s waterproof. (I suggest getting one with the Gore-Tex waterproofing though.) Get some waterproof hiking/backpacking boots too! Most hiking boots these days are waterproof, I will say, but if you get a pair that is more specifically geared towards backpacking, you will be much better off. They are a little heavier and stiffer, but they are also usually taller in the ankle and will give you better support when you are carrying a heavy pack. I saw quite a few people near the top of the 14,000ft mountain we climbed with ultralight trail running shoes on, and I can’t imagine how cold and sore their feet were. We walked through several creeks on that trail, not to mention the snowpack, AND it had been raining and hailing all day. I know a lot of people are all about the ultralight hiking footwear, but cold and wet feet for 10 hours? No thank you!!!
    Also…waterproof gloves. Get some! That was the one thing I didn’t have on this trip and desperately needed!
  5. You will feel the greatest sense of accomplishment! Backpacking is hard. And it does suck a lot of the time. No bathrooms, no showers, eating out of a bag for all your meals, sheer physical exhaustion most of the time…it’s definitely not easy. But the feeling you get when you get to the top of a mountain and can look out for a hundred miles and see nothing but wilderness is indescribable. It’s also one of the most humbling experiences. You realize how small you are and how big the world really is. But you also feel like you kind of conquered a part of the world. It’s a truly awesome feeling.

You also learn a lot about your gear after you go backpacking: what you needed, what you forgot, what you wish you had more of…that kind of thing. Here are a few lists of my own:

What I Needed:
waterproof gloves (this is one thing I wanted more than anything!)
better sun hat (I used a baseball style hat and I really needed a hat with a wider brim…my neck got burned)

What I Wish I Had More Of:
waterproof dry bags (So. Much. Wetness.)
socks (just one more pair would have been nice)

What I Could Have Done Without:
half of the contents in my “snack bag”
rain pants (these were really nice to have, but I only used them once)
liner socks (the only reason I used these is because they were the only socks I had that weren’t wet)
climbing helmet (probably good to have for harder, more technical climbs, but I didn’t feel like I really needed it)
microspikes (definitely didn’t need these at all)

What I Will Never Do Without:
trekking poles
a lightweight, foldable chair
sleeping bag liner
inflatable, waterproof solar lanterns

So there ya have it…lessons learned from my Colorado backpacking trip! Hopefully my next adventure isn’t too far away. Always more things to learn!

Back to School Essentials

I can’t believe that August is almost over! That means…back to school! Most kids are either in school or will start in the next few days, so I have decided to make a fun little list of a few things I think are important for going back to school.

(Note: Most of this stuff is geared towards older, college-aged kids since I am completely out of touch with anyone under the age of 20, maybe even 25. But most of it is relevant toward anyone starting off a new school year.)

A good, sturdy backpack. You gotta carry all those books in something, right? Gone are the days when you can walk home from school carrying just a single textbook, maybe a notebook, and a pencil in your pocket. Even grade school kids these days are taking home 3-4 textbooks every night for homework and/or studying. That means a good, sturdy book bag is a must. I still have my good ol’ Jansport backpack I used all four years of college. (I think it may even have textbooks in it, actually.) It’s still in perfectly good shape, too. Getting four years out of backpack may be asking a lot of most grade school and high school kids (I’ve seen the way kids throw their backpacks around), but if you get a good, durable one, it should last you at least one school year.

Comfortable shoes. When I was younger, I always looked forward to getting a new pair of school shoes every year. Back in my day (7th grade to be exact), those white Adidas trainers with the three stripes were all the rage. AND NOW THEY ARE BACK IN STYLE WTF I’M SO OLD! In high school, it was all about the Nike Shox. I got one new pair a year and loved them all to death. In college, I had some kind of nondescript hot pink Nike shoes, an old pair of volleyball shoes, and some cheap ballet flats from Target. They all kind of sucked actually. But I didn’t know what good shoes were back then. Now that I’m old apparently, my feet also suck (probably because of crappy shoes I wore in college), but at least I know the value of good shoes now and can tell you that investing in a decent pair is a must. Especially for you college kids who will be walking all over campus.

Trusty pens. I LOVE fancy writing tools. My favorite pens ever are the Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens, but if you want something a little more basic and waaaay cheaper, I also love the Uniball Signo clicker gel pens. And the Sharpie pens. They do kind of bleed through paper, however, even though they say they don’t. But they sure are pretty! Get a cute, zippered pouch to keep all your pens organized too!

A fun planner. I am someone who still writes everything down in paper planners. Most schools probably give out, or have available, some kind of school-specific agenda, but I also always liked having an extra, fun, more personalized one. I usually have about 3 or 4 planners at any given time. Some I use for more work specific stuff, some I use for personal events, one I use as a master planner where I keep everything (mine is an Erin Condren Life Planner), and a small one I keep in my purse. If you really want to get creative, use planner stickers from Michael’s or Etsy to keep track of everything. Or just use Google Calender or iCal if you prefer the electronic thing. You do you.

A reusable water bottle. At this point, we all should know better than to buy those big cases of disposable plastic bottled water. They are expensive, wasteful, and REALLY bad for the environment. (Yes, even if you recycle them, they are still bad.) Why not get a nice reusable water bottle that looks cool, keeps your drink cold, and is good for the environment? There are plenty to choose from, I promise. My favorite water bottles are the Hydroflask ones.  They are insulated, durable, stainless steel bottles that will keep your drink cold (or hot) for a whole day. Swell and Yeti are also popular choices if you want an insulated bottle, but I do also love my good ol’ Nalgene bottle(s) as well. Contigo, Brita, Platypus, Camelbak, and Klean Kanteen are also a few ideas, but anything is better than stupid, old bottled water.

A weatherproof jacket. This is something I never really had when I was in school, but definitely could have used. Especially when I was older and got to college. I went to school in northern Indiana and walking to class in the rain and snow across campus was a real bitch. (Sidenote: Snow boots and/or waterproof shoes also would have been REALLY nice to have.) I’ve also been noticing that a lot of grade schools and middle schools even require kids to have rain jackets because apparently they will take kids out for recess even if it’s raining or snowing. That sounds kind of awesome to me, but also a huge mess. Anyway, you may not use a rain jacket all the time, but man when you really need it, it sure does come in handy. The North Face, Marmot, and Patagonia make some really good, lightweight rain jackets that are easy to throw into a bag and take with you on your way to class. Or you could just do what I did and show up to class a sopping, wet mess.

Obviously, you will need quite a few more things to be completely ready for going back to school. Maybe some new clothes, all those new school supplies, and, if you are heading off to college, things to fill your dorm room to make you feel at home. But this list should get you somewhat started if you are still behind on school shopping.

My Colorado Backpacking Trip

I’m back from my amazing week in Colorado! I can’t believe this trip has already come and gone. I’ve been planning and prepping for this trip for months and now that it’s over, I am not really sure what to do with myself. Plan my next trip to Colorado, I guess…

Anyway, I took this trip with some friends from work. There were seven of us traveling in a 15 passenger van with about $10,000 worth of gear. Our destination: the Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juan National Forest.

We left in the late afternoon on Sunday and drove 17 hours straight through the night (except for bathroom breaks, of course) and arrived at our destination (Silverton, Colorado) late Monday morning. We walked around the town for a few hours, grabbed some lunch, and acclimated to the altitude before boarding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train.

The train ride alone was well-worth the trip. It takes you through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery and along a winding river.

We only rode the train for about an hour before it dropped us off in the middle of the San Juan Wilderness where the trailhead to the Chicago Basin begins.

At the trailhead

From there, we hiked up a little over 6 miles to our base camp. Six miles may not seem like much, but it may have been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I had a 50lb pack on my back, which was almost twice as much weight as I wanted to carry, but this being my first backcountry backpacking trip, I wanted to make sure I had everything I needed. Was it worth it? I guess so. Although I did get sick after hiking uphill in higher altitude for almost 6 hours. And then I got sick again after I ate dinner. I don’t think it was from the altitude tough…more from pure physical exhaustion and pushing my body probably harder than I should have. Oh well. Lesson learned.

The next day (Tuesday) was a recovery day for us. We did a short day hike later in the afternoon to watch the sun set over the mountains, but it was mostly a rest and relaxation day. We set up a small shelter and went to bed early since we had to be up at 4am to start the climb up the 14er we were planning to do the next day.

The next morning (Wednesday) at the crack of dark, we got up, ate a little breakfast, and started our ascent up the mountain. (Hiking is SO MUCH easier with a small daypack!!) It was pretty easy at first since we hiked for about an hour and a half in the basin, but once we started ascending, it got much harder. The rain and hail storms didn’t help either, but thanks to my trusty, new Arc’teryx jacket, I was mostly warm and dry. Except for my gloves. Those were not waterproof in any way, shape, or form, and my hands were cold and wet most of the day. (Another lesson learned.)

At least the views going up were pretty. It definitely kept up morale for those who were battling altitude sickness. (Luckily, I was not.)

We even got to see American pikas, mountain goats, and marmots along the trail.

 


We did end up losing a guy from our group about 500ft from the summit. My poor friend, Jeremy, was really struggling with the altitude and his fear of heights. He, unfortunately, had to turn back down the mountain after he got sick and light-headed. The rest of us, however, made it to the top successfully!!! (I was actually the first one of our group to summit! Go me!)

Summit selfie!

We made it! 14,039 feet

The views from the top were simply amazing…like nothing I’ve ever seen before. You could probably see for hundreds of miles and it was nothing but mountains and more mountains. It was very surreal.


I have to say that the trek down the mountain was almost harder. Especially at the top where the path is only about 5 feet wide and there are 10,000-some foot drops on both sides of you. It was a little nerve-wracking having nothing to hold on to but the rocks you are standing on while you make your way down a mountain.

Heading back down from the summit

Luckily, everyone handled that technical part of the climb really well, and the rest was mostly a piece of cake. It was definitely hard on the knees though.

When we all got back to camp, it was a lazy rest of the day. Most of us took naps before dinner, and then we pretty much just hung out under the shelter trying to avoid the late afternoon thunderstorms that had rolled in.

Dinner time!

The next morning (Thursday), we were supposed to hike up another two 14ers, but the two other girls I was with decided not to go, and one of the guys was not feeling well so those of us who were still going decided to sleep in and just do a day hike up a smaller mountain. So on this day it was just me and a bunch of dudes. (Three to be exact…four of us total, including me.) But I felt like a real badass being the only girl, I’m not gonna lie.

The hike on Thursday was way more interesting. We passed a bunch of old mines on the way up and had some great views of the basin. We also walked through a bunch of open meadows with tons of really beautiful wildflowers. And the weather could not have been more perfect. Mostly sunny with a few clouds, but more importantly…warm and dry. It was the first day without any rain and it was glorious.

Columbine flowers on the mountain

An old mine that is currently being used for bat research

Old mining shack and rail

When we got to the top of the mountain, we had an awesome view of a small lake and a beautiful, green valley. We stayed up there for a while and just enjoyed the weather and the views. (Also, Jeremy was having a bit of a panic attack because of his fear of heights, so we let him rest a while. I was so proud of him for making it though!!!)

Top of the mountain

We love selfies!

We even ran into a solo backpacker who was passing through. He had been backpacking for a few days and was headed on his way out of the basin. He even said he saw a bear earlier that day.

We headed down the mountain after a while and headed back to camp for dinner. The next morning we had to return to the trailhead to catch the train back to civilization, so we spent the remainder of the day organizing our stuff and cleaning up. (Leave No Trace!) Before we went to bed, however, a few of us took our chairs to a nearby meadow and watched for shooting stars. The Perseid meteor shower was peaking that weekend so we took advantage of having almost zero light pollution. It was incredible to see the Milky Way so clearly and to see so many more stars than you would normally see.

The next morning (Friday), we all got up pretty early to pack up camp and start our hike back to the trailhead to catch the train.

It was a pretty miserable day: rainy and cold. But we all made it back fine and had plenty of time to rest before flagging down the train that would take us back to Silverton.

Crossing the finish line

Here is our ride back to civilization

The train ride back was not quite as enjoyable as it was on the way up. It was cold, rainy, and we were all exhausted. When we got back to Silverton, we packed up our stuff and headed to Durango for our first real food in five days. I had the most delicious green chile burger ever. And lots of beer.

We hung around Durango for a few hours then hopped back in our van and made our way to the Oasis campground just outside the Great Sand Dunes National Park. (We finally got to take showers!!!) Some of us stayed up to watch more of the meteor shower, but sleep seemed to be on everyone’s mind more than anything.

The next day (Saturday), we woke up, had breakfast at the little restaurant nearby (they had some seriously delicious breakfast burritos), then headed to Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

It was such a weird place. Just a bunch of HUGE sand dunes (some 700ft tall) in the middle of nowhere. My friend, Matt, and I were the only ones brave enough to make the hike up the dunes. It was a real bitch to walk up a mountain of sand I will say, but I’m glad we did it. Another great feeling of accomplishment!

Me at the top of a huge dune we climbed

Heading back down

After our stop at the national park visitors center so I could stamp my National Parks Passport and get my Great Sand Dunes patch (nerd alert!), we got back into the van for more driving. Our last stop was Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. It’s another weird geological wonder…just a bunch of red rocks sticking up out of the ground in the middle of Colorado Springs.

Garden of the Gods

I had heard a lot about this place, so we decided to make a quick stop on our way home. It was very touristy and pretty crowded so it wasn’t my favorite place ever, but I’m glad I got to mark that off my list too.

After our quick walk through the Garden of the Gods, we had dinner at a small, nondescript taco “restaurant” called Monica’s Taco Shop that my friend, Kyle, raved about. I have to say I was a bit skeptical when we pulled up to it. It looked like an old fast food place that someone had bought and turned into a sketchy taco stop. I would have never given the place a second look, but OMG the food was AMAZING. I don’t remember the last time I had Mexican food that good. Maybe never. The carnitas I had were incredible. I even tried the tacos two of my friends were eating: one apparently had tongue meat in it and the other one was made with cheek and/or head meat. (I didn’t really understand what exactly they were talking about when they described it to me.) They were actually pretty good. After we had ordered about 20 tacos/burritos between the 7 of us, we piled in the van for the last time and drove home through the night.

I was really sad to leave Colorado (especially since that meant having to drive through the whole length of boring, flat Kansas), but all good things must come to an end, I guess. It was definitely one of the most life-changing experiences for me though. I am really proud of myself for being able to climb a 14,000ft mountain, not to mention survive in the wilderness for 5 days without toilets, showers, a bed, or real food. And that hike up the 6 mile trail with 50lbs on my back…I applauded myself just for making it through that.

I’ve come to realized that backpacking sucks a lot of the time. It’s easy to get discouraged and frustrated when you’re tired, cold, and wet and have a huge pack full of crap you have to haul up a mountain. Not to mention having to eat meals out of bags and dig a hole in the ground every time you have to go to the bathroom. But it’s so worth it in the end. There is a huge sense of accomplishment and pride in a fun, successful backpacking trip. Would I do it again? Absolutely. After I upgrade my gear to ultralight status…