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…

Updates, News, & What’s Up Next

I’m back! I have been on a month-long hiatus after I realized I kind of just needed a mental break from everything and a chance to reset. I was feeling kind of run down the whole month of July, so I decided to just take some time off and do my own thing for a while. I also recently started watching Shameless, so that has taken up a lot of my free time as of late. (Talk about an addicting show.)

What I’ve been doing…

During this past month, I decided to take some time off work to spend time with family and visit some friends. I went camping with some family members for a weekend, then spent a few days in northern Indiana at my friend’s lake house, before taking a little road trip over to Chicago where I spent a few more days with some other friends from college. It was a nice little getaway for me, and I got to spend some quality time with some of my family and a few of my best friends. (I even did a little babysitting for the cutest little girl ever!) It was really nice to just be able to hang out with friends and family and not have to have anything to actually do. Sometimes that’s all you really need to do to get back on track with everything.

river

Camping near the Current River in Missouri.

campfire cooking

Campfire cookin’ by Chef Ellen: Foil burgersstinging nettles

Fun fact: This is what a stinging nettle rash looks like. Ouch.

nap with dogs

Summer afternoon nap with the pups.

biscuits and gravy

Biscuits and gravy breakfast.

paddle boarding

Morning paddle boarding excursion.

Greek food

Greek night! (Chicken kebabs, homemade tzatziki sauce, Greek orzo salad, and grilled corn on the cob)

breakfast

Sweet potato breakfast hash, eggs, and homemade blueberry muffins.

lake life

I officially love lake life.

dock on lake

Serenity.

friends

Love.

wine tasting at Eataly

Wine tasting at Eataly! (We had to get a SMC ring pic hehe)

rooftop pool

Rooftop pools are the best.

What’s up next…

I’m leaving for a Colorado backpacking trip in a few days! And by a few days I mean two. That’s another reason I’ve been away so long. I have been super busy planning and researching everything that I need for this “expedition”. I’ve never really done a backpacking trip of this magnitude, so I have been busy preparing physically and mentally for it. Here’s the rundown: Some friends of mine and I are going on a week long trip to Colorado where we will be backpacking/hiking the Chicago Basin area of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. We are doing the whole base camp thing where we hike in, set up a camp, and then summit different peaks throughout the week. Apparently, some of the routes are pretty difficult and can be somewhat dangerous. (I even had to buy a climbing helmet since one of the routes is a class 4 difficulty which is apparently very technical.) It’s definitely going to be a challenge, and I’m not really sure what to expect, but I’m excited (and nervous) about the whole thing. I think it’s going to be a really cool experience. Either that or I hate it so much I never go backpacking again. I guess we will see.

As for the not-so-immediate future, I have no real plans for any trips or vacations after this backpacking excursion to Colorado, so hopefully I will have plenty of time (and inspiration) to work on some new blog posts. You can expect at least a few posts on my backpacking trip, and maybe some back-to-school type of stuff. And then it’s pretty much fall which makes me happy because it’s flannel and pumpkin spice latte season!!!

Hope everyone is having a good summer!

Favorites: Made in the USA

Happy 4th of July!

In lieu of a June monthly favorites post, I thought I would do something a little more patriotic. So I’ve decided to make a list of my favorite things that are made in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Lodge Cast Iron Skillets

Lodge has been making cast iron cookware since the late 19th century, and they still make all of their classic, seasoned cast iron pieces in their foundry in Tennessee. Their products come in lots of different shapes and sizes (check out this cute one!), and there are various accessories and cookbooks dedicated to the famous cast iron cookware. I have the classic 12-inch cast iron skillet and it’s one of the most versatile kitchen pieces I’ve ever had. You can use it both on the stovetop and in the oven; I even take mine camping for some delicious fireside fare. They do take a little work to maintain (they are not dishwasher safe), but they can last forever if you clean and season them properly.

Darn Tough Socks

These are the best socks EVER! I will never live without these socks again. And I may not have to. All Darn Tough socks are guaranteed for life. If you are not satisfied for any reason, just send them back to their headquarters in Vermont (where all of their socks are made) and they will send you a new pair. I have several of their wool hiking socks, but they make both wool and synthetic socks for pretty much everything (running, skiing, hunting, biking, lifestyle, etc.). They are comfortable and durable and come in tons of different styles and colors for men, women, and kids. They are a bit on the pricier side (around $20 per pair), but well worth it in my opinion.

Pyrex

 

I love anything and everything Pyrex. I have old, vintage pieces and new, vintage-looking pieces, as well as quite a few of the basic glass dishes. Pyrex’s glassware line is still made in Pennsylvania, and it has been since 1915. Today’s pieces comes in all sorts of colors, shapes, and sizes, and almost all are dishwasher, microwave, and oven safe. I use mine for everything from leftover storage to meal prepping to mixing bowls. I use the cute, colorful lidded glassware pieces several times a week to pack my lunch.

Dr. Bronner’s SoapI’ve been using Dr. Bronner’s soap for a few years now. It’s not my everyday soap, but I use it when I travel and on camping and backpacking trips. It’s an organic, all-natural, fair trade certified castile soap and can be used to wash/clean almost anything. (Some of my friends even use it to brush their teeth! I’m still not 100% on board with that yet. It is soap after all.) I’ve used it as body wash, shampoo, shaving cream, dish soap, and laundry detergent. It can also be used as pet shampoo, baby shampoo, and as an all-purpose cleaner to clean floors, tabletops, etc. I have sensitive skin so I usually get the milder, unscented version, but I’m also a fan of the lavender-scented one. This is one of the most useful soaps I’ve ever used, and it’s still one of the top selling soaps in America today. Which is not surprising considering the Bronner family has been making soaps since 1858. They really know what they are doing.

Fiestaware

Fiesta dinnerware is another product that’s been made in America since the early 20th century. The colorful line of dinnerware was released in 1936 by the Homer Laughlin China Company (who still owns and manufactures Fiestaware today at their West Virginia headquarters). There were only 5 colors (red, yellow, cobalt blue, green, and ivory) when the dinnerware was first introduced, but these days you can choose from colors like lemongrass, shamrock, scarlet, and slate…just to name a few. I have a few sets of the 4-piece place setting, as well as a few small bowls and a salt-and-pepper shaker set. I love all the bright colors and the fact that they are dishwasher, microwave, and oven safe. They’re definitely the prettiest, most perfect place settings in America.

Hope you enjoyed all my Made in America favorites! Enjoy your 4th of July celebrations!

 

Yoga for Beginners

 

Happy International Day of Yoga!

Since today is a celebration of all things yoga, I thought I would write a little bit about beginning a yoga practice. I, myself, am fairly new to this whole thing, but I have learned a few things here and there in the short time I have been doing it. I’m not going to show any poses or talk about sequences or anything, but I do have some general thoughts on beginning yoga.

First off…you do not have to go to a fancy gym to do yoga. I do enjoy going to classes every now and then, but I’m equally happy doing it at home by myself. Since I am an amateur yogi, I am in no way knowledgable enough to do it without some kind of assistance though. I usually just use an app on my iPad or take advantage of various YouTube yoga channels to guide me through different poses. (If it were up to me, I would probably just stay in the savasana pose the whole time. Ha!) Gyms are great, but if you’re like me and on a budget, at-home yoga is a little more practical. Plus, I feel more relaxed when I’m not in a room with 30 other people who are way better at yoga than me. Just find a quiet place at home with lots of space, maybe light a candle, and get to yogaing.

Types of Yoga
There are several different types of yoga, but I’m honestly only familiar with a few (Hatha, Vinyasa, Bikram, and Ashtanga). Hatha is the most widely practiced type. It’s slower and incorporates more of the basic postures, which makes it good for newbies. I’ve also done Bikram yoga (the hot one), but I still can’t decide if I like it or not. It may be just a bit much for me at this point in my life. I would probably not recommend starting out with Bikram or hot yoga classes, because I think it’s little intense for the amateur yogi (unless you really like sweating your ass off.) Although if you are curious about it, I guess you could just go outside and do some yoga considering most of the U.S. is experiencing a serious heat wave right now. (Bikram and hot yoga are usually practiced in a room heated somewhere between 95 and 108 degrees so you would probably get a pretty good idea of how hot an actual hot yoga class is if your current temp is somewhere in that range. I know mine is.)

As far as Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga go….I’ve never really done either so I’m not super familiar with those, but I know they are both a bit more on the advanced side. Both are faster-paced and more intense where you flow quickly from one pose to the next. Again, probably not the best type of yoga if you are just starting out. Stick with Hatha yoga for now.

Yoga Resources
I’m all about free, online yoga “classes.” Yoga with Adriene is my favorite yoga channel on YouTube. She has tons of different playlists and hundreds of videos to choose from based on what kind of practice you want to do. My favorite playlists are Yoga for Beginners, Morning Yoga Routines, Yoga for Healing, and Yoga for Busy People. She also has her own website where you can watch free videos, purchase her e-courses, and read her blog. There are, of course, tons of YouTube channels dedicated to yoga, but I’ve been following Adriene for years and find her to have the best variety of classes. Plus, her videos are super down-to-earth and simple (she does most of her videos at her home), and her warm, carefree personality creates more of a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

You can also download various yoga apps for your phone or tablet. I have been using the Yoga Studio app for a few years now, but they recently switched to a subscription-based model (without notifying customers who had already paid for the app’s content!! I’m not bitter…), so I’m kind of boycotting them and looking for a new app to use. (Let me know if you have any good recommendations!) The most popular yoga apps seem to be Daily Yoga, Down Dog, Pocket Yoga, and Yoga Workout – Meditation and Fitness Plan, but I haven’t used any of them yet so I’m not sure how good they are. I will get back to you on that one.

Yoga Journal is also a good overall resource. It’s actually a magazine, but they have a pretty good website with lots of different tips, videos, articles, and advice for all experience levels.

Yoga AccessoriesYou really don’t need a ton of stuff to start doing yoga. Yes, it’s fun to have cute yoga mats and trendy yoga tights, but all you really need is comfortable clothing that that you can move in, a yoga mat, and some space to stretch out. Obviously some water if you are doing hot yoga or yoga outside. Lots of water. I will admit that over the years, I have somehow amassed quite the collection of unnecessary yoga accessories. You won’t need much when you are first starting out, though. If you are like me and really not flexible at all, you might want to pick up a yoga block or bolster to help make some of the poses easier. Other than that, everything else is pretty much optional. I opted to get a couple of towels and a pair of grippy, toe socks because I sweat a lot (even with the smallest amount of physical exertion…it’s annoying), but you won’t necessarily need to buy those. Going barefoot and using a plain, old bath towel are perfectly acceptable.

Yoga Clothing
If you are looking for some good yoga clothing and/or accessories, however, I do have a few suggestions. Let me first start off by saying that yoga clothing can be pretty expensive. The athleisure trend is big right now (I am a huge fan of the trend myself), so a lot of companies are producing yoga and fitness merchandise that serve little to no purpose for actual yoga. To keep up with competition, these companies have to come up with cool, new, innovative ideas and designs for such clothing, which is why people end up paying $130 for a piece of polyester and spandex (I’m talking to you, Lululemon). Anyway…if you aren’t into going into debt because of yoga pants, I suggest checking out Target, Old Navy, and Marshall’s or TJ Maxx. I have several pairs of tights from Marshall’s that I paid like $15 for, and quite a few shirts and shorts from Target and Old Navy that I’m pretty sure I got for under $10. I will say, however, that I have learned that you kinda do get what you pay for. My Target shirts were pilling and developed “runs” in the fabric after a couple of washes, and my tights from Marshall’s already are looking quite worn. (In all fairness, however, I do wear my yoga/fitness stuff for more than just yoga.) My Old Navy stuff, however has held up considerably well. I’m impressed.

If you want higher quality yoga clothing (or just really great athleisure wear), I suggest Athleta, prAna, or Lucy. Clothing from these companies are quite a bit more expensive (yoga pants from these brands run about $70-$90) than what you would find at big-box or discount stores, but I bet you they will last 5 times longer. Athleta and prAna also use sustainable fabrics in a lot of their clothing (prAna even has some fair trade certified pieces), while Lucy and Athleta offer extended sizing on a lot of their stuff. Whatever route you go, the most important thing is just finding something you are comfortable in.

Anyone can start doing yoga. You can do it in your living room, outside at a park, or even on a paddleboard. (Yes, stand-up paddleboard yoga is a thing and it looks awesome.) Yoga has so many health benefits, and it can be relatively cheap and easy to do. The trick is getting into a routine. Do some quick sun salutations in the morning before work, or spend an hour practicing yoga at night before bed. You don’t necessarily have to do it every day (although it would be more beneficial), but 3-4 times a week should be enough to improve several physical and mental aspects of your life.

On that note…I’m off to do some yoga!

P.S. Happy First Day of Summer today too!

Father’s Day Gift Ideas

TGIF! I actually am off this whole weekend, so that phrase actually means something to me today! I’m honestly not sure what I am gonna do with myself. I will be spending Sunday with my dad since it is Father’s Day, but a whole two days off in a row??? What to do?

Anyway, I did a Mother’s Day gift guide back in May, so I thought I would do one for all the dear old dads as well. So if you still haven’t picked up a gift for your dad, check out my gift guide. All of the items listed can be bought in a variety of stores, so no need to pay for rush shipping! Yay!

1. Yeti Tumbler
I bought my dad one of the 30 oz. Yeti Tumblers this past year for Christmas, and he uses it all the time. In fact, it’s one of the few things I’ve ever given him that he actually uses. (Don’t tell him I said that.) And…just in time for Father’s Day…Yeti recently came out with four new colors for their Rambler series. You can get all of their tumblers in black, olive-green, Tahoe blue, or seafoam, as well as the traditional stainless steel. Their Rambler water bottles would make great gifts as well. Get them at Ace Hardware, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Academy, Cabela’s, and REI.

2. Coolmax Socks
I always love warm, cozy, wool socks in the winter, and I love giving them to people as Christmas gifts, but when it’s hot out, I’m all about the Coolmax socks. And when I say Coolmax I basically just mean any synthetic sock (no wool or cotton) that is highly breathable and wicking. My favorite Coolmax socks are those of the Darn Tough brand, but you can get similar socks at most running, outdoor, or performance footwear stores (i.e Footlocker, New Balance, REI, or your local running store). My dad likes to bike a lot, even in the dead of summer, so I usually get him some good performance socks to wear in the heat and humidity. So, if your dad is one of those active guys, get him some good, cool socks for the summer!

3. Shiny, New Grilling Tools
This is a pretty cliché gift, I realize that, but sometimes a dad really does need new grilling utensils. Weber’s Stainless Steel 3-Piece BBQ Tool Set is great as a starter set or an easy upgrade from dad’s old grillin’ tools. You can also buy individual utensils from places like Target and Wal-Mart, as well as most cooking specialty stores. During this time of year, you can even get grill and BBQ accessories at most grocery stores. You definitely got some options. Maybe throw in some new grilling spices and a cheesy “King of the Grill” apron for extra dad-ness.

4. Tickets To A Ball Game
You could get tickets to any kind of event, really, but I got my dad tickets to a good, old-fashioned baseball game. It was a dual Mother’s Day/Father’s Day gift from my brother and me, and it was one of the best gifts we ever gave them. At least I think so. Sometimes it’s just nice to give an experience rather than a thing.

5. Smart Speaker/Personal Assistant
For all those techie dads out there, why not give the gift of a personal, virtual assistant? The Amazon Echo and Google Home are the two big ones on the market right now. (Apple will also be joining the competition later this year with the release of their new HomePod.) Both the Amazon Echo and Google Home are basically just larger, louder versions of the Siri/Google Assistant/Cortana entities. If your dad plays a lot of music and uses his phone’s virtual assistant features a lot, these would make pretty sweet gifts. Get them both at Best Buy, Target, and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

6. Leather Flip-Flops
If your dad is a sandal kinda guy, maybe it’s time to upgrade his sandal game this Father’s Day. If you are not on board with the whole Birkenstock thing, get him some nice, leather flip-flops for a dressier-casual look this summer. (Yes I just made that up. No, I’m not trying to sound like a bad infomercial.) Rainbow, Olukai, and Reef are probably the most well-known makers of leather flip-flops, but stores like J. Crew and GAP also make house-brand versions. You may even find some good leather sandals at stores like DSW. Check out department stores (Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Kohl’s) for the biggest selections.

7. Wireless Bluetooth Speaker
Another gift idea for the tech-loving dad! If the whole virtual, talking speaker/assistant idea isn’t your dad’s thing, a not-so-smart bluetooth speaker would also make a great gift. You can get them at almost any price these days, but the one I see consistently getting the highest ratings is the JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Wireless Bluetooth Speaker. Get it at Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart, and Kohl’s.

8. Gift Cards
If you still can’t find the perfect gift for dad, you could always get him a gift card or gift certificate. I know some people think it’s not quite as personal of a gift, but I know some dads are really hard to shop for, and sometimes it works out better for everyone. If you do get a gift card, at least put it in a “World’s Greatest Dad” mug. 😉

Thanks for stopping by! Have a good weekend and Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there!

 

Again…nothing in this post was sponsored in any way, shape, or form. 

 

HomeGoods Happy

Hello all! Happy Hump Day! I’ve got a busy next couple of days, but as promised in my favorites post a few weeks ago, I am writing all about the wonder that is HomeGoods today.

Most people are probably not as enamored with this store as I am, but there is something very exciting to me about going into a store and not knowing what you will find. There is no online website where you can view inventory, and each store is completely different. (And some are definitely better than others.) You really never know what is in store for you! (Haha…get it?) It’s like treasure hunting and bargain bin shopping all in one store. And it’s not crappy stuff. I have bought Eddie Bauer bedding, various items from Kate Spade, shower curtains from Tommy Hilfiger, OXO storage containers, and Tommy Bahama barware for half of the price you would pay at a regular retailer.

I’m not saying you can’t great deals at other places. Sure, stores constantly have sales, but there are a couple of items that I almost ALWAYS find cheaper at HomeGoods. So, in the spirit of things, here are my top five things to buy at HomeGoods:

Paper Products

Notebooks, journals, file folders, stationery, and wrapping paper. I get all of those things here. I have amassed a ridiculous amount of notebooks from HomeGoods. They are cheap, plentiful, and really, really cute. I give them as gifts a lot, usually wrapped in wrapping paper I also bought at HomeGoods. (They have the best and cheapest wrapping paper!) I usually hit up the paper/office section first and – depending on how much stuff I end up getting there – check out the other sections after.

Kitchen Essentials

HomeGoods kitchenI love getting little things for the kitchen here, like storage items, utensils, dish towels, etc. They have a pretty decent sized kitchen/cooking section, and you can usually find name brand stuff (i.e. Le Creuset, OXO) if you are willing to take the time to look. It’s a little overwhelming sometimes, but it’s well worth it.

Throw Pillows

My favorite place to get throw pillows! I will say that it’s hit or miss depending on the time of year, but in the spring and fall I always find the cutest throw pillows. All of the throw pillows on my bed are from HomeGoods, as well as a few others lying around my apartment. And they are usually only like $15 or $20 so you can really stock up!

Barware

This is where I get all the glassware and accessories for my bar cart. I just bought some nice acrylic wine glasses (a pack of 4 stemless and these cute pink ones) as well as some fun, little books full of drinking quotes. I also bought some really nice marble coasters recently that I have been complimented on several times already.

Picture Frames

Picture frames really aren’t all that cheap! I don’t know why square pieces of glass with metal and/or wood are so expensive, but damn. Luckily, HomeGoods has some really great picture frame options. They usually have a pretty big range of sizes and styles too, so you can definitely get enough to make that gallery wall you’ve seen on Pinterest a million times.

Just for fun…check out my most recent HomeGoods finds!!!

(Apparently, I was in a particularly girly mood that day…)

I will also leave you with a few tips for shopping at HomeGoods…

  1. Shop during the week – and in the morning – if you can. I realize this is unrealistic for most people, but weekends are busy and most of the inventory has been picked over by the end of the week.
  2. Don’t go in looking for a specific item. I have found that if I go in looking for one specific thing, I always come out empty-handed. That’s not to say go and just buy stuff at random, but I find it’s easier to have a general idea of things you need rather than a list of specific items. The good news is, if you don’t find what you are looking for, their inventory changes constantly so you can always go back for a second look soon!
  3. Walk down every aisle. Yes, this is time-consuming and maybe a bit tedious, but it will prove beneficial in the end. I have found some really useful things in the outdoor section, the kid’s aisle, and even the pet area. For the record, I have no outdoor space whatsoever, no children, and zero pets. But, outdoor pillows work just as well inside. Children’s rugs keep your feet just as warm, and dog food storage containers hold just as much in human food. Basically, you just have to get creative.
  4. Don’t pass up the impulse section! Also known as the checkout line, the fixtures of smaller items leading up to the registers hold some pretty great stuff. I almost always pick up at least one or two little things at the last minute here. They don’t call it an impulse section for nothing.

So that is my rant/homage to/review of HomeGoods! Go check it out!

This is not a sponsored post! Just thought you should know. 🙂

May Favorites

May Favorites

It’s time for another “favorites” post! Hope everyone had a nice Memorial Day holiday and is enjoying the unofficial beginning of summer!

This post is a few days late, but I’ve worked the past 11 days in a row, so cut me some slack. I’m freaking exhausted. I didn’t even have time to take any pictures or make any fancy photo collages, but I still wanted to mention a few new things I’ve really been into lately…

Handmaid’s Tale TV Show (Hulu)
I have no idea why I’m so into this show. It’s disturbing, twisted, kind of demoralizing, and yet somehow, so completely addicting. It’s based on the book of the same name by Margaret Atwood and follows the story of a woman living in a new dystopian America after the government was overthrown by a totalitarian/Christian fundamentalist group who now rules all. There was also some kind of environmental disaster that left most people infertile. So basically, if you are a fertile female (and also very unlucky), you have to become a “handmaid” and are required to have sex with an assigned male master in this super weird, creepy “religious ceremony.” Then, if somehow you get pregnant, you have to give your baby to said male master and his wife for them to raise. It’s a whole other kind of messed up. But, dang, I’m so hooked! It’s one of those shows where you just can’t not watch because you want to see how much crazier it’s going to get.

Ikea ‘Micke’ desk
I went to Ikea a few weeks ago in search of a desk. I really haven’t had one in a long time, and I was really tired of trying to do everything on the kitchen table and/or my bed with a lap desk that I somehow still have from college. So, after months (maybe even a year) of debating whether or not I really needed a desk after all, I decided on the Ikea ‘Micke’ desk. It comes in a couple of different sizes/versions, but I went with the mid-size one with the shelving unit/cabinety-thing ($79.99). It was a real bitch to put together I will say, but after two days (and several glasses of wine – it can get pretty frustrating), I had a pretty nice desk on my hands. I’m really happy with it so far. It’s the perfect size for me, and it has a pretty decent amount of storage.

Gaiam Yoga Studio App
When it comes to buying apps on my iPhone of iPad, I rarely pay for them. I usually just put up with the stupid ads and videos and ignore the “buy the full version and get rid of ads!” banners that pop up all the time. A few years ago, however, I bought this Yoga Studio app ($4.99) that my cousin recommended to me. I used it a few times back when I first got it, but then kind of forgot about it until recently. I use it ALL THE TIME now. It’s like having a yoga instructor at home with you. (Cuz real, live yoga classes are expensive, ya know?) There are different difficulty levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and categories (relaxation, flexibility, yoga for back pain, etc.) that you can choose from. Then, you just download the class you want and voila…instant at-home yoga class! There are also different lengths of classes, so you can do everything from a 4 minute sun salutation to a 60 minute advanced combination class, depending on what you’re looking for. Yay yoga!

***UPDATE (6/8/2017): As of the past week, this app is no longer $4.99. They have changed their app to a subscription-based model and now there is a $2 monthly fee or a $20 yearly fee to use the app (which they failed to tell the people who have already bought the app). I do not recommend this app anymore as I was seriously disappointed in their decision to not grandfather in those people who have already paid for and downloaded content. I would recommend getting another yoga app, and when I find another one with better business practices, I will for sure let you know!***

HomeGoods
I think I may have already posted about this store in one of my previous favorites posts, but in case you still don’t know…I love HomeGoods. A lot. More than I probably should. I actually follow someone on Instagram who goes by the name ‘homegoodsobsessed.’ She literally just posts cool stuff she finds at the store. She doesn’t even end up buying anything most of the time. I love her. Anyway, if you haven’t been to HomeGoods ever, you need to go ASAP. I always find something I don’t need there. Every now and then I’ll pick up something I actually do need, but most of the time it’s a completely unnecessary purchase. What else is new? What do I buy there? Everything. I’ve gotten everything from an Eddie Bauer comforter for $30 to a set of acrylic wine glasses and some super cute (and very inexpensive) wrapping paper. I have just decided that I’m gonna write up a whole post on just HomeGoods next week. So stay tuned…

Wine
I’m just gonna go ahead and throw wine on this list because I don’t know how I would have gotten through the past 11 days without it. Not any particular kind of wine…literally just wine in general. It’s always my favorite.

This is a pretty short favorites post…I’ve been so busy the past two weeks I haven’t even had time to care about anything, hence my pitiful list of favorites from the month of May. I promise to be back next week with more/better posts after I get my nice, relaxing weekend off.

Happy Friday!