2015 - Prep Essentials





College & Post-Grad

College & Post-Grad
College & Post-Grad

2015 Recape - A Year of Firsts and A Challenge for 2016!

2015 was a year of firsts for me - definitely more than any other year I can think of since I was a baby. When I was reflecting on this past year and thinking about what the best way to summarize this year would be, this is what I came up with.

No one should ever stop having firsts. I am a strong believer that your entire life should be one giant bucket list of events, activities, and ideas that come together and form one cohesive string of "firsts" - I know it sounds cliche, but it really is true!

Why is it that when we make bucket lists, they are always these pipedream lists of ideas that rarely get accomplished, or get accomplished very slowly? These are the things that we say we want to do more than anything in the world, but somehow they take a backseat to our daily lives.

While I understand we can't always afford or reasonably achieve every single item on our bucket list every single day, but there should definitely be a sizable quantity of things we are crossing off every month.

Here is a quick look at some of the biggest things I did in 2015!
Rode a Mechanical Bull - Got a Tattoo - Attended Lollapalooza - Graduated College - Shooting a Rifle - Learning to Surf - Cliff Jumping - Moving to My First City - Impromptu Mardi Gras Trip

I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful to have had the opportunity to experience so many things, and I don't want to ever stop having "firsts!" Don't miss tomorrow's post on how you can join me in making sure 2016 is a year of bucket list adventures and learning to always say yes!

I hope you all have a wonderful NYE and an incredible start to 2016!

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Less than Two Days Left to Enter the Giveaway!

Don't miss out on your chance to win a $15 Starbucks Gift Card!! Less than two days left and TWO lucky winners will be chosen!

I know the winter weather has really not kicked in anywhere, and we all had a fairly toasty Christmas, but I can feel it in the air - winter is coming! What better way to warm up than a gift card to buy your favorite holiday drinks before they're yanked out of Starbucks and tucked away until next holiday season?!

Enter below, and get as many entries as possible!

*SPECIAL NOTE* - I may be giving an extra little gift to one person who enters and comments what types of posts they'd love to see more of in 2016! I want to make this year the best year yet for prepessentials and everyone who reads it!

On a very contradictory note (always have to shamelessly promote less caffeine)...if one of your resolutions is to give up or cut back on caffeine, definitely do not miss my post on how to cope without caffeine and the best ways to kick the habit! You can do it - and you can still use the gift card for tea!

*I haven't had caffeine since I was 15, and that's with my chronic sleep problems - so I know you can!*

Good luck, and Happy Almost New Year!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Christmas in Naples!

Normally, my annual Christmas getaway to visit my parents in Naples is sweet relief from the winter weather, but this year it's actually been too hot for my taste! The crazy humidity and hot heat had us all sweating in our Christmas finest at the poolside cocktail parties (all six of them!) We've had such a busy social schedule - retirement seems to agree with my parents - that it really made packing light difficult. I've been a major outfit repeater!

Of course I had to have a special dress just for Christmas Eve. I bought this gorgeous emerald green dress at a boutique in Lincoln Park this summer, and kept finding myself "saving it for a special occasion". I'm a little glad I did, because it was perfect for Christmas festivities, but I'm definitely excited to start breaking it out of my closet more often now!

Rufus was pretty excited about all of the festivities too - I'm pretty sure he opened more presents than I did...but watching him play with all of his new squeaky toys was worth ti!

Straying from my usual 'all gold everything' style, I stuck to silver accessories this year and let the dress speak for itself!

What were your Christmas Outfits this year? I've loved catching up with everyone's adorable holiday pictures on Instagram...comment with your IG handle below and I'll be sure to follow you!

Follow me @prepessentials

Happy Holidays Everyone!

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Christmas Giveaway: TWO $15 Starbucks Gift Cards!

Good news my wonderful readers...Santa has come a little bit early to prepessentials, and that means only one thing...

A Giveaway!

Get your favorite mug ready...

It has been a whirlwind but incredible year for me and my little blog, and to thank everyone for your support and for helping me turn my hobby into my passion, I have decided to do a giveaway for one TWO $15 Starbucks Gift Cards!

Two of you lucky people will receive a $15 Starbucks gift card to keep you warm and sipping on your favorite holiday blends and beverages. And the best part is, you won't even have to wait for Santa to deliver it to your stocking - I will be able to email them to you directly, so you could be swiping and sipping by New Year's Eve!

Enter below, and have an absolutely wonderful and warm holiday season, from Prep Essentials!

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The Perfectly Packed Carry-On: Essentials for Easy Traveling

Hopefully everyone is fortunate enough to be traveling home (or is already there) for the holidays to be with their family and closest loved ones, but wherever your travels during this season (or any other) take you, one thing is for absolute certain: packing can be a total nightmare...but it doesn't have to be!

I know a lot of people may already feel like they have it down, while others get anxious and stressed about the idea of packing every single time a trip approaches. I like to think that from a lifetime of packing for my parents' houses, I've mastered the art of organization and efficiency when it comes to packing your bags and leaving nothing behind.

That's why I wanted to share my best tips and tricks for staying organized and on top of it while you pack & travel, so that your mind can remain stress-free and more occupied with thoughts of relaxing and enjoying yourself wherever you may be going.

I know this might look like a lot of clutter at first...how could it possibly be organized?! But I promise you there is a super simple system (say that three times fast...) for keeping it all together and easy to find!

The trick is to have a couple of small separator bags that keep everything handy and in it's proper "section". This way you can breeze through security and never miss a beat digging for your ID, headphones, or charger.

I've compiled a couple of my favorite (and super adorable) organizer bags, too! Cosmetic bags work great, but any sort of small zippered bag will do!

1. Patent Cosmetic Case | 2. Tory Burch York Small Case // | Metallic Mini Makeup Bag | Kate Spade Classic Ezra | 5. Ikat Case | 6. Tahiti Case | 7. Marc by Marc Jacobs 'Pretty Nylon' Case | 8. Lilly Pulitzer 'Pack Your Trunk' Case

You can organize your sections however you want, but I typically have one for makeup/beauty products, one for technology, one for "extras" (hand sanitizer, tissues, chapstick...) and my wallet handy and organized for quick and easy access!

I'll be taking my own advice tonight while I pack for Naples to see my family for Christmas...anyone else heading off anywhere fun or exciting? (Even if that just means back to home sweet home?!)

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Madewell New Arrivals - Holiday 2015

It's as if Madewell read my mind this holiday season with their new arrivals...greens and naves and deep burgundies...sigh. Ironically, since moving to the city I almost never get to go into a Madewell store anymore - the only one in Chicago is on Michigan Avenue which is way too crowded for my taste.

Luckily for me, all of their lust-worthy clothes and accessories are just as beautiful online. Keeping around some of their classic top sellers, and always matching my simple but classically preppy style, Madewell has long since been my favorite store to covet, and this year's holiday new arrivals are absolutely no exception.

My top picks...

The colors and plaid patterns are so perfect for winter, and the deep emerald green of that cami dress would be gorgeous at a holiday party with tights and a shawl. The Tote is stunning monogrammed, and I think my favorite item of all is the cage bangle bracelet.

What are your favorite picks from Madewell this season?

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Cozying Up to Christmas

It seems that the one time no one really complains much about the winter chill is during the time between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. There's just something so festive about the holiday decorations, light snowfalls, and cozying up in blankets and warm clothes by fireplaces (or, if you're like me and aren't fortunate enough to have a fireplace, a pretend one on your laptop screen...)

I know I have definitely noticed an increase in the amount of time at work spent daydreaming about heading home at the end of the day, curling up in my warmest and softest PJs, slippers and socks, and wrapping myself in blankets with a movie and a warm drink.

I've been on the lookout for some new winter lounge + sleepwear to get me through my very first soon-to-be-brutal *fingers crossed that it's bearable* Chicago winter.

Nothing beats a little plaid during the holidays. There's just something so festive about a good pajama set and some slippers by the tree!

You can't go wrong with classic whites, and these are classics! I am so obsessed with the small navy bows on these J.Crew shorts, and the clean blue lines on the pajama set are perfectly preppy and elegant - definitely at the top of my list to add a slightly more grown-up pajama set to my wardrobe.

(PS - the shorts also come in a pant!)

I think I have tried on more than ten different robes on various shopping trips in recent months, always debating between what is worth a slightly high price for an incredibly cozy product vs. trying to remain below budget considering this is strictly a "lounge" item and something that is categorized more closely to luxury items for me. Despite that, however, I think if I try on the Gap Sherpa Robe one more time the store might give it to me out of pity! *fingers crossed*

Needless to say I will be well bundled up for whatever winter weather Chicago brings my way, and I am thoroughly looking forward to a few more weeks of cozy nights by the Christmas tree!

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Cheers to Christmas - The Best Christmas Mugs Under $25

One of my absolute favorite ways to get into the holiday spirit is with holiday mugs of hot chocolate near the Christmas tree. Most of my holiday mugs still live at home with my parents, so I decided to get one this year for my new apartment!

Turns out there are a lot of super cute ones - choosing one was so difficult! I will definitely be purchasing more in the future, but for now my lonely collection of one is just fine!

In case anyone else is looking to add to their collection (or begin one) to get into the holiday spirit, I did a round-up of my favorite holiday mugs under $25 (and most of them under $10!)

All of these are so adorable, it's hard to decide! I think I know my next purchase, however, and it's definitely going to be this Elf-themed mug from an adorable Etsy shop I found!

Because cotton-headed ninny muggins is forever my favorite insult. And hello...its punny!
(mug)gins! Haha :)

What have you been sipping your holiday drinks from this season?

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Chicago Holiday Season Bucket List - A Guide to Chicago Christmas Events!

This is my first Christmas living in the city, and I am seriously loving it! The city is so beautiful this time of year (and thankfully not too cold - yet!) Everything is so festive and beautiful, and there is an endless list of ways to get into the holiday spirit! I'm overwhelmed by how many evens I want to attend, trying to cram everything in before I head down to Naples to spend the holidays with my family and escape the chill. 

The holiday activities have also been a great way to explore Chicago more and resist the urge to head straight home from work and curl up on the couch...although I'm still doing that plenty, trust me! For anyone else who lives in the city or visits this time of year - which I highly recommend - I have spared you the headache and compiled a list of all of the amazing ways to spread Christmas cheer Chicago-style. Fingers crossed I can accomplish all or most of the items on this list!

1. Christkindl Market in Daley Plaza - This Traditional German Christmas Market is probably my favorite thing I have seen so far this holiday season. A huge open market of traditional German foods and drinks, musicians and singers, sweet Christmas treats from around the world, and so much more. My favorite has been the indescribable hot chocolate and the fresh ginger bread!

2. Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo - This was the first thing I heard about when the holiday season approached, and I can definitely understand why! Visit the animals, musical light shows, ice carving, ice skating, and tons of activities for little kids too! You can also visit during Brew Lights, with dozens of draft beers and pale ale served among the 2 million holiday lights. (I've been to this one three times already...no shame!)

3. Ice Skating at Millennium Park - Having visited Chicago many years before I moved here, ice skating at Millennium park is not new to me but it will always be one of my must-do activities during the winter. It's so incredible to see the entire city and all of its lights surrounding you, with ice skaters and music everywhere and the cafe serving hot chocolate and treats. My favorite thing to do is go out to dinner, head to the ice rink, then walk down Michigan Avenue to look at all of the incredible Christmas displays in the shops.

4. See one of the Chicago-Famous Holiday Shows - Being from Louisville, we always went to Christmas plays and shows but you can't beat the big-time shows in cities like Chicago. The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol have been running for over 30 years, and they've stuck around for a reason! I can't wait to try this new experience out in my new home next week!

5. Catch the CTA Holiday Train - I've been chasing this around for the last week so far and still haven't gotten a ride, but I've seen it on SnapChat and even a glimpse from the street when I was walking to dinner one night...major jealousy. One train on the "L" in the city is decked out in Christmas lights, displays, music, and elves handing out candy and Christmas Cheer for the entire month. Determined to catch it soon!

6. TBOX - The Twelve Bars of Christmas 12 Hour Bar Crawl...I think the name kinda says it all with this one. People have been asking me if I've bought my ticket since before the Halloween bar crawl in Wrigleyville! (And people get upset when people play Christmas carols before Thanksgiving...sheesh). An all day event in Wrigleyville that has been described to me in a hundred different ways, but it seems to be the holiday event of the season. I'll definitely let you know how it goes after this weekend!

Does anyone else have any helpful tips or holiday must-see events in Chicago? Please share with a rookie Chicagoan, I'm loving all of the exploring!

PS - Suddenly for the first time, I'm noticing the insane amount of Christmas movies that take place in Chicago/Chicago suburbs...Can't be a coincidence! You just can't beat Christmas in Chicago!

Happy Holidays!

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7 Best Beauty Products for Sensitive Skin - Tried & Tested!

The first snow has arrived, the winter chill is officially breezing its way around Chicago, and I am officially (unhappily) saying hello again to my dry winter skin. Anyone else?! I've never had such problems with dry skin as I am this year - I guess I have the Chicago wind to thank for that!

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm extremely cautious about what I put on or even near my skin. I am strangely (and uniquely to anyone else in my family...) allergic to a lot things when it comes to beauty products: deodorants, lotions, sunscreens, lip balms, anything for a bath (bath bombs, salts, soaps etc.), makeup removers. You name it, I've had an allergic reaction to some variety of it.

I don't even like standing to close to the entrance of a Lush store because the scent alone makes me cringe in anticipation of allergic reactions (And no, I'm not knocking Lush at all! I wish I could shop there...so many of my friends and coworkers swear by their products!) It has been a lifelong struggle of trial and error to find products that work for me without causing some sort of irritation and uncomfortable reaction.

After years and years of curating the perfect list of beauty products and regimen, I have finally covered all of the bases and found products that work for me, so I thought I would share them for anyone else who has dry or extra-sensitive skin like me - and most importantly, I've always been cautious to avoid having to shell out a ton of money for some expensive exotic product just because my skin is a total diva when it comes to accepting a product!

I won't swear that these are all the perfect item for you if you have sensitive skin, but I have never met anyone with more sensitive skin than me and (fortunately) I haven't had any problems from any of these products, so I definitely recommend at least giving them a try if you are having troubles!

I love the new Venus Embrace Sensitive Skin Razors - they've actually made a huge difference when it comes to razor burn and bumps for me. I've also always sworn by the Aveeno sunscreens because they are oil-free and extra gentle, so I never have to worry about them disturbing my face or flaring up a reaction on my arms and legs (plus it was recommend by Allure Magazine and the Skin Cancer Foundation - can't beat that!)

I love the lavender scented body wash and lotions from Aveeno as well (what can I say, they do a great job for us sensitive people!). I'd love to hear if anyone else has some great products that work for them, or if any of these have worked for other people cursed to avoid all things perfumed or chemical-filled. 

Hope this helps in time for the dry winter air!

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Saks Spreads Holiday Cheer

This is my first holiday season in the city and I'm loving it for a lot reasons. I'm having so much fun finding all of the fun and festive ways that Chicago gears up for the holidays, but I still always have to share my favorite New York Christmas tradition (which unfortunately still remains on my bucket list to see in person).

Saks Fifth Avenue puts on an incredible lights show using 3D projection mapping on the side of their building every year during December to the tune of traditional holiday songs and I can't stop watching them!

The shows use a character called the #SaksYeti which is rumored to live on the rooftop during the holidays and create snow around New York City. You can find more about the magical character here!

There are a bunch of them online (links below!) but this is my favorite one of all time from 2012! And the best part? They happen every FOUR MINUTES!


Here are the links to the other years, as well! Which one is your favorite?

Saks Show 2011

Snowflakes and Bubbles - Saks Show 2010

Carol of the Bells - Snowflake Show 2009

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The Ultimate Guide of Do's & Don't for Applying to Jobs: Part Two

If you saw my post earlier this week, you saw all of my best advice and tips for do's and don'ts of the job application process, from when it is okay to email your recruiter to knowing what to focus on when making a decision about offers!

If you missed part one, you can find it here!

Knowing what to say, when to say it, and what is the most professional and appropriate way to get your point across is one of the hardest parts about the job and internship application process. This is why I'm providing you with templates and ideas for the best ways to go about certain types of emails and interactions with your recruiters and interviewers to seem professional, take-charge, and self-sufficient.

*Disclaimer: These are not perfect, nor are they a 'guaranteed' way to get you a job or internship you are trying to score. They are, however, proven and tested ways that have worked in the past! More than anything, use these as a great jumping off point for how best to interact with your point of contact during the application process, and then put your own personal spin on it!*

Use this directly after an interview or any other lengthy interaction you have with your recruiter or interview point of contact!

Use this if you were given a deadline for when you could expect a decision or a callback, and you still haven't heard anything! Yes, it is okay to reach out!

Check out my post here on how to write the perfect post-internship thank you note and hopefully land yourself a job offer! (Or at the very least, a stellar recommendation for future job opportunities).

Like I said, these are by no means 'perfect', but both my friends and myself have used these templates and they are a great jumping off point for knowing how to sound professional and appropriate, while still fighting for what you want!

Good luck, and as always if you have any questions or need other advice on how to interact with companies, I would absolutely love to hear from you!

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The Ultimate Guide of Do's & Don't for Applying to Jobs

All semester long my phone has been blowing up with 'quick questions' and concerns over the stressful and truthfully unfair job application process from my close senior friends that are still going through it. I absolutely love helping them - especially because it is so much easier to see and understand from the other side.

I started to realize that so many of them had the exact same worries and concerns, and it inspired me to share my "wisdom" with all of my fabulous readers as well, in case any of you are struggling through the process as well! I've compiled a list of the questions I'm always getting, the overanalyzing texts I receive at 2am when friends are looking back on every single subtle detail of their interview from the day before, and what to do if you get stuck in an 'application black hole'.

By no means is this an all-encompassing list, however, and I would absolutely love to answer any more questions any of you might have! I can't guarantee that I'm an expert, but I have had a lot of very different internships and jobs, along with friends and family members that work in recruiting and HR who have given me a lot of inside scoop and insight into the whole thing.

1. When is it okay to call/email my recruiter after my interview? And what on earth am I supposed to say?!
First of all, the cardinal rule that you should live by is to always write a thank you note to anyone who has taken part in your recruiting process, including your recruiter and your interviewer. I fully stand by the idea that handwritten notes are ideal, but I ask firmly believe that speed matters. I suggest writing a personal but efficient email no later than 24 hours after your interview. Follow up with a personal handwritten card that will allow time for a couple of days in snail mail. 

As for what to say in the email, look out for my post on Wednesday for advice on post-internship and post-interview thank you notes detailing exactly what to say and how to say it!

2. I haven't heard from my contact after my interview, and it has been longer than they told me it would be. Is it okay to reach out?
Absolutely! Sometimes emails and to-do list items fall through the cracks. Recruiters would love to be able to stick to deadlines, but there are a million things that can delay offer decisions, from simply forgetting to needing more time to deliberate, or simply interviewing more candidates. None of these are bad signs, or a reflection on you personally (so stop taking it personally, because I know you are!) Things come up. If they give you a time frame to expect a decision, they fully intend to stick to it, but if the time has come and passed, it is fully acceptable to send a little "reminder" that you're eager, interested, and still waiting! It is all about how you deliver your message. My advice is to wait 5-7 business days past the deadline you were told. If you are still receiving radio silence, send a quick note. Again, check out my post this Wednesday for exactly how to give a friendly reminder that they should be getting in touch with you! Trust me - this will not hurt your decision, and if anything it shows that you take initiative and value the opportunity.

3. I keep getting rejected and I don't understand what I am doing wrong. Help!
Everyone gets rejected. Literally all of the time. I was rejected by probably 8-9 companies before I even got a second round interview - but the only reason I even had that opportunity was because I kept applying. Like most things, applying for jobs is a numbers game. Hopefully, your school has a career website with links to a ton of jobs. It is great to have goals and specific 'dream' companies in mind, of course! But at the end of the day, what could possibly hurt about applying to as many as possible? More interviews is more practice. No one says you have to accept a job you don't want, but the worst case scenario is you get more practice, more opportunities for offers, and a better chance of finding something unexpected. I had never even heard of my company when I applied! I got on my school career website, filtered for sales/marketing/public relations and Chicago, and applied to every single one I qualified for. (No seriously...I think I applied to over 40 companies in one day). I probably heard back from half, got interviews from half of those, and genuinely pursued half of those. Numbers game! It was brutal and a little time-consuming, but it clearly paid off. Trust me - when it comes to applying for jobs, more is better!

4. I got an offer, but they need an answer soon and I'm still waiting to hear back from one or two other companies! What do I say?
First of all, congrats! The hard part is over. Now you at least know that no matter what, you will not be jobless (and no, you shouldn't be worrying about that anyway!) Sometimes companies put strict deadlines because they need to inform other applicants if you decline. It fully depends on the company, the deadline, and how flexible they can be, but you will never be punished for asking, I promise! They understand that you're valuable, and that you're applying other places. Part of their job is to sell you on their company so you want them the most! I absolutely promise that you will never be punished for requesting more time - the worst that can happen is that they will say no, the deadline is definite, and then you may just have to make the decision with what you have. Do not hesitate to say that you are considering other offers, and you can give any excuse you like! Say that you need time to discuss and consider it with your family, say that you need to weigh the decision against factors such as geographic location, or that you need to evaluate it further against other offers you have received, and request a small extension. The most important part of this is to know that you shouldn't be afraid to ask, they aren't going to take away your offer! The hard part is over - they want you!

5. I can't decide between two (or three, or four...) companies that I have offers from. What factors should I consider?
This is a more personal question, but based on my experience and things I have learned from friends who have decided for the wrong reason, I do have some small advice. Pay is (obviously) important. But it isn't everything. My advice? Never prioritize the superficial things over things that affect your happiness. Choosing the wrong city for a more 'prestigious' job, or taking a job you aren't excited about just because it pays more are truly the wrong ideas. You can always get promoted, change companies, or even move cities, but your personal happiness can be absolutely detrimental if you don't truly enjoy the company culture and the people you are spending 80-85% of your life with now. Do not underestimate company culture or a location where you have familiar friends and family - the superficial things are great, but they can't stack up against enjoying your life, and that is something that should never take a backseat to a thicker paycheck.

Like I said, I know there are a million and one questions about this process, and this list by no means addresses them all, but I hope it helps and if anyone has any other questions I would absolutely love to hear from you! Comment or email me about them, and good luck!

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The World's Greatest Hair Straightener - No Seriously!

One thing I would consider myself an "expert" on is straightening hair - mostly because I do it almost every single day, and have been since early middle school. There were people in my graduating high school class that didn't know that I had naturally curly hair until our senior retreat, because in four years of knowing me they had never once seen my natural hair! This is definitely not a knock to curly hair, that's just the way I prefer to wear mine!

Today I went to Ulta to buy a new straightener because *once again* my Chi straightener completely failed me, and has started to break again after only a year of use. It seems to me that Chi straighteners used to be amazing, and now they're just made cheaply with short lifetimes. After this one broke, I decided enough was enough and set out for a replacement, where I found the world's most incredible hair straightener.

No seriously - this thing is incredible. My jaw dropped the second I used it. It vibrates while you use it (a feature you can turn off if you want) but somehow the vibrations make your hair silky smooth! The difference was absolutely incredible. It heats up to 300 degrees in less than 15 seconds, and my hair looked like I had just gotten it done at a salon. Perfectly silky smooth, pin straight, and it took only seconds. All of my friends immediately tried it and fell in love - they're planning on buying their own tomorrow!

And the best part? It has a THREE. YEAR. WARRANTY. That's right - three years!! For someone like me who has been replacing one every year to year and a half, this was music to my ears.

Even if you have curly hair, you will only need to go over it once with this incredible little flat iron for it to be pin straight and ready to go. Let's just say my morning routine just got a lot quicker...hello extra ten minutes of sleep! zzz...

I couldn't believe I had never heard of this, so I knew I had to share it with all of you immediately. Anyone in the market for a new one, look no further! You won't be disappointed, I promise!

P.S. They're on sale for $60 dollars off the usual price on Ulta through December 8th! Hurry hurry!

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Gold (Affordable) Apartment Accents!

The perfectionist in me is still holding back on doing a full apartment reveal of my "new" place - it just never feels done! We have so much space it's hard to ever feel like it's finished, but I also know better than to try and fill such a large apartment because I know I'll never have one this size again. This means I've had to get really creative with how to make large empty spaces feel cozy and comfortable.

Anyone who sets foot in my apartment can tell pretty quickly how obsessed I am with gold and gold accents (which is ironic because up until junior year in high school I distinctly remember thinking gold was the tackiest thing ever).

Luckily for me, gold is obviously trending right now, so finding cute little pieces to stash all over my apartment has been super easy and fairly affordable. Spoiler alert: my bedroom theme is white with pops of light blue and - yep you guessed it - gold. My living room is also a mix of neutrals with hints of gold scattered around the room.

Unfortunately some of these items are sold out - but a large majority of them I got from Target's Threshold collection, and they are constantly adding new gorgeous gold decorative items so I highly recommend looking there! Who says expensive-looking items can't be affordable and adorable?!

I pinky promise the apartment reveal will be coming soon...maybe after some holiday shopping to finalize the last few touches!

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Tis' the Season...Almost!

I know there is much debate about whether or not Christmas decorations & music should pop up before Thanksgiving has even happened - and for the most part, I totally agree - but I love Christmas too much to really mind having a little bit of holiday cheer start early! I've been loving seeing stores slowly start to set up their holiday tables, sales, and Christmas decor. 

I've always been a big fan of Christmas decorations, and my mom always used to go all out when I was growing up so I'm thinking her Christmas cheer must have rubbed off on me (as well as her flair for design - she was an interior decorator, after all!) Having my first real apartment this year has me thinking about ways I can spread the holiday spirit in my place without having to break the bank or be left stuck with a bunch of decorations that I'll have to find storage space for. I'm thinking some crafting nights might be my best option, but the jury is still out!

For now, I'm sticking to enjoying the window shopping and a little bit of imagination, but here were some of my favorite finds when I was wandering around Lincoln Park last Sunday enjoying some of this unseasonably warm weather we've been having!

How cute are these macaroon ornaments?! The pops of color would be so adorable on a tree - even if its just a small desk one like the one I have! I found them at Art Effect, this awesome little boutique near my apartment.

These painted wishbone ornaments in pastels and metallic golds (cue my never-ending obsession with all things gold) gave me some great crafting ideas for a chilly weekend afternoon with some hot chocolate! 

And of course, Paper Source, one of my favorite places to stop in, already has some of the cutest things I've seen so far. I picked up some holiday gift wrap and some gift tags while I was there too!

Is anyone else starting to feel themselves get swept up in the holiday madness yet? Counting down the days until I can start my Christmas movie marathons and string up the lights!

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What's In My Bag: Gym Essentials

Thanks to our good friend Daylight Savings, it's pitch black by the time I leave the office and my motivation to head to the gym went down with the sun. One morning when I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep I decided to head to the gym and try to burn up some energy, and I ended up loving how alert I stayed throughout the day, so now it has become part of my new morning routine.

 With this new routine, however, I have to plan my day accordingly, which means bringing my work clothes, shower products, and makeup with me to the gym.

By far my favorite part of this new routine is that it finally prompted me to buy the Lululemon gym bag I've been eying since June (literally...I've stared at it in the store 3-4 times a month - the employees probably thought I was a bit strange). 

I am so thrilled with the purchase - and it's so roomy that it will be perfect for weekend trips too! I highly recommend it for anyone in the market for a new bag. It has adorable little labeled pockets for everything from keys to hair ties, and while I'm normally not a huge fan of pink, the small interior details with pink give it a girly touch that I love.

It takes more planning, but I've finally nailed down exactly what I need to bring with me to start my day off right! Here is what I keep in my gym bag to make sure I have all of the essentials + a little bit more:

*One of my favorite little tips is to use the small Lululemon bags to help compartmentalize everything, like my change of clothes for work and my packed lunch. It helps keep everything in its right place and organizes everything a little bit better!*

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Drink Your Fruits & Veggies - Infused Water Recipes & Benefits

I've recently developed an absolute obsession with infused waters (yes, I know, not a new craze by any means, but I've finally managed to incorporate it into my daily routine!) It really is so incredibly easy, and it's something to look forward to every morning and throughout the day. I already buy tons of fruits and vegetables every week, so lately I have just been reaching for an extra 2 of everything to have on hand for my infused waters. 

Whenever I'm preparing my lunches for the next day, I chop up one or two of the fruits and throw them in a water bottle next to my lunch bag (Lululemon bag - our entire fridge at work is filled with them on a daily basis #basic). It's so incredibly refreshing, and while I've always been pretty good about staying hydrated, I find myself drinking 8-9 bottles a day at work now. 

(Of course, after each refill the flavor gets more and more dull, but it still beats plain old water!)

Some of my friends have asked me to give them ideas from my favorite infused waters, but now that I've gotten in the swing of things I've tried to start paying more attention to the health benefits of each type!

*Full Disclaimer: no matter how much research I've done on each type, everyone seems to have slightly varied versions of the health benefits, but for the most part they are more or less consistent*

Here are some of my favorite infused waters and what they are best used for! 

Cucumber + Lemon is definitely my daily go-to, and some of these I haven't tried for their actual 'curative benefits (although I can personally attest that Cucumber + Mint seriously did cure an awful stomachache I had for an entire day!)

If anyone has any other favorites that didn't make this list, please share them! I'm always looking for new ways to shake things up!

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Rise + Shine

I am definitely in the small majority when I say bedtime is probably my most dreaded time of day. Not because I hate sleeping - it is by far one of my favorite activities, I just happen to be terrible at it! (See my post about how I cope without caffeine here!)

With my recent entry into the full-time world of the workforce, however, my lifestyle of late and restless nights has become a serious problem. It is a far different thing to be fully functioning and energetic on little sleep for 40 hours a week compared to the handful of hours I was expected to attend class in college. Given that I don't drink caffeine (and haven't in almost nine years, including soda!) I've been struggling to find a way to fix this problem. 

It has taken a while to adjust, and is definitely still a work in progress, but I've been forcing myself to try and become more of a "morning" person. Getting up an hour and a half earlier, making a smoothie for my walk to the gym and showering before work instead of late at night have been the biggest changes so far. It has definitely had its pros and cons, and most mornings I'm still grumbling and struggling not to yawn all the way up until I reach the elliptical machine, but once I get going I've started to love it. 

Here are my new morning must-haves to help me become one of those "morning people" I've heard so much about...

Morning Workouts // No one has ever been more against this concept than me. I've never been a fan, and have always rolled my eyes and groaned whenever someone even suggested that I join them for an early workout class or run. A couple of weeks ago, it was 6am and I couldn't go back to sleep so I dragged myself out of bed and hit the gym - and lo and behold it was the first time in months that I didn't find myself falling asleep at work! I loved how alert I felt for the rest of the day, and having my workout behind me when I left work was a great feeling. I could head straight for the couch without the guilt of having skipped a workout.

Exercise your Brain, Too // The morning exercise routine has been great, but I've noticed that my energy boost lasts longer if I stay busy during my commute afterwards. I've started reading The Skimm to keep my brain awake and catch up on what I missed during the (few) hours I was sleeping. It only takes five minutes, and it gives me something to read on the train. (I also read my Kindle app on the train, and it's one of my favorite ways to relax and have time to myself in the morning).

Make a Healthy Grab-n-Go Snack // I have never been a fan of breakfast. The thought of food when I first wake up grosses me out, and I don't exactly love breakfast foods or starting my day by feeling full. However, with morning workouts and many hours before lunchtime, I can't exactly rely on an empty stomach to get me by, and with everything I'm trying to accomplish before work I don't have time to cook. Enter, my new favorite grab-and-go smoothie maker - Hamilton Beach Single-Serve Blender, $15. Cheap, easy, and all you do is blend and grab! This combined with a few carefully selected snacks to munch on keep me happy and energized all morning long. (Be on the lookout for my favorite morning snacks and smoothie recipes soon!)

Like I said, it's still a work in progress and it has a learning curve but so far these have been the biggest changes, and overall I'm happy about them! (just don't ask me how happy I am about them at 5:45am...)

Does anyone else have any great tips for getting going in the morning?

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