March 2017 - Prep Essentials

Lifestyle

Lifestyle
Lifestyle

Fashion

Fashion
Fashion

College & Post-Grad

College & Post-Grad
College & Post-Grad

Essentials of the Week!

This week was a total whirlwind, from a 24-hour weekend trip to an absolutely incredible Louisville wedding on Saturday night, to hopping a plane out to Pittsburgh on Wednesday evening (and squeezing into three extra unexpected nights with Dalton), I feel like I havent had a single momeny to sit still! In the best possible way, of course. 

I also got to attend my second NHL game ever on Wednesday (and my first ever with Dalton) which was all too exciting for him considering I'd never given hockey a second glance before him. To be fair, I still don't give it a second glance unless he's watching it with me or he's on the ice, but it's still something fun to do together! 

Trying new things in different cities is at least one small and rare benefit of doing long distance relationships, but I am beyond thrilled to announce that this is my very last trip out to Pittsburgh because Dalton is moving to Chicago! (More details on that later - but it's safe to say it's an exciting time for us!)

For now I'm just looking forward to spending a relaxing weekend here before turning around and jetting off to NYC next week for a work trip + an extended weekend with friends. I haven't been there since I was 12!


Here are my essentials of the week!

1. Stripes on Stripes - Today is National Stripes Day, which I've truthfully never heard of, but who am I to turn away stripes?! They're a major go-to staple in my wardrobe, and I reach them more and more often as the weather heats up. I'm loving this striped dress, these striped espadrilles, and this striped beach/pool tote.

2. 10 Healthy Salad Dressings You Can Make - I've been a huge fan of making my meals on Sundays, and now that the weather is nicer and fruit is fresher (i.e. cheaper) salads are frequenting my list! I've been loving trying out my own dressings - they're so much lighter, healthier and less processed. I can't wait to try this list!

3. Gymnast Defying Gravity - Confession - I have more than a little bit of an obsession with watching gymnastics. I become totally obsessed with watching most olympic events when the time rolls around, but gymnastics, swimming and diving are definitely my favorites. I'm always randomly searching Youtube to see if the top US athletes have done anything new and exciting in the off season, and they never disappoint! I was mesmerized watching this!

3. English to Their Ears - I'm not entirely positive on the accuracy of this video, and I suppose there's really no way to tell...but I've always weirdly wondered what English sounds like to those who don't know how to speak it. This video claims to have solved that mystery, and I couldn't resist watching! Does anyone else believe it??

4. The Perfect Colorblock Tee - The moment I clicked on this top, I swear I could hear my closet actually calling out to me to buy it...or maybe that was my wallet preemptively crying? Either way, $24 for a cute top like this is such a steal!

1

The Perfect Playlist for Patio Season!

These sunny days have me feeling a little bit brighter and happier lately - and I've been loving the re-vamp it's given my playlists. There's something about nicer weather that just makes everything feel a little bit lighter. I probably have more playlists on Spotify than any average person should, but I love making one for every possible mood. 

Now that I can finally relax and hang out on my back patio (sans three piles of blankets), I couldn't resists making a spotify playlist for relaxing weekends, sitting outside and reading a book, or grilling out on Sunday nights with wine and a few friends.


If you've been looking for some songs to fit these spring and summer moods - look no further! Here's what I'm listening to lately:



You can play the playlist directly above, or you can find it on Spotify right here

Happy listening!
2

Spring Style Essentials!

These little bursts of amazing spring weather lately have sure been nice...but man do I wish they could stick around for longer than a day at a time! My closet is in complete flux, and packing for these weekend trips has proven to be more difficult than ever. 

I've been waiting to flip my closet over completely from winter, but every time I think it's finally safe to pack away all of my winter sweaters we seem to be hit with a cold front. Maybe I'm accidentally jinxing us?! Yikes. 

In the meantime, I've been relying on a few key wardrobe essentials to get me through these 25-degree temperature range days, and they've truly become lifesavers!

Was totally caught off guard by a random cold front that moved in while having wine at the River Walk with friends last Friday - it went from 76 degrees to 45 in less than an hour! Thankfully I had my trench on hand just in case!

Having a few of those key "season transition" staples in your closet will not only help you get dressed with ease, but they're also just fantastic and timeless pieces that will last you a long time. 

Trenchcoats:



I purchased my first trench coat last season, and I'm finally getting comfortable with a few different ways of styling it this spring (although I had a blast with it during the fall!) Now I'm thinking I'm ready for one in a differently style and color like this wrap trench, or this gorgeous striped one...because I've never met a stripe I didn't like!

Utility Jackets:

The one thing I've been seeing (and wearing) a lot lately is military + field jackets. The utility jacket has more than proven that it never goes out of style - plus a lot of them are waterproof and double as rain jackets for these crazy random rain storms! I love all of the different styles, but so far have limited myself to my favorite fleet jacket,  and the field jacket in navy. I fell in love with those gold buttons!

Oversized Cardigans:


I personally favor oversized cardigans year-round, and there really isn't a season where I'm not wearing them from time to time. Even in the summer, I have a tendency to stash them in my purse in case a restaurant or movie is chilly, or if a stronger breeze picks up along the lakeshore. I never regret having one on hand, just in case.

Scarves:
Light scarves are another great item to add and remove as the layers are demanded, plus I think they give a really great element to super simple outfits this time of year. I'm a big fan of monochromatic outfits (if the picture above didn't give that away) so adding a little pop of color with a scarf is the perfect solution. They're also great paired with a trenchcoat! I love this striped thin cape scarf because it's thin enough for the warmer seasons but large enough to wear multiple ways.

Shoes:



Wearing shoes in spring is definitely one of my bigger struggle areas, mainly because my shoe collection is still a major work in progress! (I feel like I might be one of the only girls to say that, but I seriously just didn't get into buying shoes until about a year ago!) Since then, I've been really stocking up on awesome flats and espadrilles like these and this adorable patterned pair, but I can't stop reaching for my go-to booties. I'm thinking of investing in a great simple pair of rain booties like these for all of the spring showers!

Tops & Blouses:

The other area of my closet that needs major work for Spring? Tops and blouses. I am currently on a major mission for lighter, more flowy tops (that are still flattering) to pair with everything and keep things simple. I'm pretty much in love with all of the ones I linked above - but it's no secret that my favorite of the season has been this one right here.


1

Spring Dresses + A Pop of Color!

The sun has finally begun to show itself here in Chicago, and I have wasted absolutely no time bringing out the brighter colors and spring dresses. I still need to set aside a day to really go through my closet, get rid of old things and stow my winter clothes away for the year (which will require me to be in town for more than 72 hours...baby steps!)

I have managed to pull out some old favorites and stock up on a few new things that have hit the shelves. I just couldn't resist! 


This dress was one that I actually picked up at a little boutique in Chicago on Armitage Ave. called Art Effect last summer when I was looking for dress options to wear to the wedding with Dalton. I ended up going with a different option, but knew this would be a great piece to keep around for an occasion that was sure to come up. 




The bright colors photographed so well, and now after seeing these pictures I'm thinking this might be my Derby Dress for this year! Thoughts?! We're all going down with a ton of friends from high school and some college friends, too. It will be Dalton's first Derby, so I'm pretty excited this time around. 




 I love the way the dress is flowy without being unflattering, too. It speaks for itself with the pattern, so simple accessories are definitely the way to go. This little brown crossbody that I paired it with was perfect (and the price of it was, too - only $24!) I'm also thinking it could look great with a clutch like this one or this one


I think you could go any way you wanted with the shoes. These brown ones I picked up for my birthday are so comfortable, and for me that is the ultimate goal, but I'm hoping to invest in a brighter pair like these or even this pair this spring, and I think they'd be a perfect match, too!


Dress is old, but similar here and here (plus I've linked my other favorite patterned spring dresses below!) | Shoes (would also look good with this pair| Crossbody (also love this one and this one!) |  Watch | Necklace


5

Stock Up on Sandals with the Jack Rogers Sale Today!

I'm still dragging a little bit from a back-and-forth trip to Louisville this weekend for a beautiful wedding for one of my good friends, so I definitely dropped the ball on getting today's post up on time (sorry guys!) But I couldn't pass up a chance to fill everyone in on the major Jack Rogers sale going on right now!!

If you've been wanting a pair for a while (like me) or still need to stock up on some great sandals for spring and summer, you definitely want to jump on this chance asap...we're talking over 50% off on some styles!

It looks as if they still have almost every size available, and in all of the great classic styles and colors that I've had my eye on for a while! Shop the sale right now and grab your favorite pair before it's too late!

Below are some of my favorite picks that are still available. For more of my favorite spring sandal picks, I rounded up all of the best from this season in this post!



0

Essentials of the Week!

Things finally started to sink in for me this week just how nonstop things have been for me lately. I love to travel, I love seeing and hosting friends, and I of course love when I get to go out and visit with Dalton...but when I finally sat down on Sunday and carefully mapped out my next few months of travel plans + trips, I got seriously overwhelmed. 

At the time, saying yes to just about everything that came my way was fun and exciting (and still kinda is!) but when I actually took the time to write it all out on a calendar, I realized that I may have signed myself up for just a little bit too much. 

I've been out of town or hosting guests nonstop since mid-January, and I only have one weekend between now and early May where I have a break! SO excited for some of the things on my agenda...including a trip to NYC to see my friend Dakota, a road trip back to Oxford to see old friends, and of course...the Derby! 

That being said, I'm definitely going to have to re-focus and make sure I'm taking time to focus on myself every day for the next couple of months so I don't get too burnt out. I'm feeling a slow and easy summer...anyone else?!


1. Making Coffee Cute Again - I've been feeling major jealousy over the Starbucks spring cups that got released these last few weeks because mainly order iced drinks, and have been missing out on all the fun. This new collection is so adorable, I might have to try and snag one for myself so I can get some spring vibes, too!

2. Hit The Running Trail - With these gorgeous new Nike running shoes that were just released in celebration of the anniversary of their most popular (and fashionable) shoe ever. The gorgeous Nike's in different colors you're always seeing on bloggers? These are those. And man oh man, do I want them in these colors...

3. Match Made in Fashion Heaven - Is anyone else as excited as I am for the collaboration between Victoria Beckham and Target to come out (April 9th!) I love the idea and inspiration behind the line, and I can't wait to see how it turns out. This little preview looks great!

4. Your Guide to (Healthy) Meal Prep - I'm all about making my lunches every week (like this AMAZING superfood salad I had this week!) and I think this guide is a great way to get started when you're not sure where to begin!

5. Trenchcoat Season - I've been wearing my trenchcoat every chance I get this week, and I can't take my eyes off this gorgeous option from Madewell (with a great price!)


Have a wonderful weekend - I hope you guys get some of this amazing weather we're expecting here in Chicago!
0

The Yummiest Superfood Salad to Pack In Your Lunches Next Week!

Now that the weather is starting to warm up, I've been itching to try out more "summery" lunches and step away from crockpot soups and other cozy winter recipes. As soon as the groceries start having wide selections of (affordable) berries and vegetables, I'm all about salads and light recipes to embrace the season!

While hunting for this week's meal prep recipe, I stumbled upon the most delicious salad I've ever had. I know that's a pretty bold statement, but I fully stand by it! This salad is amazing. I think the real secret is the homemade dressing recipe, which is both healthy and delicious. 

I tend to be wary of packing salads as my lunch, because between my long work day and my Pure Barre class after work, I tend to be pretty hungry by the time I get home, so I always want to ensure I'm eating something filling enough to get me through the day. 

That's why I've been so excited about this most recent find! It's packed with so many delicious sources of protein, I didn't get hungry at all - major accomplishment for me considering I'm #NeverNotHungry. 

                                                                                            Image via

I made one slight modification to the original recipe and swapped the goat cheese for feta because I'm not a huge fan of goat, and it was still delicious! I think whatever your preference, the salad is still great. Huge shout out to Kristine for helping me find this delicious recipe! I'll certainly be checking there more often and sharing my favorite finds with you guys in the future. 

Serving Size: 4 (I added a little bit extra of everything and doubled the dressing recipe so I'd have enough for all 5 workday lunches! I love dressing, so I knew I'd want a little bit extra). 

Salad Ingredients:
  • 1 cup quinoa (I made 1.5)
  • 1 large bunch of kale (I used a packaged box)
  • 2-3 cups of spinach (optional, for more texture and larger salads)
  • 15 oz. can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 4 oz. goat (or feta) cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup of sliced almonds (you can usually find these in bags near the fruit/vegetable aisle!)
  • 1 avocado, chopped (I added this the moment before I ate the salad so it would be fresh!)
Dressing Ingredients: (Again, if you prefer more dressing, double everything below)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (I love lemon, so I increased this to 1/2 and it was great!)
  • 2 tablespoons of honey 
  • 1.5 teaspoons Dijon Mustard 
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt 
  • a pinch of black pepper
Directions:
  • Either use a rice cooker for quinoa and place two parts water to 1 part quinoa (so 1 cup quinoa = 2 cups of water) OR
    • Rinse and drain quinoa and place with 2 cups of water in a small saucepan, bringing it to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to a low setting and cook for about 15 minutes until the water has been absorbed/evaporated. Let cool on the side.
  • Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients in a large bowl. 
  • Once the quinoa is cool, add it to a bowl with all of the salad ingredients. Toss gently to combine evenly. If saving salads for meal prep during the week, separate into containers and add avocado + dressing right before eating for freshest results.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I have! I'm going to mix things up for next week so I don't get bored, but I already can't wait to make this for my weekly lunches again! 

0

10 Kitchen Essentials For Beginners!

In the last year, I've slowly been working on building up my cooking skills and I've really begun to found a love for my time in the kitchen. I'm by no means a kitchen expert, but I can confidently say that I've mastered a solid set of recipes for each meal + some appetizers (and cocktails)! 

I've slowly been acquiring more tools and essentials to help me out along the way, but the wish list of items I'd love to stock my dream kitchen with someday seems to be ever-growing. Some things are absolute essentials, and others are a bit more splurge-worthy, but would be wonderful to have all the same. 

My current kitchen is probably the smallest I've had (especially factoring in counter space) but I typically have enough room to do whatever I need. I'm still constantly coveting my dream kitchens on Pinterest in between pinning recipes that I want to try on the weekends. 

Here are some of my favorite kitchen essentials, from the must-haves to the someday-maybe items. There are, of course, an endless supply of small (but incredibly) useful tools - just ask my parents, as that tends to be a go-to for me when it comes to Christmas gifts! That being said, however, if you've been on the verge of trying out your hand in the kitchen, this list will get you started on the right track to having what you need!


Prepping, Dicing + Chopping - 

1. Great cutting boards - Cutting boards + knives are definitely the two tools I use more than anything else in the kitchen, so have a good set of both is definitely essential. Most people swear by bamboo boards as the best, and there are some really great options like this one and this one...however, I personally still use plastic the majority of the time because the wood boards are a lot more effect to clean and maintain. If you're not looking to add prep time, pick up a set of plastic ones like these.

2. Prep Bowls - I have pretty limited counter space, and even when I do have more room to cook, I like to keep everything a little bit organized (shocking, I know). It makes cleanup so much easier.  I really like this set for general use, or if you want to store ingredients for later, ones with lids like these are great.

3. Knives - This is obviously one of those tools that you can certainly drop a lot of money on - and that's not necessarily what you should do. However, if I were going to "splurge" on any kitchen item a little bit, this would be in the top 2. My favorite knives are the ones passed down to me from my parents, but my Dad recommends these and these. The best starter kit is this set right here, which also comes with a knife block!

4. Dish Towels + Drying Rack - This is definitely something that needs very little budget put towards it. (These are the ones I use!) Some nicer pots and pans really shouldn't go through the dishwasher, so hand scrubbing them and setting them up to dry is the right way to go. I love this flat one because it dries well and stores easily when not in use.

Utensils + Helpful Tools - 

Realistically - most utensils will come in sets that have all of the essentials. Spatulas, spoons, silicone mixing spatulas like these, a whisk, tongs, measuring cups/spoons, and a few different shaped spoons to get you by. If you're just starting to build a kitchen, this is what you need! Make sure you focus on a durable silicone that won't melt with heat or scrape the coating off of your pots and pans. Otherwise, I'm going to share some of my favorite *specialty* tools that have made my time in the kitchen so much better!

5. Handheld Chopper (or Food Processor) - This one is really up to you, budget-wise. My roommate recently bought this handheld dicer that has been such a game changer when we are chopping up vegetables like onions and peppers for various dishes. You can also step up your game and get a food processor which will make things a little easier, and broaden what you can do with it! If you're just starting out though, the handheld tool works great.


6. Juicers & Squeezers - I personally have an obsession with lemon-flavored dishes, and tend to use lemon juice pretty frequently (especially when I'm making salad dressings!) My little handheld lemon/lime squeezer is so essential for me, but if you're into juicing your fruits and veggies beyond that, investing in a great juicer is the right way to go. I'd recommend a Vitamix or a bullet!

Cookware - 

7. Cast-Iron Skillet OR a WOK - I have both of these, and they're honestly both SO amazing. Realistically, I don't need both, but I do love them. Cast Iron Skillets are incredibly useful because there are so many different ways to use them, from on the stove to in the oven. I'm a huge fan of making stir fry-style dishes (essentially throwing together different combinations of meats, vegetables, and grains like rice/quinoa/potatoes/pastas), and the Wok is amazing for that. They're usually quite large, which means you can make large quantities of food for weekly meal prep all at once, and only have one dish to clean! I have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to Wok recipes, and I love them all! It's like having an entire restaurant of tools and uses right in your kitchen.

8. Baking Dishes - I use a glass set with varying sizes, and they cover pretty much everything I need when it comes to utilizing my oven. These are great for lasagnas, desserts, cornbread...everything. A simple set works great.

9. Rice Cooker - Some people might think this one isn't necessary, but I use mine almost daily.  I love to use my rice cooker quinoa or rice as a side dish to my chicken and vegetables every week, and this way all I have to do is add water and flip the button, leaving me free to focus on everything else.

10. Slow Cooker/Crockpot - This is such a crucial thing to have for those of you who may not be a Master Chef just yet. There is nothing simpler than throwing a ton of ingredients into a crockpot, pressing a button and going about your day (even running errands, going to sleep or going to work) and having a meal be completely ready and done with no additional effort a few hours later. I especially love using my slow cooker in the winter for soups and stews, and it totally played a role in my newfound love for cooking.

Of course, it's always a little more fun in the kitchen when you have a cute apron and some adorable oven mitts! With these essentials, you'll feel like Julia Child in the kitchen in no time! (Or at least, you'll feel like you can successfully feed yourself without keeping the fire department on speed dial!)

You can find some of my all-time favorite recipes here, and the best part is that they're all totally beginner friendly!


1

Stripes + Bows for Spring!

According to the calendar, it is officially Spring as of yesterday...but Chicago obviously disagrees with that sentiment. We're still sitting in a fairly chilly cold spell lately, and it's not showing signs of heating up anytime soon.

I've been so ready for the warmer weather that over the weekend I flipped most of my closet back to spring and summer styles (and kept a few sweaters out to hold me over until the weather changes). Despite the chill, I couldn't resist throwing on some of my latest purchases and gifts, including this adorable Madewell top that I was coveting for my birthday! (Thanks, Melissa!)


I headed over to the lakeshore on Sunday and was instantly reminded why I love this city so much - and how excited I am for summer! The water was the prettiest blue (it didn't have anything on Puerto Rico, but I'll take it!) Needless to say, it was pretty windy - I kept having to hold my hair from my face!


I love how light and airy this top is, which means I'll be able to wear it all summer long without getting too hot - something that is always a problem for me. The BEST feature of the shirt, though? The adorable bows on the sleeves! That was what totally won me over.




I've searched for years to find the perfect jeans in general, and have had an even harder time finding flattering white jeans. Something about the white just always makes me feel more self conscious...anyone else have this problem?!

Thankfully this past winter I discovered my new obsession with the high rise Madewell jeans, and have since purchased them in pretty much every available color. My birthday gift to myself was to finally scoop up a pair of the white, and they did not disappoint. Still a perfect fit, and still so flattering!




All the outfit needed was the perfect pop of details, and these white beaded earrings were just right. I tend to go simpler with the accessories and shoes when it comes to warmer weather, and I've got a feeling this will be one of my new go-to outfits for just about everything. 





Bow-Sleeve Top (On Sale for $50!) | White Jeans | Flats (only $50, also available in nude + black!) | Earrings (old), similar here! | Sunglasses | Monogrammed Tote (mini version is also amazing!) | Watch

I realized while writing this post that I don't really have many light popover and tunic-style shirts, and that it might be time to add some more to my wardrobe to wear from work to the River Walk for some evening drinks with friends. Here are some more of my favorites:



5

How to Host & Entertain Guests for a Weekend Visit

I have a lot of weekends coming up where I'm hosting friends in town, and soon enough it will be summer, where guests seem to be in a constant flow in and out every single weekend (not that I don't love it - it is the perfect time to visit, and I love being able to show my friends why Chicago is my favorite city!)

It definitely requires a lot of planning and coordination, not to mention the costs can add up really fast. Taking friends to amazing restaurants and fun rooftops + activities is always a blast, but when you're playing host every weekend (when you'd normally be eating at home and cutting costs) it can take a major toll. 

I love playing hostess, and I think after two years of having guests in the city I've really started to master the ins and outs of making it work for everyone involved!


1. Clarify Logistics in Advance. Details such as when they plan to arrive, what time they plan on leaving, whether or not they'll have eaten upon arrival or before departing, whether they'll need parking or directions to your home are all the most useful if they're established well in advance. This will also spare you from any startling surprises (like a guest arriving before you're even home from work!)

2. Always Provide the Basics...& A Few Extras. Despite the fact that this is home to you, your guests are on vacation! You'd never want to stay somewhere on a trip that didn't have some basic essentials. I always aim to keep clean, fresh towels + linens, extra blankets, and travel size amenities like shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and spare toothbrushes on hand. I also make sure they know where to find everything so that they feel comfortable helping themselves (which in reality means less work for me, too!). Showing them how to use the coffee maker, find a glass of water and other beverages, the location of a hair dryer, and how to get the shower temperature to a reasonable level makes things much easier. Is it just me, or is it always difficult to find the right temperature in other people's showers?!

3. Use Your Local Knowledge. Obviously, people are going to want to explore the city and everything it has to offer (especially if they've never been!) This might mean that they're drawn to touristy and usually pricier spots. Expensive brunches, expensive tourist spots, and places farther out of the way that require pricier Ubers. It's great to show them what the city has to offer, but you know your city best! Keep a list of free and awesome activities on hand. For Chicago, I always recommend taking my friends to the Bean followed by a walk along the lakeshore to see the skyline and enjoy that amazing Chicago summer air. There are also options like renting bikes, exploring the parks, and checking out smaller local restaurants with better food and even better prices. 

4. Entertain at Home. You'll likely spend a lot of time out and about, but being the hostess that I am, I always think it's fun to plan a little dinner, some homemade waffles for brunch, or happy hour with drinks and appetizers when I have guests in town. There's something to be said for that little bit of extra effort, and it always leaves me with more fun memories than racing around the city and waiting in long lines that take us off of our schedule. If you're worried you won't have time to throw everything together, try making some appetizers or snacks in advance and refrigerating them! Then all you have to do is heat up, pour a glass of wine, and enjoy!

5. Have a List of City Favorites on Hand. Every once in a while, I run into situations where I have friends in town while I'm working or have other obligations and can't be available 24/7. In just a few weeks, I have two friends coming in town on a Wednesday night and they were looking for recommendations of what to do during the day while I was working! This inspired me to make a little guide of my favorite places for: where to eat, where to explore and walk around, fun evening activities for them to choose from (I'll be joining them, of course!), best photo-worthy spots, favorite coffee shops...this way, I won't feel guilty being unable to guide them, and they'll have plenty of things to choose from! I've already begun working on the list, and it's been so much fun to make!

Hosting friends for weekends is one of my favorite parts of being a Chicago resident in the summer (if for no other reason, it's a great time to prove to my friends why those winters are justtttt barely worth enduring). Following these tips has helped take the stress out of playing hostess, though, and lets my friend's vacations with me feel like a staycation for myself, too! 

post signature
4

Essentials of the Week!

This has been my first full week back at work and sitting still in Chicago for a while, but it was far from relaxed and slow-paced! I've had friends and family in town for the majority of the week, so between catching up at work, rushing off to dinners and trying to find time to work out, I've barely had time to rest! 

I'm actually really enjoying the fast pace for now, and need to remind myself to slow things down a little bit next week and recover before some more upcoming trips I have planned. 

With that in mind, I've got a completely full weekend ahead because my very best friend is in town and this has been one of our longer stretches of time apart, so we have to make up for lost time! Fingers crossed the sun comes back out (and stays out) after that snowstorm we got hit with earlier in the week!

Here are my essentials for this week:


1. I Never Wear These, but I'm Dying to Buy... this insanely cute scalloped romper. I'm so tall, it's really hard to find a romper that fits me well in all the right places, but this one would totally be worth testing out in my opinion. Maybe this will be the lucky number 765ish that I try on!

2. In Case You Missed It...I had an overwhelming (and exciting!) amount of requests for recaps on my Puerto Rico trip, and it went up on the blog yesterday! You can read all about it and see the amazing photos here!

3. The Most Beautiful Home Tour...I've been getting an itch to do some re-decorating constantly lately. I'm coming up on a year at my current apartment, and I'm planning on staying for at least one more year so I'm feeling the need to shake things up. This gorgeous home tour was giving me so much amazing inspo...I added almost every image to my Pinterest board!

4. Making Things Mini...So, not to add to my already intense addiction to all things Madewell, but one of my friends just got this mini version of my favorite transport tote and I'm loving the idea of a smaller more manageable version for running around doing errands. Plus, it still comes with the free monogramming!

5. Ending the Week on the Cutest Note...I watched this video countless times throughout this particularly long week, and it made me crack up laughing every time! I lost track of how many friends tagged me in it or sent it to me and I couldn't resist sharing and ending the post on such a happy note!

1

Puerto Rico Birthday Trip Recap!

This is definitely one of my more photo-heavy posts, but if you only knew how many I had to leave out that I desperately wanted to include...oh man. It's safe to say I'm enjoying the camera improvement on my new iPhone, because I had over 3,000 photos + videos to upload when I got home! 

I can't say it enough, this trip was one of the best I've ever taken. I can't imagine a better way to spend a week, let alone a birthday surrounded by family & friends (both new and old!) It's hard to even know where to begin, there's so much to cover!

I received (and still am receiving) nonstop messages during my trip about how incredible it looked, what an amazing time it seemed I was having, and how much people wished they could have joined (me too, friends!) The crazy part is, traveling to Puerto Rico is actually extremely affordable. Flights down there RT are around $200-240! Believe me, it is well worth it regardless of cost. Puerto Rico is beautiful. I ended up not even editing a lot of these photos because they just didn't need it!


Typically, you fly into San Juan Airport (although there is an airport in Aguadilla right next to my cousin's house, it's much smaller and flights are pricier). My cousin has a house in Isabela which is on the very west side of the island, about 2 hours from San Juan. The drive from the airport is so beautiful though - so much lush greenery and mountains everywhere you look. 

She only purchased the house a few weeks ago, so the first night mainly consisted of exploring the new property and catching up, and then we headed down to one of the beach bars called "Uma's" in Aguadilla for some drinks and a friend's birthday party where they were teaching salsa dancing! 

*I don't think I had fully settled into vacation mode enough to dive right into salsa dancing, so I observed the pros from the sidelines and listened to the waves with a Margarita in hand!*

 
Shameless cousin selfies on the first night!

The next few days consisted of exploring a few different beaches, laying out with my pineapple float, swimming every 20 minutes because I couldn't get enough of that incredible water, and snorkeling occasionally! My favorite beach the past two trips has been Jobos Beach in Aguadilla. There are a few great beach bars, it's a protected bay so the water is a little bit calmer, there is a lot of coral to go snorkeling, and the cliffs nearby are great for jumping - as long as you're up for a long swim! 


Nothing beats beachside yoga first thing in the morning - granted, I feel accomplished that I learned to touch my toes this year, so I took a lot of breaks unlike my yogi master cousin Julia!




The waves crashing over the edge of the tide pools were intense that day - This way actually grew into one much bigger, and it barely missed me! I was tempted to sneak out there and get some closer shots, but had to be cautious of stepping on sea urchins or getting swept away to sea! Either way, it was beautiful. The tide pools can be found at Middles Beach, directly North of Jobos Beach in Aguadilla (about a 6-8 minute drive!)


The gorgeous waterfalls behind me in the last two pictures are actually a small cliff that protects the tide pools I was floating in. The wind is insane in Puerto Rico from December to sometime in April due to the trade winds, and we certainly got our fair share of it during my trip! The tide pools were a safer bet for relaxed floating without fear of blowing away.


(In case anyone is curious about the realities of these adorable floats - yes, they do in fact take forever to blow up, and no, I don't recommend trying to do it on a windy beach!) The struggle was all too real, and we couldn't stop laughing!

Another all-time favorite beach near Aguadilla is Crash Boat Beach. There are a handful of gorgeous pastel-colored fishing boats pulled up onto the sand (hence, the name), some food trucks and street performers, and a huge pier to jump off of. The highlight of Crash Boat though? The incredible sunsets. No trip down there is complete without a sunset on Crash Boat. 


A slightly blurry photo of a spontaneous leap off of the end of the pier right after sunset - and no, I was not prepared for the precarious climb back up a slippery ladder. Moments after I climbed up, one of the fisherman caught a huge fish and flopped it right next to me on the dock! I was ready to head home after that one!


The above photo is completely unedited - the sunsets on Crash Boat are out of this world. I always have to take videos of the water and waves crashing because the way the light reflects off of them makes it seem fake it's so beautiful and shimmery. 

We also got to see a handful of baby sea turtles being safely released into the ocean while we were walking to the pier! It was a complete surprise and so adorable. The picture isn't perfect because I had to zoom from far away, but I didn't want to get too close and scare the little guy!




The rest of the week was a lot of relaxing, reading in the mornings, and heading to the beach after breakfast. My cousin already has an absolutely incredible garden growing on her new property with everything you could want - Kale, Spinach, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Coconuts, Bananas, Limes & Lemons, Romaine Lettuce...It made me want to have a yard and start a garden myself!

Both she and my cousin Hilary are Celiac and have the most amazing recipes for GF and Vegan diets. I felt so much healthier while I was down there, and definitely felt like my stomach was handling the fresh and organic food much better. I'm planning on making it a goal of mine to start cooking more GF recipes whenever I can - I'll be sure to share the recipes on here, she taught me plenty!

Before I knew it, my birthday had arrived! I can't speak for those early years that I can't remember...but this was truly hands down the best birthday I have ever had. In fact, I'm fairly certain I repeated that more than 50 times to my cousins that day! Sorry guys...I just had a blast!



Clearly the day was off to a stressful start on my pineapple float with a drink in hand...



I learned to surf last time I was in Puerto Rico, but was by no means an expert. Anyone who knows how uncoordinated I am knows that it is a genuine feat of gravity - but I think it's safe to say that I mastered it! It's hard to pass up an opportunity to learn surf lessons from the very first ever professional surfer in Puerto Rico! 


Julia's hilariously fun boyfriend Eric also picked me a beautiful birthday flower from their garden that totally made my morning!


After a long day at the beach, we headed to a little roadside mojito bar that makes massive mojitos for only $8. Another perk of Puerto Rico? All of the aspects of the United States are there, including not exchanging money, having fully working cell service, and some recognizable stores for the essentials.


After drinks we headed back for a (rare) primping session before dinner. For the majority of the trip, we didn't bother with doing our hair or makeup and just took the week off from all of that, but who doesn't love dressing up on their birthday?! We ended up at one of the best seafood dinners I've ever had right along the beach. We didn't end up celebrating too late that night, because we had an early car ride back towards San Juan to take a ferry to a beautiful island called Culebra!


Despite a 4am wake-up call, we were beyond happy to have arrived on the new island! Culebra is right next to the British Virgin Islands, so if you've ever been to one of those you understand how insanely blue the water is and the adorable colorful buildings and island quirks we were experiencing!

Almost every single person on the island either rents a Jeep or a golf cart to get around. You know you're in a small island when golf carts are a main mode of transport!



My gorgeous cousin Julia posing with some of the pretty pastel buildings!


I've always loved sailing and sailboats in general, so the harbor with all of the boats that people live on had me totally dying to rent one for a week. They use those little dingy boats to get to and from their sailboats, and the shore is lined with little beach bars to drive up to and order drinks and food!


One of the major disappointments of the trip was that we didn't find the GoPro Charger until we were in Culebra, but it turned out okay because that was where we did the majority of our snorkeling! The blue water was so crystal clear and beautiful, I couldn't stop myself from re-surfacing and removing my goggles every few minutes just to spin in circles and take it all in.


All of the buildings in Culebra are used either as decoration or for advertisement with colorful paints and chalk. I loved the vibe that it gave the whole island!


This was one of the more "secret" snorkeling spots that we found - according to some of our local friends, the sea turtles loved this area because of all of the seagrass! Our good friends own the restaurant Vibra Verde, right by the ferry port. If you're ever in Culebra you absolutely must go there for breakfast. It was the best meal I had the entire trip! 



(Almost) our entire group in Culebra right before a particularly lengthy snorkeling session. Can you believe that water?! I've been staring at this picture for almost ten minutes just looking at the sky and sea, wondering why I'm cuddled up in blankets in snowy Chicago instead of back on the sand where I belong. 

Looking over all of these pictures is making me even more desperate to head back as soon as possible. I'm definitely going to try and squeeze in another trip sometime this fall once things settle down here!

1