December 2016 - Prep Essentials





College & Post-Grad

College & Post-Grad
College & Post-Grad

Essentials of the Week!

I'm still having serious issues grappling with the fact that 2016 is over...I genuinely feel like last New Year's Eve was only 3 months ago. 

That being said, I think a lot of people are seeking the fresh start of a new year now more than ever, so personally I can't wait to ring it in and celebrate with all of my friends and loved ones.

I'm not one for resolutions, necessarily, because I like to think that throughout the entire year if I have a change I'd like to make, I don't wait until January 1st to make it happen. However, it is always a great reminder to reflect and think things over for the future, which I've been doing a lot of lately!

Here are my essentials for this week (and the end of the year!)

1. The Perfect Excuse to Drink Champagne Tomorrow - as if any of us need any more reasons!

2. Start Booking Your Tickets, Now! - I love to travel, and I'm planning on doing my fair share of it throughout 2017. What better way to start than going to a tropical location that is offering to pay you to visit?! (There is a catch...but it's a great one). Sign me up!

3. My Comfiest (And New Favorite) Booties - I got these as a very sweet anniversary gift from Dalton right before Christmas, and oh my goodness they are heaven. They go with everything, but the flat heel makes them super comfortable to wear even running errands all day long around the city. Plus, they're on sale!

4. How I'm Reflecting on the Year - I found this originally through College Prepster's post with Maxie, and I immediately filled out the entire thing (or tried to...full disclosure, some of the questions took some deep thought!) I definitely felt refreshed and re-focused after looking it over. Worth a read!

5. Either the most exciting news... or a huge tease. Either way - I'm anxiously waiting to see what ends up happening!

I hope you all have wonderful New Year's Eve plans, whether it involves partying all night long or ringing in the new year comfortably and casually. Check back tomorrow for some amazing champagne-involved recipes to make the night extra fun (and delicious!)

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Post-Holiday Thank You Notes & Stationary

One of biggest things on my to-do list today when I land back in frigid Chicago is to head out and stock up on some more thank you notes & stationary for the year. I normally buy a lot all at once, and never seem to run short of occasions that it's appropriate to use.

I've been keeping a running list in a note on my phone throughout the entire holiday season of all of the people I owe a thank you to in order to ensure no one gets forgotten or left behind!

Thank you notes have always been a huge priority of mine, and the holidays certainly leave no shortage of thanks to give out. I'm so blessed every year to have such wonderful family and friends, and it's so so important to me to make sure my gratitude is made known. 

The fun part is - I am obsessed with purchasing pretty papers, stationary and cards. I'm particularly obsessed with this set, these, and these right now. 

Helpful hint: I have found some of my absolute favorites of the last few seasons at Marshall's or Michael's - and they only cost a few dollars! You don't always have to shell out a large sum just to get some really nice and adorable paper, fortunately!

One | Two | Three | Four | Five

Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten

Does anyone else have a nice long list of thank you notes to write after the holidays? I've been thinking about including a little something to go with them - but haven't been sure what to include! Any ideas?!

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Last Minute New Year's Eve Dresses!

I'm normally not one for major procrastination, but one time I do tend to be at my worst is when it comes to New Year's Eve dresses and outfits. Personally, I would be equally content celebrating with friends as I would curled up at home with some champagne and Dalton by my side, but I'm also never one to turn down a party and an excuse to wear sequins. 

I think New Year's Eve is so overrated in general (mainly because of the insane amounts of money people spend on it) which is a big reason why whatever outfit I search for needs to be something I could wear other nights than NYE. 

Don't get me wrong, being fully done up in sequins, sparkle and shimmer is always fun, but I try to make the evening as practical as humanly possible, This can make it really tough for me to find the right type of item. An LBD is always a good option, but I have a rule that I'm not allowed to buy anymore of those for a few years because there is an entire chunk of my closet dedicated solely to little black dresses...oops!

I've searched around and pulled my favorite New Year's Eve dresses that you'd still be able to get in time for the big event. I only just ordered my own a few minutes ago!

Of course, the night wouldn't be complete without the perfect pair of shoes to match! My number one priority on NYE? It's guaranteed to be a long night - so I aim for classic, chic, but above all...comfortable!

I'll be ringing in the new year (and very happily saying goodbye to 2016) surrounded by close friends and Dalton, of course - what are your New Year's Eve plans? I love hearing all of the different ways people choose to celebrate!

Does anyone have any great New Year's traditions or exciting new ways to celebrate?

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Baby, It's Cold Outside

In the past, I really haven't been a big fan of turtlenecks. I always felt a little bit claustrophobic in them, and for that reason my closet is entirely lacking in that category. Recently, though, I scored a few pretty amazing and comfortable finds that don't have that restrictive feeling, and I can't believe what I've been missing!

Not to mention, Chicago is way too cold right now to have an exposed neck. I'm covering all of my bases! 

This is seriously the softest thing in my entire closet - and if I could, I'd buy it in ten colors. I've been wearing it nonstop for the last two weeks (way more than I should actually admit, ha!) 

The cold doesn't seem so bad when you're wrapped up in something this soft and cozy!

For this look, I paired it with my favorite black skinny jeans - which have been my go-to since the beginning of fall - but I've also been loving it with these insanely soft maroon jeans, too. They are literally softer than my leggings, and I've been finding myself reaching for them more often than any leggings I own! (They're part of Madewell's 'sateen' denim, and I don't know how I ever got dressed without them in my closet!

Naturally, I kept my favorite monogrammed tote right by my side (mainly to store my scarves, hats, gloves and additional layers for the chillier evenings!)

Shop the look here:

I've linked some of my other favorite (and super affordable) turtleneck sweater finds lately below, too. I've been grabbing them everywhere I go!

Hope you're all staying cozy and warm...can you believe Christmas is in just a few more days?!

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Holiday Drink Recipes to Warm You Up!

Considering how many texts and comments I've gotten from friends and family lately asking me if I'm staying warm, I think it's safe to say that most people have heard about the below zero weather Chicago has been having!

Thankfully, I escaped the chill on Friday to begin all of my holiday travel (although Pittsburgh hasn't been that much of an improvement, weather-wise!) That said, there's nothing that I love more during the holiday season than cozying up by a fire with a nice hot drink and a movie playing in the background.

Hot chocolate is definitely #1 in my heart, but this year I've been trying a few new things, and adding new ingredients to spice things up a bit with my hot chocolate, too! I'm sharing my favorite holiday drinks to help you stay warm and add a little something special to your cozy nights at home. 

(Plus, scroll to the bottom of the post for my list of favorite hot beverage toppings to make the most delicious and insta-worthy drink of all!)

1. White Hot Chocolate - I had a ton of leftover white chocolate from making my Mom's Peppermint Bark Recipe (sharing that on the blog later this week!) so this was the perfect time to try this one out! I'm normally not a white chocolate person, but this was so easy and delicious.

  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
Directions: Combine milk, white chocolate, and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Whisk continuously over medium-low heat until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. (Be sure not to boil or burn the chocolate!)

2. Vanilla Steamer with Cinnamon - This drink is one of my favorites because it takes no time to make, and it's the perfect remedy when I'm having a hard time sleeping on these freezing winter nights. 

  • 1 1/2 cups milkLK
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Directions: Warm the milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the sugar and vanilla extract (be careful not to let it boil - just look for steam). Pour the milk into a blender and whiz on high for about a minute or until the milk is extra frothy. 
Sprinkle the cinnamon on top and enjoy!

3. Nutella Hot Chocolate - Believe it or not, I had my very first taste of Nutella - ever - about two weeks ago. Am I totally crazy?! Probably. I somehow avoided it for a while, and then everyone talked about how addictive it was, I figured it was best if I didn't tempt myself. I was definitely missing out! This recipe is the perfect way to add a little extra to plain old hot chocolate, and it is amazing.

  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 Tbsp. Nutella
  • 2 Tbsp. Unsweetened Cocoa Power
  • 2 Tbsp. Sugar (or your choice of sweetener)
Directions: Heat milk in medium saucepan on medium-low heat until warming and steaming. Add in the spread, cocoa power and sugar, whisking together until dissolved and combined. Serve, add toppings and enjoy.

4. Peppermint Hot Chocolate (Slow Cooker) - I've been getting a lot of use from my slow cooker in these colder days, and beverages are no exception! It takes about 5 mins to put together, and 2 hours to actually cook in the slow cooker (but well worth the wait, trust me!)

  • 1 Tbsp. Cocoa Powder
  • 1/3 cup hot water
  • 8 Tbsp. Bittersweet Chocolate (roughly chopped - I used Ghirardelli!)
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup half and half (or replace with additional milk)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 5-7 candy canes (food processor is best, but if you don't have one, crushed up by other means is fine too!)
Directions: Combine the hot water and cocoa powder in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Add the chocolate, milk, half and half, sugar and candy canes to the slow cooker along with the cocoa paste. Heat on the low setting for 2 hours - stirring every 30 minutes. 

5. Gingerbread Cider - Apple cider is basically the only holiday drink that is ever inside my Starbucks red cup, and while I absolutely love it, I figured it couldn't hurt to find a recipe to make at home that's just as good. I stumbled upon this one the other day and can't wait to try it out!

  • 1/2 gallon Apple Cider
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
Directions: Pour the cider into a large pot to heat on medium-low setting. Add the sugar and spices, and stir until well blended. Heat to whatever temperature is desired, let simmer for 20 minutes, and enjoy!

It wouldn't be a delicious holiday drink if it didn't have some adorable and yummy toppings, would it?! Here are some of my favorites - I love mixing and matching them every time to give it a little something new!

Stay warm and enjoy! I'm off to go make another white hot chocolate and curl up by the fire with the dogs...this really is the best time of year!

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Gift Guide for Prepsters!

This one has taken me a little longer than anticipated to get posted, but I wanted to be sure I didn't miss anything since it has been my most-requested gift guide this year! 

The great thing about preppy style is that it's so classic, timeless, and it tends to have a very long-lasting shelf life. There are the classic preppy items that everyone knows and loves, but this year I wanted to dig a little bit deeper and find those perfect preppy gifts for everyone on your list.

As always, I've organized this one by budget to make things a little bit easier, and added a few additional ideas for some of the major categories! You can shop all of my other gift guides in one place right here to make crossing off your list a breeze.

You can shop everything from the above image below, and more from each category, too!

More Outerwear Options...

More Home & Decor...

More Accessories...

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My Best Blogging Time Management Secrets

With all of the increased traveling I've been doing lately, sometimes I find myself going weeks at a time without ever having a real routine (cue this particular mini-meltdown, oops!) I rely on my routine for a lot of reasons, the least of which is my time management. 

A lot of my friends ask me how I find the time to do all of the things I do, with blogging in particular. I have a full time job, a consistent workout schedule, a long distance relationship, and a lot of little things in between, so it's safe to say that: 1) I so do not have it all together and 2) I use my calendar and planning apps excessively.

One thing I mastered back in high school is finding weird gaps in time and using them to my advantage. Waiting in a long line somewhere? Great time for a book. Having trouble sleeping? Perfect time to schedule out a few blog posts when I know I'll have a crazy week later. 

These awkward 'waste of my time' moments have really seen an uptick ever since my travel schedule got a lot more full, and I realized it was a perfect time to take advantage of sitting in gates, long cab rides to the airport, and waiting for a long layover somewhere. 

I thought it might be helpful to anyone else like me who have such a hectic schedule and might be having a hard time finding ways to "do it all" - aka appear that way to others!

1. Make the Most of Travel Time - This one is a little bit newer to me, but it's become completely essential. When I'm stuck in a long cab ride, it's the perfect time to use some of my social media planning apps like Hootsuite (such a gamechanger!) Having no wifi can certainly be a problem, but I've discovered that it's a great time to get the "writing" portion of a post done, or perhaps do a little photo editing.

2. Have the Essential Apps - I think most people have probably heard of/use Hootsuite, and it makes a huge difference for me (especially because I tend to forget about Twitter!) But the newest one I've downloaded that really changes the game is Unum. You can plan out your next few Instagrams and actually see how they will appear with the rest of your feed, draft out captions, and even schedule reminders!

3. Figure out what Planning Method Works for You - I've seen a lot of people swear by a social media calendar, a content calendar, or carry around a planner everywhere they go just for blogging. I don't personally think there is any "wrong" way to do it, as long as you're planning! Personally, using google calendars and syncing everything to my phone has proven to be by far the most effective way that I hold myself accountable for getting a post up on time, and it has helped me avoid the "writer's block" issue.

4. Keep a Master List of Posts Somewhere - I'm constantly being inspired by the most random things throughout my day. Having somewhere to jot down a post idea, picture inspiration, or topic I'd like to share on here is so helpful. On a day I'm having a hard time feeling inspired, I just refer to the list and it is completely fail-proof at helping me get over my writer's block.

5. Forgive Yourself - I see so many people (and am completely guilty myself, including today) feel guilty when they put up a post late, or forget it altogether. We've all got to work on cutting ourselves a break! As much as we'd love it to be our entire lives I'm sure, sometimes life just gets in the way. Sometimes we have a choice between finishing a movie and another glass of wine, or picking up the computer and cranking out a post late at night. tends to win in my book!

How do you stay motivated and on top of things when it comes to managing your blog, social media, and networking? I'd love to hear more tips, because I feel like I'm constantly learning more every day!

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The Prettiest Gifts for the Holiday Season!

One of my biggest temptations around the holidays is all of the adorable and festive holiday wrapping paper, and more importantly - the holiday greeting cards! I haven't decided yet at what age it will feel appropriate to start sending my own (sans parents, sorry guys!) but it still feels a little bit too early.

In place of that, I love scoping out some cute and festive ones just to send a little holiday cheer to my friends and loved ones. Individual cards can get a little pricey when you add them all up, so I usually reserve those for my closest friends. Thankfully, there are tons of super cute packs and sets that will cover everyone else!

I don't usually get to dig into present-wrapping until I actually travel home for the holiday, because it makes a lot more sense for me to ship all of my gifts directly to their final destinations (I need that room in my suitcase for shoes, okay?!)

Here are my favorite ones that I've been eyeing (and sending) all month long!

First of all, the Sugar Paper Collection at Target is and always has been my personal favorite. Everything is just so cute and coordinated! 

Is anyone else planning on sending out cards this year? Anyone else have the dilemma/personal debate of what age it's appropriate to start sending the personalized cute ones?! (I'm thinking as soon as I have someone to include in them...whether that's Dalton, or a puppy!)

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Last-Minute Stocking Stuffer Ideas!

Stockings were always one of my favorite parts of Christmas - it was the first thing I ran to no matter what as a kid (even past large and tempting wrapped boxes)...there was just no getting between me and my candy! Of course, as we got older, stockings tended to have less candy and more small but really practical gifts. 

Sometimes stocking stuffers are the easiest type of gifts to find - small, simple, and inexpensive! There are so many different options for how to approach it. (I've seen gifts as small as a $5 gift card, and as large as a round-trip plane ticket in there, so I never ignore the stocking!)

I've pulled together some great stocking stuffer ideas for absolutely everyone on your list to help you find those few last minute ideas to pick up before the big day!

As always, you can shop these picks and more of my favorites below. I've organized them from most affordable to more splurge-worthy for easier shopping!

In my opinion, little scarves, adorable socks, and gloves (these texting ones are great!) are perfect to stash inside a stocking. My parents usually get creative and wrap another gift inside of those items for more surprises! It's a great way to sneak in a little item like nail polish, a new lip color (my new favorite this winter), or some great lotion to help beat winter dry skin.

Of course, candy is always a welcome stocking stuffer, too! 

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Essentials of the Week!

It feels like the holiday madness has officially begun this parties are constant (but oh so fun!), my gift-giving list seems to grow by 2 each time I cross someone else off, and me thinking I'd "planned ahead" enough turned out to be nowhere close! 

I'm already keeping an eye on the fact that I'm leaving Chicago for two full weeks next Friday...traveling to three different locations (both cold and hot), and I somehow have to make it all fit into a carry-on! This should be interesting...

I'm definitely planning on finding as much down-time as I can this weekend to relax, re-focus and just enjoy the holiday spirit!

Here are my essentials from this week!

1. This Powerful Video Message...had to top my list this week, partly because it was incredibly strong and thought-provoking, but also because it turns out that one of my friends and her PR company are the ones who helped pull this video together! I couldn't be more proud, and I think this is too important not to share.

2. Amazon is Changing Things Up - and tackling one of my least favorite aspects of going grocery shopping. This would be incredible if it ends up becoming a widespread thing!

3. Pantone Chose the Color of 2017 - and I love the ideas behind the decision. Plus, it's my favorite color!

4. Stop Your Gift-Buying Until You See This! (Especially if you're shopping for Me! ;) This is too cute not to have for this winter...and it looks SO cozy! 

5. Don't Get Sucked into Holiday Financial Stress. It can be all too easy (I am already guilty of thinking about my bank account approximately twice as often so far this month...) so these tips are a great way to stay on track and avoid a (financial) hangover come New Year's Day!

I hope you all have fabulous and festive weekends!

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The Perfect Green Sweater + Red Coat for the Holiday Season!

Chicago had it's first snowfall of the year this weekend, and the timing was a little bit perfect if you ask me! I know everyone dreads (and exaggerates) Chicago winters more than any other city it seems, but I thought the snow was so pretty and festive from the warm comfort of my living room alongside our tree!

Of course, it did help that I picked up a ton of super cozy sweaters in the last few weeks in preparation - and they were all incredibly affordable! H&M was a huge jackpot, but I had some pretty great outfit finds at Forever 21 and Old Navy, too.

Scroll down to the bottom of the post to shop this look!

This sweater is a super dark shade of green, so it almost looks black in contrast with my favorite black high-waisted jeans and go-to black boots. The fabric is so incredibly soft, and the neck is loose enough that it doesn't get too hot or make me feel strangled (a pet peeve of mine with turtlenecks!)

My Madewell tote is my everyday tote. I take it with me to work, to brunch, running errands, and even to Pure Barre when I'm not using my new backpack to carry the essentials!

This coat is extra special to me because it actually was a birthday gift to my Mom on her last birthday, a few months before she passed away. Up until recently, I've always thought that the red was a little bit too bold for me, but now I'm embracing the bright colors just like she always did! It's so festive and perfect for the holidays!

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Winter Pajamas & Cozy Loungewear!

Growing up, I always had a set of pajama sets matching my brother (and yes, this became wildly unpopular once he hit age 11) so they tended to be a little but more gender neutral, but adorable nonetheless. 

I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point at the end of high school I suddenly decided that I didn't like wearing pajamas, and have stuck faithfully to leggings and t-shirts ever since. I always find myself admiring adorable pajama sets and cozy looking flannel pants, especially during the holidays, but never seem to convince myself to buy a pair. 

I've decided that this will officially be the year that I start wearing them again! And thank goodness, because there are so many cute ones to choose from! Something about it just seems a little bit more grown up, and a little bit less "college" to me (no offense to my ratty old sorority t-shirts...)

Now comes the fun part - choosing my first set (or maybe three!)

I love all of J.Crew's Pajama sets - they just look so neat and cozy. I've had my eye on this set for the last two or three years. The hydrangea color is just calling my name!

I do have a tendency to enjoy mixing and matching, so I'm also inclined to find a few different varieties of tops and bottoms to shake things up a little.

I especially love these Fair Isle Leggings - frankly I would totally wear these to run a few errands on a particularly chilly Sunday. They're adorable! I'm a big fan of this pair, too.

I was so excited when I found this flannel pair in a gingham fabric. These days I spend my holidays down in Florida, so I tend to lean towards brighter more summery colors despite the season!

How precious is the little embroidery on this one?!

The jury is still out for me on Nightshirts. Part of me thinks I would love them, because I have a tendency to get hot very easily and flannel pants could definitely trap a lot of heat under all of my cozy winter blankets! The other part of me still associates nightshirts and nightgowns with my mom, and somehow I just feel like it's more of an older sleep option! Am I crazy?!

By far my favorite form of sleep and loungewear? Extra fluffy robes, and super soft slippers. I have about four pairs of soft fuzzy slippers scattered throughout my closet and I never take them off! I already have this soft robe from J.Crew and it's my favorite so I definitely recommend it!

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Gift Guide for Men!

For the amount of time we hear from the men in our lives that women are so complicated...they certainly do seem to be the absolute hardest to shop for! You either have the men who don't like "things", the men who really aren't interested in the clothes we want to buy them, or the ones who already have the things they proclaim to need. 

Thankfully, growing up with three brothers I've learned a thing or two about ways to find the perfect gift for any guy in your life - Dad, brother, friend, boyfriend, husband...there is always a way to find them just the right special something!

I've put together this gift guide to cover all of the men - athletic, outdoorsy, preppy, ones who love technology, and some other gifts that almost any man would like no matter what their hobbies may be! This entire list has even been Dalton-approved to make sure I'm on the right track.

Top Row: Ben Hogan's 5 Golf Lessons (Leather Bound) | Prospect Travel Pouch | Needlepoint Belt | Vineyard Vines Titleist Pro V1 Golf Balls | Bean Boots | Vineyard Vines Belt | Nest | Monogram Leather Wallet | Shoe Polish Kit | Ralph Lauren Half-Zip Sweater | North Face Tech Gloves

Middle Row: Bose Bluetooth Headphones | Patagonia 1/4 Zip | Fair Isle Fleece | Leather-Wrapped Candle | Canvas & Leather Weekender | Monogram Money Clip | Men's Credit Card iPhone Case | Cotton Oxford Shirt | Lobster Fair Isle Knit Cap | Leather-Wrapped Ice Bucket

Bottom Row: Herschel Heritage Backpack | Sonos Speaker | The Tie Bar (Large Box) // Smaller Version Available, Too! | Yeti Cooler | KJP Sailor's Shoes | Leather-Bound Book of Golf Courses | Leather-Strap Watch

I've organized the products below in order of budget for easier shopping, too! 

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Holiday Movie Guide & Where to Stream Them!

I obsessively watch Christmas movies as soon as Thanksgiving is over. I'm talking a minimum of one per day, and once it gets down to the Christmas wire I binge all of the best and favorite ones all day long, complete with cozy pajamas, snacks and hot chocolate. 

Nothing gets me more in the mood than holiday movies, and I never get tired of them. Every single year, my list seems to grow longer and longer (although the majority of my list still remains mainly of the classics!)

25 days of Christmas on ABC Family is always a decent option, but I honestly don't even have cable anymore (thanks to a healthy combination of Netflix, Hulu and my Chromecast) and I've noticed that over the years that's become a 25 day marathon of the same 6 or 7 movies, with a few random ones during daytime hours. 

In case you're looking for a bit of a more comprehensive and traditional list of ideas, I thought I'd share my list (which is already well underway, of course!)

If you're like me, you've gathered up an absurd amount of DVD's over the years and already own a lot of these for annual enjoyment. However, I also realize that is a slightly outdated method, and being a complete Netflix addict, I understand that having access to the Christmas movies is half the battle!

That's why I've broken down below if/where you can find all of the movies from my list to stream instantly. The good news is, if it's not available on one of your subscription services, Amazon has almost every single one of them available to rent and stream!

I'm not going to lie, my biggest disappointment was definitely Hulu...I switch back and forth between that and Netflix for the most part, and I couldn't believe their intense lack of Holiday Classics. They're going to have to do better than that!

I hope you all have many weekends and evenings filled with hot chocolate, cozy fireplaces by the tree (HA I wish...), and endless holiday movie binge watching!

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