3 must-pack beach reads

Something about April showers and a May that has been slow to bloom has had me tearing through books in the evenings after we wind down for the day.  In 2017, I really struggled to reach my Goodreads goal of 75 books, but this year the app let me know I’m 9 books ahead of schedule with no slowing down in sight. Here are a few recent picks that I loved and am eager to share with you!

the perfect mother by aimee molloy
The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy
I’ve been really into the “domestic fiction” genre that has emerged as of recently. I love reading about complex characters and diving into a psychological, suspenseful story. A mom’s group in Brooklyn meets with their brand new babies, and a night out turns catastrophic when one of the babies is missing. No one is what they seem, and there’s plenty of intrigue as the story takes you through a humid summer in the city.  Every page reveals a new detail, or a red herring. I couldn’t read this book fast enough, despite having to take Benadryl a few nights before bed, I found myself wanting to stay up later and later to read. When I finished this book, I was ready to start it over again knowing what I know now. Read this one carefully!
summer beach-read books | the great alone by kristin hannah

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
From the author of the poignant and powerful The Nightingale comes The Great Alone, a story about a family who has run away from it all and reached the end of the world in Alaska. Leni and her parents try to homestead in Alaska as her father tries to out run the trauma of being a prisoner of war in Vietnam. While this book did not start off as fast-paced as The Nightingale, I found myself fully invested in this story, and was left with a bit of a book hangover when it was time to be done. I’m glad to own this book, as I plan to pass along between my friends, wanting to share this artfully crafted story.

Forks, Knives and Spoons by Leah DeCesare
I’ll be the first to admit that a good book cover sometimes is enough to lure me in, and Forks, Knives and Spoons was one of those. I belong to a Facebook group led by Jen Cannon of the page In Literary Love, a fun bookstagram account to follow, and it seemed like I was seeing this book all over. The story is set at Syracuse University and New York City in the late 80s & early 90s, and I absolutely loved how the story is helped along by the lack of social media, cell phones and email. The main character’s father has a theory about males that characterizes them as either a fork, knife or spoon, and this silly theory characterizes everything the characters do during their time in school and in the post-grad world. You’ll definitely be thinking about silverware in a new light after this!

Did you read all the way to this part? Good! If you got here, I want to send you an Amazon gift card so that you can get yourself one of these books (or something else on your to-read list). Everyone who leaves a comment below with what their top pick would be of the books listed will be entered to win an Amazon gift card (contest open until Monday, May 28 at 9:00 PM CST).

summer beach-read books | the perfect mother, the great alone and forks, knifes and spoons



a picture-perfect rainy day in nyc

Our first full day in New York City was a rainy one, but we wanted to make sure we got out to enjoy the city, with or without rain in the forecast. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt right next to Grand Central Station, but most importantly, in the shadow of the Chrysler Building.

The Grand is situated in the middle of the city, making it pretty easy to get uptown, downtown and across town for less than $20 a ride, and probably even less on the Subway. My rationale on this trip was that our time was limited, so I was all for springing for Lyft and Uber to save time.

With rain in the forecast on Friday evening, we knew that our Saturday would have to be spent inside avoiding the downpour. My mom and aunt, who met me in New York after my work obligations ended, voted to go to the New York Botanic Gardens, and off we went. Believe it or not, the NYBG is a great place to get out of the rain.

rainy day in nyc | grand central, ny botanic gardens, joe's shanghai and the library hotel |

A large part of the botanic gardens is an enormous conservatory, sheltering visitors from the elements and housing the NYBG’s seasonal exhibits. We woke up in rainy New York and were transported to Hawaii for the opening day of the Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawaii exhibit. For Chicagoans reading this, the Haupt Conservatory reminded us a lot of the photos of the Columbian Exposition and World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893.

rainy day in nyc | new york botanic gardens

Admission covers the entire grounds, as well as a covered tram ride around the park, which is for sure the driest way to get to see everything. The gift shop is next level, and the gray skies brought out the beautiful colors of all the plants that we saw.

rainy day in nyc | NYBG botanic gardens |

We couldn’t count it as a trip to New York without wandering through Grand Central Station and admiring the beautiful art deco architecture (see the trend here? Art deco is hands down my favorite design style). The Grand Central Market is a great spot to browse and nibble your way through into the station, a la Eataly or other European-style markets. For those on a budget, trying to picnic, or in a hurry, this is a great spot to snag some goodies that will please anyone.

grand central station | rainy day in NYC

Our next stop was for drinks at Bookmarks, the rooftop bar at the Library Hotel right off Bryant Park. If I could live in a Library Collection Hotel forever, I would be the happiest bookworm alive. The Library Collections hotels incorporate literary elements into their design, and the Library Way location had more than 7,000 books on the premises.

library hotel | rainy day in nyc |

Bookmarks is the perfect spot to enjoy views of the city from above, without worrying about rain or wind. The majority of the bar is covered with a glass ceiling, full of cozy corners to have a drink and dive into a book, or meet a group of friends in a more social space. We loved our cocktails and feeling like we were outside.

bookmarks rooftop bar at the library hotel nyc |

We ended our rainy day at Joe’s Shanghai, a popular place in the heart of Chinatown. The narrow streets are reminiscent of China itself, and there are plenty of spots to duck in and out of the rain into. We loved Uniqulee, a beautifully curated vintage store with home items, jewelry and delicious smelling Apotheke candles.


Have you visited any of these spots? Stay tuned for more posts about my trip to New York, including my new favorite place!

crafting & diy

DIY with the best moms

Mother’s Day weekend is off to a great start in our family! As I emphasized in my birthday post, this year I’ve been all about experiences instead of things, so when I saw that Indigo & Violet Studio was running a cookie and card decorating class this weekend, I knew I had to go and bring the moms with!

indigo and violet studio | creative workship classes in chicago, il |

I’ve been following Leigh of Indigo & Violet on Instagram for a while now, and have been dying to get myself to one of the many classes that she hosts at her creative space. Her studio is everything it appears to be on social media, and then some! We loved getting to have a nice evening out to share some bubbly and get the creative juices flowing.

indigo & violet studio | creative classes in chicago |

Erin of ECBG Studio led our class and taught us some great techniques for how to watercolor paint on cookies using food coloring. She put together some yummy cookies with royal icing that we used as our blank canvases, and shared some of her edible gold leaf with us to take our cookies to the next level. It was a great time getting to talk to Erin about how her business is growing and what it looks like to make so many beautiful creations.

ecbg cake studio and indigo and violet | chicago cookie making class |

I love to paint, but the patience it takes to do watercolor is sometimes lost on me. Painting cookies is the perfect sized canvas, and I was able to work some magic on these cosmic-themed cookies. These masterpieces taste just as pretty as they look, an added bonus!

indigo and violet studio | creative classes chicago, il |

I’m definitely going to be refreshing the Indigo & Violet calendar for more events- it was fun having a night out with the moms where we got to take some goodies home with us and get to spend time together. When we weren’t dipping our paint brushes in our wine glasses (no surprise I did this more than once!) it was great to catch up and relax after a busy week. This was a great start to what I’m sure will be a lovely weekend celebrating all of the wonderful moms in my life- special shout out to some of my girlfriends who are celebrating their first ever Mother’s Day.


Have you ever painted with food coloring on cookies before? I’m dying to try learning how to do royal icing as well. Let me know in the comments if you’ve done this before!


dabbling with Dabble

I think I can chalk it up to Emily Ley and her Ruthless Decluttering Challenge that was all over social media earlier this month, but I was really feeling the notion of “experiences not things” when my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year. When Brendan was gone an entire month last summer for the Army, I didn’t wish that I had more jewelry, clothes or decor, I wished that he was with me. This year, it was a no-brainer that what I really wanted was to eat an awesome meal and find something fun to do together.

dusek's | michelin star restaurant in chicago's pilsen neighborhood |

Using Dabble, my husband found an awesome recycled wine bottle candle-making class in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. The class was run by Chicago Candle Company, a brand that I have seen in a local shops, and all over Instagram. We headed into the city early, stopping at Dusek’s Board and Beer on 18th Street, which may have been one of my best Yelp finds yet! We didn’t realize at first that this was one of Chicago’s Michelin star gems, but quickly fell in love with the menu, beer list and the ambiance. The location mixes old with new really well, and without being overly on-trend. I had oysters and a curried chicken salad, and Brendan had the “Juicy Lucy” burger, which looked just as mouthwatering as my meal! Worth a stop if you’re in the area, and Pilsen definitely warrants an adventure. We will definitely go back and explore more!

The candle-making class itself was the icing on the cake after our delicious meal. We learned all about how to select the perfect wine bottle to recycle as a candle holder, and our instructor took his time to make sure that everyone felt comfortable working with the glass cutter and open flame. The loft/warehouse space is their candle-making studio, and set up to be extremely efficient to make large orders, but we were taught how we could do something like this at home on our own as well.


Using a special tool, you score the bottle lightly, which weakens the glass. You then use heat from a flame very briefly, and dunk the bottle in cold water. We got to choose from some of CCC’s most popular scents, and learned how to heat the wax, measure it, color and scent it. I struggled to narrow down a scent, but ended up with Mint Julep, while Brendan chose Whiskey & Sweet Tobacco, which was a really clean masculine scent.

chicago candle company candle-making class |

As we waited for our wax to harden in the fridge, our instructor took us to see his favorite view of the city from the roof of the studio. Growing up on the north side of the city and then in the far north suburbs, I’ve never gotten used to seeing the city from a different approach. We had amazing un-obstructed views north to the skyline, and the photoshoot all of our classmates had killed the 20 minutes we needed to wait for our candles to cool.


I’m already scheming making more recycled wine bottle candles on my own, and of course I’m prowling the Dabble website to see what other cool things we can try. I hope this post has inspired you to try a new hobby or pursue an experience the next time you have a gift to give or receive!


what I’ve actually been doing

Lately I’ve been dreading clicking “new post” and trying to come up with words to put here. I’ve been feeling like I have 9 balls up in the air and I’m trying to juggle them all, but when I sit down to create a post I feel like I haven’t been up to anything!

I can’t be the only one who feels this way, right? So because of feeling a certain way, this post is not about a specific topic, but a wrap-up of the things I’ve been up to in the last two weeks of radio silence on the blog!

I placed a few holds on some library books, and promptly forgot about them. Conveniently, everything seemed to arrive at the same time, and I found myself under a lot of pressure to get them read and returned. I read the ebook version of An American Marriage and think that I missed the hype surrounding that book. It was an easy page turner, and wonderfully written, but something about it just didn’t do it for me. I would absolutely grab another book written by this author down the road in hopes that it was the end-all-be-all.

Right now I’m about a quarter of the way through This Is How It Begins and feel like it’s a page turner, albeit a slower one. I’m having a hard time keeping track of some of the names, but can tell this is building up to be a great read.

hello emily makes at the spring vintage market |

Considering that Facebook is mostly click bait, MLM crap and acquaintances oversharing, I will admit that I’ve found a ton of fun local events because of Facebook. Last weekend, I found an adorable vintage market a few towns over, and hit up the event with my mother-in-law. We loved all of these beautiful handmade items, especially these hand-painted wood signs by Hello Emily Makes.

In addition to shopping for home decor, I’ve been noodling over picking up a right-hand ring to complement my engagement ring and wedding band. I really love the look of these three bands together, but love the idea of accumulating them slowly and for special occasions. Believe me when I say I am the least patient person ever, so this would end up being three special occasions that I create in the span of a week!

Thanks for hanging around! Let me know if you’ve read This Is How It Begins, or if you think I should snag one band first and wait for the others, or honestly if you’ve even read this far down 🙂



3 good habits to get into (and one you must ditch)

As a habitual candy eater (many times, before 10:00 AM), some might say I am not the pinnacle of good habits. I have a hard time passing up a Tuesday night glass of champagne, even if my rule is no cocktails on weeknights, but at least I don’t bite my nails!

I’m definitely not going to be found on any self-help bestseller lists anytime soon, but this post consists of three good habits you should be doing if you’re not already, and one thing that we probably all do and shouldn’t! As a bonus, I added an extra habit at the bottom of this post for a laugh.

page a day journal and 3 habits you must try and one you must ditch asap |

  1. Keep a journal, even if it’s just a single sentence a day.
    Every single July 18th I’m shocked to see it’s been another year in the books- literally- of this page a day journal. I have my fair share of bad habits, and a decent amount of good ones too, but this has got to be one of my best. This journal has traveled with me to 8 countries and 25 states, and I’ve gotten to write down so many incredible highs, as well as some lows, all within these 365 pages.
    No matter what my day has been like, it doesn’t feel complete until after I’ve gotten the chance to write it down on these pages. I think sometimes we rely too much on what social media and technology will memorialize for us, that we overlook the value of tangible memories.

  2. Plan ahead for lunches and dinners

    Nothing is more frustrating that coming home after a long day of work and the gym to standing in front of our fridge and not knowing what to make. 9 times out of 10, the ends up in pizza or carry out that we didn’t actually want or need. My husband and I share a Google Doc (I know, very romantic) where we plan out a week’s worth of dinners, make a list of what we need, and add recipe links for suggestions.

    We end up eating (mostly) healthier than if we were rummaging around for a box of mac and cheese at the last minute, and we’ve gone grocery shopping a lot less often than we used to. It’s been a lot of fun getting to choose and cook the meals together, as well as figuring out hidden talents.

  3. Get something out of spending money, no matter what. This seems silly, but bear with me. I love a good deal, a yummy dinner, or a cute dress as much as the next girl, but I also love knowing that my money spent is also money saved. I downloaded the app Acorns last year and opted to round up to the nearest dollar on every purchase that I make. Acorns puts the pennies into a savings account, and invests your rounded up purchases. To me, this is a no-brainer. If I’m going to buy a coffee for $3.72, then I for sure have the extra $0.28 to spare to go into savings. A swipe here and an automatic payment there have the potential to add up, without being front of mind at all.In about a year, my acorns (ha-haaaaaa) are well on their way to growing into a big oak tree. I’ve saved an extra $1,000 without even thinking about it. By no means am I a financial advisor, and of course you should be saving much more than $1,000 a year, but Acorns is a great way to turn pennies into something with potential.

And last but not least, the habit to ditch- in my opinion- is bringing your phone or iPad into bed with you. I’ve slept with my phone off for the last ten years, and have to say that plugging it in and putting it to bed for the night is a really freeing feeling. Many times my phone *goes to bed* an hour earlier than me, eliminating one major distraction that’s standing between me and good night’s sleep. It’s easy for me to switch off for the day when I transition from looking at a page in a book to lights out, as opposed to going from a brightly lit screen to darkness with no time to acclimate. My husband and I both like to read ebooks on our tablets, but even switching the wifi off helps bridge the gap of overstimulation and bed time.

What’s your best habit that you currently are doing? Let me know in the comments below if there’s a routine I need to get into, or some habits I need to break! If you made it this far, here’s another great habit that was deemed not cool enough for this post: Continuing to wear your retainer so that your mom and dad did not waste thousands of dollars on orthodontia, even when your husband makes fun of you because it glows in the dark and you lisp.


beauty & lifestyle

makeup bag staples

Love me or hate me for it, but I’m the kind of person who wakes up and puts on makeup even if there are no explicit plans to leave the house that day. I’m also the kind of person who uses multiple bags and purses in one day, and am Boy Scout-level prepared (usually).

Becoming a Platinum-level Ulta Rewards member last year was an achievement that only pales next to earning my Masters degree in the same year. My husband is likely ashamed to look at our Mint account simply based on Makeup having its own category in our expenses, next to basic needs like heating and water.

In the last few years as I’ve built my makeup collection/arsenal, I’ve really come to appreciate the happy medium you can find between high-end products and bargains. I’m sharing my staples below- the products that are almost always in my bag, and are the first I reach for when I’m packing to travel. Be sure to stick around for your chance to win some goodies in my first-ever giveaway below!

staples in my makeup bag |

Essence Eye Shadow Base

There aren’t enough words in my vocabulary for me to gush about how much I love eye primer. I don’t know if there are still people out there who are not priming their lids before they put eyeshadow on, but if you’re one of these people, I beg you to try this and tell me it’s not life changing.

I discovered this on Pinterest as a “dupe” for Benefit’s Stay, Don’t Stray primer, aka my former love. Essence’s version packs the same punch and keeps your eyeshadow clinging for dear life at the end of the day.

makeup bag essentials |

Makeup Revolution Soph X Ultra 24 Eyeshadow Palette

I used this palette almost exclusively for a week and never ran out of possibilities- day, night, Mardi Gras, etc. I think that the mix of shimmery and matte help this be a palette you could bring with you on a work trip or a bachelorette weekend! I have auburn hair, but somewhat cool undertones, which leads me to bounce around between things that work for people with either cool or warm coloring.

I have no idea who Soph X is, but based on some YouTube research, I think she’s a beauty blogger from the UK. Regardless, props to her for putting together a really nice product!

Urban Decay All Nighter Setting Spray

I’m going to echo my thoughts above about eyeshadow primer, but please use setting spray if you are not already! I love All Nighter because it doesn’t have a shiny finish and feels very quick to dry. There’s nothing I love more than seeing my face still made up as if it was 7:00 AM when I’m about to jump in the shower 12 hours later. Shout out to all setting sprays everywhere, but especially this one.

Found Cosmetics Charcoal Sheet Mask

So I’m not on the mask 24/7/365 train at this point in my life, but a nice refreshing mask definitely can cure many ills. I came across Found Cosmetics on the @whoawaitwalmart Instagram, and really liked that they were emphasizing natural ingredients in their products. A lot of times we don’t think about the things that we are putting on or rubbing into our skin in hopes of cleansing and clarifying them.

L’Oreal Voluminous Lash Paradise

I love this mascara for many reasons, but mostly because I usually forget at least one crucial item every time I go on a trip. It’s usually a contact case, but on the off chance it’s ever mascara, I know this is an easy product to track down. Not having to put 900 coats of mascara on for some volume is great, as well as the lash primer that goes with this mascara.

Hope you enjoyed this post. Be sure to enter my giveaway below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Let me know below what you think your must-have beauty items are!