2019

Okay. Time for me to own up to the obvious: towards the end of 2018, this blog slipped a bit in terms of its placement on my priority list. For my faithful readers (my mom, my grandparents, my best friends…) I’m sorry for my silence, but you are also among those who know how absolutely nuts the last couple of months of the year got for me. Work was overwhelming — in the good way! — and between that, travel, and spending precious time over the holidays with the most important people, and babies, in my life, it just all went a little wonky. 

So, sorry about that. I fess up. But honestly, I’m not all that sorry because – you know what? – life happens.

(I also do realize that this is very similar to every rambling apology for a hiatus I’ve ever given before. That, I’m not so sorry about either. There are, after all, only so many ways that one can announce “I’ve been busy.”)

That said, I do want to make this blog more of a priority in the coming year. I’m not the resolution type, but I do like to goal set. Tangible goals, that is. Goals that are measured not by their ability to be completed in an arbitrary 365 trip around the sun, but just in general. Goals like “journal regularly,” “be more present,” and “blog more.”

In case you were wondering – yes, those are my 3 goals for 2019.

Now, you might be asking (I am) how the second and third goals work together. How can I be more present if I’m also trying to blog more? The long and short of it is that I want to bring this blog back to what it was intended to be – a place for my own self expression; a place to ramble about things I just might think some other people could care about, things like friendship and love and family. Yes, that means you’ll see less product reviews. Let’s be honest – I don’t spend a lot of money and am subsequently bad at those. No, that doesn’t mean I won’t post recipes or restaurant reviews when I think there’s one in particular of note. And no, it definitely doesn’t mean the travel diaries are going away. I’ve got some good trips coming up this year, one in particular that I am tingling with excitement for, and Lord knows I love those travel diaries, if only for my own self-reflections. And speaking of the Lord (was that a passe way to transition?) you’ll still see me talking to Him, about Him, on here. I can’t promise the regularity with which Testimony Tuesdays once appeared, but I can promise that it’ll happen enough. 

Okay, expectations aside, I’m now here to say what I really initially hopping on to say:

Happy New Year, friends. May the coming 12 months be filled with positivity, grace, love, and accomplishment – especially for those of you who, unlike me, actually are resolution-setters (I admire you).

As for me, I plan to spend the next 12 months working on, as I said, being evermore present, evermore thoughtful, and evermore diligent about documenting all of the good – and some of the bad – that is inevitably to come.

Cheers, 2019.

5 Ways to Fully Fall for Fall

Like most girls in their mid-twenties I am, basically and unabashedly, in love with the season autumn.

However, living smack-dab in the Sonoran desert doesn’t exactly offer a bunch of puddles to splash in or leaves to pile up to add to the autumnal atmosphere.

Thankfully, there’s Target to help combat that. And, thankfully part 2, pumpkin patches still exist in the desert (but – and this question is directed at anyone who owns, or knows someone who might own, a pumpkin patch… are they grown here? Are they imported in? However they get to the Valley of the Sun, I appreciate it.)

If you, like me, live in a place where the leaves don’t actually change and drinking a pumpkin spice latte seems a little odd with temperatures as warm as they are (here’s looking at you, Southern California), I’ve rounded up some ways the fully fall for fall, if you will:

1. Embrace the pumpkin candles. 

I’ll start with the obvious here. Scent is one of our strongest human senses, and has the power to bring about a plethora of emotions. That cozy feeling of fall is one of them. I’m just saying – the Bath & Body Works fall line is not just hype; it really adds to the atmosphere of things, even when it’s eighty degrees outside.

2. Hey, find some hay! 

No matter where you’re at, fall activities will indeed, inevitably, pop up. I’m sure even Hawai’i has a corn maze or two this time of year. Whether it’s a full-on fall festival, complete with said corn maze and turkey legs and what have you, or just a pumpkin patch on the corner of an intersection, a little hay goes a long way.

3. Movie marathon. 

One of the best things about fall is that it’s the start of the generally festive time of year — and there’s a movie for every moment. Halloween, Thanksgiving, general, golden-leaf loveliness: it’s a romantic setting overall, and makes for a wonderful movie backdrop. So light that pumpkin candle and pop some popcorn for an all-night autumn extravaganza. Personally, I suggest You’ve Got Mail, Halloweentown, Hocus Pocus (duh)and, of course, Remember the Titans. (Before you argue with me on that last one, football season is in the fall…)

4. Road trip! 

Even if you are a desert dweller, chances are, drive a couple hours in one direction or another, and you can find a place where fall actually does exist. For us, it’s only an hour, hour and a half tops, to the nearest trace of foliage. So if you have a free day, hop behind the wheel and go to where the temperature drops and the trees change colors.

5. Find a fall menu. 

You don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to gorge yourself on seasonal root vegetables and freshly baked pies. Granted, as much as I love baking, I usually actually do save the pies for Thanksgiving (you can’t beat my cousin’s apple crumble… as long as I don’t pick all the crumble off pre-dinner). Ramble aside, I do love a good seasonal recipe. Pinterest has a wealth of them, and hopefully, you don’t end up on the Pinterest fails hashtag, like I am prone to do.

Combine any pick of these 5 things with a splurge in the dollar section at Target, and I guarantee you’ll be feeling the fall festive spirit. And once you’re in it… it’ll be time to start blasting the Christmas music 😉

*raises apple cider mug* Cheers!

GNO (or in!) Like a Pro

Ladies, I think we can all agree that some of our best times are spent with our best girls. However, sometimes (or, all the time, if you’re notoriously indecisive, like myself), figuring out how to get some quality gal pal time in can be a bit tricky. There’s just so many options — which, oddly enough, tends to feel like there’s nothing to do at all!

So in the spirit of helping out all my other can’t-make-a-decision-to-save-our-lives readers, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite ways to GNO (or in!) like a total pro. No matter the budget, time, or preferences of your squad, any of these are guaranteed to be filled with lots of laughter and plenty of bonding.

Paint & Sip Classes

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These are all over Instagram these days, and with good reason! You don’t have to be Picasso or Monet to have a blast attempting to recreate whatever masterpiece you and your friends have chosen. Add in a few of your favorite sips, and you’re guaranteed to at least spend a lot of time laughing, even if your actual painting doesn’t turn out exactly like you thought it would. (My pro tip on this one – be careful with how much wine you drink if you want to have any hope of making something decent. My cornhole skills might get better the further into our cabin’s Labor Day block party we get… my painting skills… not so much.)

If you’re in the Phoenix area, I’d highly recommend Pinot’s Palette, in Gilbert!

Budget friendly alternative: Host a paint night yourself! Canvases and acrylics aren’t too expensive at your local craft store, and we all know that a bottle of wine at the store is the same price as one glass at a bar. You can find stencils and tutorials for just about any masterpiece online! Just be careful where you do the painting — outside might be best.

Movie Night 

There’s something about keeping it traditional – a chick flick, some popcorn, and your best gal pal. Now, movie theaters are stepping it up and allowing you to get the whole dinner-and-a-movie experience in one place. At the Studio Movie Grill, they’ve got an assortment of delicious dinner choices (personally, I recommend the flatbread) and table service during the latest films.

Budget friendly alternative: Turn on the Netflix, order a pizza, and pop some prossecco or sparkling cider to keep it festive! Netflix released some killer chick flicks over the summer. There’s nothing wrong — in fact, there’s everything right — with binge watching To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Kissing Booth, and Sierra Burgess is a Loser for the eighteenth time.

Dressed Up Dessert

I don’t know about you, but I love finding a good excuse to get dressed up, and I don’t have nearly enough reasons. But if you feel like splurging, it sure is fun to put on some heels and hit a swanky restaurant (personally, I’m a fan of the resort restaurants) for a glass of something bubbly and a decadent dessert. Indulge your sweet tooth and give your favorite dress some time out of the closet all at the same time.

Budget friendly alternative: Go in the complete opposite direction and make homemade ice cream sundaes in your PJs! It’s just like middle school — only, without the catty comments and awkward phases, thank goodness.

Wine & Cheese 

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This one’s a classic, and for a good reason. And, if you know me, this is my top recommendation for girls night basically every time, because I just can’t pass up a good charcuterie board. The best part is, there’s tons of places in town that offer their stellar cheese boards on special for happy hour! (Check out my post on the happiest hours in Phoenix for some of my top local recommendations.)

Budget friendly alternative: Make your own! Places like Trader Joes’ offer excellent cheese options, and addictive crackers to go with it, all at a wallet-friendly price. The best part of making your own cheese board, too, is getting to decide exactly what goes on it — which, for me, would just be Brie, Brie, and some more Brie.

Do It For The ‘Gram

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Who doesn’t love a good photoshoot? Instagram exhibits are all the rage these days, so grab your gals and head to something like the Art of Ice Cream Experience, where not only can you indulge in all the sweet treats you could possibly desire, but you’ll get some great candids out of it too, perfect for showing off what a great girls night you had to all of your followers! (Because, you know, that’s important these days… says the blogger.)

Budget friendly alternative: Insta-worthy museums can have a price tag, but a plain old wall and your iPhone certainly don’t! Grab some props, whether it’s cheap photobooth mustaches from the Dollar Spot, or your fave stuffed animal that we all know sits on your bed, and stage your own shoot! You’ll have just as many silly shots, and hardly spend a cent!

No matter where you go or what you do, though, the most important thing is that you’re spending some solid time with your best friends… cheers to that!

Becoming Sustainable, Sustainably

I’ve been on a kick lately – all about sustainability. It’s just at the very forefront of my mind, and honestly, how could it not be? It seems everywhere you look, there’s a new, horrific story about how human consumption is damaging the earth. God gave us this earth to take care of, to nurture, to love, and our rampant consumerism is killing it.

Literally.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend to be a composting, family-towel-using icon of sustainable living. I’m quite the opposite, actually. But lately, I have been looking for easy ways to reduce my own footprint. Ways to be sustainable… sustainably, if you will.

Note: The rest of this post contains affiliate links – if you click through any of the links in the post below & make a purchase, I may receive compensation, at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Get a reusable shopping bag

This, to me, is literally one of the easiest things you can do. In some states, like California and, I believe, Hawaii, there are laws in place to encourage people to do this simply by charging for bags. (Personally, I think Arizona should get on board with it, but that’s a ramble for another day.)

Most grocery stores these days sell reusable bags right at the front, and for a fairly decent price. I mean, come on. You can pick up a tote at Trader Joe’s for 99 cents. Just skip the oh-so-tempting caramel sea salt chocolate bar that they lure you in with at the impulse grab stands one day and get a bag instead… and then go hit up the sample counter an extra time to reward yourself for doing so. I won’t tell. 😉

Reusable cups – and straws!

Again, another super easy switch to make, and one that I can vouch will save you money on your daily Starbucks, while also conveniently limiting your use of single-use plastic, which is one of the biggest waste issues we’re battling right now.

Starbucks, and many other coffee shops, offer a cup discount for a personal cup – which, of course, makes sense as it avoids them having to use their own inventory. But it’s also a really good incentive to use one, especially now that they sell such cheap reusable options… Starbucks has a $2 hot cup and a $3 reusable cold cup up for grabs. I may or may not have bought multiples of both, and now am fully stocked for all of my iced coffee needs.

While you’re at it, maybe consider getting reusable straws too! If you’re like me (and my best friend, and my aunt, and many other people I can think of), you love straws. It just makes drinks taste different… and better! But have you ever paused to think just how many single-use straws you go through in a week, or even in a day? If you switch to something like these stainless steel reusable straws, you’ll easily reduce your straw consumption… and, on the bright side, won’t have to worry about running out of straws at home ever again!

Meal prep

Okay, this one might seem like a fairly odd one, but I’ve been really focusing on reducing my food waste lately. I don’t compost — mainly because I don’t quite know how, and because it’s a very intimidating concept, if I’m being honest — so I’ve tried to reduce what food waste I do have left simply by, well, making sure I can eat it all. I already try not to buy packaged food when it’s not necessary for the sake of cutting down of packaging waste (like packaged fruit, etc.) and the packaged food we do buy (deli meat, etc.) I try to find either recyclable or reusable packaging. I’m not kidding when I say that 90% of our Tupperware is from the deli section. The other 10% is “borrowed” from my parents… 🙂

Anywhos.

I’ve learned that prepping meals so that there are guaranteed leftovers avoids putting me in the awkward spot where there’s not quite enough left to save, but also way too much left to eat. (Although, again, being with a human garbage disposal does come in handy here, as he’ll usually eat clean up for the table if necessary.) Portioning out when cooking so that there’s a promised second meal helps me significantly reduce any unnecessary food waste from my cooked meal. It’s also made me more conscious of preserving what I can while actually cooking the meal, so I’d consider that a win-win.

(Plus, how adult do you feel when you’re bringing actual food to work instead of a PB&J? So adult.)

Search secondhand 

Garment manufacturing is a big issue when it comes to sustainability. I’ve always been a fan of making clothes and things last as long as possible. Shopping secondhand comes naturally to me (well, as naturally as any shopping might come. I’m not a huge browser and I love the sale rack, so shopping for clothes generally isn’t something I’d consider “natural.” But I digress.)

Plus, searching for finds secondhand offers the benefit to your wallet, too. I recently fell in love with ThredUp, which you can read all about in my awkward review. It was an easy and affordable way to refresh my summer wardrobe (I got my new favorite blouse out of it), and I felt better about my conscious purchasing.

Now, I realize this is only the tip of the iceberg… and that that might not be the best metaphor to use in this scenario, but I’ll assume that you catch my drift. But I don’t think that sustainability needs to be this huge, terrifying, intimidating concept that seems unreasonably difficult to implement into your daily life. Even the smallest things can make a difference.

So… what about you? Do you take any conscious steps towards keeping your own carbon footprint as small as realistically possible?

Blogging with Purpose

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To be honest, I almost didn’t post today. I almost broke my fairly regular cadence of Tuesday/Thursday blog posts out of mere busyness and lack of true inspiration. This week has just gotten the better of me — social commitments have had me slacking on my workouts, work has me exhausted (in the good way! but still…), and I didn’t plan well for blog content. I didn’t want to post just for the sake of posting, so I wasn’t going to do it at all.

And then it struck me: there’s my post.

Diving into the blogger world, I’ve realized that it can be so easy to be insincere, not genuine. With all of the sponsored posts that keep blogs going, a battle for visibility within the algorithms, and so much more, it can be tempting to post just to post. I’ll admit — I’ve done it, and I’m fooling myself if I think I won’t do it again.

But I try, so hard, to avoid it. Why? Because that’s not at all what I started on this blogging journey for.

The other day, someone asked me a question.

“What is your blog about?”

I had to pause, for a moment, before offering a rambling response of: “It’s a lifestyle blog. Well, a faith-based lifestyle blog. Well, no. Kind of a faith-mixed-with-lifestyle blog. I’m still trying to figure it out.”

And while that’s true, it still got me thinking. What is this blog about?

I always said that I didn’t ever want to blog just to blog. I wanted to write things that have meaning to me – whether that meaning stems from pure interest or curiosity, or whether it’s something a bit deeper like faith. I never wanted to write just to spew some words out there. I live by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s motto:

You don’t write because you want to say something,
you write because you have something to say.

So as I pondered the question, I started perusing my own feeds. I started looking for the people and bloggers whose content I admire the most, who I look up to and admire in this crazy, saturated blogging sphere.

I noticed that my favorites were the ones with stories to tell. Not only stories, but their own truths. I am the biggest fan of real-life rawness, and I am so in awe of people who are vulnerable enough to share those moments with the world.

So that, I’ve decided, is what I want to tell people my blog is about:

Real life.

That’s not to say I won’t work with sponsors or affiliates. That’s not to say that I won’t occasionally post just to post — but I’m going to try to avoid it.

This is my pledge to you, my readers, that I will continue to blog with the utmost purpose. I will not hide details for the sake of making my life look more “shiny.” I will not shy away from the tough stuff. I urge you, whether you’re a blogger or a reader or just a random passerby, to live your life with that same mantra.

Can we do that, together? Can we promise to be real, and purposeful, and intentional?

I pray that we can. I pray that I can. And I pray that you continue to offer me the grace of your listening ears (or… I guess… your reading eyes?)