Holiday House Tour

TGIF friends!

This is my last day at work before Winter Break.

I actually checked the last item off my to do list yesterday afternoon, so should have a low key day of housekeeping in the office.

I'm excited to share a holiday house tour with you today.

I find myself decorating less every year. I focus on the quality over quantity and give the most attention to our living and dining room which makes the most impact.

So without futher adieu, come on in!

I've made ornament wreaths year after year (DIY here), but they always inevitably end breaking before the next Christmas, so this year I used this store bought version I bought my first year of college to decorate my dorm room!

Once inside, we'll start with the living room which is the first room you enter through the front door.

We've moved our tree around quite a bit over the years and put it int his spot for the first time last year and it's a winner! It's in a focal spot being right next to the fireplace and stockings, but is tucked away enough that it doesn't feel overly intrusive.

I frequently get asked the source of our stockings, and they are from Mark & Graham. They don't appear online anymore, but I'm guessing they're just out of stock. They do have them year after year, though! The mirror (c/o) can be found here and trumpet vases here.

This zebra pillow remains a favorite year after year and I love him so much I usually keep him out through January! I'm also late to the party, but discovered the goodness of Nest "Holiday" this year!

This nook is so cozy! I bought the little "Merry Christmas Y'all" pillow our first Christmas dating and it makes me smile every time I see it! All those beautiful Christmas cards of family and friends make me smile, too!

This vignette sadly isn't quite what I'd like it to be. Paper whites are planted in the cachepot but have yet to bloom! I planted them in a clear vase last year and had great luck. Tried the blue and white this year and while they've sprouted a bit, I'm worried they're not going to fully bloom. So just picture this image with beautiful paper whites!

Next up is the dining room, which I brightened up this year with a pretty pink poinsettia! I think it suits the new dining room decor!

This reindeer that was a Michael's find continues to be a favorite year after year.

I couldn't resist adding a little holiday cheer to the bar. Santa looks ready to tie one on!

There are a few Christmas touches throughout other rooms, I'll share, but as mentioned I make things more and more simple every year!

This wooden tree was a fun find at the VMFA after Christmas a couple years ago. My favorite part is that it comes apart into two pieces that lay flat for storage!

 How adorable is this black lab pillow my mom got us this year? I cut the tag off and try as I might have not been able to track him down online!

And last but not least, our kitchen got some holiday cheer!

What's your Christmas decorating style? All out or simple? 

Traditional or funky?

Have a great weekend!


Last Minute Prime Gift Guide

Happy December 18, friends!





Are you ready?

As mentioned last week, we've got a little bit of wrapping left and still need to get our Christmas cards out. I ordered through Minted, a little later than intended, and our cards were supposed to arrive yesterday. Well, last night I got an email saying they were delayed 1-2 days. According to tracking, they should arrive by 10:30 am today; and while I'm disappointed, I have to say Minted is handling this in the best way possible. They refunded all shipping charges and also refunded me 30% of the order total. Fingers crossed they make it today so I can get them signed, sealed, delivered!

I decided last week it would be fun to put together one more bonus gift guide: a Last Minute Amazon Prime Gift Guide! Being that Amazon Prime is all about practicality, I figured I'd make the focus on practical gifts. Being 30 now, I find myself feeling very adult (tehehe) and wanting practical more and more. As always, most of these are things I currently own and love, or things I would want for myself. Just as I did with my other guides, I've included commentary about each item below the guide.

And if you haven't yet, be sure to check out my other 2 gifts guides. There are Prime picks in both, and many other items that are still available, on sale, and guaranteed for holiday delivery:

Salad Spinner: How did I live 28 years without a salad spinner? This salad spinner is one of our most used wedding gifts. I absolutely hate cleaning salad greens, because it's so hard to get them dry after and this spinner makes it a breeze!
Festive Dog Collar: This holiday plaid collar is so cute! The brand is Up Country and Millie has had this zebra one and matching leash (not available thru Prime), since she graduated from her little pink puppy collar. It has been on her swimming in the river, through mud, and more and is still in great shape. 
Rosebud Lip Balm: This lip balm has been in my gift guides year after year and for good reason. I've been using it for probably 10 years now and always have this tube in my purse, and the jar on my nightstand.
L'occitane Hand Cream: Good hand cream is a necessity during the cold winter months and this cream is so decadent, and doesn't leave your palms feeling greasy or clammy (my pet peeve with most hand lotions).
Amazon Fire Stick: My dad gifted us one of these years ago and we use it almost exclusively when watching TV...we really do need to cancel our cable. You can get so many streaming apps through it, and we use it to stream Pandora whenever we want to play music, as well. Bonus points if you gift an Amazon Prime membership with it.
Fitbit: Bryce just purchased a Fitbit on Cyber Monday and has been loving it. The new ones sync with your phone for texts and the sleep tracking has been motivating us both to get more shut eye.
Dry Shampoo: I've tried several different dry shampoos, at both high and low price points, and this one is hands down the BEST! It also has a nice fresh scent that isn't overpowering. I'd love for my stocking to be stuffed with Perfect Hair Day!
Coravin Wine System: This has been high on my personal wish list ever since seeing blogger Being Bridget rave about it on Instagram (see her Stories tutorial here). She's had hers for 6 years and it enables you to pour a glass of wine without unsealing the cork...meaning you could make a bottle last for months! Perfect for nights when Bryce is having a beer and I want just a glass of wine.
Champagne Stopper: If a Coravin is out of your price range, this champagne stopper is a great stocking stuffer to help extend the life of your bubbly!
Garlic Peeler: We eat A LOT of garlic and this little tool is so handy! It enables you to peel garlic with just a quick roll, avoiding the smell that can get stuck in your nails when trying to peel by hand. Great stocking stuffer!
Herb Scissors: Another favorite kitchen tool that I actually included in my Ladies Gift Guide last year. Herbs can be difficult to chop and these scissors make it quick and easy. The only time I bother to actually chop now is when I'm preparing herbs to look pretty as a garnish. 
Fatwood: We burn a lot of wood fires all winter. In fact, I may need to do another ladie's fire building tutorial on Stories now that I can create it as a highlight reel. Fatwood is key to getting a good fire going. Speaking of fires, not Amazon Prime, but this log carrier is one of Bryce's favorite Christmas gifts I've given him, and comes with free 2-day shipping if you order by December 20!
Cordless Vacuum: One of my favorite bloggers is Megan of Holy City Chic. She raves about this vacuum for clean up in between deep vacuuming; and swears it's far better than its Dyson counterpart which is much more pricey. It also has a handheld detachable vacuum. When my parents were asking for gift ideas for Bryce, I was tempted to tell them he really wanted this, haha! I think I may buy it with some Christmas money.
Pasta Measuring Fork: I have a very similar pasta fork, which try as I might I couldn't find online anywhere! What I love about it is that the holes are used for measuring spaghetti servings. I never know how much to cook, so it's very useful. This little tool also does the same job.
Handbag Organizer: I ordered this when my Goyard arrived this fall and absolutely love it. It's the perfect size for any large tote bag, and keeps me so organized while also protecting the liner of my bag from stains. You can see how it fits inside my Goyard GM here (similar size to LV Neverful MM or Longchamp Large Les Pliages), and what I love about the size is that there's still room in my bag for a laptop, book, gym clothes, etc around the organizer.
Room Freshener: I love to spray this on our mattress and pillows when changing the sheets. It would be great to spray on linens in a guest room, as well, to make a room that doesn't get used so often smell fresh.
Moleskin Notebook: Day to day at work, I tend to use small notepads and legal pads, but always have a Moleskin handy for when I'm going to a Board meeting or donor meeting where I want to come across as a little more professional. Love the blue color!
Mini Steamer: This is another top pick from our wedding registry! I don't iron. The 2-3 times a year I need something ironed, I have Bryce do it. This gets me through the rest of the year and is the perfect size for travel. It heats up in a flash, and also helps me to extend wear of items between dry cleans.
Hanky Panky Set: It doesn't get much more practical than underwear for Christmas and Hanky Pankys have been my very favorite undies for years. Love this colors in this "Something Blue" trio.
Greek Key Doormat: I always use a coir doormat- they're durable and stylish. This Greek key style is a classic that will match just about any decor. 
Boxer Briefs: Those who follow along on Instastories have heard all the hype about these boxer briefs. In fact they're the ONLY thing Bryce asked for this year! Would be perfectly practical for the hard to shop for man.
Table Topics: My mother-in-law has these and they're so fun for dinner parties or just family get togethers to energize the conversation. I might even order them for Bryce and I...sometimes we'll take turns asking each other random questions and this would probably make it easier and more interesting.

How is your Christmas shopping coming along?

Are you a fan of practical gifts? 

Will you take advantage of Amazon Prime this holiday season?

Have a great day!


Tips for Holiday Hosting

Happy Monday readers!

8 days...can you believe it? Christmas is nearly here!

Those who follow along on Insta know that we hosted my family for Thanksgiving this year.

While I've had a lot of practice hosting dinner parties, book clubs, and other gatherings, hosting your family for a large holiday meal is a little different. I picked up some tips and tricks this first go around and I thought I'd share today, given that you may be hosting your family in the coming week for a Christmas meal!

These aren't rocket science by any means, but I hope you'll find a tip you've never thought of before in today's post.

Choose your menu with preparation in mind. What I mean by that is to consider: What items can be prepared, or even fully cooked in advance? What are the various temperatures items need to be baked at? How much space is in the fridge for items you prepare in advance or need to be chilled? Are there dietary restrictions to be aware of?

For example, we chose to skip a turkey and the intimidation factor it brings. Instead we opted to get a honey baked ham (pre-sliced) that would just need to be warmed up and to roast a chicken. We also included baked brie as an app, homemade yeast rolls (recipe coming soon!), a brussel sprouts salad (recipe here), sweet potato casserole (recipe here), and French silk pie (recipe here).

The night before, we baked the pies, prepped the sweet potato casserole so all it needed was baking, and also shredded the brussel sprouts. The morning of, we baked the rolls so all they'd need was to be reheated at mealtime; the rest we were able to do in the afternoon before guests arrived at 5:00 pm (a time I chose so we'd have all day to prepare and not feel rushed).

We finalized this menu about 3 weeks in advance and shared it with my family, asking others to also bring a dish to share.

Staging is also key in advance of hosting. We live in a small cape cod, so figuring out seating, traffic flow, and food presentation took a little creativity. The day before we worked through a few different layouts and set the table. 

The first item we tackled was seating. The most we can fit at our dining table is 6, and that's a tight squeeze. We had 9 coming, so opted to flip our dining table lengthwise and add a card table at the end. I set both tables with white linens and a matching table runners to make the tables feel cohesive and put similar flower arrangements in blue and white on both tables. (Speaking of flowers, magnolia is your best friend for holiday arrangements. It is so easy and makes a beautiful statement!)

The next item to think about was bar and appetizer placement. I wanted to avoid too much traffic in the kitchen, as last minute cooking and prep would be happening, so set a bar up in the living room. This doesn't need to be fancy and really any old table will do. Bryce's nightstand is a drop leaf table, so I literally cleared that, brought it downstairs expanding the leaves, and threw a fall tablecloth on top (underneath the fall cloth, I first layered a padded water resistant cloth to protect the wood)! The bar was self serve with wine, lemon water, and some nuts. On the back patio, we had a Yeti cooler stocked with beer, soda, and LaCroix, again self serve.

Given our limited space, I opted to place appetizers on the card table. I staged the 3 place settings for that table in the sun room, as well as the folding chairs. A few minutes before it was time to eat, I simply cleared the apps to the kitchen and was able to quickly set the remaining three places and put the chairs out.

Finally, part of staging is also planning how you'll serve the meal. We opted for a simple buffet in the kitchen. Since we had prepped everything requiring our stand mixer the night before, we hid that in the pantry, and cleared the counter tops as much as possible putting serving platters out the night before. 

Another staging tip is to have a few versatile serving platters pulled out and handy in advance. I keep our serving platters in the corner cabinet of our dining room which was not the most accessible with the Thanksgiving table set up. Knowing that some of the "pot luck" items may need platters, I pulled a few out in advance and had them within reach in our pantry. One item I realized we were short on, in the moment, however was serving utensils! While people will sometimes come prepared with serving platters for the food they bring, many people don't bring serving utensils. We were able to improvise with wooden spoons and such, but I do plan to buy a couple more serving utensils between now and our next holiday hosting.

Have a clean up and leftovers plan. This may be a no brainer, but clean up as much as you can as you prepare the meal and also be sure to have an empty dishwasher in advance of your guests' arrival. One of my tips, that sounds silly, but I've gotten compliments on, is to have a pretty dish towel ready for whatever last minute non-dishwasher safe dishes you may throw in the sink. I didn't do this at Thanksgiving, but at other parties in the past, I've simply draped the dishtowel over the sink to hide the mess from guests. In terms of clean up, Bryce and I don't have a problem leaving dirty dishes in the sink overnight (I know some folks can't sleep if a dish is left in the sink...this is not us!). We typically will do whatever clean up is absolutely necessary at the end of the night (ie: putting food away, loading the dishwasher, soaking dishes, etc), but then will tackle the rest, and putting dishes away in the morning. One of my favorite moments after hosting an event is sitting down on the couch with a glass of wine after clean up!

For leftovers, be sure to buy extra tupperware in advance, or do what I did and send a BYOT (bring your own tupperware!) message to guests in advance of the event. Also make sure you're stocked with aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and ziplock bags. It's also good to have a few grocery or shopping bags at the ready in case people need to pack their leftovers.

The final tip is to enjoy yourself! The holidays are all about time spent with family, so do as much prep work in advance, and choose a menu that allows you time outside the kitchen with your guests. And at the end of the day, if you do have a recipe flop or snafu, it makes for a great story!

Have you hosted your family for the holidays?

What are your go to hostessing tips and tricks?

Have a great day!


Friday 5: Holiday Jammies Edition

Happy Friday friends!

T-11 days until Christmas...are you ready?

I'm nearly there: Just waiting on our Christmas cards to arrive so I can send them and gift wrapping. Bryce and I always enjoy wrapping together; believe it or not he makes the best bows! I've finally hit the stage at work, too, where all the preparation for year-end giving is coming together, things are slowing down, and I'm able to see the fruits of my labor. Winter break starts December 21 and I can't wait to have some down time to wrap up 2018!

One final thing I checked off my to-do list was finding a pair of Christmas jammies!

I mentioned in my Ladies Gift Guide (here) that pajamas are one of my favorite gifts to receive and decided to gift myself a festive pair this year. The hard part was choosing...

This set was my top choice, but try as I might I couldn't justify the price tag. Maybe next year? Or an after Christmas sale? They do have sets for the whole family which was tempting (mens here, kids here, pups here). Also love this champagne set by the same brand that would get you through New Year's Eve (have always wanted to host a fancy NYE pajama dinner party)!

Another family friendly, albeit out of my price range, option were these zebra pajamas! Someone please buy these so I can live vicariously through you! (mens here, kids here). Also love this palm print short set by the same brand...maybe you could have a Hawaiian Christmas theme? "Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas day..."

These don't scream Christmas, more woodland forest, but that means you can get even more mileage from them, right? Still a little pricey, but we're getting warmer and I also love these red tigers (again not totally Christmas, but red..hello!), and this "bearry holiday" set that I actually could probably convince Bryce to wear in the men's version. On the family note, there's not much cuter than a smooshy baby in Roberta Roller Rabbit!

Woohoo! We've finally gotten to a price point under $100! I own a pair of P.J. Salvage flannel pajamas and they are oh so cozy, and come in so many fun prints! Also love this flannel pair that come in 3 Christmas patterns under $50!

Woohoo! We have a winner...and for under $40 with free holiday shipping if you add a little more to your cart to push the total up to $50 (I recommend adding this)!!! I actually ordered them in the "NYC Cityscape" print and am surprising my mother-in-law with a matching pair to wear on Christmas and  reminisce to our New York City Christmas trip last year! I also couldn't resist ordering a pair in the pink stripe for post-Christmas wear. Prior to ordering, I had actually tried these on in store, and they are so incredibly soft and run true to size. I can't wait for their arrival!

And last, but certainly not least, you definitely need a comfy pair of slippers to accompany your jammies...and these all are on sale!

Are you a fan of Christmas pajamas?

What's left on your to do list over the next 11 days?

Have a great weekend!



Happy November 28, 2018...aka my 30th birthday!

It's crazy to think when I started this blog in 2011, I was just 22, still in college, and a few months shy of meeting Bryce. It's been with me for most of my 20s and huge milestones like graduation, teaching, leaving teaching, a new career, Millie, an engagement and wedding (Sheesh! I'm so behind on getting y'all these posts!), and more; so it only feels fitting to document this milestone. I'll start this post recapping my 30th birthday cocktail party that was a couple weekends ago on the 17th and then end with 30 thoughts. Thoughts on turning 30, life lessons, random tidbits, and more.

Now buckle your seatbelts, you're in for a long ride with this post!

Before jumping into the cocktail party, I have to recap you on the night before. Bryce's hunt club is not far from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, and from the dock in their marsh there is a clear view of the rocket launch pad. Bryce has always dreamed of seeing a rocket launch, but they are often in the  middle of the night during the week, and also frequently get cancelled due to weather. The morning of the 16th, the day before my party, Bryce told me a rocket was being launched that night/morning at 4:01 am- weather forecasts were clear and there was a 95% chance of launch. He asked if I'd be game to go. I think he was shocked when I said yes! I told him I had plans to get a mani pedi after work, so if he would get Millie packed and loaded, we could head out as soon as I got home and had a few minutes to throw some yoga pants in a bag. I also requested that we stop and get brunch at my favorite Virginia Beach brunch spot Leaping Lizard Cafe on the way home, and that we get back with enough time for me to run before my blow out at 4:30. (Spoiler Alert: I skipped the run, but ran 8 miles the next day!) Y'all, what an experience it was! How amazing to see the sky light up and a rocket launch all the way up into space. Not to mention the rush we got from the spontaneity of it all. We've talked about embracing this time pre-kids to be spontaneous and it really inspired me to be more adventurous day to day! Here are a few photos recapping, and you can see more from the adventure on my Insta highlight reel here.

We arrived at about 9:30, popped a bottle of Moet, and then headed to bed at 11:00.

The alarm was set for 3:30 am, we got up, bundled up, and headed down to the marsh!

We followed along on Facebook Live in advance of the launch hearing cool tidbits (like the fact that the rocket had materials to study crystals that could teach us more about Parkinson's) and the final countdown.  

We went back to sleep from about 4:30 to 8:00 am, and then took in some final marsh air before heading home with a pitstop for brunch along the way. I really truly don't think there's any place more beautiful than Virginia.

So now onto the partay! My mother-in-law, RoseMarie, was so sweet to host a cocktail party. While I didn't get as many detail photos as I would have liked, I did get some great photos throughout the night!

RoseMarie believes homemade birthday cakes are the most special
and made each one of these cakes herself: the top with hot pink candles is a lemon cake, 
middle with yellow candles is key lime pound, and bottom with light pink candles is chocolate.
Yes, I did have a piece of each. The chocolate (recipe here) was my favorite!

Heavy hors d'oeuvres (also all homemade by RoseMarie) were served buffet style and passed. On the buffet, guests enjoyed beef tenderloin with grainy mustard, horse radish, and rolls; ham salad biscuits; artichoke dip, and chicken salad tarts. Mini crabcakes, ramekin-sized pastas in the pinks, and cranberry brie bites were passed. Cheese straws were also available at the bar for munching.

How gorgeous are these peach roses?

Personal-sized pastas in the pink!

I always enjoy the opportunity to bring separate groups of friends together, and the party included childhood friends, work friends, college friends, and more. Here are some snapshots with some of my guests.
With my mama!

Look at that stud in the background...
hope our kids are as cute as B was!

Blowout Buddy...
I met this lady a decade ago when we were 20!

Hostess with the Mostest! I certainly hit the jackpot 
when it comes to mother-in-laws.

Gal Pals

This guy knows how to make a birthday girl
feel like a million bucks!

Finally, you can't have a birthday post without some pictures recapping the birthday song and blowing out the candles!

 And now, if you've made it this far, let's jump into 30 thoughts and tidbits as I embark on 30. I'll try to mix up serious, random, and fun so it doesn't get too heavy along the way.

1. I recently had a phone conversation with a donor who turns 70 today. I commented that we both had milestone birthdays coming up on the 28th. He chuckled and when I told him I'd be 30, he told me to watch out. Turning 70 seemed like a big one, but the only other milestone birthday that had hit him hard was 30. Today, luckily, doesn't feel hard at all. I have a feeling this next decade might be my best and I'm excited to feel more like an "official" adult. Though, I do think 31 is going to hit me hard.

2. While I don't feel like 30 is old at all, I have cracked myself up a little bit on the vanity side of things. I've thought "I'm nearly 30, I can't wear this" a few times trying on clothes; took my hair back to a blonder shade from my youth during my last appointment; recently gasped upon discovering and then plucked a gray eyebrow hair; and told Bryce I wanted Botox to tackle forehead wrinkles (started using this peel about a month ago instead).

3. Your twenties are such a decade of growth, learning, and change. I started my twenties single and in school and am ending it married with a dog seven years into the workforce. What's funny, is while my early twenties may have been a time of less responsibility, I'm actually ending my twenties with  more of a carefree spirit. I'm still Type A, but I think a lot of my growth this last decade has been in learning to let go, and to choose where to focus my Type A energies.

4. I was born the Monday after Thanksgiving, two weeks early, and my dad, godfather, and other family friends worked tirelessly to finish an addition which included my nursery while my mom was in the hospital with me. Talk about nesting!

5. What I'm looking forward to most in this new decade is starting a family. I'm actually tearing up writing this, because being a mom has been my greatest dream all along. In fact, so much of my life's path up to this point has been chosen with a focus of that in mind. For example, when I started college, I had a serious interest in International Relations and working for the UN (I had traveled to the Hague my senior year of high school for the International Model UN), but realized I didn't want to live or raise a family in a big city like DC, New York, or abroad. While I don't regret a thing about my path, and think I've landed in literally the perfect career and spot, I'm glad to be ending my twenties with more a view of having both a career and motherhood.

6. On the flip side, if you had asked me in my early twenties my life goals, I would have told you I wanted to 3 kids, two boys and a baby girl, and have them all between the ages of 28 and 32. The closer I've gotten to 30, the more I've realized babies can wait a little longer.

7. I've always been bubbly, but the older I get, the more I realize just how important and powerful positivity is. I do my very best to always find the silver lining and also have learned it's okay to unapologetically let go of commitments, relationships, and things that bring you down.

8. Growing up my grandma always got my birthday cake from Westhampton Pastry Shop, a Richmond classic that is right down the street from our home now. Around the time that I was 8 or 9, I opted for ice cream cake instead which she would get from Baskin Robbins. In high school, I made the switch to Dairy Queen cakes (yummmm...cookie dough blizzard cake), and now I usually just get a special birthday dessert wherever I choose to go for my birthday dinner.

9. In addition to personal growth and development in my twenties, my palate also grew. At 20, barely any vegetables crossed my lips and now as I write this post I'm eating broccoli and am not picky at all! I still am not the biggest fan of fruits, though.

10. Bryce's favorite thing about me is that I'm "fiery" and I love that he loves that in me. I can't to be more fiery 30 years from now at 60 and even more fiery another 30 years after that as an old lady when I (hopefully) reach 90.

11. My favorite childhood birthday parties were my 9th, which was a carnival theme with games, face paint and my favorite dinner of chicken fingers, Velveeta mac & cheese, and Coca Cola in glass bottles; and my 12th which was a sleepover and we all went to Fuddurcker's for dinner with milkshakes.

12. I feel most at peace when I'm on the water and have always joked to Bryce that if I ever wrote a novel (ha!) a theme would be the restorative power of water - think about it, a hot shower, a good cry, a dive into the pool, the sound of waves crashing against the shore. They all have restorative power.

13. It's funny how over time our preferences change, but some things always stay the same. Point in case, favorite colors. A change: As a child green was my least favorite color, now it's one of my very favorite. An always stays the same: Pink has and always will be a favorite ("Pink is my signature color." Name that quote, from one of my all time favorite movies, Steel Magnolias - I have the fondest memories of watching that movie again and again curled up in bed with my mom.)

14. Tonight we are headed to Heritage for my birthday dinner. It is one of my favorite Richmond restaurants, and I've celebrated 3 or 4 other birthdays there. If you go, you must order the pimiento cheese croquettes as an app! Also hoping they have the egg nog special I enjoyed on my birthday there last year.

15. Random thought--this is getting hard, and I'm only halfway done!

16. If I could change one thing in my life's path to this point, it would be my choice to go to UVA. Don't get me wrong- I received an amazing education, made some lifelong friends, and have a huge amount of school pride as well as love for Charlottesville. That said, I think I would have thrived more and been happier at a smaller school, though my 18 year old self didn't realize that.

17. Speaking of UVA, I'm most grateful to their Women's Center which offers free, unlimited counseling to students. My second year was a tough one. My grandpa whom I adored died and I broke up with an abusive boyfriend all in the same month. That year I was a mess (though I excelled in school and fitness - the Type A in me tends to go crazy over the things I can control when life seems to be in disarray); and the Women's Center was a refuge. After that year, I continued to go back occasionally whenever I needed a "tune up" and am so glad it exists for students. Whenever I make donations to UVA, I always make them to the Women's Center in honor of Margaret, my counselor.

18. In school, I was always a math and English person, not the typical English-history or math-science. When it comes to English, y'all know I love to read and write and a huge part of my career utilizes both my oral and written communication skills. When it comes to math, I always love looking for patterns around me and geek out over data!

19. I was excited to get the chance to take the StrengthsFinder test for work this year. My #1 strength is achiever (read more about it here), and at first I was disappointed feeling like it was callous and all about just going, going, going. Then I read in the takeaway materials that Achievers are driven by a desire to leave the world a better place than they found it and I thought "YESSS!!!" In fact, when we were in premarital counseling and the minister asked what we saw as the purpose of life, that was my exact answer. My #2 was Strategic, #3 was Individualization, #4 was Learner, and #5 was Responsibility.

20. As I've gotten older, I've realized just how much I'd rather buy less and invest or splurge on items I really love. Sure, I still love a deal and finding affordable items, but the things in my closet that have really stood the test of time have been those splurges (albeit many of them I've stalked and waited to purchase on major sale, haha). Those that follow on Instagram know Bryce treated me to a Goyard bag this year for my birthday, and I told him it could count for all my gifts this entire year, and maybe even a few more birthdays if he wanted. I'd rather have one big thing than lots of little. I also decided to splurge and treat myself to these Ferragamos in London for my 30th and have saved them to wear for the first time today!

21. On the flip, frivolous side, I did snag these on sale on a whim Monday to wear for my birthday and through the holidays!

22. We hosted my family for Thanksgiving this year which felt like a very grown up, almost 30, thing to do. All I could think as I prepared was just how thankful I am to have Bryce by my side. He really and truly is a partner, and how many men do you know that can make homemade yeast rolls, garden like nobody's business; and hunt ducks and do manly things?

23. One steadfast supporter and friend throughout my 20s has been my friend Maddie. We actually first "met" through blogging. She and I are the same age (literally...she turned 30 this month, too) and both started blogs right around the same time. Somehow along the way we became email pen pals and every few months would send each other massive emails updating each other on all aspects of our life, as well as sharing lots of deep, philosophical thoughts about the various phases we were in. When one of her emails would hit my inbox, I'd drop everything to read it and then let it all soak in and respond a few months later. She moved to DC about a year ago, and our pen pal days have stopped because we are now real life friends and have visited each other 3 or 4 times in the last year.

24. Speaking of supportive friends, one of the best lessons I've learned in the last decade was from my best friend, Angela. When I was grappling with the decision of whether or not to leave teaching she said to me "You can keep teaching and know you'll be miserable, or you can try something else and take a chance at being happy." I've thought of that advice so many times over the years since she shared it. Don't ever let the fear of the unknown hold you back from trying something that could be great, wonderful, amazing!

25. Millie is the light of my life. I never knew how much I could love a dog, y'all! While I know kids will be an infinitely deeper love, it breaks my heart to think about Millie losing her prime spot in our life once they come along. We regularly call Millie "baby" so much that she looks up when she hears it, so she's going to be so confused when a real human baby comes along. I even recently told Bryce, when we have a baby, we need to make sure to occasionally leave the baby in the crib so Millie can have Saturday morning snuggles in bed.

26. I'm so glad to be entering 30 in the best shape of my life. I've caught the running bug this fall and can't believe I now run around 5 miles on a "typical" run and have done up to 8 miles on a few long runs. What I've loved about running consistently and at longer distances, is that it's allowed me more balance in my diet. I tend to eat pretty healthy, but running has allowed me to indulge my sweet tooth more frequently while continuing to see the number on the scale go down! I also love that with running, you can really track your progress and set goals surrounding speed, distance, etc...must be that "Achiever" in me wanting to check off the next goal.

27. Speaking of fitness, I'm so glad that I'm also entering my 30th year as a barre instructor! I've loved barre since I started taking it in 2014 and have enjoyed getting to know the instructors I've admired for so long more closely. If you're local, come join me bright and early at BarReVA at 6 am on Tuesdays!

28. I hate that our world has become so polarized and hope to see that change over the next decade. When I think back to my education, the most pivotal moments are the ones that challenged me to think differently, see something from another perspective, and even sometimes be persuaded to change my opinion.

29. In terms of the world today, one of my all time favorite quotes is a Dalai Lama one: "My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness." Yes, I realize there are really really big problems in the world (too many of them), but I do strongly believe in the power of people and that a smile and kindness can go a long way toward achieving a better world.

30. This blog means so much to me and I love the community in you. While my posting frequency has waxed and waned throughout the years, and I do admittedly miss the "old" blogging days, I hope that the blog will live on through my 30s and all to come.

Whew! Did any of you make it to the end?

Many of you asked on Instagram for day to day lifestyle posts like these, so I hope this didn't bore or disappoint.

If you did make it here, can you relate to any of my thoughts?

What have been some of your reflections as you've hit milestone birthdays?

Have a great day!


2018 Holiday Gift Guide: GENTS

Happy Thanksgiving Eve!

I am busy busy over here! As mentioned, we are hosting my family for Thanksgiving tomorrow, so preparations are in full swing

I am so glad that you are enjoying the gift guides. 

If you haven't yet, check out the ladies here.

A few notes, before we start. I noticed that last year's guides have gotten some traffic since I posted yesterday. Though I can't guarantee things in those guides will still be in stock or that links will work, they can be accessed here for ladies and here for gents if you want some inspiration. (Hint: if you see an item from last year's gift guide that was repeated again this year that means I really love it!) I've also now set up the "SHOP" tab at the top of my blog to populate with all the items I've saved for Gift Guides, so you'll see there many items I loved but didn't make the cut. I'll continue to add to it throughout the season.

So without further adieu, let's dive into the Gents! As always, Bryce is the inspiration here. This year, though, we took it up a notch and Bryce wrote me a long list of things he loves that have been included. He's really disappointed, however, that I did not include this Churchill biography (under $15), so if your boyfriend/dad/husband/brother is a history buff check it out!

Again, today, many of these links are affiliate links, meaning I earn a small commission if you click and a purchase is made. And also again today, I've included comments below with more details about all 31 items, including promo codes for everything that's on sale (including a promo code JUST for Alexandra Bee Blog readers for the cuff links).

Monogrammed Leather Catchall: Bryce has a similar square version in a dark brown he keeps on his dresser, but I am loving the look of this "baseball leather" and shape and size; similar to the tray I posted in the ladies guide yesterday, this catchall can make a collection of items (spare change, collar stays, etc) look tidy; 20% off + free shipping with code FRIENDS
Sunglasses: these are a splurge item, but so well made and stylish; you can see Bryce wearing them dressed up here, dressed down here, and at our wedding here; rarely go on sale and currently 20% off putting them just under $300; they are on major sale in limited quantities here and here; also like this similar more affordable pair at $50 here and this very similar pair under $100 here
Cigar Case: under $15; Bryce has a similar Dunhill cigar case and loves to have it to take to special occasions, like a wedding where he'll share a cigar with the groom; this is a more affordable option and would make a great stocking stuffer; the alligator print is so chic
Lab Ornament: under $10; we have this exact ornament for our tree; dogs are called man's best friend for a reason, so gift a dog ornament
Needlepoint Hat: appeal to his wild and preppy side with a jolly roger needlepoint hat; Bryce has this one, but since not every man is a Deadhead, I chose the jolly roger for the guide; there are options sure to please every man on your list here, though!
Charging Carabiner: this tool is so handy; throw it on a backpack or use it carry your keys and always have a phone charger at hand; 20% off (and under $25) with code FRIENDS
Chef's Knife: repeat alert!; this knife is a splurge, but the best; it is my favorite knife we own and according to Bryce it's all about the Damascus blade; cheers to a gift that will get your man in the kitchen; get it while it's on sale!
Driving Mocs: get them while they're on sale for under $100; every man should have a pair of driving mocs in his wardrobe; they're stylish and comfy; love that Cole Haan is high on style with an approachable price point; I gifted Bryce this crocodile pair for his birthday that are on sale for under $65 and available in limited sizes here  
Party Animal Tie: because every guy needs a Christmas tie; up to 30% off with code GOWILD
Old Glory Blanket: for the patriot in your life that needs a housewarming...literally;  more of a splurge, but currently on sale; similar under $40 here
Custom Nautical Coasters: these make a truly one of a kind gift; made to order - you provide custom chart location(s); brass hardware and green felt on the bottom to protect your table; great price point for such a personalized keepsake
Cologne: Bryce has used this John Varvatos cologne since before we met and it has such a clean and masculine scent
Kanvus Jean: Bryce discovered these this fall and they are a new favorite; they're much softer and I'd say more chino like than a jean; a bit utilitarian/outdoorsy; come in several colors (Bryce has both the gray and khaki); they can be dressed up with a button down (B's fave) and loafers or dressed down with a fishing shirt (B's fave) and boots; Bryce prefers the relaxed fit and finds them to be true to size
Fleece Vest: Bryce wears this at least 3 times a week all fall and winter; comes in 3 colors; he also has a Retro-X version (loving that one in camo here), but prefers this one as it's lighter weight and less bulky, meaning it also packs well when traveling, bonus it's also less expensive than the Retro-X and under $100
Facial Fuel: repeat alert!; under $30; this facial fuel is a light moisturizer and is especially great for the cold winter months when skin dries out
Hunter's Tote Bag: repeat alert!; Bryce was gifted one of these as a groomsman gift last summer and uses it almost exclusively now for travel; it holds SO much and I love that it zips shut and has a strap with padding to carry on your shoulder; Bryce has it in the extra large which is just $55, plus you earn a $10 gift card with any purchase over $50
Adventure Chronograph: love how this orange watch really pops; nylon band ensures it is durable; perfect for the man with an adventurous spirit and bold personality
Pheasant Feather Cufflinks: I gifted Bryce these cufflinks with matching studs for Christmas a few years ago (remember this post?); simply said, they're stunning; made with real pheasant feathers; all York River Traders products have impeccable quality and detail (I've loved partnering with them in the past) and today is your lucky day because Alexandra Bee readers get them for 25% off with code BeeBlog through this Saturday 11/24
Dot Socks: I always gift Bryce at least one pair of J. Crew socks in his stocking and this might be the pair this year, love the dots; 40% off (putting them under $10) with code TOGETHER
Head Lamp: under $30; I don't know how many headlamps Bryce has laying around the house, but they sure do come in handy and Petzl are the best
Tervis Old Fashioned Glass: Tervis tumblers are the best, amirite?; we love the 12-oz old fashioned size for cocktails, especially in the summertime; couldn't resist the Virginia blue crab; set of 4 for under $50
Leather Sunglass Strap: every Southern gent needs a sunglass strap and this leather one is on point; up to 30% off with code GOWILD; Bryce has and loves these which I featured in my gift guide last year (not so stylish, but under $15 and functional)
Hot Pepper Bacon Jam: the way to a man's heart is through his stomach; we were just drooling over this jam yesterday at Fresh Market while choosing jam to serve with our baked brie
Griptilian Knife: this knife was on the list Bryce gave me, when I just asked him what comments I should add he said "Well, it's made by Benchmade which is made in the USA and they're just tough. I carry mine every day."; comes in 8 colors (Bryce has the plain edge silver)
FrostPak Soft Cooler: under $50; we love this cooler!; Bryce has the 12 quart (pictured above) in blue; it's lightweight and perfect for a day on the boat, taking beer or food to a friend's house for dinner, etc; we've checked out the Yeti soft coolers and just don't get the hype, plus they get so heavy; the 12 quart size is convenient and manageable; Bryce also was gifted this soft cooler last year by his boss and recommends it- it's a bit more heavy duty and stylish (less dad-ish, haha), but also more pricey
Foxfire: this book is a classic (my dad gifted Bryce his vintage set); the long title is Foxfire: Hog Dressing, Log Cabin Building, Mountain Crafts and Foods, Planting by the Signs...ie: all the man things; and if you really want to splurge you can get the full 14-book Foxfire series here
Hot Sauce Kit: under $50; Bryce has been on a hot sauce making kick lately after having quite the pepper harvest this year; this kit simplifies the process and would make the perfect gift for any man that need a little spice in his life
Dopp Kit: Bryce is a huge fan of Filson products; they're made in the USA and the quality is top notch; this dopp kit is nylon which makes it both easier to clean and more affordable; speaking of Filson, I ran out of room to feature this log carrier I gave Bryce for Christmas several years ago that he loves 
Cast Iron Skillet: this is a major splurge item, but worth sharing; Bryce has this "roaster" pictured above and this skillet and prefers the roaster I've featured in the guide; they're handcrafted locally in Charlottesville, Virginia; if that price point feels too high, this Staub skillet is great at a mid-range under $100 point, and you can't go wrong with a Lodge skillet for under $30 either
Working Hands: because men need soft hands, too; would make a great stocking stuffer; Bryce swears by this stuff and if you don't trust him, trust the 6,802 5 star reviews
Duck Boots: Bryce has two pairs of these without the shearling lining (which they don't seem to make anymore) and actually prefers this buckle style to the more popular lace up style; they're more comfortable and easier to slip on and off; a classic that will never go out of style or usefulness; do run slightly large order a half size down

So there you have it! All your men's gifting needs covered!

What men are you shopping for this year?

Do you shop ahead, wait for Black Friday, or wait for the last minute?

Have a happy Thanksgiving!